Monday, 10 December 2012

Baby Peanut

When the baby arrived, nobody had thought of a suitable name for her, so they wrapped her up in blanket and called her Peanut.

That was a bad idea.

‘Peanut? Peanut? Percy want peanut!’ shrieked the parrot, overcome with joy, for he loved peanuts and they were a very rare treat.

It took them a long time to make him understand that there were no peanuts to eat.

‘Peanut! Peanut!’ yelled the monkey who sometimes liked to eat peanuts and sometimes liked to throw them at the parrot. He was so delighted at the prospect that he fell off the back of the sofa. When he understood that there would be no eating or throwing, he stayed there and sulked for a whole day.

‘Peanuts, peanuts,’ said her brother and found some bowls and got himself dressed in his party shirt and wizard’s cape, all by himself. Whenever the peanuts came out, there was a party and he was not a boy to miss a party. When he discovered there was to be no party, he took the monkey and the parrot and they had their own party in the shed which was very loud and left a lot of clearing up.

When Grandma heard the word peanut she just kept saying, ‘oh yes please, thank you dear,’ until someone had to explain very loudly that it was a baby name, not a snack. Then she looked rather cross and was heard to mutter, ‘What’s wrong with Jane?’

The baby heard her new name and liked it. ‘I’ve no idea what it means,’ she thought, ‘or whether it even really suits me. Perhaps I’ll spend the rest of my life telling people to use my middle name, or call me Pea, or Nut. But for now, it is a very fine name indeed.’

They called her Jane.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012


What do I feel?

Yes, what do I feel? What do I feel?

I feel my heels lift, my toes tighten. Whoa! Everything screams, No no no no!

Yes, I say.

There’s an upsurge of everything in my body that I hold dear; heart, lungs, blood, brain. My ribcage is a cage around my skull. What else? Thoughts. The things that go on inside me that don’t have a name. My soul, if you like.

Then air.

I am let go, finally, falling. I thought it would be faster than this, and yet there’s a little gap of time in which everything catches up. Perhaps I’m being pushed back, infinitesimally, by the force of a million exhalations far below, keeping me buoyant, floating like a cloud.

Of course it can’t last. Thoughts whoosh – they really do that - through me in a quite unnerving way, as if this, this falling, wasn’t unnerving enough.

I see him, quite clearly, like he’s there beside me keeping pace with my freefall; my father in his 1970s days; safari suit, cigarette, dark hair long and side-burned. Waving goodbye from the car window, smiling then saying something that I couldn’t hear because I was inside, behind glass and he was outside. He would have known that, so maybe it wasn’t important, but I would have liked to hear it anyway.

I see my first lover; the one I didn’t think mattered that much, so I’m surprised she’s turned up. What was it she said? You’ll regret this, you bastard. And perhaps I do now, adding it to the long list of other things to regret: the Glastonbury I didn’t go to that was the best ever; the two years wasted at the wrong university, the wife I’d had once, the job I was offered in Japan that I didn’t take, because I...well, because I couldn’t be bothered. And I regret my dad of course. What did he say to me, that last time?

It’s not all regrets, of course. But I’ve left it too late for anything else. Should have thought of this earlier, shouldn’t I? Before the falling.

There’s only enough time left to land, in one way or another.

Friday, 16 November 2012


Excerpts from The Colourist
Here, wedged in between yellow and green, lies a vast array of hidden colours waiting to be discovered, but with so few words available to describe them. Even fruit, usually generous with its naming does not have enough variations to adequately categorise this part of the spectrum. Yellowgreen, such a young colour. It’s the bud of a daffodil, softly yielding if you press it, yet firm with nascent life. If you could peek inside, just before it opened, and smell all those flowery juices, raw and acidic, they would be the colour of spring and possibility. But it’s a sickly colour as well, bringing to mind infection and nausea, and perhaps no one has ever liked it well enough to find a suitable name.

