Paper Hearts – sometimes love just needs a helping hand.

This is a sometimes bleak yet ultimately uplifting story, just right for Valentines day! It was short-listed for the Bedford International Writing Competition and showcased at the ‘Is This Love?’ reading event at the Happy Heart Café, it is one of my favourites . Hope you enjoy!

Paper Hearts

 

I carefully folded the paper in half and drew the heart with a soft yet steady hand. I cut around the perfect curves, down, down to the sharpest point and all the way back up again. A wisp of anticipation hit as I unfolded the paper and one heart became two. Relief! They were in perfect symmetry. I painted my hearts with the brightest, brilliant crimson and lifted them up to gaze in wonder at their beauty. I sprinkled them with a glitter of hope and breathed life into them. I was a fledgling heartmaker, but I allowed myself a soft sigh of contentment. My work was good and I was as proud as any mother, as I watched them float, out, out into the world ….my two fragile paper hearts.

 

                                                                                         *****

I am knotted and tangled into this life. No matter how I wrangle with the enigma that is marital harmony, I cannot unravel the tight bindings. I watch through slitted eyes, darting eyes. Sometimes I breathe long, slow, painful breaths as I wade through time. I am immersed in a vat tar. It is choking me, seeping into my nose, my eyes, clogging up my thoughts and pushing the world out of focus. I am stuck tight, blind with time. I can see nothing ahead. Then there are the whirling, spinning weeks. The months where I cannot keep up. I don’t know how to function at this pace. He whizzes by and I cannot slow him down. Stop. Talk to me. See me. Please. But he just carries on. Don’t look down dear, only forwards. Only forwards. I have ceased to exist in one world or another. I move and breathe and that is enough. Enough for him not to pry. Enough for him to choose not to come down from his pedestal and open the box.

From under lowered lashes I simmer at my husband. I watch as he lays in blissful contentment on the sofa, sniggering at the inane babble of the TV. With phone in hand, he alternates between his diversions. He doesn’t ask about my day. About my thoughts, ideas, plans, hopes or dreams. Does he know I’m here? He leans forward, picks a tea cup up from the floor and holds it up, nodding in my direction with a grin . Oh yes, he knows I’m here. He smiles, only with his mouth. I have the privilege of serving him. He jiggles the cup from side to side. He is a funny man…in his eyes.

A song drifts from the TV. I fall backwards through time and suddenly my heart begins to beat again. I am flooded with memory. It fills my soul and I feel the sudden surge of long-forgotten joy. It wasn’t always like this. I wasn’t always like this. There was a time, long ago. A time when I danced to that song……

 

*****

 

I kept a close eye on my paper hearts as they were jostled and pushed against the crowd. Sometimes another heart got too close and I blew them gently into a clean space where they could breathe and spin in playful whirls. After a while they found a rhythm, their rhythm. They began to beat in harmony to their own song. They preferred a slow, steady beat. That’s when they would shine their brightest, swaying gently on the tide of my breath as it swept them away from danger. Their colour darkened to a deeper crimson, red cells of love grew within, making them stronger every day. I was told to let them go, let them find their own way. That is how it must be done otherwise …otherwise….. But they were mine…..and I could not.

 

*****

 

Bolts of coloured lights jabbed at the darkness. I licked the salt from my top lip as the rhythm pounded and my body moved in time. My hair stuck to my forehead as I writhed on the dance floor. Bodies came close, leaning into me, hands on my hips, the sweet tang of alcohol in my nostrils. I moved in time with them, one after the other, after the other. I stretched my arms high above me and threw my head back. I was dancing. I was happy. I was free. The beat picked up and I sucked in hard, catching my breath. The crowd moved up and down. I jumped too. High and fast. I was ensnared by the pulsing rhythm of the crowd. Hands up. Thump, jump, thump, jump, a heavy, heady beat of sound and sweat. Behind me, hard against my back, a body. Strong hands encircled my waist and lifted me higher with each beat. I giggled, giddy in the moment. I turned my head back and laughed into the dark eyes of a stranger. I felt his heart beating in his chest to the fast heavy rhythm. It pounded into my back. Its rhythm matched mine. He held me very tight, as we jumped to the same beat….together.

Later we tumbled outside and spiky rain washed the sweat from our faces while we ran for cover. In the bus shelter we huddled together, giggling in the amber glow from a jagged streetlamp. He covered my cheeks with those strong, warm hands and kissed me. He was liquid mercury pouring into me. Hot, molten….toxic. When he pulled away he gave me a wicked dimpled smile. I could see the steam of my blush in the air around us.

‘Come next week, to Compton’s. I’m in the band.’

Lust curled its tongue around my stomach. I was almost breathless.

‘I like boys with guitars.’

He leant his forehead onto mine and with all- knowing eyes, he whispered

‘Does your boyfriend know?’

 

*****

 

It was the rain. I couldn’t stop it. It washed over my paper hearts with a fury and drained the colour from them. Rivulets of water stole their crimson brilliance away, leaving them marbled with a delicate pink hue. In the tempest, another had stuck fast. A heart so dark in colour it was almost black. I blew and blew but I couldn’t separate them. They fused together in a sticky papier-mâché. All three. And all I could do was wait, wait for the rain to stop.

                                                                             *****

He wasn’t always like this. But then again neither was I. I have a fog whirling inside my mind but sometimes I catch a glimpse of him, of us, and what we were. It is Sunday and I am aimlessly wiping with a sodden cloth. I wipe around the smoky, steel of the sink, across the smooth rink of the worktop, around my reflection, distorted in the milky plastic of the kettle and the toaster, until the cloth is mottled with the scum and crumbs of our daily life. A stench of bleach and mould sours my nostrils and I walk across to the bin and toss the cloth away with disdain.

