Tales from the chiropodist’s chair

Talk to Me - photograph 2

It always calms me having my feet handled. When he strokes them I go into a kind of trance, mesmerised. She is gentle, fastidious even, the nail clippings and dead skin falling like snow on her blue plastic apron. I like to watch her mouth as she talks. She wears a milky, chocolate coloured lipstick, dark against her pale skin. We talk of her family. She offers her stories generously, happy, it seems, to share them with a relative stranger. Yesterday it was mostly about her father. He has Alzheimer’s. It is changing his personality. He’s lost his filter, she says. He makes outrageous comments, he is rude. Look at that fat arse, he had said, pointing at a woman across the street. At another time they were both in the Penguin café, she and he, and he loudly accused an ex-copper (in he earshot) as being ‘known as the thickest policeman in Aber’. She smiles ruefully as she recounts these tales. I like her. She is open. She shares her pain and her joy. I wonder why? When the session is over she closes down. A clam. Odd, is it something to do with the room? Or perhaps the intimacy of the procedure? My naked feet in her hands.

Then she tells me of a little boy she knew. I have forgotten his name. He was only fourteen, she said, when he had the accident. Some child had thrown his schoolbag across the road, he ran out to get it and a car hit him just here, she says pointing at the forehead. He was brain-damaged, in a coma and has been so for over twenty years. Such a nice boy, she says, so kind. I think about his mother, does she visit everyday? I don’t like her, she says. You’ll think me awful. No, I say, just honest. I wonder at her warmth and the way she seems to take against people. Sometimes he comes home, she says, I have no idea how they manage it. Some people’s lives seem to be beyond endurance. How do they cope? Is it true that we are only given what we can manage? Who can say?

She cuts two ovals of padded plaster and sticks one on each of my soles (they will come unstuck later on my yoga mat). Her oven is broken. And I have fourteen for Christmas, she says ruefully. I just want the repairman to call me to say when he is coming. I’m a control freak, she says. Yes, I say, so am I. Why do I feel so comfortable with such women? She talks about stress but there is no sign of it. At forty-nine she is three years younger than me but there is a solid, grounded-ness to her that calms me. No histrionics. Grounded. Her husband is a farmer. A turkey, duck and a goose. Perhaps I’ll end up cooking them in the caravan, she says. It’s the largeness of the life. The carol concert (her daughter plays the cello), the singing at the weekend at the old people’s home (they love it, she says, I can see the tears in their eyes) and then Sunday at chapel (I’ve got a party the night before and I do like to have a drink, she says). It sounds rich, warm, full. I don’t want it, that life, but I can, for a moment, step into it and feel pleasure.


Words. I write them down, stolen from the radio. A Dr Who story in which he talks about ‘origami brains’ and later a programme about famous composer’s manuscripts where a handwriting expert mentions ‘stroke heads’. Lovely words. Words that make me full with their possibilities. I collect them. Saving them till later.

We are watching The Go-between. I didn’t know that Harold Pinter had written the screenplay. Alan Bates is marvellous. Fierce. His blue eyes alive with passion. So masterful. Barely contained menace. And yet. And yet there is gentleness in the way he bathes Leo’s knee. And later, she also bathes the knee – to be closer, closer to her lover. Much of the book is lost. Stories. I return to them again and again. Always something new to be found.


Her grandmother also had Alzheimer’s. She recalls her shouting in front of her six-year-old daughter, where’s the shit house in this place? And then seeing her daughter’s green eyes wide open in amazement, shock at such profanity. My mother swore yesterday, she says. I’ve never heard her swear before. No. We both laughed, she said, I think it did her some good. She is such a shy lady but sometime it just gets too much. Yes, I say.


I have another story to tell, for next time maybe. A story about a woman. Last Monday, talking to a woman. A woman, just like me.



Hothouse Flowers 2002 - Artist Ellen Bell

They said that he always called her Windflower. An excellent pianist. He wrote his symphonies for her. They weren’t lovers but he was always thinking of her. Their intimacy was complete.

I love to see the fishing boats leaving the harbour. The other day in the still dark, I watched as it tumbled over the waves. Its lights so bright, so comforting. What a way to make a living. The peril of it. I remember the hymns – those in peril on the sea. In peril. Perilous. God speed. Keep them safe, I whisper.

What do we do with such knowledge? Such knowing of such atrocities. Let them stop. Let it stop. What can we do to protect each other from brutality. In the name of God. No, it cannot be. Children, teachers murdered. I hear the screaming, the terror. Please, let it stop. Let us stop. Rest in peace, my loves. We are part of the same heart, beating, bleeding with the pain. What can I do? Tell me. What can I do?


Four Swans

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They came with a whirring, whooshing noise. Slow, steady, measured. Wings flapping. Graceful whiteness. Something other. The shock of the magic, a fairy-tale sensation. Four swans flying over the sea. We stopped talking, he and I, momentarily held rapt. Portentous. We were silenced. Privileged to share the same earth.

The portable fire wasn’t there so the life model posed half-clothed. Big boots and knickers. Erotic, the middle-aged lady with her pink plait called it. Yes. Later, drinking our coffee from flasks we talked of killing. The killing of animals. She is an ex-farmer who went to Lesotho as a volunteer. I can’t eat pork anymore, she said, not after I used to hear them squealing. Ten minutes it took them, she said, ten minutes of squealing before they died. Ducks are tough, she said, I used to put their heads in a sack and fetch the cleaver. Chickens are easy.

Walking towards the prom in the early morning dark I see a small dog pulling and gnawing at a large piece of pizza on the road. His owner, lead in hand, calls out to him.

Listening to a programme on the radio about the effect of fundamentalist groups on Iraq. They banned crayons, the man is saying, in the schools. No colour and no art.

Fasting on brown rice. Cleaning out the coffee. No more. At least not for a while. A bowl of rice. The simplicity, the concentration of one food pleases me. But I have a choice. I know this. I think of what it must be to be hungry and eat with gratefulness. Always.




AXIS image (2)

Walking in the dark along North Road, I see a couple ahead of me. They are embracing. Holding each other tight. Clasped. I approach gingerly, stepping onto the road. They break away from each other. One calls out – Oh, she’s seen us. They are boys. One black, one white. Giggling, they scuttle off, arms around each other’s shoulders. They looked the same. Small-hipped, tiny-bottomed – both wearing hoodies. Good morning, I say. It’s alright. It’s alright.

The moon was almost full. A great cheese. A white-yellow round. The air is cold. A freezing that stills everything and everyone into a quietness.

I lay on the couch. A first-timer, he kept calling me. I watched the red ebbing out of me into the bag. He was kind, gentle. They all were, despite my grouch-iness. A good thing. One good thing done that day. Who has it now? Did it help? Did it save a life? I hope so.

It was as if she were following me. In her little red van. Speeding along. A sharp handbrake at each post box. A little woman with a long rope of keys. How does she know which one to use?

They interviewed a play writer. His office is a library. In Islington. Eight till six he writes there. Why? Does he like the sounds, the ordinary life playing our around him?