Friday, 3 October 2014

On Travelling First Class

The conductor tells us
it's not fair
for those with standard tickets
to linger in first class

and I find myself getting angry
at those poorer passengers
passing through
my solitude.

But I also feel guilty
about being here
with the free coffee
and the soft, wide seats

so I clutch my ticket
like a life raft
and draw the curtains
and lose myself in my book.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Along the Southbank

The water in the Thames is never as blue as it appears on the underground maps. It isn’t as angular, either. As the trains rumble beneath your feet, you’re immediately hit by the cold at street level. People bustle about you, rushing, waiting, bashing against each other. No one ever showed you how to get out of the station – somehow you always knew which way to go – so you turn right and climb the steps of the Millennium Bridge. Here, halfway up, Alex once stopped to help a mother with a pram. You’re still proud to think about it now. At the top of the steps sits a man with no legs; he’s always there with his little cardboard sign begging for change, and you always wonder how he got up here. You walk with your head held high, even though you are secretly terrified of bridges: you’d never survive if it collapsed, or you fell into the water – that disgusting, disease-ridden water of Dickens’ novels. So you look straight ahead and concentrate on getting to the other side. Don’t look down. Don’t look down. Don’t look down. The smell of the dirty water mingles with the heat of roasted chestnuts. You look down. A wave of nausea hits you, and the bridge feels like it sways, and you reach out for support. How did all those skateboards get down onto that pillar? Looking at the view across to the Oxo tower, out to where the shiny Shard stands tall and proud, a photograph flashes into your memory of three friends eating bratwurst on a warm summer evening, reminiscing about university. You all got so giggly about Herman ze German; it seems childish now. Later that night, whilst you were cut off from the rest of the world, London burned in the heat of summer riots. Your idyll was broken by that call from Alexa. You thought it was a joke, but you struggled to get back to Matt’s house in Sutton because Croydon was ablaze. Across the bridge, the old concrete walls of the Southbank Centre rise high, and you know within those walls hides a room full of poetry where you could waste away many a day. You hesitate before descending, torn between wandering towards the London Eye and the Aquarium, or up past the Book Market. But you hate crowds and there are too many people down river, gathering around street performers and food stalls. So you turn left, and think about that trip you took with Robin, when you sat in the sun and he told you he loved you, and later you took him to see Emmy the Great. You wouldn’t have guessed that just six months later her lyrics would take on a completely different meaning. The book market makes you infinitely happy: there’s classics and contemporaries, great tomes of history and tiny poetry leaflets. You spend hours here, circling the stalls like a preying tiger, negotiating with yourself until you find just the right thing to buy – a token of this day. You take your new book and hold it like a precious stone. Further towards London Bridge, you remember a day spent waiting for a phone call, watching the world go by and wondering if you might be able to stay in Sheffield or if you would have to leave the city you love. When they told you your application had been unsuccessful, you pretended it was fine, but you questioned whether you and Sam were cut out for long distance. A sweet, sugary scent tempts you, so you treat yourself to a bag of mini donuts. The balls of dough melt on the tongue, warm and comforting. “What makes you happy?”, Chloe asks; and you wonder if it sounds cheesy to tell her that she makes you happy: her friendship and her conversation and her love. So you tell her about Singin’ in the Rain, which never fails to cheer you up when you’ve been down, and how you’ve been filling your weekends all months to ward off January blues, and, before you know it, you’ve said the cheesy thing you didn’t mean to say. What makes you happy? Moments like these.

