Thursday, 14 May 2009


From the creative commons, for non-commercial use, posted by Ashelia

The above picture was posted on
The Elephant Words website under the title "Mother and Child at Sunset" and inspired me to write the following:

He didn’t like it. Just like his mother before him, he didn’t like it one tiny little bit. In fact he woke up in the middle of the night, calling out, insistently:

“Mummy, Mummy – they’re in my bed. They’re wriggling and squirming.”

The mother got out of bed, yawned and in a resigned way, pulled her dressing gown on. She knew that she’d have a disturbed night, even before she’d gone to bed. It had been a gloriously sunny day, the day before, and her husband said that they should spend it at the beach – so the reaction from her boy was to be expected. A long, hot day at the beach and ever was it thus.

But it had been a good day. It had started early and ended late. They’d found a quiet spot on a beach that was really only ever visited by locals ... not like the main beaches which were swarmed upon by the hoarding masses of tourists displaying their bright white bodies with patches of lobster red sunburn in too little inappropriate clothing. This was a beach frequented by seaside dwelling people who knew about keeping covered up and who liberally rubbed SPF30 into their sensibly tanned skins. These were the people who although didn’t know one another, were at least familiar with each other as they came to that same beach year after year. It was a beach that had, she thought, a sense of community. Children who’d seen each other the year before made bee-lines for each other this year and resumed their sandcastle building where they’d left off. This was a beach where you could catch the eye of someone sitting not too far away and nod and point at one’s towels knowing that they would be watched over whilst one went to the loo or to buy an ice-cream or to swim in the sea.

They were keen on swimming – all three of them. The husband was a strong swimmer – the type of swimmer who could frighten other swimmers by diving into a pool, only to emerge after having spent two whole lengths under water. The mother could swim slowly but for quite a long time – it was nothing for her to swim 20 lengths and the boy had taken to the water from a very young age and was, now that he was growing up, quite a competent little swimmer. They all loved the pool; they all liked the beach but only the husband loved the sea.

The mother was determined that her boy would know how to stay safe in the water and had taken him for swimming lessons from when he was really very young. And they’d been to the beach from the time he was one year old. She used to leave it to her husband to wade, waist deep into the water while she watched his strong arms envelop the happily squealing boy as he’d carry him into the cold sea. And they’d come back out of the sea where she’d been waiting with two huge dry towels to wrap them up in and rub the salty water off them.

Yesterday, when the sun started to fade, the husband said, “Why don’t you both get the sand off your feet at the water’s edge and I’ll get everything together ready for us to go”.

And they did - but her insides churned and she had to get a grip on herself or she’d have happily run back to their car. She didn’t show any signs to her boy of how she felt. And before much more could be thought, they were at the water’s edge and the assault on her feet began. The tide came in and as the under swell caught her feet, they were there – wriggling and squirming and making her feel that the earth was moving away from her and leaving her behind. And she felt faint but she didn’t let it show nor did she look at the grimacing boy standing next to her.

She was busy remembering her futile efforts at consoling a much younger crying boy whose little feet had also been at the water’s edge and whom she had held whilst he stood in the wobbly way that belongs to toddlers when they stand.

She knew that although she’d hidden her revulsion so well, her boy had discovered his very own.

So when her sleep was disturbed, she wasn’t altogether surprised. She’d gone past the age when she used to dream of the toe worms but she remembered the dream very well indeed. And even if she’d have forgotten it, it would be seasonally bought back to her, when her now much more grown-up boy cried out on summer nights after long days - like yesterday - at the beach,

“Mummy, Mummy, they’re here”.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Elephant Words - The Shaving Tackle Box

By Matthew Hartwell, Attribution: Non-commercial. No derivative works 3.0 unported

(The above image was uploaded to the Elephant Words site on Sunday 3rd May 2009)

Elephant Words
is a burst-culture website, featuring daily fiction. Each Sunday, an image is posted. Over the following week, each of six authors takes their turn to write something inspired by that image. Visitors to the website are also encouraged to comment on the pictures and also, if they're inspired to write something to contribute. I saw the above picture during the week and was inspired to write the following so, with the encouragement and advice of Nick Papaconstantinou - to whom I'm extremely grateful, here it is!


