A Family Guide to New York City

new york statue of liberty usa monument
Photo by Pixabay

 

So, you’re taking the family to New York? How exciting!  Here are a few tips for getting around, things to see, places to eat, all on a family friendly budget.

 

Things to see and do

 

photography of bridge during nighttime
Photo by Michał Ludwiczak on Pexels.com

First things first, remember the Staten Island Ferry is free- do not pay a tour operator to see the statue of liberty! Lots of roof bars are also free and you can get a great view of the city and the Empire State building itself, without having to pay extortionate prices to go up. Otherwise go to Top of the Rock instead, which has much shorter queues and the same view! You can go at night time to see the city lit up. Book online for better rates.

You can buy a New York City Pass which combines lots of entry into various attractions and is really good value for money. Get yours here – https://www.newyorkpass.com

Many museums have a ‘suggested’ entry fee of $25 dollars. For families on a budget, take note- the fee is ‘suggested’. The American museum of Natural History is the place to go if the kids (and you) want to see all the favourite scenes/settings from the movie Night at the museum. But there are many many other museums in NYC, including MOMA and The Intrepid Air and Space Museum, have a browse online before you go and add to your itinerary. A New York City Pass also offers discounts.

If you do manage to save a few pounds here and there though, why not try something a little different. How about seeing the Big Apple from the sky, with an exciting helicopter ride!

https://www.flynyon.com/?fbclid=IwAR2u55KLM2IvAko7ZP_F3cMglWvnIYHz0xIfhRZGBLIqmpl1kMdoGKec2JQ

 

Getting Around

 

new york street cabs taxis
Photo by Life Of Pix on Pexels.com

Cabs are cheaper than the subway, but the subway is still fairly cheap and easy to use. Use your common sense and don’t use late at night, but generally speaking it’s a great way to ferry the family around quickly and easily. You can download a subway map beforehand from the City Pass website.

 

 

Another great alternative is the Hop on/off bus, giving you a cheap tour of the city whilst travelling from place to place, again you find can find routes and timetables online.

 

Central Park

 

forest bike bulls
Photo by Philipp M on Pexels.com

When planning your itinerary do not underestimate the sheer size and scale of Central Park – it takes HOURS to get around on foot. Perhaps try a bike to navigate Central Park instead. You can hire them cheaply- around £10 for four hours including helmet and lock.

 

 

You can find more information here – https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/AttractionProductReview-g60763-d11464634-Bike_Rental_Central_Park-New_York_City_New_York.html

Don’t forget to look out for the Alice in Wonderland Statue!

I would say don’t travel with young children through NYC traffic on bikes though! Stick to the park.

 

Eating out

 

footlong sausage sandwich
Photo by Jer Chung on Pexels.com

There are so many eateries in NYC it’s impossible to keep track, but a fun one for the kids is Ellen’s Stardust Diner where you’ll find Broadway wannabe’s ( some on roller skates!) serving burgers and milkshakes whilst performing  songs from musicals!

http://ellensstardustdiner.com/

Other places to eat are The Boathouse in Central Park and Katz Deli on the Lower East Side.

Also, just South of Central park is Patsy’s, an authentic Italian joint with great grub, book here – https://www.patsys.com/?fbclid=IwAR0VLTyqx1tI52M9PdNAKXEAOG38uElv6pnOxqtT2s1xDVyEEm7VQB1tJEw

 

Toys and Candy

 

close up view colorful candy chocolate
Photo by Caio Resende on Pexels.com

There is a huge Toys r Us store – think  a supersized, super smart Hamleys, nothing like the cheap and cheerful British version plus an M& M’s store that kids will adore!  Both can be located on Broadway.

 

 

 

 

Broadway

 

photography of city lights
Photo by Daniela Echavez on Pexels.com

To get tickets for Broadway musicals download the Todaytix App, which gives you a list of discounted tickets for that week. Use the day before to catch some real bargains. I saw 42ndstreet for $15!!

 

 

 

 

Markets

 

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Finally, take a stroll around quirky/artsy Greenwich village, which is lovely, or Chelsea market which is also a pretty cool place to grab souvenirs and gifts. There are Flea markets all over New York, so give yourself time just to stroll and browse. There are also some really great bookstores and handcrafted jewellery boutiques.

 

 

For accommodation you can find some great bargains on the usual sites:

https://www.airbnb.co.uk  and www.booking.com

and look out for flight sales, usually around January and late August, to get those bargain seats.

