Scared of the what

(based on a true story)

When I was a nipper, a bit younger than you,
I wasn’t afraid of things that went ‘boo!’.
Creepies and crawlies didn’t scare me one bit,
I once licked a slug – Mum had a fit!
Was I frightened of spiders? Or big kids in the park?
No way! I wasn’t even scared of the dark!

But there was one thing that set me a-quiver.
A certain creature that sure made me shiver…
“What was he like!?” I can hear you shout,
“Describe him to us so we can look out!”

Well my friends, I’m sorry to say,
This creature was smart, he gave nothing away.
He probably had big teeth and green eyes,
And he probably knew how to make little boys cry.
He probably dribbled and drooled everywhere,
And he could probably give anybody a scare.

But if you asked me to pick him out of a crowd,
I’d just have to guess, and that’s not allowed.
Oh, I know what you’re thinking, tucked up in bed,
“If I’d never seen him, why was I scared?”

This creature caused mischief with unseen glee,
And did two things that really spooked me:
One: he’d sing (but it didn’t sound nice),
Two: he’d make everything cold as ice.

When the sun went down, he’d start to moan,
He’d whistle and whimper, and grumble and groan,
He’d tap on the window and rattle the door,
I’m sure I could hear him cleaning his claws.

He had long chilly fingers, and long icy toes,
He’d creep right past you and blow on your nose!
He could make you shiver or go ‘brrr’ with your lips.
Try to catch him and he’d give you the slip.

His mission in life was to live in the house,
So he tries to sneak in, quiet as a mouse.
He lived in the garden and out in the shed,
But I knew that he’d rather be under my bed.

I hope you’re not too scared – I’m so pleased you came,
Are you ready to hear this creature’s name?
Promise not to call me daft?
Alright. This windy beast is known as the DRAUGHT.

So if a curtain rustled or he rattled the bins,
We’d shout, “Quick! Don’t let the draught in!”

Spooked by this beast, I’d have sleepless nights,
Any bangs, creaks or groans would give me a fright.
One evening, I told my mum what was wrong,
She chuckled, hugged me and then sang a song.

“My little pickle, don’t be scared,
My little pumpkin, we can prepare!
I’ve got an idea to keep out the draught,
My little pip-squeak, we’ll do it with craft!”

Mum’s idea was super-dooper
We were to make a draught-excluder!

The next morning mum sent me upstairs,
“Get lots of socks, don’t worry about pairs”.
We spent the morning drawing and cutting,
And the afternoon stitching and stuffing.

We finished by tea just in time for some cake,
I had my very own draught-busting snake!

That night, the draught crept up to my door
But there was Snakey, ready on the floor.
The pesky Draught didn’t stand a chance,
Snakey barely gave him a second glance.

These days we keep snakes all over the place,
Warmer, cosier – it really is ace.
Outside, the Draught still rattles the bins,
But I know for sure he’ll never get in!

A few Greek words

I love an adventure that creeps up and bites you.
Distracted by everyday nonsense you can be
caught unawares. Then, suddenly bam,
Passport in one hand, good book in the other, a bag on your back and it’s time to be gone.

I’d had a high week riding skywards on wisdom
So, sis by my side, we skipped through the rain.
London’s dampest affront couldn’t wash the grins off our faces
The deepest of friendships, the richest of times.

But not literally.
It’s with cheap cheerful tickets that we bolt to Victoria,
Pick up some food and bump our backpacks around.
Then ‘to Paris’ we’re summoned and it’s all of a sudden and we bundle aboard and we’re on our way.

To Paris. By bus.

A surreal midnight voyage, surely a dream
But surly Paris’ here too, ‘greeting’ the day.
The weather’s no better, greyness taps at the window.
Oh, god, please let me stay in this furnished cocoon!
These fellow adventurers , so silent so still.
My brothers, my sisters, how far we have come!
But as we stretch out the cricks, as we rattle and shake,
And rescue our packs from elbows and dampness.
In less than a minute we’re separate,

Our first French exchange is truly dismal.
Ems loses her nerve and just whispers ‘two’.
‘Two what’ sighs the French dude.
‘Tickets’ we mumble.
The disdain on his face as we stumble away.

We clock off the sites from fifty feet under
– the Bastille, the Louvre, ooohh the Champs-Elysee.
Impressed by the power, speed and girth of M1,
We respectfully roar into Gare du Lyon.

