Tuesday, 23 February 2021


What is flash fiction? I'd never heard of it until I went to Goldsmiths. Not necessarily fiction that's written in a flash, I discovered. It's fiction that's over and done with... in a flash. Often only a few hundred words or so. Sometimes as few as 150 words. I'm part of a writing workshop consisting of other Goldsmiths alumni and during our weekly Zoom session yesterday, the person running it (we take it in turns) suggested we write some flash fiction: a short story, in 150 words. We were given ten minutes to complete it. She then suggested we try something on the theme prediction, up to 500 words. I put the ideas together and wrote for ten minutes on the theme prediction. So here's my first bit of flash fiction, written in a flash, 150 words exactly, on the theme prediction.



They say no one predicted it but that’s not true. Bob predicted it. Bob had been predicting it for years. Bob read the New Scientist. So when it began, slowly, with a little international news story in the back of the paper – a mysterious sickness in China – Bob was cock-a-hoop. ‘Ah!’ Bob yelled down the telephone line, during their weekly Sunday evening call. ‘I told you! It’s arrived! The global pandemic.’ 

Susie raised her eyebrows, humoured Bob a little, tried to change the subject, and when that didn’t work she passed the phone over to Jez. ‘Your dad,’ Susie mouthed, raising her eyebrows and continuing to stir the gravy.

She told her friends about it in the café on Friday morning. ‘My father-in-law thinks there’s going to be a global pandemic,’ Susie said, because Bob’s voice was still there in her head somehow, niggling, disquieting, worrying. All her friends laughed.

Swap Bob for my father and Susie for me and you might call that autofiction (also a term I'd never heard of until I studied creative writing). When Valentine's Day came around again this year, I remembered how I'd felt on Valentine's Day last year: worried. Back then my father was saying: we're not taking this seriously enough; if it's in Italy then it's also here; our government is sleepwalking us into catastrophe. During February half-term 2020, I travelled to York with a friend and we nervously joked about the two cases of Coronavirus that had been recorded in the city. But to be honest, local flash flooding seemed the more pressing problem.

The last public event I attended in early March was Elizabeth Day in conversation with Josh Cohen at Goldsmiths College. Travelling to New Cross by busy tube and train, I started to feel properly afraid. All these people crammed together, breathing the same air, I thought, is this how it spreads? Is handwashing (what the government was then advising) not enough? In the corridor of the Richard Hoggart Building, I passed Michael Rosen, who's a professor at the college. He was walking towards the exit, flanked, pop star-like, by a gaggle of students. Not long after, (but not soon enough) Goldsmiths College was closed. And as we all know now lovely Michael Rosen was left fighting for his life.

Some friends urged bravery, suggesting we continue to meet for dinners and coffees when our government finally began cautioning against this in late March. It's not about bravery, my father patiently explained down the telephone line, it's about keeping apart in order to break the chain of transmission so our hospitals aren't overwhelmed. Hospitals overwhelmed? True, this was happening in Italy by then. But surely it couldn't happen in the UK? 

My father, Colin, isn't a Cassandra but he really does read the New Scientist and he really did mention the threat of global pandemic before any of us had heard the word Coronavirus. Right at the beginning, when I relayed his fears to a friend, she said: but I thought your father was rational? Well, he is, I replied. And as it turns out, he really was.

E x

P.S. Perhaps he really is a Cassandra! I just looked her up and as well as predicting future events, 'Cassandra could neither alter these events nor convince others of the validity of her predictions.' 

Monday, 8 February 2021

I Don't Remember

I remember, back when life was normal and I was studying on the MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths College, in the spring of 2019, Blake Morrison, who taught the Life Writing module, asked us students to do writing exercises in class. I remember that each week he asked us to write for ten minutes or so, then read out what we’d come up with. We never knew what the exercises would be so it was all rather nerve-wracking. Strangely, I don’t remember what any of those exercises were except for one called ‘I remember’. It was simple and predictable enough. We had to write a list of things we remembered, anything at all, beginning each time with the words 'I remember'. I think the idea was that it might spark something we could later develop into a longer piece. Or maybe Blake got fed up with the sound of his own voice and wanted a break? I do remember that I immediately thought of a person: my paternal grandfather, and thought I might write a list of what I didn’t remember, ending with something I did. I sent it to my father afterwards so I was able to look back for it just now in the email. That email is dated February 16th, 2019. Remember what life was like back then? Me too. Anyway, here it is...

I Don’t Remember.

I don’t remember what date it was, or what day of the week it was, or even, to be honest, what year it was, but I do remember how hard his face was – and ice cold to the touch – as he lay in his coffin.

I don’t remember what the funeral director said, or what I said, or what anybody said, but I do remember that he used to say - “It’s only me!” when he came into our house, opening the front door without knocking because he didn’t need to.

