A house to call home

This is my second attempt at poetry and is on the subject of housing. I couldn’t think of a decent title and probably need to work on my formatting, but I enjoyed writing it. As before, any comments, likes, not likes or cheques in the post are welcome.

“Can I help you?” asks the man in the shirt and tie. I look at him and think, well, can you? Can you cut house prices by

40%? Can you force developers to build actual affordable housing that isn’t like stacked containers, replicated in their thousands?

No, I want to say. You can’t. Because what I’m asking for is about as fantastical as the Gallagher brothers being reunited in a musical.

But is it really so far gone, to want to buy a place to call your own and stop pouring cash down the blackhole called Rent, leaving you at the mercy of an agent, just in it for the payment that wires its way to the landlord in some far and distant land?

Hand in hand, they eliminate the dream. Another investment opportunity taking precedent over any sentimental notions of a house to call home.

Where it’s just the latest postcode, a borough on the brink; open up another branch, tell people what to think.

It’s up and coming, vibrant and edgy and every other buzz word. 75% already sold before foundations have been laid down. 

In this town, speculation is king.

The thing is, I’m not looking to make an investment or increase my portfolio. I’m looking for a home like the one I grew up in.

A place where I can fill in the cracks and paint the walls, think about which pictures would look good where, so a gallery of our history can emerge.

To take satisfaction in every weed I pull out, and watch the spring seeds sprout, each year a little more like something to be proud of.

To stick drawings on walls that gently curl at the corners as the months go by, find accidental dents in the worktop that make you say “that was when…”

To know the worn banister, smoothed down from hanging and climbing and sliding, and pat its trusty newel post that’s held a thousand coats like a faithful hound.

There doesn’t seem to be much of this thinking around, or perhaps its just that others are keeping their dreams close to the ground, wondering, hoping that the day will come when a place to live isn’t a commodity and its not an oddity to want a place to call your own without looking to sell before its even halfway a home.

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No fixed address

This is one of my first attempts at writing poetry. I decided to give it a try after hearing the talented Hollie McNish perform her poem Megatron. It’s a new way of writing for me so any comments are appreciated. (NB this poem has nothing to do with giving birth or is anywhere near as good (as Megatron or giving birth!))

I’m having a midlife crisis, or perhaps I’m just indecisive. Because at 35, is life passing me by or is it just expectation telling me a lie?

That by now I should be getting somewhere or got there already, my career path on an upward arc, the angle holding steady. 

A profession they like to call it or an occupation, you know, the thing that defines you when having a conversation.

You can see it in their eyes when you get asked the question, and answer that the thing you once studied isn’t included in your present direction.

That actually you’ve changed your mind, multiple times in fact with no fixed interest keeping you on track.

Why does it have to be that we are tied to one address, frowned upon if we move about and take up temporary residence?

What’s wrong with not following a single road, why can’t we veer and take in the view, stopping off if we feel like it and learning a thing or two?

Just don’t do it for too long, or else you’ll end up: what? No chance at being the CEO, stuck in a place that ambition forgot?

House prices are a joke, they say pensions no longer exist. Why take the trouble to grind the same old stone, who’s system is this?

So here’s to the indecisives, the start stoppers and the unsures. The ones who still don’t know, but continue to grow in several directions.

The chancers, the samplers, the in and outs, the toe dippers and the skimmers, the what’s it all abouts.

There might not be a mortgage receipt to show for it or a five star CV, but experience is golden and the memories are free.

 

Flammable materials

Her little arms flop around my sides while I push her up and down with big breaths. I try to  imagine how it must feel; the heartbeat, the airway, the warmth, as womb like as possible since exiting the real thing.

In this moment, I know exactly what I’m doing. No doubts, no distractions, just the purity of looking after a helpless being that needs my care and protection.

Then you come in and I feel tension stab at my bubble. At least you can’t shout at me for not helping, but still it’s there; a flame waiting to spark.

It’s source is tiredness, the deep and withering kind. This is added to by frustration at being denied a life in order to care for another. Additional combustion comes from a sense of guilt about daring to feel that way.

All that’s needed are a few words.

What’s the matter?

Nothing!

And we’re off.

Cause for celebration

The man waits with tender anticipation; his palms face down on the table. He wears a faint smile at the thought of what is to come but also at how things have come to be, the days, the years, turning everything mellow like a softening fruit.

