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Monday, 5 November 2012

Beyond

A poem written tonight whilst waiting to go to the bramley firework display...



Beyond

Bursts of colour dancing across night sky,
Flicks of paint
A smoky canvas, studded with lights
That burn defiantly through the years.
Young and old they gaze with joy
At the gunpowder kaleidoscope web
Seared in the mind
Long after it fades.
Some look up and question
What lies beyond
This world we know
Of tangible things, and intangible dreams
Home and fears and spinning hoops
Bitter lemons, candy floss
Joy and pain, love and loss
The endless ticking of the clock.
My eyes look only forward
Seeing not the sparks and whirls
But your pale face, illuminated,
Frozen with wonder,
Your warm breath traced
On the autumn air.
Mittens and hat and that
Old ragged bear
Clasped securely under your arm
And I wish I could live this night
through your eyes
To look and see beyond
the stars, past today
For certain, and for sure
Through a less battle scarred lens
To know, to feel
The possibility of something more.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Love Hurts (especially at Halloween)

As I write this the randomly creeping floorboards in my house are making my chest pound more than usual, no doubt because my mind has been contemplating all things spooky tonight in anticipation of tomorrow. What better theme for a writing meet on 31st October than Halloween? Well that would be far too straight forward for the Leeds Savages, so instead we went for the potentially related, but also far broader, 'Love Hurts'.

My main effort has definitely jumped on the seasonal wagon; hope you enjoy it....


'Love Hurts'


Last night I met a vampire,
He said his name was Fred,
He declared that I made his heart race,
I said 'how does that work when you're dead?'
He asked me if I'd join him
And bed down in his lair,
I replied 'But you live in a grave, mate!'
He cried 'But the last one didn't care!'
'Well let me take you out somewhere nice to eat,
Just nowhere with garlic or stakes;
Otherwise time and venue are of your choosing my dear,
As long as we're home before the day breaks.'
Other girls may have fallen for his charm,
But I'm really not that kind,
I'm not wooed by such textbook seductions
And I don't believe that love is blind.
Whilst he failed in his effort to commit a crime of passion,
His cape was so 1880 it was a crime against fashion
I rolled my eyes at the cliched old charmer's show
And replied 'Fangs for the offer, but I'm afraid it's a no.
Then I turned on my heels and said 'Your place or mine?'
To the far edgier offspring of Frankenstein



Although the piece above is the most fun and enjoyable thing that I've written this fortnight, I did also attempt another poem on the same theme with an effort to steer away from the standard rhyming conventions that I enjoy but which aren't always everyone's cup of tea.... This is the result as it currently stands; not 100% happy with this but here goes...


Friday Night

Strike once, strike twice, strike flame springs to life
Light bursts, flickers, dances
Across magnolia walls
One by one the candles lit
Paint romance by numbers, picture perfect
Proud magazine spread seduction
Turn on the soft music, arrange the gas station roses
Already beginning to wilt
A spritz of scent
Pillows plumped, chalices filled
I sit back and wait for you
On best crystal glass, fingers tap
Mark each second's passing
Minutes slowly tick by til the cup runs dry
Another hour, slower still; and the second heads the same way
I embrace familiar numbness, wax drips a scar on the floor
As they begin to burn out one by one
And when the music stops and
The last dance has clearly passed
I blow the night away; nothing left but smoke
And the darkness to which I retire
Who knows how long passes before I feel your warmth
Finally pressed, familiar but cold, to my side
And as your arm wraps round me, I am cut by the words I hear
'You could have made more effort my dear'




Monday, 22 October 2012

NOVIOMAGUS REGINORUM


The most recent Leeds Savages writing session had the rather improbable topic of 'Chichester Fortescue'...!  Wikipedia informed me that the Right Honorable Mr Fortescue was actually a 19th century politician, but this didn't exact inspire me, so I instead wrote a short poem which is arguably 50% on topic given that it's based on growing up in Chichester.

Unfortunately tonsil troubles meant that I didn't get to hear any of my fellow Savages efforts to tackle the topic, but am hoping that some might have found their way onto the forum at www.leedssavage.com  as it never fails to amaze me how such a broad range of works springs out of each topic. There are some truly talented people in the group (definitely not including myself in this category - would instead define myself as 'rusty!') so it's definitely worth checking out the website. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll add it to your favourites....

Now, on to the rhyming.....!




NOVIOMAGUS REGINORUM

 

We often felt this was no place to be young

A haven for the blue rinsed but no hotbed of fun

We didn’t care for the long dead Romans

Their renowned walls and their feted gates

All we longed for was a bit of excitement

To travel on roads which were far less straight.

 

Not a second glance as we danced past the Arundel tomb

Upon which Larkin mused about love

To the choir stalls where we’d gossip and scheme

With little thought for the big man above.

 

Outside we’d congregate around the Cross

Where for 500 years our forebears had been meeting

Little did we appreciate the yet unrevealed truth

That the freedom of youth would be fleeting.

 

We’d bemoan the fact that there was nowhere to go

Unless tearooms and charity shops were your style

The nearest nightclub was a tipsy bus ride away

The nearest multiplex many a mile.

 

Most of us never grew into the ill-fitting

blazers bought to serve 5 years of school

Hitched our skirts bum-cheek high in an attempt to project

The slightest semblance of cool.

 

And most of our days were idyllic

Though at the time we hadn’t a clue

How precious were happiness, health, the freedom to build

The very foundations of You.

 

Until dark times taught us that the cards we are dealt

Are not always the ones we’d choose

Reality sets in and childhood is cast

Away like yesterday’s news;

In that time, in that place, in the history we made

We learned that life is built from light and shade.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 













Being not at all cool at least a decade ago....
 

Mr Power

This is a short piece I wrote a couple of months back for a writers group session on the topic of 'Mr Power' - a 'bedtime story' of sorts......



Mr Power

By the time Marian belatedly sidled on the bandwagon it seemed like the world and his wife had been swept off their feet by the enigmatic Mr Power. Even Doris at the WI, who had celebrated her 90th birthday some years ago, was a card carrying advocate of his work. “You really must read it, my dear. Turns out that even this old dog isn’t beyond learning a few new tricks; whoever would have thought it?” Doris turned her gaze lovingly towards the side of the room where her fourth husband was loudly snoring; his nose hairs fluttering with each shallow breath like grass blowing in the wind

“Honestly; you wouldn’t believe how things are for me and Ernie in the bedroom these days; I only wish that that Mr Power had been around 70 years ago!”

