Month: October 2014

A story for Halloween

It’s Halloween, so light your pumpkins, adjust that scary mask and challenge your neighbours to choose a trick or treat.

Before Halloween however, there was All Hallows’ Eve – a time to honour and remember the dead –  so, let’s remember the dead shall we?

SOPHIE’S ROOM

Saturday October 11th

I’m sure time is speeding up; seems like I moved here just yesterday, but it was over a month ago.  I haven’t written in my diary since the move – too busy – so I’m making up for that; beginning tonight.  After all, nothing has really, properly happened until I’ve recorded it in here.  I sometimes wonder who I’m recording my inconsequential life for – but I’m happier with pen and paper; rather that than the public inadequacy of a Facebook account.

I’ll start with the house.  It’s such a nice house – a little, red brick semi.  I got the smallest room, but that’s ok.  It’s cosy and at the front of the house; perfect if you like to people-watch.  I don’t know why but I already feel at home here – like this room has been waiting for someone just like me.  Hayley and Jo (my housemates) have lived here for two years.  They seem nice.  Hayley works at HSBC and Jo’s teacher training.  They picked me because I work at the City Museum – thought they might get free tickets.  I tried telling them I don’t hold that much sway in admin.  Things are friendly so far – no major rows over the state of the bathroom, or the kitchen.  The area’s much better too.  Hopewell is a nice town.  It’s so close to open countryside that it almost feels like a village.  Most of the property is beyond my price range, but a house share means I can just about afford to live here.  I’m paying more in rent, but it’s worth it.  Garden Road is so pretty.  Hanging baskets on the walls outside my window, instead of graffiti; and floral curtains instead of broken, boarded up panes of glass.

As that song says – things can only get better.

Friday October 17 th

Been customising my room today.  Hayley says we’re allowed blu-tac on the walls, so I spent my lunch hour browsing an arty shop near work.  Decided that a couple of impressionist paintings in poster form were just the thing to brighten up my room.  There’s a Monet above the desk now, and a Degas over the bed – The Bellelli Family – it was the only Degas they had.

I looked in Jo’s room today.  We normally keep our doors closed, but Jo’s was wide open.  Very tidy, she even has one of those clothes hamper things.  Not like me – clothes slung on the bed and wet towels left on the bathroom floor (Jo’s already had a ‘polite’ word about that.)  Jo didn’t have any posters or pictures on her walls – very minimalist.

Sunday October 19th

I’ve always been quite shy.  Mum says I wouldn’t say boo to a goose.  Being shy is a pain though, it doesn’t serve any purpose and is counterproductive to ‘getting on’ in the world.  That’s why I chose admin – don’t often have to show my head above the parapet.  It takes me such a long time to feel comfortable around people, and I must admit I’ve been staying in my room quite a lot; but it’s such a nice room.  Today Hayley said, ‘let’s have a girls’ night in.  It’s been over a month and we want to get to know you better – me and Jo seem to do all the talking!’

The evening was much nicer than I expected, as I’m not really a girly sort of girl.  I don’t drink much either, but thought why not? and, after a few glasses of wine, we ended up painting each others’ nails, and deciding who’d make the best husband – Colin Firth or Brad Pitt.  We’ve decided to take turns cooking dinner too.  I’m not much of a cook, so that idea could prove pretty disastrous.

Wednesday October 22 nd

Work was enjoyable today.  Mostly the admin stuff is pretty boring, but saw some behind the scenes stuff this afternoon – felt quite privileged.  Met Hayley for lunch, as she works quite near me as it happens.  We felt like ladies who lunch!  My turn to cook dinner tonight, which forced me to panic buy a Jamie Oliver cook book – here’s hoping it’ll be edible at least.

Friday October 24th

Think I entered the Twilight Zone today.  Finished work and got in my car in the staff car park.  I remember thinking I must answer that text from mum, but it’ll wait until I get home.  I was on the ring road in no time and then suddenly I was back here, walking upstairs to my room.  Freaked me out a little, so I looked it up on Google.  Apparently not remembering how you get in and out of work is a recognised ‘thing’.  The brain goes into autopilot or something.  Google stresses that it’s quite possible to safely navigate roads and traffic without being aware you’re doing it.  I must have got very good at it then!   Made me feel better to know I’m not the only one anyway.  My laptop died though before I could switch it off.  I’ll try switching it on again later.

