The Little Old Table

My great grandmother had a sewing table, a real beauty. I remember it from my granny’s flat when I was a child. Later it came to me. It stands in my home now and has followed me from Denmark to England, and later to Bremerhaven. I think I’d bring it with me, wherever I might go.

This table always held a strange attraction to me. Without a doubt, it inspired certain scenes in my debut novel, Snares and Delusions.

What is so special about it? Apart from the high polish and stylish legs, it contains small treasures from long ago. Under the lid that hinges on the back of the table, little compartments, each with a cover, hides old lace, crocheted gloves, a tatting shuttle, and a mysterious photo of a man I don’t recognize. This photo is enclosed in a narrow gold frame. It was probably taken by a professional photographer. The man in the photo looks distinguished, he wears formal clothes of a bygone time. The sepia coloured picture is fading, and would probably have disappeared completely, if it hadn’t been hidden in the table. Underneath the table is a large drawer, which was full of lace-making bobbins. I took them out, when I was trying to learn lace-making. I didn’t get far, but I still remember the basics. I believe it was made by a Danish cabinet-maker around the turn of the century, but there is no manufacturer’s placard to help identify its origin.

Whoever owns it anon, and hears it, will never know what a history hangs upon this creak from long ago. Thomas Hardy

© HMH 2017

Living Abroad

 

I never thought I’d live abroad. But I’ve barely set foot in my homeland for the past twenty-six years.

What made me leave in the first place? I suppose it was a number of factors, spanning from feeling constricted in a small country to falling out with my husband. I was in a dead end job and saw no openings to something better. It is hard to remember exactly what the final straw was. I’m sure my decision fell because of my frustration with life, with feeling caught and longing for adventure.

I felt right in my choice, but I’m certain I didn’t show myself as a caring person, when I cut through my ties. It was brutal, but I thought it was necessary. I booked my flight to London and left.

The first years were hard, but I was exhilarated with the challenge. I was happier than I’d been for years. I felt young and adventurous. I was scared stiff too. It isn’t easy to survive on a pittance, but it didn’t matter: I was living a dream. My dream.

I hadn’t planned anything — I just left — took to my wings and hoped not to crash. I had no connections, except a friend from home, who offered me a place to stay for a while.

The first challenge was finding a job. I’d imagined that I would be able to earn money singing, but soon realized that it was a no-go situation without contacts. Basically I hadn’t done my homework, and so I fell into a hole. I pulled myself out and started reading the job sections in the newspapers, only to realize that apart from singing I had no work experience that I could build on. Then I saw an advert for a job in a well-known pizza chain. They were opening a new take-away in North-West London. I thought I could do that and went for a job interview. The rest is history.

I got the job and started the induction course. It was fun, and I loved meeting new people. The first training session took place in a pizza outlet nearby. I was put on the phones and, in less than two minutes I panicked. I didn’t get what people asked for — I had no idea how to process the orders. The computer suddenly appeared like a wild animal and I was unable to tame it.

When I’d botched a few orders, the usual staff took over. I stood there looking and listening while failure loomed. Somebody took me to the so-called make-table and told me how to compose a pizza. I was too slow and the friendly pizza-making-person lost her patience with me, pushed me aside and churned out the pizzas at a pace.

I got myself in hand and took a turn in the kitchen. Madness was erupting around me: we were about twenty recruits and perhaps five regular staff. It was a busy evening and everybody was doing something productive. Then I realized that while the front was running like clockwork nothing was happening at the back. The cooking utensils, dirty pizza-pans and empty containers piled up in huge stacks. With a deep sigh I grabbed a cloth and started cleaning up. It wasn’t too difficult to figure out how to operate the dishwasher.

I thought ‘OK I can do this’, but then the supervisor tapped me on the shoulder.

‘Look here, the staff room is flooded. Please follow me.’

I did. He gave me a bucket and a mob.

‘Just mob this up, will you?’

I nodded.

‘Of course.’

A lot of dirty water later, I returned to the dishwasher and started cleaning. Half an hour went by.

‘The staff room is flooded.’

I couldn’t believe my ears and turned to the supervisor. He narrowed his eyes and continued.

‘When you let the water run, the pipes can’t cope. Just mob it up, OK.’

When the shift was over I was exhausted but determined to carry on. I would stop at nothing, learn the ropes and make a success of this job. Strange to say, at the time it didn’t occur to me that something was a bit off.

Today, as I write this story it becomes clear to me that the supervisor knew that the pipes couldn’t cope, but he didn’t tell me anything until I inadvertently flooded the staffroom the second time. Was he incompetent? Or did he do this to ‘teach me a lesson’? I can’t tell. Anyway, what kind of lesson does one get from such behaviour? There was no way I could tell that the pipes didn’t work, unless the fact that nobody did any cleaning was a clue. Actually the outlet was dirty and run down, so I tend to think the problem was bad management.

By the way, two years later I received an invitation to come and work in that selfsame shop. They had a new manager who’d worked with me previously. He wanted me to help cleaning up the place.

 

©HMH, 2017

Valentine’s

In Hammersmith tube station

Roses red,

Larger than cabbage’s heads,

Linger in watery tubs.

Poster sized cards

Sequined with hearts

Fall off the shelves:

Faint from significance.

Drab men carry pink boxes

Hoping to conquer the world

Girls giggle and smirk

Trying out lipsticks

To match

Their satin dessous…

 

But in a faraway place

Star-crossed lovers

Meet and kiss

Enveloped in

Eternity

 

From ‘London Verses’

 

©HMH, 2014

Ireland

Green as Harp tones in the spring

Liquid and soft like water spilling over the rim

Grey cloud castles dissolve in mild vapour

Or shatter drops on the fields

Languor settles as pebbles rush and heave.

Sea and earth meet

As rainbows splitter the iridescence

Tasting salt and sweet but

Enveloping the hills in golden mist.

Fables and fairies thrive

From tiny cobbler to howling banshee.

 

Stone crosses grow on mossy banks

Overlooking abandoned farms

Picturesque, dilapidated

But rich in history and hardships endured

True to destiny, defiant in despair

Never submitting to fate or distress

 

Glorious past and uncertain future

Affect the hearts and strengthen the minds.

Sound the Bodhrán and let the fiddle sing

Fleet feet will dance in the streets

 

From ‘Ireland’

 

©HMH, 2013

Dwarf Cockerel

Plumes of iridescent hues compete with

Shrill cock-a-doodle-doos

Minuscule spurs and tons of attitude

Green tail-feathers raise and fall in perfect arcs

Cockscomb gate-crashing hen nights

With perfect assurance:

Only a male bird can pull off such theatricals

 

From ‘Animal Kingdom’

 

©HMH, 2013

Enigma

Incomprehensible as an open book

Written in Swahili or ancient Greek

If you happen to read no such languages.

Not all the tea in China nor lexicons or How To

Paperbacks can conquer or explain:

It puzzles and titillates novice as old hand

But no one can claim freedom or disinterest.

Awe-inspiring or pathetic

We all have brushes with the wondrous

The truly impenetrable but

Insistent, exacting, severe challenge

That takes without asking

Denies without reason but

Succumbs easily and gracefully

When least expected.

Master and supplicant

Idol or divine creature;

Flesh without substance

Form or essence:

Who can lay hand on

Or even begin

To comprehend the

Nature of love?

 

From ‘Aspects of Attraction’

 

©HMH, 2014