Scroll back 46 years. It is a Sunday morning in 1963; I am 7 years old and I have a job! It is my job to balance on the side of the bath with my legs dangling, my feet almost touching the floor – but not quite, and unpack my father’s shaving tackle from its brown leather box. I am very careful because I know that razor blades can be very sharp indeed. First I hand the shaving brush to my Dad, then the razor which already has the blade in it – because I am not allowed to touch the blades. Then I pass him the styptic pencil. And my job – until he has finished shaving – is over.

I am now free to stand by the bathroom sink and watch him very carefully whilst he shaves which he does meticulously. I like watching him hold the skin taut on his face. It makes me giggle when he shaves underneath his nose and I giggle even more when he puts the thickly lathered shaving brush on the end of his nose so that he ends up with a white blob of foam where his nose should have been.

When the shaving ritual is completed, I resume my position on the edge of the bath and I am handed the damp shaving brush, the razor (which I am again VERY careful with) and finally the styptic pencil. I place everything neatly back in the brown leather box and press stud it closed again.

Now I am free again to watch my father rinse his face with very hot water and then very cold water. He pats his face dry and then splashes some aftershave on. And that aftershave is the very best smell in the whole world.

And if I put my mind to it, 46 years later – I can still smell it and it is STILL the very best smell in the whole world. It’s the smell of safety and security and has the faint whiff about it that no matter what, my Dad will make sure that everything in my world is all right.

Scroll forward to the new Millennium. It is January 2000 and my mother has just died. My father has come to stay with me, my husband and our then 2½ year old little boy.

My father doesn’t feel like smiling very much but it is a Sunday morning and he is in our bathroom, shaving. He has a helper. A little boy who is given a job to do. The little boy balances on the side of the bath with his legs dangling. A tattered, well-used brown leather box is placed on the closed toilet seat. The little boy is shown how to open the box and then asked by his Grandpa to first pass the shaving brush, then the razor - which he has to hold very carefully - because the blade is VERY sharp indeed, and finally the styptic pencil. The little boy then moves to the side of the bathroom sink and watches as his Grandpa holds the skin on his face very taut and moves the razor over the skin to get rid of all the prickly bits. I can hear giggling coming from the bathroom and go to investigate. A little boy is laughing because his Grandpa has just put his shaving brush on the end of his nose and he now has a blob of thick white foam where his nose should have been.

Shaving over and the little boy must complete his task. He is handed the shaving brush, the razor which he is again very careful with because he’s been told that the blade is VERY sharp indeed, and finally the styptic pencil. He’s shown where to place everything within the old leather box and enjoys pressing the stud to close it. And this will be his Sunday morning job while Grandpa is staying with us. It makes him smile. He hugs his Grandpa and his Grandpa smiles too.

Now we are back in the present. I look at a picture and with a sharp intake of breath I experience something akin to a physical pain. I see a brown leather box, a shaving brush and a razor and I am once again 7 years old and I can smell my father’s aftershave. I show the picture to my 11 year old, his head nods slightly and he says “Grandpa’s shaving box”. My 88 year old father comes round for dinner and we show him the picture. He looks at it and says to me “Can you remember when mine looked like that”?

I can.

I look at my father. I look at my son. And we all smile.

Friday, 8 May 2009


It has arrived and it is in use. It really shouldn’t have been bought until next month but it seemed a shame not to buy it now because whilst the weather is okay at the moment, “Summer’s lease hath all too short a date” and there’s no guarantee that we will have a glut of dry, sun-filled days over the next few months.

We are talking about presents:

Every year The Joshua makes two lists. The first list is started on Boxing Day which carries him through the not quite six month period to his birthday. The second list begins on the day after his birthday and takes him through the just over six month period to Christmas. In theory, he is meant to add and subtract from the lists according to whether the items he places on it decrease in popularity. If they do, the items are removed. That’s the theory. In practice, Josh never goes off an item and the lists become longer and longer each year.