I tried texting mum when I got back but kept getting the message failed thing.  Maybe there’s something wrong with my phone, or the battery’s dead – I’ll try charging it.

Tuesday October 28th

I’m not going into work today.  I must be coming down with something.  I didn’t feel right over the weekend.  Got the beginnings of a headache and stayed in my room.  Woke up today with a killer headache though and I feel so tired.  I felt groggy at work yesterday too.  Actually, yesterday seems a bit of a blur.  Cathy, who sits across from me, has been getting behind in her audio typing, so she was plugged in the whole day, oblivious to everything.  It’s so quiet in our office, with just the two of us, that I’m sure I fell asleep at my desk at one point.  Cathy didn’t seem to notice – show’s how important my job is!  I tapped her on the shoulder when I woke up (really made her jump!) and she turned round, giving me one of those funny, quizzical looks of hers.  I told her I was leaving as I felt so rough.  She mumbled something then turned  back around and carried on typing; didn’t even take off her headset, so I left her to it.  I just wanted to get back to my room.

I’ll take some paracetamol in a minute.  I’ve got a box in one of the kitchen cupboards.  I swear this has got to be the worst headache in the history of headaches.

****

Can’t find the paracetamol anywhere.  I opened every cupboard door and even the cutlery drawer.  Maybe I didn’t put a box in the kitchen.

****

Must have dozed off.  Woke up to a right commotion, sounds like it’s coming from the kitchen.  I can hear Jo whingeing on about the cupboard doors all being open.  Hayley’s saying it wasn’t her who opened them.  Jo practically screamed: ‘right, it must have been Sophie then musn’t it!’.  Yes, the phantom cupboard opener was me.  Honestly, who cares if the cupboard doors are open.  Talk about overreacting.  Maybe she thinks we’ve gone all Paranormal Activity.  I’ll go and tell them I’m the demon, then Jo can have another ‘polite’ word.  Christ, this headache’s bad – on second thoughts I’ll stay here.

****

Just looked at the clock.  It’s 7.00 pm, I must have dozed off again.  I’ve never felt this exhausted in my entire life.  My laptop is definitely dead and looks like my phone is broken too.  I’ve had it on charge for ages and no texts from mum, so that definitely means it’s broken.  Neither Hayley or Jo have been in to see me.  They must think it’s really contagious.  I just remembered, I locked my door so I wouldn’t be disturbed.  Stuck a post-it note on there too saying ‘highly contagious, could be Ebola, stay away!’  Couldn’t resist adding a skull and crossbones for effect.  You’d think they’d know I was joking.  Perhaps they tried the door when I was asleep and left me to it.  I’ll unlock it in a minute.  I wonder if they’re planning that Halloween party we talked about on our girls night in.  I hope so.  When I get over this I’m really going to celebrate.

****

That Degas poster above the bed was a mistake.  Why is there so much black in the picture I keep thinking.  Black is for funerals.

Wednesday October 29th

The headache’s more of a dull throb now, so I thought I’d drag myself to the shower.  Hayley and Jo leave for work early, so the flat was very quiet; almost too quiet.  I couldn’t stop looking over my shoulder!  Couldn’t find any of my towels in the airing cupboard, so took one of Jo’s, the one with cute little ducks on it.  I think there’s something wrong with the shower though.  I turned the temperature knob to maximum but it didn’t get past lukewarm.  I’ll tell Hayley when she gets back, she sorts out any problems with the house. Haven’t looked in a mirror since I came down with this bug.  When I was brushing my teeth noticed how pale and washed out I am – like a faded copy of how I used to look.

****

That shower must have really knocked me out!  Just woke up and it’s 6.00 pm.  The headache’s back with a vengeance.  Maybe a drink will help; just realised I haven’t eaten or drunk anything for days.

****

Wow.  Looks like Jo is turning out to be the flatmate from hell.  Before I got to the kitchen I could hear them in there, arguing again like the last time.  Why would I use your duck towel Hayley was saying, I’ve got my own towels thank you very much.  Jo was ranting that Hayley should have asked her before using her towel, not to mention putting the shower on as hot as it’ll go, so that she nearly burned herself getting ready to meet Dan at the cinema….and she knows we hang wet towels in our rooms, and we don’t leave them in a heap on the bathroom floor.  She said it looked like Hayley was getting as bad as me!  I’m beginning to think Jo is prone to hysteria, either that or she’s got OCD.  And why would she lie about the shower – the temperature knob clearly doesn’t work.  I decided to skip the drink, rather than risk a major telling off, and crept back to my room.

