Review of Charlotte Rogan’s ‘The Lifeboat’ by Lesley Atherton

Claustrophobic Situations

When writing of any claustrophobic situation, three factors are key.

  1. The characters must be multi-dimensional.
  2. The writing must be deep and psychologically detailed.
  3. The lack of various settings must be countered by an unputdownable plot.

The lifeboat drifts

Other reviewers of ‘The Lifeboat’ have indicated that it offers personal insights and rich characterisation, and that it is ‘unputdownable’. I desperately wanted to love this book as the setting is fascinating. The book is mainly set in a lifeboat following the disastrous failing of a ship on its way to New York.  The lifeboat drifts, at first one of many, then later, apparently alone.

A retrospective perspective

The vast majority of the book is written retrospectively by the main character, Grace. Following her rescue, Grace and another two lifeboat survivors (both women) are put into prison awaiting trial for their role in the murder of Mr Hardie, an experienced seaman. Initially he’d kept the 30-strong lifeboat going, but his instability predicated his eventual downfall. Not enough was made of his drifting into the realms of the unreliably insane – and the rebellion of his fellow lifeboaters came too quickly and as somewhat of a shock.

Worse, in terms of the story itself, Grace relates events in a journal and does so solely for the purposes of justifying her actions. Inevitably, the reader then experiences nothing beyond the ‘facts’.

The journal was as cold as a court transcript, and as dry as a ship’s log

I’d been excited to read ‘the Lifeboat’ but Grace’s journal seemed to just plod along relating largely pointless details of lifeboat life, never once getting properly inside the survivors’ heads. The journal was as cold as a court transcript, and as dry as a ship’s log. Was this done intentionally as a stylistic choice?

The book enlivened a little only after the scantily described rescue had taken place and when three women were incarcerated awaiting trial. Such trials did take please in the nineteenth century, yet this fictional account seems unbelievable. Contrived, even. As did manipulative Grace’s final resolution.

Had this book been less about the day to day and more about the mental grief, it would have succeeded. But, for me, it failed as the characters weren’t up to the challenge. Had ‘The Lifeboat’ done this, I would have been unable to put it down. Sadly, it sunk.

#lesleyfridayreads #charlotterogan #thelifeboat

Who Are The Witches in Helios Sphere?

Author Ella Duvivier in exceptional witchy form 
Photo credit: Anna
Author Ella Duvivier in exceptional witchy form
Photo credit: Anna Anderton Art

We’re no strangers to witches in deepest, darkest Lancashire so we asked author Ella Duvivier to shine some light on the witches in her new book Helios Sphere…

The Gods and the Witches are the prominent supernatural forces in my book. There are two known witch families in the narrative: 

1 Heliotrope: 

The Heliotrope family are the last standing from the diluted bloodline that runs from the original Priests and Priestesses of Helios.  These Priests and Priestesses formed the Cult of Helios.  This cult’s main objective is to track remnants of Helios mythology throughout the world for use at the Temple.  

They are skilled thieves and brilliant at the social politics required to gain traction in situations which would be advantageous in the world of antiques acquisition.  They have good standing in the world and a business name Apollo Helios Acquisition with London based headquarters.   Sarah Jayne is CEO of this organisation and the Head or High Priestess.  Her daughter is Amber – a thief working within the cult.   

They are known to the Poinsettias, and know of the Poinsettias.  It is not known how their powers manifest but they’re believed to share the same strengths and weaknesses as any watered down Sun magic.  

2 Poinsettia:  

The Poinsettias are another witch family.  They have an odd-looking house in a crescent in Bristol.  Their powers are an amplified version of their own actual human talents.  They are descendants of Medea.   

Fran, the previous head of the family, is a deceased famous author on all things pagan.  She is also Ben’s mum; he is the hero of our story.  Fran leaves Ben an inheritance so large no one even knows what it the amount is.  This legacy is sought after by all remaining Poinsettia’s desperate to get a piece of it and her history.  It is looked after by the family lawyer known only as Oz.  It is not known where Fran has passed on to in the after-life.  

The Helios Sphere on display in the Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece.
The Helios Sphere on display in the Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece.

To provide any more information on the Witches of Helios Sphere would be difficult as it would involve spoilers.  Just know that they are descendants of Gods and Goddesses.  They’re powerful in their own right. Not to be trifled with.  And they are starting to re-write the balance of the old ways.  Will the Gods cope with their meddling? 