I don’t remember what the funeral was like, or what the humanist-guy was like, or even what the day was like, but I do remember what the music was like because it was Kathleen Ferrier singing ‘What is life to me without you?' and it made my grandmother sob, so then I had to turn my head away and concentrate very hard on the EXIT sign above the door, repeating its four letters over and over to myself – E-X-I-T, E-X-I-T, E-X-I-T – so I wouldn’t break down.

I don’t remember what happened about the coffin. Did it glide away slowly? Were curtains pulled around it? But I do remember thinking that the rose I had placed in there next to him would be engulfed in the same flames that licked, then consumed, his silver-grey hair, his well-trimmed beard, his face, his limbs, all his organs, right down to his heart.

Most of all I remember what he was like when he was alive.

That’s it. It's probably the closest thing to a poem I've written since I was a child when I used to write poems all the time. Here’s a photograph of me with my grandfather and grandmother and little brother, taken a long time ago in the garden of their bungalow in the Malvern Hills. My grandfather was called Roy Francis Campbell and I simply adored him. 

E x

Friday, 29 January 2021

Escaping to the Chateau.

Lately, I've been escaping to the chateau. All I want to do is put the fire on in the sitting room, light the candles, slump on the sofa, and watch back to back episodes of Escape to the Chateau on Channel 4. What’s the big attraction? Dick and Angel mostly, the couple who bought the crumbling pile in January 2015 for the bargain-basement price of £280,000 (Chateau de la Motte-Husson, in France). Dick is so capable. Angel is so creative. They’re both so positive and happy. He adores her, and why wouldn't he? She's always smiling and giggling. Then there’s the chateau itself. I love watching it transform as they bring it back to life. She created a wallpaper museum in a turret! He devised a heating system and helped install a lift! And I love the walled garden; I love watching those vegetables grow. I think it’s the combination of Dick and Angel’s pre-Covid lifestyle and the beautiful countryside around them that’s making it all so appealing right now. Dick and Angel renovate and decorate and cook and clean, all seemingly harmoniously while also bringing up two children. Their life is so different from life here in London that watching them means there’s little to feel wistful about in terms of what we've lost, except for the wedding parties they host. The wedding parties do make me cry. A lot of the programme makes me cry. Tears welling up out of nowhere. I imagine I’m not alone in this.

I’m fearing for the future. What’s going to happen to our children? How will they find jobs in a collapsed economy? When will I see my parents again? Will our lives ever get back to normal? I'm trying to keep these thoughts at bay, to find something positive to mentally tick off every evening, however small. I managed to clean a bathroom, I tick. I cooked a nice meal. I sorted a shelf. I wrote this blog post. Most importantly, I looked after our new puppy. Our new puppy is a great distraction. I walk her, then I bathe her because she’s covered in mud. The whole world has turned to mud. Every patch of green space around us is overused, trampled to death, sticky as toffee. We squelch through it, the puppy and I, with lines from Michael Rosen's We’re Going On A Bear Hunt running through my head. 'We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, we’ve got to go through it…' Just like a global pandemic. 'Squelch squerch, squelch, squerch...'

In bed at night, my mind spinning off like an out of control Ferris wheel, I find Angel and Dick’s chateau to latch on to. It really is my escape. I think about their life there. I long to free myself from London’s clutches and the chateau seems the perfect place to go: a huge house in grounds in the Loire valley in France. What bliss! I’d go there. Or to Yorkshire. Or East Sussex. Or Suffolk. Or retreating back to my childhood again in my head. Anywhere that’s not London. London is packed with people I can’t mix with. I think that’s where the chateau comes in. I see Dick and Angel as friends who've welcomed me into their home. They're taking the place of real friends and real interactions so alarmingly curtailed during this winter lockdown. A friend on Zoom the other day, talking about her mother’s obsession with her neighbours’ misfortunes, called it ‘secondary experience empathetic gloom’. Perhaps that’s what my obsession with Escape to the Chateau is? Except without the gloom. I love watching Dick and Angel because my mind needs people to connect to. And there they are on the telly whenever I need them, busily doing interesting and varied things… imagine that! 

I have stuff to do, but none of it varied and only a fraction of it is interesting. Each day is alarmingly similar to the one that went before and the one that will come after. It’s strange what our minds will do under pressure. We all need escape valves. And mine, at the moment at least, is scrambling up through a mental submarine hatch, out through the back of an imaginary wardrobe, and into a fairytale dream. Not surprising, perhaps, when I think about what I was into as a child: castles and handsome princes and beautiful princesses living their happily ever afters... 

I hope Angel and Dick are living their happily ever after in their beautiful chateau in France. I googled them the other day and discovered they have a whole devoted Facebook fan club of envious Brits (I am NOT ALONE), and a website including lots of home movies. When I get to the end of Escape to the Chateau on Channel 4, I’ll switch over to watching those. 