Thursday October 30th

It’s a lovely day, the sun is shining straight into my room through the window.  My headache wasn’t too bad, so I tried some cereal in the kitchen after Hayley and Jo left for work.  It didn’t much taste like cereal and this bug must have done something to my throat, such a horrid sensation of choking that I gave up after two spoonfuls.  Went back to my room and opened the curtains.  I could see Mrs Rivers from next door standing on the kerb outside the house.  She was with Gemma.  I like Mrs Rivers.  She brought us some of Gemma’s birthday cake round just after I moved in.  It had a big red 7 on it.  Gemma calls me silly Sophie because I make her laugh.  Mrs Rivers was talking to that fat man from No. 28, and she kept pointing at our house.  Gemma looked to where she was pointing and saw me standing at the window.  I waved at her and smiled.

****

8.00 pm Mrs Rivers has just left.  I heard a knock on the door at 7 and then Jo saying, ‘I wonder who that is, this late’.  I thought about going into the hall to ask Mrs Rivers why she’d been pointing at our house earlier, but decided to stay in my room.  I’m so tired I can barely move and, besides, I don’t much feel like seeing Jo at the moment.  It’s not my fault I can’t find my stuff, and I only borrowed her towel for goodness sake, it’s not like I stole it.  Mrs Rivers certainly had something on her mind.  Their voices were quite low and all I could make out was ‘Gemma said silly Sophie was standing at her window’, and then Jo asked her if she wanted a cup of tea.  That’s pretty weird isn’t it – calling round just to say Gemma saw me waving at her.  It’s almost like there’s some sort of conspiracy going on.  I can’t find my stuff, everyone’s talking about me, and nobody seems to care that I’m fading away in my room.  No internet or phone either – THE SOPHIE CONSPIRACY – that’s what this is.  Good grief, that’s proof I must be going slightly mad cooped up in here.

****

I rang home from the land line today.  My mobile is useless, and they’ll be worried to have heard nothing from me.  Couldn’t hear anything on the other end though, just crackle and static – looks like nothing is working.

****

10.00 pm.  I must have dozed off again.  The headache is nearly gone now, just a dull ache.  I’ve decided to see the doctor tomorrow.  It’ll do me good to get out of the house too.  There’s definitely been a change in atmosphere.  Hayley and Jo clearly don’t care how I am, they haven’t even knocked on my door.  The conspiracy theory is growing.  I noticed my Monet poster is gone from above the desk.  I know I didn’t take it down. I took the Degas off the wall yesterday and left it rolled up on the floor.  Last night I found it propped up in the hall.  Maybe Jo has taken them to put on her walls – talk about the pot calling the kettle black – well she’s welcome to the Degas.  Half my clothes have disappeared from the wardrobe too.  I wouldn’t have moved here if I’d known that Hayley and Jo were the type to take other peoples’ stuff.  Maybe they came in when I was asleep, in which case I wouldn’t have heard them.  I think sleeping isn’t what I do anymore – black-out seems a more accurate description.  They seemed so nice too, but looks can be deceiving.

Friday October 31st

I’ve been to the doctors.  The clinic is just round the corner, which is good, as I don’t think I could have walked any further – I was so TIRED.  I told the receptionist I wanted an emergency appointment, but the phone rang as I was talking and she answered it as though I wasn’t even there.  I remember thinking how rude.

I sat down in the waiting room right next to a pile of old magazines.  A copy of the local paper was sitting on top of the magazines.  Someone must have taken it to their appointment and left it there.  It was a week old – the thought crossed my mind that whoever cleans this surgery isn’t doing a very good job.  Old magazines are one thing, but old news?

The date was Friday October 24th.  There was a picture of a girl on the front page who looked remarkably like me.  I remember thinking, but we all have a doppelganger don’t we?   I read the copy beneath the picture.

‘Miss Sophie Anderson of 18 Garden Road, Hopewell was killed today in a collision on the ring road.  Miss Anderson received severe injuries to the head and died at the scene.’

****

All my things have gone from the room now, except my diary, but that makes sense.  It’s funny – I’m feeling better and stronger all the time.  I’m seeing things much more clearly, and the headache has completely disappeared.   I felt so afraid at the surgery – but there’s really no earthly reason to be scared.