 

Kathy Hoyle is a writer and blogger who has travelled extensively as Cabin Crew for over twenty years. Although she has now hung up her wings, she still loves to see new places with her Partner and her two daughters aged 7 and 16. Find her on twitter @Kathyhoyle1 or on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/kathyhoyleauthor. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Confessions of Frannie Langton

 

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A Book review by Kathy Hoyle

Frannie Langton is on trial at The Old Bailey and the crowds are baying for the blood of the ‘Mulatta Murdress’.

‘Any gaol-bird could tell you that for every crime there are two stories, and that an Old Bailey trial is the story of the crime, not the story of the prisoner.
That story is one only I can tell’

Frannie’s lawyer gives her a sheaf of paper, ink and pen, so that she may confess the terrible secrets she has kept so close, and somehow find a way to escape the noose.

This meticulously researched bawdy, brutal tale brings to life to Regency England, where reputation is far more important than truth and freedom is an impossible dream.

As a young girl Frannie Langton is given her massa’s name and brought into the big house in Paradise, Jamaica, but for what reason? Living in fear of her spiteful mistress Miss Bella and with no answers from Phibba the housekeeper, Frannie must learn to fend for herself under Massa Langton’s watchful eye. Soon Frannie learns just how terrible the mind of an inquisitive gentleman can be. When Langton forces her to perform his ‘negro’ experiments alongside him, Frannie is drawn into unspeakable acts, scarring her soul forever.
A fortuitous event follows. A fire wipes out Plantation and sees Langton flee, with the only chattel he has left… Frannie. Could this be the chance for freedom Frannie has hoped for? Langton has other ideas. Gifted to the prominent writer George Benham in return for the publishing of his scientific papers, Langton ensures that Frannie is simply passed from one wicked master’s hands to another.
The only light in Frannie’s life is her new mistress, the beautiful but delicate Madame Marguerite. As the love between maid and mistress grows, terrible secrets unfold. Both women are slaves to the master, each one suffocated with dreams of freedom… and then the unthinkable happens. A double murder in the Bentham household, and Frannie is the only suspect.

The confessions of Frannie Langton is a stunning debut from Sara Collins. The inherent racism of colonial England comes through loud and horrifically clear as we follow Frannie in her search for freedom and a love that crosses the boundaries of race, gender and class. Collins weaves gothic strands of tension throughout the story with a masterful edge, giving brilliant nods to, Rousseau, Voltaire, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and Defoe’s Moll Flanders. In this anti-Austen novel, where marriage is a foul incarceration, Collins holds us in the palm of her hand as we wait with baited breath for Frannie’s final day of judgement. A page-turner from the get-go, this novel will leave you breathless.

Available now in all good bookstores.

An MA in Creative Writing – is it for you?

achievement cap celebration ceremony

 

Are you thinking of starting an MA in Creative Writing?

Not sure it’s the right next step for you?  

Here are  a few things I’ve learnt, whilst studying at the University of Leicester, which may help you make your decision.

Buckle up, there’s a lot to say!

Let’s talk about what might be holding you back…

The Fear

We all hear it loud and clear. The voice of doubt that can often crush our dreams by repeatedly telling us we’re just not good enough. I certainly did.

I’d completed my Creative Writing Degree with The Open University whilst working as Cabin Crew for British Airways. It was a great way to stave off hotel room boredom and while away the hours on airport standby. I grew to love writing and was endlessly encouraged by my amazing Creative Writing tutor. I graduated with a First… but the voice.

The voice told me it was a fluke. I just got lucky. MA level study is just too difficult for the likes of me. And, yep, for a while I listened. So much so, that when I applied to Leicester I roped in Colin, my friend and Fellow OU graduate, to do it too. I had back up! Safety in numbers. I was too scared to actually apply by myself!

I worried constantly that I wasn’t academically sound, that the course would be too much work, that I would be exposed as a fraud.  Two weeks before starting the course I was ready to back out. But after a good hard talking to from the writing community on twitter, family members and of course poor Colin, who was about to be left at the station, all alone, I decided to take a deep breath and jump in. My advice is, get some bloody duct tape and put it firmly over the mouth of ‘the voice’.  You ARE good enough. Trust me on this.

Which course?

Do your research. I will say this again. DO YOUR RESEARCH when choosing a course. Throughout the UK there are so many Creative Writing MA’s that your head might be spinning with choice, but it IS vital to find a course that suits you. Some focus only on completing a novel manuscript, while others cover all writing genres and styles.  Your local university might not be the right choice for you. I chose Leicester for its varied modules which give writers the opportunity and freedom to explore genres and find their own niche. It also offers a vocational module, which is not something all universities do.  This invaluable module gives an insight into the practical world of publishing, with guest speakers and opportunities to venture into the haphazard world of writing as an income. Its like being given a map and handbook before you set off on your journey, rather than driving blindly without headlights. But if you do want an MA that helps you focus purely on completing your novel then find a course that does just that. You’re going to be splashing out a lot of money, so make sure it’s right one for you.