About four weeks before Christmas and about four weeks before his birthday, negotiations begin. Joshua, DH and I sit down and go through the meticulously prepared list item by item. Discussions are usually conducted without argument and, to date, we haven’t had to contact ACAS to help us reach agreement. DH and I are somewhat wary of the notebook that Joshua brings with to the negotiations because this comprises The Very Frightening List that we are sure he will present us with when he’s about 18 and that is when we will discover the going rate for the sale of parental souls.

There are, as you will have read in the first paragraph, items on this year’s Birthday List that have been purchased in advance of Joshua’s 12th birthday. He has been using a Wacom Pad at school which allows him to draw straight to computer. He is on the Gifted and Talented register at his school and attends a special Arts diploma class after school each week with other boys two or three years his senior – so he really is a talented kid and if he really does need and will use something that has to do with his art and drawing, we cut a bit of slack and buy it for him. He has wanted a Wacom pad for quite some time and since its purchase he has rarely been away from it whilst he’s at home.

Other items on this year’s list include an X Box 360 along with several games or programmes for it, some boxed DVD sets of his favourite programmes, various books that he want to read, a long leather coat so that he can (he assures me) just “look” like a Goth and he would like to have his hair dyed red during the Summer holidays. His ideal colour would be similar to Jane Goldman’s and that item meets with a maternal “We shall see”!

I have a fairly bad habit of encouraging Josh to write items on his list because I want to play with them. This year, I have been gently suggesting that he may like a silent drum kit because I want to play the drums. Josh has been adamant about not wanting one and I am forever destined to drum my fingers on most hard surfaces or, if I’m lucky and we eat Chinese, I occasionally get to syncopate with chopsticks.

On the whole, Josh isn’t a particularly sporty kid so DH and I were very pleased when the item that I mentioned at the beginning of this blog appeared on the list.

It is, of course, a trampoline. I agreed to its early purchase because I knew that Josh would use it right throughout the Summer and I’m always glad to see him enjoying outdoor activities as well as his many indoor hobbies.

Nobly, I also thought it would be a great opportunity for me to get a little exercise, too. I used to be quite good at trampolining when I was at school, so when it arrived, for the first time in 37 years, I had a go and was much chuffed that I could still remember how to bounce and not too many bits of me wobbled too much! Ignobly, I agreed to the purchase of the trampoline because it will give me a marvellous opportunity to spasmodically take a look at our neighbours’ gardens!

Joshua, having such expensive tastes, will prevent me from ever being able to say that I’m “too rich” but since the advent of the trampoline I may at least bounce my way towards being “too thin”!

Sunday, 3 May 2009

About Counselling

Last week was an easy week for me blog-wise. I handed my blog over to my guest, Mennard, who wrote most honestly about his marriage in “Indoor Fireworks” and I introduced his blog with my feelings about counselling. I discover this week, that I haven’t actually got everything I want to say about counselling out of my system – so, with a bit of a pre-amble about reaction to last week’s guest blog, I intend to ramble on about it for a while longer. And when I’ve rambled on, I shall be able to amend my profile on my blog – because I won’t have “recently” given up learning about counselling – it will have a been a while ago and I have very much moved on!

I was quite amazed by the first comment reacting to last week’s blog. The person who left the comment was apparently “astonished” and “horrified” and just for good measure actually came across as a bit “Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells”! My amazement was quite strictly down to the fact that a double-standard was occurring and I am perhaps naive enough to believe in this day and age, we should really be past all that.

The commenter was “appalled” that my guest was so upfront and honest about his wife’s tendency to physically and verbally abuse him. Like it doesn’t ever happen? Like, in truth, “only women bleed”? Not true. Fact. Many, many men are abused by their wives and I suspect many of them are too embarrassed to say much about it. But does that mean it doesn’t happen? Of course not. The person who commented had only a few weeks previously written a fairly hefty diatribe about her ex-husband in her own blog but criticised Mennard (who uses a nom de plume when blogging) for placing his wife in the public domain. It was therefore “okay” for her to say the most loveless things about her ex-husband (without his express permission, I should imagine) but NOT okay for Mennard to write honestly about his domestic situation maintaining an acceptance of and love for his wife throughout.