Meet the author Ella Duvivier at her Helios Sphere Book Launch, at The Gryphon, Bristol 7pm on Monday 24th June 2019.

Find out more in Helios Sphere published by Scott Martin Productions

Helios Sphere - Where the Runner is the Hero!
Helios Sphere – Where the Runner is the Hero!

#helios sphere #elladuvivier #witches #scottmartinproductions #communitypublisher #authors

What’s the Cringiest Poem You’ve Ever Written?

“orator fits, poeta nascitor”
An orator is made, a poet is born.

Mine is less of a poem and more of a song. I am in my early 50s now, and wrote it back in those idealistic days when I was all of sixteen, thought I knew everything there was to know about the world, and when new age travellers were constantly in the news.

If you want to read something that will make you cringe even more than David Brent from ‘The Office’, you just need to take a look inside the songbook that’s been with me since the age of fifteen.

For those of you who can’t look in person, I’ve typed it up this particular corker here:

https://www.scottmartinproductions.com/pastpresenttense

Just scroll down to ‘Peace Convoy Partisans’. You won’t regret it, if only that you view your own writing more favourably.

And with that in mind, I challenge each and every one of you to fight back with an even more cringey contribution. Don’t be afraid. We’re all friends here!

Ideas…. Too odd. Too many. Too few.

A week ago I started watching ‘Stranger Things’ and have now reached the end of what’s currently available on Netflix. I resisted the show for what seemed like forever, but then the urge to indulge overtook me. I needed to see what all the fuss was about, but it wasn’t just that. My thirteen year old daughter drew a picture of Eleven (a focal character) when the first series came out, and the drawing has haunted me ever since. I’ve never understood why it drew me in, but it did, despite my reticence, and even before I’d watched a single episode of the show.

That’s how it is with ideas. They drift into your mind unseen and unexpected. Some anchor themselves and refuse to let go. Others leave a trace of something amazing, like the morningtime memories of the most vivid dreams. Sadly, those ideas fade unless you’re able to record them in a way that makes sense to you – write them down, paint them, or turn them into dots on the musical staves. Whatever you do the best.

I believe in writing about dreams. I’m a fan of them, good and bad. Why wouldn’t it be appropriate to utilise the most abstract and genuine experiences that most of us will ever encounter? They emerge from flickering memories, or out of the depths of deep-seated anxieties.

Some of my best ideas have been borne of my worst dreams, and I’m sure the same is true for other writers. Some of those most terrible nightmares have remained with me over the decades, in times of both light and dark. Is that why I don’t always sleep?

Many creative souls have trouble sleeping at night. This isn’t due to the cries of conscience, it’s our brains overanalysing every part of life, and pushing far too many ideas into our consciousness.

We are overrun with them. Overwhelmed with their undisciplined persistence. Their influx may not herald creative genius, but, no matter what, they keep coming in their millions. Creatives can’t always use or understand their ideas, but for most of us they are always there.

But then come those times when we have the opposite problem. When ideas don’t appear when we need them. This isn’t the most extreme writer’s block, when the words won’t come and the motivation is low. This is an enthusiasm for writing, a keenness to progress, and perhaps even a deadline to meet. But the tiny little spark that will set light to the amazing creation is just not there.

Aside from following tips to help you out with writer’s block – and they may well help – what else can you do? Dream. Take notes. And take ideas from wherever you can find them. There are plenty of idea generation sites on the internet. This is one at the top of Google’s current search – https://www.plot-generator.org.uk/. On it you can find those spark-ideas for scripts, opening lines, blurbs, and so much more. OK, so things like this can’t replace the flames of genuine personal inspiration, but what they can do is provide the flint. Two stones striking.

As a little example, I provided a few keywords for the Haiku Generator. I basically asked it to write me a haiku about bedtime. I wasn’t expecting to love the resulting poem, but I did!

Taken up bedtime
A single, smooth candle sleeps
enjoying the book.

I know that candles don’t sleep. I also know that candles don’t enjoy books. But I love it all the same.

That’s how words work sometimes. And that’s how ideas work. Unexpectedly. Randomly. And like the sleep of a single, sparkless candle.

