Dense dark smothering choking,
Bits of soot clinging to clothes and hair
Clogging up your nose, your throat.
Not if you’re under thirty, you won’t.
They were like the masks worn by medics doing a minor op.
Or like dentists wear to keep from ingesting our germs –
Or is it the other way round – so they don’t contaminate us?
Now there is a constant babble about “air quality” and whether having speed bumps on roads makes the atmosphere better or worse.
(I’m told drivers slow down for the bump and then speed up and so produce more nasty gases and cause more damage to the atmosphere than if the speed bumps were not there.)
It baffles me. You could say I’m totally be-fogged.
In case this isn’t obvious I am trying to write this in the style of Jane Austen.
Esmeralda the eldest daughter of Mr Fitzpatrick Polkington of Hesmondwaite Manor in ****shire was by nature and upbringing a somewhat fearful girl. The absence of any brothers or sisters or male cousins no doubt contributed to this state of affairs. One of Esmeralda’s greatest fears was that of being alone and lost in some strange city where she had no friends to turn to for assistance.
Up to the age of eighteen her life had been passed in the quiet country around Hesmondwaite Manor and even an excursion to the nearest town let alone the bustling metropolis of Bath was viewed with trepidation. When an invitation arrived from her godmother, Lady Miranda, to spend a fortnight’s holiday at her London residence, Esmeralda turned pale.
“Papa, I can’t possibly go,” she quavered, “Pray make some polite excuse on my behalf. Say I have a bad attack of migraine or there is an outbreak of bubonic plague in the village.”
“Rubbish!” said her parent, “Of course you must go. How else can I expect to find an eligible man for you to marry? Besides, Lady Miranda is extremely wealthy and she had intimated to me – in strictest confidence – that you are the sole heir to her considerable fortune.”
Many thanks for the invitation to your house-warming party. We’d both be delighted to attend. I note that you aren’t looking for gifts, especially stuff to do with the house. A pity. I’ve got several things that I am sure would look well in your new abode and really make it like a home.
They are useful too. There’s a very elegant coffee pot that was a present from my auntie Joan. She didn’t know that we gave up drinking coffee some time ago so it never got used.
Then I’ve a picture of London Bridge, another birthday present; from Gran this time. It’s nice enough but won’t go with the wallpaper in our lounge. Gran is over 90 and lives in Llanfair PG so she won’t call on us and expect to see the picture on display.
Just one query about your party. The invitation says, “Bring a bottle”. As you know, we are both recovering alcoholics so will Vimto be acceptable?
With best wishes
Marmeduke & Magdalen
I am trying to write this using sentences of different lengths
When I was 12 we lived over the shop. Literally. My parents had a baker’s shop and the upstairs rooms were our living room and bedrooms and bathroom. There were three of us in the family, mum, dad and me. But sometimes it seemed more like six; my paternal grandmother and my aunt lived only a short distance away with another old lady called Mary Ellen – usually known as Nellie. She was not a relative but had lived with my gran for a long time. Nellie worked as shop assistant in our bakers. As long as I can remember the three of them Gaga (my childish name for my auntie Margaret.) Nannie and Nellie were part of the family. They came to us for meals and before I started school I was taken to Nannie’s house every day where she looked after me while my mum was working.
By today’s standards our little flat above the shop would be considered cramped. But there were good points too. We had a fine view of the street outside from our second floor window. On the relatively few occasions when I couldn’t see across the road because of the dreaded l smog I knew I wouldn’t have to go to school. All buses would be cancelled.
The bathroom was immediately above the bakehouse oven so we had a nice warm floor to stand on when getting into the bath. Strangely enough, though we had a bathroom upstairs, the lavatory was outside the back door. Not unusual in the 1940s suppose.
I took a lot for granted about the house we lived in. Everything was close. We were one of a row of shops and most of our daily needs could be supplied within walking distance. There was a post office, a newsagents, a butcher, a fish shop, a sweetshop, a tripe shop, even a hairdresser and a shoe shop. What more could you ask? This was before the advent of supermarkets or shopping malls.
