The Jacket

The jacket sits on the fence, listless and forgotten. Creepers stretch tendrils towards the imposter in their midst, testing its legitimacy, waging a war of attrition that it cannot hope to win. The snow is thick now, almost a foot deep in places. The jacket has its own jacket of snow, white on red like Santa’s suit. How many sunsets has it seen? How many frosts has it endured? So many questions left unanswered by the perpetrator of its demise. From time to time a passer by will stop, their eyes alighting on the arm that hangs limply from the fence post like a rag, or a fallen soldier on the edge of the battlefield. They will look around, frown and move on, it being quite apparent that the jacket’s owner has done the same.

What they don’t know is he hasn’t. He lies there too, beneath the foot of snow, his frozen hands clasped tightly as if in prayer. He was drunk, of course (at this time of year they always are), on his way home from the Christmas party. When they find him several days from now they’ll all be baffled as to why he removed his jacket when it was so very cold. In truth he would be just as baffled had he lived to tell the tale, for there was no logic to his whisky-addled thinking. And now there is no thinking at all.

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Reasons to be winter-ful

Unless you have been living in a cave for the past few days it cannot have escaped your attention that the nights are drawing in. Winter, dear friends, is coming – as we all knew it would (although we clung to the warm weather like limpets to a rock). But the demise of British Summer Time need not send us spiralling into a depression. Summer has gone, that much is true, but far from being summer’s miserable cousin, winter brings with it a whole new list of reasons to be happy. Reasons like:

1. We can invest in new bedding

When winter arrives and the sunlight hours decrease it is more crucial than ever that we get a good night’s sleep, not least to fight off the threat of Seasonal Affective Disorder. So as the colder months approach what better way to prepare than with some goose down pillows and a nice 13.5 tog goose down duvet? S.A.D? Not me. I’m Z.Z.Z…..

2. We can buy new clothes

Last year’s wardrobe’s been eaten by moths? Never mind, you can always clear it out and invest in some new choice threads to keep your smile white hot when the temperature drops…

3. Animal hats are back in vogue

…and animal slippers, ear muffs, slipper socks…

4. We have an excuse to get the hot water bottle out of retirement

What can be better than retiring to bed with a miniature heater and a good book? Cosy.

5. We can drink hot chocolate like it’s going out of fashion

For the rest of the year it would seem gluttonous, but when winter rolls around it’s perfectly acceptable to drink hot chocolate every day. Yum.

6. It’s CHRIIIISSSSTMAAAAAS

Okay, so not everyone loves the festive season, but surely everyone appreciates having some time off work?

7. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…

Snow crocodile anyone?

See? Winter’s not so bad after all – embrace it!

Spring has sprung

It’s been a long old winter this year, one that’s greedily stretched its icy fingers all the way into April. Roads have been closed, leaving cars shrouded in snow looking like strangely shaped, grotesque and faceless snowmen. Homes have been without electricity and thousands of elderly and vulnerable people have been housebound and alone.

And all the while an overwhelming, cloying, crushing malaise has settled on the dwellers of London, this city I call home, as I’m sure it has across the many other towns and cities in our fair (or, let’s face it, not so fair in recent months) land. The kind of malaise that leaves you wondering with alarming regularity why you don’t just move somewhere with guaranteed sunshine and be done with all the greyness and the bitter cold once and for all.

But we Brits are a hardy bunch, and our impressive ability to moan is surpassed only by our ability to bear the weight of such an oppressive spell of poor weather. The lack of Vitamin D has no doubt been a factor in our collective mood this past few weeks, but deep down each and every one of us has been stoic in the face of the Big Freeze, purely because we knew it wouldn’t – couldn’t – last forever. We have been playing the waiting game.

And if today’s weather is anything to go by, that waiting game may soon be at an end. For when I stepped outside this morning for my run something felt different. There was still a slight chill in the air, granted, but as I ran I could feel the warmth of the glorious sunshine on my face and I just knew in my bones that winter was finally losing its war against spring. Clapham Common was full of runners, their gloves and hats stowed away at home for the first time this year, as were mine. Parents pushed prams lazily, without rushing or wincing in the biting wind. The collective malaise had lifted, at least temporarily, and in its wake were cheerful people blinking in the light like newborns, ready for whatever life saw fit to bring. 

Though we dream of jetting away from it all, we Brits are a hardy bunch.

Welcome to a runner’s worst nightmare…

When my alarm went off at 6am this morning I was unimpressed (to say the least), and wondered momentarily just how bad it would be if I didn’t turn up to the Wholefoods run I’d spent the last ten weeks training for. But I somehow managed to peel myself out of bed and get my stuff together in time for the 7am taxi pick up.

