Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Trees they spoke

For Stu & Lynley’s Babe


“Sing sweetly, sing sweetly, sing sweetly o little one” the willowy trees whispered low over the newborn babe.

“Sing softly, sing still, sing for your king” they crooned. Those trees beside the water, beneath the inky sky. They lifted their voices beneath the dancing stars; who winked and twinkled at the sleepy babe.

The glittering night, alive, arose with song as the babe slipped onto the stage of this world.

The voice of the river rose to speak; “Move softly. Move powerfully. Move like water through water. Strong and certain, velvet gentle.”

“Move often, move careful, move beyond what can be seen…”

Then the stars bent low to add their theme:
“Open your eyes to dream the dream… and to see the scene… that cannot be believed.”

The stellar sky winked and dimpled the baby’s face with light. Again she spoke:

“Dream, dreamer, dream. See, seer, see. Believe, believer, believe. What you can see must be believed – it is the final scene.”

The moon was full. The stars were bright.
And sky was singing through that night.
The trees they spoke. The waters too.
The stars bent down.
Because of you.

Because of you.

Because of you.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Duke's Kingdom

Once upon a time there was a leaky shower.

But luckily for you this story is not about him. It’s about his very good friend.

A very good friend who just so happened to be a duck. A yellow plastic duck to be precise. He was called Duke.

Now I think everyone needs a friend who is a yellow plastic duck. But that is especially true if you are a shower. You see, unlike many potential friends who are detered by dampness, Duke the Duck wasn’t at all bothered by the wet. In fact he loved the wet.

He loved the wet so much that the shower wasn’t really quite wet enough for his taste.

Rain! Now that stuff sounded properly wet, even to Duke’s very small ducky ears. Duke would look out of the bathroom window and wish. Firstly that it wasn’t frosted so that he could actually see out of it. And secondly that he could go outside in the rain for real. He’d never been outside from the moment he was born in the cupboard under the sink, next to draino and the jay cloth. (Both nice chaps.)

The shower, whom he loved, was still just ‘pretend rain’ to him. Duke couldn’t understand why humans chose to get washed in the ‘inside rain’ when they could go outside in the huge, sky shower whenever it rained. And it seemed to rain an awful lot. Rain drumming on the windows and the roof of the bathroom was his favourite kind of music. If only his mother had let him have music lessons – he would have been a natural on the drums. Ducks have a great sense of rhythm you know. Especially plastic ones.

Of course Duke the Duck didn’t have an awfully clear idea of what the outside world was like because he’d never been outside of the bathroom. And as we know all the windows in the bathroom were frosted. …so he couldn’t see outside very well at all.

This was another thing about humans that confused him. “Perhaps the outside world is so terrifying that humans are secretly afraid of it. And they don’t even like to look at it,” he thought. “I wonder what they find so frightening out there. It sounds wonderful to me.” And Duke the Duck would sigh just a little bit.

He had some ideas of what life looked like on the outside – just from the variety of sounds that he could hear echo around the bathroom. And from the bathtime stories that the Mother Human used to tell to the little humans in the tub.

Every morning shortly after Father Human left the bathroom (usually with some soap foam still on his chin and his hair sticking up just a little) there would come a roaring noise from below the house. Followed by a giant creaking and then more roaring. This was the way in which Father Human went to work.

Duke thought that it sounded like a mighty caged beast. He’d heard about dragons from the kids’ bath times when mum told them all sorts of magical tales. (Duke the Duck of course believed in magic as any sensible plastic person does.)

So Duke deduced that Father Human went to his office on the building site every day on the back of a giant purple dragon. A giant purple dragon with great lime green spots under his wings.

Duke guessed that the dragon didn’t like being ridden very much. And that was why he roared every day as they released him from the dungeon under the house. The creaking, Duke guessed, was the metal gates of the dungeon opening up to release the savage stead.

Mother Human’s dragon didn’t sound as feisty as Father Human’s. Whenever she left the house there was a croaky coughing and spluttering and something that sounded like a nasty case of wind. Duke deduced that Mother Human’s dragon was old, possibly short- sighted and a bit slow to get going.

How Duke wished he could get outside into the wonderfully wet world of flying beasts. Outside where he could see the wind, not just hear her breathy voice rattle the windows and doors. He imagined her magnificent, cloaked in purple streaming through the skies….lifting the soaring dragons. He wanted to see the Sun’s house. The place that he retired to every night. What an amazing palace that would be….dripping in molten gold and liquid jewels!