Marian raised an eyebrow but kept her scepticism to herself. She’d learned by now that there was no point in so much as challenging the converted; better to let them evangelise away whilst diverting her thoughts to something else; say the latest plot twist in her favourite Scandinavian crime drama or what she needed to pick up in this week’s big shop. As a small trail of drool crept down Ernie’s chin and pooled in his jowls; Marian wondered exactly how much benefit he could really be obtaining from Mr Power’s teaching.

For months it had seemed as if she couldn’t turn on the TV or open a newspaper or magazine without that blasted book being mentioned. She’d always like to think herself something of an intellectual; certainly not the kind of person who was swept up by popular culture. Her daughter Penelope had on multiple occasions accused her of being a snob, but Marian herself hated that word, preferring the altogether more genteel ‘discerning’.  In her experience if something was wholeheartedly embraced by the masses that wasn’t generally an indication of merit; more a suggestion that it was pitched at a level suitable for those with the most rudimentary level of education.

The main point she had grasped around the phenomenon was that although readers were encouraged to rhapsodise to their family and friends about how great the book was, it was strictly forbidden to speak of the nature of Mr Power’s philosophy or methods. There were a few key expressions that she’d heard time and time again, but little beyond what sounded like new age mumbo jumbo. Nonetheless as she went about her day to day business she found herself studying the expressions and body language of everyone in sight; trying to figure out who had ‘harnessed the power of their Sacred Spaces’. Julie in the Post Office certainly had, a well thumbed copy permanently sat on the counter so that she could ingest snippets in between dishing out pensions and renewing tax discs. Marian had only gone into the branch to buy a book of stamps, but it was a good fifteen minutes before she re-emerged into the sunlight after making the schoolboy error of asking Julie if she was enjoying the book. “Granted it’s dark;” Julie had whispered after ten minutes of effectively saying yes in as many different ways as possible; “but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.  I didn’t think it was for me but I was so wrong. I didn’t feel comfortable with all that ‘restraint’ business at first; and as for the blindfolds; well I’d only come across them at kids’ parties before. But once you’ve experienced that kind of pleasure, believe me you won’t be able to go back to your old ways.”

On the day on which the headlines proclaimed that Mr Power’s Bedroom Secrets was now the highest selling paperback of all time; Marian decided that she’d been biting the bullet for long enough. Even though she knew that she could obtain a copy for half the price in the supermarket; she made her way to the only local independent bookshop that had managed to weather both the recession and the exponential growth of certain internet retailers. She slowly browsed the store, marvelling in the fact that this small room contained more books than she would ever be able to read in her lifetime. It was a shame that most of these works would never reach a wide audience; alas these days it seemed that the majority of people preferred to pick up their reading material in the same basket as bananas and loo rolls. It wouldn’t be so bad if the mass merchants were peddling literary masterpieces; but a textbook for optimal bedroom performance becoming the nation’s favourite talking point? So much for traditional British reserve.

Eventually her path reached a small crowd of customers and in the middle of them a table piled high with the volume that was currently outselling everything else in the entire shop added together. Fingering the cover of the infamous tome she felt in spite of herself a frisson of excitement. She doubted that the eponymous Mr Power had been christened with that moniker; however the unmistakable red and yellow cover probably wouldn’t make the same impact if it were to bear the name of Smith, Jones or Brown.

“Go on, buy it;” urged a bearded man of undeterminable age, who seemed to take the very fact that she was holding the book as reason enough to lay his clammy hand on her arm. “It’ll change your life, honestly it will. Since I opened that book I’ve never looked back; my partner even says it’s taken 20 years off me! And it’s not just for the bedroom either; we’ve been at it in the sitting room, on a flight to Alicante; why, I’ve even given it a go in the office!”

Marian snatched her arm away. The man had exceptionally hairy arms that reminded her of a baboon; she wondered whether his partner actually liked the fact that he looked like he belonged in a zoo, or whether he had some other qualities which compensated for it. His endorsement was almost enough to make her flee the shop empty handed, but with the memory of her daughter’s words echoing around her mind – “Don’t be a snob, mother” she reluctantly walked to the sales counter and handed over her £8.99.

That night Marian retired early; carrying her brown paper shopping bag upstairs whilst her husband watched Match of the Day. She slipped into her best silk nightie and dimmed the lights, plumping up the pillows before slipping under the polyester duvet. Time to see what all the fuss was about.

“This book will teach you to harness the power of your most sacred space. Through a combination of techniques you will achieve the status of master practitioner and your bedroom will become a temple devoted to the most precious activity we can experience both as individuals or within a couple; pure, uninterrupted sleep.”

Sleep? SLEEP? Marian laughed out loud. She’d been hoping for athletics beneath the sheets, a few ideas to spice things up after a lifetime of the monotony of monogamy. She felt like she’d been had, conned, but she could hardly demand her money back for lack of sauce.

“John, are you coming up?” she shouted. “Fancy a cuddle?”

“Just watching the last match, love;” came the reply from downstairs. “I’ll be up in five.”

Five minutes turned to fifteen but John was sure that Marian wouldn’t mind; she could sit there in bed with a book for hours; reading had always been her favourite pastime.

“Alright love?” he called out as he checked the doors and turned off the sockets; but there was no response. Upon entering the bedroom he found Marian laid on her back with her eyes closed and a blissful smile on her face; and at her side was a copy of that book that everyone seemed to be reading these days. He carefully picked it up, trying his hardest not to disturb her, as Marian was a light sleeper at the best of times and it was most unusual her to drift off without tossing and turning for hours. He climbed in beside her and flicked off the light; a smile on his face. Cuddles could wait; after twenty years of marriage to a fidgety insomniac, sleep, blessed uninterrupted sleep, was the best bedroom activity in his book.   

 

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

'Call my Bluff'

The theme of this week's writing group was 'Bluff'. Unfortunately I won't be attending the actual meeting due to the ravages of what seems to be the world's most persistent cold, however I did manage to put together a quick little poem on the topic...

