Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The Night Before Christmas: Greece 2014

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the land
Not a civil servant was stirring, no offices manned;
The melomakarona* were laid on the table with care,
In hopes that Kostakis soon would be there;

Little Alexi was nestled all snug in his bed,
Visions of election and power in his head;
Bills to be paid by New Year on the floor,
Light, heat, phone and taxes galore;
The children left their trigona** untouched,
Knowing their jingling won’t gather much;
The days of profit from their song are no more,
“Na ta poume?”*** most likely to meet a closed door.

Piles of rags in shop doorways shuddered,
No home, no Christmas, they no longer mattered;
Shave-headed trolls were sleeping til Dawn,
With dreams of “Ellas über alles” and burning crosses on lawns;

When out in the street there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon shone weakly through the wood-smoky air,
Giving a hazy view of what I saw there,
And what to my eyes appeared at the gates?
A bullet-proof Mercedes with ministerial plates.

The driver had glasses and he frowned as he muttered,
I thought for a moment it was Harry Potter.
But no, no magic, it was just Samaras,
Waving promises like a priest performing at Mass.

Beside him appeared a fat red-robed elf
Who started to take all our gifts from the shelf;
He had a broad face and a big round belly
That shook when he laughed – yes, it was Vangeli.

I watched as our visitors took gifts from the tree,
To hand over to Troika and cover their fee.
Yiayia and Pappou**** slept on, I should mention,
Worn out from hours in queues for their pension.

With a wave of his hand and a wink of his eye,
Our guest took the coin from our New Year’s Pie.
Yet I knew in the morn he’d be pious in church,
Not giving a jot that we’re left in the lurch.

As I gathered my thoughts and prepared for the morrow,
I decided for one day to put aside sorrow.
So as we head towards Yuletide, I say with good cheer,
“Happy Christmas” to all,
....but to politicians “Ai sihtir!”*****

[Explanatory notes for non-Greek residents and others not in the know:

*Melomakarana are Greek honey traditionally served at Christmas

**Trigona – the musical triangles Greek kids use as a clattering accompaniment to the traditional Christmas carol they sing from door-to-door on Christmas and New Year’s Eves to collect for money (usually for their own pockets, not charity).

***”Na ta poume?” Literally “Shall we sing it?” as a prelude to the Christmas carol once the door has been opened.

****Yiagia and Pappou – Grandma and Grandad

****“Ai sihtir!” is a curse used is Greek (though stolen from Turkish) which roughly translates as “Sod off!”]

Friday, 19 December 2014

The Gift

It sat there, calling to her to unwrap it, then rewrap and feign delight on Christmas morning. 

She’d sworn she wouldn’t. 

She’d also sworn she’d cook the family meal - but that was before Mum took pity on her office party hangover.

The gift beckoned: ‘Just a little peek.’

She sipped her wine as she flipped through the channels, smiling as she pictured her parents’ Christmas Eve frenzy of activity.

The TV couldn’t distract her from the perfectly wrapped present. She picked at the cellotape to reveal a box. Inside - nothing. What?

Oh, a letter.

This year, we're giving you a special gift - your independence.
(Lily checked the envelope for a cheque.)

We know you’ll open it before you should. So, you’ll know you have to feed yourself on Christmas Day (there’s a turkey dinner in your freezer).

Lots of love – from Bali!

Mummy and Daddy.


This story was written for the 6th SSFFS (Short Story & Flash Fiction Society) Project contest.
For more about the SSFFS Project go to or follow Facebook or Twitter @SSFFS_project]

Friday, 12 December 2014

Athens rains – and we all get wet

Rain doesn’t suit Athens.
It’s all the concrete that’s the problem, I think.

At least when it rains in London, the green gets even greener (and there’s probably more square metres of green space per capita in London than any other city in Europe), and there’s nothing to beat the smell of Regent’s Park after a shower. The thing is, London was built on the premise of its dampness. Just like Stockholm, which is built on a collection of islands in the Baltic Sea, it’s at peace with the liquid element, its natural habitat.

Athens’ natural habitat, however, is not damp. Its element comes from the Attica Sky all right, but not in the form of raindrops, rather in the form of heat from Apollo, the sun god.