Duke wanted to go out and play with Hail – the one who didn’t come around very often but when he did would always knock repeatedly on the bathroom window. Calling to Duke to go out and play.

Then one day, it happened.

The Humans were moving house. Everything was being loaded up into boxes to be transported to a new house on the top of the hill. When it came time for the bathroom to be packed up, Duke hung back and tried to hide himself behind the shampoo bottles. He had worked out that if he could manoeuver himself to being placed at the top of a box he would gave a great view of the outside world at last.

It took some ducking and diving to achieve it, but he wasn’t called Duke the Duck for nothing! At last the bathroom box was packed up and Duke was perched right on the top of the soap dish, next to the scales.

He was so excited he could hardly breathe. At last he was going to see the dragons and the palaces! The magic of the outside world – that he had imagined since he was born under the sink.

A man he hadn’t seen before came into the bathroom and picked up the heavy box as though it weighed nothing. He put the box on his shoulder and carried it out of the bathroom.

Through the bedroom.

Through the living room.

Down the stairs.

Past the kitchen.

Past the garage.

And outside.

Duke was outside at last.

He blinked. It was brighter than he had thought.

He sniffed. It was fresher than he had hoped.

He breathed in. It was bigger than he had imagined.

He looked around for the dragons and the palaces and the magic.

For the purple-caped wind and playful hail.

What he saw was the removal van. Father Human’s car with the big engine. Mother Human’s car with the small engine. And the outside of a brick house

And he laughed outloud, “Quack. Quack. Quack!”

“Ha! Ha! Ha!”

(Which is what ‘quack, quack, quack’ means, by the way. Ducks like to laugh a lot.)

“Dragons and palaces!”

“They’re even more amazing than I thought….!”

He bounced up and down in excitement.

“I’ve seen dragons and palaces! I wonder what amazing things I’m going to see next!”

He tapped out a funky little rhythm with his plastic bottom waggling tunefully against the china soapdish. This was an excellent start to his outside adventure!

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Waiting Wheelbarrow

Once upon a time there was a wheelbarrow. It was a beautiful, shiny metallic green wheelbarrow. With shiny black plastic-grip handles, shiny silver metal arms and a generous, well proportioned basin in which to carry many things.

The wheelbarrow was of the very best design and the very best ability. This was THE wheelbarrow that everyone wanted. Anyone who had ever tried to lift something heavy or awkward; anyone who had ever used a bad wheelbarrow could tell just by one glance at this wheelbarrow, that IT was the top-of-the-line, it’ll-do-the-job-no-problem kind of wheelbarrow.

There was just one problem. Nobody was actually using this wheelbarrow. He was in the right place at the right time. Positioned there at the end of the garden by the shed. Right by the grass cuttings and the tools and the bricks. He was poised for action. He was ready. He was excited. He was good to go. But he didn’t get to go anywhere. The gardener never appeared. The tools were all shiny and new in the shiny and new shed. Yet no-one ever appeared to use them. It was as if everything were waiting, set up, prepared. But the day of action never came.

It was puzzling. Especially to the wheelbarrow who had an advanced capacity for thought. He was way more thoughtful than the handy power tools in the shed. They were ALL about the action, but never really stopped to wonder about the strange situation they found themselves in. And as for the spades and trowels they just loved the work. They didn’t need to ponder the plan or the future - they knew they would just get stuck in when the time was right.

But the wheelbarrow was a bit removed from the shed-life and outside on his own, waiting for the gardener to come, he spent a lot of time thinking and pondering why he wasn’t getting used.

It seemed clear to him that whoever had set the garden up knew what they were doing. They had selected the top-of-the-range line in every product range, and it was all neatly ordered and arranged in the shed in rows. The garden hose was curled up neatly on the side of the shed and the lawnmower was tucked inside a corner. Yes, clearly the gardener knew what he was about. So where was he? ‘Everyone knows, the wheelbarrow thought to himself, ‘Everyone knows that gardening is more than having the right tools. You have to know what to do with them – which tool you should use for which task.’ But the most important thing of all, the wheelbarrow concluded, was timing.

Yes in gardening timing was everything. There would be no point in pruning the roses back, before they had budded. It would be crazy to mow the lawn every week in winter, but essential in the growing season. And there was nothing like a garden for getting out of hand incredibly quickly if the gardener went through a season of neglecting it.