There was a cramped corner of Marrakech made irresistible by particular colour that hung from the rafters of the market house to dry – yellow; like the pollen as it gathers on a bee's legs. It made me madly, light-headedly happy as it sang its bright song and whirled away into the dark corners of the old city, reaching out to touch the faces of the woman through their veils, smoothing the lines in the old people's brows, playing with the children and twisting around their legs like cats, making them laugh and jump about. How I loved it… though, just as it’s said that pleasure comes with pain, the beauty of this yellow made all the colours in the vicinity jostle for space and I had to focus my vision otherwise it became tainted. Such is its demanding nature, casting spells that dizzy the senses.

In Morocco, I learnt that when the sufis put on their rags and forgo the material world for the spiritual one, they undergo a 'green death', full of the positive connotations of that most sublime colour and a gentle forerunner to their physical death. But I shall have a yellow death, I think, the colour of the sun and saffron, a blast of last light.

Friday, 26 October 2012


 Excerpts from The Colourist

Carefully I arranged the paper-wrapped cones of spices on the scuffed dressing table and poured some tepid water from a jug to try and remove the red stain. It was stubborn and would require more scrubbing. I had cinnamon and turmeric, paprika, rose petals and a bag of cloves. Mixed with a little water they’d make intense but transient pigments. This is how I spent every spare minute; unearthing new colours, coaxing them out of the mysterious substances from the souk. Cinnamon and the turmeric; yes, there was a honeyed orange that I hadn’t quite mastered but could see in my mind’s eye. Yesterday I’d created a quite beautiful dusty yellow, like powdered sunshine. Nutmeg gave a rich melancholic brown, paprika brought a drumroll of coral red. 

For a few blissful moments of every day, I was able to let go of the fetid room and the braying aunt and lose myself completely in their bright magic.

 I thought, as I sat on a low divan plump with cushions in the rooftop garden of Mustafa Kamut’s perfumed house, that I had never been anywhere so lovely in my life. Above my head fluttered a rectangle of orange silk, strung across four pillars that marked the edges of the roof. Narrow steps led down to the third floor, up and down which trotted an endless succession of people bringing intricately carved silver trays laden with delicacies, deftly placing each upon the round central table and removing others so that the table was always full. They poured mint tea from swan-necked copper teapots from high up, so the liquid caught the sun and became a waterfall of gold. Spiced pastries, almond biscuits and little rosewater cakes appeared, a procession of gazelles’ horns and sugar plums borne high on ornate platters; far too much for three people, and I didn’t dare eat until the men had. Two women sat in the background for a little while before disappearing in a swirl of white down the stone steps and I didn’t see them again. They were not introduced, although Xavier inclined his head toward them in a similar fashion as M Kamut had done to me.
 As the hours rolled by and the endless stream of food did not abate, I had to keep myself from slumping back on the divan and staring at the beautiful orange silk as it billowed in the breeze that had sprung up as the afternoon drew on. The light of the sun moved slowly across the canopy, intensifying the orange to white, so bright it was impossible to regard. Its penumbra radiated out and deepened to a more saturated effect near the edges. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

It’s such a jubilant dance of a colour, orange. Give it time and you’ll see how rewarding it can be. Said to stimulate appetite and activity, it lacks the aggression of red and the hard stare of yellow. It reminds me of a welcome houseguest, the sort that always brings a small gift and remembers to send a thank you card afterwards. I felt full of health and cake and happy plans as I sat there on the roof and let the inside of my mind be painted with a warm orange glow.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Astonishing Adventures of Malcolm Flood

“….and when I ran out of razors I had to use sharpened toothbrushes to kill my prey.’

Sid didn’t entirely believe Great Uncle Malcolm’s tales of when he was the sole mutineer on a cargo ship headed for Malacca, and was put ashore on the unmapped island of Krakapu somewhere in the Indian Ocean.

‘How come you had so many toothbrushes?’ he asked.

Great Uncle Malcolm looked at Sid with an ‘isn’t-that-obvious’ expression on his face. ‘Well, of course I had an inkling that I’d be marooned, so I stole all my fellow’s toothbrushes the night before. Knew they’d come in handy for something.’