So, when it rains in Athens, it is just not right. Everything looks soggy and grey and uninspired. It's almost as if the city is sulking.

This week has been an especially damp one, starting with some spectacular rainfall on Monday as I was making my way across the city to the office after a couple of weeks off. In the hour it took me to make my way by public transport from Holargos to Piraeus, I reckon it dumped the equivalent of the Aegean Sea on the city - the Attica Sky has been heavy with brooding, dark grey rain clouds. It didn’t take long for new rivers to form in the roads, raging torrents that seeped through the seams of your boots and soaked you from the ground-up, in spite of the brolly you’re gamely carrying.

Athens doesn't handle wet weather well – and nor do its residents. Just one good drenching and the number of cars on the road quadruples, dusty pavements become as slick as skating rinks, traffic grinds to a halt, public services change pace from slow to stop and debris-filled drains explode with gay abandon like geysers. 

Athenians feel cheated when it rains.

Unlike northern Europe, things are not designed for the rain here. Many homes have tile or mosaic flooring – great in the hot summers, but chilly in the wet autumn and winter months. Tumble driers are a rarity, and with more and more people avoiding turning on their radiators due to the past few years of crisis and enforced penny-pinching, there are times you think your washing will rot on the line long before it has the chance to dry.

It was against that sad, grey background that I was making my way to the office, when I suddenly spotted something that changed everything in an instant. Standing in the Metro station was a middle-aged man chatting on his phone – like thousands of other commuters that pass through every day. But in his hand he held a simple bunch of bright yellow roses.

It was the kind of sight that makes you wish your eyelid was a camera shutter, that you could capture that single fleeting image for all eternity.

That simple splash of yellow amid the rain-washed grey of Athens was the kind of image that reminds you that even the most overcast of days holds the potential for colour. It was a sight that… ...on the other hand, somebody better stop me before I start to sound like a bad greetings card.

Meanwhile, the rain goes on, and on, and on...

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Glögg! Mandi lets her Swedish Chef out to play

Well, the nights have well and truly drawn in, the Christmas tree is up (and so far has not been attacked by Joker Da Kaat) and the festive season is well and truly upon us.

I've been a little lax of late on the blogging front, due to giving myself some time out to celebrate my birthday (one of the biggies) in style back in Blighty, so I thought now might the time to revisit an old post about a rather delicious (hic!) Scandinavian treat that's sure to warm your cockles, and more, in the run-up to Santa's big night.

Meet Lars.
You may not know his name, but I'm sure you all know him.

He's the Swedish Chef, usually seen burbling incomprehensively (but enthusiastically) around The Muppet Show kitchen, often with a chicken looking on in horror. 

I don't really know his name, but after more than two decades years of working for a company with Swedish management, he is definitely a Lars to me.
And he has a very special specality: Glögg.

I first came across it as an innocent 28-year-old, as I approached my first Christmas in my new job. Though based in Greece, many of the managers were Swedes - and they were keen as mustard to bring a little taste of the Baltic to the Eastern Mediterranean. I had already reluctantly sampled reindeer (I know, I know - but actually Rudolph and his ilk are surprisingly tasty) and had managed to avoid Rotten Herring (don't ask - it IS what it sounds like), but the smells coming from the lunchroom that December morning were infinitely more enticing. 

Curiosity got the better of me and I was soon to found hanging my head over a gently seething cauldron of ruby red liquor bubbling with almonds, orange peel and sultanas, with my boss stirring away merrily. It smelt orgasmic. (The booze, not my boss!).

Before I knew it, I had a little glass of the stuff in my hand and was taking my first tentative sip. Then a bolder slurp. Then another glass or two - or four.

I don't remember much after that... except a mental note that this Yuletide concoction was lethal enough to fell a whole longship of Vikings. And that I got the bus home that evening. I think.

So, if you're feeling bold, here is a recipe, including the extras my boss liked to throw into the mix. It will certainly keep the cold at bay - but you may not feel your nose after a glass or two.

