Matilde Radice: Untitled

Introduction

Imagine a world, an alternative universe, where everyone is born with a small tattoo on their ankle; a birth mark if you will. Everyone’s tattoo is unique, no two will ever be the same, and every time you fall in love, the other person’s tattoo appears somewhere on your body. It could appear somewhere easily visible, like below your eye or on your wrist, or, it could appear somewhere hidden like on your rib or foot. It will always be there, permanently inked on your skin, even when you don’t love them anymore. This story will talk about four different people. One who fell in love for the first time, one who’s fallen into a forbidden love, one who’s had their heart broken, and one who believes she’ll never find a love of her own.

First love

“I’ll see you tomorrow then.” “Sure.” They kissed, one of those kisses that left her with a smile on her lips and made her heart skip a beat. He walked up to his house, opened the door, turned around one last time to give a small wave and then went in. Finally she could let that overtaking smile turn into a grin and quickly turned away just in case he could still see her, smiling like an idiot, through his window. It was a cold night, she was still wearing his jacket. She hugged herself at the thought of a part of him still being with her. She couldn’t believe that this was now her second date with Nathan Robinson, the boy she’d had a crush on since primary six. She was rubbing her hands together trying to heat herself up, when she passed under a street light and something caught her eye. A small star-shaped mark had appeared on her index finger. Her eyes glowed as she remembered back to primary seven when she’d noticed this very mark on Nathan’s ankle. Her head started spinning, she stood still in the cold staring at her hand. She always thought it, but here was the proof inked on her skin. She was in love, madly and uncontrollably, with Nathan Robinson. Her first love. She sighed and continued to walk home, not knowing what to expect from the future. All she could hope was that her tattoo was somewhere on his body too.

Forbidden Love

The lady at the till gave him an odd look. He smiled back and tried to ignore the fact he was purchasing several tubes of concealer. “It’s for the wife,” he said. But it wasn’t, it was for him. He left the beauty store and hurried into his car, his heart beat increasing. With a shaking hand he opened the first concealer and applied it over the tattoo of a rose which had he discovered on his wrist the night before. It wasn’t meant to turn into this, Lacey was just someone he’d go to when he was alone, for his wife had been a bit distant, her job beginning to take up her life. Lacey was a friend from work, and she was known for not being interested in serious relationships. She started by asking him to drive her home on rainy days or touching his hand when he walked past. It wasn’t meant to turn into this. He never would’ve thought of himself as the type of man to have an affair and he never thought what he had with Lacey could turn into love. Whilst he knew that he and his wife weren’t what they used to be, he still cared a lot for her and knew he couldn’t break her heart by showing up at home with another woman marked on his wrist. He would tell her, eventually, he knew he had to, but he wasn’t ready. So for now all he could do was cover his arm in concealer, covering up the truth. 

Broken Love

He lay on his bed, staring up at the ceiling, he had nothing in him anymore. No more tears, no more anger, no more of that unbearable pain in his ribs, just nothing. He felt empty and alone, as if any light or happiness in his life had vanished. He moved his hand up to the side of his neck, to touch the cube shaped tattoo. This was Harry’s tattoo. He couldn’t feel it but he still knew it was there, marked on his skin forever. He felt his eyes begin to water again. He’d always been afraid of love, afraid of giving himself completely to someone, afraid that if he put his heart in someone’s hands, they’d easily be able to drop it, until he met Harry. Harry had made him feel safe and feel that it was okay to love another man. He made him feel loved. They’d had a secret story for a few weeks now, neither brave enough to tell the world. But at this party, he’d caught Harry with another girl, Nora. She was Harry’s ex-girlfriend from last year and believed that they were still in love. He couldn’t take in what he saw so he just started running home and eventually he could hear someone trying to catch up with him. Despite the tears blurring his vision, he knew it was Harry, calling out for him to wait and promising he could explain.

He rolled over in his bed and shut his eyes, attempting to forget these events which his mind kept replaying. Eventually he fell asleep, his eyes still wet with tears and his hand still holding his neck.

Impossible Love

She wasn’t a very happy person. From the age of 14 her life consisted mostly of therapy sessions and prescriptions. She hated it, just like she hated everything else; the pills made her feel sick and the therapy made her feel stupid. She hated how she did badly in school, how she never reached her goals, how she’d treated some good people in her life, the way she looked, acted, spoke, how she had no talent. She hated herself. But the worst part was that all this self hatred wasn’t even her fault. She was born like this, set up to fail, the chemicals in her brain constantly imbalanced. She wasn’t very lucky with friends either. Except for Ty. Ty had been her friend since they were 2; 15 years now. She could always count on him, he was loyal and would always make her feel better. She’d call him when she felt sad and he’d come over. Sometimes he’d bring food, sometimes he’d bring a film he knew she loved and sometimes they just sat in silence on the porch, looking out at the world from her backyard. Tonight was one of those times, although Ty seemed a little different.

“What’s up with you”

“What you mean?”

“You just seem…weirder tonight”

Ty looked over to her; something had changed in his eyes. “You have no idea how much I care about you, do you?”

She looked at him oddly, no idea where this conversation was heading. “Last week,” he continued, “when we were watching Notting Hill, you said you’ll never find someone who would look at you the way William looked at Anna.”

“Well yeah, I mean I can’t realistically see anyone falling in love with the mess that is me.”

They both smiled at this, and sat it silence for a little longer. Then, he pulled his sleeve, showing a small sparrow marked on his arm. At first she didn’t understand why he was showing her this. Was he trying to rub it in her face that he’d found love, something she never would? And then it hit her. She looked down at her ankle, just to double check, just to make sure that she hadn’t imagined that her tattoo was now permanently on his arm. She couldn’t understand and despite her best efforts, she couldn’t say a word.

“I’m in love with you” he said “and I’m sorry if that hurts you, and I know that you might never love me back, but I just wanted to let you know that just because you don’t see how beautiful you are, doesn’t mean no one else can”.

Anthony Thompson: More than just a stadium

Some people say I offer guidance. For others I provide hope. For many I am part of a weekly pilgrimage. They are faithful, devoted. I may not offer the healing of Lourdes. I may not offer the suffering of El Camino De Santiago. I may not off the riches of the Vatican. But the community which I provide offers an awe inspiring sense of camaraderie. Transformation: the city, the atmosphere, families, lives … communal, commune, communion.

Art surrounds me. Abstract buildings which lack any kind of symmetry. Every individual curve contributes to the uniqueness of this rare beauty. Construction is constant, changing, a chameleon. Pencil turrets protect the holy family stretching heaven-words. Yet Picasso’s words have never felt so true “every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up”. In this place I call home los niños produce art in the most modern forms. Light and shadow, the modern designs, waves and undulations provide a canvas for new inspiration. Just as the artist flicks paint from the palette vigorously stroking ideas into the fabric, so too do Barcelona’s youths stride through the fiery orange sunset casting shadows and creating reflections on the concrete below. It’s a marriage of old and new and there is old and new art created within me, underneath my halo of light.

Here the canvas is green, organic and the art is created in moments. The physical motions produced are fleeting, not tangible. However the beauty constructed offers memories which last a lifetime. These memories unite people from all aspects of life(an art in itself) in a way that a frame on a wall could never achieve the passive experience of standing in an art gallery allows you to soak in and admire yet the experience here is so much more. It is a family it is synergy, it is adrenaline, it is climax, it is anticipation, it is bitter disappointment, it is art. And it is art which is constantly evolving, adapting to the style of the modern game. The generosity lends itself to the short sharp precision and equality of tiki-taka and still there is delicate weaving fluidity from individuals. The very laws of physics and the universe are called into question when a goal is in sight.

The worshipper strides towards the altar, genuflects then kneels in prayer.

These worshippers burst through the turnstiles, bustle through their row and raise their scarfs to the heavens.

The priest blesses the bread and the wine, creating the body and blood of Christ. Consecration. Genesis.

The player with his back turned to goal, transforms a dead ball, giving it life, creating hope. Magical. Messi.

Their voices chant in praise: “I believe in one God, the father almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible”.

They chant, reaffirming their belief in this God. “Ole -le ola, ser del Barca ēs el millor que hi ha!”

The priest reads from the book of Genesis. “And on the 7th day God finished his work that he had done and he rested.

In the commentary box they pontificate over the work of this divine player: he had finished the work he had done, now is his time for rest.

I am part of history. This combination of oxymorons are the raw ingredients of the beautiful game.

Pedro Alonso, 96, sits front row with his wife of 70 years. The lines engraved on his warm face represent memories of close to a decade of Catalan history. He remembers the solidarity as the crowd booed de Rivieras dictatorship; he watched idols enlist to fight for the values of their city in the civil war. He helped rebuild the Barcelona stadium after a devastating attack. He remembers the football of old, the slow laboured pace of 11 locals scrambling in defence. Then came the revolution. Short electric bursts from geniuses exploding into attack. These are not just any players, they certainly were not just the 11 best athletes in the city. They have been mined, treasure, from the very ends of the earth. The commitment and longevity towards Pedro’s marriage seems mediocre when compared to his first love, F.C. Barcelona.

Pedro is one of my many thousands of children to whom I provide 90 minutes of pure escapism. I watch over them and follow each story. I have been with them through tragedies, supported through bereavements and have celebrated with them on so many levels.

Rivalry stains the city blood red, it flows through the streets like a Rioja during a fiesta. My greatest rivalry lies less than 5 miles to my east where the red cape billows in the wind striking into the bull. The matador and the bull are sworn enemies; showmanship, skill and sadism are pitted against the innocent angry animal instinct of the bull. It is versus animal, good versus evil, Barcelona versus Real Madrid. The red of the bull fight symbolises dominance, blood, rage. It is time for the cape to be buried in the dust of the arena. This rivalry is slowly dissipating. My spectacle, el Classico, is Barcelona’s main attraction. The red here symbolises the humble benevolent nature of my congregation. The ox blood stripes on the Barcelona kit represents the determined hearts of the players. They play for Catalonia. The cold monochrome of Real Madrid is indicative of their selfish character. This team play for the monarchy, they play for the rich wealth of Madrid. This team is here for themselves not the supporters. They embody the corruption of Spain. They are reckless, careless attackers who will win by any means necessary.