A smell wafts in from the kitchen, interrupting his thought process. Its aroma is rich and glutinous yet it stirs his gut only modestly. This is not because it is unappealing, but because of its steady presence; a dish that has punctuated many occasions of his life like a shot of his favourite liqueur.

Voices echo out on the landing, then the front door opens and a whirlwind of bare limbs and smiling faces rushes into the hallway. The melee discard their belongings on the floor, fanning themselves against the heat and uttering gentle commands to the children hanging off their hips or clinging like ivy to their thighs.

Then they float down both sides of the table to land kisses on his cheeks. He receives them like marks of approval, a sign that he has accomplished what was required of him; as a father, a mentor and a protector.

They tell him of the trials and trivia of their day, while the children peer timidly round the table leg, murmuring for mummy to shift their attention back again. He smiles at both of these of things and takes a long drink from the glass of red wine that has been keeping him company until now. The alcohol floods his bloodstream and he feels his sense of contentment amplify.

More people arrive; husbands and cousins. They come to him with a handshake or a squeeze of the shoulder and congratulate him on his accumulated years. He avoids their eyes and politely deflects the reminder with a ‘thank you’, not wanting to be drawn inwards.

In a timely fashion, the food arrives to gasps of delight. Elbows bump and hands criss-cross one another to reach for platters of oily vegetables and glistening meats. He relishes in this ceremony, knowing that the goodness of the food is being shared amongst all who are dear to him, as it should, and always has been.

He holds this thought as the flavours, rich and comforting, sink into his belly and he savours the satisfaction as much on everyone else’s behalf as for himself.

A toast is made to his wife, the cook, and he hurriedly lifts his glass to cover up for his absent-mindedness. Her soft, green eyes dart about the table in a panic and he loves her then; always the observer, but so rarely the observed. He loves his daughters too, their sweet faces, buoyant with the promise of youth and the beginnings of family. He’s been good to them, he thinks. He’s provided. And now they are blossoming.

He tops up his glass and almost drains it again. Then he grins, forgetting what made him smile. Does it matter?

The conversation drifts around him now, detached and incoherent. Words are directed his way, but he scarcely engages in their meaning. He drinks again and the room becomes a little brighter.

Dessert arrives, and the guests tuck in just as enthusiastically as before. The dish is offered to him but he waves it away, frowning as though it is an absurd suggestion.

What cause really is there for all this celebration, he wonders, when age only brings about weariness and the inevitability of lost dreams? He looks around the table for recognition of this fact, but they are too cheerful, caught up in merriment or at least pretending to be.

The table rears up, it’s marks and callouses like reminders of the paths he’s taken and the ones that were cut short. From the depths, emerge woes he thought he had forgotten, while harsh words his father once said to him suddenly carry extraordinary weight.

He doesn’t know how long he has been sitting there until his wife speaks quietly into his ear. The guests are leaving now and he senses their vivacity funneling out of the door. He tries to say goodbye but it comes out like jumbled words uttered during sleep.

Then, he is left as he began, with only a glass to keep him company while the threads of his thoughts whirl about, too fractured and imperceptible to recall. Like the steady voice of his wife, bed becomes the only rational thing left in his head and he drags himself from the kitchen.

Redcliffe subway wins award

Redcliffe Street underpass has won Most Intimidating Subway of the Year.
Judges visiting Bristol for this year’s National Urban Decay Awards, noted how the subway’s darkened entrance, blind corners and sunken ceiling all contributed to a sense of ‘dread and uncertainty’, making it the favourite of the category.
Local residents were thrilled with the award. Rosary Farce said ‘it’s the last place on earth I’d ever want to go, except maybe with a hatchet and chainsaw. There’s not many places you can say that about in Bristol. Well, maybe a few.”
Councillor, Tim Reid, said the community had a love-hate relationship with the subway, as in they love to hate it. “It’s long been a talking point for the local community as a place that contributes to personal safety fears and general uneasiness within the neighbourhood. It’s fantastic that this is now being recognised as something to be proud of.”
Swindon was the overall winner, however, receiving the Gritty City award for being “generally bleak all round.”

Not in this family 

Gayle held the pot to her abdomen as she stood in the middle of the front garden.

