view through the trees

darlings

we went to see friends up in the Hollywood Hills for a long moment of reflection and quietness on a sunday evening and just before we turned into the driveway we thought “let’s take a walk first”.

so we parked the car.

got out on foot (sometimes we Do think we’re the last of the walking-people walking in L.A) and took the trusty camera and swooned under orange blossom and peeked through trees.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAyou see we spent Much of yesterday (after our lovely brunch at the Apple Pan with @mamzellev) WRITING and we needed to get back into corporal realm (we get quite dizzy and in-the-Zone when we Write).

we wrote 2 x articles (we’ll post their Links here when they arrive on the interweb at Los Angeles, I’m Yours during the week) AND (almost) 3000 words of The House On Church Row.

we’re Almost Done.

a mad trip to the Seaside and the whole plot will be tied up neatly as if it’s a brown paper parcel fastened with string and given to Mr. Postman as he does his rounds of the Village of a morning.

71,098 words!

a slim(ish) volume (we prefer those).

it feels astonishing to see the world unfold like this.

may we share a few lines?

you are Most Kind.

What could she do? You couldn’t interfere with the laws of the universe. When someone was dead, they needed to stay dead. But Elyse was so full of life and longing. It had never occurred to Marion that the chains of family could keep you close to the earth, not going, not leaving, not at peace. Distracted from her piece of paper, it started to unfurl open. Both Annabelle and Kelly looked at the same time, but Marion scrunched it up, lit it and threw it into the air.

It just hung there. Smoldering but oh-so-slowly. Not burning up. Not moving. Marion sighed and exchanged glances with Elyse who cheered up slightly for a moment. It wasn’t easy being metaphysical sometimes. She reached up to the paper and flicked it with her middle finger and thumb and then closed her hand quickly around it. By the time she opened her hand again a split second later it had gone.

“Was that a magic trick?” said Annabelle, admiringly.

Marion was irritated by that remark. “I don’t do tricks,” she said, shortly and broke the circle by getting up to find a bottle of Jack Daniels in the kitchen cupboard.  By the time she returned the mood was broken. Lydia had found the bit of paper with the closing incantation and everyone’s paper had burned up, rattles had been used to break up the energy and feathers piled on top of one another in the fire.

Rather pleasantly drunk, the seven women drifted into the garden to enjoy the full moon and a surprisingly large number of twinkling stars for Hampstead. Elyse hung back and noticed Libby watching them through the fence. She knew these were her last few hours on earth and she had a pang – one of the first in her life/death – that she would not get to know her niece. Libby pressed her hands onto the fence and thought she could still make out the shimmering ghost of her aunt Elyse. She leaned her forehead on the night warmed wooden slats and wished she could get to know Elyse. She seemed like someone who would understand what it was like to be Libby.

Leaning against the trunk of the largest tree, Annabelle felt full and beautiful and sexy and glorious. She smiled beatifically at Marion who looked wryly back. It was amazing how congenial straight women were when they were tipsy.

“It’s a beautiful night,” breathed Annabelle, looking up to the top of the trees and the stars beyond.

“It certainly is,” smiled Marion. She touched the trunk of the tree with the tips of her fingers and all the twinkle lights in the garden suddenly lit up.

Diana clapped her hands. “Oh! How pretty!” Lydia crossed over to Annabelle and Marion and put her arms around them both.

“Marion, that was very thoughtful of you,” she said.

“I can be,” said Marion, “When I want to be.”

“I don’t believe you are as manipulative as you make out,” said Annabelle, flirting openly now.

“Your naivety is most seductive,” replied Marion, catching Kelly’s eye across the garden. Kelly saw her looking and thought sod it, even if the English rose is hanging around like a bad smell, I still like flirting with Marion. Marion raised an eyebrow and grinned. Kelly walked over, purposefully and then suddenly stopped. She looked at the trunk nearest Marion. There was no switch there. Kelly walked back over to the tree on the left. She touched the switch and the lights went off, very briefly. She looked around at Marion who put her fingers to her lips.

The full moon ceremony went late into the night. They drank, they talked and they danced, a little (but not to Joni Mitchell – Marion drew the line at that, despite Diana’s plaintive pleading). They talked some more and gently sunk into the dewy grass as the dawn started to break. Dead Can Dance was on the vinyl turntable, very low and insistent and gorgeous in its tonal quality.

we have a Mixed day ahead.