‘But…but, aren’t toothbrushes made of plastic? How could you sharpen one?’

‘Made of wood in those days, my boy, ‘ said Great Uncle Malcolm dismissively. ‘All made of wood. Even the bristles.’

Something was still not right. Aha! ‘How did you sharpen them if you’d run out of razors?’ That, thought Sid, was the clincher. There could be no return for Great Uncle Malcolm now.

‘Clever boy. You see, laid out my last dead rat’s intestines to dry in the sun – like catgut they were – then used the thread to whittle the toothbrush handle. Got to have your wits about you when you’re marooned on a desert island, you know.’

Hmm. ‘What year did you say this was, Uncle?’

‘Well, yes, it would be 19…er..let’s see now, 1924, I reckon. Or thereabouts.’

Sid slid away and googled Krakapu. Great Uncle Malcolm didn’t know what Google was and only used the family laptop to rest his mug of coffee on. ‘Krakapu, uninhabited island discovered and mapped in 1750 by the great explorer of the Indian Ocean Lord Sir Captain Stanley Blitherington-Smethers.’

Just as I thought, muttered Sid. But he could hear Great Uncle Malcolm chuckling to himself in the room next door and didn’t have the heart to tell him. Instead, he googled ‘wooden toothbrush’. Just in case.

Thursday, 18 October 2012


Excerpts from The Colourist
…I continued my journey around the garden. Ah, here I was on firmer territory with red, crimson, carmine and scarlet; colours known and named, loved and hated in equal measure. What other could encompass so many extremes? Love and blood, lust and murder, wealth and whores, magic and anarchy. What a maelstrom of meanings! On sad days, I can think of nothing more comforting than the glove-like grip of a red rose, velvet warm.

Colour-savvy warmongers used red to stimulate feelings of anger before a battle, so soldiers literally ‘see red’ before they charge, swords held aloft, screaming their lungs dry. My mother told me that the Maoris of New Zealand are able to separate red into over one hundred different shades. Red and war are important, and variations of both must be distinguished.

1952, it was. A telephone ringing. My telephone, in the hallway of the house in Clapham. ‘Hello?’
‘Rosa? Rosa Carmichael? It’s Francis Balmain.’
My heart missed a beat. ‘Is it Nathan?’ Why else would Francis want to contact me?
‘No, no. It’s not about Nathan. I just…just wondered if you and your daughter would do me the honour of accompanying me to tea next week? It has been a long time I know. I’d like to see you again.’
It seemed I was never to be rid of Francis. He would always find me.
We arranged to meet at the Ritz the following Tuesday. I spent an uncharacteristically long time getting ready that day, and fussed over Anna’s dress and hair.
‘I can do it, mummy.’ She waved me away with one hand. ‘Why are you nervous?’
‘I’m not nervous, darling. I simply don’t know why he wants to see us, after all this time. Why now? And the Ritz, for goodness sake. He always was something of a showman.’
‘Perhaps he just wants us to have a nice time,’ suggested Anna. ‘Please don’t make me wear my hair up like that, it makes me look like a little girl. And why are you wearing all red?’
‘It’s battledress today, darling. One never knows, with Francis. Come along, or we’ll be late.’

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Perils of Static

A circle of chairs stood in the middle of the attic. On the chairs, or rather, hovering uncomfortably in the space where the chairs were, sat a group of small, unhappy-looking ghosts. In their centre drifted a taller ghost, its head tucked neatly under one arm, visibly cross.

‘So, what happened last night? I hear it was a very poor haunting. Anyone want to explain that to me?’

The ghosts shuffled miserably and looked at one another.

‘Come on, one of you. I’m waiting.’

‘It wasn’t our fault,’ mumbled a ghost who was wearing, curiously, a Viking helmet.

‘Wasn’t our fault? Wasn’t our fault? You are the Elite Haunting Corps! Trained in all types of Spectral Appearances and Mysterious Happenings! You are in control AT ALL TIMES!’ The small ghosts cowered beneath the terrifying prospect of their Squadron Leader actually exploding with rage.