‘The thing with gardens,’ the wheelbarrow reflected, ‘Is that they can be beautiful, blooming and pristine one minute. But if you neglect them in a key growing season suddenly the garden become a wilderness of weeds and overgrown grass and bushes.’ ‘The gardener really needs to keep on top of this task’, the wheelbarrow thought sadly. He could foresee that this garden was going to become a wilderness very soon if someone didn’t step in.

It was a very wet time of year. It seemed like every day was another rainy one. At first the wheelbarrow didn’t mind this at all. He was built for the outdoors and he had a shiny impervious covering for his metal so the rain just ran straight off. But day after day it rained. And night after night. Until the wheelbarrow started to feel different. ‘I feel heavy and sluggish,’ he thought. ‘It must just be the rain getting me down – just the time of year’ he reasoned. But day after day the feeling increased. It increased until he felt so heavy that he wondered if he would even have the energy to move when the gardener finally came.

The wheelbarrow started to have some anxious thoughts. It was made worse by the fact that he couldn’t really talk to anyone else about it. The others were all happy and cosy in the shed – they wouldn’t understand. And after all he was the wheelbarrow! He was the biggest and the strongest of them. So how could he admit to them how he was feeling. If he started to worry that would really get the little tools panicking.

He kept his anxious thoughts to himself. But the heaviness just increased and increased. He really started to worry. ‘I think I might be depressed’, he thought. But instantly dismissed the thought. ‘No! wheelbarrows don’t get depressed! We’re not highly strung, fine-tuned instruments like the strimmers. Anything can throw those strimmers off their stride – but not us wheelbarrows. We’re way too level headed!’ he said to himself.

Still, the symptoms were getting undeniable. He felt heavy. Sluggish. His motivation was ebbing away. He’d been waiting for the gardener so long he wasn’t sure he’d be ready willing or able by the time the gardener arrived. Maybe he could lift something light, do a small job for the gardener. But what if the gardener wanted him to carry bricks? He just didn’t feel up to it anymore. And the worst thing was that he didn’t have any excuse; ‘It’s not like I’m worn out because I’ve been overworked,’ he thought. ‘It’s more like I’m worn out because I’ve been underworked.’ The word ‘neglected’ flitted through his mind. His belly sunk a bit closer to the ground. His handles turned a bit further downwards.

‘I might as well face it,’ he said. ‘I’m a depressed wheelbarrow. I’m no use. I’ve just rusted away here in the rain. Waiting. Action hasn’t killed me. Waiting has.’
And with that the wheelbarrow made a decision. ‘I’m not waiting. I’m not expecting. I’m not looking for the gardener to come. I’m not keeping my eye on the garden. Not hoping. I’m just here. This is the new me. The Realist.’ And with that he went to sleep.

He slept in the rain for a long time. The garden grew up around him. The plants got bigger and wilder. The grass grew longer and longer. But the wheelbarrow didn’t notice because he was asleep. He had resigned from his position as Guardian of the Garden. Without the gardener it has all become too pointless. And painful to watch. So he slept and slept and slept. And it rained and rained and rained.

One day the rain stopped. The reports on the radio and TV stations were saying that the rain was not going to come back. All the experts were predicting that this would be the last great spell of rain for a long time.

The sun rose and for the first time in a long time wasn’t obscured behind a bank of rainclouds. People ran outside to bask in the wonderful heat of the sunbeams. The raindrops still clung to every place they had landed. As the sun reflected off the droplets the whole landscape became dazzling and sparkling. It was beautiful.

The heat on his metal started to arouse the wheelbarrow from slumber. He was half awake, half asleep. Suddenly a sound coming from the house caught his attention. It sounded like someone was coming down the garden. He tried to shake himself awake to see who it was. Could it be the gardener, come at last?

He lifted his heavy head to see a large man walking purposefully down towards the shed end of the garden. He looked dressed for action – welly boots, gardening gloves, outdoor jacket. Surely it was him, It was! It was the gardener!

The wheelbarrow felt a surge of joy. That was instantly quashed as he remembered the state he was in. ‘What am I going to say to the gardener?’ he panicked. He looked around the garden. Horrified, he saw it had grown totally out of control since he had been asleep.