Ten Tips to Rub Out Writers’ Block

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Do other professions have similar issues to writers’ block? Is there such a thing as Doctors’ Dread? Opticians’ Obstruction?  Grocers’ Groan?

And how should it be written? Is it a block applying potentially to all writers, therefore “Writers’ Block” or does this debilitating condition specifically refer to the struggles of solitary individual writers, therefore “Writer’s Block”?

Or should it even be “Bloc”? As in a collective, alliance or coalition? Doesn’t that put a different slant on the concept? It truly is a unifying condition because, whatever it means, and however it is written, I know one thing for certain. Pretty much all writers, often at unexpected points in their writing lives, will suffer from writers’ block.

Fundamentally though, it doesn’t matter as to the whys and wherefores of the name. What does matter is what it does to us. It can be truly paralysing. Time-wasting.  Annoying.  And frustrating enough to make you want to pack it all in and find yourself a far less demanding pastime or career.

It isn’t necessarily a short-term problem either – or something that happens when you’re sleepy or can’t concentrate because you’re attempting to write on a busy train. It can creep up in an environment of perfect calm. It can pounce when you’re well-rested and have set time to one side for the purpose of writing. It seems to relish planting buckets of self-doubt into your usually fertile and industrious mind.

It can hit before you’ve even set pen to paper, part way through a paragraph, or even when you’re speeding to a piece’s conclusion. One of my most frustrating moments involved my feeble attempts to name a character in a chapter’s final paragraph. It took more than three days to get it right. The silver lining to this particular cloud is that this particular occurrence of block forced me to change my writing technique and routines for the better.

(Incidentally, if you’re the type of writer who needs to complete sentence one to perfection before allowing yourself to move on to sentence two… and if you’re struggling to get something right, just try leaving a gap and moving on. I often make a note and highlight it, for example – ‘This is where they walk across the beach and end up at the Neolithic site’. I almost always come back the following day and shake my head in puzzlement at my previously frozen state.)

The great thing about the universality of this terrible condition is that almost every hobbyist or career writer can identify with how it makes us feel, and how crippling it can be. That means empathy, and it also means community.

So, here are a few bits of advice that all of us could potentially find useful. Some/all may be obvious, but there’s no harm in re-stating the obvious. We’re only human. We forget. And sometimes it is the block itself that loves to sabotage our creativity – by forcing that forgetfulness.

  1. If you always write on your laptop at the kitchen table, try moving the laptop to your bed, or to the sofa, or try attaching a keyboard and monitor and sitting at the desk. Or if you always write on the laptop, get yourself a little notebook, write in longhand and type up later.
  2. With whatever writing tool/s you prefer, get yourself comfortable. Put on the radio and just write down a few lyrics, or make notes of the DJ’s inane drivel. Or put the TV on and extract what you can from whatever you find. I also go through songs inside my head and write alternative lyrics. Often by the end of all this copying and daft wordplay, I’m ready for the more serious stuff.
  3. Take a break, even if you don’t think you need one. It’s a very obvious suggestion, but it does work. Twenty minutes is long enough to get yourself a drink, and to wander round your home giving your eyes and your body a change of scene.
  4. Eat something. Preferably something juicy – like an orange. There’s a good chance that as soon as you get those fingers mucky, your brain will suddenly rebel and switch itself back on again. Pesky things, these brains of ours.
  5. In preparation for potential bouts of block, keep notepads and pencils in every room and jot down abstract thoughts that jump into your head. That way, when you’re struggling for ideas in the future, you can just gather up your notepads and see what you can find. The chances are that if an idea connected with you in the past, it may also mean something in the future.
  6. I’ve had great results from opening a reference book at random and taking some words from that page. Perhaps pretend your character is speaking those words. Not so long ago I used this technique and had my character saying ‘Fear and Loathing in Birmingham? More like Lustful Loathing in Liverpool’. In the end, I didn’t use it in the piece, but it made me smile and was enough to get me going again.
  7. Do some physical exercise. Preferably something that gets the body and soul tingling, and out of breath.
  8. Spend some time with animals or children. I don’t know the proper term for this, but it certainly isn’t a form of ‘dumbing down’. To me it just encourages more of a non-intellectual response to life. It can help simplify what’s going on in your head and in your writing. Perhaps you could put yourself into the same position as the creature? How might two cats converse? What goes on in the mind of a toddler?
  9. Just write – even if it is complete rubbish. You will probably produce unreadable trash for the first few paragraphs or so because your mind isn’t yet in the right place. But it isn’t impossible that some of it may be useable, or even be pure gold. But the important thing is to write without demanding anything of yourself. No perfectionism and no preparation.
  10. Ask a fellow writer to read your work. Supportive writers are the best writers. This isn’t a competition. There’s room for us all, and the more we give, the more we get back. I’m not ashamed to say that some of my best ideas began their lives in the comments of my writing buddies.