The small ghost, on the verge of tears, spluttered ‘But there was a crowd of children there and they were having a sleepover and no one told us that and they laughed at us and caught us in a big net then they rubbed us on their pyjamas until we went static and then they stuck us on the ceiling and we couldn’t move til morning until the static wore off and we had to get out under the door and it all went wrong and…and…’ The small ghost wailed and was comforted by his friends.

‘Oh dear oh dear oh dear. How very embarrassing. Static cling, eh? Well, I have to say, that’s a new one on me. Static cling…’

And then a strange thing happened. The Squadron Leader, who had never been seen to smile before, let alone laugh, placed his head back on his shoulders, gave a little twist to secure it and began making a very strange noise that sounded like ‘Huhuhuh.’

One ghost nudged another: ‘He’s laughing.’

‘He’s laughing!’ shouted all the little ghosts together. And down below, in the house, the people looked up from their dinner and said, ‘What is that noise? Funny, never heard it before. Must be the water pipes.’

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Missed boat

 I lost track of how many times we almost met. Eight, perhaps. Or nine.

My life was going through what we’ll call a difficult patch. My long-term love had left, my career hadn’t shown any signs of movement for some years now, my ailing father lived too far away from me, too near the sister who was determined to look the other way. That was when I first heard about her.

‘You’ll love her. She’s completely your type. She’s really funny – you’d get on like a house on fire.’

‘Well, introduce me then,’ I said, smiling benevolently. I held no faith in matchmaking but I admired Annie’s optimism in the face of indifference so I humoured her.

‘She’s travelling at the moment. But when she gets back, I’ll arrange a dinner or something.’

Dinner never happened. I forgot, Annie forgot.  Then Dave, at a party in somebody’s garden with a band playing and jugs of beer, said above the noise; ‘Hey, have you met Rebecca yet? She’s supposed to be coming. Just your type. She’ll cheer you up. I’ll keep an eye out for her, send her your way.’

But she didn’t turn up that day. Must have been ill or something.

At the pub: ‘You must meet Rebecca. She’s lovely. Stop you moping around like a lost sheep.’

At the football: ‘Rebecca came last week, she’s such a laugh. A girl who likes football, what more could you ask for? Gotta get you two together.’

At Annie’s baby’s christening: Well she was there, apparently. But I wasn’t. Flu.

Finally, a year and a half later, I did meet her. And she was funny, like everyone said. And lovely – beautiful - in fact. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. We even had a brief chat about football.  It was her wedding day. I was there, a last-minute addition to the guest list as a substitute plus one, awkward in an ill-advised suit. And she was there, smiling and waving and clutching her waterfall of flowers.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

An excerpt from The Colourist (a big book of a story!)

Gifted with an extraordinary perception of colour, Rosa Carmichael looks back upon the events of her unusual life as assistant to a colourblind scientist, lover of a French soldier in Marrakech and mother to their daughter when he disappears. Now, at 88 years old, she feels the urgency of making sense of her past for her daughter's sake, unaware that it is about to catch up with her.


Am I dead yet?

I open my eyes slowly. Bright light fills the room. God or sun? I’m not sure.

And some early morning traffic noise, a thin yellow streak of birdsong. I wiggle an exploratory toe, feeling the rub of warm cotton. I doubt the afterlife affords such tangible sensations, so I must be lying in bed, my body barely disturbing the heavy white bed linen purchased from a Sicilian market trader many years ago. I remember his smoky breath as he leant too close and told me that these sheets would last a lifetime. Of course, this could have been a matter of days or months had I met with an unfortunate accident, but half a century later, here I am and here are the sheets. My room is pale: white walls; a white bed. Here and there are little collections of the colours I like together. It is a reassuring room; ordered, complete.