I am a proud father who has nurtured many sons and have been by each of their sides as they achieve greatness. I don’t have favourites, I see their flaws but I celebrate their successes. A few stand out … The eldest, Cruyff, is an innovative genius on and off the pitch. Ok, ok, I know I’m biased though it’s true. The balletic grace of a 180 spin simply just to change direction is a prime example of his practical magic … these seminal movements are unforgettable. Don’t even get me started on Maradona, the mischievous characters that everybody loves to hate. Fiery, feisty, fighty. Maradona done everything to win. It frustrates me that people remember him as a cheat with the “hand of God” but that kid had stunning technical ability. And the baby, my golden child with the golden boots, Messi. Although he is the youngest, Leo is a glittering example of sacrifice. I will never forget the day I welcomed this 13 year old into my home, his home, out home. A child on the cusp of adolescence, an amateur on the cusp of professionalism, an ordinary man on the cusp of becoming a legend. He is eclectic, reliable, inspirational, a leader, magical. They are everything to me. Mi amor por ellos es Infiniti.

On Las Ramblas, sipping Estrella with friends, they prepare. In La Boguiera enjoying cheese, wine and the bustling atmosphere, they prepare. Travelling through the pulsating arteries of Barcelona’s metro, they prepare. The manager delivers his sermon of motivation; the players indulge in last minute superstitions; the noise from the crowd channels hope within the players … they are prepared. It is 7:45. It is Saturday night. It is time. This is not a game, this is a legacy, a community, a family. Because without each other we are nothing. “We are more than just a club”. We are Barcelona

Charlie McCallum: Santorini

Santorini

In Santorini,

Across the graceful Aegean

Flawless white stone lays submerged

Beneath Royal blue domes,

Branded by the Holy Trinity

One of Nature’s jokes:

A white celestial heaven

Born out of destruction and desolation.

Through a millennium of torture and Ash

Shines sheer perfection in the face of God

Almost.

Through every narrow winding street

Rugged merchants cry loud

‘Tomatoes, Capers, Chloro, Wine.’

And on every face that wanders by

Marks of desire, Marks of seduction.

As each day passes by

Cruise ships dock and disgorge

An Exodus of hungry consumers

Charging through, like legionnaires,

Stabbing her, tearing out her heart.

While the sinister drone of mopeds run by.

Poisoning her air,

Stealing her virtue.

From all corners of the world,

North to South

East to West

Her superficial purity and innocence

Attracts the fragile minded to her shores.

Shores of a tortured beauty:

Each grain of sand

Black as the ash which gave birth to them.

Her elegance though, compromised,

By those who seek to enslave her.

As Greek masters grow fat

They tighten their grip round the noose of their slaves.

Who function

As bolts on the wheel of capitalism.

They sit on their throne of corruption

In a ‘benevolent’ kingdom

Transcendent to the screams of poverty-stricken Athens.

However,

Santorini,

Atlantis risen from the sea.

She stands today,

A shinning beacon of light.

A glimmer of hope.

In this once noble house,

Known as Greece.

She’s reminiscent,

of the civilisation they once were:

Democracy, Philosophy.

Fallen, decayed into corruption and anarchy.

But no matter how lost,

Or hopeless it may seem.

Her sunset over the Aegean brings forth:

A supreme serenity,

A new dawn of change to come.

Charlie McCallum

Michael McDonald: Are Comic Books Just For Kids?

”…this is going to hurt you a lot more than it does me…”

Then the Clown Prince of Crime with a sinister smile on his face beats 15-year-old Jason Todd (Robin) to death with a crowbar as his mother watches on, with no hero to save him. In the decades that have followed this atrocity, Batman has suffered from what we know to be post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Only now after 30 years has he eventually salvaged his sanity, despite still being haunted by the sight of his arch nemesis standing over Jason’s limp and mutilated body. This is just one of the many horrifying moments that have occurred in the so-called ‘child’s entertainment’ industry that is comic books. Now, as a young child you may have read a comic such as The Beano or The Broons. However, now you’re all grown up and are ‘wiser’ in the ways of the world, you probably have this perception that comics are simply for kids, when in actual fact very few are.

I’m guessing you’ve heard of Tony Stark? Iron Man? Most likely you have but what you probably don’t know is that he was an alcoholic in the late 70s. How about Roy Harper? Ever heard of him? He’s Green Arrow’s sidekick and, like the singer-songwriter of the same name, he was suffering from a heroin addiction in 1971. A bit different from CBBC or Disney Channel, wouldn’t you say? I don’t know about you but personally, I wouldn’t exactly regard drug and alcohol abuse as ‘children’s entertainment’; however they do say each to their own. These events are actually what make the characters you know and love, but very few of you will have heard of these darker gritty sides of them as these aspect are only hinted at through their cinematic counterparts to make them more ‘family friendly’ or ‘PG’. Now don’t get me wrong: there are some comics that are aimed at younger readers, but to say that the whole medium is for kids is outrageous. For example, in an article in The Telegraph written by the journalist Rhymer Rigby, simply the headline alone, “No self-respecting adult should buy comics or watch superhero movies”, is preposterous. Take The Walking Dead; that show is well known for being one of the grittiest and most gruesome programmes on television but trust me when I say that it’s mild compared to the horrors printed on the pages of the comic book. In addition to this, you have masterpieces such as Saga, one of the most critically-acclaimed storylines in comic-book history, that is still evolving every month when the next issue appears on shelves. But this comic is far from the world of superheroes. It’s more like our version of Game of Thrones. Violence, sex, racism… it has it all, but not only does it portray these mature subjects, it deals with them in a serious manner by showing the reality of every aspect within these delicate matters. I don’t know any child that would fully understand these subjects, never mind take benefit from the way in which they are explored within the pages of this comic and in fact many other comics like it. 

Everyone assumes that comic books are simply about some witty superhero saving a cat from a tree or a man in spandex foiling a villain’s ‘foolproof’ evil plan to destroy humanity but they’re simply not. Like any other form of entertainment, there are hundreds of different genres and themes: ‘Alex + Ada’, a romantic sci-fi that explores how an artificially intelligent robot could possess emotions; ‘East Of West’, a sci-fi western that depicts a hostile America in the aftermath of the civil war that is segregated into numerous factions; ‘Postal’, a crime thriller that shows a young postman living in a town full of ex-convicts while also having to deal with the effects of Asperger’s disease; ‘Y The Last Man’, a post-outbreak drama where every man on the planet is dead except for one and we see the numerous challenges he faces. Honestly, the list is endless, but people are so naïve that they just stereotype them as being about superheroes. For any comic enthusiast like myself, this is infuriating, as comics contain breathtaking or horrifying tales combined with stunning and jaw-dropping artwork, yet they are still perceived to be on the same level as the Teletubbies or Thomas the Tank Engine. It blows my mind!

From the $2 billion made by Avengers: Infinity War in 2018 to the $380 million made by Batman Begins back in 2005, the comic genre has ruled the cinematic box office for over a decade. Despite this, the stories that made these films a reality are still considered to be for children. If you looked at the revenue these films produce would you think their origins were just for kids? No, of course, you wouldn’t, because how on earth could a multi-billion dollar industry originate from some stories simply for children? The reality is it couldn’t have. These films are so popular because they appeal to people of all ages, whether it’s for the out of this world storylines, the extraordinary characters or even the ground-breaking and innovative CGI (Computer Generated Images) that has changed the world of cinematography forever. These films are being produced year after year in Hollywood due to the fan base continually growing and expanding. This can not only be seen through the money they make but through events such as the San Diego Comic Con where hundreds of thousands of adoring fans dress up as their favourite characters each year and descend on the city’s exhibition centre for all things comics. Nevertheless, our society still maintains the stereotype that comics are just for kids. Why? To be honest, I don’t know. The only difference between the comics and the films (other than the way they are created) is that in actual fact the comics are more complicated to understand and comprehend. Yet our society still believes that they are simply small magazines with a few cartoon pictures and some big speech bubbles with onomatopoeic words emblazoned within them.

Much like with any argument there are always counters and mine is without exception. Many people would say that if you’re an adult or even a teenager why buy what is essentially a magazine when you can buy a fully-fledged book? Well for a start it is not simply a magazine. It is a comic book and it deserves the same respect that is shown to the works of Dickens or Dumas. It contains the same amount of action, excitement, drama, comedy and twists as any other literacy masterpiece. However, as it contains pictures and speech bubbles rather than bland boring pages of text it is believed to be for children. It is honestly astonishing that this is the case, as these pictures and speech bubbles are actually created by award-winning artists and writers such as Frank Miller and Alan Moore, who have both proved themselves in the worlds of art and literature respectively. However, the world sees that as it is not page upon page of endless sentences and paragraphs it must simply be for younger readers. If people were to actually flick through a few pages of a comic they would immediately be drawn into an imaginary world of the author’s choosing, where any number of events could unfold. No different from any other King or Christie creation.

The reality is comics are just the artistic reincarnation of books. They are written by authors but adapted with stunning and scintillating drawings to help enhance the reading experience. Just because they contain pictures doesn’t mean they are just for children: they are for all people, no matter what their age who enjoy both art and storytelling. They are not simply about superheroes: they tackle a wide range of issues across different genres, such as discrimination in space within Saga or the horrors that plague an apocalyptic world within the Walking Dead. There is no limit to what they can express so they simply cannot be limited to children. They are for everyone.

Bibliography

  1. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_highest-grossing_films
  2. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demon_in_a_Bottle
  3. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snowbirds_Don%27t_Fly
  4. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/no-self-respecting-adult-should-buy-comics-or-watch-superhero-mo/
  5. http://comicbasics.com/a-death-in-the-family/
  6. Quote from Batman: A Death In The Family by Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo

Up in Flames – Hannah Martin

What bothered Detective Inspector Henderson about the Morris house fire was the straighteners.

He understood that all the boys at the office had written off the tragedy as an electric fault caused by the overheating of a pair of straighteners but still, he knew better. Veronica – ‘Mrs Morris, Steven,’ he frustratedly corrected himself – had never straightened her hair once in all the time he had known her, and to his knowledge did not even own a pair.

And yet the indigo hair tool was one of the only artefacts recovered from the blaze.

DI Henderson wasn’t officially assigned to the case due to the obvious yet unspoken personal conflict, but he could not resist investigating the death of a mother, father and teenage daughter for himself. After all, he did have the highest conviction rate of anyone in the North East Division.