I pass him in the hall. We side step around his bulk and the hooded clank of golf clubs. I glare as he pulls open the front door and bundles himself outside. Cold air slaps my face and jolts me. I am still alive. He mumbles something and hurries down the drive. I don’t bother closing the door. I stand for a while, in the hall, letting the cold seep into me until I ache. I look at the couple in the photograph on the wall and wonder where I know them from. They are bathed in brilliant sunshine with colourful drinks dashed with brazen umbrellas. Their smiles are different to ours. They smile from their eyes and not with a cranking jerk of the jaw.

A leaf blows in and perches on the top of the radiator. It is brown and crumbling, its withered veins are desperately dry, no longer pumping with life. Another lift from the breeze and it somersaults upwards and sticks to the photograph, masking the faces of the happy couple. I move toward it and gently peel it away. It crunches against my thumb and forefinger and I ball it up in my palm until it disintegrates. I go to the front door and throw the dust outside and slam the front door shut. I wander around, pick up towels and boxer shorts from the bathroom floor and throw them in a wicker basket. I run the tap to wash away the sticky clump of toothpaste from the basin then I lower the seat on the toilet before going down stairs to the chill of the fridge and the promise from the bottle of a nice, quiet afternoon.

When he returns he snaps me from the darkness with a flick of a switch. The kitchen light buzzes and flickers for a moment before finally steadying its gaze onto my tear stained face. He sighs. I bristle. There is a tussle, some shouting and a crack of crockery echoes across the kitchen. Then finally I deflate. He drip feeds water into me and later he bathes me and wraps me in the warm blanket of his arms. When he lays this close, inhaling my essence, I can feel the rhythm of his heart. It beats in perfect opposition to mine.

 

*****

 

He sang for me. The cliché clutched at my heart and dragged me in. I thought I was better, knew better, but I fell, just the same as you would. I buried my guilt under a duvet, sullied with the stench of selfishness. Drenched with lust I crawled home with dark- circled eyes and the taste of him embedded on my tongue. The same tongue I used to lie, lie in a way I never thought myself capable of. A whole new network of old school friends jostled with late night meetings and family emergencies to form last minute stories, woven as I staggered home, giddy with attention. The lust rebounded off the walls of our flat and formed a barrier against the man I had loved. He was pushed as far into the corner as I could, armed with the vicious lash of a critical tongue, his flaws were illuminated and I was smug with justification.

He knew of course. They say it’s the gift of women to know. But he unwrapped me bow and all, the muddied pool of betrayal seeping out to drown and choke us both in bed of tears. I gave him the courtesy of leaving. I didn’t look back. Not that first time anyway.

 

*****

I went to the workshop, to the elders. There must be a tool? Some way I can unpick the glue. Something sharp to separate them. They were kindly. It often happens with fledglings they said. They don’t realise the dangers, they get too attached. If a black heart sticks, they told me, almost nothing can remove it. I was weeping when I asked…. almost nothing? Almost?

You must cut them apart they told me. But there is danger. You may damage the good hearts….forever. I was as careful as I could be, but I was new to this. I lacked experience. With trembling fingers I sliced them apart, but there was a sticky residue of black around the edges. The cut was not clean.

                                                                                            *****

For a while I lived in a world filled with a light so brilliant it beamed me high above the rest of the world. Buoyed by angel’s words from a serpents tongue, nothing could touch me. I was his, wholly and completely and he was my puppet master. The caterpillar morphed into his butterfly of choice as I disrobed from my past and stepped into his future. His magic seeped into my bloodstream and pumped through my heart, filling it with his essence. As with every light, there is a shadow. But I was blind to the darkness he cast…until it was far too late.

I was working late. Torturous minutes that kept me from him, until finally, finally, I was released. I ran, out of the office and into the road to try and catch it, but the flash of red hissed passed and the dreary faces peered from the dimly lit windows, as I stamped my foot on the sodden tarmac. It would be another twenty minutes before the next one and rain drenched my sunken shoulders as the nearby driver made the choice to press his foot down hard to beat the amber light. It was many hours later when the pain hit.

More brilliant white light. Scalding my eyes. Day in day out. But this light was painful. Probing. It sucked me from the refuge of sleep where I could cocoon myself in a blanket of darkness and be free from the pain. Broken. Some shattered completely, but my bones hurt only a little. It was the slice in my heart that stung. It never went away. Like an open sore that would never heal. I only had one visitor the whole time I was there. … It wasn’t him.

Later when I called from a crackled line, in a box rank with the stench of urine, I choked and sobbed for answers. He simply said it wasn’t his style. He didn’t do hospitals. But I could call round sometime, if I liked, when I was feeling better.

I went home then, floated back down to a life where the light was muted and cloudy. Picked a white dress from a magazine with a glossy coat, and looking into blue eyes filled with love and forgiveness, I danced on a Saturday, to a slow and steady beat.

I felt safe in this world, secure in the glow of another’s happiness. The pain receded and I was feeling better….so I called round.

 

*****

The waiting room is full and I can feel the walls looming over me. A toddler arches it back over its mothers lap and lets out an ear splitting wail, snot splatters over its burning cheeks and its greasy haired mother pulls a ball of grey tissue from her tracksuit bottoms and attacks its face with a down- trodden sigh. He shuffles closer and puts an arm around me as I lower my head to hide the disgust. A sharp buzzer hits my back filling and my jaw clenches as we stand and he leads me to small room at the end of a darkened corridor.