I would love to hear your views. We’re all different and we all discover our own solutions to our own specific problems.

So, please comment. Who knows? Your comment may be exactly what a struggling writer-to-be is needing to hear.  And on day, you may be that struggling writer.

More on Wednesday. Please follow, and don’t miss any more writing-related revelry in the future!

“Every puffling is precious.”

http://www.scottmartinproductions.com

Eleanor Duvivier, author of ‘Helios Sphere’ – interview

Eleanor Duvivier is publishing ‘Helios Sphere’ with Scott Martin Productions – due out in mid-2019. She was also a contributor to ‘Survival’ – and the winning competition entrant.

Eleanor Duvivier, author of ‘Helios Sphere’

‘Survival’ is available for purchase here. Special offer £4.49!

Keep an eye on http://www.scottmartinproductions.com for updates on the publication of ‘Helios Sphere’.


Read a pre-publication interview with Eleanor below

Q1: Hi Eleanor, it is so good to have this opportunity to speak to you… First of all, I was wondering where the idea for ‘Helios Sphere’ came from. I know you’ve an interest in running and the classics, but it’s such an unusual story and has been told in such an engaging manner… Perhaps you could let us know the background to the story and how it came to you.

Hi Lesley, thank you for asking! The story of Helios Sphere manifested itself due to a couple of reasons.  Firstly, in 2014 I went to Athens to run the marathon and genuinely stumbled across the artefact itself in the museum that Ben visits.  I love the idea of giving ancient artefacts and mythologies a new spin.  The character of Ben was created during my degree in Classical History and Creative Writing.  Ben and The Sphere seemed to fit so well together, both sons with long lost or unspoken powers trying to make their way in the world. 


Q2: Did you write any of the manuscript while in Greece, or did you perhaps make notes during a holiday, with this story in mind? Did you always know the conclusion to the tale or did the story emerge organically?

I did a bit of both.  I was the first of my group to arrive at Athens, my two friends due to arrive a day late.  I spent the first day prowling the museums and then I sat in the Café of the New Acropolis Museum in which I wrote my thoughts on The Sphere of Helios.  I started writing on the plane home.  A year later I revisited Athens to gather more information for correct scene setting for the Cape. 
I didn’t always know the conclusion and the conclusion changed as the characters grew. 

Q3: Five words that describe you. Five words that describe your writing…

Quirky, creative, aspiring, active, learner.
Evolving write what you know.

Q4: Do you find Greek architecture, statuary and art particularly inspiring?  

I absolutely do!  My mum used to read me stories like the Iliad and the Odyssey as bedtime stories when I was younger.  I grew up loving Greek and Roman history.  I remember being terribly bored in history at secondary school as it all focused modern history.

Q5: I’d love for you to tell me more about what the bombweed means to you. Also heliotrope and poinsettia – why did you choose those plant names for your character families? Does heliotrope have connections with the helios sphere?

Bombweed is a wartime novel by my Great Grandma Margaret Smith which was published by my Great Aunt Gillian Fernandez Morton and Grandmother Maureen Armstrong.  The novel was written in 1947 and published in 2018.  It seems that writing was passed on to the generations of this family and it is an honour to have a book that I’ll be able to put on a shelf next to hers.  Bombweed grew rapidly on bombsites in World War Two.
Poinsettia and Heliotrope are witch family surnames.  Poinsettia was a surname assigned to Ben as I created his signature look.  He enters the book with a Poinsettia flower adorning his waistcoat and the family links itself to the bright colours.  The flower is a star-shape which seemed appropriate to link to a pagan family and I started to write properly during the Christmas period of 2014.  The Poinsettia is a favourite Christmas flower.
Heliotrope is the name given to the Priestess of Helios.  It means ‘Sun’ and ‘to turn’ due to the direction of the flowers growth.  The flower is named after Clytie, an Oceanid scorned by Helios.  It seemed in keeping with her power and ultimate fortunes.

