Tag Archives: creative writing

If you are Ginger

 

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Here in the UK, if you have ginger hair, you learn at an early age, to approach strangers gingerly.

Until they’re confronted with a head of glowing copper or titian locks, their faces don’t show whether they are gingerphiles, gingerthropes, or cringing gingerphobes.

Few folk are ginger-indifferent, so some try to knock the gingers down, deflate them, break their self esteem; and they often succeed.

Not many people know that I’m ginger, since the brightness faded away many years ago, leaving only hints of it between the blonde. So you could  accuse me of being a ginger in disguise — although that would be unfair, since I don’t deliberately hide my ginger status.

Do my blonde tresses make me acceptable to the gingerthropes of the world, or would they consider me subversive for hiding my true colours? Should I dye my hair to reveal the truth about myself, even though by doing so I would be lying about the current condition of my hair?

And why should anyone care, anyway?

Gingerphile – my word for someone who loves ginger hair.
Gingerthrope – my word for someone who hates ginger hair.
Gingerphobe – my word for someone who is afraid of ginger hair.

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©Jane Paterson Basil

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Healing. Part 2

 

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This is part two of my response to Reena’s Exploration Challenge Week 11. You can find part 1 HERE.

The first part of my post covers the first question – although it doesn’t do so until you reach almost to the end of the poem. 🙂 Now for my answer to the second question:

I described my daughter as an angry fox. I chose the metaphor to match her hair; some of you will know it has a lovely red glow to it. Also, owing to my surname and the colour of my own hair (which has since faded to a lighter colour) I used to go by the nickname of Basil Brush. Basil Brush was a fictional fox in the form of a puppet that starred in a popular children’s comedy TV show in the ’70s.

It wasn’t the best metaphor I could have chosen, but once I started, I decided to run with it. The most accurate thing about my story is its ending. The night my youngest daughter came to me, broken and bleeding after a violent attack, from a man who tried but failed to break her neck (the memory of which still makes me cry), I knew there had been a change in her perspective, and if she could hold onto it for long enough to make that change a reality, I knew it would change my life.

Has my perspective changed? Yes, it has. Laura has risen far above my highest expectations. She’s made me more proud than I ever thought possible, and more than that, she’s been instrumental in my son’s recovery from addiction. Paul’s journey has been hard; he’s undertaking his recovery in his home town, learning to avoid the triggers which must pop up daily. Even the staircase to my flat is a trigger. I don’t often speak  about Paul; his addiction stripped him of all compassion, leading him to  hurt me deeply throughout those torturous years. The wounds are slow to heal, but we’re making good progress. He switched to a vegan diet a while ago, so lot of his attention is concentrated on food. He and his girlfriend have offered to cook me a meal next week. I look forward to it with relish. He’s a good cook, but more than that, it will be another step towards healing.

Now it is time to turn my mind to the rest of my family. My two elder daughters have suffered too, but through their suffering, I have always known I can count on their support. My oldest grandson has been witness to things he should never have seen, but he’s come through like the champion he is. It’s been difficult to maintain close relationships with my four younger grandsons, so I have a lot of ground to make up.

(Life is not always easy for the siblings of prodigal children. I must tell them that my pride is not limited to those who have recently returned to the fold. I must let them know that they are magnificent.)

Looking back at my life, I can see how my strength has increased, along with the increasing difficulties I’ve faced. It’s a bit like weight lifting – as the weights get heavier, your muscles split and heal continuously.  My mental health has suffered, but I do my best to keep on top of it, constantly reviewing and learning.

I’m stronger than I ever thought I could be, and happier than I had come to expect.

Yes, yes, yes; my perspective has changed, but only for the better.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Without Prejudice. Finale

I throw out these scraps as if it’s all there is to tell, but these are mere highlights in my tale of our police. I could write a book, and on every page I’d describe some small or major kindness; the type of generosity of spirit that is too rarely commented upon; far too meanly treated, especially when meted out by the police. 

However, I expect this chapter to be the last, and it tells a story which ended on Thursda, with me weeping from gratitude, even though I had faith that it would happen. It concerns a WPS; S, who had a special interest in my daughter’s plight. She specialises in abuse cases, and she was involved with Laura for a while. During this time we met a few times, and had several phone conversations.. During this period, Laura was particularly unwell. She knew my deepest fear, and she shared it. Rather than pretending that she reckoned everything would be fine, she owned up to the truth; that my daughter was unlikely to survive much longer, and that no professional who was working with her, could understand how she’d stayed alive. She added that in the best case scenario, Laura would be involved in a serious accident which neither killed nor permanently maimed her, but took her off the streets for a few months, where her only choice would be drug recovery. Looking back, I expect she knew, as I did, that Laura had a reputation for running across and back in the path of moving cars. Even with this information and more, hard as they tried – along with the local drugs services, they couldn’t get her sectioned, as they have no authority over the NHS. Three doctors carry out an interview on the patient, and they have to agree that she is putting her life, or the life of someone else, at risk. People in psychosis are often remarkably sly, and more aware than you may expect. They frequently slip through the net. Sometimes they die as a result.  