“How about here, Sophie? What do you think?”

Sophie contorted her mouth and looked down at the gravel space that was plugged with tufts of grass. Then she shrugged.

“Okay.”

“I think this is a good spot,” added Gayle. “It’ll get plenty of light.” She bent down slowly, her hands trembling a little under the weight. She set the plant down and then straightened up. Only then did she realise she had broken a sweat across her forehead.

“Mum,” uttered Jane, by her side. “You should’ve just let me…”

Gayle hissed and backhanded the air as if preventing the words from ever arriving. Jane shrunk and Gayle returned her attention to Sophie.

“You must remember to water it everyday, especially when it’s hot. Then, one day it will grow into a bright, yellow sunflower.”

“Say thank you, Grandma,” murmured Jane.

“Thank you,” replied Sophie, twisting on the ball of her foot and breaking into a grin.

Gayle looked at her fresh, sun-blushed face and then to the gap in her lower front teeth, which Sophie tongued habitually as if it was the source of some new and delightful flavour.

Gayle smiled back, feeling satisfied. It seemed the spirit had merely skipped a generation.

“Well, it should brighten things up a bit,” said Jane, with a sigh.

Her gaze wandered upwards to the gritty facade of the new house and suddenly, Gayle wanted to tell her how it was so much more. How the flower was a symbol of hope, of a new beginning and soon, how it would be something to remember her by once the thing growing inside her took hold.

But she didn’t, of course. It wasn’t the way. Not in this family. She could only give her doe-eyed daughter a hard look as she turned to her, side on.

“Cup of tea?” asked Jane.

“Thought you’d never ask.”

Vanquishing evil

They gathered in a circle, their feet sinking into the muddy ground at the centre of the clearing. Overhead, clouds loomed, as if closing in to hear the passing of the judgement.

“Brethren, it is a dark day,” said Martha. “Once again, the Lord has punished us with this tempest. Do you not see the fruits of your doings? Must we keep suffering for all our sins?”

She glared at the group of wretched individuals who hung their heads as she spoke. “Unclean we are; unclean, pitiful things. You leave me no choice. Offerings must be given, more sacrifices must be made.”

In the centre of the group, Lorna was listening dutifully. But in her chest, a weighty breath bounded about and she could hold it no longer.

“How can we have sinned?” she blurted. “Do we not do everything you ask of us?”

Martha’s arm shot out like an arrow. “How dare you question God’s judgement?”

For a moment, Lorna faltered as all eyes turned on her. But her anguish was unabated. “We have nothing left, can’t you see?” she replied, clutching at her ragged clothing. “Why would a just God want us to live this way, in the dirt?” This last word, she hurled, and it echoed about the clearing like a thunderclap.

Before Martha could respond, another member of the group spoke up. “Yeah, what have we done?” said Victor, from behind curtains of white, matted hair. “Everyday, I work the fields. Anything that’s harvested I share with the villagers. I’ve never taken anything for myself, only given, yet still you say I’ve sinned.”

“Behold these blasphemers,” bellowed Martha, throwing her arms wide. “They choose to go against the one true word. Tell me, brethren; what punishment should befall them before they bring about even greater sufferance?”

But now, a steady murmur was passing amongst the group as others voiced their own grievances. Martha continued to declare and gesticulate, but her commandments were drowned out as collective anger boiled over into hysteria.

With gnashing teeth and wild eyes, the mob advanced on Martha. A hail of hands and feet fell upon her body, muffling her screams. After a minute or two, she no longer resisted the blows and the crowd erupted in jubilation.

Lorna danced among her fellow villagers, as they clasped each other by the shoulders and celebrated their actions. Despite the dark skies, she looked to them, thanking the heavens for an end to their misery.

Once the excitement had died down, the villagers looked again at the ravaged body of their former leader lying on the ground. Lorna stood with them, waiting for some sense of righteousness to emerge, a sign that justice had been served.

“We’ve done it. We’re free!” she cried, grabbing the sleeve of her nearest neighbour. But her words seemed hollow and out of place. A few others echoed her cry, but their elation also fell flat, like a spring fete in a rainstorm.

Lorna let her hand fall by her side as the last whispers of joy left her. Then there was only the sound of the wind and the beating of her heart.