1. a new doctor to get an update on Our Situation after you-know-what

2. some work-related tasks

3. a swoon-y afternoon at The Library with our Requested Materials from the Special Collections (couldn’t be Happier at the prospect of quiet hush, pencils-only, notebook, white gloves, archival materials)

and then a celebration this evening of a fabulous friend’s milestone in life by candlelight which is always delicious.

*smileshappilytocamera*

oh yes.

and we’ve decided to take Personal Responsibility for the curves.

the scared bitchin’ about the you-know-what-and-subsequent-curve-emergence has Got To End.

yes, yes, it was horrid (can you believe it was TWENTY MONTHS ago now?!)

and yes, the medication is nasty (better than the original two they tried us on – synthetics have never Been Our Thing)

but we ate a lot of Cake (bagels/toast/jam/butter/cream/) over our scared feelings and Day Job stress and do-we-have-cancer-waiting and can-we-get-back-to-the-Other-Coast and will-the-Green-Card-Ever-Arrive *waiting12yearslater* (yes! it did!)

and we’d like to admit that.

sort of (like is a strong word).

so here we are – *waving* with coffee cup with non-fat milk and looking forward to those Bran Flakes.

this shall not become a diet blog (we never diet)

and there may be Cake from time to time.

but not as a regular thing.

movingswiftlyon.

because we’re Here now.

Starting Again with life.

and that’s delicious.

the 3rd book is Almost complete.

and then we need to decide what to write next.

we heard about this Clever “app-ness” called Atavist where one can Publish one’s Short Stories and add in maps and pictures and so on and so forth.

because we have a lovely short story called “Malachy’s Inn” and we’re Ever so Keen to share it in a creative way.

maybe we’ll pop that one into this little app-shop-wonderland and see if people would like to buy it.

here’s how it starts…..

The bleak road to Belfast airport was the last place on earth you would expect to find solace. But there it was, an old-fashioned inn, white-washed on the outside and a lamp burning to the right of the heavy door.

Kathleen had woken up at dawn to leave that miserable hotel, driving faster and faster until she could breathe again at the edge of the world. Away from the lonely old-fashioned room with that flocked wallpaper, strange tasting milk, burgundy threadbare carpets and bad coffee.

She had flown from New York to Ireland for a wedding. But perhaps the wedding was just an excuse to get out of her life. The wedding was beautiful but she barely recognized anyone. Everyone had children under six who ran screaming. Labradors slumped, depressed, by the grand fireplace. Fiery burning torches lit the gravel driveway where she scraped her hire car door trying to park in the near darkness by the flint wall. Driving down the gravel driveway she noticed a decadent lane of writhing couples pressed back into the yew trees, watched by a growing crowd of small boys, their eyes open wide and mouths in a little red o.

There was one really touching moment. Just as she picked up her coat, the bride appeared from behind a long red velvet drape in the anteroom leading to the house. Swaying, lost in her own bliss, she tried to place Kathleen. With a heavy heart, Kathleen realized she was no longer part of this world.

ah yes.

we’re Very Fond of this story.

and we’ve been writing and re-writing it and sending it out and now it’s time (due to the shocking lack of response) to Publish it Ourselves.

most exciting.

have a beautiful monday, darlings.

we’ll be thinking of you most warmly.

 

Annabelle gets a job (in the house on church row).

darlings

who we are in RL needs to be Up Early and driving-north for a lovely work-thing so we have no time to write (need to make her a packed lunch and some of those organic carrots chopped up in a little ziplock bag) – but we wrote yesterday – a LOT – we wrote our new column for next wednesday (previous – prior? – ones are here), and a submission for KINFOLK (crossed fingers that they like it) and 2000 (!) words for The House On Church Row (up to 60,000 words now – a Slim Volume at last – and one very fast-paced exciting chunk to complete – we Are enjoying writing this one) – then, much later on, we met with friends on a hilltop overlooking Hollywood for a 20 minute meditation at dusk – because That’s the sort of things people do Here (isn’t that just delicious and Inspirationally Isherwood?)

firstly – a floral Moment (farmers’ market find yesterday):

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

and now back to our friends at The House On Church Row:

He liked taking care of Annabelle. She was so appreciative and pretty and liked to giggle and spend time watching him while he watched sports on the television. She had a thing about Ritz crackers and would eat them very slowly while sipping Earl Grey tea with milk. Their sofa was full of Ritz crumbs in those days.

As he dropped his mother off at Paddington he saw there was a late night grocery shop open at the back of the terminal. He walked around and picked up some milk and then, on a whim, some Ritz crackers. It felt good to remember what his wife liked to eat. And then he remembered that she had just had surgery on her throat and Ritz crackers might hurt. He put them back and picked up some butterscotch Angel Delight instead. Annabelle had waited up for him last night. Or so he thought – maybe she was just too excited to sleep before her first day in an actual office.

They made the Angel Delight and took it upstairs in sundae glasses to eat in bed. And then carefully and slowly he kissed his wife all over until she got tingly and started to unbutton his pajama top. Thinking about it now, on the Northern Line, about to change at Bank, he almost blushed behind his copy of The Telegraph.

Back in the kitchen, Libby tried to get details. “Where are you working?” she said. But Annabelle told them they’d be late and anyway she wanted to start this new job life slowly and would tell them more about it when she felt settled. Mark went upstairs to get his school bag and football kit and bumped into Libby on the landing.

“I’m suspicious,” said Libby.

Mark really didn’t want to have a conversation with his sister before school. She could be really prickly and he had double Chemistry and was dreading it, he could not for the life of him remember the entire Periodic Table. He smiled sweetly and pointed at his watch. They were going to be late. But Libby wasn’t letting him get away that easily.

“Did we become poor all of a sudden?” she said, worried that there wouldn’t be enough money for her to go to sixth form and then university somewhere as far as possible away from here – like Sydney, Australia.

Her brother was less prone to dramatics and more practical in his thinking. “I believe she just wanted something to do,” he said, slipping past Libby and rushing down the stairs. Libby stared after him. Why on earth would you want something to do if you didn’t have to earn any money? Her mother called up the stairs that they were going to be late. Libby walked slowly and thoughtfully down the stairs. This would require some processing. A lot was changing around here since her mother had that nervous breakdown or cancer or whatever it was that gave her the scar on her throat that no one was talking about.

Once the children had gone, Annabelle checked the clock in the hallway. It said seven forty-five. She had no idea what time a creative agency started work but it seemed as good a time to get going as any. She grabbed her navy blue wool coat, which was remarkably similar to the one she had worn at boarding school and took an umbrella from the stand. This was it. She was going-to-work. It all felt tremendous.

The morning passed really quickly. Annabelle had a small office next to Dorian’s and was shown around by Kelly who seemed a bit angry for some reason. Dorian finally showed up at eleven o’clock and stared at her for a long time. Then he decided she’d do and showed her the latest mock-ups on his computer. Annabelle was impressed – she hoped she could learn to use the computer like that.

yes.

yes.

you May have noticed there’s a scar and tumo(u)rs that slipped into this Tale.

we didn’t intend that to happen.

it. just. did.

as these things tend to do.

we’re leaving that in the book rather than sharing it online as we Do Feel we shared Rather a Lot here before – from you-know-when.

but isn’t it Exciting that Annabelle has got a job?

we loved writing that bit, most especially.

Annabelle dropped her croissant onto the pavement in shock.

darlings

we’re off to the hot, dry, Modernist architecture-land of Palm Springs!

just for a day and a night and a half-day.

viewerso we woke up Super Early – had coffee and strawberries and watched the sunrise over the Hollywood Hills to the north – and settled down to write for almost an hour.

may we share a little more House on Church Row with you?

you are Most Kind.

Kelly paused. No one had ever said that to her before. In fact in her house, if you looked like you thought you had it going on, someone would smack you down and say, “Who do you think you are?” and that would be the end of it. She liked what Marion just said. She liked it a lot. She nodded, like she heard that all the time. Marion knew she didn’t but that was ok. She understood. She ran down the stairs and out into the day.

Marion straightened up the bed and heard the front door close as Kelly left. Then she remembered what Annabelle had said about this being her mother’s robe. She picked it up and then something caught in her chest. She dropped it on the chair. She didn’t like the feeling she got from the robe. A troubled soul had worn that. The paintings on the wall were beautiful but full of yearning and sadness. Marion walked slowly downstairs. Her next-door neighbor had quite a story, she could feel it and it was all starting to make sense. Was that why she had been sent to England?

Annabelle was standing awkwardly in the hallway, carrying her coat. “Ready for breakfast?” said Marion, kindly.

“But you’re still in your PJs,” said Annabelle.

Marion grabbed her beautiful camel coat from the hooks in the hall and belted it up tightly, scooping up her hair into a high ponytail and checking last night’s mascara would get her through breakfast.

“Oh honey,” smiled Marion, “this is Hampstead. Half of the women here have daywear that looks like pajamas.”

“You have a point,” smiled Annabelle, shyly. She felt quite pink cheeked at being called honey.

They walked off down the street and the wind started blowing.

“The weather is certainly drawing in,” said Annabelle. Marion felt in her pocket and found her soft cashmere hat. She offered it to Annabelle.

“That’s so soft!” said Annabelle, shaking her head. She felt strange wanting to wear Marion’s hat. It hung off her hand, she did not know what to do with it.

“It’s cashmere. Just put it on.”

Annabelle did and felt instantly glamorous. “I’ve never felt anything as beautiful as this,” she breathed.

“You’ve probably never spent such a stupid amount of money on a hat.”

“I take the children’s old hats.”

Marion didn’t answer. She already knew Annabelle had no concept of treating herself well. Annabelle felt irritated by her silence.

“Are you sleeping with your secretary?” she blurted out, without thinking.

Marion didn’t look at her.

“I see.”

“No you don’t.”

Annabelle panicked. “Perhaps I should go home.”

“I wish you’d quit being so uptight.”

They had just arrived outside Louis Patisserie. Lydia was putting a sign up in the window. She waved cheerily at them, unable to hide her glee at Annabelle wearing a gorgeous cashmere hat at a rakish angle. It was not a hat that one usually saw in Hampstead. It was clearly Parisian. And it was obviously Marion’s.

“Saved by the dark side,” grinned Marion.

Lydia looked between the two of them. The tension between Annabelle and Marion amused her – she did a very non-priestess like chuckle. “I only use my powers for good, Marion.” She paused, looking directly at Marion, “How about you?”

Marion narrowed her eyes and scanned Lydia for clues. Oh, really? This was not just an act? Lydia felt something happening in the air. “What on earth are you doing?” Marion did not answer. She felt pale and exhausted and like she better go and lie down.

“Can we take a raincheck?” she said, suddenly to Annabelle.

“Are you ok?” said Annabelle, worried, taking off the hat, offering it to her worriedly.

“Keep the hat, it’s a gift.” Marion turned sharply and headed back down Church Row. This was not good, not good at all. She broke into a run and her camel coat flew open but she did not care. She ran all the way back to the house and grabbed her keys from the coat pocket. They must have dropped out when she ran. Damn! She did not know what to do. She had been busted. Lydia knew who she was – or thought she did.

At that moment, Simon emerged from the house next door. He was looking for his wife. He saw the glamorous blonde American in her PJs frantically searching for something on the ground. He saw her keys a little way by the lamppost and went over.

“Are these what you’re looking for?” he asked, trying to be all British and bonhomie even though he was late for the office and his wife was missing.

Marion swirled around and nearly bumped her head on Simon’s chest. “Jeez, you’re a tall glass of water, I didn’t know you people came in Tall.”

Simon was not sure of her grammar. It must be American syntax. But he guessed it was a compliment. He went a little pink-cheeked and Marion turned on her charm. This was the husband, she remembered seeing him through the French windows. He was lovely. Great energy. Slightly diffident, had no idea who he was, but nice. A nice man – definitely a good man – a kind man. “So we meet at last,” she said, holding out her hand, not caring that her pajamas were on full display beneath her coat and her ponytail had come free, her hair cascading over her shoulders.

Simon did a little bow and held up her keys, “Allow me?” he said, walking up to Marion’s doorway and putting the key in the lock. Marion was amused – he was like Cary Grant, for god’s sake. No wonder Annabelle married him. She walked into her house as he held the door open and then decided to be wicked. She put her hand on his chest and cocked her head into the hallway.

“The least I can do is offer you coffee,” she grinned. Simon was speechless. A gorgeous American who looked like Grace Kelly was inviting him into the house next door – which he had always been curious to see – and was offering him coffee. For a moment he felt bold and alive with a devil-may-care joie de vivre and a sense of excitement and deeply and wantonly free.

“Don’t mind if I do,” he said, sprightly, and followed her into the house.

Lydia and Annabelle were walking back down Church Row, nibbling croissants from out of waxed paper bags and talking intently. Lydia looked up from her delicate French pastry and said, “Isn’t that your husband going into Marion’s house?”