Coming back to the subject at hand, S’s remarks may sound harsh, but she only told me what I knew to be true, and followed it up with my own secret wish. She was deeply intuitive; she knew that I had no desire to hide from the truth, and thanks to her being open, I felt less alone in the sustained terror of my daughter’s death. It’s true to say that the end of our talk I felt strangely relieved, to the extent that I began to hope that the grizzly miracle might happen, taking Laura’s recovery out of her hands and placing it firmly in the lap of the unwilling, underfunded, oversubscribed NHS., and giving her a chance of a future. If she ended up with a steel shaft in her leg, so be it. Better metal than graveyard mould. That’s how desperate I was to avoid what we all thought was a foregone conclusion until my WP friends gave me hope. 

Laura had not committed any crime; rather, she was chief witness (otherwise known as the victim) to a filthy batch of them. Perhaps due to limited court time (Rule Britannia, Britanna blah blah blah, Britain never, never, never shall be sane), only three were being brought against the abuser, but they were serious. Contact with S ceased to have any professional relevance when Laura proved herself to be too unwell to appear in court. The judge had no choice but to abort the trial in the interests of her mental health – not that it helped; at that point nothing helped. Laura continued to spin in a jerky trajectory that seemed to have only one possible destination. S continued to be privately concerned about Laura’s precarious lifestyle.

As many of you know, in Spring, Laura fulfilled my highest hopes by going into determined recovery, with the support of a kind friend of mine who has since become more to her, leaving all who truly know her dazed, while the addicts of this town continue to be cynical about the changes she’s made.

They haven’t seen her.

I got a thrill when I reflected upon how much better her life is now than mine has ever been – I still do – but one thing was bothering me. The police had not been told, and they deserved to know. On the day I called them to complain about the monstrous man who threatened me with death, the guy who took my call was so accommodating that I explained my quandary. Immediately – even eagerly – he asked me for a name that he could send a message to, pointing out that the police rarely hear the happy endings, no matter how they care and wish to know. I gave the name of my favourite WPS, and although he was in a call centre forty-eight miles from here, in a straight line, he was as good as his word.

On Thursday afternoon, as I worked in the back room of the Oxfam shop, I got a call from a private number, and before I touched the phone, I knew who the caller would be.

She sounded the same as always; warm and friendly. I gave her all the details of Laura’s current life – within reason; I didn’t mention her new clothes or finicky things like that, but she got my drift, and I heard the relief and pleasure in her tone. She told me how many times she had thought about Laura, and dreaded the expected final report on her desk, and it suddenly occurred to me that if the worst had happened, she would have been almost certain to have requested or chosen to be the one to visit me, if she’d been at work.

I could so easily have been soaking her clothes with my tears.

I held myself in check while she asked me to send Laura her warmest regards, and wish her the very best for her future. I kept it together while she said she hoped she would see my daughter in Barnstaple some day, and have the opportunity to speak to her now that her tragic mask of killing addiction has been flung onto the motorway that leads to her home in the city, and crushed by a million cars; now that he had finally silenced the wild cacophony inside her head, and returned to health – except that she didn’t word it quite so colourfully.

I said goodbye to S, who had once considered applying for a transfer to the City, where the would be more promise of promotion, but changed her mind when she realised that city police have less sense of community; she’d have less opportunity to apply the personal touch, and to work in a close-knit way with her colleagues who were less friendly than those in this country town. That’s why she stayed.

I put down the phone, and cried tears of joy. I knew how much her wishes would mean to Laura, and they meant a great deal to me.

The complex mix of emotions that rose as I was writing this post have exhausted me like no other I can remember.

I’m so tired that I can hardly stand. Maybe I’ll sleep on my sofa tonight.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Without Prejudice.

They were the ones who were licensed to carry guns, but I didn’t know that, the first time they rang my bell. I opened the door to a pair of bulky uniforms, sharp sharp fabric, fussy buttons, oppressive numbers that shone and those fluorescent waistcoats that go over the clothes, making policemen look twice their size.

In front of the two men, Laura jerked and sagged, jerked and sagged, her recently pristine  jeans reduced to rags as if she’d shredded them with a blunt knife. Vertically sliced ribbons of denim danced wildly in the keen wind, batting at a few fallen leaves that flew over our low wall. Even in the thin street light I could see her knees and thighs were mottled reddish blue. She should have been freezing, but the cold must have melted before it reached the heat of her seething mind.

