MadgeMahoney in the morning

thoughts in the mornings

Friendships and fags

The good news about her friend being clear of cancer had meant that an entire day had been spent just feeling happy. It got the woman to thinking about what happiness actually is and how much friendships play a part in that happiness. For her, it had always been about her friends and at times in her youth, her mother had accused her of caring more about her friends than her family. It wasn't quite true of course. She did love her family. It was just that her friendships had always felt more reliable somehow.

That's a bit harsh she thought to herself. Is is actually true? Does it even matter? What is the actual point of making comparisons between people and relationships? Once more, she was struck by her capacity to ask herself big questions first thing in the morning but she felt a deep need to understand. She wanted to understand people. Wanted to make the most of the time she spent with people she knew and cared for because time was the only thing that couldn't be replaced or replicated. In a world moving at pace, taking a moment seemed a necessary luxury.

Can we even have necessary luxuries she wondered? Are friendships a luxury or a necessity? She had grown up in what might be described as a fairly ordinary setting. Mum, Dad, sister. Both parents worked, they had bought their first house in the early 70s for four thousand pounds and the woman had grown up taking it for granted that she would be fed, clothed, cared for and educated. There had been no need for state support and she hadn't become aware of a state system until she left home at 18.

That was the real luxury she thought. Being able to leave home and rent a room in a house for fifty quid a week whilst going to work from 9 till 5 and then having evenings and weekends free. As it was, her route to university had been a circuitous one because she had always been a bit rebellious and had refused to go at 18, choosing instead to become a sales rep for a tobacco company. It meant a brand new company car, insurance and petrol paid, and she was able to swank around in late 80s power suits selling cigarettes to newsagents. She was given a personal allowance of 400 cigarettes a week and this made her a popular guest at her best friend's house because her mum smoked incessantly in between drinking endless cups of tea and reminising about her childhood in Ireland. The woman didn't realise at the time but her friend's mum was deeply homesick and had spent a lifetime in London wishing she was back home in Cork. Tragic really to wish one's life away. She was glad she didn't feel that way.

University happened because carelessness meant her company car was stolen. Well, it was less that it was stolen and more that someone took the opportunity of driving off in the flashy car that had been left outside the shop with its engine running. To be fair, anyone would've taken it she supposed. It was before the days of mobile phones and the woman could still recall coming out if the shop and seeing that the car had gone. She had parked at the bus stop, opened the boot to get the fags and presumably given the waiting passengers a sense of opportunistic adventure. Less than a minute and the car was gone. It was a tough one to explain to the boss when she eventually found a way to get home. She blagged another chance but when something similar happened fortnight later, she was left with few options.

In the early 90s, being sacked or leaving a job without a reference meant you couldn't easily stroll into another role and you couldn't sign on the dole. What she could do was go to university and although it had been humming around in the background, now it became the only way forward. She got in to the local polytechnic that had just been upgraded to university status and so began the adventure of her lifetime.

She left behind the pub life that had been her evenings and weekends and went off to study literature and humanities, Within three months she had met the woman who would shape the course of her life and through her, she met people she hoped she would know for the rest of her life. It was 30 plus years ago and she could happily say, some of those people were still very much present. So perhaps that's what happiness is she thought. Being connected to people who you grow with.


There were few better ways to start a day than with news that a friend had the all clear from the cancer that had threatened to take her out. This was that day and the woman was delighted. Cancer had been a theme of her life for a decade now and she was well aware of just how devastating it could be. Her own beloved wife had feared cancer forever and when it came, it was as horrific as she had always feared.

The diagnosis had been shocking, even though they had been looking for what seemed forever and her death 9 months later was still reverberating through the woman's life. It was an incredible life and as she sat tapping away on a Tuesday morning all those years after her wife had left for the stardust trail, she could feel the deep relief that her friend was ok.

Her friend was a lovely woman. One of many lovely women in her life but this particular friend was especially lovely. She was kind and smart and funny, like so many of the people in her life. What was remarkable was that, unlike most people who at some point or another can be a bit aggravating to their loved ones, this woman wasn't. Perhaps her girlfriend would offer an alternative but the woman didn't think so. No, this friend was just incredibly affable, deeply compassionate and very, very funny. She didn't have the edginess of some of her cool city friends and this made her all the more appealing.

