Shoe Boxes

[2.5 min read]

I don’t remember having any dress up shoes, nothing plastic and pink with sparkly or feathered embellishments. I don’t even recall trying on my mother’s heels to walk around. My obsession with boots started pretty early though.

I hadn’t started school when Nancy Sinatra recorded the hit song “These Boots are Made for Walking.” It was full of so much sass and attitude that it was a favourite of mine. At home we referred to it as ‘boots’ and anytime it came on the radio, turned the dial while I stomped round the house. This soon morphed into me wearing my mother’s leather boots to move to Nancy’s anthem of refusal to be the underdog.

The boots I borrowed then had a small heel and a pointed toe, the kind to be worn with the stirruped ski pants popular in the sixties. My mother felt it was very important for a child to wear well fitted shoes while their feet were still growing, so I was always taken to Clarkes to be measured for width and length for my school shoes. 

Towards the end of primary school, however, I began to long for shoes which followed fashion. In the mid 1970s everyone wore platform shoes, with squared puffy toes. Often in outlandish colours or graced with gaudy embellishments. I often tried on my older sister’s shoes, wishing her feet were my size so I could borrow them.

One trick I had fun with involved my shadow. In autumn and winter, when the sun is low in the sky, every shadow appears elongated. While waiting outside my friend’s house, I’d lift my feet off the ground, admiring the shadow versions of my school shoes that seemed to have fabulously high platforms, like the pop stars and models wore.

The year I was eleven, on our back-to-school shopping trip, I persuaded my mother to forget school rules regarding outdoor shoes, instead she allowed me to select from a glorious array of trendy shoes. I left the shop with a beautiful pair, more plum than brown which I could not wait to wear. Their solid black rubber soles were quite heavy, making my walking clumsy until I got acquainted with them, but I loved them enough to wear them at weekends too. I don’t know what my mother said to make my headmistress turn a blind eye, but wearing them my final year, I felt ‘a la mode’.

My secondary school had very strict rules regarding height and colour of shoes so I was unable to get away wearing anything attractive with my uniform. Desert boots were quite fashionable during my school years, footwear which looked more appropriate with long socks and skirts. 

I changed to a day school for the sixth form and was able to wear my own clothes, so my shoes could reflect my taste. The new romantic style I favoured meant scouring charity shops and market stalls, as well as mainstream shops, for items to provide an individual look. My favourite shoes were a pair of courts in gunmetal grey with stiletto heels, much more flattering against bare legs than white. I purchased low-heeled black shoes in a new shape, with a raised feature at the back of the shoe. Unfortunately this feature was impractical. If I wore them any distance, the rubbing caused me to bleed into those shoes.  Decades later, I still have bumps on my heels which my feet created in self-defence!

What about the ones that got away? Shoes or boots that were so beautiful that I had to have them, but found them impractical: too high, too tight or just didn’t work with my wardrobe. Sandals with a heavy rope wedge with every strap rubbing a blister. Knee high cowboy style boots in black with crippling heels; once I started walking I’d feel so unbalanced I couldn’t stop. I had the cutest black high-heeled ankle boots, a mixture of smooth leather and suede with flashy gold eyelets. Again I couldn’t walk too far in them before my feet began to cramp. 

Now I’ve reached an age where I can’t trust my knees in combination with high heels, so I don’t buy more, yet I can’t say goodbye to my beloved footwear. My beautiful linen peep toed shoes with two leather straps always remind me of vintage luggage. Brown suede boots which lace up to the knee with a stacked heel have had to concede defeat against my silver brogues or some pristine white trainers I now wear with summer dresses.

This reminiscence is written for the prompt ‘shoes’, the seventh in Mrs Fever’s summer writing meme Musings in Memoir where looking back is encouraged. Why not follow the link to see what others have submitted.

My Own Space

Cyberdog at Camden, London

It’s important to have your own space, something you can ‘own’ and have under your control or influence. Many of us have felt the loss of this during lockdown. Suddenly your family / housemates are present all the time so your personal space feels compromised. If you don’t have a bedroom, study or shed to which you can retreat, for privacy you may have to resort to curtaining off ‘your’ area in a shared space. If that’s not possible take long walks alone.

