Monday, 11 December 2017

Time for Dressing Up



We had a rare night out this week – a pre-Christmas meal with friends.  

There is not much I could do nowadays that would cause our boys to raise their heads from their latest gaming obsessions.   But there was a time when Mummy putting on clothes that were not covered in baked beans was a source of great curiosity.

Oliver would watch me applying make-up with great interest.

“Mummy, why are you decorating your face?” he once asked.

How to explain to a three year old? To try to look less exhausted? To hide my desire to forget the whole “going out thing” and just put my pyjamas on? I can’t remember what explanation I gave, but I doubt he was satisfied with it.

Sometimes their questions would be more disconcerting. Children are painfully honest.  As I was straightening my hair, William watched with a fascinated expression. 

“Mummy, are you trying to make your hair REALLY flat?” he asked. I have to confess, “flat” was not exactly the look I was going for, but it was obviously the stand-out characteristic for this small fashion critic. 

In the days when Mummy was always to be found in jeans, or on bad days, joggers, Mummy in a skirt was always very amusing. William would point suspiciously at my tights. 

“What’s happened to your legs, Mummy?” 

“I’m wearing tights.”

“What are those?”

“Sort of very thin socks”. 

I could see him thinking, “Not very good socks. Not warm, and they don’t have pictures of Bob the Builder on them”.

Oliver particularly liked shoes as a small child.  Some of his most dramatic tantrums were over new shoes, or sandals, or wellies.  So when I dug out my heels from the back of the wardrobe, he was very excited.  

As we were getting ready to go out for my birthday, (I think it was a significant milestone), I produced a pair of high heels with a diamante strap, which I had worn on our wedding day. 

Oliver bent down to touch the sparkly stones. “These are like party shoes!” he exclaimed. 

“Well it’s sort of a party, because it’s my birthday,” I said. 

Later, as we were about to leave the house, Oliver spotted my husband’s black lace-ups.  He was outraged. 

“Why don’t you have sparkly party shoes, Daddy?” 

Good question. 

Walk into any children’s clothing department, and the space devoted to girls' clothes will be double that for the boys. Racks and racks of pink and purple skirts, dresses, and tops, with sparkly slogans, kittens, and unicorns, outshine a few drab racks of navy, and khaki, and plaid.   

There has been a lot of debate recently about gender and clothes. Certainly, this polarisation seems to have become more extreme in recent years. I am absolutely in favour of girls’ clothes being more practical, and I think gender-free clothes are a great idea.  

Equally, though, I can’t help thinking it’s a shame that boys' clothes are, well, boring. Many boys are just as interested in dressing up as girls, but as they get older they quickly pick up that this is not acceptable. Boys wear black, and grey, and khaki.  They don’t get to sparkle.

So, wouldn’t it be great if boys had more glitz and glamour, for those rare, special, occasions, when only glitz and glamour will do?

Monday, 4 December 2017

Snowflake by Annabel Howarth

Snowflake,
A miracle of creation,
Born from the heavens,
Perfect to my eyes,
When do you first wonder,
“Though in my six-sided symmetry,
I hear I am beautiful,
I hear I am perfect,
Which of us is best?”
“Who do you love the most?”

You are perfect to my eyes,
You are perfect to my soul,
Each one of you is
Loved.

You,
Whose journey began
In a frantic storm, which
Twisted and turned you,
Quick and slow, from
East to West, each move,
Shaping you,
You are perfect to my eyes.

You,
Who fell quietly,
Gently,
Softly,
In the middle of the night,
You are perfect to my eyes.

You,
who fell in a fanfare, of
Joyous children’s smiles,
And
You,
who fell hurriedly, on a
Road of treacherous ice,
You are perfect to my eyes.

You, who grew angry,
You, who just cried,
You, who laughed at inappropriate times,
You, who they called clever,
You, who they called brave,
You, they called a joker,
You, they always blamed,
You are perfect in my eyes.

There is no best way to be,
To be born, to live, to die,
Rest easy, my precious children,

You are perfect in my eyes.