Friday, 31 January 2014

I Come From

I come from renovated playgrounds and
caravan holidays and long life milk,
Saturdays spent in the library
and Sunday dinners round the kitchen table.
I come from first edition Harry Potters
and my dad’s old record collection,
now gathering dust.
I come from Bristol accents,
from green walls and purple curtains,
marmite on crumpets,
the bunny fields and
evenings spent at Rosie’s house,
with hoards of comic books
and video games
and pets.
I come from the responsibility of being the eldest child,
from ‘family fun time’,
from farmers and butchers
and men who deliver vegetables,
from a stay-at-home mum
and hours spent watching day-time TV.
I come from Sunday school
and library school
and school school,
from the science block
and the languages staircase
and the subway that always stank of piss.
I come from the trees at the bottom of the garden
and the victory of climbing higher than Christopher.
I come from Shania Twain
and Pink Floyd,
but mostly from Mulan and Aladdin.
I come from talking, talking, talking;
from laughter and tears,
from throwing punches
and instant regret,
from being completely unable to hold a grudge.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Never Have I Ever

I have never been to New Zealand
where the sheep outnumber the men
and orks apparently roam free.

But I have been to the old family farm
in Inverness, seeped in centuries
of McKimmie history

though no longer ours.
I have never heard the roar of the
Niagara Falls, as the water cascades down

and the Mounties tell visitors
to keep away from the cliff edge.
But I have heard my Nana

switching between accents:
from Scottish to Bristolian
or Bristolian to Scottish

depending on who she is talking to.
I have never seen the Northern Lights -
pinks and blues and greens

clashing against each other.
But I have played Never Have I Ever
at two in the afternoon

drinking cheap wine with friends
wrapped up in blankets and coats
because we are too broke to turn on the heating.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Rollercoaster

Her heart is in her throat. Ahead, a hundred people wait in line, excited by the chance of soaring up into the clouds.

Maybe, she thinks, maybe things will get better now.

At her elbow, a young boy impatiently bounces on his toes. Filled with candy floss and fizzy pop, he is already as high as a kite, flying across the bluest sky. She ruffles his blonde hair, comforted by his presence. He’s damp, fresh from the log flume, where he screamed all the way up but was too happy to make a noise on the way down. As they crashed into the water, she felt a new lease of life wash over her; and when they stopped, he took her hand in his and said, “Thanks, Mum.”

But this rollercoaster is what he has been looking forward to all day.

Way, way up there, the little boy dreams he might be free. Weightless, he would soar through the sky, feel the wind through his hair, and sweat fear through his shirt. The smell of discarded fast food in it's packaging tickles his nostrils and unsettled his stomach, where electric butterflies fight each other.

All around him, happy families bask in the late summer sun. Parents laugh at their children’s joviality, holding backpacks and raincoats, the universal symbol of British pessimism. Siblings wrestle over which ride they want to go on next. Teenagers, usually experts at feigning boredom over the most interesting of activities, discard their hormonal negativity in favour of the Haunted House. 

The young boy smiles. Everything is perfect: he has indulged in all his favourite foods; he has braved the Pirate Ship; he is about to board the rollercoaster; and beside him is his mother.

The queue inches forward, closer to the ride. The mother looks up as the dragon rattles overhead, screams hanging in the air for a moment after it has passed.

Please, God, she prays, let this be a turning point.

This day marked their tenth together. They’d started each other seeing two months ago, under the watchful eyes of his social worker, struggling to find common ground. Every time they met, she learnt something new. But she’d loved everything about him; she drank up the details – like when he was nervous, he chewed on his knuckles; and when he was excited, he rubbed his palms together like a maniacal villain. With time, she came to know her son, found shared loves and interests, laughed over private jokes, and had grown comfortable being alone together.

The transition period was almost over. Soon, things will be different. Her son, once so distant, would be hers again.

Giving him up had once felt like her only option, but there hadn't been a moment in which she hadn’t longed for him back. The grip of his tiny palm around her finger. The fresh smell of his delicate skin. The weight of his head on her arms: unstable, fragile, perfect.

For eight years, he’d been passed from foster home to foster home. Five different women had been his mother over that time. In her absence, they’d bathed him, clothed him and fed him. They’d taught him to ride a bike, they’d watched swimming lessons and football matches, they’d held him as he cried, fending off the demons of his nightmares. She hadn’t been there; someone else had had to do it.

She knew she’d been lucky – not everyone has the opportunity to be reunited.

Now, she wishes, now he can be mine.

Today is her chance for redemption.