The two women had always gotten along, understanding as they did that sometimes, they would get over excited by life and need an actual lie down after their escapades. They would laugh easily and share a concern too about the state of the world. They put it down to the mercurial nature of their gemini star signs and took great pleasure in the changeable nature of their moods.

The difference was that one of them was essentially a very grounded human who had the resilience to ride life's storms and the other struggled a bit and sometimes got overly tangled in her head. She too would ride life's storms but usually with a bit more noise and drama because that was her way and the two had a friendship that spanned two decades. She loved her friend very much and had been devastated to hear of her diagnosis so the news of the all clear was the best she could have had.

She thought of all the friends she had in her life. Truly, this was her greatest gift and she was grateful every day for the interesting, loving people that she knew. Today too, she'd had a message from a man who had once been a firefighter in the city and who now lived at the other end of the country, surfing the waves and living a happier way. He too was a smart man with a big heart looking for ways to keep connected and she hoped that they would meet up again. It had been almost ten years since they had seen one another but thanks to the power of the internet, they had maintained a friendship that she still valued.

It was the upside of the dark side she thought. We all know too much about things we don't understand and there is definitely a threat to our synapses being constantly flicked but the upside surely was the capacity for connection. The pandemic had shown that and although she was deeply suspicious of what was being manipulated for nefarious means, she was determined not to be intimidated by it.

Artificial intelligence was a peculiar notion for sure but she felt that there must be a way for it to be used for good and this was perhaps where friendships came in. The original idea of friends on Facebook seemed increasingly stretched and of course no one could actually know 4000 friends but the principle had certainly helped grow her connections over the years.

She thought about all the amazing people in her life. The mothers, the fathers, the sisters, the brothers. Everyone has labels in the her lives she thought. We all have roles, routines, responsibilities. It is what keeps us connected. What she was most pleased about this morning was the strength of her connections and she hoped, as she always did, that people knew how much they meant to her and how grateful she was to have them in her life. After all, we only have one life and we only have now to live it. Hmm, bit deep for a Tuesday she thought. Yeah, and my mate doesn't have cancer and that's as deep as it gets. In her mind and in her heart, she wished her friends a hahalala day and decided to crack on. The sun was fully up and there was a whole day ahead to discover.

Monday Again

It was the last Monday of the second month of a new year and the woman had woken to a sense of purpose. On some levels, it was hard to believe that the time was moving so fast. She had read years ago that it is when we are happy that time is swift and when we are miserable that time drags. This made a lot of sense to her as someone who had long struggled with periods of depression. When all of life seemed so heavy and slow and exhausting, she would just want it to be over. Not in a dramatic, suicidal way thankfully but rather, just a deep exhaustion that felt it would be nice sometimes to just stop.

Today however, she did not feel exhausted. The weekend had been pleasant enough and she had enjoyed time at home pottering about in her never ending quest to bring some order to the self made chaos of her life. Overall, she thought she'd done quite well and she checked in once more with her internal deadline. She wanted it all done by the end of the month because this marked a particular time 20 years ago. She had long since realised that though she strove to be 'present' in her day to day life, she also spent quite a lot of time looking back, especially since having MS.

It wasn't that she wanted to live in the past as such, although, looking around at modern life, she could perhaps have done with being able to return to simpler times. No, it was more that she wanted to understand her past so that it might inform something of her future. She wanted to learn from the many, many mistakes she felt she had made so that, by the end of life, whenever that might be, she wouldn't be left with regrets.

Of course, that was a big ask and certainly a lot to think about first thing on a Monday when spring hadn't quite sprung and the country was likely still digesting what had happened the previous week. Despite her best efforts to ignore the outside world and create a haven of harmony within, it was hard not to see the trajectory of a country that had been brought to its moral knees by years of austerity, covid, corruption and general governmental cruelty. It really was a lot and the debacle in Parliament was perhaps the final straw. No one knew what to believe.

She thought about her friends, getting ready for their day. She had the widest range of friends and it was the aspect of her life that she was most content with. She hadn't managed to quite get a grip on her finances, her house remained a constant challenge between a desire for clarity and a lifetime of clutter and her health was a constant conundrum. Her friendships however, were a constant source of delight and what she loved most was how very different they all were. Once again, it was the market in the Mall that had mixed it all up.