With two hours to spare and food on the mind
We take a stroll, then a walk, then a hike by the Seine.
We want proper coffee, and proper croissants,
At proper prices that won’t curl our toes in embarrassed compliance.
And you know what? We find it.
And it’s fantastic.
We scooch down by the river and breath steam from our cups.
A cormorant dives, sharing breakfast with us.
Joggers and dog walkers nod at our discretion.
Right now: we’re unstoppable.

From Paris to Milan. By train.

A little hollow eyed and giddy with our shared excitement of a life lived well, we pull ourselves on board the TGV.
Comfortably slotted into place I drop off almost instantly and wake to streaming views of French countryside.
Wonderful Ems has packed a feast of rice cakes, figs and parma ham.
We eat with gusto, carefully avoiding the eyes, knees and feet of the lanky young men opposite.
It’s like a school disco – boys on one side, girls on the other.
Inadvertent footsy here
And opposite a lady feeds her never silent brood.

The journey is long but we have compartmentalised activities to pass the time.
We read, play games, make stuff,
I write this – thinking of the future and the past and how they meet on top of us.

Milano-Garibaldi is our destination
– a strangely flat name that makes me think of Milton Keynes or Bradford.
The station is not much to speak of – a shiny replica of modern architecture,
but oh the people!
With their sleek coiffures and tucked in shirts and effortless high heeled saunters.
So with backpacks, day-old clothes and a map in hand we gawp and sigh our way to Centrale, along streets that alternate between back alleyed rustic charm and towering banks that reflect each other infinitely.

We picnic on olives and anchovies outside the station
– a little nervous of the night ahead, an overnighter with no cabin booked.
And so it with slight distraction that we enter cavernous Centrale.
And so it takes a step or two and even half a beat for our eyes to tell us of the grandeur of this place.
A sweeping staircase beckons (no escalators here), but instead we circle, chatter silenced, head resting on our packs.
It’s beautiful.
Humbled, we quietly climb the cool stone steps and emerge upon a plaza.

To be continued…


“Josh!” calls Ems, “hey Josh!”

Our nephew cocks an ear in our direction but carries on scampering from grassy hillock to grassy hillock. Most of his attention is focused on the arbitrary rules of whatever game he’s playing. “If I was an animal,” Ems continues, “what animal would I be?” There’s a smile in her voice.

“Um…” Josh replies, on the move, before stopping and pulling his ‘thinking’ face – brows furrowed, eyes up, one finger pointed to his mouth. He’s having a good time, wants a laugh and we‚’re happy to oblige. “Um… a TIGER” and rushes towards us with claws drawn and an impressive roar (for a five year old). Ems and I both crouch and spread our arms wide to catch him up for a cuddle. But he’s onto us and deftly sidesteps before racing off up the hill again.

My sister and I turn back down the hill, grinning to ourselves and kicking our heels into the soft ground. “Nice,” I say, “a tiger’s pretty good. It’s not a dinosaur…” She smiles and nods, hands shoved in her pockets and shoulders up – casual hill stroller by day, deadly jungle beast by night.

Suddenly she shouts again, catching me off guard. “Josh, hey Joshy!” He’s not paying us any attention but when Ems asks “if Lucy was an animal what animal would she be?”, the answer comes back fast and serious: “a dog”. A lump rises in my throat and I can feel my face flush. A dog’s nowhere as good as a TIGER.

two or three hours earlier…

My brother, his wife and their boys – Josh and Zach – arrive half an hour late and exactly on time. Lunch is ready. Appetites flare at the brothy smells that fill the ground floor and coats have hardly been properly stowed before we’re sitting down and tucking in.

My mum is an excellent cook. Years of love and hard work are expertly packed into a flavoursome soup even our pickiest diner (Josh) can’t resist. He’s the second smallest person at the table, but that doesn’t stop him dipping several thick slices of home baked bread into the hot underbelly of his bowl. He slurps everything down but you won’t hear a shh. We’re fighting a vegetable battle and this soup packs a healthy punch. Zach, his junior by a couple of years, tries to follow his hero’s lead but can’t quite keep up – stomach size or skills wise.