I do not speak. He speaks for me, about me, for a very long time. Yes dark thoughts. Yes, she drinks. The doctor speaks about me too, then pipes out instructions that sail above my head like transient lift music. Take them with food, try to reduce the alcohol. He nods and thanks her and we leave, and that is that.

When we get home I hang my coat in the hall and sit on the sofa while he makes me tea. He brings it in and sits next to me. His weight shifts the cushion and my handbag slips onto the floor, vomiting the contents onto the polished wood. Lipstick, pennies and fives, keys, my purse, all skitter across the floor and the phone spins like a neon- skirted ice dancer then crashes into the leg of the coffee table. I launch off the sofa, sliding on my knees toward the phone. …immediately giving myself away. He is quicker. I lay on the floor, foetal, the cold wood tiles absorb my silent tears, as he reads the text message.

‘Hey. I miss you.’

He sits back on his haunches, fingers scratching through his hair as he rocks to and fro. He shakes his head.

‘Not again,’ he whispers.

He is defeated.

 

*****

 

I pull my hearts in close. I will not give up on them. I take the glitter from the shelf and sprinkle another generous helping of hope over them. Then I take the scissors. With a deep breath, I steady my hand and try again. I cut around them, slicing away the sticky black residue. They are so much smaller than before and their colour is faded and mottled from the rain, yet they have held fast, still together, still glittering with hope. Just one more thing to do. I take a small piece of card and with a soft yet steady hand I cut out a shape, a tiny heart. I paint it sunshine yellow and place in the centre of the other two. For a second I stop time, I reset the beats then I breathe life back into them and wait and wait…..suddenly they start to pump…all three hearts together…to a slow and steady beat.

Vesta – A Short Story.

This story was first published in Firefly litmag  and you can also hear the audio version at http://www.brumradio.com.  It is the story of my grandma, Vesta. A wonderful lady with a very unusual name. I hope you enjoy it.

 

 

Vesta

 

My mother named me Vesta, after taking one look at my newborn titian tufts. My red hair and unusual name always wins me plenty of compliments from the GI’s and, I must admit, I rather enjoy it. Inevitably though, after a few dances and a few too many beers, it always ends the same.

‘Hey Red, where you goin’?’ they shout , as I walk away, head held high. ‘Awww C’mon, my hand slipped, I didn’t mean it.’

They’re all the same. Think you’ll do anything for a pair of silks.

Kitty and I took the bus away from here once. Most people want to escape to the country but we were quite the opposite. We wanted to gorge ourselves on smoky town fumes and eat chocolate cake with the wages we’d saved for weeks. Brush the antiseptic sting from our hair and forget the sounds of death that rung daily in our ears. We drank tea in a café with a rosy faced waitress and table cloths spattered with bluebells, took our time over the yellow tea pot and the china cups. It was the first real treat we’d had in years. Afterwards, fat raindrops walloped the steamed- up window, so we tied our headscarves and ran over the road to the public library. Our good shoes clattered on the polished floor and our giggles echoed off the marble. We found a book; I don’t know why we chose that one. I can’t remember now, but we looked up our names. Kitty meant pure and I was ‘Vesta’, goddess of the hearth, attended by the Vestal Virgins in Rome. It was Kitty’s laughter that forced the prune- faced librarian to throw us out.

‘Pure? Ha!’ she guffawed. ‘Vestal Virgins? Oh I really don’t think so. Our mother must have lost her poor mind when she named us.’

I was grinning too, but not so much later, when we were standing in the rain; our coats sodden, waiting an age for the bloody bus.

When was that now? I’m sure it was summer. May? No, June maybe? Oh, I must ask Kitty when I see her next.

I’m thinking about all this as I sit in my room. The nurse’s quarters are small, but cosy at least. I try and block out the sound of angry voices. It’s common here. Hospitals always bring out the worst in people.

‘You can’t just turn up here and start making decisions about her,’ a man shouts. ‘Who the bloody hell do you think you are?’

The relatives shouldn’t be in the nurse’s quarters but they often end up here, hiding the truth from their loved ones.

A woman knocks on the open door of my room.

‘Hello darlin,’ she sing-songs. Her voice sounds like it’s been bathed in sunshine and her face is beetle black. She puts a cup of tea down on the small bedside table and I’m watching her fussing with my bedclothes. I’m not sure who she is. I’ve only been a nurse here for a short while but I’ve never seen her before. How nice of her to bring tea.

‘Are you the maid?’ I ask.

Her brow furrows and she pauses for a second before her face splits into a wide grin revealing the biggest, whitest teeth I have ever seen.

‘That’s right darlin’,’ she says, then breaks into laughter. ‘That’s me, the maid.’

She bustles out and I sit in a large, brown armchair, drinking the tea from a flowered china cup as I gaze out of the window toward the hospital building. I can see across the little outdoor courtyard, past the benches and daffodils and the rockery, into the windows across the way. I’m not sure why our quarters are so close to the patients? You would think they’d put us nurses somewhere else. It’s not like the place isn’t big enough. If you go through the double doors at the front, you can walk down the gravel drive and beyond the Iron Gate you can see for miles. Acres of rolling, green hills, fields dotted with little red farmhouses and mini, cloud-like sheep, grazing. Its picture perfect….and boring as hell.