Monday, 27 November 2017

The Magical Market

Thank you for inviting me to post. I enjoyed meeting you all in Huddersfield, and hope to come again soon.

For those of you I didn't meet, I'm Elizabeth Hopkinson, a fantasy and fairy tale writer from Bradford. You can read more about me at elizabethhopkinson.uk

This is a little piece I wrote for the programme of Clayton Dickensian Market, which takes place on 2nd December. It's an annual event in my home village, and it's become a bit of a tradition in recent years for me to contribute something to the programme:


      Clayton Dickensian Market. Photo from Hello Yorkshire.


The market appears like magic, once a year.

Yesterday, it was not here. Today, the cries of the vendors mingle with the sound of accordions and bagpipes, the music of the merry-go-round and the jingle of loose change. The winter air is thick with smell of mulled wine, pie ‘n’ peas, cinder toffee and roasting chestnuts. Here, the boundaries between reality and fantasy grow thin. Mrs Cratchit is selling dolls. The Snow Queen pets a dog dressed as a reindeer. Fagin passes the Town Crier a hot dog, as a bird of prey perches on a Scout’s arm.

Where did it come from? Some say from the pages of a story book. Others that it was born in the hearts of a sweet old couple, now grown together and changed into a tree in Victoria Park.

What will you buy? For those who know the right places to ask, you may come away with a box of Christmas crackers which, when pulled, release flights of phoenixes. Or a dress that transports its wearer to Bethlehem in the days of Caesar Augustus. 

Best of all is a stall you are bound to find. It is never in the same place twice, always different for each person. But waiting there is a gift made especially for you.

I wonder what it could be?

      My stall at the market on a previous occasion. Photo is my own.

Monday, 20 November 2017

A Winter Journey by Virginia Hainsworth


Engine thrumming soothingly,
absorbing  the kilometres,
as each stretch of road
is replaced by another,
snowier than the last.
Winter tyres earning their keep.

The pine forest parts before us
as if to let us through,
drawing us further north.
North into the land of the Sami,
where the days shrink.
The temperature slides, as does the sun.

Barely a car passes,
barely a sound penetrates the air.
The hours pass us by
and are left behind.
And still the frigid road.

And then the magic.
Miniature flecks in the distance amplify
and evolve into elegant reindeer.
We stop, while these soft coated, horned magicians
silently cross our path, casting their spell.

Our drive continues.
But, somehow, the images
of those majestic Nordic heroes
condense our onward journey,
and leave us bewitched.



November 2017

Monday, 13 November 2017

Room 27 by Jo Cameron-Symes


“As you know from our website Madam we pride ourselves in doing things differently here. You are free to move around the hotel and browse the interesting layout and d├ęcor of unoccupied rooms as we leave these open for people to take pictures of and talk about on social media. We are extremely proud of being the most Instagrammed hotel in the UK.” His demeanour changed as he leant forwards on to the desk and whispered in my ear “Of course there is one stipulation we insist that our guests obey which is that you must not enter Room 27. It is kept unlocked but we must insist that you do not open the door.” At this I burst out laughing! “Really?! I thought this hotel was called ‘The Pavilion,’ not ‘Castle Dracula!”’ In response, he leant back and grew stony faced. “You may laugh Madam but enter that room at your own peril. Here is your room key.” I looked down in to my hand and saw that the key he had handed me was to Room 26. Was this a subtle form of revenge I thought, but said nothing and gathered up my luggage as I dare not ask anyone to assist me, feeling as if I had insulted the whole establishment.