This inability to have our own space applies to many of us growing up, when sharing a bedroom with a sibling is not uncommon. I did not have a room of my own until I was 14 and my family moved to a smaller house. That may sound like I have it the wrong way, but the house I grew up in (2-14) had large bedrooms, hence I had to share.

In my earliest memories I shared a lilac coloured bedroom with my older sister. Our beds were on opposite sides of a window which, as nursery windows often did in older houses, had bars at the opening portion. My sister made lots of funny noises in her sleep – something I assumed everybody did. The curtains had purple polka dots with sprigs of violets on a white background which concealed a large blackout blind. If I wanted to read in the summer I’d duck my head and the book under the blind. It was so light outside I could read until I felt tired, so long as my parents didn’t catch me.

As my sister got older she was given a room to herself and my younger brother moved out of his cot-bed and came to share with me. He and I are two and a half years apart, and we are pretty close, but I confess to bossing him about when we were young. He was usually a good sport about playing my games, I didn’t have the same patience with his rows of cars in their permanent traffic jam. Riding out on hobby horses or sword fighting in plastic armour was always fun and my preference for being a tomboy meant he was usually excused from rescuing a damsel in distress.

One useful thing about sharing a room was that we also shared our bedtime stories. My mother would feed us and handle bath time, so when our father got home she could get the older family’s meal ready while he supervised teeth cleaning and tucked us in with a story. Sometimes we had a story each, my brother liked Gumdrop the vintage car or the Fantastic Mr Fox. I enjoyed Polly and the Wolf while my passion for traditional folk tales meant that dragons, never-empty-purses and men wearing seven-league boots were commonplace in our bedroom!

As we got older squabbles broke out between my brother and me about touching each other’s stuff, particularly if either of us had friends round to play. My mother cleverly solved it by putting our beds at opposite ends of the room – I was near the window while he was closer to the door. By putting our cupboards and drawers back to back, she sandwiched garden trellis in between to create a partition which nearly reached the ceiling. We had redecorated by now, our walls were primrose yellow with posters pulled from National Geographic. Now I had privacy, although in moments of temper, I needed a door to slam!

A couple of years on, we moved house so could have a small bedroom each. I was excited to have my own space, no matter how tiny. I chose a sickly blancmanche pink with which to decorate and my parents bought me a bookcase, a desk and a chair so that I could study at home. My various decorating fads meant that when I was a teenager there were coloured records stuck to the walls and the year I turned 18 I displayed fans and chopsticks for an eastern theme.

My brother’s room was painted bright spearmint green, but the wall colour barely showed between the posters of truculent looking musicians in bands he liked. He bought a record player and tape deck and soon his presence in the house was characterised by a shut door which barely contained his loud music. I often knocked on his door to sit in his room with him, listening to the bands he liked & talking. Although our interests and music taste had diversified, we still had an easy relationship.

This reminiscence is written for the prompt ‘space’, the sixth in Mrs Fever’s summer writing meme Musings in Memoir where looking back is encouraged. Why not follow the link to see what others have submitted.

He’s a Little Bit Country …


One Hot Summer ~ Kat French

Possibly one of my favourite chick-lit novels, I can’t believe I read this in 2017: I truly could not bear to put this book down!  So many characters were fabulously eccentric. I’m a sucker for the ‘village’ setting which means that everyone knows each others nusiness!

Our heroine – Alice McBride – was a wonderful mixture of fragility and strength, and the love interest (US country singer Robinson Duff) was such a romantic, slightly damaged, chivalrous hunk I was half in love with him myself!
I couldn’t begin to describe the plot and do it justice, but an English village setting during a heatwave instantly makes it a great summer read.  The story starts with double heartbreak and follows Alice and Robinson’s coping mechanisms of either running away or embarking on a project to get their lives back on track.  

I adored Stewie who’d been a 70s porn star – with his many wigs and outrageous outfits. The mynah bird owned by the local ‘white witch’ almost stole the show, a great source of humor and secret-spilling.

Robinson is as gentle and thoughtful as one could wish – the textbook gallant southern boy, but his attempts to forget all about Nashville and his stellar career are fairly unsuccessful.  

Alice is enchantingly loyal to her home, Bourne Manor, bearing a duty to be its custodian for years to come, no matter what sacrifices she must make. The pair vow that this will be nothing more than a HOT holiday romance and that they won’t get involved – we don’t want to believe a word of it!