As we drove towards Kingston I was naively optimistic that the weather may not be as bad as predicted after all, but by the time we pulled up in the market square the snow was falling and it was nothing short of freezing. Clusters of runners stood in every doorway, huddled together for warmth and staring at one another forlornly whispering, ‘why are we doing this again?’

By the time the 16 mile race started I could no longer feel my fingers and was starting to doubt my ability to complete the race (never a good thing at the very beginning), but before I knew it the horn had sounded and we were off. Once my body temperature began to rise I settled into a comfortable stride for the first eight or nine miles, quite enjoying the scenic part of the route beside the river (less so the rather more grim road section).

By mile ten, however, I was struggling – badly. The cold had crept into my bones and my hip joints were so sore I felt like a 90 year old. I’ve never felt pain like that in my hips before (in all of my training runs they’ve never so much as ached – mind you, if it was ever below five degrees in my training runs I tended to exercise in the gym. Oops) and was unsure what to do, so I slowed down for a couple of miles to try and ease the pain. When I realised it wasn’t going anywhere I changed tack and opted to run as fast as I could manage until the finish line, figuring I could at least then stop and rest.

Fortunately the strategy paid off and through gritty determination, sheer bullishness and an inordinately large amount of sugar-based stimulants I made it across the finish line – in a respectable 2 hours and 31 minutes and 29 seconds. I had hoped for a sub 2:30 time, but given the horrendous conditions I’ll let myself off.

It’s a miracle I’ve managed to drag myself to the computer to type this given how much pain I’m now in – walking up the stairs feels like as big a challenge as climbing Mount Everest right now, but it was worth it (I think). If not for the glory of completing the race, then for the huge amounts of roast lamb and chocolate cake I was treated to by my parents afterwards 🙂

Important lesson for next time (yes, I’ve already signed up for another race – this time a half marathon, Run to the Beat, which is at least in September so can’t possibly be as cold as it was today. RIGHT?): Train outdoors even if it’s cold so the unpredictable English weather doesn’t screw you over totally on race day. At this rate I may be loaded onto the plane to New York in a wheelchair on Tuesday (note to Jen: I won’t!!)…

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Mary

The snow fell in fat flakes onto the ground, obscuring all that lay beneath. A dog nosed in the undergrowth near a mound of earth cloaked in white, digging up wet leaves with its paws, trampling what little grass had managed to poke through the thick covering above. The dog sniffed, its nostrils flaring as it seemed to catch a scent of something that excited it, but a distant whistle from its owner bid it come, so it turned on its heel and ran off.

Mary had never been fond of dogs, but as she watched it leave she felt a pang of sadness. It was so bitterly cold even the thought of sharing body heat with an animal was an appealing prospect. A flash of red caught her attention. She squinted through the falling snow and saw a tiny figure in the distance, weaving its unsteady way across the vast expanse of field between them.

It took Mary several moments to realise the figure was a small child, and by that time it was almost upon her. She grimaced. Her dislike of dogs was on a par with her dislike of children, and in her current situation she was not disposed to tolerance.

As the figure drew near Mary saw it was a little girl, not more than three years old, four at most. Her red duffel coat had a fur-lined hood and matching red mittens that hung from her sleeves on lengths of elastic. They bounced up and down as she ran, dancing in the air as if marionettes on a stage. Her blue plastic wellington boots, too big for her small frame, made her progress ungainly.

Breathless, the girl stopped. Up close Mary could see she had a cherubic face, with rosy cheeks, pink bow lips and porcelain skin. A lock of curly blond hair had escaped from her hood and was dangling in front of her nose, which twitched in irritation. She blew it away with a concerted snort and looked at Mary. “Hello,” she said, unblinking.

“Hello,” Mary replied. “What are you doing out here all by yourself?”

The girl shrugged. “I ran away.”

“From who?”

“My mummy.”

“And why would you do a silly thing like that?” Mary scolded the girl. “She’s probably very worried about you.”

The girl frowned as she considered the implication of her older companion’s words. “But she was horrible to me,” she said at length, her jaw set in defiance.

Mary sighed and patted the bench. The little girl obligingly climbed up beside her. “I’m sure she didn’t mean to be horrible. Sometimes people say things that they don’t mean in the heat of the moment.” A memory came to her then; a heated exchange, doors slamming, raised voices. She felt a lump form in her throat but carried on. “I’m sure your mummy loves you very much.”

“She doesn’t,” said the girl, folding her arms across her chest. “I’m not going back.”

“Oh?” said Mary, raising an eyebrow. “And what will you do instead, exactly?”