And that is how he found himself at the station on a fog filled Friday night, staring with bleak, strained eyes at a computer screen whose words had converged into one riddled mess. He was deflated after another chaotic day of solving everyone else’s problems instead of being allowed to get on with his own assignments, and now he had stayed in the office for God knows how long in an attempt to find some closure through cracking this ‘incident’.

Henderson groped blindly for his mug of coffee, and grimaced at the bitter, cold taste. ‘Christ’ he wondered, ‘what time is it?’ He stretched over the laptop to grab his phone from the large pile of memos on his desk. The cheeriness of the lock screen staring up at him almost intensified the guilt that he was constantly attempting to repress. There was Sharon, beaming at the camera whilst fixing Jamie’s tie on his first day of school. Henderson remembered practically brimming with pride as he watched his son walk through those gothic iron gates for the first time. He was so happy back then, comfortable and pleased with life and everything it had to offer – it was not until much later that he had noticed the great feeling of unease in his stomach, causing him to doubt the content he held for life.

Shaking his head and rubbing his eyes, DI Henderson attempted to clear both his mind and his conscience. Three people had died. Given that everyone else had shoved this case to the bottom of their piles, he had no other option but to try his hardest to ensure that if someone was to blame, they would get the punishment they deserved.

He reviewed all the evidence that had been gathered by the investigation department once more in the hope of connecting something that he hadn’t seen before. There wasn’t much to work with, only a few witness statements from neighbours claiming not to have seen anything out of the ordinary during the early hours of the 20th, and DNA results from the forensics lab from recovered items which came back inconclusive.

Henderson was getting more and more frustrated, and he couldn’t tell whether it was with the case or himself. There was nothing mysterious or even alarming about the house fire, just the deep sense of tragedy and loss that had instantly become deep rooted into the local community. But despite the fact there were no official suspects, he felt that the damning evidence needed to unravel the never ending thread of this case was close to being discovered, but he couldn’t seem to be able to grasp it.

With a deflated and defeated sigh, Henderson shut down his laptop, shrugged on his grey raincoat and switched off the IKEA desk lamp. He realised that he was one of only a few left in the dull office, before the unlucky members of the night shift claimed the space as their own.

He stood at the main door for a moment, his mind continuing to race as it searched for possible suspects, motives, methods, theories, anything. He became frustrated as he faced the prospect of having to leave this case alone with nothing to show for it but a gut feeling that it wasn’t an accident, as he opened his umbrella and stepped out into the car park.

The night immediately enveloped him, and he struggled with the harsh wind and pouring rain. He regretted not having driven his car to work that morning because despite the walk only being a mile or so, in this weather time would stretch itself out as far as it could possibly manage. He begrudgingly started the walk, while scanning the mental documents of his mind in the hope of exposing a clue to the fire that he hadn’t noticed before.

Henderson was so engaged in his review, he physically tensed up when the sound of a car horn entered his head. When he finally reconnected to reality, he located the source of the noise, a red Ford Fiesta which was being driven by a man who appeared to be beckoning him over. He strode over to the car with faltering confidence – why was a stranger intent on getting his attention?

“That umbrella’s not doing you much good is it pal?” The man had a cheery voice, held within a ruddy, weather beaten face that could’ve belonged to a 30 year old or a pensioner. Henderson began to recognise him, almost sure he was a constable.

“Ah yes, it’s my own fault for thinking that I could get fit,” Henderson replied politely – he didn’t know this man very well, and at that moment was reaching desperately into the crooks of his brain for his name.

The guard didn’t seem to notice his struggle as he carried on, “Here, aren’t you out near that new Sainsbury’s?”

“Eh, yes that’s right.” Was it Bob? No, definitely Bradley. Bill?

“Well what’re you still standing out there getting soaked for then? Jump in, I’m going that way anyhow.”

Henderson became immediately aware of the sense of suspicion that seemed to vibrate through him as he analysed the strange situation. “Are you sure? I don’t want to bother you.”

“Absolutely pal! It’s not a bit of trouble.”

Henderson walked slowly around the car, grappled with his umbrella, and settled into the passenger seat. He glimpsed at the dashboard, where he caught a glimpse of the police constable’s ID card. So he’s a Bill then.

After Henderson mumbled his gratitude, the first few minutes of the ride were tense and awkward, with the only sound being the windshield wipers as they struggled to clear the storm that lay ahead.

“So, Steve,” Bill asked casually, “where is it you live exactly?”

He gave Bill the address of his quaint, modest bungalow and watched as he took the next exit off the roundabout. They were getting close when Henderson felt a pang of guilt as he realised that he must be keeping Bill from getting home to his family. Henderson began to voice an apology when Bill abruptly cut him off. “Ah nonsense! It’s nothing to me, I’ve got no family, you see. Never married. No kids. Nothing. So pal, it’s the least I could do for a family man in need.” Henderson became quiet at that, feeling as though he had somehow brought up a sensitive subject for Bill.

“Ah look at that Stevey, we made it here in record time for this kind of weather, don’t you think?” He nodded in reply, and thanked Bill again for the lift home.

“Anytime pal,” Bill said earnestly. “I’ll see you soon enough.”

“Eh, yes I’ll definitely see you around. Thanks again Bill.” Henderson replied, getting out of the car in a brisk manner and attempting to dodge the huge swell of rain on his way up the path of his home.

Bill watched as DI Steve Henderson approached his front steps, readying himself to be greeted by his picture perfect wife and young son. Bill’s pebble eyes hardened, as he toyed with the lighter in his pocket. As he waited in the twilight for the family’s lights to extinguish, the arsonist could practically see how beautiful the bungalow would look as it became wrapped in the dancing embers of sunset flames. The arsonist waited, and as he waited he laughed to himself because after all – all good things must, eventually, go up in flames.

Land of Hope and Glory? – Nina Snedden

Trauma. Torture. Torment. All of which should be synonymous with the turmoil imposed upon millions by the British Empire. Yet, on the horizon of a post-Brexit Britain, a sickening sense of national superiority seems to have emerged from the dewy shades of the British empire, once extolled by many as the ‘empire on which the sun never sets.’

An underlying nostalgia for the imperial dominance that the British empire once brought, and a sense of chauvinistic pride surrounding it, and the supposed stability that it secured- despite its harrowing treatment of countries such as India, Yemen and South Africa- is detectable within Britain today. A large section of the British public seems trapped in a web of blind glorification through denial or blatant ignorance. Despite the shocking accounts of imperialist atrocities now widely available for the British public, many Brits seem, even with the knowledge of these events, to be party to a once dormant sense of pride due to the empire’s past assertion of power and dominance over other countries. In recent years, this mentality seems to have erupted once again; fuelled by the jingoistic sentiments of xenophobic politicians and recent events in Britain. A YouGov survey shows that 59% of the British public are proud of the Empire, only 19% are ashamed, whilst 23% don’t know. These results imply a sense of amnesia throughout a large section of Britain regarding British imperialist abominations. During the Boer Wars, Britain was responsible for the death of 10% of the entire Boer population in one year alone, including 22,000 children- yet a large percentage of the British population remains deluded by the miasma that obscures our nation’s understanding of our own history. How can this be?

Many empire fetishists argue colonies profited and prospered under the red white and blue of the gaudily coloured union-jack parasol. Niall Ferguson, author of Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, falls under this category, writing,”… no organisation in history has done more to promote the free movement of goods, capital and labour than the British Empire in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. And no organisation has done more to impose Western norms of law, order and governance around the world”. Yet, Britain, in fact kept its colonies and subjects in the shade, confining them to the dark shadows of exploitation. The empire’s indisputable intention was to plunder countries of their natural resources and labourers, with an utter disregard for the suffering of those living under their rule. Ashley Jackson, Professor of Imperial and Military History at King’s College London, comments, “The basis of empire is that you rule other people, you deny them independence, you exploit their labour and resources, and a lot of the ‘good things’ were often incidental and secondary.”

During recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, when counter protestors met white nationalists at the ‘Unite the Right’ Rally, a 32 year old woman and two Virginia state patrol troops were killed and 19 people were injured. This ostensibly indicates a rise in white supremacist activity and a reluctance to condemn America’s history of slavery. Britain has heavily criticised the US and Trump- with Theresa May commenting that there was “no equivalence between those who propound fascist views and those who oppose them”, and stating that “It is important for all those in positions of responsibility to condemn far-right views wherever we hear them.” Yet bizarrely, Britain itself still seems to glorify its imperial past, shrouded as it is in impropriety, immorality and iniquity. The discussion of it is often carefully orchestrated so as to imply that colonies largely prospered under British rule. Statues erected in areas of Britain dedicated to such tyrants as Cecil Rhodes and Edward Colston go some way to prove that the fetishisation of British imperialism is still rife within a large division of British society today. Having made his fortune in the mining industry, Cecil Rhodes became focused upon the annexation of present-day Zimbabwe. Rhodes succeeded in creating the eponymously named ‘Rhodesia’ in an attempt to assert the British as ‘the first race in the world.’ Rhodes can be held accountable for essentially engineering the system of ‘apartheid’ in South Africa, by separating the Africans working in his mines from the rest of civilisation, as well as stealing millions of miles of indigenous lands and prompting the outbreak of the second Boer War, which resulted in the death of 25,000 Afrikaners. In the context of Britain today, Rhodes would be widely regarded as a white supremacist, a racist and a criminal. Why is it that his statue adorns Oriel College, Oxford?

The Brexit vote in June 2016 further points to an underlying nostalgia for British imperial dominance and a hope to reassert Britain as a ‘world power’. Historian, Margaret MacMillan said ‘They’re talking about the glorious Elizabethan Age; they’re talking about that time that Britain ruled the world. It’s a fake sort of nostalgia because of course it doesn’t take into account the complexities [of the situation].’ This desire to return to an age of power and influence requires the renewal of trading relationships with past British colonies. In a speech in July 2017 Theresa May referred to ‘building new relationships’ and reaching ‘trade agreements’ with ‘old friends’. May’s reference to past British colonies as ‘old friends’ goes far to prove the extent of Britain’s delusion surrounding its nefarious imperial past. During the Bengal famine of 1943, many Indians perished under the hand of ‘the war hero’ Churchill, regarded by history as an honourable British leader. Yet it is unlikely that the 3 million Indians who died during this period would view Britain with the same bizarrely fond affection. Nor the 3 million victims torn from their homes in colonies and enslaved between 1562 and 1807. And certainly not the Adenese, who were stripped of their clothing, sexually exploited, and forced into refrigerated cells, in the torture camps opened during the Aden emergency of the 1960s. Foreign secretary, Boris Johnson commented “We used to run the biggest empire the world has ever seen, with a much smaller domestic population and a relatively tiny civil service… Are we really unable to do trade deals?” However, British colonies including India, having suffered under the violent rule of the British empire for decades, have now economically, democratically and morally surpassed Britain. The rotting corpse of the empire cannot and should not be resuscitated.

