Stone Promises

This month our writers group had to write something inspired by a picture of a net and pearls on a pebbled beach.  So if the picture is of a beach, then I should write about the North Yorkshire moors, right?  It’s funny how your mind can take a tiny element from a prompt and go off in a totally different direction.

Stone Promises

Above me is August blue, broken by the odd bleached, white patch, sedately sailing by.  Beyond the blue, out of sight, is midnight, littered with stars and planets.  And beyond that?  The heather scratches my skin, digging in, protesting at my crushing weight.  Their scent a reminder of half forgotten memories as the wind laps over me. A lone curlew’s pewit cry echoes across the moor.  This is where we came, your hand wrapped round mine.  Now my hands are alone in my pockets, rubbing the smooth pebbles, each a promise given to me.

A trail of salt water creeps, cold against the skin.  The clouds continue past, made up of rivers, sea, lakes and tears.  Tiny molecules which when combined could easily drown me.  Do memories live on in the water?  I shake my head as I would an etch o scketch, to wipe the stupid thought away.  I wish I could rid my mind of all unwelcome thoughts that easily.

A rogue branch takes its chance to harpoon me.

In my heather tomb, I try to empty my mind of bilge, listening to my shallow breath and waves of surging blood.  Piercing the quiet a shrill whistle scares the curlew into flight taking it’s laments with it.  I rise, looking to my left and right as people emerge from the thick heather, a stretched-out line, young and old squinting against the glare and all facing the same rolling moorland.  A nod passes down the line, unsmiling as it flies along, then we set off, slowly, methodically in our measured steps.  A line of waving white, plastic flags, creating a sharp crack.  Beating.  The grouse in front of us fly up in fear, the smarter ones doubling back with cries of alarm.  Over a rise, hidden from view, we can hear the lead shot.  Hunters camouflaged behind the moss-covered, craggy stone butts, their barrels resting on the shaggy, grass tops.

Rolling a stone in my fingers, a worry bead of smoothness against my dry, rough skin.  This was a promise to watch me grow old.  It drops from my hand, soundless as stone returns to earth.  Another pebble, hard against my fingers.  A promise to love me forever, now released from my grip. The trail of pebbles disappear in my wake until only sand remains.

I concentrate on putting one foot in front of another, trying not to twist my ankle.  Our line pinches in as we reach the butts, and I stumble in a hidden fire ditch.   Shooters are handing over their guns to be cleaned, dogs are being called to heel and we are being herded to the land rovers.  I’m watched – covertly – but watched, so I keep my eyes down, my face neutral, automatically reaching for my pebbles, grains slipping through my fingers.

Piling into the back of the transport home, we sit, exhausted two rows facing each other, bouncing on old springs along the dirt track, the tyres kicking up dust as we fly along.  The twins laugh and joke, youth on their side while we sit in silence, smiling at their silliness.  This is their backyard, their playground and today they are getting paid for it.  Catching the eye of the eldest beater, his weathered face turns, the smile reaching through the heavy lines to his eyes.  I smile back, my muscles rusty and sore.

Track turns to tarmac as we descend into the village.  The other vehicles are already there, the guns being unloaded into the store room, ready to be locked away until tomorrow.  With a creak of brakes we stop, the back door is opened and we start to climb out.  I wait my turn snuggled in his jacket, taking comfort in the familiar smell of wax and aftershave.  A hand is extended to help me down, tanned, firm.  I don’t need to follow the line of the shirt up to the neck to know whose it is.  I drop carefully to the floor, hands by my side.  His voice is low, near my ear.  “Want to help me feed the pheasants?”  I stare deep into the forget-me-not blue eyes, not giving me any clues, so familiar yet so foreign.  His hair has grown longer, a slight curl against the tanned neck.

“Sure, why not.”

“Meet here at five?”

“OK.”

He disappears into the throng.

Walking down the steep path to my house, I smile.  This time it’s easier and without the pebbles in my pockets, I feel lighter.  Slipping my boots off in the porch, I carefully hang the wax coat on it’s usual peg then move into the kitchen calling out as I go –

“Dad I’m home!”

Then I remember.

Thoughts on Slutwalk

Slutwalk.  Yes means yes and no means no.  Simple and to the point, just in case you got muddled.  This is people who have no power, no voice, trying to make themselves heard.  To take back some control of their lives.

A New Zealand lawyer friend told me that in New Zealand, by law, it’s assumed that if the woman is drunk, then she is in no position to give her consent.  Here, if the woman is drunk, then the court assumes that she must have been up for it.  A simple shift in prospective and suddenly you can understand why the police have such a hard job putting a case together to go before a jury and why there is an only 7% conviction rate.