‘Some guardian I am!’ he thought! Then he realized that after his sleep he felt heavier than he ever had. ‘I don’t think I can move!’ ‘Oh no, what is the gardener going to say? I can hardly give him the excuse that I got fed up waiting and gave up! That will seem like I’m criticizing him.’ The wheelbarrow got a bit defensive. ‘But then what kind of gardener is he anyway? Everyone knows that with gardening the timing is crucial. He’s a lousy gardener – he’s waited till everything’s out of control. He should have been here, hands-on, keeping everything under control!’

The wheelbarrow kept his head down, hoping that the gardener would walk straight past him to the shed. He hoped that his rust wouldn’t be too obvious. What if he had rusted so much that the gardener had to throw him away? He tried to dismiss that thought – too terrifying to contemplate.

But unknown to the wheelbarrow the gardener had his eyes fixed directly on him. The gardener strode purposefully towards him with a glint in his eye. Finally he was standing right next to the wheelbarrow. He looked the wheelbarrow up and down with eyes that saw everything.

The wheelbarrow had to admit that having the gardener by his side was the greatest thrill and the most terrifying experience he had ever had. How he had longed for the moment when they would work together, when he would feel the gardener’s hand on him. He hung his head. It was too late; he was no use for work anymore.

The gardener started to speak. His voice was velvety deep, with a raw undercurrent. The wheelbarrow tried not to tremble.

“Well wheelbarrow,’ the gardener said, “It’s been a long wait.” He paused.

“Well done.”

“Well done wheelbarrow, well done. The hardest part is past. The hardest for you, is complete. The waiting. The waiting is the hardest. But you have made it. He who stands till the end, has made it.” The gardener congratulated him.

The wheelbarrow could hardly believe his ears. But was the gardener saying that this was the end? The end of him?

The gardener spoke again. “You have feared the rust. You have feared the heaviness. In your heart you gave up responsibility for the garden.”

“But it is not your responsibility. The garden belongs to me and I watch over it jealously. Just as I watch over you jealously.”

“You cannot see yourself, my friend, so let me tell you the truth. There is no rust. The rain has done you no damage.”

The wheelbarrow managed to find his voice. “But I feel so heavy. I don’t know if I can be used by you. It’s too late.”

The gardener threw back his head and laughed. His eyes sparkled and he laughed and laughed and laughed.

“Oh you have no idea!” he beamed at the wheelbarrow.

The gardener explained, “You only feel heavy because you are full of rain! You have been collecting rain in the rainy season. It’s not what people usually use their wheelbarrows for…so you didn’t know it. But it was all my plan. You see the rain is incredibly precious. And there won’t be any more like this for a long, dry season. So it was important to stop and catch the rain all the time that it rained. If we’d run around keeping busy we’d have missed the rain.”

He laughed, “It’s timing, gardening. And it was the time to stop and be a rain gatherer.”

“You are full of water, my friend, that’s why you feel so heavy! What a precious cargo! Heavy as bricks. Harder to move than bricks. It’s a big task – but you are totally equipped. And I am going to be with you all the time. Wheelbarrows can’t direct themselves or decide which plants to water when. I’ll decide that.”

The gardener looked straight at the wheelbarrow, “If you let me.”

“Or if you want, I can take all the water from you and store it elsewhere. That way you would feel be more mobile and self-directing. But then of course I couldn’t use you to distribute the rain. The choice is yours. No recriminations. I want you to be absolutely free to choose.”

The gardener gave the wheelbarrow a nod.

“Think about it. I’m just going to check on the power tools.”

And he strode off towards the shed.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

In this place that I live.

In this place that I live, I am neither up nor down. Neither up town or down town. But just about around town.

You see this place that I live is not like the place that you live, nor the place that you love. I love it not neither.

Because in this place, how you feel is more closely related to where you live than you could ever conceive.

I know in your world that people are supposed to feel happier if they live by the sea. Or a great big lake. Or have a nice view of a mountain or two. And that if you live in a slum you should definitely feel glum.

But does it really work like that? Or is that just a conspiracy spread by some. Estate Agents. Because in your world the geography influences your mood, but does not dictate it.

Wish that I could say the same for this place. This place that I am in.

For you see that here it is the most desperate issue where you live. For only those in high places can ever feel high. And those who live down town are condemned to feel always down. Let me put it another way. If you live low, you feel low.

Your emotions are so totally tied to your low living abode that you might as well be tied to it. With a rope about your neck. Like a goat.

And as you can imagine the property prices for the places that are high. Well.
To feel high all the time. High on the hill. While the lonely goat is down town. That is worth paying through your happy little nose for.