My room was on the second floor. There appeared to be three unoccupied rooms nearby. The door of Room 27 was closed firmly shut but looked nothing out of the ordinary, it was the same burgundy colour as all the other doors sporting an identical brass handle. My room was beautiful inside, it was Indian themed and was covered in gorgeous saris of red fabric which were draped across the bed and were used as window dressings. By the wall away from the bed stood a beautiful gold dressing table studded with teal jewels. Wow! I thought, Sarah was not lying when she said that this hotel was something special!  I looked outside and saw the bustling December streets, throngs of shoppers were loaded up with Christmas gifts. I was soon waiting to join them myself. In the far distance there was Arthur’s Seat, providing a glorious backdrop against this ancient city. I turned back to my room and was then curious to visit the unoccupied ones on my floor. I found a minimalist but divine Japanese room, a French style room and an all American room which was fairly brash and seemed to have a jukebox which was only for decorative purposes (too noisy I assumed!). I then sauntered back to my own room and passed Room 27. I felt an almost magnetic draw to the room and managed to talk myself out of turning the handle. I went back to my room to unpack and get ready for my mega shopping expedition. Just after I’d freshened up I allowed myself to place my ear against the adjoining wall to Room 27. For a moment, I thought that I heard the soft sounds of someone breathing, but then I heard nothing. Probably just my imagination, I thought. I gathered up my bag and left for the delights of Princes Street.

I had a glorious time ticking off my shopping list! My brother thinks that I’m mad and tries to persuade me to order everything online but I love the hubbub and atmosphere of this time of year near to Christmas! Carols playing, people’s faces warmed by multi-coloured lights and cups of steaming hot cocoa, the satisfaction of finding something unique and special for loved ones. No, give me Christmas over any other time of year!

I arrived back at the hotel exhausted and laden down with shopping bags. I was also extremely hungry and feeling too tired to venture out further, I decided to visit the hotel’s dining room even though this was not in my original budget. The usual dining room was being renovated I was told, and the temporary dining room they had set up seemed rather plain and austere in contrast to the opulence of the bedrooms. As a lone female I attracted a few stares but most people were too busy or preoccupied with their own affairs. It appeared that I was mostly surrounded by a sea of people clacking away on their laptops and glued to their phones even when they were seated with others. How sad I thought, when did we lose our human connection to each other?

After a rich (and expensive) dinner I ventured back to my room once again passing the door of Room 27. I looked left and right and seeing no one thought: what harm could a little peek do? If I open it a crack, then close it again, who will ever know? I approached the cool brass handle and pressed it down then slowly pushed the door open. The room was dark as the curtains were drawn firmly shut so my initial impression was that this room was empty but then my eyes adjusted and shapes began to form out of the darkness. I stood still and took in a staggered breath for I could not believe what I was seeing! On the floor of the room was a huge alligator staring straight at me with its beady eyes and gaping bloody jaw filled with razor sharp teeth! I screamed then slammed the door before it could run at me and devour me whole!

My scream alerted the occupant of Room 24 who ran out and knew at once what had occurred. “Oh Christ!” he said. You’ve seen it too haven’t you?! You opened the door of Room 27!” “The forbidden room,” I replied in a dazed state. “Exactly! I made the very same mistake on my first night here three days ago! It’s truly horrifying isn’t it?!” I nodded mutely. “I was so terrified afterwards that I’ve locked myself away in my room ever since, too petrified to leave and living off room service! I’ve missed an entire conference which was supposed to be mandatory so no doubt I’ve also lost my job! When I heard your scream I thought the worst and that I’d be too late to save you!” His monologue had brought me to a little and I found myself feeling brave enough to respond “To be honest, not only is it terrifying, let alone dangerous but it’s also quite cruel. Whatever were they thinking?! Keeping such a huge animal cooped up in a such a small hotel room?! It’s an aquatic animal or semi-aquatic at least for a start! It should be really in a zoo! Maybe it came from there? Perhaps we should call the RSPCA or Edinburgh Zoo maybe…? The man had frozen still and stared at me. “Animal?! There’s an animal in there now?!” “You mean to say there wasn’t one when you looked?” “No, definitely not!” he replied. Scared and confused we both stared in horror at the closed door of Room 27.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Hawksby – Part 1: by Dave Rigby

He glanced down at his boots. Ned, the hotel porter, had cleaned and polished them only that morning, but they were already covered in the dust and grime of the city’s streets. Picking his way through the horse droppings, he reached the far pavement and disappeared down the narrow alley just as the wall-mounted streetlamp flickered and died. The dying embers of one cheroot lit the next. A rat scampered away into the shadows as he strode on, the package heavy in the pocket of his thick overcoat.

