Little Princess

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This poem was inspired when, during lockdown, I saw a worried mother pushing a pram, while her older daughter was walking beside her dressed in a princess party dress. I began wondering what the mother may be thinking.

Little princess, your fairy-tale dress
obscures this bleak and towering world,
as you walk, head held high,
towards your dreams of perfection.

Should I intervene?
Prepare,
Teach,
Give warning?
Offer guidance to overcome life’s hardships?

Or do I allow you innocence?
Responsibilities pile high
once the hand of achievement
pushes down, demanding accomplishments.

Maybe I should show the way,
not by lesson but by deed.
Witnessing how I cope with my life
could be all the knowledge you will need.

J.M.Hulme









The Boy

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I hadn’t smiled in what seemed like ages, but as I drove down the lane towards my uncle’s house I couldn’t help but allow a small one to force itself onto my lips. Maybe I’d begun to relax, to put behind me the problems going on at home. I needed this break – a break from Tom and a break from the kids.

‘If that were me I’d be expected to give notice before going off somewhere,’ he’d moaned.

‘Well, maybe you’ll see what my life is like for a change. You can be the one to fetch and carry the kids all weekend – see how you like it,’ I snapped back.

We’d been married fifteen years – and it used to be good – but nowadays all we do is constantly snipe at each other. I needed space to work things out. When I’d told him I was going, the previous evening, it hadn’t seemed to bother him – I don’t believe he thought I meant it – and he’d got his nose firmly embedded in his newspaper, so I doubt he took it in. My world wasn’t important to him.

Although we kept in touch I hadn’t seen Uncle Pete in ages. I knew from his letters he was non-judgemental and if I confided in him it would go no further – and possibly it could help to get my head sorted. I had no other family, father had died a few years back and mother was long gone.  Mum’s brother was my only relative.

His dilapidated house in the south of England I used to think quite posh, but I could see that over the years Uncle had let it go. Even so, just looking at it caused my stomach to flip as many happy childhood memories came flooding back. Tea had been set up on the old wicker table in the garden for my arrival, and sun glinted off the china teapot decorated with tiny forget-me-nots which I recalled so clearly from my past. He had such an easy way about him and within minutes he had me forgetting my troubles and  relaxing, as I nibbled the dreaded cucumber sandwiches, minus their crusts of course. I followed this by spreading strawberry jam upon a scone and topping it with a dollop of clotted cream. Once we’d eaten, and had our preliminary chat, Uncle, who was in his eighties, left me in the garden while he went inside for a nap. I was happy to have time alone, to explore the garden and to breathe in the fresh country air. The garden, once beautiful, was now overgrown and I picked my way between the tall shrubs until I came to the bottom, where I knew I’d find the old Summer House, now sadly strangled by ivy. I pushed the ivy away from the door and peered inside…..

A little boy stood laughing at me. His clothes were smart, his Sunday best. He beckoned me to go to him. I saw his pale blue eyes – so like Uncle Peters – and in his hand he held a spinning top.

‘Come, play with me,’ he called.

I walked forward and we hugged each other. I wasn’t afraid because he was smiling …   and he looked happy to see me …….

I knew he was only in my imagination but he seemed so real, so alive.

I don’t know what made me walk on towards the river but somehow I felt compelled. It was as though he’d taken me by the hand and was pulling me … and we were laughing … and as we got towards the river he ran on ahead.

‘Bet you can’t find me’’ he called.

He was fast. I couldn’t keep up – and when I got to the river I couldn’t see him. I looked everywhere. I kept calling his name.

‘Theo. Theo. Where are you?’

I can’t remember any more after that. I don’t know what happened – or who found him. I think I was taken home … maybe before he was found … but no one ever talked about it in front of me. I know I missed him. It was never the same coming here after that … in fact I … I’m not sure I ever did come back – certainly not to the river.

Suddenly I needed to get away from the water, to get away from my confused memories and to go back to the house. I don’t know how long I’d been by the river, but it must have been a while because Uncle Peter was back in the garden when I returned.

’Been for a wander?’ he asked.

‘Not far, just to the Summer House,’ I lied.

He looked at me, smiled and nodded. Somehow I knew he didn’t believe me.

‘I’ve brought some old photographs out,’ he said, pointing to a biscuit tin on the table. ‘I thought you might like to see some photograph’s of when your mother was little.’