Money literally can buy happiness. Or at least, high-ness, which is a right royal joy, for the main. A royal highness.

So that is that. In this place we are predictable. Our postcode will tell you how we feel about life. The wife. The usual strife.

As for me, I live neither uptown nor downtown. Just about around town. So that is a middle of the road kind of state of being. I live in Bla-ville. Ho Hum Hamlet.

It’s ok.

I think on the whole, and I can think because I am not permanently high (a downside of the upside)..that I would rather live at your place. By the sea or in a slum. At least I would be able to choose how I feel. Here I am just a victim of town planning.

Of course if I made enough money I might be able to buy a place on one of the peaks. On one of the postage stamp sized pieces of land that is left. But because I live Ho Hum, I am not motivated to elevate my social and emotional status. So I am stuck.

Yes, on the whole, I’d much rather your place than mine.

Your place looks just fine.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Pea

Once upon a time there was a little girl called Pea.

She liked her name. It was a happy name.

Her dad called her name all day long, “Pea….little sweetpea, come and see me you little sweetpea.”

He would wander in the long corridors of their gigantic house calling her name. He would open every door and call for her, “Little pea…sweetpea, come and let me see you, little sweetpea.” Then he would wander in the courtyards and walk around the fountains, all the time calling her name, “Sweet Pea, be my sweet pea, come and talk to me!” His voice was warm and low like black treacle.

Then he would search high and low in the stables, in amongst the horses. All the time calling out her name. “Sweet pea, my sweetest pea, come and say hello to me,”

He moved on to the gardens in his quest to find his happy little pea. He hunted in the herb garden. He searched the flower beds. The rose garden. He walked under the trees where the bluebells idled. All the time calling out for his favourite little Pea, “Pea, sweet pea come and sit with me. Where are you hiding my sweetest little pea?”

Finally he entered into the last place in the garden; the maze. “Come little Pea, come to me, my sweetest of all sweetpeas,” He went around every corner with a huge smile on his face, expectant.

Little Pea meanwhile was wondering where her father was. Her happy father who gave her her happy name. She started to wander through the corridors of the gigantic house looking for him. “Daddy, daddy don’t you hide from me. Where are you hiding from your sweet little Pea?”

Her father’s spicy scent lingered in the air but she couldn’t find him in any of the rooms. She wasn’t quite as thorough as her father and she didn’t check absolutely every room, nor every corridor.

She ran out to the courtyards, and she could smell him there too. But where was he? She called out in her tiny little voice: “Daddy, daddy where are you? It’s me your little Pea…don’t you hide from me!” It rang like a small silver bell.

She couldn’t see him anywhere. She didn’t check absolutely every courtyard. And she forgot about the stables altogether. She skipped out into the gardens. She was sure that she would find him there.

Again, his musky scent was in the air, but he wasn’t by the flowerbeds and he wasn’t in the woods. She couldn’t smell him above the mint and coriander in the herb garden.

“Oh daddy!” she stamped her little foot. “How dare you hide from me? I’m your little pea and you should NEVER hide from me.” She thrust out her bottom lip.

“I’m never going to look for him again,” she announced to the blue, blue sky and the green, green grass. “In fact I’m going to hide so that he can never find me again. Then he’ll be sorry!”

The thought of this revenge quite cheered her up. “Now where is the best place to hide?” she wondered. “The Maze!” she giggled. “He’ll never ever ever think of looking for me there! Ha!”

She ran as fast as she could into the maze. She kept her head down so she couldn’t even see where she was running. She wanted to get so lost that he would never ever be able to find her. That would show him.

She ran and ran, turning left and turning right, and turning right and turning left until she was totally lost and out of breath. She ran straight into a dead end and collapsed there very red in the face! “There!” she said. “Now I’m lost. Serves him right. Nasty daddy, leaving me all alone.”

She lay on her back and looked up at the blue blue sky.

She turned on her side and stared at the spiky hedge wall.

She lay on her tummy and looked at the green, green grass.

Then she sat up. “I want my daddy!” she said and burst into tears.

“And now he can’t find me, never, ever because I was so clever and hid in such a good place. Oh why did I do that?” and she started to wail.

“Waaaaaah Daddy wh-wh-where are you? Waaaaaaahhh wh-wh-where is my Daddy?”

Just then she caught a waft of his spicy smell. She leapt to her feet, “He’s here…he’s somewhere around here…” she gasped.