He’d been in Bristol for a month, had got to like the waterfront, the steep hills and the Downs, but never forgotten for a moment that he had a job to do.

The road beyond the alley was lined with the grand villas of men with money, carriages lined up on the cobbles awaiting instruction. A lighted match illuminated the dial of his pocket watch and he quickened his pace towards the bridge. The moon emerged suddenly from behind dark clouds, its pale light picking out the massive iron hawsers.

The conversation with Tolan had delayed him. It hadn’t gone well and he knew it would be difficult to keep the deal on track. But, despite the delay he’d managed to reach the bridge at the appointed time. Walking under the Clifton tower, he headed towards the southern side of the bridge, picking out, far below, the boat moored upstream. A man on horseback rode by at a brisk trot. Leaning against the railings, Hawksby drew on his cheroot and kept his eyes on the boat as he waited for the sound of hooves to fade away. The boatman had spotted him. Oars dipped into the murky waters, the boat slid away from the cover of the over-hanging riverside willows and moved slowly towards the bridge.

Hawksby reached into his pocket, removed the oilskin-wrapped package and dropped it over the side. Oars temporarily shipped, the boatman netted his catch, before pulling away strongly downstream.

A train whistled in the distance and dark clouds moved to obscure the moon once again. Perfect timing he thought as he walked under the second tower, away from the city, towards Leigh Woods. He imagined the ship waiting at the river mouth and the exchange between the boatman and the ship’s captain.

+ + +

In the Old Porter House, the air was thick with tobacco smoke, the language unrestrained and the flagged floor sticky with spilled drink. A mangy dog moved under the tables, sniffed out stray food and tried to avoid the swinging boots of annoyed drinkers. Hawksby alternated between his beer glass and his pipe. The previous day, the boatman had delivered the payment from the ship’s captain and the money was safely inside the buttoned inner pocket of his jacket. As a precaution, his right hand grasped the sheathed blade concealed in an outer pocket. The public house wasn’t one he’d frequented before and he ignored the suspicious glances of the men lining the bar. After all, he wasn’t a man to pick a fight with.

An hour passed without any sign of Tolan. There was no point in waiting any longer and the throng at the bar parted as he pushed his way through to the door. Out in Narrow Wine Street, he relaxed his grip on the knife and made his way to Tolan’s office. Perhaps there’d been a misunderstanding or, more likely, the lawyer had been working on a less risky deal for another client. The snow that had threatened all day finally began to fall. A drunk veered towards him, took one look at his face and lurched away. The office was on the first floor. The clerk claimed that his master was away on business, but Hawksby knew from his tone that he was lying and continued walking towards the inner sanctum. Tolan, who must have heard his voice, was suddenly there in the doorway, smiling broadly, holding out a hand in greeting.

Inside the office, despite the heat from the blazing fire, Hawskby kept his coat on. The offer of a brandy was refused. He was annoyed and wanted to get the inevitable confrontation over and done with, but Tolan was at his ingratiating worst, apologising for the missed appointment and imploring his client to take a drink. Hawksby stood his ground and gradually the lawyer reverted to type.

The proposed deal would not be legal and therefore, regrettably, he’d be unable to act in his usual capacity. Hawksby knew what this really meant – a prolonged haggling over fees. Whatever principles Tolan might have had when he’d first started out as a lawyer, they’d been replaced by cold financial calculations.

It took a while but agreement was eventually reached to Hawksby’s satisfaction.

Traffic was dense through the snowy centre of the city, but the driver of the hansom cab deftly manoeuvred the small vehicle around the bigger, slower carriages.  It was dusk by the time they reached the hotel in Hotwells. As he paid the fare, Hawksby noticed the man leaning against the hotel’s stone gate post. Although his hat was pulled down low and a muffler obscured the lower part of his face, Hawksby recognised him instantly.

It was time to change hotels again.