Q5: So, what’s next for you and your writing? Have you got any further works in progress? 

At the moment I’m doing a Masters in Creative Writing with The Open University.  This means there is little time for ‘pleasure’ writing.  There is the beginnings of a second book: Ben finds out his biological history and the true legacy.  But that will have to wait until the Masters allows me the time.  I also discovered another little written about ancient artefact in a museum when I last went away which I would love to write about one day.
Thank you for reading.


Thanks so much for answering our questions. Look forward to seeing what happens to Ben in the next book!

‘Hot and Cold’ – short story by Lesley Atherton

Perfection. That’s what she was, and I was sure that today would work out just the way I’d planned.

I first saw her on the castle walls and our eyes met, just for a second.  I yearned to catch up and not to lose sight, but her tour party was turning the corner, and mine was five minutes behind and still being forced to listen to the John Major impersonator who masqueraded as a tour guide.  I knew the history of the King’s Tower as well as he did.  When you live in a tourist location and have a season pass, you tend to come every day, just for somewhere funky to eat your lunch. This is my place, and I knew she’d come today.

But I stayed with my group of misfits for a little longer: the elderly and the bored, the kids who wanted to be on the beach, and the mums who wondered if incorporating education into their annual vacation was necessarily a good idea.  As if to answer, a boy of about six elbowed his mother in the thigh. She turned to glare as he moaned ‘This is boring’ at the top of his little voice. Donald, the tour guide pretended not to hear, but I knew how often such things happened, especially to Donald.

It didn’t matter. She was the one, and today was the day. My shoulders hunched as the tour guide droned on about the monks who had built the castle’s brewery and had supported their order with the proceeds. I followed each word, and mouthed them along with him.

I adjusted the hoody around my face, then smoothed it down around my waist. It was of a snorkel style that wasn’t at all appropriate for a summertime holiday destination, but it suited my needs.

Pushing a black curl behind my ear I tried to disregard the heat emanating from beneath the matching fleecy black fabric of my hoodie. It was too bad that the day of her visit was also the warmest day of this Welsh summer, but I had coped with worse in my life, and for worse reason. 

Walking like a drunken crab, I followed the tour party, while poking my head round each gate and turret and wall to catch a glimpse of the girl and ensure I didn’t lose her.  I thought I’d been mistaken and she’d gone already, but no. We arrived at the second west-facing tower as the girl’s tour party was just leaving. She lingered, just a little, at the rear, and I took advantage of the crowds to change my tour group allegiance. It went without a hitch.

There were only two more stops to go on the tour. We’d just been to the north tower with views over the kelp-covered rocks of the defended coastline, and our group were passing in and out of the gatehouse dungeon, before being directed to the inevitable gift shop and tea shop. Never a café.  Always a tea shop.  I moved closer to the young lady, and we stood alongside each other at the entrance to the dungeon. I nudged her Indian-cotton-clad arm with intention.

She turned, expectant, and smiled at the face inside my hood.

‘You’re Tarim.’ More a statement than a question.

‘Marta,’ I said. ‘Shall we do it?’

She nodded with vigour. ‘I’ve built myself up to this for weeks and can’t change my mind now. It’s the right time.’

The tour party had already begun to move off, and I could see my original party leaving the north tower to walk over to join us at the dungeon. We didn’t have long but I was ready. My camera was ready. Marta was also ready.  Allowing the remainder of the earlier party to leave ahead of us, I stood with my back against the now-closed heavy wood door and sighed deeply. We’d be lucky if we got a couple of minutes. As agreed, Marta moved to the far end of the underground room – the end with the wonderful sunlit rays emerging through the skylights – and speedily arranged herself on the straw-covered stone slabs. She placed the chains next to her arms and legs.  With just a little Photoshopping, I could make it look just as it should.  I took photograph after photograph, as I walked over to Marta and gently pushed up her skirt.

‘Tasteful, Tarim,’ she said, posing as I clicked.

Suddenly, the dungeon’s door creaked open and a Scottish couple giggled about finding us alone in there.