Entrenched supremacy, racism and discrimination remains palpable within the British mindset today. The undeniably jingoistic Last Night of the Proms is another clear example of the underlying nostalgia for imperial dominance that still exists in a large faction of British society. Songs such as ‘Rule Britannia’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ extoll the “virtues” of British imperialism. John Drummond, who ran the Proms during the 1980s and 1990s for the BBC referred to being ‘moved from tolerant enjoyment to almost physical revulsion’ in response to the BBC’s glaring dismissal for those who suffered under the tyranny of the empire. Many argue that tradition calls for these songs to be played. However, it was not until 1905 that ‘Rule Britannia’ became a fixed song in the event, and not until as late as 1953 that ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ became a permanent source of particular frustration for anti-imperialists. Lyrics such as ‘Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves!’, as well as, ‘Britons never, never, never shall be slaves’ imply a specific disregard for the millions of civilians enslaved and murdered under the British rule. The undulating union jack flags hark back to a false memory of when Britons appeared to ‘Rule the waves.’

Unless we collectively address and condemn our imperialist past as a nation, statues will continue to be erected condoning slavery and torture, songs will continue to be sung glorifying an empire responsible for the death of millions, and Britain, although it will likely not return to the world-wide stature and superiority it once supposedly possessed, may continue to allow racism, violence and pain to be the basis upon which power is placed. We cannot allow Britain to regress in such a way.

Take a Bow – Molly Connelly

“A must-see production”, “Enchanting, feel good musical”, “Stunning performance.” Such phrases are typical of the comments commonly made by critics when reviewing musical theatre productions. These critics are of course, knowledgeable professionals who are much more experienced in the world of show business than I am. But I must say this: the fact that musicals are described in such superficial terms always disappoints me. To talk of a musical in terms of the ‘entertainment’, the ‘charm’, the ‘fun’ is, I feel, to miss the potential power that an onlooker can experience when confronted with a well executed musical. When the final curtain comes down to a roar of applause or a standing ovation, the theatre embodies the spirit of each magical production and makes a subtle impact on all those cheering. This essay is an attempt to convey that now I am sixteen, I appreciate that each stage production I have seen symbolises my level of maturity and provided life messages I unknowingly required at the time.

Whistle Down the Wind taught me about friendship during my youngest years; Beauty and the Beast was a lecture on love as a pre-teen; Les Misérables was there for me when I was ready to learn about justice not to mention providing me with the greatest album a thirteen year old should have. The whole experience of venturing to the theatre, making the climb up the red velvet stairs and excitedly looking for your seat, obviously whilst praying that the tallest person in the theatre isn’t sitting in front me, is one that I look forward to. The excitement isn’t just to witness a story but to walk away and feel empowered, through listening to legendary songs and watching the magical art of storytelling in its finest form.

Singing, dancing, and a rainbow of brightly coloured costumes are things that would fascinate any inquisitive five-year-old. However I was unlike any typical five-year-old. I was painfully shy, I couldn’t even maintain eye contact with my closest family members without my face burning. I was never the kid who put on a show for the applauding family members in the lounge. That would be my brother; I was always the one observing, wishing I could have an ounce of his confidence. Until I discovered musicals. Here was something I could watch and even though my role was that of pure admiration, I still felt included.

My parents separated when I was young and around the time they split my dad took me to my first musical: The Lion King.  As a child I found it even more magical than most. The Lion King offered a place for shy children to witness and be part of a room filled with energy and emotion and for me, I left with a spring in my step and that little bit more courage.

Shortly after my dad opened my eyes to musical theatre he moved to China, and I never saw him again. So you see, The Lion King is a major touchstone to my childhood and in many ways bittersweet; since that day I have seen the production eight times. I was this small timid little girl spending what I know now to be the final moments with my father. I really feel his presence when listening to the Circle of Life and looking up to the profound gold cornices of the Lyceum Theatre.  This marks the beginning of my journey.

Turning thirteen signifies the start of your teenage years, so it was the biggest birthday of my life so far (especially since I have Jewish Heritage). As part of the Jewish faith, the birthday celebrates you becoming a woman. My mother wanted to make this a memorable day for me so we went to New York. Broadway is world famous for being the home of musicals therefore we couldn’t resist the playbills stacked on every corner and the double decker sized billboards promoting the latest musical extravaganza. We soon gave into temptation and followed the bright signs of Broadway until we found ourselves at the half price ticket stall.

I had to choose. Would it be Wicked?  Or Les Mis? Wicked seemed the more fun and happy-go-lucky option but I was (or at least, I thought at the time) almost an adult and so went with my mum’s recommendation Les Misérables– even though it appeared the boring alternative; it’s about the French Revolution which is a bleak moment in time, I couldn’t imagine how it could be translated into a musical.  To my surprise it was without a doubt the best thing I had ever seen, I felt mature and cultured, as I was eliciting emotions to a topic I would have previously yawned about in history class. To this day, I Dreamed a Dream is still my ultimate shower song.

At thirteen I thought the things I would relay to my friends about the trip was that I had made the journey to the top of the Empire State building or jumped on the piano in FAO Schwarz just like they did in the film BIG. As it turned out, the defining moment of the trip was going to watch the performance of Les Mis. Not only did I enjoy the show, I felt a sense of growth and maturity making me realise I had come a long way from that little girl looking up at the gilded ceilings in the Lyceum Theatre.

In place of the obvious gifts for my age such as makeup and clothes, I would receive musical tickets. It became a common gift, meaning mum and I would take a trip down to London a couple of times each year. We would often do some shopping, have ice cream at Harrods, go for afternoon tea and then see a musical. This quickly became a tradition for us. I have always been very close to my mum but sharing some of my favourite things with her on our trips has created such a special bond. She is my best friend, a statement many would be embarrassed to admit but I have grown with confidence over the years and have learned the art of just being me.

Together we have seen a host of stage productions: Blood Brothers, Miss Saigon, Cats, Sunset Boulevard, Jesus Christ Superstar, Rent, Dream Girls, Matilda, the list goes on. We have even started to revisit old favourites. Recently we went down to London with no plans to see anything. We went for a stroll and passed the theatre showing Les Mis, mum casually turned around to me saying: “We should go in.” I was baffled until we went to the box office and sure enough they had tickets reserved for us both; mum had booked them months before. This was a strong reminder as to how much I had grown from that girl in New York: I was now excited to walk through the theatre feeling I was ready and mature enough to enjoy such a deep storyline.  I still enjoy the Disney classics as they take me back to where it all started: recently I went to the opening night of Aladdin. Now I’m sixteen going on seventeen (yes, did I mention I’ve seen the The Sound of Music too), I can see that my first experiences at the theatre that afternoon I saw The Lion King encouraged me to be that little bit more courageous and not worry so much, I still whisper to myself Hakuna Matata if things get a bit tough.

Musicals have helped me mature into the young woman I am today, and each experience I have had at the theatre has truly helped me evolve. When I was younger they gave me confidence, then nostalgia and now I make cherished memories with my mum and I hope they will contribute to my progression into adulthood. The emotional twists and turns of the characters in many musicals in ways remind me of my own journey: I was young and vulnerable with my father leaving me at the age of five.  And the musicals themselves have acted like friends, providing a stable background and scaffold from which I can now look forward beyond my teenage years to my own happily ever after.

Portrait of an Artist – Lewis Patrick

My mum is an artist. Okay, I imagine you are reading this and reaching for a phone and the social services number. I understand your concerns, I really do. But, no, she is not a conceptual artist. She does not paint using elephant dung, or photograph her unmade bed, or wrestle with sharks to encase them in formaldehyde. My mum is a traditional painter. Although you could be forgiven for not being entirely sure what that means anymore. The notorious Turner Prize and the writings of the latest, eminent art critics have rather blurred the lines. Please allow me to remind you. Traditional painting involves the timeless tools of the trade. The artist’s senses are invaded by the feel of hog hair bristles in brushes; the sight of brilliant colour from the tubes of pigment; and the smell of turpentine fumes. Further, the knowledge and understanding of these materials is used to produce representational pieces that do not require a first-class degree in philosophy to enjoy and understand the work.

Mum considers herself to be a ‘Contemporary, Scottish Colourist’. What does that actually mean? You may well ask. Well, it means she has ruthlessly swiped the term ‘Colourist’ from the famous group of artists that included Samuel Peploe and Francis Cadell. The title was purposefully purloined in the vain hope that some of the glory associated with these guys would rub off on her and ultimately lead to tremendous fame and fortune. She is typical of her type. I mean, if you have had the pleasure of being in the company of artists you will know that they present as ethereal creatures. They assume a disinterested stance. Artists outwardly reject any form of financial gain, whilst all the time looking to their next scam. I know this, because, I have been educated at mother’s knee. I have watched, listened, and absorbed the trickery involved in ascending the greasy pole of artistic success.

In her previous life, mum was a teacher. In those days, despite a long commute and a challenging day at the chalk face, we (dad and I) were guaranteed a hot meal and clean attire. I often reminisce about those happy times. Nowadays, there is cause for celebration if there is a morsel of food in the cupboards or clean underwear in the drawers. I’m not talking Bleak House here, but the pendulum has definitely swung. Dad and I have been abandoned for the sake of art. But don’t write us off just yet. We are steadily adjusting to our new reality. He has finally worked out how to put detergent into the washing machine and I can just about ‘heat’ a supermarket pizza. Sometimes I have to squeeze myself into tiny, misshapen woollens and he has to eat inedible, undercooked cuisine, but we shall soldier on. Meanwhile, upstairs in the ‘studio’, our old lounge, the ‘New Scottish Colourist’ strides back and forth, back and forth in front of the easel, unaware, and unencumbered by domestic chores.

The studio, otherwise known as the ‘Sanctuary’, is a sacred place. Here, surrounded by the paraphernalia associated with her craft, stalks the artist. She who must not be disturbed in any circumstances. Once, in dire need of some love I tried to attract her attention by shouting, “fire, fire”, only to hear a muffled retort referring to that tired, old fable concerning boys and wolves. According to her, this level of detachment is crucial to the application of her brand of ‘sorcery’.