A prolonged struggle to kick my way out from under the covers leaves me rather out of puff. I consider calling my daughter to tell her that I’m still alive, but she’s in such a state of denial about death that she’ll look at me in that way she has, then I'll be sad for making her sad. Instead, I pour a restorative nip of brandy for breakfast from the secret bottle that I keep badly hidden behind the tissues in my bedside table and, in dressing gown and slippers, ease myself into the armchair at the writing desk by the front window. The rays of a pale sun squint through the curtains, warming my skin as the brandy clears a path to my stomach. Its fumes send little pin-like shivers to my nose so I close my eyes and think of the task at hand. Perhaps I’ll begin today.

At eight o’clock my daughter gives her three tentative taps at the bedroom door, wary of what might lie within. ‘Hello!’ I call hoarsely and can sense the relief in her tread as she crosses the room with the bitter herbal concoction she makes me drink. I realise I’ve left the brandy bottle out, but she graciously fails to see it. She’s an old woman herself now and sometimes I selfishly worry that I’ll outlive her. This thought fills me with horror; surely, after all this preparation, I'll be released to meet my maker first?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, of late. There’s nothing like impending death to necessitate the sorting out of one’s beliefs. I prefer to imagine we’re thrown together by cataclysm, a little big bang. Even simply pieced together by chance is better than being deliberated over, perhaps even recycled.

We chat for a while about this and that and I try to avoid the tea, which is the colour of pondwater and has things floating in it. It’s Chinese and made from some ground-up vegetable matter, and I’ve long forgotten what benefits I might gain from it. Then Anna gets up from the foot of the bed where she has perched her spindly frame and leaves me the newspaper, neatly folded, the crossword already completed but still dusted with the smattering of rubbings-out.

‘Mum?’ she hovers in the doorway.

‘Yes darling?’ Although I know what she’s going to ask.

‘Are you going to start today?’

‘Perhaps,’ I smile, childishly wanting to keep my plans to myself, for now. She nods and closes the door behind her. I pour the tea down the sink and settle myself at my dressing table, shuffling my bony behind into the cushion. I reach for the letter, tucked away in the drawer, with its three sparsely-worded lines that have provoked the mind’s imaginings. No, I won’t read it again; instead I bring out a faded photo of a girl in huge trousers and a ghost of a white scarf, taken in a long-ago desert. I nod to her, as if to signal resolve. I haven’t a lot of time to waste.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The boy with a cone on his head

The boy found a traffic cone. He picked it up and weighed it in his hand – not too heavy, not too light. He looked around but it didn’t seem to belong to anyone in particular, so he put it on his head and continued on his way to the playground.
Along the way, past the shops on the High Street, he caught a glimpse of himself in a window of a shop selling old clothes and bits of crockery. The boy adjusted the angle of his cone and was pleased with the effect; rather like a magician’s hat, he thought. Only more orange and white.

‘I like your cone,’ said his friend Flo at the park.

‘It’s not a cone, it’s a hat,’ he said frowning at her. She obviously wasn’t looking at it properly.

‘OK,’ she said and scooted off.

The boy walked around the playground a few times and saw that people were staring at him in admiration. They were obviously the sort of people who appreciated a good magician’s hat. He picked up a stick and broke it in half to make a wand. That completed the picture.

Flo came scooting back with some of her friends. One of them was carrying a hula hoop.

‘Look!’ yelled Flo. ‘Alf’s got a cone on his head! Stand still Alf, and we’ll see if we can hoop you!’

The boy endured a few minutes of this before shouting at the girls and stamping off. This was not how wizards were treated. Nobody hoopla-ed Dumbledore. Or Gandalf.

On the way home from the park, the boy put the cone back where he found it. Someone else could have it. Magicians weren’t that great, anyway.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The Room of Odd

The rest of the house is perfectly normal, so you wouldn’t suspect what lies at the end of the hallway. Everything in it is something else. I’ve only been there once. When I asked if I could go again, I was told that that would be impossible, like it had moved away or something. A room can’t move itself out of a house, can it?