CALL MY BLUFF

When I told you that I didn’t care
I was really just calling your bluff
You should know by now what we guys are like
When it comes to love and all that stuff
Sometimes it seems like a weakness
To admit to falling so hard
For once that truth has been laid bare
You’ve dealt your final card
Far better to act a bit nonchalant
Far wiser to play it cool
Follow your head instead of your heart
And you’ll never be anyone’s fool
So that’s why I pretended not to notice
When you flicked your hair in that way
Why I tried not to rise to the challenge of
Those seductive games you’d play
When you suggested we talk about ‘feelings’
I’d rather stick on Match of the Day
Preferred to focus on 22 men in short shorts
Than face up to what you might have to say
When you questioned where I thought we were going
My shrugs didn’t give the slightest clue
That inside I was screaming, you need not question at all
That I’d go to the ends of the earth for you
So it’s no surprise that you tired of the silent approach
Weren't won over by my master plan
But I’ll never forget those last words as you walked out the door
Be less of a bloke - and more of a man
Now I wait in the hope that one day I'll find
That you were really just pretending
Tell me two can play the bluffing game
And raise me a happy ending

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Whodunnit?!


The theme of this weeks creative writing group was 'Whodunnit'; here's my effort at a short story on the topic....


A crime had been committed in Broadley Avenue last night, of that there was no doubt. What was in dispute amongst the residents was the exact nature of the said offence.

“Disturbance of the peace” proclaimed Audrey Daley from the throne of her mobility scooter. “The amount of banging and clattering that was going on in the street; my poor Roger didn’t sleep a wink.”

A small mutt gazed dolefully out of the basket, whimpering as if on cue.

“There, there Roger” said Audrey’s neighbour Eric Jones. Although Eric personally couldn’t stand dogs he’d always held something of a soft spot for the redoubtable Mrs Daley, and it was with this in mind that he forced himself to stroke the hairy beast.

“There was certainly some kind of affray;” Mr Jones declared to many nods of agreement from the crowd that was continuing to mass on the meticulously tended lawn of number 23. “Raised voices, foul language, certainly nothing I would repeat in the company of ladies. The kind of behaviour you might expect in the estates, perhaps, but certainly not what we’re used to round here.”

“I didn’t hear anything” said Patricia Fleming; “But I can tell you for a fact that there was some kind of pervert on the prowl last night. Why, I had my best undergarments hanging out to dry and when I went to fetch them in after watching the end of my soaps they’d disappeared from sight! The dirty scoundrel hadn’t touched Albert’s Y-fronts; they were only interested in my flowery bloomers!”

The thought of a pervert in their midst sent the ladies of Broadley Avenue into a chattering frenzy.

“Certainly sounds like a most unsavoury character;” proclaimed the most recent new addition to the avenue. Jacqui was a bottle blonde whose addiction to injecting botulism into her face and weakness for toyboys several decades her junior did little to mask the fact that youth was long behind her. She languidly swept her peroxide fringe out of eyes whilst pouting at Bill; something of a silver fox and although several decades older than her usual prey the only man on the street that she considered worthy of her well honed flirting skills. “And I thought this was such a lovely safe neighbourhood....”

Bill forced out a small smile, not having the heart to tell Jacqui that her talents were wasted on him. Pedro the postman had been providing Bill with a very efficient early morning service for a number of years, although they’d both cursed the day that they scrapped the second post.

“Not just an unsavoury character, Jacqueline, but an outright criminal!” butted in busybody and resident of thirty years Wendy Walker. “The most terrible damage was inflicted on my hedges last night. You all know how much time and effort I put into trimming my ornamental bush; it’s not for nothing that I won the Winfordshire Topiary Championships in 1989, 1994 and, on appeal, 1997. What kind of man would do such a thing?”

“Who’s to say that it’s definitely a man though?” pondered Bill. “It could be a woman...”

“A lady knicker pincher? Pretty unlikely I would say;” argued Patricia. “Oh, the very thought of some stranger getting his filthy hands on my drawers; it’s enough to make me shudder.”

“The thought of her drawers makes me shudder too;” whispered the long suffering Albert to his neighbour and drinking companion of many years Eric. “But not in a good way. Whoever it is that’s been on the rampage, they’re welcome to her extra extra large smalls.”

Tony and Albert’s mirth was met with disapproving stares from the assembled ladies. “Not sure what you’re laughing about;” said Wendy sternly. “This is a very serious matter.”

“AGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

A wail came from five doors down. With the maximum speed possible on Zimmer frames, mobility scooters and dodgy hips, the group made towards its source.

Penny, the owner of number 11, was stood on her drive in front of a large red stain.

“I just came outside to see what was going on and; and; and this!”

“Is that?”

“It looks like...”

“Blood?”

“Blood!”

Screams and gasps filled the street. “I’m calling the police!” exclaimed Wendy, fumbling in her handbag to try to find the mobile phone that her daughter had passed on to her but she never actually bothered to turn on.

“Wait a second;” said Bill; pressing a single finger to his lips. “Can you hear something?”

Ignoring him, the women kept on shrieking.

Eschewing Bill’s polite style Albert bellowed; “Look, for one godforsaken second can you ladies just shut up?!”

In an instant, silence fell on the street. A good ten seconds must have passed before Jacqui whispered “I can’t hear anything?”. The rest of the group were in the process of opening their mouths in a chorus of agreement when a loud sneeze came from inside the garage.

“He’s in there! The pervert’s in there!” Patricia cried.

“The dog disturber!”

“The noisy hoodlum!”

“The bush saboteur!”

“The murderer!” Penny shrieked hysterically.

Wendy pressed her mouth to the garage door. “The police are on their way; there’s no point in trying to escape” she shouted, although in reality she had still failed to locate her phone, and was beginning to question whether it was even in her cavernous bag at all.

“Right, let’s find out exactly who we’re dealing with;” declared Eric. “Put your hands up, whoever you are, we’re going in!”

The women gasped as the men edged forward. Eric turned the handle of the door then pushed it open with a single determined shove. Audrey, Wendy and Patricia covered their eyes, afraid of what they might see, and even Roger, who certainly would never have made a guard dog, buried his head.

Jacqui leaned forward with morbid curiosity whilst Penny peeked through her fingers, fearful of what dreadful act had been committed on her property.

“Derek?! Derek!” repeated Penny. “What are you doing here? I thought you were still working down in Banbury?! You look like you’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards!”

“Happy anniversary, love;” said Penny’s husband, stepping out of the garage sheepishly, a pale red liquid trickling between his legs. Draped from the ceiling was some DIY bunting made from some flowery material that was suspiciously familiar to Patricia; and the bucket normally used to wash the car housed a particularly feeble attempt at a flower arrangement which creatively combined some of Penny’s own begonias with the phallic horn of Wendy’s unicorn hedge. “I came back a night early to try to surprise you, but whilst I was trying to set things up I managed to get myself locked in!”