You will need:
3 sticks cinnamon
2-3 pieces dried Seville orange peel (use fresh if dried not available
2-3 pieces dried or fresh ginger (not ground)
some 10 cardamom seeds (whole)
some 10 cloves (whole)
1 cup (2.5dl) water

1 bottle of red wine 

(added extras: a few good slugs of vodka or brandy, or both!)
Blanched almonds and sultanas for serving

What to do:
- Put the spices and water in a small pan and bring to the boil. Then turn off heat and let it stand overnight
- Pass the mixture through a sieve to filter out the 'bits' from the spices 

- Pour in the wine and gently heat (don't boil!)
- Add sugar to taste (about half a cup) and stir til it dissolves
- Heat but do not bring it to the boil. Alcohol evaporates when boiled and that sort of defeats the object!

- If you're feeling naughty, spike the whole thing with a splash or three of vodka or brandy
- Serve hot with raisins and blanched almonds (dropped into the cups after serving).


Friday, 14 November 2014

The Night Shift

A fox barks, and a distant owl hoots somewhere across the playing fields. I peek out from my shelter among the roots and watch as darkness rapidly covers what’s left of the dull, damp day like a shroud spread over a dearly departed. The glare of a street light pokes jagged fingers through the branches above me as I wait for dusk to give way to night.

Out there, humans are returning to their homes. Closing heavy curtains against the unknown night. Enfolding them in the comfort of their own homes, where they’ll grab a few hours with their loved ones – and maybe a take-away as they watch a TV movie – before seeking solace in the safety of their beds. At least, that’s where they think they’re safe.

There’s no home our kind hasn’t visited. No sleep we haven’t shattered with a spasm of fear and panic. No locked doors or barred windows that can keep us away.

Ironic really that they’ve started hanging up ineffective spiders’ webs of wool and trinkets bearing our own name to keep us away. 

Little do they know that we’re not the ones who conceive and give birth to the night terrors that haunt them – they manage that just fine all on their own in the depths of their buried hopes and fears.

We just gather them, take sustenance from them, and use them to build our dark subterranean kingdoms.

We are the Dreamcatchers.  

This story was written for the 5th SSFFS (Short Story & Flash Fiction Society) Project contest - and it won!

For more about the SSFFS Project go to or follow Facebook or Twitter @SSFFS_project]

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Coming ashore

Jacob heaved his sailor’s sack onto his shoulder as the ‘Wind Rider’ bumped into her berth. He sniffed, unused to the singed caramel tinge to the smoggy air from the nearby Tate & Lyle sugar works at Silvertown. 

Stevedores’ shouts cut through the damp evening and light drizzle shimmered the cobbles. Ahead, the refinery’s twin chimneys rose up behind the dockface of warehouses, cranes and bustle – a dark terrestial reminder that he was leaving his old life behind.

A small black paw gently batted his sea-roughened cheek. It came from a cat perched parrot-like on the old salt’s other shoulder, nestling in the bush of hair that hadn’t seen a barber for nigh on forty years.

“Don’t fret, Shaitan,” rasped the sailor. “Tis land, nothing more. You’ll come to know it soon enough.”

Nodding farewells to the deckhands, he walked down the gangplank and left a lifetime afloat behind him. It was time to reacquaint himself with the London land he had left as a boy.

The tavern had no draw on him, buoyed as he was against the cold by the tot of rum in his last mug of ship’s tea. A faded beauty threw a weary “Fancy a good time, darlin’?” in his direction, but he just trudged on. He’d had every kind of portside whore the world could offer, and had probably fathered more street urchins that he’d had hot dinners.

He stopped at a fishmonger’s stall. Shaitan purred into the sailor’s beard at the smell of poor man’s fish. Jacob pulled out a few coins for a pint of winkles and couple of pieces of the jellied eel.

Two streets down, he reached a door unopened for many a year and pulled a key on a grimy string from around his neck. It slotted into the lock, and turned rustily to open to a small room, piled high with the cluttered order of poverty. An embroidered tablecloth beneath the dust of neglect revealed the woman’s touch that had once held sway. But no more. Sarah was gone. Taken away by the diphtheria whilst her brother was sailing the world.