When I got back I noticed the lounge/diner was all set up with carved pumpkins and plastic spiders hanging from the ceiling.  I suppose I can’t begrudge them throwing a party.  I overheard Hayley and Jo talking in the kitchen too, when I climbed the stairs.  They were talking about interviewing somebody next week as a possible new housemate.  Jo said she wasn’t going to move out just because Hayley thought the place was haunted, and she didn’t care what Gemma thought she’d seen.  Hayley didn’t sound so sure.  I caught sight of myself in the hall mirror on my way upstairs – not a pretty sight – that collision must have been very bad indeed.

Now, the thought of someone else in my room, I do begrudge them that – that won’t do at all.  One thing I do know. Hayley and Jo have made a mistake if they think that getting rid of my stuff is going to get rid of me.  Remember me girls?  I just might come to the party after all.

Trick or treat, which is it going to be?  Looks like there IS a demon at No. 18, and she’s not leaving.

THIS IS MY ROOM.

Only the Lonely

Maybe your time at university is a recent memory, a distant memory, or just about to begin.  If this academic year is the start of your adventure, then maybe you’re going because you really, really want to, or because your parents want you to, or because you have a career goal plan.  Maybe you’re going because an education can be its own reward.  The prospectus will positively shout at you – this is going to be the best three years of your life!

In reality those years will more likely be the best of times and the worst of times.  There’s a possibility that you may walk around a busy, bustling campus and feel very alone indeed.  Of course, loneliness doesn’t just strike at university.  It can happen anywhere –  school, college, work, relationships, marriage;  but university will concentrate that feeling, so that at no other point in your life will you realise quite so keenly that the world values the Extrovert – the people-person, the life and soul of the party.   And perhaps, at no other point in your life, will it be quite so difficult to ‘hang on’ to your sense of self.  University can seem like a haven for the extrovert, and society needs extroverts, no question, but spare a thought for the quieter, more invisible kid on the campus block.

This is for the Introvert; the watcher from the sidelines.  The shy, the nervous, the timid, the bashful.  The non-drinker, non-clubber, non-party go-er.  The games player – the home lover.  The peer, who’s not so comfortable with peer pressure.  The please-don’t-pick-me-to-speak-in-a-workshop worrier.  The what-shall-I-do-between-lectures loner.  The students trapped alone in their rooms.  The friend-less, in search of a friend.  The anxiety sufferer.  The stammerer.  The Nerd.  The one who doesn’t fit in – standing alone in the Freshers’ Week frenzy;  a deer caught in the headlights, wondering where am I ?  who am I ?   – why do I feel like the aliens just landed?

With apologies to Rudyard Kipling, who didn’t know what a Nerd is, but the sentiment stands all the same.

IF

If you can keep your head when all about you
are losing theirs, intent on getting ‘wasted’.
If you can trust yourself to just say No,
when the pre-drink drinks start to flow.
If you have the courage to stand your ground,
when the ‘soft drugs’ are passed around,
or know, that leaving the room is not a sin,
when your closest neighbour vomits into the bin.

If you find your fellow students
already have their clique,
brushing past you after lectures,
when you attempt to speak.
If you lack the talent for casual conversation,
and are frequently stuck for something to say,
when they gather to talk in the communal kitchen,
about last night’s party and who got ‘laid’.
If you’re reading The Nerdist Way*  to the letter,
but things don’t seem to get any better.

If you go back to start your second year,
and feel the old, familiar fear,
but force your heart and nerve and sinew
to find the courage to continue.
If you feel your triumphs all turn to disaster,
that life is something you just can’t master,
that others know how to play this game,
and if only you were somehow different,
and had the courage to do the same.

Then don’t lose heart  –   and keep your virtue,
walk with the ‘cool’ – but keep the common touch.
Don’t let the superficial things hurt you,
social media counts,  but not too much.
Fill every unforgiving minute,
with sixty seconds of value and self-worth,
and know, that one day in the future,
your voice will be heard.

(The original ‘IF’ by Rudyard Kipling is worth checking out, if you don’t already know it.)

*The Nerdist Way by Chris Hardwick.   An unusually entertaining, ‘in your face’, self-help book by the successful American comic, actor, writer, musician, and proprietor of  The Nerdist Podcast.   You can find out more about Chris Hardwick by checking out Charlie’s article on the Playblast Podcast Chris Hardwick Live – London Review, which also includes photographic evidence of when Charlie met Chris after the show.