Once you’ve found your course…

It’s been a while!

Moving up to a post-graduate level of study can be a bit overwhelming. If you’ve recently completed an undergraduate course, the academic foundations are already there. You’ll be confident in essay structure, referencing etc  and you may have been writing creative work steadily for the last three years.

If, however, you’re not coming straight from an undergrad degree, don’t worry, you can still brush up your skills in preparation for the course.

For Creative Writing, you can brush up on grammar and style with The Elements of Style by William Strunk JR,

 

 

You can take a Creative Writing workshop to get you back into the swing of writing. Here’s an excellent one with Toby Litt, who teaches at Birbeck …and it’s free!

https://tobylitt.wordpress.com/2019/03/08/starting-to-write-lesson-1-preparing-to-write/

A great reminder on the fundamentals of Creative Writing can be found in this clear, straightforward guide from the wonderful Urusla K. Le Guin.

Picture1

 

For academic essay writing ,there are a wealth of books out there.  Palgrave do a whole range of study skills books, available on amazon.

Here’s a link from the OU,  about to how to write essays which may be helpful. 

http://www2.open.ac.uk/students/skillsforstudy/essays.php

The online resources are endless, and most University websites have some sort of guide as to their expectations, plus instructive links. Most importantly write, read, read some more, write and read some more. That’s all the preparation you need.

So, what else….

Money!

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It’s a dirty word, and don’t get me started on a conversation about how education should be free and inclusive to all, that’s a whole other blog, but the fact remains, an MA costs… A Lot.  It obviously varies depending on which Uni you choose but you’re looking at a good whack of at least £8000 course fees, plus all your other costs on top. Yikes!!

But, something I wish I’d known before I started,  is that there IS a huge amount of funding out there, you just need to get busy with your research and not be afraid to ask.

For me, I only learnt about all of this AFTER I’d started the course- doh!

When you’re looking for funding, this book is a great resource. The Guide to Educational grants

 

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It lists practically EVERY charitable trust and grant throughout the UK, where you may be able to gain funding. Some are frankly bizarre but who cares, funding is funding. Maybe your dad was a grocer, maybe you were in the navy, maybe you believe in Life after death, trust me there is a charitable fund out there that applies to you. Get busy, you’ll be surprised just how many you can apply for … BUT you need to do this way before your academic year starts. SO, if you can, get your funding applications before June.

The book should be available in most University libraries or your local library should be able to order it in for you so don’t spend good money buying it.

 

 

This website is great for finding funding…

https://www.postgraduate-funding.com/

Plus there are also re-payable Government Masters loans which you can find at

https://www.gov.uk/funding-for-postgraduate-study

…and don’t forget, your University choice may offer scholarships and bursaries. Make sure you check.

 

Still on the money…

The reading list and books.

pile of five books

When I first saw the reading list I almost fainted and I even questioned it. Surely there should be some books I’ve heard of? Female authors? Books with less scary titles. Good God, I’ll never be able to read this lot. Guess what, you don’t have to!

Yes, some of the craft manuals are mandatory and not as dry as you might  expect ( I promise) and also, they really do HONE your craft. As for the rest, your tutor (if they’re much cop) will guide you, based on your own personal area of interest.  Trust me on this. They know what they’re doing and are there to bring out the best in you. My tutor recommends books based on my own area of interest so no, I don’t endlessly chug through books that will never be any use to me.

Back to Money. ( there’s a theme here, guys) Do not buy all the books!

Try to be savvy. Firstly, amazon is not your only resource for buying books. Ebay is often cheaper.

University libraries are amazing. They will stock most of your reading lists but if not, your local library may be able to order in books for you- yes, even academic ones! I’ve bought some I’ve enjoyed and want to keep but it’s not required. Take your time. Don’t rush out and re-mortgage the house to buy everything on the reading list! Save your money for the large glass of wine you’ll need when assignment time comes around.

 

Speaking of time.

person touching black two bell alarm clock

 

Something else you need to research, since it can make the difference between choosing to do an MA or not.  How much of your time will the course take up? The teaching at Universities varies dramatically. So, ASK.

If you have your eye on a certain course, get in touch with that particular setting and ask about the timetable. You may be surprised to learn that you CAN still work Full-time or at least juggle work PLUS a full -time MA course and so, keep your income.