Shaitan leapt to the ground, sniffing at her new surroundings. Jacob dropped his sack, took a saucer from the shelf above the sink in the corner and placed on it a piece of gelatinous fish. He put in on the floor and settled into a tired red armchair, taking a long pin from his pocket to ease the winkles out of their shells.

Empty shells rustled as he fell into a deep sleep, dreaming of the sea. The mistress – sometimes harsh – that he had served, man and boy, and who he had now left behind.

A sudden weight on his chest jolted him awake. Luminous eyes stared into his watery blue ones. Claws, ever-so slightly extended, experimentally dabbed his lips, and a pink tongue voiced a demand for more food.

Jacob had a new mistress now.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Half century mumblings

As I hurtle through the past few weeks of my 40s, it occurs to me that I’m supposed to have grown up and found myself by now.

In some ways, I have – I’m in a settled, long-term relationship, I’ve raised my contribution to the next generation, I’ve achieved a few things in my career, I’ve made some fabulous friends, and I’m probably more comfortable in my own skin than I ever was.

In other ways… not at all!
As I've got older, I've become more of a rebel now than I ever was growing up in provincial middle class England (at this rate, I’ll have a half-shaved head and green eyebrows by the time I hit 70).

Anyway, just for the sheer hell of it, I decided to draw up some lists to remind myself of 50 of the things that have got me this far (and a few of those that I still want to tick off before surrendering to  middle age, the menopause, or whatever else is lurking around the corner).

Things I’m glad I’ve become before I slamming into my 50s:
1)      A redhead
2)      Bilingual
3)      A Humanist
4)      More open-minded
5)      Fit(ter than I was)
6)      Owl-obsessive
7)      An unapologetic man-loving feminist

Things I reckon I’ve always been:
8)      Loud
9)      Clumsy
10)   Passionate
11)   Opinionated
12)   Unexpectedly introvert
13)   In a hurry
14)   An unashamed idealist
15)   The butt of people’s jokes
16)   Slightly nerdy

Things that make my life better:
17)   Tea
18)   Friends
19)   Loud music
20)   Laughter
21)   Books
22)   The Internet
23)   Cheese
24)   Eyeliner
25)   The Mr
26)   The ManChild
27)   Red lipstick
28)   Red wine
29)   A mother who’s also a great friend and inspiration

Things I’ve never regretted:
30)   Speaking my mind
31)   Believing most people are fundamentally good, kind and decent.
32)   Falling in love, head first.
33)   Every book I’ve ever read - even the bad ones, the ones that make me say "If this crap can get published, why the hell can't I?".
34)   Marrying my best friend.
35)   Moving to Greece and making my life here.
36)   Becoming a mother….   once.

37)   “Say what you mean, and mean what you say.” – me.
38)   “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” – Dorothy Parker.
39)   “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly past.” – Douglas Adams.
40)   “I can resist anything but temptation.” – Oscar Wilde.
41)   “Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi
42)   “Laughter is an enema for the soul.” – Robin Williams

Things I promise to keep doing:
43)   Being me
44)   Loving life
45)   Exercising regularly
46)   Seeking out interesting people – even if I have little or nothing in common with them

Things still left to do:
47)   Swim with dolphins
48)   Watch the Aurora Borealis
49)   Hug a koala
50)   Write that damn book I know is inside me

Have I missed anything out?

Friday, 31 October 2014

Around The Cauldron: Evil Eye

She breathed a sigh of exhausted relief as she laid her baby girl gently in the cot. Big blue eyes blinked sleepily up at her, then closed as the child finally surrendered to the deep rhythms of sleep. Georgia fingered the gaudy blue bead at her throat and said a prayer to the god she didn’t believe it that her daughter would never know humiliation she had growing up.

The necklace had been a gift from her superstitious Greek grandmother, Yiayia Gogo, on her 12th birthday. It was, she had said, to protect her from the evil eye but also carried a special charm that would protect others too.

“I know you think is all Greek stupidity, my darling,” she had said. “But I KNOW. You have your aunt Voula’s eyes – powerful eyes – and there lies the danger.”