Read this novel to evoke all the ‘summer holiday feels’ you would normally get from devouring a book beside the pool or on the beach

No Big Drinker

I come from a big family. I have two older siblings, plus a younger brother. Growing up my maternal grandmother also shared our home. Mealtimes were big gatherings where we sat round the table. It was sometimes too rowdy for my granny, everyone talking and teasing each other. She often took meals on a tray in her own room. We always sat in the same seats, our glasses filled with water or squash. We passed the vegetables to each other, after my father carved the meat, some for each plate. My mother dished out the potatoes, rice or pasta and then we would all eat. 

Sunday lunch was a more formal affair. We would say grace, my granny joined us and the grown ups drank wine. From fairly young, my parents allowed us to have a small glass of cider – I can visualise the 1970s Woodpecker logo. I loved the meals when we had cider, but I wasn’t good at drinking it slowly. As soon as that golden, fizzy liquid was in my glass, I started sipping.

My granny was served the meat first, then my father worked his way round the family by age. If only I was big I’d have a plateful by now, I thought as I gulped my drink. Instead, as the second youngest, I had to wait almost ‘til the end. 

When my older brother asked me to pass the gravy, his voice came from far away. I lifted the warmed gravy boat unsteadily, bumping it against other dishes clumsily before handing it to him. My hands weren’t very obedient, didn’t feel like my own. Looking round the table I was viewing my family through a filter, like swimming underwater with my eyes open.

“Are you alright Polly?” 

My mother’s voice broke into my thoughts. Holding a cool hand against my forehead, she exchanged concerned glances with my father. They noticed my glass was empty, yet we hadn’t begun to eat.

“Why don’t you go and lie on the sofa?” 

Getting unsteadily to my feet, I tottered through the kitchen. I lay down, on my back, amongst plump cushions. The room see-sawed around me, reminding me of when I spun around until I felt dizzy. This gave me a warm glow too, of course I was tipsy.

When the giddy sensation wore off, I went back to the table. My family had begun eating and I was hungry too. Once I had food inside me, the last vestiges of that blurry feeling wore off.

My parents did not stop serving a glass of cider with Sunday lunch, but perhaps were more vigilant that it wasn’t consumed before the meal began. They believed in learning one’s own limits; it’s not uncommon in France for children to have watered down wine with meals. 

Even now I am no big drinker, it doesn’t take much alcohol to make the edges of my world blur. However that’s usually the point at which I switch to a soft drink. I learned my lesson that day, I really don’t like that out-of-control feeling. I still enjoy cider; particularly brands infused with other fruit flavours.

This story is submitted and linked to a summer writing project hosted on Mrs Fever’s site, where reminiscences are encouraged in a memoir style – Prompt #5 Big. Visit to see what other’s have written.

Don’t Let Him In (6)

A chilling tale, told in installments

When J’s alarm began beeping the next morning, it was accompanied by smells of bacon & toast wafting upstairs. He felt light with relief that he hadn’t had a dream about anyone new being traumatised by the mystery ‘man’.  Yet this was the puzzle, his chief suspect was the new Librarian, who was a woman.  Was it possible that she wore a disguise when she took control of the minds of the children?  J suspected that if he could see a ‘pattern’ to those chosen as her victims, then maybe he could get a better handle on solving the mystery.  He made sure he had the hypnotism printouts tucked in his rucksack before heading out of the door to meet Alex.

Lulu waved goodbye from the back-seat of his Mum’s car. She was beaming from ear to ear with excitement, her party invitations clutched in her hand, twinkling with the holographic stickers she’d added the night before.  Sometimes, when he looked at his sister, he yearned for the simplicity of his days at primary school, but most of the time he was glad to have left the claustrophobia of that tiny school and its mostly spinster teachers behind.

J joined the steady stream of red blazers and black suits heading out of Cranberry Gardens towards St Ethelred’s, pleased to see Alex was already waiting for him outside his house.  They fell into step with one another. Alex was keen for an up-date, quizzing J as to whether he’d had one of his dreams the previous night.

“No, thank goodness! So maybe no new zombies today!  I did learn a lot about hypnotism though.” 

With that he passed Alex the pages which he’d recently downloaded from Google. Although impatient to discuss it, J needed to give his friend time to read and absorb the information, so he stayed quiet letting Alex read as he walked.