My mum considers herself an ‘alchemist’. A long time ago, she happened upon a book focused on the correlation between science and art, and since then has been banging on about the similarities between the scientist and the artist. She says, “It is all about gaining the knowledge and experience of the elements to produce something spectacular”. As a junior scientist, I disagree, but try arguing with her. I accept that she knows her Phthalocyanine Blue from her Indanthrene Blue, but does she know the composition of these paints – I don’t think so. I was once privy to an in-depth conversation with a sales assistant regarding the attributes of Lapis Lazuli paint. She enquired why it was so expensive, and the assistant explained that the manufacturer had travelled to Afghanistan to mine for the pigment. Now, would you risk your life in this manner? I think not. So, whilst being switched on about finance in some ways, artists are also highly susceptible to every peddler and quack who promises the elixir of success.

Success – that elusive goal. In contemporary times, meaning access to the most prestigious galleries and a healthy following on social media (Leonardo would have loved Facebook). Lately, there has been a certain level of progress. Mum, an acknowledged self-publicist has touted her work around the galleries and through gritty determination is now hanging in some decent places. Clarification required here – artist terminology for being included in an exhibition, she is not physically hanging; although, sometimes that would be the desired effect. Apologies, I digress, after a miss-spent childhood (in and around art galleries) I have gained quite a critical eye. In my opinion, there have been incremental improvements in the work. At the risk of sounding obsequious, the Hebridean landscapes have actually evolved aesthetically, and, now, rightly deserve some critical acclaim.

The thorny price of critical acclaim in the art business is the interaction with the galleries. Without labouring the point, gallery owners are a whole different species to the rest of civilisation. They can be pompous, contemptuous, fastidious and vindictive. As a generalisation, this description is pretty accurate. That’s the nice ones. First, getting a foot in the door can prove a Herculean task. They guard their walls and clientele like Cerberus guarding the gates to Hades. To deal with them you need a first-class degree in psychology. If you are too eager, they sniff you out like a pig going after truffles. An insouciant stance is required for this sport. A certain chutzpah. Throw open the door, swagger in, ignore the proprietor and throw down the gauntlet (I mean the paintings). This usually works. Sometimes, a particularly recalcitrant one gets the sunglasses and gum chewing treatment. Mum is good at that one. The teaching years have helped.

I have just described the entry. The exit is far worse. Sometimes, nothing has sold, meaning that mum has to return to the gallery, tail between the legs, eyes lowered, to collect the unsold work. Sunglasses and gum abandoned. Occasionally, there has been a sale – much celebration and then no mula. When the time comes to collect payment, the elusive gallery owner has ‘gone to a funeral of a dear friend’ or is usually skulking through the back. I know you are thinking this kid is prone to mass exaggeration, but, no, this is a reliable, witness account of the seesaw world of the artist. Lots of dirty derriere and less soaring through the sky. It’s a tough old game. But, mum’s a tough old bird.

This portrait might at times appear somewhat unbalanced, leaning more towards the negative, but that is not the full picture. The reality is that mum is doing something she loves, meaning that she is amenable as long as she has had a successful day at the easel. When teaching, she would come home like a bear with a sore head. There are pleasant jaunts around the country to doorstep the aforementioned ‘charming’ gallery owners; and a planned photographic trip to Stornoway in September. She is to be photographed in the pose of her beloved Joan Eardley (the famed Scottish artist) knee deep in the waves in front of her easel. You couldn’t make it up! But best of all, the pursuit of her goal has rendered her oblivious to the swathes of time I spend playing blood-thirsty computer games and eating carry-out – she was always a dreadful cook. So, life with an artist isn’t so bad after all. In fact, at times, it is rather good.

Letters of the Sea – Yves Laird

My grief is like the ocean, dark and overwhelming. Its crashing waves engulf me, the darkness unfolds me. Strangling my veins. My thoughts are cobwebbed and suffocating my brain, drowning out my memories of you. But now those same waves have returned, their powerful white horses dragging her with them. If I hadn’t been a victim of the sea, I would have believed the facade. The ocean is powerful, with enough force to destroy and rival the land, as well as a loved one and their family. But then again, the most innocent of faces are always the wildest. You know that.

Death is never ending and ever present in my line of work as well as in my life, somehow painfully ironic. After being a detective for over sixteen years, just before you were born, and seeing everything there is to see, I never realised how much this present case would affect me.  The pain I’d buried with you, is now being exhumed.

Every day, month and year I strive to find missing children, or their killers. To ensure I can secure justice for those families, as I supposedly received. One thing I can never fix is the heartbreak and destruction left behind. How can I ever fill the hole in the parents’ hearts that is the shape of the child they have lost? No matter how much evidence, support and guidance I can offer, the puzzle of their heart will forever be incomplete. This is what I struggle with the most. No one thinks it’ll happen to them, every parent protects their child from this but sometimes, it’s not enough. Everyone sees the endless news reports, the appeals, the missing posters, the devastated parents, as they hold on to every hope of finding them. But no one thinks that that could have been their child. No one wants to accept this happens, but I have to. I’m one of them.

Pictures are all I have of you now, as well as the memories that will live on in my heart. But some pictures are too heart-breaking to look at: your ‘Missing’ pictures, the photograph that was meant to be proud and centre on the mantelpiece, of you in your ‘big girl’ school uniform with your blonde locks in pigtails that I had perfected for you that morning. Your innocence shines out of you as you grin cheekily. It’s a painful reminder that I’ll never see a graduation photo, or even your children. The other photograph of you with your floppy summer beach hat falling off your head as you giggled hysterically as we played on the beach – the beach you were found on only months later. Or even the first photograph we ever received of you, your tiny fragile body represented through a grainy image. I love that your beauty and our memories can live on forever with me, but the photos also hurt the most. They battle as comforters and tormentors both, as I think of all the memories that we could have made, that have been taken away from us forever left by the ocean. I’ll never see you grow up and leave school, or be able to walk you down the aisle, or even as much as speak to you again. You’ll forever be that missing shell from the shore that was taken and crushed by the dark cruel waves.

You will never know how much you were wanted, your mother and I were desperate to have a child, but couldn’t. The desperation nearly led us to breaking point, until we adopted you. You filled the missing piece in our hearts and completed our beautiful family. We vowed to protect you and we adored our gorgeous blue-eyed baby, but all too soon you were cruelly snatched out of our hands.

No one understands this pain until they have experienced it. The ‘Missing’ photographs just spark a brief flash of sympathy and act as a reminder of keeping your loved ones close to the public, but never truly come close to representing the emotional turmoil and life-destroying feelings behind it. Life beamed in all its energy from those photographs of you on the beach and death has removed all that vitality and potential, never to be seen again. After all of my experience both professionally and emotionally, I always keep in mind that a body isn’t just another case, it’s another life taken, another family broken apart another life I get to know, even after death. In some ways, this person does live on, at least for me. The crime scene is a parting message.

Now as I am tasked with unravelling the last few days of this girl, I keep in mind the justice I was served. But some days I am less at peace, like her family. Will what I do for her and my daughter ever be enough? Some days I have faith in the law and that the person that took you away had things taken away too. Some days I believe I can restore and heal fractured wounds, but I can never fill that missing piece.

The way she smiles up, with gleaming bright eyes and an honest wide grin through the picture, reminds me of an older version of you. She pulls you in and I can feel her gaze penetrate my mind and my thoughts, her energy seeps through the photos as I feel my blood surge through my veins. The photograph has captured her in a carefree happy moment, very similar to the one of you on the beach, and has frozen her memory there forever.

Her bloodied corpse now, bears no resemblance to this once beautiful girl. One very similar to how you would have appeared now. Her long silky golden hair no longer cascades down her slender back to her waist but now looks like broken straw cropped to just above her bruised cold neck. Her family say her hair was part of her personality and had always set her apart from everyone else. Her flowing mane added a halo- like glow around her striking features and fair freckled skin. Now her smile has vanished, her fair skin ice cold and stiff to touch and pale blue in colour. Her long athletic limbs are no longer fuelled with life and her red lips that once framed her sparkling smile are burst and frozen closed forever, harbouring the secrets of her mysterious death and final days.

As I scramble to piece this case together, I look at our last piece of evidence, the letters. As I slice the crimson red envelope open, the deathly white paper slides out and the words spill out onto my hands.

Dearest Ava,

I don’t know why it had to end like this. I never wanted to lose you or give you up. Today will be your sixteenth Birthday, and I still can’t believe my beautiful blue- eyed baby is now turning into a woman. I never intended to let you go, but I was only sixteen. I am desperate to see you, or even just receive a letter to see how you are doing? I have tried for many years to get in contact with you, but my letters were just returned. Please find in this envelope a birthday card for every year I wrote to you. I know I may be too late, but please know I will love you unconditionally and I truly believe we have the strongest bond any two human beings can have. After all you are the only person that knows my heartbeat from the inside.

I wish you all the happiness and joy in the world and hope you to hear from you soon,

Your loving mother, Anne xx

As I read, another piece of the jigsaw appears – an image of your tiny monochrome body in your first ever picture. It flutters slowly to the sand and blows on the calm breeze to the sea.

 

Physically Fit and Mentally Prepared? – Jenna Morton

What is time and distance? What are seconds and centimetres? To many people they represent units of measurement; insignificant and small. To me, however, they represent months of long training, constant practise, and interminable repetition. It can be the difference between first and last, winning and losing, being the victor or being the one who just takes part. In my sport of athletics, time and distance is everything because winning is everything. There are three things that are key to being a winner: mental toughness, physical strength and good coordination. And therein lies my problem.

I was diagnosed with dyspraxia at the age of 8, which means that my coordination is second-rate.  People with dyspraxia generally have poor integration of the two sides of the body, trouble with sports that involve jumping, and hand-to-eye co-ordination.  As a result they tend to have poor visual perception, with little sense of time, speed, distance or weight and a complete lack of rhythm. It is therefore difficult to rationalise how I found myself competing in the Scottish Schools pentathlon event.

I was always fast; tearing around the playground, chasing after boys. I took great pride in beating them. It allowed me to be me and I treasured the attention when I won.  I lacked confidence in everything else I attempted – I couldn’t spell, I apparently never listened, I was rubbish at maths and my inability to read situations didn’t push me to the top of the class popularity poll.