“Derek Fish, you’ve always been a tight bastard but this truly takes the biscuit!” Penny exclaimed.

“Oooh, language;” injected Eric. “Clearly runs in the family.”

“Too bloody right it does;” Derek replied; “and I was certainly cursing last at 4 o clock this morning when I tripped over that bleeding ugly garden gnome you insist on keeping guard outside your house, Eric. I’d parked round the bloody corner so Penny didn’t realise that I was home; didn’t realise that the 1 minute walk from Chapel Drive would be so fraught with danger, did I?. And the air certainly turned fifty shades of blue again when I was trying to string up this bollocking bunting that our Penny’s so fond of and managed to knock a whole crate of Mateus Rose on the floor. It’s your favourite too, isn’t it Pen?”

Blushing redder than her usual tipple of choice, Penny gave the slightest of nods.

“Well, get on your way, the lot of you, get back to your Daily Mail’s. There’s nothing more to see here;” Derek said with a dismissive wave of his hand.
“And having heard all your accusations” – he looked from face to face before landing on his wife – “I might as well prove them true. After what I’ve bleeding put meself through last night I could really MURDER a beer.”

Sunday, 17 June 2012

38,000 Words

When I was just a little girl,
I asked my mother, what should I be.....

As a child I would spend hours reading and writing. From a very young age I created characters and stories that I would share with my family, friends and teachers, and everyone who had the (perhaps dubious) honour of experiencing my burgeoning literary ambitions agreed that without a doubt I would one day have a book to my name.

Now at the tail end of my twenties, that debut novel is still a distant dream and my career to date has been based around crunching numbers more than playing with words. A couple of years ago however I was lucky enough to get introduced to a merry band of Savages who have ensured that as well as Excel Spreadsheets and Powerpoint presentations there is still room in my life to enjoy the pleasures of putting pen to paper (or the slightly less romantic sounding finger to keyboard).

Since joining the Leeds Savages and its pre Savage writing group incarnation I've had the honour of meeting many talented, interesting and above all creative individuals. There are a number of 'regulars' at the meets but their writing (and art) is anything but - the contributions showcased every other Wednesday never fail to surprise and entertain. One of the biggest joys of the meets is that although a set topic or theme has been prescribed in advance, you really have no idea of what aural treats you will experience on any given occasion. Poetry and prose receive equal weighting; deeply personal and moving narratives sit comfortably alongside fantastical tales of other worlds. More likely than not the big topics of love and death (well, death in particular) will be featured somewhere; and it's rare to not experience a few belly laughs at some point.

Whilst listening to the contributions of others is always rewarding, the greatest sense of satisfaction comes from creating and sharing your own work. I am continually envious of those who produce something for every single task, with many of the members being prolific way beyond knocking out a fortnightly masterpiece. I can sometimes feel a bit despondent, disappointed in myself even, when I fail to find the time / motivation to write something for a meet, however its not the be all and end all. The experience of listening to others, offering constructive criticism and encouragement, is just as key to being a 'Savage' as putting pen to paper; it is after all not simply a writing and sketching group but a 'social and developmental forum for artistically minded people'.

Virginia Woolf stated that in order to write a woman needs 'A Room of One's Own'. Nice sentiment, but I have a house of my own and still I can never finrd the space to write. To me, rhe issue isn 't physical space, but mental space. A state of mind where one can be free of distractions; where the realities of life both profound and mundane melt away to create the perfect conditions for productivity.

This weekend was yet another where I had intentions to get writing but other things got in the way - washing, ironing, mowing the lawn, preparing for holiday - doing anything other than write. What I did get round to doing however was reviewing everything that I've written in my two and a bit years with the writing group, and after I copied all of completed poems and stories into a single file I was pleasantly surprised to find that they came to an almost respectable 38,000 words. 26 short stories and 16 poems later I've got a 100 page file to which I can turn whenever I feel like my creative juices have run dry and say - 'In the first four years after you left university and entered the big wide world you didn't write a single thing. Look how much you've achieved since then!'

Admittedly 38,000 words over 28 months might not be much compared to those who knock out a few thousand every day, but as someone who works long hours and leads a busy life, I think that's still something to be proud of. I've got at least another 10,000 words of unfinished work kicking around, so my aim now is to complete some of those pieces that for one reason or other were cast aside and get that total up to 50,000 words by the end of the summer. . Time to recapture the spirit of that little girl who would frantically write about talking pigs and entire worlds within filing cabinets, writing for the sheer joy of it rather than anxiously fretting about deadlines and word counts.

Who knows, I could even hit 100,000 words within the next twelve months.....

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Summertime Blues

So here it is, yet another damp, dull bank holiday weekend where dreams of BBQS and sunbathing are cast aside for cagoules and sturdy shoes... Last week presented us with a freakish treat in the form of almost tropical temperatures and a brief escape from reality. Today it's business as usual and the flipflops and vest tops look like they can go back into storage for a while. Anyhow, the joys of British weather inspired a short and hopefully sweet poem that I wrote for this week's writers group. Enjoy.....


SUMMERTIME BLUES

The second the thermometer passes 20 degrees
There’s far too much flesh on display
From the kiddies park to the supermarket aisle
The short shorts have come out to play
Boob tubes and bare moobs are pounding the street
Young and old parade round without caring
For the daily routine, swept aside as they strive
For their white bits to get a good airing  

Like mad dogs they flock to secure a good spot
Blankets spread stake their claim on the sun
Some drift away to blissful dreams
Others revel in Bacchanalian fun
Glorious days rush by; summer’s sweet haze
But alas, all good things come to an end
Seven days later the memory fades
Washed away by a wet weekend

Thursday, 17 May 2012

An Argument / Waiting for Spring

For the most recent writing group meetings I've been turning my pen to poetry. Here's my contributions for the themes 'Argument' and 'Waiting for Spring'; as ever all feedback very welcome...


AN ARGUMENT

Sage advice given to us long ago
By one of those ostensibly perfect pairs
“Never go to bed on an argument;” they said
“And if you’ve problems, be sure to share.
Now we’re here and there’s been not a sole angry word
No voices raised, certainly no punches thrown
But laid back to back a deafening silence reigns
Mere inches apart, yet completely alone.