Georgia had laughed as she thought of her sweet great aunt in the Gogo’s home village halfway up a Greek mountain. Her benevolent gaze through watery, saucer-like blue eyes looked anything but powerful or dangerous to her.

“Go on, you laugh,” her grandmother had said. “But even if you don’t believe, wear it always – please – as a favour to your Yiayia.”
So she had promised.

Every day, she wore the pea-sized stone the colour of a blue Lego brick, with a creepy eyeball crudely painted on it. Even when the mean girls at school who never missed the chance to mock her for her weight, her lack of grace, her love of books and lack of boyfriends spotted the bauble. Then one day, in a fit of teen rebellion, she slipped it off and hid it at the bottom of her pencil case.

Lucy and her gang of long limbed, expensively groomed thugs were waiting for her at the school gates that afternoon. Faster and stronger than her, it was nothing for them to take her bag and empty the contents onto the muddy verge in a fit of cackling glee, trampling her drawings underfoot. They found the necklace, drawing it out of the pencil case like it was a piece of snot on a string and screeching with laughter at its primitive gaze. Hot shame and anger flushed Georgia’s cheeks and she felt a shock, like a bolt of unseen lightning, as she glared at Lucy strutting along the side of the road pretending to model the eye pendant like it was the crown jewels.

Something shifted and cracked inside Georgia. A faint smell of singed hair tinged the air. Lucy tripped and fell back – right into the path of a speeding lorry. A scream, the screech of brakes, a sickening thud and a faint tinkle on the pavement as Georgia’s necklace landed next to her. A slick stream of red trickled into the gutter.

It was the last time that Georgia had ever taken her necklace off.

She shook herself away from her childhood memory, again burying the horror of what she knew she had done – though everyone else insisted it was an awful freak accident. It had been years since she’s allowed herself to think of that day. The exhaustion that came with being a new mother must have let her defences down.

Tonight had been particularly tough. Sam was working a double shift, and her mum refused to come anywhere near the baby until she had shaken her latest bout of flu. So, of course, the baby had screamed the house down for five solid hours. Nothing Georgia did calmed her. Not hugs, not milk, not bouncing up and down or singing every lullaby in the bilingual book. She felt like an utter failure as a mother until suddenly, without warning, the scarlet-faced infant stopped her senseless, wordless bawling and flopped like a rag doll against her mother’s shoulder.

Finally, a chance to breathe, and to wipe the baby sick off her blouse. She stripped to her bra in front of the bathroom mirror and wet a flannel to wipe herself clean. A blob of semi-congealed milk was caught on her pendant, clogging up the link connecting the bead to the chain. Carefully, she pulled it over her matted hair and held it below the tap to rinse it clean. 

A piercing squeal rang out from the baby’s room. Despair gripped Georgia. She dropped everything, curling in a ball, banging her head repeatedly against the wall behind her and slapping her hands over her ears. The ear-shattering cries continued.

“WHAT? What now?” screamed the young woman. “What the hell is wrong now? Can’t you PLEASE – for the love of God – please just stop?”

A shock of static snapped the air as she spied the blue bead dangling over the edge of the bathroom sink. She scrambled to her feet, reaching for the talisman, like a drowning woman clutching at a buoyancy aid. But too late.

The baby’s crying stopped abruptly. Horror ran through Georgia’s veins like ice.

She knew, with absolute certainty, that her prayer had been answered. Her daughter never would suffer the humiliation she had known as a teenager.

She would never do anything at all.    

Around The Cauldron – Dark little tales for Hallowe’en

Today is All Hallows’ Eve, a day when (according to Christian tradition which usurped the older Pagan festival of Salmain) ghoulies and ghosties and all manners of evil supernatural beings come out for a night of revelry before the holy All Saints’ Day. 

All I know is that it's a great excuse for me to put my dark narrative hat on to tell you a story or two that might send a small shiver down your spine.
Here's one to get us started...

Guilt trip

“Don’t encourage them,” he snapped at his teenage son who was rummaged in his pocket for some change for the beggar outside the Underground station. “You’re not helping, just feeding his habit. Probably catch something just handing over my hard-earned cash too.”