Marta raised herself from the straw bed, brushed down her skirt, and in a calm, unflustered voice announced to the couple ‘Sex pics. For an art magazine. We pose somewhere different every day. You should try it’. She winked, and the bearded, anoraked man watched with clear admiration as she left the dungeon. ‘Lucky sod’ he said to me as I followed Marta out. For that he earned a slap on the head from his lady.

But I was not lucky. Things weren’t as Marta had said.

In 1998, precisely twenty years earlier, the body of Marta’s mother had been discovered in the dungeon, bloodied and beaten. Marta had been five then, and a little girl, but now, as a young woman, she was the spitting image of her lost parent. We’d met on a cold crime web forum and it didn’t take long before we got talking properly. Eventually I persuaded her to meet me, and she agreed to come to the castle on this special day. She’d wear her mother’s clothes, and style her hair just as her mother had. I’d dress myself in a black hoody because, on the murder day, there had been a man creeping about in one just the same.

The murder had quickly sunk to the realms of forgotten and unsolved, and not even into infamy – as not once had any of the tour guides mentioned the fate of Marta’s mother or responded to questions asked by the tour parties. A woman’s death had been forgotten and a little girl was forced to live her life without her mother. No cold case team had ever been assigned to discovering more. So it was down to us. The pair of us would make things right.

For the first time in years, I was putting my journalistic skills to good use. My article was written and scheduled for publishing the following day, and the reconstruction photos would be a perfect accompaniment to the headline: ‘Who Can Solve This Twenty Year Old Mystery?’

Marta and I walked together towards the exit, flushed with excitement at our recent activity and with anticipation of tomorrow’s headline . ‘Fancy joining me for tea and a scone?’ I asked. ‘A tribute to your mum?’ She nodded with enthusiasm. ‘I’ll pay,’ she said.

Forgotten

Every other time, he had come back.  
But that day he didn’t.
We’d arrived as usual, and he’d parked me in a shabby little brick-built garage.
I didn’t know why we were there. It wasn’t my business to ask.
I just did what I needed to do, and waited patiently for him to come back.
He’d always come back. Till that day.
As he carefully checked my windows, then locked my doors, he chatted his usual to me.
‘Be a good girl,’ he said.
‘Don’t go anywhere,’ he said.
‘Don’t do anything I wouldn’t,’ he said, chuckling as he padlocked the garage behind me.
As was usual, my engine cooled and I stilled into fumy silence. I didn’t much like being shut away in these claustrophobic garages, full of my own emissions. But it’s part of the life of being a vehicle. We’re used and left, used and left. But not normally like this.
The year was 1997.
The place was Frankfurt, Germany.
And my owner, driver and friend, was Torsten, a 56 year old man who had loved and cared for me. We’d spent the previous ten years together.
But Torsten didn’t come back. I was alone for 20 years, in the dark.
In those years I’ve changed a lot. What used to be my gleaming paintwork is no longer that way. I’m dulled, rusting and crusted.
I wasn’t even searched for, but was found by accident.
As the garage door opened for the first time in forever, I awakened with a tremor of excitement. Was it Torsten? Finally I’d be back on the road again.   
Torsten was informed that I wasn’t stolen after all. Torsten was 76 years old when he got that call. He was alive and well, and had forgotten all about me.
But I hadn’t forgotten about him.
My heart ached. But it didn’t take long for my rescuers to break it properly.
After checking me out, I was told it was scrap heap time. My engine, already broken, camouflaged the slivers of my broken heart, and I went to the scrap heap willingly. I was more than ready.
This story was inspired by an article I saw in a children’s magazine about a man being reunited with his car 20 years after he reported it as stolen.  It was found in the lockup garage where he left it.

Love You, Mummy

‘Love you, mummy,’ he said, and threw his chocolate-covered arms around that most favoured parent. It was snuggle-time – a time they both loved, chocolate arms or not.

Trudie tickled Alex’s feet, sang ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ a couple of times, and gave her son exactly what he needed and what her loving heart happily granted: time, attention, love and cuddles. And Alex spoke back to her as if she were the silliest but most adorable pet – a naughty puppy, perhaps, or a cat that had insisted on scratching the leather sofa. ‘Mummy, silly sausage,’ he gurgled. ‘Lalalala, mummy moo, mummy moo, mummy mummy mummy poo!’