Finally J put forward his theory that perhaps the Librarian wore a disguise, which could be why the kids hypnotised so far kept talking about letting ‘him’ in.

“Vampire!” Alex butted in excitedly.  “A vampire can’t come into your home unless you invite them!”

This seemed an undisputed piece of vampire folklore, mentioned in all the vampire films the boys had ever watched.  They thrashed  this idea around as they continued down to the school gate. Somehow the idea of a vampire existing in their home town seemed too far fetched, surely they weren’t real?

“See you at lunch,” Alex called over his shoulder before he headed off to English class.

Still puzzling, J made his way to the language block for a double lesson of German.

When lunchtime rolled around, they picked up their conversation where they’d left off.  The vampire theory seemed less viable, instead J wanted to pursue the Librarian for more clues.

“Hey!  What if she’s a dude disguised as a woman?  Y’know, like in Mrs Doubtfire?!”   Alex was warming to his theme. “She is pretty old and caked in powdery make-up.  Her hair could easily be a wig!”  

J couldn’t help laughing at the idea.  However, the laughter died in his throat as Laurie walked past their table, looking pale and haggard.  The shadows under his eyes were pronounced and his movements were robotic. On his tray he carried an unopened carton of milk and a shrink wrapped pork pie, with which he sat down alone, at a remote, empty table.

The two friends watched him in silence, as he stared into space, making no move to eat the food he had purchased.

“That’s seriously weird,” remarked Alex, who was always hungry due to the amount of sports he played.

“Yeah,” J nodded, feeling guilty that he couldn’t think of a way to help.  “We’ve got to get to the bottom of this.  You still want to investigate the Coach?”  

He and Alex dumped their plates and trays at the hatch and spent the rest of their lunch break hanging round the pavilion trying to see in through the windows looking for clues amongst the stored sports equipment; they didn’t have much success.   Alex had Rugby practice after school, so he intended to try to get into the building on some sort of pretext then, offering to untangle the bibs or some such helpful tactic.

J made his way across the quad , heading for his next lesson, and that’s when he spied Laurie again.  He was at the heavy double doors into the main school building which housed Reception, the assembly hall and Drama, because they liked to utilise the stage.  The Music block was accessible from here too, several practice rooms and a couple of classrooms ran down the outside wall of the building.  

J was curious as to where Laurie was going, because as far as he knew Laurie studied neither music nor drama.  He didn’t have time to investigate, but his mind was turning over facts all afternoon looking for the pattern.  The last thing he wanted to acknowledge was that the common factor which was linking the trance-like children was him!

[To be continued …]

Running In Heels

I have no skill or aptitude for sport, although I like to keep myself moving with exercise classes and walking our dogs, so I only usually break into a run when I am late. This, unfortunately, is not a rare occurrence for me. I don’t mean to be rude and keep people waiting, but I have a tendency to underestimate how long it takes me to get ready. I am too optimistic about the hold-ups which might occur on my car journey so when I park the car and lock it, I don’t walk away, I run!

Have you ever noticed that not many people run on the high street? Joggers use the pavements as part of their route, but their sporty clothes usually signal that they are taking exercise, raising their pulse deliberately. It’s less expected to see smartly dressed people running, especially if they’re wearing high heels, but that’s me, running because I am late. 

When I chose a primary school for my children, I didn’t take much note of the fact that parents could not drive up to it and park. It seemed quite nice that parents needed to walk with their children up to the school gates, having either left their vehicles near the church or in an adjacent residential area. All were forced to use the footpath and walk their children alongside the river, only ambulances, deliveries and teachers could access the school by car. 

The school’s location was, however, a nightmare if you’re late! When your toddler refuses to be strapped into their car seat, and certainly won’t cooperate with being seated in the buggy, precious minutes are wasted negotiating and then brute forcing them, while your elder child hops anxiously from foot to foot not wanting to be late for school.

That’s when my running came into practice. We dashed along the narrow paths, avoiding the dog dirt left by inconsiderate dog owners and terrorising ducks who waddled and splashed into the river to avoid me and the pushchair running down the towpath. My eldest ran alongside, book bag rubbing against bare knees, and we’d arrive hot and flustered just in time to fling off their outdoor shoes to replace them with black plimsolls so they could join their class before the door was closed.