I consider myself lucky, I’ve never actually been raped.  I’ve been physically assaulted and threatened with rape, but when you ask around, open up, you suddenly find that it’s not just you.  I even had a male friend at university who was stalked, but because he was male, the police didn’t take it seriously.

Three men, although I hesitate at calling them men, walked behind me discussing how they were going to rape me as I walked along a canal path in broad daylight.  I never reported it, and part of me feels very guilty about that.  What if this was the start of a pattern for them, that their actions slowly escalated until a woman/ girl was actually raped.  I could have stopped them.  Or could I?  I never actually saw them.  I could never pick them out of a line-up and who would believe me?  It was most probably a bad joke.  Three guys who thought it would be funny to wind up a single lone girl.

I still can’t walk along a canal by myself or with the children.

A Simple Reminder

An Act of Love by Alan Gibbons

This week has been all about catching up with friends.  We’ve moved around a lot over the years, which has meant that some friendships have slipped down the cracks of the sofa, so any chance I get, I do try to make an effort to see friends.   Exhausting as it can be, when you are trundling up and down the motorway, carsick children in tow, it is the understanding and love you get from these people that makes it worth the effort.  These are people who have been through the difficult periods of your life.  People you don’t have to explain yourself to, or be on best behaviour for.  They are tried and tested and you know even though you may go years without seeing each other, you can still pick-up where you left off.

Tuesday we returned to the area two of my children spent their early years.  Driving through I’d point out where they had played, where they first learnt to ride a bike and restaurants we would go to for special occasions.

Over there is where I imagined my children, (when older) would be hanging out with their friends.  This is the route I’d pictured them making their first trips to the shops by themselves.  Now it’s all changed, but the same.  People we knew have also moved on, chasing jobs or wanting better schools.  Maybe some are still here, but you can’t knock on doors on the off chance.

It made me sad, much to my husband’s confusion.  “Aren’t you happy were we are now and the friends you now have?”  The answer is a big yes.  I love my life.  What makes me sad, is that this part of my life is over and there isn’t much to show for it.  Is there?  Shouldn’t I be looking to the future?

I recently read a book called An Act of Love by Alan Gibbons (thank you Nina Douglas for letting me have the chance to review it).  It’s reminded me that friendship is important, especially the bonds we have as children.  These are the friends who see us for who we really are.  Cherish these friendships.

Also, although it’s good to look to the future, look and learn from the past as well, so that history doesn’t repeat itself.

An Act of Love was released yesterday by Orion Books.

An Act Of Love By Alan Gibbons

Waiting to collect his medal at a high profile military ceremony, Chris receives a text message from his childhood best friend. A bomb is about to go off. The only problem is that the last time Chris saw Imran, Imran told him he was a kuffar, pressed his fingers to his head and pretended to shoot him. They chose very different paths in life, Chris joined the army and returned injured from Afghanistan; Imran, having lost his best friend and older brother, drifted angrily through life until he found what he thought was his cause, a radical Islamic group, wanting to bring war to infidels. The type of group who spawned the 7/7 bombers.  Chris has to decide if he can really trust his old blood brother, or have ten years and life choices driven them too far apart?  Using flashbacks and changing viewpoints between the two main protagonists, Gibbons creates a pressure cooker of tension.

Having grown up in the Middle East, I was interested to see how this delicate subject would be broached, and I can’t fault the research that has obviously been put into this book. Gibbons captures the anger, frustration and sense of isolation that a teenager of any faith or colour feels. “You think you’re in control of your life but you’re not. Not really. It’s like you stumble through the years with a hood over your head.  Nobody knows where they’re going.”  We all make mistakes growing up, sometimes we choose the wrong path but, with knowledge, sometimes you can get back on track.

An Act of Love is about friendship, growing up in a multi-racial country and looking at everyday people as well as the extremists. I remember the riots and unrest of the 1980’s, and had to double check the dates in the book, with the depressing conclusion that history is repeating itself. All these events happened in the last ten years, not thirty years ago, which is a sobering thought about society. Maybe if more people read this book, understanding differences can help break cycles.

This is an enormous and heavy topic to cover, but An Act of Love is not just boy meets girl, Muslims vs the West, it’s about a love that fights and conquers hate. A sometimes uncomfortable, but intuitively written and compelling read.  Gibbons gives the invisible a voice.

If you are interested in seeing the review and the questions that the author very kindly answered for me: