October 15th 2015 – Ulster Hall, Belfast
At first there were no marks. Toby was just a little fussier than usual. Then the red blisters began to bloom around his belly and the base of his spine. Laura looked it up on the Internet, diagnosed chicken pox, and began dosing the child with Calpol. She was secretly pleased. Chicken pox at two was ten times easier to deal with than chicken pox at four or five, or, heaven forbid, at forty, which was when her father had developed it, catching the virus from her just born brother, and blistering so bad he couldn’t shave for months.
Laura called all her friends with toddlers not yet infected and they were only too glad to bring their children round for an hour of exposure to Toby who was, by this stage, itching himself raw, so Laura had begun to fear permanent scarring. They threw all the children together in a small room with toys, closed the doors and hoped they would naturally gravitate towards Toby, howling in the corner. The mothers whispered to their children, through the keyhole, “give Toby a wee kiss,” and, “poor Toby looks like he needs a hug.” But the children were afraid of him and his loud tears and blotchy skin. They kept tightly to their own corner. None of them developed chicken pox.
The mothers were disappointed. Afterwards they were colder with Laura than they’d previously been, as if she’d told them a kind of lie.
October 16th 2015 – East Belfast
Of course, it’s impossible to tell from the picture on the box exactly what shade a dye will turn out once applied to your hair. This is why the instructions urge all users to complete a strand test at least twenty four hours in advance of application; this, and severe allergic reactions. However, the picture on the box is almost always no more than one or two shades from reality.
Imagine then, my surprise, when a box of light ash blonde dye, (L’Oreal brand), turned my hair the colour of the future.
The colour of the future is very hard to describe. It cannot be compared or contrasted with existing colours. The closest thing comparable might be mirror. Looking at the colour of the future as it flowed over my forehead and down my neck, strangers paled, good friends stared, as if hypnotized by things to come, things previously unimaginable. One man dropped dead in the street. Having feared the future for so many years he found it overwhelmingly beautiful riding high on the dome of my head like a kind of top knot, like a decorative flourish on a medieval cathedral. I watched him die, smiling and wished I’d done the strand test the night before.
I hadn’t planned on dying my hair the colour of the future. It was too heavy for me to carry off and, even with make-up, I looked corpse pale. I wore a hat for six weeks as advised, dyed my hair mouse brown and was ordinary again.
October 17th 2015 – East Belfast
It was October, almost November and all those present knew that this would be the last outdoor fire of the year. Soon the rain would come and there would be shower after pelting shower, with the possibility of snow punctuating the damp. This would continue until April or most likely May. No fire would catch outside in the rain, even cigarettes could not be relied upon as they were during the summer months.
Tonight they sat around the firepit on deckchairs and upturned crates, turning their faces towards the flames so they glowed like old gods in the flickering light. They did not, for a moment, worry about the next day smell of smoke and charcoal settling into their hair and their wool mix coats. In the morning they would wake to this smell, stale on their pillows, and wonder how long they could go without washing it away. They would hold this fire smell against the months to come like lovers sniffing for the perfume of the recently departed.
October 18th 2015 – Dundonald
After she turned into a spider Marilyn was only one centimeter tall. She could not reach the door handle and so it was impossible to return to her house. She found a new home in the wing mirror of a parked car. It was a Corsa; two doors and pillarbox red. Each day she hid behind the mirror and at night crawled out to spin fine webs across the car’s windscreen. These were not for catching flies. Marilyn had not stomach for insects. Instead she wove words into her webs. She’d remembered the children’s movie, “Charlotte’s Web,” and, under the circumstances couldn’t think of anything else to do.
Everyday she wrote the word “HELP” in block capital letters though she wasn’t exactly sure how the car’s driver could help her in her present situation, unless of course, he had magic powers. When the car was driven the fine lines of Marilyn’s webs went flying off in the wind. The next evening she’d have to start again, one letter at a time, all the time wondering why she was even bothering.
October 19th 2015 – East Belfast
The houses in our neighbourhood have only recently been given recycling bins. This is probably because we do not live in a city and the Council have made certain assumptions about our ability to engage with environmental issues such as polar ice caps, carbon footprints and sticking our potato peelings in the green, food bin. We are proving the Council very, very wrong.
We are placing our cardboard in one bin, our paper in the other. We are separating glass bottles from those made of plastic. We are faithfully placing our bins out for collection every second Tuesday, on the pavement. And, if we sometimes slip the odd non-traditional item into the recycling bin –secrets, dirty jokes, ex-wives, unwanted pets- it is only because we truly believe that somewhere, in a city or small town, much like ours, someone else will see the greater good in these items; will get more out of them than we ever could. This is how we’ve come to define recycling.
October 20th 2015 – Ulster Hall, Belfast
When the music starts they leave their tables and the decimated remains of their lunch. They do not look back. Pushing their chairs aside they stand on orthopaedic shoes and make for the dance floor. This is not a rapid movement, neither is it without momentum. The phrase which comes to mind is “gently shuffling.” They move like boats or other drifting things caught in a forward flowing tide.
When they reach the dance floor they pair off: woman with woman, never man with man, woman with man, (where men are willing and available). They make arches with their arms. Their backs are no longer bowed. They carry themselves like condiment dispensers now; salt and pepper swirling across the solid oak boards. They do not collide. They have long since learnt how to circle and turn and spin on a large, circling axis like planets never once brushing against the sleeve of another planet. They are a kind of solar system waltzing to the hits. Their faces, caught in the trailing spots, are pink, then orange, then baby blonde; younger by years than they were an hour ago.
October 21st 2015 – Ulster Hall, Belfast
Pete has become a mower of lawns because his father is a mower of lawns. Pete is an only child. There is not even a sister to fight him for rights to the family business. Pete’s father is a reasonably forward thinking man and has, in principle, no objections to a female mower of lawns. He simply hasn’t had the chance to employ one. Pete does not want to be a mower of lawns though he can’t say exactly what he wants to be instead: a ballerina perhaps, or a tightrope walker, for he is exceptionally well-balanced and specializes in the mowing of grassy verges and hills, often driving his sit-on up a bank at a 45 degree angle. Retaining his balance at such a demanding pitch requires tremendously strong stomach muscles. After a long day’s mowing Pete often feels as if he has been doing sit-ups –hundreds of them consecutively- or stomach crunches at the gym. Sometimes as he drives the sit-on up a hill or down he thinks about throwing the throttle open, gunning the accelerator and making for other well-grassed horizons; leaving a wide, lime strip behind him like the ghost trails of a summer jet.