One of the windows of Merlin’s Shoe Repair shop has been boarded-up since Christmas. It is a rough piece of chipboard. The windows inside are all steamed-up. A neon sign declaring a Happy Christmas to all flashes on and off every sixty seconds. Someone has spray painted a message on the board, in capital letters. I’VE NOT GONE BUST, it reads. At the top right hand corner another message has been added. Written in felt pen and in lower case, it has clearly been done rather hastily. I just needed a break, it says.
Turning the key in the door I pause for a moment to look out of the window. The black and white cat that lives in the ground-floor flat in the courtyard below is hesitating at an open window. Will she jump out? She turns to face me, catching my eye. We hold each other’s gaze for what must be at least 30 seconds. Then the cat grows bored and turns its head away. I open my door and go in.
They are repeating the adaptation of Dickens’s Mrs Lirriper on the radio. I keen towards Julia McKenzie’s voice. A chortling, happy voice, thick with kindness. She talks of parlours, of pots of tea by the fire, everything cosy and nice. I yearn for such mothering with an ache. I always have. I always have. And sometimes, just sometimes, I found it. (You were always my favourite, she said to me. I flooded with joy. Was I? I asked, I never knew.) Thank you. All of you, for the comfort of you. Other peoples’ mothers, bless you. Bless you all.