We spent some time looking through them, recalling old memories, seeing him and Mummy playing together in the garden.

Eventually he said, ‘So, tell me, why have you really come here today, my dear?’

‘I just needed to get away,’ I sighed. My marriage isn’t going well … and I think it could be all my fault.’

‘Why do you say it’s your fault?’ he questioned gently.

Then suddenly I was crying – sobbing.

‘Because it usually is! Mummy always tells me that anyway. ‘Why was life so easy before we had you’, she’d say. I used to love coming here when I was little – but suddenly everything changed, she wouldn’t bring me anymore – she told me you didn’t want to see me … but she never told me why!’

I don’t know where all those words came from. I certainly hadn’t meant to say them. I felt five years old again.

‘Oh my poor girl!’ Uncle Pete reached out his veined hand and took mine. ‘We thought you’d forgotten. We thought it best to let things lie. You never did anything to be ashamed of my dear.’

‘Then tell me – why did she say that?’

Uncle Pete sat staring ahead, his face contorted as if battling with a thousand demons. Then he looked at me.

‘You did nothing my dear … nothing.’ He paused once more as if trying to decide how he should tell me. I waited. ‘You did nothing.’ His eyes were far away. ‘Do you remember Theo?’

 I nodded.

‘I think I saw him in the Summer House – but that’s silly, I couldn’t have … could I?’

Then he smiled – a big beaming smile, as if all the turmoil he’d experienced earlier had gone away.

‘I’m glad you saw him … for you see, I see him too. Tell me, what do you remember about him?’

 ‘I can’t remember much. I seem to get as far as the river and then my memory … fades.’

He nodded again. ‘It was a beautiful summer day, much like today,’ he began. ‘You and Theo were playing in the Summer House. You got on so well together.’ He beamed one of his wonderful smiles… but then, quite suddenly, his expression changed. ‘We’d told you not to go down to the river. We … your mother and I … were drinking wine, here, in the garden … and then you appeared, dripping wet and crying, saying Theo had pushed you into the water. Your mother was furious. I went inside to get a towel to dry you.’

Suddenly I could remember – remember being soaking wet. Remember playing by the river. It was such fun. We were laughing so much. Theo hadn’t meant to get me wet, he’d just pretended – and I’d slipped on the wet grass.

We’re in for it now! Here grab my hand’, he shouted.

He pulled me out and I was running back through the garden.

Tell them it was my fault. They won’t be cross with you then.’

And that was all, all I could remember.

‘What happened to Theo, Uncle Pete?’

‘I fetched a towel… and when I got back your mother had gone. I dried you off… and then she reappeared.’

‘He won’t do that again, the little tyke!’ she’d said.

‘I thought she’d given him a dressing down … so I waited … thought he was too ashamed to come back … ashamed of causing trouble … so I waited for him to appear. Then you went home and I went to the Summer House to find him. He wasn’t there, so I went down to the river. He was floating a little way out, face down. I went in … but it was too late. Your mother had pushed Theo into the water … she’d not meant to cause him harm… but she was angry …and after she left he must have got tangled in the reeds. It wasn’t your fault, my dear. Your mother was the one responsible for Theo’s death’.

END

Away with the Fairies

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When I began writing my new novel ‘Away With The Fairies’ my plan was to research the Middle Ages to see how life has changed – and perhaps of more importance, what hasn’t changed, and if we still make the same mistakes.

Obviously in four hundred years there have been enormous changes for the working man and woman – housing, health, travel, education, equality, child labour, to mention just a few – but human feelings change little – love, loss, hate, birth, death and human error are still part of our lives.

My story is about Susan, whose life becomes entangled with Maria, a girl from the Middle Ages. At first Susan thinks her visions are merely daydreams – that she is ‘away with the fairies’ – but soon she begins to wonder if she and Maria are really the same person living in different times.

Can Susan veer from the path she travels – or is her life already planned out for her?

‘Away With The fairies’ is out today and available on Amazon

Flash Fiction

 

orange butterfly on purple flower
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The Butterfly

She watched the butterfly flap its wings against the window pain, trapped and frantic, trying to escape. It knew the outside world was on the other side of the glass, but could think of no way of getting out there.