This morning, some friends would be getting ready for school, either as Headteachers or Learning Mentors with a couple of science teachers in between. Another would be preparing to undertake an Ofsted inspection whilst others would be opening up their shops and getting their wares ready for a days trading. Others would be battling the school run traffic and there were a couple who didn't need to worry about commuting because they were still working from home.

She had a friend spending time with a sister as their mother's life slowed right down and another who had left his marriage for all the right reasons and yet still held a broken heart. She had a friend who was navigating a new way to be a family man and another who wasn't quite sure what had happened to his life.

She was concerned about the young ones who were embarking on lives that the elders simply didn't recognise and she was wondered what would be the way for them all. She was concerned about her older friends who probably could do with retiring but couldn't afford to in the new world order and she was concerned about friends who had long term illnesses who she hadn't spoken to in a while.

It was a day to clear up and connect she thought. It's all very well sitting here, tapping away at a keyboard with your morning thoughts but will it get the Revolution revving? She smiled because that's where she always seemed to be hanging about in her head. Revolution. Not the taking to the streets and shouting and calling for heads kind of revolution. Rather, the quiet revolution of collective agreement. She knew that everyone agreed that it was health, happiness, love and laughter for all that mattered and it was this that guided her. Hahahala. A mood, a mindset, a moment. It was a way of life for everyone and though it felt as if she were starting life all over again, it seemed the only way. Now she just needed to let the world know. Love really was the only answer.

The Deliciousness of Sundays

She had long been a fan of Sundays, feeling it to be a time when one could just slow down a bit more than usual. These days, she was slower than she had ever been and yet she still had enough of her own inner pace to warrant needing to slow down sometimes. Sunday was usually that day.

As a child growing up in the 70s, Sundays had been a torturous affair of reluctant church attendance followed by hours of boredom. Her father had played cricket for a local team and on the days they were playing 'at home', the whole family would get to go to the park and spend the day at the grounds. Those Sundays were special.

Her father had been captain of the team and that meant, in addition to organising fixtures and making sure the team had the right kit or 'gears' as he called them, he he was also responsible for 'the teas.' This meant providing a huge pile of sandwhiches with various fillings and vast urns of hot water for the teas and coffees and the woman recalled how she and her little sister would be roped in by their mum to help with the preparation.

They was a system. Loaves of sliced white bread, each slice given a smear of Blue Band margarine and either a slice of cheese or some egg mayonnaise. On some days, when her mother was up to it, there would be tandoori chicken, rice, perhaps even a whole pot of curry. There was no pork because her dad was a loosely practicing Muslim, as were many of the team but there was always beer, because somehow that was allowed. She had loved being involved as child and loved spending the day at the park with all the other children who came with their families to watch the cricket. The children rarely watched the game. It seemed rather dull and so they would explore the park, hang out in the old clubhouse changing rooms and make up adventures of their own. She loved it best when her cousins came but that wasn't often because their dad played for a faraway team in a land called Loughton. It was before the M25 had been built and so Essex really did feel like day trip away. Mobile phones hadn't arrived in the world yet and there was still privacy to do the things kids do.

Looking back, she could see what a luxury it was for whole groups of people to be able to gather every Sunday to play cricket in a local park and have tea together in the break. The children were safe enough and there was no concern about being stabbed by rivals or being snatched by a 'bad man.' Her dad had been captain of the team for years and though she hadn't appreciated it at the time, she could see know that it had taken a huge amount of work and coordination to build a team of cricketers made of brown skinned men in the 1970s when the National Front were on the rise and Cool Britannia was still a way off.

Some 40 odd years later, it felt good to remember the freedoms that she didn't realise she had at the time. Perhaps it was because she was a little less sure than people had realised when she was small. She had spent a lot of time trying to work out why things were as they were and she could see as she got older that the sudden death of her baby brother had essentially shaped her family's path.

Her parents had sometimes been distant, sometimes depressed, sometimes in full party mode. They forged themselves a path through the pain and though the woman had struggled as a child, she could feel now a new understanding of her parents. All people are struggling with something at some point she thought. There's nothing new in that. What is new is the lack of time that people have to spend together and this seemed to her the greatest of tragedies.