Keep making the programmes and the home movies, Dick and Angel! Right now, in this time of national crisis, your countrymen need you.

E x


Wednesday, 25 November 2020


My grandfather, mother, Trevor and grandmother, circa 1951.


My mother is sitting in what she and my father call The Garden Room. It’s a large extension to their modern house. The room is high ceilinged with exposed beams, and full of plants. It has a Scandinavian wood-burning stove in its centre. Its sleek chrome chimney reaches up through the roof. An assortment of wicker chairs sit around the wood burner. The garden beyond the room’s many windows is square and sheltered by fruit trees. It was once the walled garden of a great house here before a cul-de-sac of houses was built in 1979.

This is the house I lived in from the age of eleven until I went to university at eighteen. I’m back visiting my parents in October for four nights, alone. I’ve driven to York from south London where I now live with my husband and three sons. It’s taken me six hours. I’m here because I’m worried about my parents, who are both 80. Coronavirus is in full swing and they haven’t seen a family member since July. I’m risking giving them the disease even now. I don’t know if I might have it and be asymptomatic. I had considered staying in an Airbnb, even camping in their garden, but my mother vetoed all such precautions. Instead, I'm sitting a long way away from her, near the double doors that open onto the garden. Although they are not open at the moment because it’s too cold. 

My mother and I are chatting. We’ve been chatting a lot, non-stop since I arrived last night. Without warning, she changes the subject. ‘It was the anniversary of Trevor’s death two days ago,’ she says. ‘Fifty-nine years.’ She doesn’t often mention her brother – Trevor – or what happened to him. Yet somehow I know the story word for word. ‘He should never have died,’ my mother says. ‘No,’ I agree. My mother tells the story again.

It was the night before Trevor’s fourteenth birthday and he was having an asthma attack. His mother, my grandmother, someone I knew only as ‘Nanny’ when she was alive, was nursing him alone in his bedroom upstairs in their large, detached house in Sutton Coldfield where my mother grew up. My mother was out of the evening. She was twenty-one years-old, seven years older than Trevor. She was out on a date with my father, long before he was my father. Trevor’s father – my grandad, Bill – was also out for the evening. Many years later we learnt who Bill was with that night, but that, as they say, is another story.

It is not unusual for Trevor to be having an asthma attack but this is an unusually severe one

My mother returns from her evening out with my father to find that the doctor has visited and given Trevor an injection – adrenalin, to help his heart. But he’s still struggling to breathe. Or perhaps by this time he’s limp and unresponsive. My mother isn’t sure on this point. She knows she went downstairs and rang the doctor again but was told by his wife that he was out. It was a Friday night and long before doctors had mobile phones or even pagers.

The doctor’s wife tells my mother to ring for an ambulance. My mother recalls the ambulance men arriving and carrying Trevor downstairs. I have a vivid image of this because I’ve been told this detail before and I remember the staircase of that house so well. It was huge, and it wound around a corner and down again with a landing in between. There were two enormous stained-glass windows on that landing and two large urns, or vases, on the ledges of those windows. If you ran past them quickly – as I often did because I was frightened there and wanted to get downstairs in a hurry – the floor slightly shook, then so did those two vases. 

I see him now, Trevor, a young boy, thin and pale, from the few photographs I have seen of him, fragile, you might say, being carried pathetically past those windows and those vases on that landing. I see my mother at the bottom of the stairs looking up and waiting. Although, of course, she may have been at the top of the stairs. But that is where I see her as she recounts this story again, at the bottom, standing on the vast parquet floor that covers the cavernous hallway. I see my grandmother – Nanny – still upstairs. But she might have been downstairs, too. Although I doubt it. She would have been upstairs still, with Trevor. She would have been overseeing his lifting out of bed. Of this, I’m suddenly sure. But I can’t know, of course. I can’t know any of it. 

My grandmother, coming down behind the ambulance men, sees Trevor has wet himself. ‘Oh, he’s wet himself,’ she says. Something like that. I hear it now. I hear her soft Birmingham accent. She’s embarrassed, slightly.

As my mother tells it today, sitting in the garden room in October 2020, she says she realizes Trevor may have already been dead. This is something she’s considered in retrospect. Something she’s dwelt on. One of those tragic details that lends weight to the story, adds to its pathos. When people die the fluid inside them escapes. At twenty-one, my mother wouldn’t have known this. It’s likely my grandmother wouldn’t have known it either.

I sit in a wicker chair with my legs drawn up, listening to this detail again. ‘He was wet,’ my mother says. ‘I think perhaps he was already dead.’ I nod. It feels cathartic, this retelling. It feels as if my mother has a great need to expel it again, even after all these years.