Well before I was 12 I could run errands to any of the shops on our road, I could go to the newsagents next door to buy a newspaper and twenty cigarettes for my dad. I can’t imagine sending my daughter on a similar errand when she was seven.
Jane and I were walking in the park. A pleasant Sunday afternoon stroll, hand in hand as we like to walk, even if it seems childish to some people. We’d been together for over a year and I was trying to pluck up my courage to ask her to marry me. Suppose she said no!
As we passed the bandstand and the ornamental lake I saw an old lady sitting on a bench. She was busy knitting a small red sweater. She looked exactly like my gran. Gran was fond of knitting; every birthday she made me a scarf or a jumper. Now she’s living in a residential home somewhere on the south coast, I think. We kind of lost touch when she moved there after my dad died. I looked closer – it wasn’t just some old woman who looked like Gran – it was Gran! Dare I approach her? She was getting old, suppose she no longer recognised me? I couldn’t stop the hot tears that poured down my face. Why hadn’t I kept in touch?
I always knew Mark was a big softy, but I didn’t think he was the sort of bloke to cry in public. It was like this; we were out for a walk last Sunday after lunch. It’s one of our customs, even if it does make us look like an old married couple. I like it. But on Sunday we passed this old lady sitting on a park bench. She was respectably dressed, not a bag lady or a beggar or anything like that. She even had her knitting with her, a small red jumper the sort that would fit a toddler about two or three years old. Perhaps it was for a grandchild – or a great grandchild, she looked old enough. Imagine my surprise – and my embarrassment – when for no reason I could see Mark suddenly burst into tears. If the old woman had been frail and in distress I might have understood it. But…I was simply baffled. We’d had a bottle of wine with our meal but not enough to make Mark maudlin drunk. What could be the matter with him?
I went to the park on Sunday. It was a lovely day, the sun was shining and I felt like a walk. My sister had promised to visit. I find Lizzie a bit of a pain and wanted to avoid her. I knew she’d ring before coming, so if wasn’t there to answer the phone, there’d be no difficulty. I even mentioned to the warden of the flats – sheltered housing, it’s called – that I was going for a walk. You don’t have to account for your movements but if Lizzie turned up at least she wouldn’t be trying to persuade the warden to use her pass key to get into my flat.
Anyway I had a nice walk and a sit down beside the pond. I’d got my knitting with me. I like to have something to keep my hands occupied, now I can’t see so well to read unless I get a large print from the library. So there I was knitting a jumper for old Mrs Green’s grandson. She can’t knit now, poor thing, her arthritis is too bad. I was watching the people passing trying to guess who they were and how they were related. A mother and three small children, a father who looked as though he was a divorced dad taking his daughter for a weekly outing and a young couple holding hands. It seems to have gone out of fashion hand holding, now. Unless you are with a young child or a very old person who needs assistance crossing the road. I glanced up at the couple and I couldn’t believe my eyes; the man burst into tears. I hadn’t done anything, I promise. I wasn’t even thinking about my magic gift and I’d absolutely no reason to use it on this young man.
He stormed into the room.
What do you think you’re doing?” he demanded.
“N, nothing,” she muttered, “I only….”
He paced the room, examining the papers, the books, the pictures on the wall.
“What are you hiding?” he yelled.
“I’m not…” she began.
“Where is he? I’m not stupid. Where is your lover? Where are you hiding him?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” she whimpered.
He seized her arm and twisted it till she screamed with pain.
“He’s been here. I can smell tobacco and look -” he picked up a cigarette butt from the carpet.
“My father…” she said.
“Rubbish! Your father smokes a pipe.”
Before he had time to realise what she was doing Amelia spun round, raced across the room and slammed the door behind her. He heard her cackle of triumph as she turned the key and shut him in.
Extract from a gothic-type story. Unfinished.