She decided that she would consciously spend her time with someone she hadn't seen for a while. She wasn't sure who. She wasn't sure when but she felt that time was the most precious gift and she didn't want to waste any of it.

Sunshine makes the difference

The rain had finally stopped and it felt as if Saturday might bring something new. She wasn't sure why she felt the quiet optimism she had woken with but rather than analyse and interrogate herself about it, the woman decided to simply enjoy the feeling. It had been a rewarding week in the end. The mouse was likely gone after all the holes had been stuffed and filled with wire wool and the cupboards had been stripped and cleaned to new levels.

Although she had initially been appalled at the implications of having a mouse in the house on her own sense of domestic attainment, the woman was now pleased that she had been pushed to an early spring clean. This morning, with the sun finally showing an appearance, the kitchen had looked sparkly and clear and as she looked out at the garden, she was pleased.

She was pleased that the two young gardeners had come and cleared so much of the winter debris away. They had cut back the long over grown shrubs and cut the grass and dug new flower beds and though the woman struggled with just how much was cut back, she knew it would all grow again and this was part of the joy of having a garden.

It was more than a source of joy though. The garden had actually been a life saver and although it had changed many times over the years, it remained a place of peace and tranquillity in the heart of a busy city. Whenever life had been particularly tough, the garden was where she went. When first diagnosed with MS, unable to do very much but cry and wonder what had happened and would happen, the garden had held her safely. She would lay on the bench they had bought many years before and she would look up at the sky for hours, wondering how she was going to deal with a disease that would disable her.

Now, 20 years after that first dreadful year of sickness and confusion, the garden still held its same magic and though she was unlikely to ever lift a sledgehammer and lay a patio again, the woman could feel that there was strength in her that needed to be used. Perhaps now that the big jobs had been done, she might spend the day doing the smaller things. A bit of sweeping, perhaps deadhead the hydrangea that was still holding last year's heads whilst new shoots were trying to come through. An analogy of our times she thought. Dead heads being replaced by new shoots.

Our times. She sighed. Who ever knew we would live through such times. It was hard to comprehend and imagine the implications of all that was going on in the world. The wars, the politics, the divisions. It was taking its toll on the population and the woman could feel it when she spoke to friends. Her friends crossed the social divides and were a mixed bunch. Some lived on the edges of state support, others had their own small businesses and others yet were high flyers on top incomes mixing with the movers and shakers. All of them were juggling and struggling in one way or another and it was this that was likely to be the challenge for the future for people.

How to live our lives with meaning, compassion and purpose when all are in different places and spaces? She returned to her original idea of yesteryear. If everyone focused on their own stuff and consciously grew their own sense of health and happiness whilst contributing to a collective sense of love and laughter, the chances are, we would have something better than what is currently being offered. She smiled as she so often did when she thought about her wild and radical plan. Get the world to grow its hahalala, one person at a time, and surely there would be magic. Starting on an island of sick, depressed, impoverished people being ruled by a heartless, corrupt elite was surely as good a place as any to start.

Yep. Mad as a box of frogs. She had been called it many times, didn't really know why a box of frogs was the comparison to madness and didn't really mind. Madness, sadness, badness, gladness. It was all part of the same human condition she figured. May as well embrace it. The sun was inviting her to go out to play and as it wasn't yet 8 o clock on a Saturday morning, it seemed a very good invitation to accept. She'd make her own hahalala and take the day from there. It was a good look.

Back to basics

By mid -morning, the woman had given up on the idea of another of day of mouse hunt duty and had decided instead to take a wandering mooch to the market hall where she knew she would be bound to meet a stranger as well as see her friends. It happened every day and it was the reason she loved her hometown so much.

The weather was miserable. It was grey, windy with occasional bursts of rain and if she were feeling more grounded, she would probably have stayed in. However, the perturbance of the pesky visitor had played out and aggravated her nerves and she felt a need to move and for human connection. Donning her favourite pink scarf, she left the house feeling sure that someone would comment. Whenever she wore the scarf on such a day, someone would comment on how lovely it was. It didn't always take much to raise a mood on a miserable day on a miserable island at a miserable time. Mostly, it just took a smile and a bit of colour. Today had been like every other.