It was mother/child bonding at its best. Trudie knew it. Alex knew it. But somebody else was not so sure. Trudie knew that because of the smashing sound that shocked mother and child out of their reverie. Shocked but not entirely surprised by the noise, Trudie turned and followed the eyes of her son to look towards the source of source of the smash – her husband, and Alex’s dad, Mark.

‘What’s going on?’ Trudie shouted. The vase he’d smashed against the sideboard was scattered in sharp and dangerous pieces all over the floor, and Alex had already jumped off his mum’s lap and was making his way curiously towards the mess. Trudie began to rise to retrieve the brush and dustpan, but Mark pushed her back down.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘I’ll do it. I’ll do it. I was just… shocked.’ Mark scratched his beard and looked down at the mess, shaking his head.

‘Shocked? Why? Nobody was doing anything wrong.’

Why could this man never talk to her about anything?

Mark said nothing, just pointed to little Alex who toddled over to his daddy with arms outstretched.

‘What’s Alex done that’s so bad? What on earth could a little boy of two years old do that was so bad? I know I’ve not done anything wrong… so it’s obvious,’ said Trudie. ‘You just can’t bear to see us happy.’

He shook his head. ‘No. No, it’s not that. It’s just… inappropriate.’

You snowflake, Trudie thought. In what way was it EVER inappropriate to hug your baby, specially if he was gurgling happily in his loving mum’s arms, as Alex had been?

Mark was just so different. So irritable. So annoying and so incredibly annoyable – and a victim of his own restrictive thoughts. Nobody could get anything right. Not ever.

He didn’t like Alex’s bedtime routine. Apparently, it was wrong to give and receive kisses and hugs between parent and child. It was also not right to hold that child’s hand in public, or to affectionately ruffle his light brown curls.  

‘Why are you like this, Mark? It’s got worse every month since we got together. Is there something I should know?’

‘What do you mean?’ Mark turned his back to her.

‘Well, you know, some reason why everything about me and Alex irritates you?’ It was a question often asked and never answered, not even in part.

‘It isn’t you. It isn’t him. It’s just…’

‘Just? Just..? Come on man, look at him. He’s just a little boy. He needs his daddy to hug him sometimes. To play games. To laugh a bit. To tickle him. Why don’t you? Why can’t you?’

Mark walked back into the kitchen. Trudie glanced at their son who was transfixed by Cbeebies on the television, and made the decision that he would be safe from the broken vase for a moment.

She followed Mark and stood in the doorway, leaning against the raw, unpolished wood marked with the growth record of their home’s previous residents.

Her hand automatically went to her hip in a ridiculous representation of her own mother. ‘Well. Why can’t you? Why won’t you?’

Her husband stood, clearly shielding himself from her inquisitions with the fridge door. Nothing. Just a deep, agonised sigh.

‘Come on, Mark. Why? Please…’

The door was slammed, and for the second time that evening, Trudie jumped.  ‘Mark, stop slamming, and just talk to me. Talk to me. Tell me.’

And that’s when it all came out. After all their years together. Her big, tough man. Her sheltered, physically hung-up man. Her man without positive loving feelings towards either her or their child.

Mark cried. Trudy cried. Alex rushed to comfort them, and fell, cutting his knee, just a little on the shattered vase.

‘Mummy moo,’ he cried, and his mum scooped him from the floor, placing him straight into the arms of his daddy.

‘Do it,’ she said. ‘Feel it… Be the dad you know you should be.’

Mark’s body, overtaken by tremors caused by thirty years of backed-up tears, shook and near-collapsed, but Trudy gently guided him up to the wall, supporting the weight of her two loved ones.

‘Go on,’ she said. ‘Comfort him… your past isn’t your future.’

Mark looked at his ever-patient wife and then to his beautiful son. The pair of them slid to sitting position on the floor of the kitchen, and Mark’s arms wrapped round his little boy for the first time ever. Both sobbed quietly till the sobs transformed to giggles and tickles.

‘Love you, daddy,’ said Alex. Another first.

And somehow, something was healed.

‘Love you, mummy,’ he said, and threw his chocolate-covered arms around that most favoured parent. It was snuggle-time – a time they both loved, chocolate arms or not.

