The antique shop was nestled in a Somali enclave at the bottom of my road. Surrounded by barbers’ and cafes blasting out football games in unintelligible languages, the shop seemed an anachronism, and indeed it had been there for years, a fact borne out by the virtually indecipherable phone number at the top.
Extending from one side of the window to the other was a deep fissure, caused perhaps by a wannabe burglar, but more likely by an errant chair leg, for who in their right mind would want to steal anything from there? The place was, quite frankly, an eyesore.
The antique shop seemed a final resting place for all manner of curios, dumped there by relatives of the deceased who lacked the time and patience to sort through their loved ones’ belongings properly, because if they had done, they might have spotted the inherent value of the red-eyed dragon. What it lacked in financial value, it clearly made up for in charm and idiosyncrasy, or so my foolish husband obviously believed when he presented it to me, exquisitely wrapped, as ‘a special gift, darling,’ for my 40th birthday.
I haven’t been too active on my blog recently, partly because of work, but also because I’ve been training and fundraising for a cycling challenge in September when I’ll be cycling from John o’Groats in the far north of Scotland to Lands End in the south of England, a distance of 1,013 miles, and although I’ve done many endurance events before, this will be the biggest so far.
I’m doing the ride to raise money for Women V Cancer, a British organisation which represents three cancer charities: Breast Cancer Care, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust and Ovarian Cancer Action and I’ve pledged to raise £3000 by the end of July (which is probably more daunting than the actual ride!).
I hate asking for money, but any donations, no matter how small, would be really appreciated. There’s more information on my Just giving page (click the link below), or you can text using the information below to donate £3 – every little bit will hopefully help me to reach my goal!
‘Do you want to see him, love?’ said the nurse.
‘No,’ I replied as ‘he’ had gone. But the others took turns to say their final goodbyes, blowing noses and weeping softly as they left his room.
Later the undertakers arrived, did what they had to do and removed the body. I peeped through the curtains then and the drizzle obscuring the windows and glimpsed the coffin, the overworked windscreen wipers and the lowered heads. I then heard the crunch of gravel as the long black car transported my father’s body away from the home he’d loved.
Afterwards I crept upstairs into his empty room where I spotted his spectacles, open in his Bible at the page he was reading and his glass, three-quarters full of the water he was sipping up until 5 pm yesterday after which time he could drink no more.
I call them the three wise men. There are more of them obviously, but if I stand in a particular place; on the corner of Bessie Road and Gleneagle Avenue, in between the ‘s’ and the ‘F’ on the sign, ‘Gladstone’s Fish Shop.’ I can see them and only them. The lights are a mere five minute walk from my flat and even though I know the way, they guide me somehow, making sure I get home safely, and when I’m coming home at night after a hard day’s work, or a hard evening’s drinking, I gaze up at them looking for the answers they always provide.
‘Keep going,’ they tell me. ‘Don’t ever give up.’
And on particularly bleak nights like this one, when life seems pointless and all sense of purpose gone, they bore into me, deeper and deeper, blindly persisting until they connect with my soul. It’s this that enables me to go home lighter and slightly less despondent. It’s they that keep me alive – my three wise men.
To this day, I recall the smell of methane, the vicious blue flame and the ice cold feel of brass. Even when the Bunsen Burners weren’t being used, I’d sense their presence, positioned strategically in the centre of the high wooden tables like soldiers ready to attack.
I hated chemistry. The Mr Bean-type teacher, Mr Tansley wore a melange of browns and purples under his lab coat; this was the 80s after all, yet he somehow always looked dour; miserable and afraid of the world he intended us to discover through various experiments and calculations. Yet despite my aversion both to him and the subject, I pitied him for he was hated by teachers and pupils alike, bullied and tormented by both. I often wondered why he’d chosen such a job.
It was a sad, old lesson for me, a big black hole in my middle school timetable; the misery reinforced only by one hastily scribbled comment in my school report. ‘You don’t like chemistry and chemistry doesn’t like you.‘
Greta released a sigh of pleasure as she entered Periwinkle Square. It was truly immaculate with its identical mansions, leaf-free entrances and matching rose beds. Greta passed through it every day on the way to her job in Victoria. Although she took a slight detour to do so, this was of no hindrance as it enabled her to start work with a clear head. Perfection did this for Greta. The sight of the higgledy-piggledy mishmash of dire winter clothes that the majority of London commuters insisted on wearing on the preceding tube journey was nothing but a painful abhorrence to Greta, something that needed to be obliterated.
Today, however was different. At first glance the square looked the same, but as Greta ambled through, she noticed something awful. One of the marble pillars outside Number 7 had been damaged.
‘What on earth happened here?’ Greta said to herself and without another thought, removed her gloves and attempted to lift the broken piece which was lying by the pillar.
‘Oi, lady. What are you doing?’
Greta looked up to see a surly workman running up to her with an axe. ‘The new owners said to destroy it. Russians, I think. Don’t like old things.’
‘But it will spoil the square. Everything needs to look the same!’
‘Beauty is truth,’ said the workman. ‘Some poet said that once. These people live here now – the old is not their truth.’
Greta stared at him, amazed he knew anything about poetry but she realised there was nothing she could do so she walked back the way she’d come and resolved to find a different perfect square the next day.
They’d been arguing since well before Jamie got sick, and after that things only got worse. Fights broke out over everything – who would take him to hospital, when he should take his pills and how much they should tell him about what was going on.
It had been Amy’s idea to make the cake. ‘I can make anything from flour and sugar,’ she’d boldly declared. Jamie’s birthday was on Halloween and he’d always loved everything about it; the tricks, the treats, the craziness. This year, however was different.
Her husband took a step back and fixed his eyes on her latest creation. ‘The eyes are too close together and the scar below his chin, well, it’s just not symmetrical.’
‘It’s not supposed to be. Symmetry is a sign of beauty and Halloween is not a time for beauty.’
‘Hmm. And don’t you think it’s just a little too green?’
Amy opened her mouth to reply and then the kitchen door opened.
‘Mum it’s perfect, said Jamie.
Amy looked up; her son’s wan face was infused with happiness. She turned to Simon and for the first time since Jamie’s diagnosis she saw him smile.