The first person she met was a young man with a bike and a huge black delivery box, sheltering from the sudden downpour under the awnings of the cafe. He had a confident manner, an easy smile. “This weather's ridiculous innit?” he said.

She agreed and asked what he was delivering. It wasn't food, it was generally vapes and alcohol that he was dropping off. “Well that's reassuring eh? There's talk of war on the radio and the long term possibility of conscription and we have a population chilling with vapes delivered by a man on a bike. Thats more ridiculous than the rain don't you think?” He'd laughed.

“You can tell you're a G. ” It was the long leather coat rather than the pink scarf she suspected but she didn't deny it. “I am indeed. You've got to be the star of your own life's movie and not believe the hype out there.”

“Its true still, ” he replied and as they exchanged more observations and names, she wished him what she called a hahalala day and went off into the mall. Passing a sheltering traffic warden on the way, there was another brief exchange, a smile shared and she hadn't yet reached the new automatic doors.

With a few hellos to traders here and there, she strolled around wondering if there was anything she actually needed. There wasn't really but it was nice to be able to puruse the fruit and the smells coming from the Mauritian restaurant were as delicious as always. It didn't take long to have a full conversation with a woman she had seen many times over the years. They'd always nodded hello but it was the first time the two had stopped and really spoken.

“That scarf looks lovely,” she'd said as they passed each other near Primark and the woman told her happily that her mission with the lovely scarf was now accomplished. They had then spent 15 minutes exchanging stories and agreeing that they loved where they lived. It was messy and it was mad but there were people from all over the world living together in general harmony and this was something both women agreed made it magical and made it so hard to think of leaving. Sharing again the idea that living for hahalala was the only real way, the woman bid her new friend goodbye as they agreed that it really was good to be so rooted in communities.

Mission accomplished in that she had gone out just to talk to strangers and show off her cheery scarf, the woman was happy to return home and perhaps crack on with the plan to bring order and clarity to her cluttered home. She'd start with a cuppa. She'd need to take off the scarf. Perhaps some overalls for the afternoon's duties.

An old Victorian house

It was a house typical of its time, with three bedrooms, a kitchen that had once been extended and a garden, which for city standards, was an impressive length of some 100 feet. Many years ago, at the height of her fitness and health, the woman had spent a summer with her friend Big Bill, laying a patio and having the time of her life.

She looked back now to that summer in 2001 when the world was still in a steady state. She recalled that there was still a sense of excited anticipation in the air about what the new century would bring. She recalled how she and her wife had gone to Alexander Palace on the eve of the new millennium, looking out across London, delighted by the fireworks and full of hope for what the future might bring.

It had all changed on the 9th of September and she could feel now how the reverberations were still being felt. An act of such violence at the beginning of a new millennium had shaped so much of what was to come. It was important not to get overwhelmed even now and she turned her thoughts back to that summer before the world had lost its mind.

All these years later, she could still remember the profound satisfaction she'd had as together she and Big Billy had shifted 15 tonnes of sand, laid out 1500 bricks and she had the chance to use a sledgehammer. She'd loved it, just as she had loved sit on an upturned wheelbarrow having a cup of tea and a smoke in the breaks. It was another of her Mr Benn adventures, dressing up as a builder and playing the game. Joyous.

She'd gone back to school that September, proudly showing the kids her sledgehammer injury – she'd hit a finger and split a nail that threatened to fall off under a sea of bruising and the exaggerated horror of teenagers was all part of the fun. They were such easy times she thought. We just didn't realise. Another life lesson to keep learning. She could still remember where she was when the planes hit the towers and she imagined many others could too if they were so minded.

Of course, that was all in the past somehow, even as the ripples were still being felt across the globe. For now, the woman had other issues to deal with. The most pressing of which was how to deal with a mouse. The thing was, the house was old, the garden was huge and life in the city was a constant competition for food and shelter. It made sense that periodically, a mouse would find its way in, looking for warmth, disturbed in its own dwelling or simply just taking a chance for what it might find. Outside, there were cats who used the garden as a playground, a pair of foxes had been seen emerging from the decking at the back and on one occasion, many, many years ago, the birdfeeders had all been taken down in a flurry after a rat was spotted in a tree behaving like it was at a bottomless buffet. She had been appalled but she had accepted that it was nature.