However, with running, I was the best.

Forget the bruises, the cuts on my hands and knees from my multiple falls and the occasional visit to casualty for minor concussion, it was worth it. The athletics’ club was where I felt most comfortable and relaxed. A coach recognised I had talent and pushed me towards multi-eventing. My ego inflated, I naively decided it was worth a shot. Athletics then became more demanding; more about technique than fun; more about using my brain than my limbs.

The effort it took to evolve and adapt to the necessary technical requirements was exhausting even before I had even moved a muscle. As coordination is a problem, some events seem like an impossible task, especially the high jump. Watching it on TV it appears to be merely a run and an awkward jump but for the athlete there is much more happening. The technicalities are hugely demanding: In tempo, swing the arms, control the turn of the hips, hitch the leg, hop up, arch the shoulders over the bar and keep the centre of gravity low and— flop. Each of these movements needs diligence, but being dyspraxic, I can only focus on one of these movements at a time so that what should be a fluid, deliberate motion, dynamic and graceful, often ends up as awkward and clumsy.

June 3rd. The morning of the Scottish Schools’ competition. I lay in bed, muscles like lead and devoid of aspiration. The voice in my head was already telling me to give up – I didn’t stand a chance.

The memories of the drudgery of those long, cold winter nights of training and self-sacrifice were tormenting me. Entering Grangemouth Stadium, I began reciting the mantra: ‘I can do this’.

In as much as I enjoy being the victor, sometimes I don’t mind being beaten. Today was different. “Positive mental attitude”, my coach scolded the whole time I was warming up. However, my inner demon kept insisting ‘you don’t have the strength’, and kept persisting ‘you are not a winner’. I could have easily absconded.

First event – the high jump. Paradoxically, your success is ultimately measured by your failure: Every high jump ends with a miss. Fighting against the label of dyspraxia, I had spent countless hours and energy, determined to conquer this event. My coach had painfully researched how to instruct a dyspraxic person and instructed me to concentrate on only one aspect of the jump. Over-thinking would result in the whole motion collapsing.  Stay up tall. These three words resonated over and over in my head. The high jump was centre field, everyone was watching. A churning sensation evolved within the pit of my stomach. Trying to block out the crowd, I took my first attempt. I cleared it. I couldn’t look back. I was petrified that just one glance would knock off the bar. I was elated. I repeated this several times before my luck eventually ran out. A personal best and the leader board established I was in fifth place.

The technique for the hurdles is simple: you sprint forward as fast as you can and then make some adjustments to clear its height. Having good coordination is a bonus, not one of my strengths, but speed is. Looking down the start lane, initially I was alarmed at the stature of the girls beside me, all tall and sinewy. Then I realised that all of my competitors, without exception were using starting blocks. I had none, they looked every bit professional; I, on the other hand, stood there looking quite amateur.

In the crouch position, I stayed calm. Bang! The starting pistol exploded. Simultaneously eight girls erupted, raising a rainbow of colours as they lifted into the air. I felt like a cheetah. I was blind to those beside me. I was on my own… out in front. The race lasted a little more than 10 seconds. I was shocked at my execution of the race, much better than I’d hoped.

After four events, I was fourth. The final event was the 800 metres. My event.

Approaching the start, I could feel the unnerving stares of my intimidating rivals and their coaches examining me surreptitiously. In the midst, I heard a faint voice plotting: “stick to number 108”. I wore 108. The expectancy of winning and how the race would develop now played on my mind. I waited patiently, each atom charged, for that signal to start running.

I pushed off the start line well and quickly settled into a rhythm; with each stride, the tension increased and the noise of a competitor quick on my heels grew in intensity. Instead of being intimidating, it urged me on, driving me to attack that bit harder. I couldn’t seem to shake her off but her breathing was laboured and wrong.

After competing for years one develops a special intuition, which allows one to identify when competitors are tired: a slight dropping of the head, a subtle shortening of the stride, a distinct quickening of breath. That’s the signal: one last burst. The bell rang for the final lap; it tolled for my main competitor, who collapsed with exhaustion. The strategy to stick to me had cost her a medal.

Approaching the final bend, we were running like a pack, reluctant to spread out though dispersing ever so slightly as we reached the home straight. Staying close, hanging on to each other, not allowing anybody to gain an advantage. All athletes pushing limbs to the limit, oxygen-depleted muscles powered now anaerobically. That last burst of power which flowed to my muscles allowed me to gain a few vital metres. I crossed the line first. I won the race.

Athletics, like most sports, is mentally challenging. ‘Losers’ don’t always lose because they were unfit or they didn’t get the best start. Many other factors come into play. Hence the reason sports psychology is so popular amongst top athletes. The winner takes the glory, because when all other competitors fade, they have that bit extra to give. June 3rd was my day. I came 3rd and exceeded all expectations I had of myself. My dyspraxia may give me obstacles to overcome but it has also gifted me with a determination that few others possess. Although my lane has more hurdles in it, it doesn’t mean I won’t finish the race.

Saying What I Want to Say – Ryan Duffy

My life is like a heartbeat: vitally important, but far too short.  The path to our demise is a gradual but certain one.  It has many twists and turns but the destination is always the same.  Looking at you I see that you have a longer route to travel while mine is brief.

Did my creator initially intend for such a brief existence?  I remember my beginnings, my creator starting with a blank page.  I had stealthily crept into my creator’s mind in the middle of the night, I was in his head sprouting and growing, I was as real as if I was sitting in a chair beside him.  I remember his enthusiasm and excitement when he woke, throwing his ideas onto the page like an artist creating a masterpiece, breathing life into me, putting me together, part by part, each piece representing an aspect of my very being.  My eyes dark and stormy, much like the turbulent relationship I have with my family.  My smile slow to emerge but vibrant when it does.  These features were not random; I remember what my creator looked like.  I have his eyes, his daughter’s smile, his wife’s hands and the tresses of her silky blonde hair.  I know that I existed in other people before the point I was conceived and brought to life.  As I look at you I realise we are very different. I can tell that you do not remember the point of your conception.  As I feel death closing in I see that you have such a long life ahead of you, but I see that my brief life may be better spent.  For you may have a job, a family and a house but I have done something more important.  I am saying what needs to be said in my short amount of time.

Characters are words made tangible.  We do not exist until a writer describes us on the page.  We drift, bodiless and ethereal, weighing nothing; we have no voice until we are anchored with words.  You may read about the heroic escapades of vibrant characters but I will tell you the truth about how we characters feel.  We know that when we have completed our quest, slain our dragon, our brief light will flicker and die.  We will disappear like a cool wind which you will feel but may so quickly forget.  But, I want you to remember characters such as I that are vivid, real, alive. Those characters that are so wonderfully three dimensional.  Do not think of us as just characters in books because we are anything but.  We are people whose lives you deeply impact.  But some of us do not realise what we are, rushing to accomplish their goal not knowing that the outcome will be their untimely demise. Some of them think that they are just little specks in a huge universe, but they are the opposite.  They take up huge amounts of the universe as the universe of the book is only what is described.

I ask of you: what type of reader are you?  Are you my favourite type of reader? The one who takes their time and savours every word.  Holding onto every letter that is written.  Or are you the type who reads because you are made to?  Forced to read by your parents, employer or teacher?  You feel the fire rising up in your belly every time you see the words, but you know you must read on.  Or are you the type who ends lives quickly?  Someone who reads book after book not realising the consequences of your heartless actions.  Are you the type of person who starts a book and never finishes?  You are the worst type of person.  You deny us of our happiness.  You stop us from ever completing our goal.

I feel that my end may be near.  I have said what I wanted to say.  That was my goal.  I have represented my side.  I want you to know that I am a martyr for the cause.  I am sad that my life may be over soon, but I am happy to know that my goal is complete.  In a strange way I am just like all the others, just striving towards a goal which signals my end.  I wonder what happens after this story ends.  Do I simply stop existing?  I may not change much in your world but at least I reached one person.  Now go spread the insights I have shared with you to all and maybe one day your people will savour every word that they are given.  Goodbye.  I hope it doesn’t hurt.

 

My Family and Other Animals – Patricia Gillen

Despite what Little Red Riding Hood would have you believe, wolves are among the most loyal of creatures, with their pack at the very core of their existence. Marveling at the rough hides of the wolves at the Highland Wildlife Park, I found myself wondering what it’s like to be a member of a wolfpack. What do wolves do when the alpha dies? They adapt and move on with their lives, promoting from within out of an animal need for survival. Which poses the question – what do humans do?

In 2013, the loss of our alpha left our pack bereft and significantly more vulnerable. As with wolves, a fellow member was forced to take over the alpha’s former duties; in our case, my mum had to take over the roles of two parents. This meant juggling her career with duties around the house, feeding and caring for five unruly children. Matters worsened when my sister was diagnosed with severe mental health problems. What do wolves do when a pack member is injured? On this, we differ. Wolves would leave the weakened member so that the rest of the group still have optimal chances of survival; we stood by our sister, despite it at times bringing the pack and its leader to our knees. Clearly, this was too much for my mum to cope with at once, but how to solve it? More colossal bills and mouths to feed ought to do the trick.

My mum has the most peculiar of addictions. It started 12 years ago, with 4 paws and a mouse problem. Putting the school of goldfish, crocodile tears and fishy burial ground which our garden had become over the years to one side, ‘Sam’ was the first real pet my mum had. We acquired him out of necessity: after seeing one too many mice in our rural Aberdonian home, we piled off, in our growing pack of four-and-a-half, in search of a cat, any cat. My mum never looked back; recently, the addiction has spiraled.

My dad often spoke fondly of his childhood rabbits ‘Starsky and Hutch’, which he, alone, religiously cared for in the small patch of grass which passed for his garden. And so, despite the initial shock of opening the car door one day to find on my seat two rabbits and my sister looking truly happy for the first time in months, it made sense that this should mark my dad’s first birthday since his passing. Naturally, my mum was roped into caring for the unwanted rabbits of Glasgow, with my sister taking this as a sign that she would be willing to ‘foster’ rabbits for a charity. Although wholly inexperienced and unprepared for this duty, she came to realise how truly therapeutic caring for these rabbits could be. At a particularly difficult stage in her life, despite everything else falling to pieces, she could take comfort in knowing that these rabbits would gladly run around in circles, never asking for anything more than the occasional bale of hay. This spawned several, indefinite fosterings of rabbits of every colour, variety and size, most recently, huge (as satirically characterised by my younger brother, ‘mutant’) continental rabbits.