I gradually coped better with the school run. Repetition drummed into me how much time to allow for the journey (add a little extra for the rainy days). As my children became able to clean their own teeth and lace up their shoes, our routine became well oiled. My next hurdle was class assembly. It was an annual thing, taking place mid morning, with the parents from the class hosting assembly expected to attend. In addition, some fathers or grandparents would be there, so the event created quite an influx of cars.

My child would want to search the sea of faces and see me sitting there, ready to watch proudly and perhaps take photographs. What my little one didn’t want was for their mother to enter late at the back, causing door banging drama, when everyone else was already seated and the headmistress was making her welcoming speech. This hadn’t been too challenging when I was a stay at home mum, but once I had a job, getting away mid morning proved problematic.

I vividly remember several occasions when I dashed from work and was forced to park the car much further away than planned, because all the sensible parents had driven to school earlier than me. I would have to dash straight away to meet the deadline for the start of assembly. I never expected, with my aversion to running or breaking into a sweat, that I’d be flushed, panting and getting a stitch, as I struggled to claw back precious minutes by running in my kitten heels. 

Who carries a handbag when they go out for a run? And what sort of masochist wears a balconette bra when the activity dictates that a minimal-bounce-sporty number is more appropriate? The answer is clearly me – I do.

Running in heels, it’s a rather niche skill which I’m sure it’s neither good for my arches or my posture, but it has come in useful several times. Until my timekeeping improves, I had better not let it lapse.

This story is submitted and linked to a summer writing project hosted on Mrs Fever’s site, where reminiscences are encouraged in a memoir style – Prompt #4 Run. Visit to see what other’s have written.

Henry Potstam’s Coat

Henry Potstam was a very pampered dog. He lived in a large house in a smart area of London. His owners didn’t have any children, Henry was their baby and they made no excuses for that.

Everyday their maid would take Henry Potstam for a walk. His master and mistress worked and so this broke up his day until they were at home. It allowed him to stretch his legs and catch up with any ‘messages’ left on lamp posts and walls by other dogs in the neighbourhood. Henry was a west highland white terrier, whose sense of smell was very keen. His almost black eyes were bright and alert and he enjoyed sniffing the trunks of any trees planted in the pavements en route to the park near his home.

Because Henry Potstam was a ‘gentleman’, he had a coat which he wore when he went out. His dog jacket was tartan, it slipped over his head, covered his back and fastened round his ribs but, most importantly, it had a pocket. Henry was such a pampered dog that he had an allowance. So the maid would put one penny of this into his jacket pocket every day before they set off on their walk.

London parks can be very beautiful, with paths through grassy spaces and avenues of trees. There are often benches dotted about and large beds of flowers known as herbaceous borders. In 1950s London, when this story takes place, parks also looked good because litter was confined to ornate wrought iron receptacles and an army of gardeners kept the bushes and flower beds maintained. 

The maid enjoyed her leisurely walk with Henry. As they left the house at the same time every day, they saw a lot of familiar faces. She stopped and talked briefly to a few friends but did not dawdle, as this was Henry’s walk and he was keen to get to the shop. 

A bell rang once the heavy door of the tobacconist shop opened. Henry and his walker were well known, they visited every day. Henry walked around the counter to get his usual fuss from Mr Crawford the owner. Having bent down to greet the dog and issue an ear rub, Mr Crawford would enquire whether the maid needed any shopping. In those days shops were not self service and to serve her, he would have lifted down jars to weigh out dry goods: toffees or sugar or whatever she needed. Once the maid had made her purchases Mr Crawford could turn his attention to his 4-legged customer.

“So Henry, is it the usual?” he would enquire.

Not needing an answer, he would bend down to remove the copper penny from Henry’s coat pocket to exchange it for a bar of chocolate. A penny bar of chocolate was small and fairly basic, “marching chocolate” it bore a historical picture of a soldier on it’s foil wrapper. In the 1950s nobody knew that chocolate was not suitable for dogs and this was Henry’s treat.

If the weather was fine, Henry and the maid would leave the shop so she could sit on a park bench to feed him his chocolate. If there was rain or snow, then Mr Crawford would unwrap the treat for Henry and he’d eat it in the shop, before walking happily back through the avenue of trees and along the pavements to his home.

This is a true story, perhaps the names have been changed to protect the innocent! My mother worked for Henry Potstam’s owner and this was one of my favourite of her annecdotes, as she relayed it to me.