What she couldn't accept was nature coming into her house, running around, likely leaving its dropping and generally giving her the feeling of eebiejeebies and making her feel like her house was minging. Which it wasn't but clearly, the mouse didn't realise and had left its own trail of doubt in her domestic mind.

She'd reviewed the options. Poison, 'humane' traps or sticky pads. The smell of a poisoned mouse, a box with a mouse caught in it or the chance to trap one on a pad by its foot and then need to be killed manually. None of them appealed.

Instead it had been a day of maniacal cleaning coupled with yards of steel wool crammed into every crack and crevice that she could find. It had taken hours. She wasn't sure it would work and she was exhausted after the early spring clean but it had at least left a sense of some satisfaction. It wasn't quite the patio paradise of yesterday but it had given a reason to finally chuck out the various half bottles of mystery found at the back of the cupboard under the sink and so, with a half held breath, she'd completed the task and crossed her fingers.

She really didn't want to do any killing and she really didn't want to feel like a minger. People said it wasn't because houses were dirty and she knew hers wasn't, but still, it bothered her and anyway, whatever the reasons, she really didn't want the mouse in her house. So far, there was no sign it was still hanging around but perhaps the only option was to keep chucking things out, keep filling holes and keep clearing up any little scrap or morsel that a mouse might find appealing.

She had to keep an eye on her own obsessiveness of course but she figured that with a little perspective, she might be ok and the mouse might not come back. That said, she decided that one more day of mania and magical cleaning cloths could only be a good thing and she resolved to crack on with the task in hand. Move the mouse out of the house and make sure it can't get back in. It was as good a plan as any and she could keep her conscience clear. She didn't need to kill it. She almost laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. All of life is ridiculous really she thought. It's easier once you accept that. Another of those smiles of inner acceptance and it was time to crack on. The holes wouldn't fill themselves and the mouse wouldn't know it was really not welcome. It was good to have a purpose for the day and that was all a person needed really. Purpose. Today, she would purposely not kill a mouse. That was good enough.

Spring was springing

It had been with some degree of relief that the woman had realised that the heaviness she had been feeling for a while had lifted. It was as if she had come through a darkness that had begun to feel like normal life.

She had always had periods of darkness, times when depression seemed to take over. As a child, she hadn't understood it and as an adult, she hadn't recognised it as depression. She had put it down to a kind of moodiness that would take over and leave her feeling hopeless. At times she had been overwhelmed with the state of things in the world and had considered it quite normal to be down about the way people had to live their lives.

It had been different since her wife died some years ago. She had seen up close how precious life was and had seen how much a dying person wants to live. It had made her grateful for every day and though she still had a tendency to get overwhelmed if she didn't manage her mind, she no longer spent days and weeks unable to shift the heaviness.

This was what she was feeling as she woke to a brighter day and saw the daffodils cheerily making their way up and towards the emerging sunshine. it was the same every year she thought. Just as the darkness and cold of winter starts to feel too much, the snow drops and daffodils start peeking out and remind us that no matter what is going on the minds of mankind, Mother Nature has her own rhythm and is always there to show us another way to appreciate life.

She wasn't quite sure what she was doing even writing all this about the state of her mind and the state of the world but she had begun to understand the value of consistency and she wanted to understand more about why humans are the way we are.

thinking again about what was going on in the news and the things she had been reading about how divided everyone was in their opinions about what should be done about the various difficulties being faced, she wondered how much people in charge were really conscious of. Was it all about power and control and status?

Did people in public service still feel that they were making a material difference to people's lived reality or were they all caught up in the machine? She knew a couple of people in local politics and they were decent people but she wasn't sure that they could really do much to improve people's lives against a backdrop of what felt like rapacious capitalism allowing every spare space to be filled by a beige concrete block. She sighed. Bit heavy duty for the morning isn't it? It made her smile. She'd always been a bit intense.

Today, she was a little tired but was looking forward to the gardeners coming. It sounded terribly grand to say the gardeners were coming but the truth was, she had a huge space and it needed some proper attention so that it could spring fully.