The sofa is a giant pair of red lips. ‘Oh, I’ve seen those before,’ scoffed a boy eating an ice cream, even though we were told not to enter the room with food or drink. “There’s nothing new about a sofa like this.” And to prove it, he sat down heavily in the middle of the lips.

There was a sucking noise and the boy disappeared. He wasn’t eaten or anything gruesome like that; he was found later on the street. But his ice cream had gone.

The mirror was the cause of a lot of bruised heads. You think it’s a window, because you can see out into the garden rather than back into the room. But then you see yourself in it, in the garden and feel very confused.

The table walks around on its stalky legs and rubs against you like a cat. If you put something on it, it remains stock still until you remove it, then it continues its journey to find something else to bear. The tea cups and mugs drink whatever you put inside them, the cushions squeal if you so much as touch them and the radio, an old-fashioned one that you don’t notice at first, breaks into compositions of its own making. It doesn’t have a very pleasant singing voice but you can’t turn it off.

I wanted the lips-sofa to swallow me too, but it didn’t. Perhaps you have to be really annoying. 

I wonder if it would swallow the radio?

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Uncle Kaspar

When I tell people that we share our house with a ghost, their eyes widen and they usually gasp.  But there’s a lot of weird stuff in my house, and the ghost is one of the more normal things, in a way.

His name is Uncle Kaspar. He’s not my real uncle, but I’ve known him such a long time he feels like one of the family. It took my dog Green (I called him that because he’s green) a long time to like Uncle Kaspar but now they’re really quite good friends. Uncle Kaspar has said that he would like to take Green for a walk, but of course he can’t. Because if he leaves the house in daylight he won’t exist anymore. It’s like that with ghosts.

Uncle Kaspar doesn’t live in the attic, like other ghosts. He can’t stand attics, he says. Full of spiders. There’s a lot that Uncle Kaspar’s afraid of, which I think is funny, him being a ghost and all. Instead he lives in the downstairs cupboard where the boiler is, because he says it’s a fallacy that ghosts like cold damp places. When he was alive he spent quite a lot of time in Africa and he got so used to the heat and sunshine that coming back to England was hard to do.

When I have friends over, Uncle Kaspar likes to join in the games. He says that being with young people makes him feel young again. We play battleships and draughts. We play computer games and pool on my mini-billiards table. When new people come to our house they can get scared of Uncle Kaspar being a ghost, but once we’ve all sat down and had a drink and a biscuit and Uncle Kaspar’s told them about good bits (like walking through walls) and the bad bits (like not being able to eat the biscuits), they’re usually OK and we can get on with the games.

He’s very good at hide and seek.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The Floating Island

The Island of Marmura is small, round and flat, and that's why it's so easy to move.

But for as long as anyone who lives there can remember, it's bobbed around the North Sea, bumping into Scotland, then bumping into Ireland. When the islanders really want to move quickly, perhaps to avoid a huge wave, or a sharp rock, they grab their enormous paddles, gather along the beaches and all paddle together, as fast as they can, until they've propelled the island to a different part of the ocean, where they drop anchor and stay until the next huge wave comes along.

That's the most important thing you need to know about Marmura. The other is that it is always raining.

One particularly grey, drizzly day, a small boy said to his mother: 'Why it is never sunny here? I want to go somewhere sunny. We can move our island wherever we want, so why don't we just go somewhere else?'

At first his mother was shocked, then she thought about it, then she told her neighbour. At first the neighbour was shocked, then he thought about it, then he told his brother, and so on, until finally everyone on the island was in agreement; they were fed up with rain! They were going South!

Many days and nights passed, and the islanders' arms ached from so much paddling. The sea was wide and empty and they had not met another soul, but to their delight the rain had almost stopped. Then, on the fifth day, somewhere off Spain, they met another island, this one long and thin and rocky, being rowed by hundreds of small people wearing large hats.

'We're heading North,' cried the other islanders in unison. 'It's far too hot where we come from, and it's always too dry. Where are you going?'