I’m only in town for a short time – I’m booked on the 18.43 back to Paddington this evening – and I haven’t seen Josh, Zach or the rest of my family for over a month. Conscious of the ticking clock, and with slightly overfull bellies and the afternoon in front of us, we peer optimistically out the french windows at the white sky. A walk was always the plan, and brother Olly calls it first. There are various conditions touted by the more mature Langdons – let lunch go down, we’ll have a cup of tea first, do the boys have their wellies?

All in all, it’s about forty minutes until we’re all set. We laughingly self-diagnose ‘threshold paralysis’. Both lunch and tea have gone down, and there’s some general mumbling that wellies aren’t all really needed anyway. A few spots of rain greet us as we turn right out the front door and lean into the steep hill. But they’re nothing to worry about; this is the warmest it’s been in a while.

Josh and I find ourselves walking together at the head of the group, gaits aligned. I introduce a little skip every third step and his unspoken acquiescence warms me even more than mum’s masterpiece. He’s a little dude this one – I love him so much. “Seen any dinosaurs today?” I ask, casually. It’s a regular question and one he either rises to or scowls at.

“Nooo”, he replies, dropping on the second syllable and glancing up at me with a fake frown. So I do the obvious thing and transform into a terrifying velociraptor, chasing him up the hill, grinning more and more broadly despite myself every time he throws a look over his shoulder. We reach the top of the hill and enter the park long before anyone else. So we hide in a bush with a plan to jump out, but they’re too slow and we’re both feeling light on our feet. I hear Zach wailing in jealousy somewhere but want to keep Josh to myself for a bit longer. So we take off again, alternatively chasing and racing each other.

The rest of the clan catch us up at the play park. My parents meet some friends so we spend longer than usual messing around on the swings, slides, roundabout and climbing frame. I’m standing chatting to Ems about something when suddenly my legs are swiped from under me and I just manage to avoid a face first collision with the ground – that bouncy tarmac you get in play parks.

For a moment, the afternoon hangs in the balance. And Josh’s fate in my reaction. Am I hurt, annoyed, upset? He’ll get in trouble. Not a chance: I’m sure he wasn’t expecting his tackle to be quite so successful. So I wink at him, lower my head and then, from my knees (which are actually a bit sore), make a grab. He screams, laughs and leaps backwards. I get to my feet but stay crouched. “Riiiiighhht” I growl, moving slowly towards him, hands out, slowly speeding up. He takes off and I’m straight after him. We’re looping in and out, around and over anything, anyone, in our way.

I catch him, tickle him, throw him, catch him, turn him upside down, give him a gentle shake, plant a quick kiss and deposit him on the ground. That’ll teach him I think, walking off.

Or not. A few seconds later I hear a similar growl to mine and start running before I really know what’s going on. He gives a good chase and I let him tackle me to the ground again. From where I start growling… This game continues for a good 20 minutes, bar a couple of breathers.

Finally, to escape his greatly improved tackle, I vault the low fence of the park and gently taunt this darling five year old. He’s having none of it, and clambers right over after me. I feign terror and race off. And so our game continues but now with a lot more running and little less falling over. It’s exhausting but entirely wonderful and I’m rewarded with more than my fair share of hugs along the way.

It’s soon time for us to continue our walk down the other side of the hill. Josh gets distracted by the new terrain and goes off to explore the uneven grassy hillside. I find myself next to Ems again and we continue our conversation from earlier, until suddenly: ‚ÄúJosh! Hey Josh! If I was an animal, what animal would I be?‚Äù.

You know what Josh said to Emily’s first question, and to her second. But I didn’t tell you what he replied to her third, asked with a certain smugness – “Oh yeah? Why would Lucy be a dog?”.

The little judas runs right over to me and jumps into my arms to deliver his reply. He’s talking to Ems but he’s looking right at me and speaks quietly. “Because she can run really really really fast.”

No name

Suddenly, thoroughly, utterly bored!

Why do I spend my time trying so hard?!

What madness this is! What folly, what strife!

This poxy half-backward, half-forward life.

One eye for nostalgia; one cast ahead

to somewhere that hasn’t been thoroughly bled

of all of the things that I kind of like –

Like trees, big skies, silence, black cats, and bikes.

My precious depressives

Ever so witty,
Ever so smart.
My precious depressives,
Keep falling apart.

Always so gentle,
Pulped to the core,
They love me so deeply,
They always want more.

Once, they were fearless,
Fought every fight.
But darkness keeps creeping,
And they need a light.

I’m not a hero.
They know that too,
This isn’t a game though,
So maybe I’ll do.