At this hour of the night the street was empty, but had anybody seen my calm reaction to the presence of the police, they may have been surprised. While addiction is booming, yet few people’s lives are like mine. My children had unique ways to include me in the details of their strife, and, traumatic as these incidents were, I had learnt to maintain a calm facade. This wasn’t the fist time the police had brought her home in a dislocated state, but this time they asked to come in, and Laura falteringly led the way.

We sat at the kitchen table, while the policemen introduced themselves by name, and gently said my daughter was not in trouble, but if didn’t mind, they’d like to talk to her until she felt calm, and I didn’t need to stay, by which they meant they wanted privacy, so I went through to the sitting room.

I never discovered what had happened to her. She couldn’t remember – a familiar scenario.

I never asked what they discussed, although the police gave me a those details which they knew Laura would not mind them sharing.

After that, they brought her home on several occasions. I wasn’t informed of the details of her escapades, these two policemen were discreet and kind; it was enough for me to know they had both her best interests and mine, at the forefront of their minds.

The second time they came, they explained that they were the rapid response team, so they were constantly armed, but since guns are rarely required around these parts, they worked with the regular team. I admit I was surprised; I would never have expected that such compassionate men would choose to bear arms, but thinking about it afterwards it occurred to me that they were a sensible choice; they’d be unlikely to use their skills without due care.

Her psychosis was hard to deal with, and sometimes when they brought her home in a dishevelled and confused state one or the other of them would join me in the living room for a breather, before returning to the fray.

Often, after these events, she would return to a sensible frame for a while, but sometimes nothing could change her manic state, and she would run up and down the stairs all night, laughing, weeping, screaming, demanding that I urgently find whatever item sprang to mind; a half-remembered ornament or a different roll of tape to that which she was using to wrap around a dress or a dislocated rhyme about a false memory. At 4am, broken from trauma and exhaustion, tears may be streaming from my eyes, but still she would scream at me, until, suddenly laughing with glee, she’d run out of the door, and I’d be torn between hoping that the police would bring her home, and dreading it.

One time they concluded that she needed to speak to an addict in recovery. In order to facilitate a helpful chat, they phoned a few relevant organisations, but none of them could help, so in desperation, knowing it was against the rules, they called up a woman who had “helped them with their inquiries” a few days before, and she had a long talk with Laura, after which she was in a better frame of mind.

Sometimes she was in such a bad way that those two policemen would take her to A and E, to try and get her assessed for psychiatric care. They’d wait with her, and attempt to persuade the team to see her, but she’d be refused, since psychiatrists won’t see people who are under the influence of drugs.

The police have no official authority over hospital decisions, but just once, they succeeded in talking a doctor into admitting her into a ward, using a trumped-up diagnosis, in the hope that a psychiatrist would see her the nest day. They let me know she was safe, and showed up at her bedside the next morning with a pot of her favourite yogurt. She was still refused y the mental health team, so the police brought her home to me. She was thrilled by her adventure, and for a few days life became easier.

These policemen, and others in our town, went above and beyond the call of duty for my ill, addicted daughter, at the same time giving the impression that it was all in a day’s work. There are many stories I could tell; many examples I could give of their kindness, patience, and generosity to both my son and my youngest daughter. Despite the difficulties my children wrought, rather than treating them like criminals, they recognised what they were; victims of a disease – a disease which invades our culture, and eats our children from the inside. It’s a tragedy that the mental health practitioners don’t see it this way, or perhaps they can’t afford to, since mental health is a massive issue and too little is spent on it.

Whole we hear of the rare mistakes and acts of police corruption, caring acts like these are too rarely mentioned. The majority of individuals who join the police force do so to be of service to the oppressed, and many of them recognise the disguised colours of oppression – a job which is becoming increasingly difficult since their budget was cut by a government that doesn’t lift a finger to help the dispossessed.

Seen through eyes that hold no prejudice, our local police shine.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Secret

 

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Serenity stands in the corner of the room, staring across at my bookshelves. She is motionless, and I wish she’d go over and pick out whatever book she’s interested in. Following her line of sight, I try to figure out which book it is; I suspect it’s ‘PostSecret’, a brilliant idea conceived in Frank Warren’s inspired mind. For those who don’t know, Frank Warren invited members of the public to write a secret on a postcard and send it to him, anonymously. Some of these secrets are funny and some are shameful, while still more are frighteningly sinister. Many of those who submitted their secrets said that it helped them to heal their hidden wounds.

Maybe Serenity wants to send Frank Warren a postcard, or maybe she sent one, and is wondering if it is included in his book; if so, I can understand why she doesn’t take a look while I am in the room.

I stroll casually over to the bookshelves, and peruse the spines as if I’m just looking for something interesting while I pass a lazy half-hour. When I reach the book in question, I pick it up, with a practiced air of indifference. I don’t want to make her feel as if I’ve been reading her mind.