What a stroke of luck! The islanders swapped clothes, traded their umbrellas for suntan lotion and their firelighters for fans, bade each other farewell and bon voyage, and waved happily until each island was a tiny speck on the horizon before disappearing altogether.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Ladybird, ladybird


I found a red ladybird with three perfect black spots on one side of its body, and two on the other.

‘You’re nice,’ I whispered to it, in case anyone heard me talking to a ladybird.

‘Thank you,’ said the ladybird in a tiny little voice I could barely hear.

A talking ladybird, I thought to myself. Now, there’s a thing.

‘Can I ask you a question?’ I said to it.

‘Fire away,’ replied the ladybird and crawled to the tip of my finger so we could converse more easily.

‘Why do you have three spots on one side of your body, and only two on the other?’

‘A good question,’ said the ladybird. I think she might have smiled at me, but it was hard to tell.  ‘Well done for being so observant. We ladybirds don’t live awfully long so we celebrate our birthdays every month rather than every year like you humans. And every month for our birthday we get a new spot.  So, you see, I have just turned five months old.’

Congratulations,’ I said to the ladybird. ‘But what happens when you have no more room for black spots?’

‘Well, to be honest, not many of us make it that far. No, don’t look sad. We are not meant to get too old. But there are a few who do, and they become black ladybirds with red spots.’

‘I have seen them!’ I said, excited in spite of myself. ‘So those are very old ladybirds?’

‘Indeed they are,’ said my friend gravely. ‘They are our elders and we respect them greatly.’

‘And does the same thing happen with their red spots?’ I asked. ‘Do they start off with just one, then get another for every month until…until they have no more black left?’

The ladybird looked at me. I think she had a perplexed expression on her face, but it was hard to tell.

We both fell silent for a while. Then she waved one of her front legs in farewell, and flew off.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Arthur, the deluded lizard

I am a lizard and my name is Arthur. In fact, I am very rare; the only known example of a Chromomorphic Lizard. That means I can change colour according to my surroundings. I am extremely clever.

I live in a pet shop that specialises in lizards. They come and they go, but I have been here the longest. On the label in front of my cage it says ‘Common Lizard’, but that is clearly a mistake because I am in no way common and they’ve missed off the bit about being able to change colour. None of the other lizards in the shop can do this, not even a tiny bit.

‘Look, look!’ I tell them on a bright day when the sun is shining. Carefully positioning myself with the window behind me, I squeeze my eyes shut and concentrate very hard. Then I turn blue - almost exactly the same colour as the sky.

‘Yeah, what?’ yawns the rather ill-educated skink from Cage Three.

‘I am blue! As blue as the sky!’

There is a giggling sound and the gecko from Cage Two says, ‘Oh yes, so you are, Arthur. As blue as the sky.’ Then there is more giggling, as if they are trying to disguise their shrieks of delight.

The rude skink says something that sounds like ‘Yeah, you a regular Cam – ee – leon’, but I have never heard of such a thing and anyway, that is not my name. I am a Chromomorphic Lizard, like I said.

If a lady walks by in a red dress I will amaze my friends by matching her completely. “Hey everyone! Bet you can’t see me!’

A yellow lorry rumbling past outside in the street – no problem. Fresh sand in my cage – Arthur, where are you, where have you gone? I expect my fellows are all wondering. ‘Try to find me!’ I call out to them.

‘Oh really Arthur, do be quiet,’ says the gecko but I know she is impressed. I have not yet found a colour I cannot become, although I will confess I have a little difficulty with pink.

Yesterday someone bought the skink. I was glad to see him go. I don’t know why no one has bought me yet. Perhaps they can’t see me.

It does have its disadvantages, you know.


Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Market of Amazing Things

'You'll never believe what I saw today,' cried Leila, running into the house and throwing her bags on the table.

'What did you see?' asked her brother. He was younger and busy drawing a monster with wings.

'A crowd of ragged children, all staring at the ground.'

'What's so special about that?'

'On the ground was a tiny chameleon, no bigger than half your thumb, tottering on stiff legs like a robot lizard.'