My blog attracts a very slim (but hugely appreciated!) readership. Mennard’s blog has not been splashed across the front page of The Sun. I do so love to keep things in proportion!

So, why am I so anti-counselling? I feel that throughout life things happen to us – nobody leads a completely carefree existence. Nobody. We have choices about how we deal with the “ess-aitch-one-tee” that is inevitably thrown at us. We can keep our own counsel; we can talk to our friends; we can talk to a stranger – ultimately we still have to continue, don’t we? For the most part, probably as I’m only child and I didn’t get married until I was 38 years old, I’m fairly used to keeping my own counsel – although, of course, I chat to friends about my life and in so doing discuss problems I’m encountering. Would talking to a stranger help me? I don’t think so!

I married into a family of counsellors ... probing, nosey, controlling, egotistical counsellors. If I moved at less than 30 miles an hour my sainted mother-in-law would stop me and advise me – whether I wished to be advised or not. She died a few years ago now but her probing and controlling tentacles do sometimes appear to reach beyond the grave!

Not all that long ago, DH decided that as we’d reached an impasse regarding a financial matter, we should go to counselling. We spent a fortune on reaching no solution whatsoever. DH, who had wanted to attend the counselling sessions, got nothing from them at all. I, on the other hand, seemed to “appeal” to the counsellor who armed me with leaflets, ‘phone numbers and advice to become a counsellor myself. I work from home, I own my own business and I am privileged in my time being my own – so I thought, why not?

I enrolled on an Introductory Course and from the outset was quite bemused that most people who were on it were either card carrying heroin addicts or people who were “earning” their job seekers’ allowances. None of them - apart from me (just call me Methuselah!) were anywhere near the age of 40. I didn’t see much evidence of their own life management skills coming to the fore in what appeared to me, to be facile role playing games using concepts so simple that I struggled with boredom.

The tutor (a suppressed thespian if ever there was one) told us over and over again about how a counsellor should paraphrase and repeat back to the person they are counselling what has just been said and how to ask an open-ended question. I thought I might be going mad. Why were my fellow attendees finding it so hard to do what I do as second nature? If I want someone to tell me about themselves, of course I ask open-ended questions. But if they don’t want to tell me about themselves, I’m not presumptuous enough to pursue them relentlessly about it until they do. It’s – after all – their business and not mine. I got out before I started to criticise the damaged people whose lives were imperfect but who believed that they could help others with damaged, imperfect lives. I expect they’ll gain their counselling qualifications and I hope they can help other people because I can’t – not in that way, at any rate.

I only truly have the right to manage my own life – not someone else’s. I’m a Mum and - of course – I have a duty of love and care to be responsible for my son until he’s old enough to be responsible for himself. Do I do that in a controlling way or do we discuss the best ways to go about things? I’m a forceful personality – I could oh, SO easily run his life for him – but would that be good for him? No. We discuss. Sometimes we argue. But we reach agreement on ways ahead that are right for us both and more importantly, he’s learning how to make decisions for himself.

I am not the perfect wife (I’m a sulker, an ingrate and on occasion, a plate-thrower). I’m not the perfect mother either but my little family unit muddles through. We don’t hold back on how we feel – be those feelings good or bad. We’re open with each other as much as we possibly can be. Would family counselling benefit us? I don’t think so.

If I have something on my mind, I write about it – and if it’s still on my mind, I write some more about it. Not everyone can or indeed wants to write to express themselves. There are times when I don’t. I haven’t come across a problem yet that can’t be solved by me or by me in conjunction with those closest to me. And there’s always a stomp across the Common with my dogs to allow me to let off steam – which is something I quite often have to do. The dogs don’t mind however much I rant!

Counselling – to either dole it out to someone else – or to be on the receiving end of it – is categorically NOT FOR ME.

(You may like to read a professional's views about Counselling ... Jackie Walker is the Divorce Coach at UK Divorce - she's a solicitor who speaks to her clients in plain English!)