The gentle murmurs of semi sleep
Your heartbeat keeping time
Slow and steady its constant pace
Next to the anxious race of mine.
And I wish I knew where your thoughts go each night
When the whirring cogs of your dreamtime are turning
Could creep into your skull and know once and for sure
Whether the flame I once lit is still burning.

No union is impenetrable
It’s not rare to grow apart
Yet how can we already have reached our end
When we’ve barely passed the start?
You just go through your routines; flannel, teeth, bed
Then slip taciturn under the sheet
Telling me all that I need to know
Through the distance of your heat.

We lived by the advice passed on years ago
By a seemingly perfect pair
But I wish we’d gone to bed on an argument
For at least there’d be some passion there.



WAITING FOR SPRING

One by one russet leaves fall
Cast away on autumns chill
Night consumes day; memories slip
Further and further from reach
And the sun barely tries - she knows her place
When arrogant winter cracks its whip
And I am still, anaesthetized
As frost dances over my skin
Numb is my natural state, these days
So long since I felt anything at all
That I revelled in the simple touch
Of a comfortingly familiar other
So long it seems since I lived a life led
By trusting heart not fearing head
Bathing in the light of those eyes
That used to bathe on me.

The certainty of the seasons has gone
Green shoots seem an impossible dream
How could anything possibly grow
When frost permeates so deep?
Yet through it all; the longest nights,
The challenge of the cruellest days
You are there, not even caring
If your promises fall on deaf ears
Fertile friendship grows stronger yet
In the darkest, most bleak of times    
Telling me there’s no point in dwelling
On that taken, but embracing the given
Whole world spread out, an infinite road
A new life to begin living
A once creative mind begins to stir
To awake from hibernation

And suddenly the clouds disperse
And I look to your smiles and it’s clear
I’ve spent so long waiting for spring
Yet summer’s already here.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Free-falling

Written for the Leeds savages writers meet on April 4th; inspired by a photograph by the documentarist Daniel Meadows


FREE-FALLING

Her husband would scoff if he knew how often she would leaf through the yellowed images which documented her sixteenth summer. If he could see her now, sat on the window ledge with one hand smoking an illicit cigarette like a teenager and the other holding the precious album, he would no doubt shout at her not to be so bloody stupid, to get down and get back to the important business of ironing his shirts.

Sometimes she found it hard to believe that almost forty more summers had passed since that time of ice creams and daydreams, so fresh in her mind were the memories. On other days however she struggled to reconcile the life-worn face that stared at her out of the mirror from beneath hooded eyes with the girl pouting in the photographs. With wrinkles now pursuing a relentless crusade from forehead to d├ęcolletage, it was hard to believe that she was carved of the same flesh as that girl who was all smiles and lean brown limbs; that long ago, decades before she gave up on hair dye and perms, she had once spent hour upon hour teasing her hair into those bouncy dark curls that were all the rage. That girl had turned heads; whereas this woman; well, this woman might as well be invisible.

It was to be the last holiday that she would take with her Ma and Pa; her next vacation being her honeymoon with Del on the Isle of Wight several years later. They’d been going to the holiday parks for a good few years; what with Pa usually spending nearly every waking hour at the factory where he was a supervisor; it was the one opportunity that the four of them got to spend any length of time together. At twelve her sister Karen had still been enthralled by the whole experience; donkey rides, competitions, hours spent splashing in the pool.  Helen on the other hand considered herself to be past such childish things. What she really wanted to get out of the holiday was a boyfriend; or at least the opportunity to lose the cumbersome burden of virginity before she started at Sixth Form College.

Ma had awkwardly broached the subject of sex with her just a few weeks prior to the holiday. She’d basically made out that it was a thoroughly unpleasant business that a woman would have to endure for the sake of her husband, and under no circumstances should she ever let a boy do anything to her beyond a chaste peck on the cheek outside of wedlock. Helen politely thanked her for her advice, and then promptly retreated to her room to re-read the hot sex tips column in a well thumbed copy of Cosmopolitan. If the contents of her favourite magazines were anything to go by, Ma clearly hadn’t ever done ‘it’ right. Cosmo and its many imitators had informed Helen that a great sex life was the right of every modern, liberated woman, and a wedding ring was certainly not a prerequisite these days. Deciding to follow the mantra of the magazines rather than her mother, she set off to Skegness with every hope that she would arrive there a girl, but leave a fully fledged woman.

Turning the pages of the photo album, Helen considered whether her Ma had perhaps been right all along, and that the whole bedroom business was hugely or, in her Derek’s case, averagely overrated. Fair enough it had given her two sons, but in last couple of decades it had played little part in her life. The screaming and shouting and swinging from the chandeliers type of activity still advocated by the magazines in the 21st century might be all well and good for the young ‘uns, but was not exactly an options with paper-thin walls and children prone to entering the bedroom at any time of night. The boys had both left home now; one at university and the other working; but the distance that had grown between herself and Del over the years was so great that it seemed unfeasible for them to just flick a switch, cast off the ‘Mum and Dad’ personas and rewind thirty years.

The next photo still never failed to send a shiver down her spine. Johnny Fish; oh so cool, oh so handsome, with his fashionable long, slick hair and hypnotic dark eyes. He was probably fat and bald these days, but in Helen’s dreams he would always be seventeen. She’d first laid eyes on him the afternoon that they arrived in Skegness; she’d been reluctantly playing tennis with Karen and he’d been stood by himself watching, smoking a cigarette. Helen blushed as she recalled how she had hitched up her skirt then deliberately bent over slowly to pick up the ball, ensuring that the mysterious stranger got a good flash of her knickers. Later on she’d plucked up the courage to go speak to him at the evening disco; to be honest once he started talking about the obscure bands that he was into and his passion for fishing and cars it was quickly apparently that they had very little in common, but that did little in the way of diminishing her attentions towards him. She remembered hurriedly taking the photo of him at the end of the night, her parents dragging her back to the chalet at 10pm much to her embarrassment. “I’m not a kid; I’m not a kid” she repeated with little effect as they took her by the hand and steered her away from Johnny.

The next day she sat next to the lake reading “Women in Love”; a book she’d borrowed from the library mainly on the grounds that she knew her Ma wouldn’t approve. She was struggling to get into it; Lawrence being a somewhat more challenging read than her usual boarding school or pony club yarns; but was persevering in hope that she would eventually stumble on the promised dirty bits.