I’m looking at a man in his striped dressing gown walking around and around the ward like a clockwork toy. Poor thing. Someone should put him back to bed. I must check what time my shifts starts; maybe I can go and see him. Find out if its pain or boredom that’s bothering him. But I can’t seem to find my clock. That maid must have moved it. I will go and ask her.

It’s easy to get lost in a new place, the signs here are confusing. I can’t find the maid anywhere but as I wander into the common room I see a man, tall and broad shouldered. He is standing next to the window holding a cup of what I presume must be tea. He turns and smiles as I stop and steady myself against an armchair. Men aren’t usually allowed in the quarters. Matron will have a kitten if she sees him. He walks over to me and I notice his eyes, turquoise blue and twinkling with mischief.

‘There you are, beautiful,’ he says, smiling at me. ‘I just needed to calm down a little. I was just having a cup of tea before I came along for you.’

I don’t know what he means.

‘Have we made I date?’ I ask. ‘Only I’m not sure the dance hall is open this evening.’

I meet so many of them. At the village post office, in the queue for bread, sometimes they just stop Kitty and I on the corner. It is hard to keep up.

‘A date? Oh yes, that’s right,’ he says, looking a little uncertain himself.

‘But I’m not dressed to go out,’ I reply. ‘What time did we say? The silly maid has moved my clock, you see.’

He’s handsome alright. Those eyes are just lovely. Wait until Kitty sees him. She’ll giggle and want him for herself.

‘It’s ok. You go get ready, I’ll wait,’ he says, kindly.

I don’t need to be asked twice. I go back to my room and take my make –up from my dresser. I curl my hair and carefully apply lipstick, rouge and a dash of mascara. I can’t help wondering where I might have met him. I look through my wardrobe and choose a dress of blue, soft cotton with a flowered motif. It will have to do. I don’t have many dresses. I’m searching in my drawer for my silk stockings, when a woman knocks and walks into my room, uninvited. I am a little annoyed but in such a hurry that I carry on pulling out tights and underwear and throw them on the bed, rather rudely ignoring her.

‘You alright darlin’?’ the woman asks. She is smiling as she walks over and starts to put my things in a neat pile.

‘I brought you a cup o’ tea in your nice cup,’ she says, nodding toward my bedside cabinet.

‘What you lookin’ for?’ she asks.

‘Silk stockings,’ I reply, irritated. ‘I have a date. He’s waiting in the common room.’

Her face, black as night, breaks into a friendly smile.

‘Ohhhh, a date?’ She says, giving a throaty chuckle. ‘Well, that’s nice, darlin’.’ Then she takes a tissue from her pocket and tilts my chin up to her.

‘Here, let me help you,’ she says, softly. And I look into kind brown eyes as she gently wipes lipstick from my chin.

‘That’s better,’ she says and then she helps me find my stockings.

As I go to leave my room, dressed to the nines and ready for my date, I realise I’ve forgotten to ask what on earth she was doing in my room.

‘Are you the maid?’ I ask.

But she just smiles and shakes her head as she follows me out.

We are in the dance hall. I am looking up at his face and I am grinning from ear to ear. He has a dimple. I keep looking at that, and those blue, blue eyes and we are dancing. I can dance alright. It’s one of my favourite things on earth. You should see me jitterbug and jive. The GI’s taught me and I am good at it. Even better than Kitty. I love how they swing me and throw me around, my skirt swishing around my legs, then up, up, up, my stocking tops on show as I bounce along to the rhythm. I know it drives them wild. But it’s not that that I love. It’s the music, how it hums through my body, making me forget everything. The death, this war, all the broken people trying desperately to just hold on, until the sands shift once more and we can go back, back to living a life without fear, without this never ending bloody fear.

We are dancing. But not the jive or the jitterbug. This music is slow and he is holding me firm, looking deep into my eyes with a tenderness that reaches inside and makes my heart flutter with hope. He pulls me closer and I nestle my head on his shoulder, breathing in his lemon scent. As we move, slowly, I feel as though I know this man. A warmth floods through me. I feel as though I have known this man my whole life. I lift my head up and look into his eyes and I know he will kiss me. He gently takes my face in his hands and puts his lips to mine, and I don’t pull away. The kiss is sweet and chaste, but nonetheless I blush as red as my hair and look down to the ground.

The spell is broken. I cannot believe it. I am wearing slippers! Oh goodness me, how shameful. What will he think? I must go. If I go quickly he might not notice. If I go quickly, they might not notice. Oh please don’t let Kitty see. She will tease me mercilessly. I’ll never hear the end of it. How could I forget my shoes?

‘I must go,’ I say sharply and flee from the dance hall, turning only once to see him standing there, looking so very sad to see me go.

 

The sun blasts through my window throwing ribbons of light around the room and I simply must go outside. I have spied easels, in the courtyard, and paint too. They must be a gift from a benefactor. Some of our patients are wealthy and we quite often have things sent to the hospital. Gifts from the grateful families of those we’ve managed to save. Even if their sons are sent back to them so torn up that it would have been kinder to let them die. Still we try, always, to keep them alive, no matter what. Women too. Women who have gone out to the field, to somehow try and mop up the agony with only bandages and buckets of rancid water. Women who end up here, just as torn and ragged as those they went to save.

I love to paint, almost as much as I love to dance. My mother said I was gifted, but you don’t get to use ‘gifts’ like painting during a war. I relish the idea of sitting in the sun and creating something beautiful, something to look at that I know won’t die. The paint has been left on a wooden table, simply begging to be used, so I sit down and I begin to mix the colours on a wooden palette. I spend an hour or two painting the flowers around the rockery, capturing the sunny smiles that radiate from the daffodils, the shy beauty of the crocus and the blazing pride of a cluster of crimson tulips.

I am distracted. There is a man sitting on the bench. I didn’t see him before, but now I peep round the easel and catch him staring at me. He looks upset, concerned. I stand and walk over to the bench; it’s my job, as a nurse, to comfort. I quite often see people here, on these benches. They ache for their loved ones. They arrive at the hospital filled with hope, only to find just a husk left of those they waved goodbye to. Sometimes not even that. Sometimes they come only to make arrangements, to have their fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters, wives and husbands taken to a place where they can rest….in peace.

‘Can I help you?’ I ask

He sits up straight and smiles, although the smile doesn’t quite reach his eyes.

‘Will you sit with me?’ he asks, patting the bench next to him.

So I sit down and he turns to me, eyes brimming with tears.

‘I’m sorry it’s the first time I’ve been,’ he says. ‘I just…well I just couldn’t face it.’

‘It’s okay,’ I say softly. I hope I can comfort this poor young man somehow. He seems so distressed. I move closer and take his hand.

‘Have you had bad news?’ I ask.

He looks at me then. He is searching my face for something, something intangible. As he squeezes my hand tight, his face crumples, and tears spill down his cheeks.

‘Oh mum,’ he rasps.

His leans over and places his head in my lap and there is nothing I can do. He must have lost his mother. My heart aches for him and we sit for such a long time, me stroking his dark hair and patting him gently, until, eventually his tears subside and he rights himself.

‘I must go,’ he says shakily and I nod as he hugs me one last time then walks slowly across the courtyard, head bowed.

I sit for a while, and then shake off the sadness. If I let it take over I will drown in its blackness. I will finish my painting and breathe in the birdsong and the sunshine and let it fill my soul with its warmth. But, as I walk back to my easel, the world shifts beneath me. How can this have happened? My beautiful painting. Someone cruel has ruined my painting. I am not looking at daffodils or crocuses or tulips. In front of me is a riot of black and green lines, dashed across the canvas in a frenzy of hatred. My breath quickens and I feel the tears well in my eyes. I hurry from the courtyard passing two men on the way. One is tall and broad- shouldered with angry blue eyes, the other dark- haired and tearful and I push past them as they spit angry words at each other.

‘You’re not taking her anywhere,’ shouts the tall, handsome man. ‘You have no idea what you’re dealing with’. He prods the dark –haired man in the chest. ‘You have no idea. You haven’t been here.’

I don’t stop to listen to anymore.

I hurry back to my room. Was it this way? I somehow get lost and end up in the common room but I don’t recognise any of the nurses there. They must be new. We get a fresh intake once in a while. It must be the shock from the painting. It’s left me feeling upset, disorientated. My mind feels as though it’s been filled with cobwebs and everything is slightly out of focus, as though I’m wearing Kitty’s glasses. I don’t want these new girls to see me like this, so I turn quickly, heart hammering. Take a deep breath, Vesta. Focus. And then things slip back into place and I suddenly know the way again.

I am finally in my room. I take a book from the table. I will read quietly until I get my equilibrium back. I try not to think about who could have ruined my painting. Some of the girls here are jealous cats. Any one of them could have done it.

I open the book and just as I start to read a women knocks on the door and walks briskly in.

‘Hi darlin’,’ she says, smiling broadly. She has an accent but I can’t place it. Her face is as black as the ink on the page and her smile is filled with warmth. She is holding a flowered tea cup and I realise I am parched.

I smile at her.

‘Are you the maid?’ I ask.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trolly dolly tour – The land of Oz – wasted and the wallabies

Days 7 and 8 – Wasted and the Wallabies

Heston runs a hostel. Thank God! We weren’t kidnapped by rabid backpackers after all, simply wheeled home by Aarron and Heston and put to bed like naughty children.

When I wander into the communal kitchen, I gag at the smell of Heston’s bacon sizzling in the pan and he gives me a cheery hello.

‘Alright, Aunty?’ He grins at me. ‘How’s the knees?’

Now you come to mention, they are a bit sore? I raise a quizzical eyebrow which sets of a host of flashing lights behind my eyes and I steady myself on the counter while he explains that I tried to can- can down a flight of stairs last night. Apparently I did quite well and managed at least three and a half high kicks before I finally took a less than elegant tumble and had to be scraped off the floor and chucked into a bunk whilst warbling a very loud rendition of Mustang Sally, accompanied by an equally trollied Jo who was providing the ‘ride sally rides’ with much enthusiasm. Christ on a bike!

GetAttachment (17)

We call a cab and ride back in silence to the hotel. Neither of us is capable of speech and it takes a long nap and seven hundred litres of fluid before we are able to consider movement. But move we do…finally. And we spend the afternoon pottering around the gorgeous Terrigal boutiques and taking pictures along the pretty promenade. We have a quiet dinner and Gingy laughs all night and calls us lightweights…and he may be right!

The next day we are up bright and early and ready to see what the locals are raving about. The Australian Reptile park. Since our arrival, everyone we’ve met has told us it’s a must see. Who am I to defy convention? So off we go, driving about half hour south and we arrive mid-morning ready to see Elvis the croc and friends.

One of the things Australians are passionate about (aside from surfing and the very dodgy practice of eating burgers covered in Beetroot, wtf?) Is their wildlife, and boy does it show. This not a zoo! It’s a park and you can wander around amongst the animals instead of viewing them through bars or glass. You’re encouraged to touch them and feed them and learn about them, through talks from the keepers and it is absolutely fecking awesome!

We spend the day feeding the kangaroos and wallabies. One in particulartakes a real shine to me and I name him Joey, cos as I’ve said before, I’m very originalwhen it comes to nicknames. He snuggles up for a few selfies and complains I didn’t get his best side then we have a long chat about how much fun it is to be a kangaroo , especially when you get to eat tourist picnics all day and have folk scratch your belly and tell you your beautiful. I think I’ve found my spirit animal. In fact , chuck in a bottle of vodka and I’m willing to don a fur suit and live out my days here , with my spirit clan….oh hang on , the mention of vodka has made me queasy again, bleugh! Joey gives me a lovely snotty kiss and tells me to come back soon and off we go to see the rest of the park.

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We cuddle wallabies and Koalas we stroke alligators we perch with parrots and we ogle funnel spiders, we feed leaves to giant tortoises and we sigh at the baby dingoes. Elvis the crocodile enthrals us by moving 4cm in 4 hours and we learn so much from the keepers who are injected daily with huge amounts of knowledge and enthusiasm .

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What a gorgeous place and a real treat to get up close and personal with some of Australia’s finest residents. We ride home babbling about how fab it all was. Surely nothing could top that…

Well nothing could…. until the following day……

 

 

 

 

Trolly dolly tour – the land of Oz – day 6

Day 6A quiet night out

We wake early, 5am to be precise. There was me thinking I’d tackled jet –lag. Hell no! But we make use of the early start by binging on another huge breakfast then ….More shopping! We have discovered the huge Erina Fair shopping mall and we drag Gingy around while we pick up Australian clothes in the sales. They are exactly the same as anything you can buy in the UK, yet we are thrilled at the prospect of buying actual Australian goods, the only difference being the carrier bag. Gingy shakes his head at the logic of women but being the good son and nephew that he is, he endures the trip with his usual good grace.

After lunch we head back and spend an hour or two people watching in Terrigal as the sun glistens on the cerulean ocean and people enjoy a stroll along the Golden sand. I guess it’s only cold in Sydney? We have arranged to meet Heston later for a few drinks and Gingy knows a pub that does Karaoke. He warns us it will be quiet on a Tuesday.

It all starts out quite innocently as we get the first round in. Some shifty looking locals knock out a few tunes and we smile and clap along merrily as the pub slowly fills up …to oh at least six more people. The host comes over for a chat and shows us some photos of his Tranny alter-ego.

‘Come on Saturday!’ he enthuses ‘I’m Sharon on Saturdays’.

We praise him heartily for his pink, glittery fashion sense and exotic eye make-up and he rewards us with a 25 dollar drinks voucher. Well, cheers, Steve/Sharon/whatever, how lovely.

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Gingy gets up to go to the bar and a few of the locals stare at him while a group of girls whisper energetically in the corner. We presume it’s because four young lads have arrived, all very handsome and smiley and the girls flash their teeth at them and undo a few buttons on their tops as the lads cluster around a table at the front and start to write out their tickets to sing.

Jo and I, fortified with three or four vodkas now, step up to the mic and belt out a couple more tunes and we’re met with applause and few whistles and I get the feeling this will be a good night. The crowd’s very jolly and warm and everyone’s all clapping along as each singer channels their X-factor god or goddess. One of the handsome boys gives me a high five as I leave the podium and I get the feeling they’re a nice bunch of lads.

Steve/Sharon sidles over a whisper’s ‘They’re the mariners.’

Well that’s nice I think. Nothing like a bunch of young sailors to pep the night up!

‘Nooooo’ scowls Steve/Sharon. The footballers, ‘The Mariners’, they’re the Central coast’s premier team. We blink at him/her, non-plussed. Ah right! Ummmm, nope …never heard of them.

‘And you’re …’ He/she trails off and giggles at Gingy and gives him a swift nudge in the ribs. Oh no, not the curse again.

Sharon/ Steve goes over to the lads and we see them turn and look at us. Steve/Sharon is a naughty gossip! I give a jolly wave. They whisper among themselves. Then Gingy makes toward the stage. In his wisdom he has chosen to sing ‘Photograph’ by Ed Sheeran…..Why? why? Why? why? I put it down to the five vodkas he’s now had and watch with interest and a slight feeling of trepidation as everyone in the pub makes a beeline for the front of the stage. Dear God, I hope Gingy can sing!

Heston arrives and gives me a rib crusher and pats Gingy on the back as he passes, looking every bit like a giant bouncer.

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There are cheers, the air buzzes with anticipation and the jolly sailor footballers start off the loud clapping and shouting as Gingy grins from the podium and then the rest of the pub goes mental as the first chords of the song start.

Jo and I decide if you can’t beat em join em and laughing hysterically, we join the crowd. Everyone is singing, the Mariners are jumping up and down, no-one can hear whether Gingy can sing or not, they ask our names and Jo tells them she is Gingy’s mum. …its rather pleasing to have four handsome young men on their knees bowing and chanting Mrs Sheeran at you, so she tells me afterwards.

Gingy finishes, there are selfies, more drinks, introductions, Harry, Mathew Jake, Mathew, Josh was it Harry? Who knows…we try and explain….but its loud and they are thrilled , more selfies, more booze more singing, we have bonded with the sailor footballers and so the night goes on . The grand finale ensues. Heston, who has been watching quietly from the sidelines with a wry smile sings the final song….and nearly blows off the fecking roof! He growls his way through ‘The midnight Hour’ with a voice that would rival any superstar, even Ed, and the crowd goes wild once more. Steve/Sharon declares it his best night ever and tells us we must, absolutely must come back on Saturday.