She started running, but she was in such a panic that her feet couldn’t decide which direction to go in. She ran up a bit and then down a bit. She tripped and scratched herself on the hedge wall of the maze. She got up and ran to the end wall and then fell again, grazing both her knees. She was about to start sobbing in sheer frustration when she heard something on the breeze.

“Little Pea, won’t you come play with me? Where’s my sweetest little sweet sweetpea?”

It was her father. And he was looking for her.

“Daddy!” she shouted, “Daddy I’m here!”

He came around the nearest corner and stood in front of her, smiling all over his face.
“Well there you are my little pea – I’ve been looking for you all day! What fun I’ve been having looking for you!” He knelt down and held open his arms.

She flung herself into his chest.

Crying just a little she said, “Oh but Daddy I’ve been looking for you and it hasn’t been fun at all. I got scared that I would never find you again!”

She missed out the part about hiding from him. But it was alright because he’d guessed that bit anyway.

“Oh my happy little pea! Don’t you know that I am always looking for you…and so even if you found the best hiding place in all the world. I would still find you. Because I’m very, very good at finding you. Much better than you are at finding me!” He laughed and catching her under the arms stood to his feet and swung her round and round and round till she was the happiest, dizziest girl in all the world.

She smiled and smiled and smiled till her face hurt. Then she laughed and laughed and laughed until her ribs hurt. He gently placed her on the ground.

She looked up into his eyes and saw her tiny, happy little reflection in his eyes. “Oh Daddy, now I know that you’re always finding me. I’m a happy little Pea.”

“You’re my happy little Pea,” he tousled her hair, “and that’s just the way I dreamed it would be. Come on let’s go for a walk together.”

He took her tiny little hand in his and led her straight out of the maze.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Green, Red and Black. (A story for K)

“I like the black ones best”

“I like the red ones.”

“Nah, green ones are way the best.”

“Green? Yuk. Green is disgusting. It’s broccoli flavoured.”

“No it’s not, take that back.”

“Ok, I take it back. They’re SNOT flavoured.”

Green lunged at Red, Red ducked and leapt up laughing,

“Ha! You eat snot flavoured sweeties…Ha! You’re weeeeeiiirrrdd.”

“No I’m not!” Green’s hands were fists by his sides. His eyes flashed dangerously.

“Yeah and your dad’s weird and your mum’s weird and your dog is weird. You’re all weird….” Red was shouting right in Green’s face. ‘Go on,’ he thought, ‘you’ll never punch me.’

But Green’s face just crumpled and his arms hung limply by his side. He couldn’t look Black or Red in the face. His cheeks burned.

That was it. So his family was weird. ‘Told you so, told you so,’ said a voice in his head. He fought back the tears.

He heard his father’s voice too, ‘Don’t let them get to you. Folks don’t understand. It’s not their fault.’ Dad was always saying that:‘It’s not their fault. It’s not their fault.’

‘I bet he would even defend Red if he was here,” Green felt suddenly bitter.

‘Well, dad’s right, it’s not their fault. It’s his! It’s your fault Dad’

The anger gushed up out of nowhere straight through his right arm. It swung wildly and connected with Red’s nose. Blood spurted everywhere.

“Don’t you ever call ME weird,” he yelled over Red who had collapsed on the ground. Then he ran as hard as he could. He just ran and ran and ran until it felt like his heart was in his head and beating in his ears.

He sat down on the edge of the road and cried.

His family never fitted in anywhere they went. And they were always moving. Because of Dad’s job. Stupid job! He leapt up and kicked the curb.

“I hate that job. I hate moving all the time and I hate you!” he shouted at his father in his mind.

Dad’s stupid job was secret. He was some special kind of scientist so he couldn’t tell anyone what he was doing. Even Green didn’t know what his dad was doing. The kids at school thought that was really dumb.

Dad didn’t even wear normal clothes. He always wore these stupid chunky jumpers that mum knitted for him. Mum made all their clothes – she didn’t like high street clothes ‘cos she said they were all made in Bangladeshi sweatshops by children suffering from malnutrition.

But normal dads didn’t wear big, bright green sweaters – they wore suits. And they had sensible jobs like being an accountant, or working in an office. Or being a driving instructor.

He kicked the curb again. He hoped he’d scuff his shoes. Why couldn’t his dad be a driving instructor?

He could get one of those special cars that his brother told him about. His brother was a lot older and he learned to drive last year. They have two sets of controls. Two brakes so if the person learning makes a stupid mistake the instructor can jump on the brake.