She got to thinking again about how to unite people. How to bring people together after a long period of separation. The garden had always been a good place to gather but since the pandemic, people had been less able and less inclined to mix. the last garden party had been five years ago for her 50th. She thought a series of light gatherings might be a gentle way forward and she set herself to planning.

it was time to put her grad plan into action and start the hahalala revolution in earnest. She'd possible come across as a loon to people who didn't know her yet but she was confident that her friends knew the drill. We're going to create a healthy, happy, loving, laughing way of life for all of us. She smiled again and decided that today was going to be a good day.

It was definitely easier to breathe in the countryside

As she opened the door to take in the first deep breaths of the morning air, she heard the birds. It was still early, still dark and there was less chatter amongst the birds than on previous mornings. It had been a stormy night and that had perhaps kept them in their nests a bit longer. Did birds stay in when it was wet she wondered? She hadn't really thought about where birds sleep when it's wet but she assumed like any sensible creature when it was raining and the night was full of lightening that they would stay in and perhaps even have a lie in, skipping the early worms.

Certainly, this morning was a wet one and she couldn't hear the owl that usually delighted her, making its owl sound somewhere in the distance. She loved the mornings in the countryside. She could watch the day arrive, sipping tea and looking out as the sun made its way up in the quiet of a country day unfolding. It was infinitely different from her London mornings and yet, entirely similar.

In London, she would likely be woken by traffic, or the lights or the general rumble of the city. She wouldn't necessarily want to take deep breaths at the back door like she did in Devon and this was now a serious consideration. Her home town was increasingly noisy and the prospect of another new housing development opposite her home was preying on her mind. The plan was to add another three blocks of apartments. 14, 19 and 27 storeys high. This was to add to the 1700 homes that had already been crammed into the once available space and though she had been aware of it all over the past years, the new plans were troubling her.

She didn't want to move from the home she'd lived in for almost 28 years. She liked knowing her neighbours, she loved the magical market hall that had become her playground since leaving her own school career some 20 years ago. She loved that she was from the area, had been to school there, lived, shopped, even worked there in the past. It was home and though it was noisy and the air wasn't clean and the controversial LTNs hadn't blessed her street with any advantages, she was reluctant to leave.

Yet it was becoming clear that it was going to be a necessary move at some point anyway. Regardless of what was going on outside of her front door, it was inside the home that was going to be the deciding factor. It was the stairs.

Admitting that one's ageing body is struggling is one thing. Facing the reality of disability in that ageing body was another thing altogether and it was a simple fact that bodies that sometime struggled to walk certainly found it all easier in the quiet of the countryside. Especially if there were no stairs.

She'd been coming to Devon once a month for some years now. Her girlfriend worked for three days each month in a small village hall, assisting on a course about movement and though the woman wasn't sure what the course entailed, she knew she benefitted by coming along. She had made new connections with local people, just as she had in her hometown and there was a pleasure in seeing the same faces each time.

She shopped in the local shops and had come to know names and a bit about people. The grocer who sold all manner of delicious fresh food but who himself ate no fruit other than bananas and no vegetables other than potatoes. She somehow loved that he made a living selling food he didn't eat but that he knew was good for people. She liked Sean.

The two women who ran a shop selling things you didn't really need but were somehow drawn to had become firm regulars in her wanderings. Though she didn't buy anything because she didn't need more stuff, she always popped in and they would catch up and exchange observations of the world. Much had changed in the five years she had been visiting and yet there was a comfort in the steadiness of the women. They seemed to remain the same.

Then there were the friendly folk in the health food shop and another cobbler who seemed to have the same energy as her market mate. Friendly, cheerful, kind. She had become firm friends with an older woman who had begun with a rather grumpy enquiry about her parking outside the village hall and had ended by inviting her in for tea. Now they would occasionally chat on the phone in between visits and the woman would drop by for a cuppa and a catch up each month. With a combined age of 143 years, there was much to be said about the changes in the world and the two women enjoyed the friendship that emerged, despite the evident differences in their lives. Her new friend was 89 and had been to London just twice in her life. She just couldn't imagine that. She was a Londoner to her core, much as she loved the quiet.