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We are vodka- addled so it seems like a good idea to take a taxi on the suggestion of the Mariners, back to their house. It’s about twenty years since I went to a garage party but I find myself limbo – ing under a mop with a supermodel by the name of Tameka (I think), where did she come from? There is more vodka, more singing and so many belly laughs that I fear I may have pulled a stomach muscle. These boys are funny , charming and totally in awe of the amount of booze two middle aged women can sink!

Eventually, Heston takes control and we stumble home, me and jo swinging off each of his huge arms. At least I think its home. ….

Until a few hours later I wake shivering. I have no blanket and I almost certainly swallowed the Gobi desert, a large carpet and a tramps sock.

There is a groan.

‘What time is it?’ rasps Jo

‘Oh dear God are we in hell?’ I ask

‘No, were in a backpacker’s hostel.’ She replies.

My befuddled brain tries to assess the situation but I can’t raise my head without shards of glass piercing my eyeballs. I need fluids, and a blanket and my lovely big bed at the Crowne Plaza. So much for a quiet night out! There is a ping from my handbag, which I find under the bed and I squint at my phone.

‘Thanks for a fantastic night! See you Saturday! Love Matt and Josh’

I groan and close my eyes. I feel like I’ve been in a train wreck. I knew coming to Australia was a bad fucking idea!

 

 

 

 

Trolly dolly tour – the land of Oz – day 5

Day 5 – Ed Sheeran goes to Sydney

Good morning! My brain thinks its morning; my body thinks its morning and outside the sun is shining through an early morning haze. Finally I have acclimatised, just!

Jo is not so lucky.

‘What time is it?’ she mumbles.

‘Time to get up’ I shout and she drags herself out of bed.

Gingy is taking us to Sydney. We feast on yet another massive breakfast and in the lift a few teenage girls giggle at him and one takes a quick snap as we head on out. The sun dips behind a cloud and breeze makes me shiver. We set off on the hours’ drive to Manly, a suburb of Sydney that boasts a spectacular beach and a must-see ferry ride into Sydney harbour.

By the time we arrive, the beach is covered in a foggy drizzle and the ferry is bobbing on a rather choppy deep green sea, but like the brave adventurers we are, we step aboard. It starts to pour down and the wind picks up. We sail past a grey blob that turns out to be the Sydney Opera house then underneath a very soggy Sydney Harbour bridge complete with rain-ponchoed tourists and finally step back on dry land, our pallor matching the green waters behind us. First impressions of Sydney are its cold, its wet and it’s cold and wet.

We plough on through the rain, taking brief refuge in the Sydney Arthouse to sample the best steak I have ever had and a Tooheys, the local grog. Then it’s onward to the Westfield shopping area to feast our eyes on the huge Sephora, plump with every beauty product ever made. After a blow to the credit card, we emerge back into the rain and try and side step around a massive crowd. I ask one of the dolly birds what’s going on and she tells us Miranda Kerr the supermodel is coming to flog some new product and for a bazillion dollars, we can get a tiny eye cream and a meet and greet. Erm, no thanks. She squints warily at Gingy then whispers something to her dolly bird friend.

It’s like wildfire. Ed Sheeran is here. The crowd turns and eyes us and we back away. There is a ferocity in the eyes of those Japanese tourists that is terrifying.

‘Go, go now’ hisses Gingy and we quick march it out of there, sharpish.

Gingy announces he needs new shoes so we pile into a little store and start to browse. ‘Thinking out loud’ comes on and the two young girls behind the counter start giggling and nudging each other before one eventually slides over to me.

‘Scuse me’ she rasps. ‘Is that Ed Sheeran?’

I burst out laughing which for some reason she takes to mean yes. Jo and Gingy are on the other side of the store but spin around as the girl starts shouting and jumping up and down.

‘Are you shitting me? Oh my God? I’m dying right now.’

I’m still not sure she believed me when I finally stopped laughing and told her that sadly, no. Her idol wasn’t in the store. We get the shoes and on we go but it’s no use. Sidelong glances, giggles, cameras. We decide to send Gingy to the barbers. If we chop of his pirate locks, maybe he’ll be left alone.

Thirty minutes later a much smarter pirate emerges and we see the boy we waved off two years ago. We pay the barber and out we go. Hurray! We may finally have shaken off the curse of Ed.

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Battling the cold with a round of hot chocolates, we make it to Darling harbour which is so pretty with its Ferris wheel and swanky cocktail bars. Its dusk and the harbour is soon lit up with twinkling fairly lights and as the rain finally dies off, we take in the view and it’s hard to believe I’m standing inside a perfect postcard.

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We head back on the ferry and see the Opera house lit up, much more impressive than it was earlier in the day. Soon were back home and chomping snacks in my giant bed whilst watching a movie I start to think that maybe coming to Australia wasn’t such a bad  idea after all….

 

Trolly dolly tour – The land of Oz – day 4

Day 4

I’m finally free! A very kind, if somewhat startled fella, let me out on the sixth floor and I finally crawl back into that lovely big bed and sleep like the dead …for, well I have no idea how long.

Aarron stumbles in from the club and Jo sits up wide awake.

‘What time is it?’ She asks

I look toward the window and see an orange sky painted with indigo clouds and take a guess.

‘Early?’ I say. Or it could be late.