“You’re like me little butterfly – imprisoned, with no means of escape.”

She’d been looking after her invalid mother for as long as she could remember. Neighbours called her a saint.

“We can all hear her screaming her orders at you, how do you stand it?”

A saint – they wouldn’t think that if they knew what went on in my head, she thought.

The butterfly pounded its wings, crashing from one pain of glass to the next.

“For God sake let that bloody thing out! Do you want it to drive me mad?”

She lifted her tired, aching body from the chair and unlatched the window, watching enthralled as her butterfly escaped, brilliant against the beautiful blue sky. She closed her eyes, trying to imagine it’s feeling of freedom.

“Close the damn window; do you want me to catch my death?”

Jerked back into reality she closed the window, resuming her seat in the stuffy room.

“Don’t sit down again you idle cow, get me a drink, I’m parched.”

She pulled herself up wearily and walked slowly into the kitchen, filled the kettle and stared again out of the window, looking for her butterfly. Then she saw it, happy and free, as it took nectar from the roses.

The kettle clicked off. She turned; the beauty of the butterfly still in her mind.

“Don’t forget my medicine Girl!”

“Yes Mother.”

She reached inside the cupboard for the crystal clear medicine and imagined the butterfly taking nectar.

“Freedom,” she whispered as she picked up the bleach.

She carried the tea in to her mother.

She too was a butterfly… on her way to freedom……

***Home

It should have been so easy!

adult alone black and white dark
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A male monologue.     

            How the hell did I get into this mess? The last 24 hours have been an absolute nightmare! If only I could blank it from my memory and start again – but I can’t!
I stormed into that spotty faced moron’s office, so full of determination, fists clenched, teeth grinding, jaw clamped shut – and then I saw him sitting there, in his bright, modern office, with his legs sprawled out across his desk, looking so supercilious. I guess I should have known from the start to keep my mouth shut!
But as usual I was unable to control myself! Words poured out – as those pale, piggy eyes bore into me! I knew he wasn’t listening to a word I said! He thinks, because his father owns the place, and he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he’s something special!
Maybe I did burst in guns blazing – but when you’re ‘salesman of the year’ why not? Surely it should count for something! The commission they pay me – so they can line their hand-made suit pockets, is a joke! I deserve a rise! I deserve some recognition!
But could he see that? Did he want to see it? Did he hell! All he went on about, in that whining voice of his, was ‘targets’. Well, I told him where to put his targets! I gave him a few home truths all right! ‘I’ve had enough.’ I said. ‘I’m not going to answer to you anymore! Find someone else to hit your targets!’ That made him sit up I can tell you. I walked out and slammed the door into his smarmy face – and boy did it feel good! Bet he was on the phone to Daddy even before I left the building.

****

            Trouble is, when I got home and opened the front door, she rushed up to me and threw her arms round my neck … and my heart sank.
I knew what she was going to say even before she said it. She’s been on about it long enough… endless whingeing at those interminable dinner parties she arranges, with her ‘professional’ so called friends, where they talk about how much money they earn… and where I act as glorified wine waiter!
I hadn’t taken much notice of it till then, tried to ignore it, hoping the feeling would pass … but suddenly I feel trapped! I DON’T WANT THIS! I don’t want to be tied down with nappies, in a house smelling of sick. I don’t want to come home each night to mess and noise, constantly hard up – responsibility… for LIFE! But it’s too late to tell her that now. How can I tell her I’ve just walked out of my job? It wouldn’t be so bad if it was just the two of us – but a brat as well….
Her parents will have a field day. They already think I’m not good enough for her, always have done. Whenever they visit the house – the one they never tire of reminding me ‘they paid for’ – I feel them judging me, their eyes telling me just how inadequate they think I am. Well, they’ll have plenty to judge me on now! I can hear them, as they drive home in that precious Mercedes of theirs.
‘Fancy doing this to her, he knows how to pick his time! I knew that temper of his would be his downfall!’ Oh yes, I can hear them, twisting the knife as they sip their gin and tonics on the balcony of their sunny holiday home in Spain.