The woman and her lover stayed in the same air bnb each time and it was perfect for their needs. Half of a converted barn with one bedroom, a fabulously close by bathroom that suited the night's needs well, and an open plan kitchen and diner. Huge windows, lots of light and an ever-changing landscape. No stairs, no traffic, a wood burner in the winter and a view overlooking a lily pond. She knew she was blessed. She also knew that one day she would have to leave her home. She couldn't quite conceive of that.

Deciding that she didn't have to decide her future just yet, the woman made another cup of tea, stood on the step and took a long deep breath of the country air. The sun had risen, the storm had passed and it looked to be a gentle day. It was a long road ahead in these changing times. It seemed best to take it one careful step at a time.

Valentine Magic

It was the day after Valentine's Day and the woman had woken with a sense of ease. She hadn't received or sent any cards and had been given a simple gift from a woman who made soaps in the Market. She was pleased for her friend who ran one of the shops in the market and whose main stays were the high days and holidays. Christmas, Easter, Valentines, End of Term, Halloween and back into Christmas with all the myriad birthdays and reasons to celebrate life in between.

The shop had been there since the start of the Mall, some 45 years previously. A small space, tucked into a corner between a hardware shop and a carpet seller, it was a constantly changing landscape of balloons and banners and party pieces for every occasion. It had literally been there since the woman herself was still at school and her own grandmother had been a stalwart customer for all the greetings cards for the family for all of those years.

Over the years of her early retirement from teaching, the woman had become friends with the owner and the shop itself had become a steadying point for her as her mobility waned and her own world became smaller and more condensed.

When she had first moved to the area, almost 30 years ago, she hadn't spent much time in the local shopping centre. She was aware of it of course, having grown up in the local area but like most full time workers, she had commuted through her local community and not paid much attention to what was happening. Work took up all the bandwidth and in her youth, there were far more exciting places to shop.

Now though, with legs that found it ever harder to coordinate themselves, the market was a focal point for achievement . The days that she could walk from her house to the balloon shop in the corner of the market were good days and it was her friend's encouragement that often motivated her.

It had been a comfort to her when she had first stopped working to find new friends who were close by. She had become friends with the cobbler first, in part because his counter was closer and the first she could reach when, all those years ago, she'd had to learn to walk again. As it was, it turned out that the two of them had gone to the same school, albeit five years apart and it had been another of the comforts at a time when her life was spinning out of control. She'd become close friends with the cobbler and they had visited the Covent Garden Astrologer each year to have their annual equinoxes read. She smiled as she thought about the lives that none of us know about. Who knew that a retired headteacher and a cobbler would have their stars read by a man called Barry. Life's little mysteries.

She'd become friends with the new cobbler who had taken over when her friend left to explore his culinary dreams. The new cobbler was a kind man who liked a laugh and a meal out and over the years, a friendship had formed as the two of them would talk about food and what they would be eating that day. They talked about places they had been, meals they'd had, places they wanted to try. Ironic really, given she'd had an eating disorder when she was first mooching about the market.

She'd spent many a moment at the key counter over the years and the young lad who had started 17 years ago as a Cobbler's assistant was now a father of two and was like a son to the woman herself. That was the real magic she thought. The love that exists in that market. People don't always notice and that was a shame she thought. So much is missed when we just hurry through. Youth. Wasted on the young. She could feel that now and she was glad for the lessons and glad for the magic of the market.

She felt a huge love for the place. For the sanctuary it had given when she was broken. For the warmth when her wife had died and life was frozen for a while. For the sheer insanity and genius of being able to make a living selling bits and pieces that people felt they needed. The balloons had always baffled her.

She thought about the scene in the shop at 5pm on Valentine's day. The men looking for something, anything, that would convey a message, keep to the tradition and keep them out of trouble. She wondered how many women had enjoyed the carefully wrapped teddy bears with chocolates and a ballon with I Love You written in glitter. She hoped they all had though she suspected some might see through the last minute charade.

Personally, she was glad not to have participated in the Valentine's malarkey. She loved her girlfriend and her girlfriend loved her. That was more than enough. With friends, a lover and kids she adored, there wasn't much else a woman could want and on that note, she stepped out into the new day, feeling the ease that was possible with love.

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