As for Serenity, her gaze doesn’t falter – she remains looking at the gap that I’ve left. She doesn’t even glance my way as I take my seat at the table. I’m impressed by her determination not to give the game away.

I turn the pages. The first secret is merely a claim of many secrets, but none are named. I doubt that is her secret.

One says “I know you don’t really like me. Please stop pretending.” It could be that one; she certainly lack confidence. I read on, assessing possibilities as I go, dismissing the majority for a variety of reasons.

He’s been in prison for to years for what I did. 9 more to go.” It shocks me, but I don’t think it’s anything to do with Serenity.

I used to fertilize a ring on my lawn, and every time I mowed it, IT GREW. My parents still think it was aliens.” Amusing, but no.

I ate all the blueberries, and they were delicious.” Unlikely; she’s not interested in food.

I’m terrified of not existing.” I think she’s more terrified of existing, but I could be wrong.

I turn the page, and there it is, on page 61 – but to make sure, I pass it by and read on.

When I was a teenager I used to babysit my next door neighbour’s son. When he was asleep I would go into their bedroom and go through their drawers. I found a packet of condoms. I put a pin through the middle of each of them, and thus ensured myself another 5 years of babysitting.” No. I don’t think she likes small children, and she’s not that enterprising.

I once wrote an X-rated letter to my boyfriend who broke up with me before I could give it to him. … I gave it to my next boyfriend.” Nope. Serenity is a life-long celibate.

Income from teaching creative writing:$32,654.00. Income from writing creatively: $0.00.” No.

When my friends go on diets, I discourage them. This is because I want them to be fatter than me.” No. I’m her only friend, and she’s thinner than I could ever be.

I love having my period. It gives me an excuse to be bitchy and irritable and to take naps.” That’s not Serenity. She’s never bitchy and irritable.

I still believe my childhood bear is real. I am in college. I still talk to her… when no-one else is in the room.” Serenity doesn’t have a bear, and she’s not very talkative anyway, but this postcard begs the question; why would people think this girl’s bear is not real?

I stole your duck and took it to San Francisco.” No chance.

I read to the end of the book, and after a furtive glance at Serenity – who still remains motionless – I go back to page 61, to the secret which jumped out at me, and I feel sure that if she is the author of any of the words in this book, it is these:

I feel blank inside.”

I’m posting this in the hope that someone out there can advise me. How can I help Serenity?

I asked her if she’d mind me taking a picture to add to this post. She didn’t reply, but I sensed that she liked the idea. She has a certain style, and a penchant for scarves, which, with my help, she ties in unusual ways and wears as dresses. I know she’s proud of these creations – they seem to be her one real interest in life, and she always seems pleased when I bring a new one home,  but she gets few opportunities to show them off, since she never leaves the flat. Her latest garment is a huge scarf which I found in our Oxfam shop. Although she prefers rare hand-embroidered vintage silk and wool, she was thrilled with this one. I’m sure you’ll agree she looks beautiful in it.

She stands in the corner of the room, barricaded behind the arm of the sofa because she doesn’t like being touched. There was an unfortunate incident a few years back, when I took a  job which required me to live in a tent for six months. She doesn’t like camping, so she moved into the window of Oxfam until I came home. The incident occurred while she was there. It was an accident, but it left her mentally scarred.

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It’s just occurred to me – maybe she wasn’t staring at the book. Perhaps she has difficulty with her sight. That may explain several of her problems.

I think I’ll take her to Specsavers.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Building Narnia

I don’t often post quotes, but today I found one which appealed to me. Many people have lost all hope of a better future. Some doubt that the human race has any  future at all.

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In his book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S, Lewis says:

Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.

I hadn’t intended to write a poem – I’m in a rush to go out – but here’s a quick one which came to me when I took a look at today’s word prompt from The Daily Post. The word is Disobey

Building Narnia

Let’s all believe in Narnia;
disobey the naysayers who speak of hierarchy, saying
that greed is a human need,
that hate is an incurable trait,
that hungry nations cannot be freed of starvation —
let Narnia eradicate those negative beliefs.
Let’s believe in Narnia,
In Narnia we will live in peace.

©Jane Paterson Basil

That Shrinking Feeling

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“Mum!”

She told me it would be dangerous to use my power lightly, but when I saw the insect just standing there in the park, I couldn’t resist shrinking so I could take a ride on the back of the fly. It was exciting, like the best fairground ride, but without the predictability. It was fun watching mum wondering where I was, and getting scared.

“Mum!”

She can’t hear me. My vocal chords are too small, and although she’s frantically looking for me, I’m too tiny to see.

I wish I’d listened when she said I was not experienced enough to reverse the effect without her help.

“Mum! MUM!”

Mum, please come and set me free, before the spider reaches me.

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Written for Michelle’s Photo Challenge #101. Click the link to join in.

©Jane Paterson Basil