He liked the sound of jumping on the brakes. “I’d like to be the instructor when dad’s driving the car. Cos then I could jump on the brakes and make him stop! He’d have to stop.” He started to sob. “He’d have to listen to me then. He’d have to ask me what I wanted to do. If I wanted to stop or go. To stay or move.”

Tears of powerlessness rolled down his cheeks.

“And my dog’s NOT weird!” he yelled at the street. “He’s just different!”
He was one of mum’s experimental matches - a poodle and a Labrador. He was a labradoodle.

‘My dog is kinda weird too,’ he realized. He sniffed hard to stop the river of snot running out his nose.

‘But I like him. I like him a lot.’

He heard footsteps and turned around. He was the picture of misery, with red-rimmed eyes and a swollen face.

It was Black and Red.

‘Oh great and now I get beaten up as well,’ he thought. He put his weight on his backfoot like his mum had taught him to if he ever got in a fight.

But Black and Red held out their fists. And opened them. Their hands were full of green sweets.

“Hey Green,” Red’s voice was slurry due to his bashed nose, “We picked out those sweets you like.”

“Yeah, “ smiled Black, “You can like whatever flavour you like as long as you don’t hit us!”

Red grinned. Black snickered. Green managed a small laugh.

“Thanks guys, “ he looked hard at the ground, “Sorry, for…er, before.” His eyes flicked up to their faces to see if they thought he was even more weird now.

“Yeah we think you’re REALLY weird now,” said Red, “but that’s ok, cos weird is cool with us.”

“I’m not sure weird is cool with me, “ mumbled Green, “I’m pretty sick of weird.”

“My mum’s weird, my dad’s weird, my brother’s weird and even my dog is weird. I don’t like it.” He kicked the curb as hard as he could.

“Huh,” said Red.

“Right,” said Black

Nobody said anything for a while. Red started to eat one of the green sweets while he was thinking. “Yeuch!” He spat it on the road.

“If it helps, “ Black was the first one to speak, “If it helps, you can punch me too. I don’t mind.” He stepped forward and turned his right cheek towards Green.

“Uh yeah. Guess you can punch me again if it helps. Just not on the nose again…” Red grinned. “Maybe a nice black eye this time?”

Green shook his head and smiled. “Well if anyone, Black should get the black eye. You’ve already got a red nose.”

“Yeah and you’ve got a green one snotty,” Red taunted, “No wonder you like the green ones. Taste of snot do they?”

“Actually everything tastes of snot right now,” Green sniffed it down as hard as he could.

The three boys turned and started walking in the direction of their normal, normal and weird homes. They scuffed their shoes along the edges of the road.

“So what is your dad up to?” Red asked Green.

“ I dunno. Researching a new energy source that’s going to save the planet….finding a cure for cancer….figuring out a way to feed Africa….whatever it is. It’s weird!”

He scuffed his shoes extra hard.

Red looked over at Black. They were impressed.

“But weird can be cool you know…”

“Yeah,” Black agreed, “weird is alright you know. He wished his dad was a mad scientist. He was just a boring old driving instructor.

“Mmmm. Maybe,” Green said. “I’ll take some convincing.”

“That’s ok,” Black replied, “Take your time.”

“It takes me ages to get convinced about something. I think that’s just normal, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” said Red, and grinned, “I think that’s just abso-pigging-lutely NORMAL. “

He elbowed Green in the stomach,

“See, there is something about you that’s normal. Here have another green-snot sweet to celebrate, you freak…!”

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Strawberry

She held out the box to him. He knew it was a test.

Still he couldn’t help himself.
“Strawberry soft centre. Yum they’re my favourite.” He could feel his eyes bulging with anticipation.

“Why don’t you try a chewy caramel?” she said.

“Nope.” Eyes now closed. A shake of the head.

“How about a soft centre with a different flavour?” her voice was curvy.

“Nope, I want what I want and what I want is what I always want. I WANT the strawberry soft centre.” His face was turning strawberry now.

“Donald,” her voice was taut. “You know this just isn’t going to work.” She was thought of herself as a patient woman but this was too much. “How can we be taste testers if you won’t taste ANY FLAVOUR OTHER THAN STRAWBERRY?!”

She stood up and middle-buttoned her Laura Ashley jacket. Donald knew from the 3 months they had worked together that this was a bad sign.

She ran a carefully manicured fingertip along her left, beautifully shaped eyebrow. That was a very bad sign.