****

             How smug he looks as I walk back into his office, cap in hand, to ask for my job back. And how he enjoys telling me he’s already offered it to someone else – and given them my list of contacts – the contacts I worked my backside off to get! Then he says the only job they can offer ‘at this time’ would be at a much reduced rate ….and worst of all I thank him… and tell him how grateful I am and apologise for my temper tantrum …. and  walk out slowly, softly closing the door behind me, knowing the smirk on his face is expanding on the other side.
And now I face the prospect of going home to tell her! The verbal abuse, the inquest, the tears, the recriminations… the apologies! The days of silent treatment as she knits baby clothes, knitting needles clacking like a woman by the guillotine… just in case I forget this dreadful wrong I’ve done, not only to her but also to ‘our’ child

What went wrong? What happened to the carefree lad I used to be? What have I done to deserve it? What has life done to me? What have I done with my life? What have I become?  I had such high hopes. I didn’t ask for much, just a well-paid job, real friends, foreign holidays… All I see now are rows of nappies flapping in the breeze, waving, as if they’re laughing at me… stretching out into infinity.

And it should all have been so easy ….

***

Home

 

Mavis, Alex and Coronavirus

grayscale photography man and woman walking
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Alex: (Looking out of front window)
Bloody isolation! I used to be able to get out for a quick pint down The Old Bull and Bush before – now it’s closed she’s got me trapped in all day. If I sit down for more than a minute she’s at me.
 ‘Mr Motivator’s on Alex,’ she yells. “Come on, you need to keep fit. He’ll get that belly of yours sorted.”
Keep fit! What for? So I can listen to ‘er naggin’ from mornin’ till night? Er never bothered with Keep Fit before, so why now all of a sudden? She’s been watchin’ all them people walkin’ past in their tee shirts and joggers – brand new, arrived from Amazon yesterday – it’s like a bloody fashion show out there it is… with their poor old husband’s trailing behind ‘um.

Mavis: (Washing up in kitchen)
He needs more to do, not just to sit in his armchair watching Peers Morgan on television. They’d get on well together those two – opinionated pair. I catch him sometimes lookin’ out of window, watchin’ them walkin’ past. I saw ‘im wave a ‘er from number thirty yesterday – he thought I hadn’t noticed. Right mess she looked too, in a shocking pink track suit. How old does she think she is?

Alex:
It’s Thursday – ‘er highlight of the week. Eight o’clock she’ll be shootin’ outside to clap for NHS. Apparently no one thinks you care if you don’t go out and clap. Well I can clap from me armchair thanks – and I bet I’m more sincere than those what just go out for a good  gossip- with their faces made up to the nines because they’re appearin’ in public. It’ll take ‘er half an hour to do ‘er hair!

Mavis:
I noticed ‘er next door had cut ‘er ‘air and put a colour on. Never mind, it’s not ‘er fault if that’s the only colour she could get. Our Milly says they show these You Tube videos on how to cut ‘air – I’ll have to tell ‘er. I offered to have a go at cuttin’ Alex’s ‘air but he won’t let me. I think he’s relivin’ his youth again – he’s stopped shavin’ too, designer stubble he calls it – bloody mess if you ask me.

Alex:
She won’t even leave me alone in the greenhouse. I tried to have a crafty fag in there yesterday and next I see ‘er comin’ down the path. Had to stub it out in a pot of geraniums I’d just planted. ‘Funny smell in here’, she said. ‘It’s that new compost’, I replied. What a waste of a fag.

Mavis:
I know he tries to have a crafty cigarette behind me back. I follow ‘im and try to time it that he’s just lit up and has to stub it out. He won’t be able to buy any more without me knowing now he doesn’t have an excuse to go to the pub. We’re over seventy you see, in the danger zone, they say we must stay home ‘cause we’re vulnerable. It’ll be a good chance for him to try and give up. He says he already has – but I know different.

Alex:
She’s painting rainbows now to stick on the front windows – says everyone’s doin’ it. I won’t be able to see outside soon.

Mavis:
Our Milly’s going to WhatsApp us tonight. It’s lovely to see ‘er and what’s-his-name for a nice family chat. The kid’s don’t stay on long though – usually keen to get back to their on-line friends. What they find to talk about is beyond me. It’s lovely seeing them though. It usually ends up being just me and our Milly havin’ a chin-wag.