Next came a blessing in disguise, in the form of small, hideous rodents. As normal 16-year-olds are wont to do, my sister spent her free time wandering around Pets at Home. In her extensive hours connecting with animals in a bid to avoid interacting with other humans, she grew particularly fond of the degus. Largely unheard of, and for good reason too: it’s not difficult to imagine why no one wanted to look after those little fists of bedraggled fur. This naturally meant that my sister felt she could relate to them and would not rest (or allow any of us to rest) until she owned at least four. Sleeping – or trying to – directly next door to those smelly, ratty creatures, it’s difficult to see how and why they fit into my home. The important thing is that they do, bringing indescribable joy to my sister and so alas, they are here to stay. That is, as long as the cat and I don’t get our claws into them.

Next, a Facebook page detailing Romanian dogs’ mistreatment brought a scrawny, scruffy hound to our doorstep after one month, thousands of miles and hours of bated breath. This large, but by no means formidable, dog fitted seamlessly into our patchwork quilt of a family: damaged goods, but a survivor all the same. Despite her initial trust issues and lingering fears, much like her wolf ancestors, Ania proved to be a pack animal, acting as though she would protect us all by any means despite her placid nature. This is particularly touching in the case of my mum, whom she too is dependent on. In many ways, Ania’s devotion to my mum is much like that of her former spouse, which may be just what she will need once the birds leave her and the nest behind. Ania seemed to be the missing piece of the puzzle that is our family, bringing us closer together through family walks, which became like some kind of ritual and a cure for just about anything. Around then, I had lost a tremendous amount of weight in an unhealthy amount of time. It honestly felt good to take her lead in my gaunt hands and really think. Here, it became apparent how weak I had become. This realisation was very difficult and confirmed my worst fears: that in some ways I was becoming my sister. Often, I felt I could only turn to the dog for comfort as she stood by me, always there for a good cry.

In 2016, we lost the founding member of our family zoo, Sam. Obviously this differs from losing a family member, but there are similarities. There lies a particular solidarity in sorrow; the loss of a beloved pet is more immediate than that of a family member – you realise sooner how different things will be, as the death of a pet is easier to accept. Sam passing away acted somewhat as a key, opening the door to suppressed emotions about the loss of my dad. To an onlooker, it probably seemed ridiculous how upset we all were after his passing, but to us it made sense and I have come to understand its importance. If your pack has your back, then nothing can truly get to you. My mum and I felt a certain emptiness thereafter, with the cat flap a cruel reminder of the hole in our patched up family. Although my sister was terrified that it would feel like we were desperately trying to replace another member of the pack, but again, after seeing one too many a mouse, we needed a cat and fast.

‘This is the last one and I mean it’ said mum. Even if we had wanted to replace our overweight, geriatric cat, we couldn’t have been further from it in all 3 kilos of ‘Cutiepie.’ After one sleepless night in my room, it was clear that she was no ‘Cutiepie’ but rather a comically small cartoon villain, and so she lost this title and her welcome in my bedroom. Within her first five minutes in the big, wide world, ‘Pepper’ had skillfully decapitated the first of many victims in those deceitful yet dainty paws. (Don’t judge a book by its cover eh?) …but honestly, is it any real surprise that my sister’s leaving the nest to become a vet gained our pack a four-legged replacement?

Zoo: an establishment which maintains a collection of wild animals, typically in a park or gardens, for study, conservation, or display to the public. It now seems strange to think that just a few years ago, you could look at my household without this analogy crossing your mind. Yet madness aside, it turns out that not all wolves can huff, puff and blow your house down – no matter how hard they and fate may try.

 

Planned Obsolescence: Weapon of Mass Discarding or Catalyst for Progress? – Hannah Berry

Emitting a dim yellow glow in a fire station in Livermore, California, the Centennial Light has burned for a record-breaking 115 years since it was first turned on in 1901. Fast forward an entire century, and light bulbs are burning out and being replaced within months. If a light bulb designed in the 19th century can last for over one hundred years, why, in the late 20th and early 21st century, have light bulbs tended to last no more than a few months? The answer is planned obsolescence, a by-product of modern capitalism.

Frequent changes in design; society’s views on fashion and trends; the focus on ‘replace over repair’ of goods and an astronomical use of non-durable material, are the largest contributors to planned obsolescence; a policy of producing consumer goods that rapidly become obsolete and so require replacing. Although believed by economists to be a social necessity for driving technological advancement and innovation, planned obsolescence is unsustainable for the future. Such a policy fuels the society’s damaging consumerist culture and wasteful attitudes, leading to high manufacturing demands, production of waste, natural resource depletion and damaging repercussions on consumers.

One of the most obvious injustices of planned obsolescence is the heavy burden it places on consumers. With the assistance of media, advertising and design changes, manufacturers are frequently introducing new changes in fashion and influencing consumers’ decisions and perceptions of styles which are deemed fashionable or trendy and forces them to believe they must have these products. Fashion of any sort is a classic example of ‘perceived’ obsolescence: consumers are manipulated to believe that a seasonal fashion or certain clothing is no longer in style, so they must be replaced by new garments. This results in the large waste of an increasing amount of items at a high financial cost to the consumer.

This lifestyle has tremendous financial costs for consumers. Often equipment that needs repaired will become obsolete as the price for repair is higher or comparable to the price of replacing the item altogether, or the service or parts are no longer available, resulting in the consumer having no choice but to replace the item, rendering it dysfunctional. For example, major corporations such as Apple and Samsung are now designing their smartphones so there is no access to the battery inside the phone so it is difficult to replace the battery, making the item functionally obsolete. Other examples include the updating of software or designs which make the older versions incompatible with the new advancement, forcing the previous version to become functionally obsolete and forcing the consumer to invest in the new updates.

Over the past few decades, the expected lifespan of products has drastically diminished, so that most consumers today purchase products with the expectation that they will need to be replaced within a couple of years. In an attempt to boost the economy after the World Wars, retailing analyst Victor Lebow articulated the solution that has become the norm for the whole system, he said: “Our enormously productive economy… demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption… we need things consumed, burned up, replaced, discarded at an ever-accelerating pace.” (Lebow, 1955)

Since its first documented case in the 1920s during the Great Depression, to its adaptation, popularisation and acceptance over the decades, consumers have become acclimated to the practices of planned obsolescence. Planned obsolescence should not be normalised by society; this results in turning a blind eye on the ethically questionable practices and the destruction of the environment.

An even more serious concern, due to consumerist attitudes and our acceptance of the practice of planned obsolescence throughout society, is that the overall demand for the manufacturing of these products is rapidly increasing, thus the overall demand for the Earth’s finite resources is subsequently rising. Studies from the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) found that global extraction of materials has tripled since 1970, and not once in the last 40 years has materials extraction declined, even during times of recession and economic crisis. In the past three decades alone, one third of the planet’s natural resources have been consumed. We are cutting, mining, hauling and trashing the place so fast that we are undermining the planet’s very capacity to support human life adequately. By continuing to intentionally limit the useful lifespan of a product by making it unfashionable or no longer functional, manufacturers are creating a significant driving factor to unsustainable attitudes and practices, depleting the planet of its precious, finite resources.

Consumers often view planned obsolescence as a cynical plot by manufacturers and corporations to boost sales and profits while the consumer and the environment pays the price. Arguably, those in support of the planned obsolescence strategy believe it to be the catalyst and driving force for progress and technological advancement. When a new technology is developed, many previous inventions become obsolete. This could bring about truly innovative products, like the advancement of horse and carriage transportation to automobiles, or the typewriter to the computer. However, far too often, planned obsolescence is too easily justified by a slightly sharper camera phone, or slightly more memory, or a new operating system that confuses as much as it simplifies. Do we ‘really’ need these things?

Plastic water bottles, cutlery, plates, cups, razors and bags, seen in the countryside or on the streets or dumped in the landfill: today, we live in a ‘throw-away society’; a culture of over consumption and excessive production of short-lived or disposable products. Planned obsolescence is the leading cause of our wasteful consumer habits and the constant manufacturing of these unnecessary products contributes greatly to pollution, which affects the water we drink and the air we breathe. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) found that only 1% of the products we buy are still in use as little as six months after their date of sale. In other words, 99% of our consumption is trashed within six months. The products themselves end up in landfills, taking up precious space that is often at a premium. According to the UNEP, E-waste, or discarded electronic appliances such as smart phones, computers, and televisions, is one of the fasted growing sources of waste. On average a person keeps a smartphone for 18 months, whether the battery fails, screens or buttons break or the operating systems can no longer be upgraded, the immediate solution owners turn to is not the repair of the current system, but the purchase of a brand-new device that is advertised to be ‘better than ever before’.

The disposal of waste releases harmful toxins into the air, the surrounding soil and ground water. A large majority of this waste is disposed of in landfills full of hazardous materials, often in the world’s poorer countries including Bolivia, Ghana and South Sudan. Jim Puckett, co-founder of BAN; an organisation for environmental health and Justice visited Ghana and saw teenagers and young adults working in the landfills, exposed to hazardous substances, burning discarded electronics, and releasing toxic fumes into the air. The accelerating production of so much waste due to planned obsolescence, impacts greatly on the environment, contributing to waste pollution and endangering human life, not only in the countries that produce this waste but also the developing nations.

If environmental and climate challenges are to be tackled, then the wasteful production and consumption patterns driven by planned obsolescence is not the way forward as a sustainable strategy to stave off an economic crisis. The investment in more durable items and taking steps to minimise your participation in a consumer-focused society is the way forward from a disposable and wasteful culture. Only the truly innovative products which provide significant positive advances in society, should light the path to a sustainable future.

The unsustainable practice of planned obsolescence, through the continual replacement, rather than repair, and the manufacturing of non-durable products, results in: masses of waste generation; pollution; loss of biodiversity; the rapid depletion of Earth’s precious resources; and high financial costs for consumers. These challenges must be tackled to move forward towards a sustainable future and can only be achieved by rendering planned obsolescence obsolete.

 

Bibliography

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Late Night Wanderer – Erin Campbell

I couldn’t remember the last time I had spoken to someone else. Someone real. The days draw out in the cold metropolis, unforgiving and unkind to me. The constant murmur of traffic and people does nothing to pierce the thick and heavy silence that hangs around me each day, pressing down and suffocating.