Don’t Let Him in (5)

A chilling tale, told in installments

In synchronised silence, Alex and J moved swiftly through the swing doors, J pointed to Alex then at the office, then indicated his own chest he gestured towards the computer. Each set off on their separate missions.  J moved stealthily and clicked the computer mouse. When it brought on screen what the Librarian had last been looking at, he shook his head at her casualness in not locking the computer when she stepped away, while being hugely grateful that she hadn’t! An inventory page loaded, she was in the process of placing an order for more books – nothing very surprising there. What had she minimised in the toolbar? A database of student names & their library pass codes, a timetable of classes using the Library for study sessions and internet explorer. What had she been researching on the internet? Opening it, he felt a jolt of excitement: hypnotists! She‘d been researching hypnotism in its many forms.

Just then J heard the squeak of the back office door as it swung open. Immediately he ducked low and sidled away from the desk. He didn’t straighten up till he was safely between two bookshelves crammed with paperbacks and hardbacks, all neatly ordered by category. He could hear Alex talking, but in that low voice people use in libraries, so J had no idea what he was saying. 

When the Librarian moved in his direction, her sensible shoes made a faint squeak on the parquet floor. J grabbed a random book off the crowded shelf. He took it over to her, fishing his library card out of his inside blazer pocket as he walked.

The Librarian tapped a few keys and moved the mouse. The printer sprang to life and whirred until a piece of paper came out. As she turned away to grab it, Alex delivered J a subtle wink.

“Thank you Miss. I’m sure my Library card is somewhere at home, but you’ll save my bacon if I can get some study books out for tonight.”

“This is valid for one week.” She observed him sternly over her glasses. “If you haven’t found your card by then, you had better see me to arrange a replacement.”

Alex took the temporary pass. She turned her attention to J, who proffered his book. As she entered the reference code she looked at him rather strangely – he kept his face blank. Not until they were a way down the corridor did he look at the book’s title. He burst out laughing,  “Lacemaking Through the Ages”. No surprise she wondered why he needed that!

“What did you find out?” J asked Alex. 

They were walking briskly, urgently needing to retrieve books from their lockers for afternoon lessons.

“Not much really. Too many posters & flyers obstructing the glass panels.” He shook his head. “She did look furtive. I saw her putting a big jar of pills into her handbag. Which, by the way, also looks like something from a museum! What did you find?”

“We may be onto something – she’d been researching hypnotism on the internet. I’ll run the same search at home tonight and see if I can get a bit more info.” 

J could tell Alex was impressed, but before they could talk more the bell rang, summoning them back to class.

When he got home from school, J was greeted by his sister Lulu, excitedly flapping a pink postcard at him.

“What’ve you got there Lulu?”

“A party invitation. MY PARTYYYYY!” she squealed and twirled round making her checked summer dress flare out like a bell.

J took the invitation from her hand to read.

“So Lulu, karaoke AND a clown?”

“Yes J. And there will be balloons and dancing and a Disney Princess cake.”

“Wow! Lucky you. Will you give the invitations out to your friends at school tomorrow?”

“Mmm hmm.” She followed him out to the kitchen and watched him make a sandwich. 

“Can I have a milkshake please J?”

He reached up to get a glass, then filled it with milk and added spoonfuls of strawberry powder. As he stirred it he looked at his little sister, at her thick blonde plaits and grey blue eyes, noticing an air of sweet innocence. He handed her the glass and she padded off down the hall, silent in white cotton socks. Seconds later he heard the blurt of the television as his sister settled down to watch cartoons.

J made himself a drink and took his sandwich upstairs. Passing his Dad’s study door he pushed it open. His Dad sat at the computer, but he wasn’t writing; he was drinking coffee and scrolling on his phone – it was OK to interrupt.

“How’s it going? Did you get much written today?”

“Yes. I had a bit of a breakthrough actually, I got a lot done. How about you? School good?”

“Er – guess so.” 

J flicked his fringe out of his eyes. He didn’t feel like sharing details of the recent weirdness with his Dad. Change of subject required.

“Lulu’s party sounds cool Dad.”

“I hope so. She wanted something none of her friends had done, and I saw the clown-guy’s card in the newsagent’s window. You might know him actually – he goes to your school. Danny something – Randall is it?” 