To give an example, currently at Leicester we only have one teaching day per week ( a Wednesday) and the rest of the work is ours to manage however we choose. If you can write/ do essays in the evening and weekends, you pretty much only need to lose one day per week of work! So, your income may not be reduced by that much, after all.

Finally- The Writing.

business college composition desk

 

Is it all actually worth it? It’s absolutely true that you don’t need an MA in Creative Writing to be a successful writer. All I can say is the choice is, of course, yours. I can only tell you about my own experience.

I have absolutely loved my MA so far, despite my initial misgivings, and can honestly say it’s been a huge but extremely valuable learning curve.

I have written an immense amount. The tutors have drawn work from me that I didn’t know was possible.  Many pieces are still unfinished, leaving me with a body of writing I can work on, long after I’ve finished the course.  As for the few pieces I have completed (for assignment), I know they are the best pieces I’ve written to date.  Feedback from my tutors and fellow students has been invaluable and although it’s bloody hard work I can honestly say my writing has come on in leaps and bounds. I’ve also met some amazing new writers and become part of a network of people that share my ideals and often ground me when my writing nerves appear, or ‘the Voice’ starts yapping in my ear.

At Leicester, it’s a two-way street, a place to discuss ideas and develop your writing, not just a place where academic teaching is thrown at you and you’re left make of it what you will. It really has been a place to thrive and grow and I can’t recommend it enough.

I hope this blog has answered some of your questions and helps you make your decision.

I say, go for it!

For further information on the MA at The University of Leicester go to https://le.ac.uk/courses/creative-writing-ma/2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

When they say you can’t.

 

 

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I’m buzzing like the proverbial bee at the moment having just reached a major life goal. For the past six years I’ve been studying, alongside working as cabin crew, raising two girls and irritating the life out of the ever-patient Welshbear. And yesterday… holy crap, I only went and got myself a First class degree from The Open University. A BA (Hons)  in Literature and Creative writing, and a degree that I’d wanted on a personal level for over twenty years. Somewhere in the deepest recesses of my consciousness , I never thought I’d be good enough to call myself a real writer. Yet there it is, in black and white, on paper and everything. Thank You so much to the OU tutors, in particular Gill Ryland who helped me achieve this.

I cried, announced it on twitter and Facebook , cried a bit more, then went into mind-boggle mode as over 9000 people on twitter congratulated me on my success. Sweet baby J!! My teenager daughter kept me firmly grounded with a ‘don’t go on about it Mam’, but I’m  quietly grinning, whilst still doing the washing and cleaning the lavvy of course…

So the last year or so has been a great writing year and it occurred to me that I didn’t have one direct spot that linked  my published work. So, here you are, a few links plus some of the comments received,  should you want to visit some of my short story or flash pieces.

scab – short story

Highly Commended for the ‘Spread The Word’ Life- Writing Prize.

‘This is a brilliant prose piece, seen through the eyes of a child …I loved the evocation of a dark time in our recent history’ – judge Margaret Stead.

Amen- Flash Fiction

Published @reflexfiction

‘So evocative – such a compelling piece of writing’

The Circle – Flash Fiction

‘Wow, what a strong voice – a really unusual story’

Published by @SpelkFiction

Black Dog – Flash Fiction

‘Wow – so powerful’   ‘Beautiful, painful, poignant’.

Published by @EllipsisZine

On Tuesdays Erika and Malcolm go swinging – flash fiction

A quirky piece published by @CabinetOfHeed

finding my voice – short essay

This was a call to arms for #workingclasswriters by Carmen Marcus  ( @Kalemene) who wrote the beautiful book ‘How Saints Die.’ She asked for writers to put down in words their experience of being a working class writer. Many writers responded and you can find their work and mine on the ‘No writer left behind’ blog site.

so , there you go, just a few examples of my work folks.

What’s next?

And Now? …Well onwards and upwards. I have two novels that I’m working on. The first a working class novel ‘Kingfisher Blue’ set in the North-East during the miners strike, and a fantasy novel, ‘Awen Witch’,  set in 17th Century Wales. I’m working hard to complete them both over the coming year. I have been lucky enough to be accepted by the leamington Writers group, a fantastic group of authors who are helping greatly with their critique and feedback. I have also thrown in the trolly dolly towel after 22 years! it was a wrench and a nail-biting decision but the plan is to on and complete an MA with the University of Leicester, so an awful of hard work coming up. In the meantime keep your eyes peeled on twitter @Kathyhoyle1 or on my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/kathyhoyleauthor for forthcoming flash and any other news.

Happy reading 🙂 Love Kathy. xx

 

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!

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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……