Trudie tickled Alex’s feet, sang ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ a couple of times, and gave her son exactly what he needed and what her loving heart happily granted: time, attention, love and cuddles. And Alex spoke back to her as if she were the silliest but most adorable pet – a naughty puppy, perhaps, or a cat that had insisted on scratching the leather sofa. ‘Mummy, silly sausage,’ he gurgled. ‘Lalalala, mummy moo, mummy moo, mummy mummy mummy poo!’

It was mother/child bonding at its best. Trudie knew it. Alex knew it. But somebody else was not so sure. Trudie knew that because of the smashing sound that shocked mother and child out of their reverie. Shocked but not entirely surprised by the noise, Trudie turned and followed the eyes of her son to look towards the source of source of the smash – her husband, and Alex’s dad, Mark.

‘What’s going on?’ Trudie shouted. The vase he’d smashed against the sideboard was scattered in sharp and dangerous pieces all over the floor, and Alex had already jumped off his mum’s lap and was making his way curiously towards the mess. Trudie began to rise to retrieve the brush and dustpan, but Mark pushed her back down.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘I’ll do it. I’ll do it. I was just… shocked.’ Mark scratched his beard and looked down at the mess, shaking his head.

‘Shocked? Why? Nobody was doing anything wrong.’

Why could this man never talk to her about anything?

Mark said nothing, just pointed to little Alex who toddled over to his daddy with arms outstretched.

‘What’s Alex done that’s so bad? What on earth could a little boy of two years old do that was so bad? I know I’ve not done anything wrong… so it’s obvious,’ said Trudie. ‘You just can’t bear to see us happy.’

He shook his head. ‘No. No, it’s not that. It’s just… inappropriate.’

You snowflake, Trudie thought. In what way was it EVER inappropriate to hug your baby, specially if he was gurgling happily in his loving mum’s arms, as Alex had been?

Mark was just so different. So irritable. So annoying and so incredibly annoyable – and a victim of his own restrictive thoughts. Nobody could get anything right. Not ever.

He didn’t like Alex’s bedtime routine. Apparently, it was wrong to give and receive kisses and hugs between parent and child. It was also not right to hold that child’s hand in public, or to affectionately ruffle his light brown curls.  

‘Why are you like this, Mark? It’s got worse every month since we got together. Is there something I should know?’

‘What do you mean?’ Mark turned his back to her.

‘Well, you know, some reason why everything about me and Alex irritates you?’ It was a question often asked and never answered, not even in part.

‘It isn’t you. It isn’t him. It’s just…’

‘Just? Just..? Come on man, look at him. He’s just a little boy. He needs his daddy to hug him sometimes. To play games. To laugh a bit. To tickle him. Why don’t you? Why can’t you?’

Mark walked back into the kitchen. Trudie glanced at their son who was transfixed by Cbeebies on the television, and made the decision that he would be safe from the broken vase for a moment.

She followed Mark and stood in the doorway, leaning against the raw, unpolished wood marked with the growth record of their home’s previous residents.

Her hand automatically went to her hip in a ridiculous representation of her own mother. ‘Well. Why can’t you? Why won’t you?’

Her husband stood, clearly shielding himself from her inquisitions with the fridge door. Nothing. Just a deep, agonised sigh.

‘Come on, Mark. Why? Please…’

The door was slammed, and for the second time that evening, Trudie jumped.  ‘Mark, stop slamming, and just talk to me. Talk to me. Tell me.’

And that’s when it all came out. After all their years together. Her big, tough man. Her sheltered, physically hung-up man. Her man without positive loving feelings towards either her or their child.

Mark cried. Trudy cried. Alex rushed to comfort them, and fell, cutting his knee, just a little on the shattered vase.

‘Mummy moo,’ he cried, and his mum scooped him from the floor, placing him straight into the arms of his daddy.

‘Do it,’ she said. ‘Feel it… Be the dad you know you should be.’

Mark’s body, overtaken by tremors caused by thirty years of backed-up tears, shook and near-collapsed, but Trudy gently guided him up to the wall, supporting the weight of her two loved ones.

‘Go on,’ she said. ‘Comfort him… your past isn’t your future.’

Mark looked at his ever-patient wife and then to his beautiful son. The pair of them slid to sitting position on the floor of the kitchen, and Mark’s arms wrapped round his little boy for the first time ever. Both sobbed quietly till the sobs transformed to giggles and tickles.

‘Love you, daddy,’ said Alex. Another first.

And somehow, something was healed.