He frowned, looking up now. 'And you saw this in the market? All I ever see is meat and vegetables and fish.'

'And I saw a man with nine trays of eggs, all perfectly intact.'

'Oh, I've seen him. He sells them to the restaurants. But how does he get there, with all those eggs?'

'On a bike.'

'Then how does he carry them?'

'On his head.'

The monster with wings was forgotten. 'Tell me, tell me, what else have you seen?'

'Let me think.' Leila chewed her lip. 'Oh yes! A man dressed in blue like the evening sky, who conjures a hen from under his robe. It's a different hen every day. And a million shiny silver birds, flying round and round the tree in the middle of the market, catching flies so quickly that the flies don't know anything about it until they're in the birds' stomachs. And…and…a cage full of bees, who never fly away through the bars even though they could easily fit.'

Leila's brother looked sulky. 'I never see these things. You must go to a different market than the one mother sends me to. The only things in my market are meat and vegetables and fish.'

'Well,' said Leila, taking his hand. 'Next time you go, see if the meat is as shiny as a red marble floor in a sultan's palace, and the fruit and vegetables are heaped into coloured pyramids, each one higher than the next, and the cones of spices smoke in the breeze like volcanoes, and the fish wear coats woven from sequins and their eyes reflect the sun. If you see these things then I think we can safely say it is the same market.'

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Aunt Mildew v the Mud

I have a friend called Bert. He likes:
• Football
• Saturdays
• Grubbing around in the playground
• Sliding on the kitchen floor on his knees
• Trying to pick up stuff that he probably shouldn’t be trying to pick up.

My friend Bert doesn’t like:
• Washing his hands
• Washing his face
• Washing his feet
• Baths

This was all very well when his parents were around – they seemed to have quite a relaxed attitude to these things. But when they went away for a Special Birthday and Bert’s aunt came to stay, well. That was a different matter.

She was there for four days but Bert said later it felt like four million years.

Aunt Mildew likes:
• Cleanliness
• Tidiness
• Things that smell nice
• Baths

Aunt Mildrew doesn’t like:
• Dirty Bert

By the time the four days were up, Bert was a different boy. His teeth sparkled like diamonds. His hair shone like gold. His face was just a face, unsmeared by mud and with no pen on it.

Even his feet were so clean and fragrant that butterflies alighted on his toes, mistaking them for flowers.

But Bert did not look happy. It took me a long time to recognise him. When I did, I threw some mud at him.

Then he smiled.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Small Kings

King Lucullus was young and rather reckless and had never done much ruling before. So when the old king his father died and he took over the reigning of the patch of grass and pebbles between the café and the fishing boats, people drew breath and wondered how it would go.

At first Lucullus was very busy. He decided to have the pebbles moved to the left hand side of his kingdom, and some plants brought in the make the area around his palace look a bit nicer. But there were no plants in his lands, so he had to make a series of sneaky forays into his neighbour’s kingdom. King Pog, an older but definitely more fearless king, was away visiting his wife’s family on the other side of the main road, a journey of many weeks, so Lucullus took his chance and pinched four mighty sea cabbages and some thrift. He would have uprooted more grass as well – for Pog’s lands were greener than his own – but he heard rumour of the king’s return so made haste back to behind the café.

When King Pog saw the devastation caused and the vast craters of soil across his once-beautiful kingdom, he was furious. ‘He could have just asked!’ he thundered. ‘Well, in that case, I will have his pebbles to line my Imperial Avenues! Bring me all the pebbles you can carry.’

King Pog’s soldiers sighed and made a series of daring forays into King Lucullus’s lands to steal his pebbles. Lucullus was not away, he just didn’t notice, being young and reckless.

And so, I am sorry to say, many years followed of the great to-ing and fro-ing of grass and soil and pebbles and little gravelly rocks and plants until both kingdoms looked pretty much as they had to begin with. But King Lucullus felt that he had worked the wilder and more reckless side to his nature out, and could now get down the business of ruling properly.