Alex:
Oh heck! We’ve got another of those WhatsApp calls from our Milly tonight! It’s usually just Mavis and our Milly what does the talking. I get sick of hearing about Coronavirus, that’s all they have to talk about.
Ruby Robotham has usually gone past by now, she’s late today. Oh, there’s George from Corner Shop trailing after his wife, Norma. Got ‘im on a lead she has. He should put his foot down like me.

Mavis:
‘Come on Alex its eleven o’clock, time to get your walkers on or we’ll be late. We don’t want neighbour’s to think we’ve had a lie-in, now do we?

Alex:
Lie in. I should be so lucky! I think this virus was invented so women got us where they want us – right under their thumbs.
Oh, here ‘er from number thirty – eh, she looks a bit of alright today.
‘Alright Mavis, I’m ready!’

***

Oh, Mr Tesco!

thank you signage
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Who would have thought
You’d be the highlight of my week
When sitting at the computer paid off
To get the grocery I seek.
Oh, Mr Tesco,
It’s the first time I’ve got a slot,
So please forgive my excitement,
I haven’t lost the plot.
The joy I felt as I ordered
I haven’t felt for days,
The moment I indulged myself
Exposed in many different ways.
When a simple bar of ‘Galaxy’
Sent temptation overboard,
When a bottle of ‘Domestos’
Was mightier than the sword.
When a meagre tin of tomatoes
Sent my heart a’flutter
And I won’t tell you what I wouldn’t do
For a taste of real butter.
If you’re like me then you will know
How a bottle of red
Will set you up for pleasant dreams
Before you go to bed.
Oh, Mr Tesco you take on new state,
Your van becomes a charging steed
You’re the superhero of my dreams
The man who hears my hunger screams –
So please, please don’t be late!

Love and many thanks to all the key workers
for putting themselves at risk
to keep us safe and well fed. 
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Life’s Turbulent Waters

 

backlit beach dawn dusk
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With unashamed perception
She flaunts her form,
Careless and free.
Skin salt-stung fresh,
Eyes wild, eager, expectant,
A new day wraps its arms about her.
And sand, Sahara soft,
Caresses her youthful limbs,
As tension slithers from her

Tangled in weeds,
Lashing frantically,
Trying to break free,
The current overwhelms her,
Draws her down beneath murky waters,
Stifling, choking,
Breath snatched from aching limbs.

Submitting and accepting suffocation,
She ceases fighting and assumes defeat,
Surrendering to the turbulent waters,
Allowing resignation to encompass her,
And in her yielding new strength emerges,
As water recedes and her soul breaks free.

 

Demons in her Head

adult alone black and white dark
Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

(#Social Isolation#Clapping for the NHS

Clapping permeates night’s stillness
And emerging into darkness
She feels suddenly not alone.
Her face, her outdoor face, is smiling.

Protective arms are placed about her children
As lovingly she looks upon her man
And in this moment’s madness she feels somehow safe
Connected to a world she understands.

She will speak no word about her fear
To sap her strength – to break her,
As she knows such words will only lose their trust,
So silently she locks away her demons,
Buries the key deep down amongst the dust.

Yet inside the minefield of her head
Dark images mingle,
Gnaw away, struggling to get free,
They pummel and punch as they jostle and joust,
Barging and banging as they fight to get out,
Tormenting her soul, unwilling to let her be.

A movement from a child
Returns her back to ‘mother mode’,
The place where she belongs,
The place she feels at home,
So restoring her smile she claps instead,
Ignoring the turmoil invading in her head,
And she wonders if other mother’s are being misled
By demons which are banging in their head.

J.H. March 2020

 

 

Priorities

woman in pink long sleeve hoodie carrying tissue rolls
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With half the world in shutdown
I find it strange to see
Loo rolls being the commodity
Folk consider a priority –
Alongside pasta – the new staple
We Brits need on our dinner table.

What happened to yesterday’s newspaper
Hanging on a nail?
When our only antiseptic gel
Was cold water from a pail?
Spaghetti was a foreign food
Heinz put in a tin –
And long-life milk, so disgusting
We threw it in the bin!
The only place to buy things
Was from the corner shop,
And the only Corona to find there
Was Dandelion and Burdock pop!

It seems now we need a lesson
On how to wash our hands,
We are so reliant on Facebook
Our heads stay buried in the sand.
We no longer make decisions,
Allowing others to cloud our visions,
As we scurry like Santa’s little elves
Grabbing loo rolls from the shelves.