“What you reading?”

Helen looked up to see Johnny and three of his friends, all boys of a similar age though none as visually appealing. 

“Oh, nothing, just a romance.” Blushes spreading across her cheeks, she scrambled to her feet.

“I’m not really into books;” one of Johnny’s friends replied. “Remind me too much of school.” Helen, in reality a voracious reader, shrugged her shoulders in what she hoped was a cool, nonchalant way.

“Do you fancy a swim?” Johnny asked. “Me and the boys were thinking of going for a dip”

The blush spread further at the thought of Johnny in his swimming trunks; messing about in the pool together, bare flesh touching.

“I’d love to but I don’t have my costume with me. I could go back to the chalet and get it though.”

“What do you think, lads?” one of the nameless boys asked. “We’re kind of in a hurry; places to go you know?”

“You don’t need a costume;” Johnny replied with a wink. “Just take off your dress and in you get!”

Beginning in spite of herself to feel a little uncomfortable with all the attention; Helen glanced around to see if her parents were nearby.

“I think I just heard my Ma calling; I’d better go see what she wants;” she said hurriedly.

“Don’t you go worrying about your Ma, you’re not a kid anymore, are you?” Johnny grabbed her wrist and held her in place. “If you want a swim, you don’t need your Mummy’s permission.”

“Like I said, I’ve not got my swimsuit;” she replied. “I can’t. I’m sorry.”

The boys glanced at each other; a silent plan passing between them.

“Oh yes you can;” responded one of the boys who had until now been silent. Before she could even catch a breath to object Helen found their hands on her arms and shoulders, pushing hard. In an instant she was flying backwards through the air towards the cold water of the lake. The experience of freefalling through the air was exhilarating; in that brief moment between land and water the combination of fear and excitement created a sensation of intense pleasure that she had never felt before and, to be truthful, had never felt since. The last thing she saw before she hit the water, screams rising in her throat, was Johnny holding the camera that never left her side, beckoning her to smile as he pressed the shutter.

Pushing soaking hair away from her face and rubbing water from her eyes; screams of protest quickly transformed into shrieks of joy.

“Woo; it’s fresh! Are you boys not going to come join me?!”

“Helen Walker, get out of there this instant!” Stood on the bank with expressions of horror on their face were her parents; her Mum clasping her forehead, her Dad’s arm outstretched towards her. Reluctantly she took his hand and clambered out of the water. All eyes were on her as she stood there, soaking wet.  

“You’re a disgrace to yourself and to the family, Helen;” her father shouted. “Go dry yourself off then pack your things. This holiday is over. We’re going home.” Her mother gathered up her things and snatched the camera from Johnny’s hands.

Looking back Helen smiled as she recalled just how powerful she had felt for that minute; every boy and man seemed to be staring longingly at the thin cotton dress clinging tightly to every inch of her body, every woman trying and failing to disguise their envy at her youth. Her father’s anger was of no relevance – all that mattered was the way in which Johnny was looking her up and down.

“Nice knowing you;” he shouted as she was dragged away from him for the second time in as many days.

“Pity I didn’t get the chance to know you better;”she replied with a laugh.

She’d never seem him again, although he was the subject of many a fantasy over the next two years until she met Derek and instead channelled her energies into breaking his resolve to save himself until marriage, a resolve which lasted approximately 4 weeks after their first date.

Oh what she would give to have the chance to feel like that again, to be that person again! Legs swinging from the window ledge, she closed her eyes and imagined letting go, taking flight, freefalling.

Opening them again, she slammed the photo-album shut and climbed down from the ledge. Falling would be easy, sure, but there was a pile of washing to be done and the beds wouldn’t make themselves. She put aside the album and the promise it held, and set to work before her husband got home.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Lurgy and Turkey

I’m in the process of recovering from a bout of one of those stomach bugs that strikes without warning and provides an uninvited detox, a ruthlessly efficient purge of the system to put any health kick to shame. The house reeks of the delightful combination of bleach and febreeze with which I’ve doused every inch in the hope of eliminating all traces of the traumas recently passed. Solid food is making a hesitant but welcome return and with it energy and the ability to stay awake for more than an hour.

Fortunately the lurgy didn’t strike until Thursday, so I was able to make this week’s Leeds Savages writing meet. I hadn’t managed to complete anything on theme (‘A New Start’ being the topic of choice, and one on which I have more than a few ideas that i’ll try to put to paper soon), however the five minute writing task at the beginning of the meet resulted in the following random little piece – the subject was ‘It was cold’ and inspired a variety of weird and wonderful stories and poems. This effort is neither but quite fun!

IT WAS COLD in the gloom
Of the ice encrusted tomb
Where Boris came to take his final rest
Frozen with claustrophobic fear
Too bitter to shed a tear
Or voice the horror in his increasingly icy breast.
Only yesterday morn at the crack of dawn
He’d been running ‘round without a single care
A quick wring of his collar and Boris was a goner
And soon they’d plucked him bare.
He always knew it was his duty
As a much vaunted thirty pound beauty
To come to such a tragic Shakespearian fate
And come December’s winter chill
He’d inevitably be topping the bill
The prize turkey on the honoured Christmas plate.


Sunday, 26 February 2012

Not at all autobiographical.... (hmmmm)

A light hearted piece written for the most recent Leeds Savages writing group meeting...


'Me, My Sofa and I'

Top of Form

The rain beating outside made her feel
That staying in was really no big deal
Why pound the sodden streets in uncomfortable clothes
When you could be living vicariously through TV dating shows
Come Sunday's early hours no better place
Than wrapped in a duvets warm embrace
As she pondered the quizzes in Heat Magazine
She tried to convince herself that this was living the dream
Trying not question whether she was onto a winner
Living it up with a microwave dinner
But slowly crept upon her a nagging fear
That if it continued like this where would she be in a year?
If only she had a crystal ball to see
If she was building an inevitable destiny
Of no boyfriends, no parties, no semblance of fun
But online bingo, a dozen cats, less social life than her mum
She didn't want the epitaph when she came to die
To read  'True friends to the end, Me my sofa and I'


So the following weekend she lovingly polished her finest dancing shoes
Invited all her contacts out for a night of gossip and booze
Come 2am when by habit she’d be curled up snug in bed
She was downing shots and trying to ignore the swimming in her head
And at 3am outside Chicken Cottage crying into cheesy chips
Her paralytic friends were offering sage advice whilst thinking 'get a grip'

Sunday morning texts flew to and fro, filling in the gaps
That somehow she’d managed to almost forget, a convenient memory lapse
A cigarette burn in her favourite dress, an empty wallet and blistered feet
Her favourite shoes and dignity discarded on some unknown city street
Her appetite for a more exciting night, and her liver more than sated
By an experience she wouldn’t rush to revisit; living it up was clearly overrated
So when the next Saturday came round she decided there was no shame
In admitting that clubbing was really not her game
Ten years ago she’d have carved up the floor
But now she didn’t care who thought her a bore
Alcopops and sticky floors could never contend
Now she’d found the recipe for the perfect weekend
And she couldn’t care less if her gravestone read ‘She loved pinot, pyjamas, trash tv
But not the company of me, my sofa and I, but my sofa, my friends and me.’