The girl shrugged. “I don’t know. Find a new family, probably.” She chewed on one of her mittens.

“Do you think new families are easy to find?” Another pang, another memory of issues unresolved, words spoken that could never now be taken back.

The girl shrugged again.

“Well I can tell you from my own experience that they’re not.”

The girl looked up at Mary. “Did you run away?” she asked, her brown eyes searching.

“Yes, in a sense, I suppose I did.”

“What happened?”

Mary took a deep breath. Was she really about to tell a child what she had never been able to tell an adult?

“I had an argument with someone very close to me, a long, long time ago. We never spoke again. I think it was the biggest mistake I ever made, but it’s too late to go back and change it.”

“Why too late?” The little girl shivered and nestled into Mary’s side. Without thinking she wrapped a protective arm around her, catching herself in surprise.

“Because that person – my mother – died.”

The girl’s eyes widened. “How?”

“In a terrible accident, the day after our argument. So you see, you really must go back and find your mother. You don’t want to have the same regrets as me do you?” The girl shook her head, her face solemn.

The sound of frantic cries sliced through the air like a knife, distant at first, then louder, more insistent. Mary turned to see a woman running towards them. “Alicia!” she screamed upon seeing her daughter, and flung herself down onto her knees in front of the bench to scoop her into a tight embrace. “Where have you been? I’ve been looking everywhere.” She examined her daughter’s face, smothered her in kisses. “You must be freezing.”

“I’m not freezing, mummy,” Alicia said. “The nice lady was keeping me warm.”

Alicia’s mother looked around. “What lady?”

The girl turned and pointed to the bench beside her. A look of incomprehension crossed her face. “She was just here…” Her little voice trailed off.

The woman’s laugh was pure relief. “Of course she was darling.” She kissed her daughter on the top of her head and stood up. “Come on darling, let’s go home.”

“But…” Alicia stared into the space where the old lady had been, her mouth open. She cast her eyes about her one last time before turning to leave.

Mary watched them walk away. She looked down at the white-topped mound before her and wondered how long it would be before someone found her body, lifeless beneath the snow, exactly as she had fallen. Her life for so long had been solitary, it seemed ironic that in death she had, for the briefest of moments, found companionship.  It was time to go.

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I can think of no better image to accompany this post than the title image of this blog. The day before this picture was taken was a complete white out, and my boyfriend and I scuba dived in the lagoon though we could barely see two feet in front of us. When we returned the following day in gorgeous sunshine we were gobsmacked by the scale and beauty of the place. it was so calm and serene, so utterly and unequivocally beautiful.

The Wait

On the stroke of midnight she is waiting for him beneath the clock, where they shared their first kiss. She totters in her heels on cobbled ground, feeling the effects of the hastily downed wine to steady her nerves. In the middle distance the sound of sirens rings out. A group of boys walk past, their expressions glassy. One makes a lewd gesture and she turns away, rolling her eyes. They leave a trail of marijuana vapour in their wake.

She glances at her watch, five past. No need to worry, at least not yet. Her skin bristles with the cold. She shivers and pulls her leather jacket tighter. The seconds tick by in stereo, her own watch echoing the steady beat of the clock over her head. She fishes in her bag and pulls out a battered packet of cigarettes, freeing one to place between her carefully painted lips. A dishevelled stranger offers her a light and she leans into the flame, feeling its heat against her forehead. The stranger walks on.

She drags deeply on the cigarette and exhales, the smoke rising into the crisp night air, signalling her presence. Her legs are blocks of ice, exposed to the elements. She tugs at her skirt in a vain attempt to cover them, and in doing so breaks a nail. She curses, flicks the cigarette onto the cobbles and stubs it out with her heel.

Ten past twelve. The seed of doubt that has implanted itself in her mind begins to flourish and grow. She slides her makeup compact from her pocket, clicks it open and observes her face in what little street light is available. Her skin is sallow and lined, her eyes are sunken. No amount of makeup can disguise her age, especially not this gauche red lipstick. What had she been thinking?

Quarter past twelve. He is not coming. She should have known despite his fancy clothes and charming manner he’d be just like the rest. She should have known he’d never see anything in a washed up divorcee like her. Fairy tales only happen to the young. He was too good to be true. He is not coming.

She sighs and turns away from the clock. Each tick and tock drive daggers into her heart.

Something – a noise? She can’t be sure – makes her stop. Her heart rate quickens.

She turns.

He is there.

It begins to snow.

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I came across this beautiful old girl at Singapore Zoo towards the end of my travels last year, and she stopped me in my tracks. It makes me sad to think her kind will probably not exist a few years from now.