“I’m going to take my lunch break now, Donald,”

“Buu..”he tried to protest..

“Yes I know it’s only 10.30am, Don-ald.” He noted the ominous syllable emphasis and decided to be very still and quiet. That way he might just get to stay alive and also keep his job.

“ But I need a break now. And while I’m gone I suggest that you consider a change in your position on the strawberry creams. Otherwise I’m going to have to suggest to Mr Wilkins that we send you back to Dispatch Services.”

She picked up her cottage cheese and chive sandwich on wholemeal, turned on her enormously high heels and stalked out of the door.

Donald knew he was at a crossroads. It was called Cadburys. And it could make or break him.

His hands shook slightly. His blood sugar was dropping. With his fast metabolism he was destined to be a taste tester.

He tapped his wash-board stomach. Three weetabix for breakfast less than 2 hours ago and he was ready for a sugar boost already.

‘I’m a taste testing MACHINE’ he thought.

He was pleased with the way he kind of roared the word ‘machine’ in his head. He wondered if it would work aloud. ‘Probably not the best time to practise roaring…’ He tried to focus on the matter at hand. Keeping his job.

It was the best job he’d ever had and he was really good at it. He loved telling people at parties what he did. Actually he never went to parties, but he liked imagining telling people at parties what he did, “I’m a freelance taste tester…. Licensed to taste.” He had a whole speech worked out; “I prefer it shaken or stirred….or on a cocktail stick.” It was certainly more interesting than working with parcels in Dispatch. And he got to wear a suit.

But not if he couldn’t get past the strawberry cream. He eyed her up with her lovely round shape and little chocolatey dimples on top.

“You fox,” he said to the strawberry cream. He chewed his lip. “No, I mustn’t eat you.”
He shut the lid of the chocolate box. Picking up the description of the chocolates he turned his back on the strawberry blonde and tried to concentrate on the brunettes and blondes.

“Mmm, let’s see…a Coffee Cream…or a White Chocolate Swirl…I can do this.” He licked his lips nervously. He searched around for his normally ravenous appetite. “Come on don’t let me down now, baby…”

But it was disappearing rapidly. He just didn’t fancy any chocolate. Except for the strawberry cream of course.

He sighed. ‘This never happens with potatoes’ He thought back to the heady days of taste testing for Spuds R Us. Chipped, crisped, croquetted, baked…he could eat the potato in any form.

Yum just the thought of potatoes caused a rumbling, maybe even a slight hunger pang. Ah, that was more like it. The dilemma now was how to make himself hungry for something that he wasn’t hungry for.

“Make myself hungry…” he started to chew his fingernail as he pondered this. Then stopped as he remembered the first rule of taste testing.

Only focused chewing is allowed.

“ I am a professional and I can do this,” he said outloud using his most confident, un-him like voice. “How hard can it be to get hungry for something…. I don’t want to eat” he tailed off.

He took the caramel square between first finger and thumb and scrutinized it.

He appealed to his rational mind:
“This is a perfectly nice chocolate that millions of people would be delighted to eat, were they in my place right now.”
“And millions of people would love to have my job,”
“I have a great job. And this is a great chocolate. I will really enjoy eating this caramel square..”

“Yes Donald that’s right!” His colleague had slipped back into the room partway through his speech and was delighted to hear him speaking like a rational human being again. He was talking to himself, which wasn't good, but he was actually touching a caramel square. This was progress indeed.

“So Donald?” she asked in her headmistress voice, “You’re going to try a new flavour are you?”

He nodded.

“So I don’t need to report you to Mr Wilkins, then?”

He shook his head.

“And you’re going to be very mature and professional when it comes to taste testing the rest of this layer?”

More nodding.

“And you won’t spit out the Turkish Delight?”

More shaking of the head.

She smiled, revealing teeth kept immaculately white despite all the foodstaining hazards of the profession. She opened the lid and handed him the box of chocolates.

‘This is it,’ he thought, ‘this is what it feels like to be a rational human being who can overcome strong personal preferences in favour of trying something against his every natural inclination…’

He smoothed down his jacket, took a deep, mature breath and looked her confidently in the eye.

Then he grabbed the strawberry cream and ran for his life.

He turned as he reached the door, “Sorry but you can’t make me want any of the others when I already know, “ his face broke into the most enormous smile, “She’s the only one for me! And I’m not going to apologise for it.”

And with that, he was gone.