He eyed the stinking bundle of rags with suspicion as he meticulously tapped a cigarette out its packet, then looked away and lit it, forming a tent with his hands to shelter the lighter’s flame from the guttering gusts of autumn wind. He closed one eye against the sting of the smoke as the red glow caught and nibbled at the filter paper.

Behind him, rheumy eyes bore into him from behind the cardboard sign “HOMELESS AND HUNGRY. PLEASE HELP”.

Phil grabbed his boy’s elbow and propelled him away, intent on putting as much distance as possible between his only child and the street scum littering the pavement. He changed the subject, driving home the importance of making a good impression, making sure his son understood that he was expected to make a good impression and not let the side down.

The fly that settled on the back of his neck warranted no more of his attention that the filthy beggar they left behind. It was just slapped away and forgotten, but not before biting the tender, open-pored flesh just above his collar.


Later that afternoon, father and son made their way across the Square. The boy’s head hung low, despondent, as Phil jabbed at him with angry words berating him for failing to win a place at the prestigious school he had set his sights on. John bit back his words, knowing they would find no welcome, and stared at the ground before him.

They never saw the beggar, slumped like a deflated sentry at the station entrance, watching the subterranean slowly swallow them as they rolled down the escalator to the platforms. They never saw his minute nod across the concourse to a grossly fat, red-cheeked woman in too-big carpet slippers secured with string, pushing a trolley filled with plastic supermarket bags. Nor did they notice when she whistled down the steps to a young, wasted man lolling against a column.

A low rumble and a gust of stale air heralded the arrival of the train. Phil pushed his way into the carriage, sneering in disgust as he brushed against the dead-eyed, unwashed youth that stepped aboard with his boy. His hand shot out and grabbed John’s wrist as he saw him reaching for his pocket to hand over a few coins for a sandwich or hot coffee. “I told you before. Isn’t it about time you started to listening to me?” he barked. John shrugged an apology to the parchment-skinned junkie and glared at his father’s angry back, wondering where that black mark on the nape of his neck had come from.    


Three in morning. Phil’s eyes snapped open in panic, frantically looking into the black before him, trying to make sense of the nightmare images of endless brick-lined tunnels that had shattered his sleep. He waited for his vision to adjust to the darkness, but it remained impenetrable, oppressive. A solid weight sat on his chest and he reached out to dislodge Jet, his wife’s black cat (or witch’s familiar as he liked to call it). His hand met no warm dark fur with a beating heart beneath – just a pool of icy cold darkness.


As he stretched his jowls to shave the next morning, Phil’s eyes were drawn to a mark on his neck, reaching dark fingers around from the back. After a momentary flash of dread, he put all thoughts of malignant melanoma out of his mind, splashed on some aftershave and fastened his collar and tie just a little bit tighter than normal before heading out the door for his morning commute.

On the train, he enjoyed more breathing space than usual, his fellow passengers giving him a wide berth. Not that it bothered him – better not be rammed up against the scroungers, losers and filthy foreigners scattered through the wagon heaving with commuters. It didn’t occur to him that the black mark reaching around to his larynx or his waxy ochre-tinged skin might have something to do with it.

The train lurched to a halt between stations. Suppressed groans of annoyance floated above the passengers as they waited for it to start moving again. It didn’t. Instead the lights blinked out plunging the carriage into darkness. The faint glow of a dozen mobile phone screens bounced off the windows and penetrated the gloom beyond. Grimyy bricks walls looked back at the commuters. Phil shuddered, shrugging off vague memories of his nightmare and trying to harness his racing pulse. His hand strayed to the back of his neck, nervously playing with the place from where the stain was slowly but surely spreading. Unknown to him, a new spot was rapidly forming on his left cheekbone.

The lights flickered back on and the train creaked back into motion. Passengers exchanged looks of annoyance and tutted at the ceiling. Phil drew a juddering breathe and exhaled with a shaky wheeze, clutching at the upright pole for support. At the next stop, the train spilled out its load of city wage-slaves, Phil among them. He shifted his briefcase to his other hand and held tight onto the handrail of the escalator heading upwards to ground level, emerging in the morning light with a gasp to be greeted by a wide toothless grin from the beggar in his usual spot at the entrance. He looked Phil in the eye, winked theatrically and raised his dirt-engrained fingers to his temple in a mocking salute.