Of course, I think. Of course, it has always been there, always in the back of her mind. Now one of my children is twenty-one I realise how young she was. What a trauma it must have been. How even though when I was growing up she hardly mentioned Trevor, he must have been always in her mind.

The ambulance men take Trevor to hospital. My grandmother goes with him in the ambulance. My grandfather, who has returned home by now, follows in his car. My mother telephones for my father.

At this point, my father comes into the garden room so he's able to corroborate this. ‘It was late,’ my mother says to my father. ‘I must have woken your parents’. And my father, standing by his study door which opens on to the garden room at one end, leans against it and agrees this must have happened but he also can’t remember for sure. ‘How did you get to my house?’ My mother asks him. ‘I think father must have driven me.’ He means his own father. ‘I usually cycled,’ he says. ‘But I didn’t that night.’ ‘No,’ my mother says. So they agree on this. My father waited with my mother at the house until her parents returned. They didn’t need telling that Trevor had died. They agree about this too. My grandmother went into one room, an enormous room that was called the lounge, that no one ever went in, and my grandfather went into the kitchen. My mother went to sit with my grandmother. My father went to sit with my grandfather. My father now says he can’t remember anything that was said that night, he just remembers the atmosphere in the house. I’m left imagining what that was like.

‘They didn’t comfort each other,’ my mother says of her parents. ‘They each grieved alone.’

In the morning my mother rose early and went downstairs and collected Trevor’s birthday cards from the doormat and hid them. My grandfather went off in his car to collect Aunty Nell. There’s a long explanation from my mother about who Aunty Nell was and why she was important to my grandfather, why she visited them every weekend when my mother was a child. I know this already and I can sum it up easily: Aunty Nell was my grandfather’s aunt, the sister of his mother who died when he was fourteen, on his birthday (who incidentally was called Elizabeth, which is my name). 

My mother is sitting at the kitchen table when Aunty Nell arrives. Her mother, Nanny,  is at the cooker. Aunty Nell enters the kitchen and walks across it (it too was a large room) and rests her head in her arms on the sink and sobs uncontrollably. 

My mother is furious about this. She’s furious on every retelling. Now she explains that Aunty Nell must have kept her feelings under control in the car with my grandfather, then let them loose in the kitchen with my grandmother. This, of course, upset my grandmother and, in my mother’s words, ‘set her off again’. This is what made my mother furious and still makes her furious. 

The last detail in this story, the place where it usually ends, is that not long afterwards Aunty Nell told my mother that she – my mother – never cared about Trevor. Now I think this must have been because my mother showed little emotion when he died, which is strange because she’s a very emotional person. She cries at the drop of a hat. She cries at TV adverts when families have to leave each other at airports. She doesn’t seem to have cried about Trevor, though. Certainly, she’s never mentioned crying about him and I’ve never seen her cry about him. Perhaps it’s too painful to cry about. But still, here she is, at 80-years-old, telling me this story again.

‘That’s so sad,’ I tell her. ‘It’s such a terribly sad story.’

‘He should never have died,’ my mother says.

‘No,’ I say. ‘He wouldn’t have died in this day and age.’

‘His heart gave out,’ says my mother. ‘He had a heart attack.’

‘Perhaps,’ I say, ‘it wasn’t the asthma? Perhaps it was the adrenalin?’

My mother agrees. She nods. ‘It might have been too much for his heart.’

We sit in silence for a moment, thinking about the doctor who called at my grandparents’ house in 1961 and gave Trevor an injection then went out for the evening, who didn’t have a mobile phone or a pager.

‘Shall we make lunch?’ my mother says. And we get up and go into the kitchen with my father. 



Wednesday, 9 May 2018

A Vision.

This week's blog was going to be about going to see Bryan Ferry with a friend who works for his record label who had complimentary tickets for his concert at the London Palladium (it was fantastic, you would have loved it). And about reading Blake Morrison's book As If, which I read in one sitting last week and which blew my mind (do read it, it's harrowing but brilliant). But it's not about either because there isn't a blog again this week because I'm up to my ears in GCSE revision. 

In my defence, lest you think me an over-controlling mother (heaven forbid), I didn't get remotely involved in revision with the other two sons. It's just horses for courses and this one needs me, if only for English and RS revision because I haven't a clue about maths or any of the sciences. So any road, that's my excuse vis-à-vis the blog this week. Normal service to resume soon.

Love E x


P.S. Meanwhile, here's something amazing by W.B.Yeats.

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.   
The darkness drops again; but now I know   
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,   
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Exam Season.

There isn't a blog this week because I had to write a short story for a workshop, prepare for a tutorial, and write a several thousand word thingamajig for a looming deadline, which I am still working on. All do-able if I didn't have an absolute ton of revision for my GCSEs to do as well because they start in two weeks and I've done virtually nothing about it yet. Yikes.

Love E x


P.S. So see you in a week, fam.