house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Flying Backwards

Was it 1997? February for sure, a day that looked, felt and probably tasted too, of lead.  We trudged on, taking turns to push the pram through sticky-brown slush. We were lost in a park in Northern Bosnia, Tuzla to be precise - where you lived with your fiancee, where I was visiting from Sarajevo. I didn't know you very well. 

We didn't need to be in that abject park at all, we could have stayed at home and cooked bean stew and watched Pingu. But we went anyway, out of a misplaced sense of duty - to take the kid out, to have some exercise, get to know each other better, find the old zoo, make a memory. 

The pram got stuck in a gummy puddle and we sank to our ankles in mud, trying to get it going again. In the end, we lifted it out, carried it to a frosty bank. The kid sat like an emperor in his gilded litter, waving to a dog. Not just a dog, a huge dog, brown and shabby, half-asleep in a cage. 

Cage? Did this mean we'd found the zoo? Not that we dwelled too much on this detail, because the pushchair was still stuck. We prodded and puzzled, found something wedged around a wheel. It looked like a thick elastic band the colour of old chocolate. You pulled at it with all your might while I pulled the pram the other way. I pictured you flying backwards, if the gooey rope snapped. I never thought once that I - and the the pram - would be flying backwards too.

In the same instant, we realised that the snag in the wheel was an old pair of tights and the dog in the cage was a bear.  Your voice petered out. My face felt numb. We walked in silence through the icy sludge, to another wasteland in the distance - the same mud, a few rusty swings, some weeds that will endure, I swear, through blizzard or apocalypse.

Freed from the pushchair, the kid flew to the swing. Squeeeak - it swung twice, sluggish, and the kid was bored. He tottered to a slide - a toddler's slide, you remember, no taller than the bear. The kid climbed fast and stopped on the thin platform at the top. We chatted and waited for him to sit, slide down, repeat. 

Two things happened instead. You vanished from my side. And the kid fell. 

No. Neither of these statements is correct (nor is the picture).  The kid didn't just fall - he raised his arms and dived backwards, straight as a plank.  And you didn't just vanish - you sensed what the kid was about to do, and sprinted to the slide, to catch him. No one could have got there in time. He fell on his back - splat! - in the thick mud. I, the mother, hadn't even moved an inch. You got to his side and raised your face to me, stricken. My mouth was hanging open, one irrelevant word frozen half-in, half-out, half-said. 

In the dreadful silence, we both heard the kid chuckle. He was ecstatic, this was the Life! He got up and planted a muddy paw on your face, before trying to replay his new trick - climb the seven steps, stand with his arms to the side, fly backwards, splat. 

To this day I wonder how you got there so quickly. How you didn't even know us very well and still you sprung to save us; how you've been there to catch us ever since. Now it's my turn to fly backwards: to recapture this memory we made and send it to you - almost twenty years later, but with the same wonder and gratitude. Happy birthday, Alina. 

Thursday, 21 April 2016


Why is it that every time I walk across the Meadows and it's sunny I think 'fine, I'll write a blog per week, a Vora scene - two to two thousand words - per day, as well as a letter by hand to someone I love. Also, I will walk up Arthur's Seat and eat less of everything, but more turmeric because it's really good for you. And berries, for no reason. I will not lose my focus, not this time, but I will lose 200 to 400 grams per day. Then we're set for the summer.'

And on and on. These thoughts are something like a major midge attack. But only when the sun shines. In the rain, all I've got is a neat needlework of steps and silence.

Please blame this blog to springtime in the Meadows. The people I pass are far, far worse than me: they speak aloud, into the air. They wear very thin, very tiny summer clothes - which is how come I eventually notice the spaghetti flowing out of their ears. Ah. At last I understand: they're speaking into invisible phones. This opens up another possibility: that I too stick a cable into my ears and dictate - dictate! - this and many other blogs and stories, instead of sitting here trying to remember everything, while already drunk with sunshine.

Buds, is that what you call them? Ear buds? Buds are in fact everywhere, and a curious smell of new green. A young woman in a jean jacket (finally, someone wearing sleeves!) appears to have forgotten her skirt. Below the denim there is a hint of underwear and nothing else - over a blinding, long expanse of thigh. She walks unperturbed - or faking nonchalance. Everyone does, in fact, no one says hey look, here's the empress without a dress.

I don't either. Not just because I am a mouse or a philosopher (who can say my own trousers are actually there?) but because I am busy making up stories about her naked lower half. How she has just escaped from a serial killer in a basement. How the moment her legs are touched-by-textile, they explode / grow purple pustules / start a third world war of zombie proportions / go to sleep.

These scenarios - and the midge-thoughts thankfully - are batted away by a beautiful busker with white socks and a top knot. 'Fare Thee Well', he croons in a charming Irish accent, and then the song about Vincent. I know because I sit down to listen, look for coins and also take some notes for later, for now, for this blog.

Expression, that's the thing, see? Everyone in Meadows is expressing something - kids tearing across the grass to the inevitable stumble-and-slam; nannies going 'now, now Nigel, it's OK, you're fine, which you know they've said a million times already, today';  the guy who's doing hand stands, the Irish busker, the guitar nuts three benches down; the girl with half-clothes, the jugglers and the rugby players, the office workers with the cappuccino cups. All with their midge-thoughts, spaghetti phones, computers, tablets and, in my case, a tattered notebook, a pen, and a storm inside my head. One pound donated for two songs, I move on, wondering where I've last seen real turmeric, and how my tongue will turn bright orange when I find turmeric again.

Phew. At least I wrote this down.

P.S. There may be another blog next week, if it stays sunny. And who knows, maybe that one will actually go somewhere...