But now I’m awake too, so we do what all self-respecting British folk do and stick the kettle on. I’m still a bit drunk and Jo is jealous because she missed our night out…so she does what any self- respecting British woman does…she has a cheeky vodka. Half an hour later we’re face- timing home and showing them the gorgeous Terrigal sunrise. A dark orange sun is rising over sparkling water and its breath taking in its beauty.

 

After a tipsy sumptuous breakfast we wander back up and poke Gingy out of his drunken haze and demand he shows us around. Bleary-eyed he protests that we are evil and to leave him alone but we are relentless so eventually he offers to ‘Take us up The Entrance’.

I blink at him confused. ‘Surely that’s not right, son? I query. Sounds like some kind of hillbilly offer!

I discover that it’s not what I thought. The Entrance is a small seaside town, so called because it’s the where the Tuggarah lake meets the entrance to the Pacific Ocean. It’s lovely, with its Victorian carousel, small cafes and boutiques and its most famous residents …The Pelicans. We stroll around and I feel a little like I’m being watched, in fact no, I’m not being watched at all…..but Gingy is.

As we sit down for coffee there are a few people surreptitiously taking pictures of us and I start to feel uneasy.

‘Um what’s going on?’ I ask.

Gingy waves his hand dismissively.

‘Ah don’t worry it’s the Ed thing’ he says, wiping froth off his shaggy red beard.

I laugh as he explains that a certain red-headed popstar was here last week and people seem to think he still is. Hmmm, now you come to mention it there is a striking resemblance.

We finish our coffee and the sea breeze blows away the last of our hangovers as we stroll down to the prom for the famous Pelican feeding.

Here are some things I did not know about Pelicans.

They are fecking massive.

They fecking stink.

Seriously. My eyes were watering with it. Its like someone rolled a giant cod in a pile of shit and slapped you around the face with it! But, it is amazing to see these wonderful birds up close so Jo and I move in for a picture. Stumpy , the famous one-footed Pelican graces us with a Pelican pose as we snap away, then promptly shits all over our feet. To say Pelican shit is unpleasant is the understatement of the year and we dash away squealing at our misfortune while Gingy nearly pees himself laughing.

More photos (Japanese tourists not so secretly snapping Gingy) then we head back as we are hit with another wave of jet-lag/ nausea/ tiredness. On the way, we see Heston sitting outside his place watching the world go by.We stop for another rib-busting bear hug and a chat and arrange to meet him for a quiet drink on Tuesday evening, then we saunter back to our hotel.

My little one face-times me and merrily waves her cereal spoon  as she tells me about her lost tooth. I promise that yes, the tooth fairy will still come, even when Mummy’s in Australia and I ache to pull her through the phone and into my arms. After the call, I pick up my shoes and head into the bathroom. A wave of homesickness hits me and there are tears in my eyes…..Not from the homesickness….but from the stench of pelican shit as I try and wash it off my shoes with the shower head. It’s disgusting. I’m jet-lagged, homesick and barfing in the bathroom. As a trolly dolly this is not a first for me. But it’s definitely something that could have been avoided if I hadn’t been bullied into this trip!

I knew coming to Australia was a bad fucking idea!

 

 

Trolly dolly tour – The land of Oz – day 3

Day 3 – (not sure what happened to day2, think it may have been lost somewhere in Singapore).

Aarron, the happy ginger Pirate is grinning and singing and drinking coffee to keep us all awake as we drive north to Terrigal. I wasn’t prepared to feel any kind of joy today after the debacle we had just endured, but there it was. A lovely fuzzy fizzing, deep in my belly, as we drive along the coast road and into a gorgeous bay.

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Terrigal is Cornwall-esque with its craggy rocks and crashing Blue Ocean. Small boutiques and cafes line the promenade and standing majestically at the end of a long strip of golden sand is the Crowne Plaza hotel, our final destination! We are whisked through check-in by smiley efficient staff who aren’t phased by our frazzled appearance, and into an Ocean view room with beds …beds …lovely big beds with crisp white linen….lovely big beds that we crawl into immediately and promptly fall into an abyss of jet-lagged slumber.

‘What time is it?’ I mumble when I wake.

‘No idea ?’ replies Jo.

Its dark out and we are ravenous. So we get ready to go and watch the rugby. Several pints later and Jo is wobbling, several more pints later and she is put to bed and out like a light within minutes. But I’m wired and Aarron is meeting friends, its Saturday night and the young ones are partying in the club downstairs. It takes about five seconds to persuade me to join him and half an hour later I’m being swung around by Heston, the Mauri man-mountain who has come to meet us. He also just happens to be one of the friendliest guys on the planet and we hit the dance floor surrounded by people who are all at least 20 years my junior! I throw a few more shapes then suddenly I’m hit again by a wall of jet-lag. Time to go!

I wave goodbye to the young ones and poodle off to the lifts. I follow a crowd of Japanese tourists in and bow merrily to them when they get out on the second floor. The doors slide shut and then…nothing. Ah yes, through my drunken brain fog I remember the lift is operated by a key card. The lift is operated by a key card that is currently sitting somewhere at the bottom of Jo’s handbag! Not to worry someone will be along soon….won’t they?

Apparently not! Twenty minutes later I’m sitting in a corner singing merrily to myself. This is to distract my mind from focussing on the fact that I’m about to pee myself. No phone signal means I can’t ring for help. And since it’s my first night in the hotel, I’m hammered and will have to face the staff for the next 12 days, I’m very reluctant to press the emergency button. Getting stuck in a lift was definitely not how I thought I would spend my first night here. ……I knew coming to Australia was a bad fucking idea!