The working day passed like any other. Sat in his cubicle, Phil worked methodically through the pile of outgoing cases, correcting the mistakes of the inept and ingrates he had to work with, never leaving his desk to make small-talk at the water cooler or coo over some idiot’s latest batch of sickening baby photos. His coat felt unusually heavy as he shrugged it on after dropping the last file into his Out box and turning off the lights. His eyes burned and a cold sweat played on his brow. Probably coming down with a fever from one of those low-lifes on the train, he thought. 

Stepping out into the evening drizzle, he took care not to slip on the slick pavement, and made his way gingerly to the station. The rain plastered his hair to his head, sending rivulets down his temples. He felt oh, so tired. His vision swam and he grabbed the banister on the steps down the station.

Gasping for breath, he would have cheered if he had the strength. Coming his way, looking the very picture of wholesome youth, was John, arm in arm with some copy/paste girl from his crowd. He reached out a hand to appeal to his son for help, but the boy looked straight through him, not recognising his own father beneath the rapid decay his day had wrought. “Don’t feel sorry for them,” he told the girl on his arm. “My dad’s right. It’s all a scam – he probably would have picked my pocket if I’d let him get close enough.”

Defeated, Phil made his painful way down the steps to the platform. It was packed full of damp, steaming commuters. Seeking somewhere to rest, he inched to the end of the platform and leant against the cracked tiles, waiting for the train. It wasn’t due for another another 12 minutes. He let out a ragged sigh and closed his weary eyes.

A wave of unwashed body odour flowed past and a soft shushing noise roused him. He opened his eyes to see the obese bag lady standing next to him in her ill-fitting carpet slippers looking straight at him, smiling, and beckoning for him to follow her. Once she was sure she had his attention, she turned and manoeuvred her bulk past the little gate separating the platform from the tunnel beyond. Phil watched in bemusement as she was swallowed by the darkness, then followed.

It was like stepping into his dream. Brick walls, slimy with something unmentionable, and an undefinable stench of something damp, cold, rancid but very much alive washed over him. But he felt no dread.  He let the soft, sweet darkness engulf him as he realised that this was where his life had been leading him all along.

Years of blaming others, condemning outsiders, laying the faults of the world at the feet of outcasts had paved his way in life. 
Now, at last, he had changed lanes. This was his journey’s end.


If you’re still in the mood for some Hallowe’en reading, maybe you’d like to check out ‘Incubus’ at or ‘Rapture’

I’m hoping to add more little dark tales before midnight – both from my own pen and from anyone who wants to add their voice around the cauldron. If you want to join in the 'Around The Cauldron' fun, add a link to your story in the comments, or send me a message with your tale and a couple of lines describing yourself, and I’ll add it as a guest post.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Slattern’s Guide to… housework

This is where we really get down and dirty to the nitty gritty.

Housework. One of life’s great necessary evils, and one which – despite the fact that we think we’re now enlightened and advanced – is still mostly laid firmly at the feet of a person of the female persuasion.

That is not good news for us slatterns.

No-one likes housework. Some claim to, but they really mean is that they like the end result, not the process. And if they still insist they enjoy scrubbing the toilet bowl, picking out soapy clumps of hair clogging out of the plughole, or wiping unmentionable stains off the furniture, they’re either lying, in urgent need of professional help – or welcome to come and indulge their fetish at my house.

Household chores are where things really get serious, and seriously unpleasant, for those of us born under the sign of the slattern. While there is pleasure to be gained from some of the subjects we’ve talked about so far in this Guide – like clothes and food – housework holds no potential for fun, role play or hedonistic indulgence. It just has to be done, the faster the better, if you don’t want to be buried under a mountain of your own detritus or savaged by those weird dust bunnies that magically reproduce under the bed.