His Dad looked at him expectantly.

“Oh yeah. Does drama, year 12.” J nodded his head, he’d seen Danny in some school plays. 

Biting into his sandwich he moved off to his room. The dog got up from under his Dad’s desk and, having stretched followed J and his sandwich.

J opened his laptop, eating while he waited for his desktop to populate with various icons.  He chucked his crusts to the drooling dog, who caught them mid-air, then typed ‘Hypnosis’ into Google, checking Wikipedia first.

  • Hypnosis is a state of human consciousness involving focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness and an enhanced capacity to respond to suggestion. The term may also refer to an art, skill, or act of inducing hypnosis.
  • Theories explaining what occurs during hypnosis fall into two groups. Altered state theories see hypnosis as an altered state of mind or trance, marked by a level of awareness different from the ordinary conscious state.

J conceded that both Laurie & Katie seemed to be in an altered state of mind, blanking out their friends and exhibiting reduced emotional responses.  What puzzled him was how the Librarian was doing it, and for what purpose?  

He stroked the dog’s head absently. It snuffled around his desk hoping for more food, then plodded back down the hall to curl up on the dog bed in his Dad’s study.  As J clicked on more links he learned that hypnotism did not require the ‘subject’ to be sent to sleep. There were also more subtle ways to hypnotise than swinging a pendulum in front of someone’s eyes.  In fact it could work on the power of suggestion, and a normal conversation peppered with key command words could be used to trigger ‘mental obedience’. 

J printed off the most relevant passages to show to Alex tomorrow, then he cracked open his books and started on his German translation homework.

[To be continued]

The Muse : Jessie Burton

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

~ Book Review ~

I imagine that having the first thing you create shoot off with stratospheric success and visibility, would be as daunting as it was exciting.  It might even inhibit you from creating anything again, as nothing seems to measure up to your stellar first effort. This book explores this theme, alongside inequality where battles are fought in public and private arenas. Here secrets are used as bargaining tools because the truth won’t set people free

Jessie Burton found international acclaim with her first novel The Miniaturist.  In The Muse, her second venture into the literary world, the author explores the challenge of topping an earlier success.  Meet Odelle Bastien, driven by dreams of becoming an author and Olive Schloss, who longs to be an artist and earn her art dealer father’s recognition; both women struggle with the challenge of sharing their craft with an audience who already has high expectations of their capability.

Time spent in Spain learning Olive’s story seems less upbeat, primarily because Olive feels invisible and undervalued by her parents, whose lives are as fractured as they are self-absorbed.  The country they’ve just arrived in is on the brink of war, the revolution brought to the family’s doorstep in by Isaac & his sister Teresa. They help around the property, but are embroiled in right-wing activities.

Due to a misunderstanding (soon purposefully encouraged) a vibrant, and unusual painting makes a big splash in the art world, while the reality of its creator remains a secret

Years later, at the Gallery in London where Odelle works, a new painting surfaces which also appears to be the this ‘same’ artist – but in order to feature in an exhibition its provenance must be established (reminiscent of The Girl You Left Behind – Jojo Moyes). The unravelling of this mystery is the power that drives the novel forward.

While I really enjoyed this book, I’ll admit to preferring the storyline which features Odelle and the gallery to that surrounding Olive’s development as an artist.  The character of a young working woman who dreams of being a writer was sharply drawn. Her efforts to integrate herself into a historically hostile society, while maintaining her integrity and dignity, unfolded gradually with convincing depth.

I enjoyed the way two such diverse threads of plot were gradually woven together but the latter part of the book felt unnecessarily rushed.  It delivered surprises and tied up loose threads, but in comparison with the languid speed at which the rest of the novel unfolded, the conclusion felt rushed.

Uneasy Rider

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
[3.5 min read]

When I was a girl, I had several friends who were into horses, so their games would revolve around booking lessons and discussions of horses’ names, what they looked like alongside talk of tools for grooming and mucking out. It was all a bit lost on me, but I played along. Riding sounded fun. My older siblings had been on pony-trekking holidays with my parents while we little ones enjoyed a bucket and spade vacation.