Sunday, 22 January 2012

High Heels and Treadmills

It's official - I'm disappearing, fading away, shrinking from view. Not, alas, from dramatic weight loss (1 pound in two weeks definitely not worth shouting about), but from the scales at the gym's disturbing proclamation that I've shrunk an inch over the past seven days. I calculate that if my diminuation continues at such a rapid rate then by January 2017 I will have completely vanished, nothing left but a pair of shoes and some contact lenses. As I'd be beyond the help of even the highest of heels, any acquaintances or indeed passers by with size 3 and a half feet would be welcome to help themselves to my admittedly vast collection.

It could, on the other hand, just be that this morning my posture was abysmal. Hard as I try my default condition on a Sunday morning is to reluctantly drag myself onto the treadmill, making sideways glances to the neighbouring machines where I view with suspicion the army of super-charged gym bunnies for whom 300 press ups before 9am are as vital a routine as my morning cup of tea. I may not be enthusiastic, but hey, at least I'm there.

One of the best things about going to the gym is the opportunity for people watching. My destination of choice is the local council leisure centre, not only a mecca for those wishing to get a bit sweaty but also home to a cafe where you can undo all of your good work with a pint of bitter and a plate piled high with cheesey chips. You really do get people from all walks of life there, from boys barely in their teens trying desperately to bulk up; to senior citizens with dozens of marathons to their name. Stick thin girls in cropped t-shirts moan to their equally skinny mates about muffin tops and love handles that my naked eye certainly can't see. Overly enthusiastic newbies with all the gear and no idea jostle for equipment alongside frankly scary looking muscle men with weightlifting belts and arms that would give Popeye a run for his money. 

For each hardcore exercise nut there are probably three gym-goers just like me (ok, maybe not quite as unfit as me); those for whom exercise is something they begrudgingly do through a sense of duty; a desire to keep the body ticking over; or to atone for all those sneaky mid-week glasses of wine and crisps. Is it worth it? Hard to tell - on one hand, I haven't disappeared yet; but on the other - well, I haven't disappeared yet. Like most women I would love to drop a dress size or two, but if I were given a choice between being the size I am today or invisible - well, all those shoes need someone to wear them, and the joy of footwear is that it doesn't give a **** about a fat day.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Short Story - Preparing for the Worst

As promised; here's the short story that I wrote for this week's Leeds Savages writing group meeting...



PREPARING FOR THE WORST

Preparation is key; no, scrap that; preparation is everything. Be prepared for the worst of situations, the website said; and without fail things will only turn out for the best. I’ve always gone in for the mantra that a pessimist is never disappointed, and on the whole it’s served me alright. This time however I fear that things are going to go well beyond the realm of mere disappointment; based on what I’ve heard about what some of our guys across the pond have been put through recently I am, apologies for being crude, quite literally crapping my pants. Grown men reduced to tears; bodies shaking as these eternal control freaks for the first time ever learn what it’s like to lose their grip on a life previously diarised to the nth degree. No way was that going to be me; not if there was anything on this godless earth that I could do to help it.  

Hence my foray into the labyrinth of online advice so usefully available at ones fingertips these days, and hence why I’m currently tied to a cold table wearing only my boxers with a gag in my mouth and genuine terror painted across my sweat covered face. Her platform boots pound on the floorboards, each heavy thud like a punch to the chest. Shiny, thigh high; certainly footwear created with fetish in mind rather than engineered for running for the bus, doing the weekly shop or taking the kids to school.

THUD THUD THUD

She hovers above my shackled body, her face just beyond my gaze, eyes instead drawn to slightly mottled thighs, a blotchy artificial tan unsuccessfully trying to disguise the excess flab. A tiny skirt constructed from the same mock leather as the boots barely covers her dignity, underneath which I can see red knickers; not the flim flam, frilly and lacy sweet nothings of fantasy, but big, sturdy, practical garments. Like the ones in that film, you know, the one where that skinny blonde American plied herself with pies in order to portray the typical bloaty neurotic British bird. Bridget Jones, that’s the one. Bridget Jones pants.

THWACK!

She cracks her whip on the floor, its path spiralling mere millimetres from my ear.

“You’ve been a bad boy, Michael. And what do bad boys deserve?”

I try to reply, but given my current situation this is a rhetorical question; my mouth clearly otherwise engaged.

“Bad boys get punished, Michael. They get what they deserve.”

As the whip cracks again just a whisper away from my incapacitated jaw, I try to refocus my mind.

The Boy Scouts may have worn dreadful outfits and engaged in far too much wholesome, worthy activity for my liking, but they did have a pretty great motto. ‘Semper Paratus’. Be Prepared. Preparation, that’s what it’s all about. Preparation, physical and mental, is the path to success.

She turns and picks up one of the candles that provide the only light in this dark chamber. She holds the flickering flame over my naked torso, then slowly tips it until hot wax hits my chest and I writhe with exquisite pain.

“Enjoy that, do you, you sick, pathetic bitch? Well let’s see if you enjoy this.”

Putting the candle aside, she grabs my smarting wax encrusted nipple and twists hard. This is really not my scene at all, and I’m certainly not planning any repeat visits, but I’m determined to see this through. Michael Porter is not a quitter, never has been, never will be.

“You should be ashamed of yourself, you dirty little banker. Lowest of the low, that’s what you are.”

With her free hand she loosens the straps holding the gag in my mouth and I gratefully inhale a lung full of incense-laden air.

“Tell me, slave boy. Tell mistress exactly what you are.”

With a spluttering cough I clear my throat.