Like most of you reading this (it IS, after all, a Slattern’s Guide) I’m no natural-born housewife, hausfrau, femme au foyer, νοικοκυρά, ama de casa, whatever you like to call it – not in anyone’s language. I can talk the hind leg off a donkey, I can be a great friend, I’m good at my job, I can make you laugh, sometimes make you cry and when all else fails I can whip up a storm in the kitchen. Just don’t expect Martha Stewart perfection when it comes to cleaning up afterwards.

Ironic then, that the man I feel in love with all those years ago, and with whom I have made a life (and a boy child along the way) is Greek. A real Greek Greek. In Greece. With a classic stay-at-home Greek mama.
Ah, and did I mention he’s also the first-born and the only son?

When we moved in together, I attempted to distract any sidewards glances of disapproval of our the unwed cohabitation by being the perfect hostess – ALL THE BLOODY TIME.

We moved into our flat in November and during the first month we received 56 visits from friends, family and assorted well-wishers bringing us sweets and good wishes for our new home. They usually arrived unannounced, sometimes less half an hour after I’d arrived home from work.
So, I had to make sure the place was perfect – ALL THE BLOODY TIME.

The alternative was a mad last-minute dash round the place with the hoover, with a duster stuck between my buttocks, as I bustled round grabbing stray items and stuffing them in cupboards, then rearranging furniture to keep the doors closed against the heaving mass hiding within before combing my wayward hair and slapping some lippy and a grin on my face to greet our guests. 

By Christmas, I was an exhausted, quivering mass of knackerdom hiding under the pile of untamed gift wrappings shoved out of sight behind the extravagantly decorated tree.
That January, I made the only New Year’s Resolution I have ever kept – to stop trying to meet the impossibly high standards of the Greek mother and housewife, and just do my best.

Immediately, the pressure was off. I let myself slob out on the sofa reading, despite the pile of ironing lurking in the corner. I hid all tablecloths and started using raffia mats instead. I banished all doilies and crocheted covers for…   well, pretty much everything (armchair headrests, coffee tables, sideboards, even TVs and fridges) even though it ran the risk of offending well-meaning family members who generously donated them in the hope of making me a fit woman for one of their men. Dust-magnets…  sorry, assorted ornaments and  trinkets….  were gathered up, wrapped lovingly in newspaper, then  shoved into a box hidden in the spare room.
In short, I simplified things.

Of course, I knew I had to keep the house decent, but I was buggered if I was going to it solo. Poor Nikos probably didn’t know what hit him, but fair’s fair, right?

Fast forward a couple of decades and – perhaps surprisingly – we’re still together. The house is mostly clean, though not usually entirely tidy. We try to pass it of as having 'character', with a dash of creative flair (a great euphemism for lack of domestic order). We devote one day a week to beating back the chaos when we wave a duster at the furniture, chuck bleach at strategic surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom, and terrify the cat by dragging the vacuum cleaner (a.k.a. The Screaming Box of Demons) from its lair to roar through the rooms in an orgy of dust sucking.

But the place is always lightly littered with books, scraps of papers, ashtrays, cameras, flash drives, guitars cushioned in chairs designed for human rumps, random notebooks and biros (never together) and feral teacups. I think there’s a mythical beast of some kind living at the back of our Tuppercare cupboard, which pushes the entire contents onto the floor whenever some foolish mortal dares open the doors. There are no fresh-cut blooms on my sideboard, not a stitch of crocheted handiwork or gleaming silver-plated candlesticks. There just an old baglama (a traditional Greek stringed instrument – think of a mini-bouzouki hewn from a single piece of mulberry wood), some headphones, a forgotten shopping list, an anonymous but hardy plant in a blue pot that’s survived our neglect, and a large hourglass filled with purple sand.  

We don’t live in squalor. We can find things when we need them (most of the time). Visitors don’t risk any interesting illnesses previously unknown to medical science, and our son has survived to almost-manhood in one piece (we’ll talk about the Slattern’s Guide to Childrearing another time). Even my mother-in-law has stopped checking the windowsills and table tops for grime.

There’s really only way that a slattern can survive the obstacle course of domesticity without losing her sanity. And that is…   relax.

And always keep one room, with a lockable door, available as a dumping ground for debris when unexpected guests come a-calling. Just make sure you’ve had a glass or two of your favourite tipple before you turn the key and enter.