My mother had been evacuated to Exmoor during WWII, where she lived on a farm and rode a pony to school. It sounded idyllic. She sometimes got out of maths class by telling the teacher that her horse had become untethered so she needed to go outside to catch it! When she was 21 my mother took a trip to America and stayed on a ‘Dude’ ranch, where she rode with real cowboys, hence riding held a romantic appeal.

The year I turned 14 my parents booked a pony trekking holiday in Northumberland for me and my younger brother. We had lessons at a local riding school in advance, and I was kitted out with new riding jodhpurs, boots and hard hat. I was raring to go. It had seemed a little dull and walking round an indoor riding school, but there’s a lot to learn. Sitting on a horse’s back feels relatively unstable, compounded by the realisation you’re seated on a living creature which can be spooked or excited by anything.

On the first full day of our holiday we went directly to the stables after breakfast to enlist for pony trekking. I was curious to observe my mother, who usually wore dresses and smart shoes, in this new habitat. Having discussed our levels of experience, it was arranged we’d all go out that afternoon on quiet horses.

My father couldn’t ride as a child due to having horse and hay allergies, but as a grown up he’d taken to it and had a ‘natural seat’. It’s important to get your horse ready properly. Adjust the saddle so that it fits the horse firmly and can’t swivel round, the rider is in big trouble if this happens. Horses can be tricky, expanding their ribs during this tightening process, so the riding instructor showed us the correct technique then checked our saddles and tack before we set off.

Northumberland is a beautiful county, the last before Scotland. It’s wild and hilly with dry stone walls and quiet country roads that become corridors of greenery in the summer. Sitting high on the back of a handsome horse, my spirits soared as I took in the scenery from my new viewpoint. I could look over hedges and walls and was moving slowly enough to take in the panoramic beauty. After a while I got the hang of holding my back straight but letting my hips sway with the undulating movement of the horse’s stride. My mother did, indeed, look comfortable on horseback and my brother and I were a bit giggly with the novelty of the experience.

These horses were calm and steady, picked more for their biddable natures than their jumping abilities. They probably walked these ‘trekking’ routes routinely most days in the holiday season, giving families gentle tours of the area. My horse, however, wanted to eat plenty of long grass and buttercups along our route. Our leader instructed me to discourage her, to squeeze or dig my heels into the rib area to keep her moving along. Despite feeling more confident in my ‘seat’ I found this a hard thing to do. 

My mother got a little irritable with me. She explained that it’s hard work to clean the ‘bit’ if a horse eats while wearing it, because all the grass and stuff gets pasted around it. She expected me to stop the horse grazing, I could not. This horse was stubborn, the walk was a bit dull to her and snacking en route was a perk to which she felt entitled!

We carried on, with my horse dawdling and munching, to the point that our trek leader rode beside me so she could pull the horses head away from the greenery to keep her moving. The reins are traditionally the way to steer a horse, a little pull on the left side and the horse should turn left, a tug on the right and the horse turns in that direction. Your horse may suddenly pull its head down, or toss it, so if you’re holding too tightly, you can be pulled out of your seat and fall off the horse, something I didn’t want to happen.

We came to a river, it wasn’t deep and our trek leader wanted the horses to wade through to the other side. The horses stood in a queue so that they could descend the bank with due care. My horse saw a golden opportunity to take another nibble at the long grass while we waited. I couldn’t spur her on, so I tried pulling her head away from temptation. I shortened the reins and pulled to the left. 

On our left was a foot bridge, so my horse thought I wanted to use it. Her shod hooves made an echoing clip clop sound as she plodded up the steep incline of the bridge. Surprise rendered me powerless to stop her. It felt very high up on the bridge, both exhilarating and scary to be above the heads of my family whose horses were still crossing the river. I could not stop laughing as they stared and called out to me.

“Hey, where are you going?”

“Are you afraid to get your feet wet?”
Once I’d crossed the bridge and arrived safely on the other bank, I wiped tears of mirth from my eyes and tried to explain why my horse and I’d taken a different route.

Years later my own children showed an interest in riding. I arranged for them to have lessons before booking our own holiday to Northumberland. We stayed in cottages on a farm which offered pony trekking amongst its activities. We enjoyed two vacations there, making happy memories which I treasure alongside my earlier ones.

This post is linked to an initiative being hosted on Mrs Fever’s blog which encourages writing in a memoir style, the prompt this time was Ride. Follow the link to see what others have submitted but be aware hers is a site accepts adult content.