“I’m a bad boy, mistress. I’m a bad boy and a dirty little banker and I deserve all the punishment that I get.”

With a agonising flick she releases my nipple from her grasp.

“That’s correct; you’re the scum of the earth, you bankers; and don’t you know it.” She spits on the floor in emphasis of her disgust then starts to loosen the straps that are holding my arms in place.  “Yes, that’s why so many of you come here for mistress to put you in your place.” She slides down to the foot of the ankles and opens the clasps that have been securing my ankles. “Now then, before we send you on your merry way, I think it’s time that we turn you over and introduce you to mistress’s paddle. I hope you’re prepared for the spanking of your life.”

Preparation, bittersweet preparation; the very reason why I’m here. Fearing the potentially even more agonising consequences of non-compliance, I manoeuvre myself onto all fours and grit my teeth as I await the inevitable.


Fifteen minutes later, with red raw stinging buttocks hiding beneath my made to measure suit, I emerge from the dungeon into the bright light of the waiting area. Sat thumbing through magazines are a couple of guys just like me; one of whom I’m sure that I vaguely recognise from the trading floor. Deliberately avoiding eye contact I hurry from the building and make my way back to the office; the Rolex I treated myself to with last year’s bonus informing me that I don’t even have the time to grab a coffee before the dreaded appointment.

When I arrive, slightly out of breath and pumped with adrenaline, the door is closed and his personal assistant indicates for me to take a seat. Slowly I lower myself down, lips pursed, knuckles white, every fibre of my body trying not to wince as my stinging flesh makes contact with the chair. The next five or so minutes seem to pass inordinately slowly, and I begin to fear that the fire rushing through my veins will subside too quickly, will not achieve the desired effect. Just when I start to feel concern that all that preparation was for nothing, the dragon behind the desk calls my name. “Mr Porter? Mr Lancashire is ready to see you now.”

With a deep breath, I deliberately graze my buttocks against the arm of the chair, igniting a fresh surge of pain to carry me through. I’ve put myself through the most intense pain in order to numb myself to whatever agonies I’m about to face. Has all the preparation been worthwhile, and will it achieve the desired effect? Ask me again in a hour, once my appraisal is through, and I’ll let you know.


Sunday, 8 January 2012

Less wobble - more productivity....

Decent start to the year - I've just managed to be disciplined enough to sit myself down and write a short story for this week's Leeds Savages Writing Group meeting. I'll publish it on here after debuting it at Wednesday's meet - it's a little 'adult' in nature (might be a bit much for your granny but no worse than that!) and a bit different from most of my writing but hopefully it'll get a decent reception.

Weekends seem to go so fast, it's nearly always impossible to fit in everything that you'd hoped. I'd hoped to get two trips to the gym in, but have settled with one long session plus some time chasing a friend's toddler around Golden Acre Park, which surely must burn off more than a few calories. Today marks the start of my efforts to get a bit more healthy - in a deliberate avoidance of the inevitably unsuccessful new year resolution I hereby declare 8th January the point at which I A: Start eating less rubbish and B: Make a concerted effort to move a lot more. My biggest stumbling block will surely be the fact that in my workplace barely a day goes past without some form of temptation, be it samples of tasty new products to 'test' (do calories consumed in the cause of research somehow not count?) or colleagues bringing in yummy treats (working alongside @Cupcakeleeds is always a pleasure, never a chore!). I've just got to try and stay focused on the goal and hopefully, a couple of months down the line, there will be 10% less Heather in volume terms, and 10% more Heather productivity.

Anyhow, check out my blog on Thursday if you want to read 'Preparing for the worst' - its only 1,000 words long so a quick read - though I won't guarantee that it'll be a 'painless' one.....

Sunday, 1 January 2012

On New Years Resolutions

Congratulations! Give yourself a well deserved pat on the back, crack open the champagne - or at least that dusty supermarket perry that's been mouldering at the back of the cupboard since the nineties – it’s time to celebrate. The very fact that you’re reading this means that you've achieved something that was beyond Kim Jong-Il, Osama Bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi - you've survived 2011. Good job!



At present it is virtually impossible to turn on the TV or radio or meander through the twitterverse without hearing those three ominous words; 'New Years Resolution'. Be it the shock of an alien date on the calendar, a reaction to the excess fest of Christmas or simply the expectations of modern culture that inspire the desire to publicly declare good intentions, in nine out of ten cases failure will be inevitable. Waking on January 1st with the headache from hell and somewhat hazy memories of the previous night's antics it can seem like a great idea to commit to giving up the demon drink. Grand plans are drawn up whereby those nights previously passed down the boozer will now be spent at an eye wateringly expensive gym where you will force your ill-equipped body to participate in activity well behind its physical capabilities. Such self flagellation can be masochistically pleasurable for a while, but a couple of weeks down the line the lure of a new glass of red whilst curled up on the sofa will  outweigh the questionable appeal of Boxercise and continued sobriety.



Setting and sharing personal goals can certainly be a worthwhile exercise, articulating your intentions to others potentially leading to support which will help you realise dreams that may never have been achieved if they’d remained confined to the back of the mind. The best intended resolutions can however also lead to disappointment; grand plans which never come to fruition resulting in a sense of failure which drags you down rather than propelling you to make the most out of life. In 2013 I'll turn 30 and at present it looks highly unlikely that by then I'll have achieved any of the things that I'd always imagined myself to have ticked off before I entered my fourth decade. What I've recently come to realise however, the knowledge of which would have saved the younger me a great deal of agony, is that it really doesn't matter. Sh*t happens – deal with it. Life is littered with highs and lows, and whilst the best laid plans may go awry sometimes the most rewarding experiences are those which are completely unexpected. Even the hardest times can, in retrospect, serve to strengthen us as individuals – if every life consisted purely of one perfectly choreographed rite of passage after another then the world would surely be a far duller place; our libraries empty, radios silent, tv screens blank.



So as you wave goodbye to 2011, don’t waste valuable hours trying to compose a mental script of the year ahead. If you want to quit smoking, lose weight or learn a foreign language by all means make the effort, but treat it as a continually evolving day by day challenge rather than making some goal plucked out of thin air the be all and end all without which the year will be doomed. Throughout our education and careers we are all subject to more than enough targets and performance evaluation – why make your personal life just another benchmarking exercise? Take pride in being you, and going forward see every day as worthy of celebration (champagne of course optional).