Friday, 7 October 2011

Ben the God of Lego

My friend Ben is brilliant.

He only has to look into my box of Lego to come up with the best ideas for space ships, armed fighter jets, power-propelled underwater zoom subs. Even the names are his; I usually just make boats and cars and aeroplanes.

The sound of rummaging and digging and scattering fills the house when Ben comes round to play. Last time we made an intergalactic star-station filled with sub-humanoid creatures and ectoplasm that was actually playdoh, but when Ben had twisted it into strange and wonderful shapes, I really believed it could be ectoplasm. He took apart my police helicopter and the dinosaur my sister had made to create the star-station pod walkways and a range of alien monsters that looked a bit like giant spiders.

‘They look a bit like spiders,’ I said.

‘They’re not spiders. They’re semi-anthropoid beings made of unidentified matter from the planet Clag. Pass me that boat; I want to make a Speeder Tank.’

Just before Ben’s dad comes to collect him, we put all the Lego that Ben had made on display in my bedroom. Then, after he’s gone, I look at it and think; I wish I was as good at Lego as Ben. He’s brilliant.

I wish he hadn’t broken up my police helicopter, though.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011


My hair and I have lived separate lives. There have been times when we seem to have followed a similar trajectory, most mostly I think we are together by chance.

It began life as a halo; wispy silky strands that fell upon my cot pillow as quickly as they appeared, embroidering it with gold. It grew long and fringed, then bobbed and short and long again, almost without me noticing. It rose and fell with the seasons and the years and my mother’s whims.

When I was eight she took me to her hairdressers with a picture of a pageboy and instructions to cut my fringe so short that there was nothing left to hide behind. I am not sure I have ever recovered from that.

At seventeen it went scarlet in response, I thought, to the shock of exams, before taking on a more gothic hue and roping itself into tangled locks that I knotted with coloured rags and ribbons. Carrying its weight and wearing it like a badge that stated my intentions, I strayed out of school and into a far away university where I became known as the Girl with the Purple Hair. But really, it was the Purple Hair with the Girl; I was content to live underneath its shadow in relative obscurity.

A teary afternoon behind rain-streaked glass, steamy on the inside and alive with the insect clip- clip of scissors saw the last of the purple locks fall to the floor, swept up and away like the vestiges of my mismanaged romance. I was the Girl with Nothing, no identity salvaged. ‘I look like a six year old boy!’ I wept all the way home and the pain of that almost transcended the dull ache of my heart.

It was sober and sleek for my first job; empowered and even sleeker during subsequent promotions while I spiralled out of my depth. It went away completely in the aftermath of the illness, to return tentatively as brittle and curly as a wiry dog. I would look at myself in the bathroom mirror, hand over my head, then hand over my face, trying to decide which one was me. ‘Why did you desert me?’ I scolded, but nevertheless touched it gently and lavished it with expensive conditioner to prevent it from littering my pillow again.

I believed that hair and illness hung in a fine balance. While one stayed and grew strong, the other would not come back.

‘You look so different, it suits you,’ said my friends. But of course it didn’t. It never has. It has only suited itself.

Nowadays I am red-cheeked and brisk, feeling my old age like a delicate gift. I get on with things, a real do-er. I run groups, nurture my grandchildren and my garden with kindly absent-mindedness. I am busier than I ever have been, but my hair is finally still; white and peaceful in its old-lady crop. I have forgiven it; it has, if you like, found peace.

A Murder of Hummingbirds

It was the hippos that started it.

‘I don’t see why we should be known as a crash and you get away with being a charm,’ complained Grand Lady Hippo as she adjusted her tail before daintily seating herself. ‘I for one have never been part of a crash of hippos and I never shall be.’

The hummingbirds to whom she was directing her comments settled menacingly upon the branch above her head. Their leader snarled at her. ‘Don’t get ideas, lady. There’s nothin’ charmin’ about us. We’re hard, we’re nasty. We mean business. We want to be in a murder, like the crows.’

‘Well, be my guest,’ replied the crow loftily, looking up from his newspaper. ‘I think I speak for my fellow crows when I say that the collective term ‘murder’ has never appealed and we would be more than happy to exchange. For example, we all feel that a culture of bacteria is completely wasted on them. I’ve never seen one read a book in its life! Whereas I have several degrees and my wife is a master of philosophy.’

‘Yeah! Yeah!’ twittered the hummingbirds (‘What’s a bacterial?’ asked one. ‘Never you mind,’ growled the leader through gritted beak, ‘you just get on with robbing that nest.’) ‘That settles it then, us lot will be a Murder of Hummingbirds, and you lot,’ he waved a wing at Grand Lady Hippopotamus, ‘can be a Charm of Hippos and you high and mighty crows can be a Culture. And them bacterials can be whatever they want.’

‘Ooh!’ cried a passing llama. ‘In that case, darlings, I don’t want to be a herd. Everyone’s a herd, its so passé. I want to be something daring, like a whoop.’

‘You can’t be a whoop,’ muttered a baboon. ‘We’re a whoop, and if you become a whoop then everyone else will want to and then you might as well have stuck to being in a herd.’

‘Oh,’ said the llama, dejected. ‘How about a congress?’

‘Nope,’ replied the baboon grinning. ‘We’re a congress, too. We have two words, you see. You’ll just have to stick to herd…Oh! What are you doing?’

The murder of hummingbirds had swooped on the baboon whose grin was fading fast. The leader sat on his nose.

‘If the lady wants to be in a whoop, sonny Jim, I suggest you let her. All right?’

‘All right,’ mumbled the baboon and shuffled away.

‘Lovely job, come on lads – let’s MAKE SOME NOISE!’ And off flew the hummingbirds, leaving all the animals happy with their new groups. Except the baboon, who wished he’d handled things differently.