I wrapped my coat tighter around my body and hiked my bag higher over my shoulders, aware of the bitter wind, weaving its way around my bones. Rays of burnt orange and gold offered little warmth as the sun sank behind the tallest buildings in the city, their silver spires reaching up to touch the sky. The endless avenue of mirrored glass bounced the light off every surface, illuminating the busy street below. I pocketed the little change I had acquired today. A few pennies amounting to the little charity of a nation. A group of women herded giggling children into the backs of their cars, heading home from after-school football practice or theatre rehearsals, maybe even parents’ evenings. Siblings battled for the right to claim the front passenger seat; the bigger of them usually overpowering the younger and smaller ones. Their laughter carried over to me, reminding me of arguments with my own brother. But that was a long time ago.

Realising the time, I pushed on down the street; it was getting later and it was a long walk back. I glanced back at the cars motoring on down the street, filled with the little-league team, and suddenly saw myself sitting in the back seat of my mum’s old car. The vehicle had seen better days; a tired-looking people carrier, the blue paint quite worn and the inside littered with toys and crumbs from biscuits and other snacks. My brother and I lounged in the back of the car, hysterically cackling at each other’s painted faces. I stared into the eyes of a fierce dragon with fire escaping from its mouth whilst my brother gazed at my own superhero mask, the insignia inked across my forehead proudly. We battled in the backseat of the car as mum drove us home; my super speed dodged the burning inferno of the dragon’s breath, and as I went to fly over his head, his wicked green tail whipped around and struck me down…

My thoughts were interrupted by the screech of a nearby car horn. Oblivious to the oncoming traffic, a group of well-dressed diners meandered across the road, en-route to the Michelin-starred restaurant on the street. The buildings here were smaller than the corporate skyscrapers from further up the road, but far more attractive. Old sandstone townhouses with gleaming statues on the facades dominated this section of the avenue, their cold eyes looking disdainfully on the street, following the movements of those out for a meal. As I walked past the entrances of restaurants, mouth-watering aromas of slow-roasted meat and warming spices overwhelmed my senses. I noticed then just how hungry I was: I couldn’t remember when I last ate, but knew that it may as well have been oxygen. As if on cue, my stomach gurgled, complaining of today’s lack of food.

The wind picked up, growing colder by the minute. The sun was completely gone by now and darkness enveloped the entire city, interrupted only by the headlights of thinning traffic or the orange glow from the overhead street lights. I noticed how quiet it was. The street was fairly empty, littered with groups of smokers leaning against the wall of the bar. Wisps of nicotine swirled through the night air, a ghostly fog rising eerily from the ground. I increased my pace further, realising how dark and late it was. I didn’t want to be out at this time, I had to get back as soon as possible, before I got into any trouble; my shoulder still ached from last week’s incident in the park.

My thoughts were interrupted by the clamour of men brawling outside a bar on the edge of the block, which had a reputation for the odd disturbance. Two men; both intoxicated, raised heavy arms to meet the each other’s faces, slurring incoherent abuse. They threatened to stumble from the pavement as another clenched fist swung through the night air. I hugged the wall on the far side of the road and kept my hood up; not that they would have noticed me anyway. A shadow blending into the night, I watched as one of the men landed a lucky punch; bursting the other’s nose. Blood streamed from his nostrils as he clutched at his face. I tried not to look as the crimson fluid painted its host’s face before spilling out onto the street…

…The pool of blood at my feet grew and grew, each drop from the endless cuts and bruises that littered my face, arms and neck. The gash on my left shoulder from where my seatbelt had sliced through my shirt leaked blood onto my lap. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the contorted shape of my brother, his limbs at unnatural angles with glass shards protruding from his tiny frame each drawing more blood than the next. My mum, now a statue behind the wheel, sat unmoving with her head hanging forwards. I remember trying to reach for her, but the searing pain stabbed through my body; ten thousand volts of electricity through every muscle and nerve. I slumped back against the remains of the crumpled metal cage and eventually drifted out of consciousness to the sound of wailing sirens approaching, yet growing fainter in my head every second…

I jolted awake from the memory, shuddering in the cold, the only sound the rustle of discarded newspapers being swept up through the wind, last week’s news now confetti raining down on the street. I reached the entrance to the old hospital building, the old steps climbing up in front of me to the main entrance. The uniform, rectangular windows were boarded up and many tiles from the tired roof littered the porch having slid form their places. Heaving my rucksack from my aching back, I knelt in the back of the porch and pulled out my thin sleeping mat and cover. The thick walls of the hospital offered shelter from the wind and cold whilst the porch ceiling prevented the rain from bombarding me during the night and leaving me soaked and cold. It was a long time since I had properly slept through the night: the constant threat of the streets kept me weary and awake.

I remember sitting huddled on the front steps of the hospital, nurses and patients bustling in and out of the building. Both nights, I hadn’t slept at all. The bandage round my forehead had grown grey since being dressed here three days previously. My face had greyed too; I hadn’t eaten since the doctor had told me what had happened. I had emptied my stomach after being told I was alone.

I never spoke to the lady who smiled too much and told me everything would be okay. I never told her my name, didn’t give her my family’s number. There was no one. I had no one.

I remember sitting on my own in the front pew of the hospital’s chapel. The two coffins stretched out before me, adorned with the cheap flowers from the gift shop. The service was brief, and afterwards, I was led out of the building by the same lady who had enquired about my family and who had given me empty words of hope, behind the pretence of her fake smile…

No one in my family had really left the hospital that day; not even me. The inexplicable pull of the place often unnerved me, how this place of personal tragedy had also become my small sanctuary. I would never leave the city. Morning could not be far away and tomorrow I would rise again and find something to eat with what little change I had left from last month’s cheque. However for now, nestling into the far corner of the porch and closing my eyes, I let the heaviness of sleep pull me under, drifting off to dreams of superheroes and dragons, and the distinct laugh of two young and unsuspecting brothers.

 

The Apple of My Eye – Alison McIntosh

It is the shadow that lingers, hangs thick around me in the air. It is the weight on my back, pressing down and weakening me. It is tide rising, as though the moon is drawing closer. Her face appears before my eyes, like mist on a cold winter’s day. I am suffocating, sinking. I think I know what I want to do.

She had lived only a short walk from my house when we were children. I would run to her house, or she would run to mine, and we would leave together to play in the orchard – weaving between the trees, ducking to avoid low branches. As we grew up, we would talk for hours about our hates, our fears, our dreams, whilst taking refuge under the trees from the heat of the afternoon sun or the wildness of the rain and wind. We would eat the apples, sharing our anecdotes and laughing loudly with each other.  Over the years we grew inseparable. The look on her face when I asked and she said ‘yes’, eyes wide and her face beaming, was to be forever woven into my memories.

I remember that she was the centre of attention that day – she always had been, to me at least. It was difficult to take your eyes off her. Her slender figure draped in a long dress, pearls hung around her neck with the diamond displayed proudly on her index finger. Her dark hair had always fallen in loose curls around her shoulders, and this time was no exception.  I remember her pale complexion, her high cheekbones and full lips. People gathered around her, wishing her well before turning to me and doing the same- tears often filling their eyes. I remember how eerily still she was. I remember when they closed the lid – sealing her away forever – and I remember when they lowered her coffin into the ground.  With my jaw wavering and tears dominating my face, I knelt over her grave. In the loudest of all silences I cried my goodbyes – but it was too late for goodbyes. She was gone.

We had waved goodbye to friends and family and stepped tentatively over the frosty ground to the car, piling our engagement presents into the back seat. She sat in the passenger seat and I drove – on our way home from our celebratory night out with those we held dearest. Grey skies turned to black and soon darkness engulfed the car. Wind howled through the lattice of braches of the trees that lined the single-track road and snow began to swirl, adorning their limbs. Flakes danced in front of the windscreen in a hypnotising display as they fell to coat the road. The road took a sharp left but I noticed only a moment too late. I fought to control the wheel as we skidded around the bend, left side of the vehicle slamming into the tree.

The rooms are frozen and empty, stripped of colour and devoid of comfort. Her perfume still seems to linger in the air, intoxicating my mind and haunting me wherever I go. Her makeup remains on the dressing table; the teddy bear we’d won together at the fair sits on the shelf, its eyes stalking me. The numbness has spread, stretching out through every fibre of my being. Eternal emptiness buries itself in my gut, my chest is hollow and loneliness boasts me as its best friend. Sleek black feathers blanket my brain, becoming thicker and thicker, their colour diffusing into my thoughts.

It had been months since I’d met another person. I tried to force myself to leave behind any memories, but this is impossible to do. And it’s not fair to her. I could never forget. I have only myself to blame. I’d lost my job, cut off my friends and family. I spent my days fuelling my own dejection and being ashamed of my hopes that I might one day live without it. She occupies my mind – the frame of the car crushing her. Her face sometimes shines in red, the liquid dripping down to her clothes. Then she is clean, lying in her coffin. Disturbing images outweigh those of comfort.

The embers of days gone by seem to always fall around me like snow on a mid-winter’s day, accumulating at my feet and serving to only make each of my attempted steps forward increasingly laborious. Encased in my own thoughts, stuck within the same four walls, everything staring back at me seems to declare me insane. My existence was once mapped out with coloured ink, but is now sketched out with charcoal. The desert of my mind holds no oasis and my suffering binds me to the conscious world. Pictures accompany me on my walk down the hall, a timeline of our lives displayed in snapshots – but any photos now would be bare without her.

A week after her death I had left with a handful of seeds and a shovel, making my way to her field outside the orchard.  I dug a small hole in the ground, planting the seeds above her grave.  She had once mentioned that that was how she wanted it; nothing more than a passing comment but I, of course, held on to her every word. From her loss of being, there grew a symbol of life.  I continued to meet with her in her field every day. I spoke with her, ate apples with her and cried for her. I watched the tree flourish over the years. It watched me crumble.

It was the shadow that lingered, hung thick around me in the air. It was the weight on my back, pressing down and weakening me. It was tide rising, as though the moon had drawn closer. Her face is fixed before my eyes, like mist on a cold winter’s day. I have suffocated, I have sunk. The shadow is not around me, it’s within me. I know now what I want to do – cut the apples open and extract the seeds. Weigh the seeds, blend them and drink them. Quickly. Quickly or it won’t work. I have to ensure there is enough – there are no second chances. There is no time for sub-lethal doses.