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Recipe for the perfect man

Ingredients

2 eyes, twinkly

1 nose, Greek

1 smile, liberally applied

1 body, slightly aged but mostly in working order

1 large cup humour, self-effacing

Generous dash of intelligence

Handful of opinions, strong

Equal parts introversion and extraversion

12oz patience, crumbled

Endless kindness

 

Method

Combine physical ingredients into a pleasing shape and bake for 40-45 years. Sprinkle occasionally with salt and a pinch of hard-won wisdom.

Fold in the remaining ingredients until the mix is neither too sweet nor too sour. Taste frequently and with relish.

Prod regularly, testing stability of the patience and kindness.

Remove from heat, decorate and serve.

Consume immediately and repeatedly, until quite full.

 

 

 

 

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Before You

Before you the house was tidier

Before you I had time to fill

Before you I looked at kissing couples with rolling eyes

And wore my cynic’s coat with pride.

Before you I was OK and not quite myself.

Before you I got enough sleep

Except on nights I thrashed under sheets with strangers

And woke up sore and unlovable.

 

Now your shoes are in my hall

Now your head sleeps on my pillow

Now there’s more washing up

And not enough time to do All The Things.

Now I smile at love songs

And look at myself differently.

Now my eyes wear stars,

And sleep, and housework, can wait.

 

In time, best case scenario,

I’ll trip over the shoes

Sulk over the dishes

Tut at snores and stains and the unmade bed,

And try to remember when

The shoes the plates the songs the head

Were new and endearing, in the time

Just after the time before you.

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Rorschach

‘It looks like two bears dancing,’ I say eventually.

The shrink, who doesn’t like to be called that, has held up a whole series of these things before I decide to speak. Image after image, smudged across two pages, black symmetrical formless blots – or are they?

Wait, there’s a bat, a beating heart, my mother’s vagina, I don’t know what the hell it is he wants me to see and say. I decide the bears are safe and he strokes his chin, I swear he does, and says, ‘Interesting.’

The pages continue to turn and I don’t tell him that all I can think of is a piece of paper from another life, splodged with primary colour paint on one side, folded over and SPLAT – a butterfly appeared to a squeal of delight. A butterfly with two long antennae, red wings, two green eyes. A shimmer of yellow at its edges. I don’t tell him I think of chubby fingers dipped in blue, pads pressed onto the page to make dots on the wing, drops of sky.

He keeps asking for my answers but all I can see is a lump of coal, a black hole, an endless well, an abyss.

All I want to do is ask him: where has the colour gone?

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Splinters

We remember who we met

who was born

who died.

This is how we mark the years.

In the calendar are empty pages when

it seems nothing happened.

A year without a summer, no

menthol cigarettes and rose in pub gardens,

cardis wrapped round when the sun went down.

No picnics in meadows or bobbing with a buoy

in a green-blue lake. No flowers. No,

this was a year of broken glass.

Of splintered feet and hands, of

drinking alone. It was autumn all the time,

crisp and brittle. The bottle a friend in the storm.

We remember who we met

who was born

who died.

 

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A Brief History of Us

 

When he was asked what existed before the big bang, Stephen Hawking explained that as space and time are curved, somewhat like the earth, you might just as well go to the South Pole and look for a point further south. At the end of the earth, there is no more south. South is meaningless, there. In the same way, it is meaningless to ask what was there before time began.

Some of us struggle to wrap our heads around this just as we can’t conceive of a world without us in it. Before you existed, you simply were not.

My son asks me was he always in my tummy. I start to say no, then hesitate, and tell him yes, in a way, you were. I was born with my thousands of eggs and one of them, one day, would become you. (It will be a much later conversation when he asks ‘How?’ and ‘What did Daddy have to do with it?’)

The answer pleases him – you were always in me – and it pleases me, too. I imagine my ovaries crammed with constellations from which magic would one day explode, in the shape of a boy with worlds in his eyes and so many questions on his tongue.

I also read somewhere recently that when you have a baby, part of their DNA stays in you.

So in a way, I tell my son, you were always in me, and you always will be. Before your time began, and after mine ends, when I will send our sparks into the sky.

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No sign can foretell

There was no warning. You expected one, didn’t you – the solemn chat in the doctor’s office, the fruitless rounds of treatment, the medicines jangling on the counter. Hair falling, body swelling, or shrinking, depending.

Or maybe a different run-up – the sudden grasping pain; the stumble, gazing at lights from a gurney, hearing hushed voices, waking to find you can no longer hold a spoon and fork.

But none of these tried and tested paths were laid out for you. In death, as in life, you had to be different. You went to bed, and positioned your slippers as you always did, in the exact perfect spot so that when you swung your legs out in the morning your feet would find their warm cover.

But the alarm came and went, beeping into empty air.

The slippers grew cold, unworn.

The end.

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Why running a half marathon is a bit like writing a novel

When running (or in my case, shuffling) longer distances, your mind goes to funny places. I recently completed a half marathon and I found myself reflecting, not for the first time, on the similarities between running and writing.

(You could probably argue that writing a novel is more like a marathon than a half, but since I’m never likely to attempt 26.2 miles, bear with me.)

 

There are loads of obvious similarities. It’s exciting at the beginning and at the end, but in the middle there’s just a long, grueling, slog. Sometimes you feel like stopping but you keep going because you’re afraid if you don’t you’ll seize up. There is ALWAYS someone better and faster than you.

 

In case you’re wondering where you are in your own metaphorical race, I’ve created the following handy checklist of symptoms:

 

Mile 1 (page 1)

 

Woo-hoo! We’re off! How exciting! With the challenge of the blank page, the open road, ahead of me, I feel strong, I feel talented, the world is my…oh hang on –

 

Miles 2-3 (first 10,000 words)

 

Wait, this is hard. It isn’t supposed to get this hard this early. Oh shit. I can’t do this. There’s ages to go. Everything hurts. I am useless.

 

Halfway through (30-40,000 words)

 

Oh, the crowds are thinning. I suppose it’s getting a bit boring cheerleading, or asking me how the book is going. My response to both at this point is little more than a wave and a weak smile.

 

Mile 8 (50,000 words or so)

 

I need jelly babies, and I need them now.

 

Mile 10 (60,000 words)

 

Surely this is far enough. I could just stop here, couldn’t I? I mean it wouldn’t technically be a half marathon, or a novel, but it’s a bloody long way towards it and I really ought to get some credit. I have literally no idea how I am going to get to the finish line.

 

Mile 13.1 (The. End.)

 

Thank God that’s over / I’m a hero / I am NEVER doing that again / that was amazing, and so much easier than I thought. Really, what was all the fuss about?

 

Good luck everyone – keep running / writing!

PS Next for me: the Great South Run. I’ve decided 10 miles is my favourite distance. It’s still a challenge but 13 miles is the wrong side of crazy. I always knew I was a novella writer deep down.

 

 

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