Annabelle dropped her croissant onto the pavement in shock.

see you later darlings!

we’ll check in from Palm Springs.

off to drive and sing loudly to mid-80s pop Tunes in the trusty silver steed Prius as we Drive East.

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checking in at The House on Church Row with Simon and Cake.

good morning darlings – 07:49AM on a beautiful tuesday gosh Wednesday! in sunny southern california.

we’re already writing – a large mug of finest french beans ground into a sumptuous dark roast with 1 per-cent milk from trader joes – and thought we’d open the door to Annabelle and Simon’s house on Church Row (metaphorically, of course) and peek inside……we’ve jumped ahead several thousand words so just a snapshot to keep up our momentum While We Continue On.

firstly a picture – now several of you will know that this is Not London (in fact, it’s Norwich) – but we always need to set the scene, visually, for ourselves before we write and we thought our American friends might appreciate a contextual image (and those, increasingly it seems from the “stats” from the middle east – good morning, chaps).

norwich

Simon felt cornered by his teenage mutant daughter. He had come home to catch up on some work and maybe read the paper from cover to cover in the kitchen. But Libby was sprawled out on the sofa, still in her sports kit, watching endless mindless television on a loop. He stood in the doorway and coughed, politely. Her head swung round like an alien in a horror movie. She stared him down. He moved back slightly into the hallway.

“Why aren’t you at work?” she said, exasperated.

He wished he had spoken first. “Why aren’t you at school?”

“I’m on home study.”

He had no idea what that meant so tried another tack. “Where’s Mum?”

“How should I know?” Libby looked sideways at the television, silently begging her father to leave.

“Did she say she was busy today?”

Libby looks at him astonished. “Busy doing what?”

Simon decided to leave it and avoid all confrontation until she left for university. When was that? He mentally calculated. It felt like years, because it was.

He walked into the kitchen and looked around for something to eat. He fancied cake. Did they have cake anywhere? It seemed not. He wanted to ask Libby if she knew where Annabelle kept the cake but he was too scared. His son would know. His son was still young, still liked cake, wasn’t on a diet or hated him. That time would come he was sure. Perhaps not the dieting bit. But maybe – young men appeared to be trying hard to impress these days.

Sighing, he sat down at the kitchen table and opened up his laptop and started to work. He would have an apple instead. Had life come to this? He could hear sounds of very loud music coming from the television next door. Then the door opened and Libby stormed in, grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl and tossed her hair sullenly. Simon decided to chance it.

“Do we have any cake in the house?”

Libby turned on him. “What?”

“Cake – do we have any cake in the house?”

“How would I know?”

Suddenly Simon remembered his wife was baking a few nights ago. He got up and looked hopefully in the fridge. Not much there. He tried the bread bin. There was something that looked like a rock cake and not appealing at all. Libby was still standing there.

“Are you eating on your feelings?” she said, glaring.

“Am I what?”

“We learned that in Psych.”

“Since when are you doing psychology?”

“I want to be a therapist.”

Simon stared at his daughter. He had not met anyone so lacking in compassion for years. Why on earth would she want to be a therapist? Libby crunched into the apple and narrowed her eyes at her father. “I’m going to work in the criminal justice system rehabilitating prisoners.”

The front door opened and his son swung in through the doors, throwing his schoolbag on the floor and kicking off his shoes. He stopped suddenly seeing his father and his sister doing a stand-off in the kitchen. Libby tossed her hair again and went back into the living room to watch television. Matt took out half a sandwich from the fridge and sat on the floor to eat it. Simon passed him a napkin so he didn’t drop food everywhere.

“Did you know your sister wants to work with criminals?”

Matt looked at him pityingly. “Libby wants to do whatever she sees on the television this week. She’s been watching those American shows again.”

“So I don’t need to worry?”

Matt finished his cheese sandwich and threw the paper napkin into the bin. “I’m not worried,” he said.

Simon felt better for a moment. Thank goodness they had two children.

“Where’s mum?” said Matt, grabbing his schoolbag to go upstairs and do homework.

“I don’t know.”

Matt shrugged. “I’m not worried,” he said, again.

Suddenly Simon was worried. Where was his wife? And would she bring some cake home from wherever she was?

********************************************************

Annabelle was standing outside Louis Patisserie on Hampstead High Street, her nose pressed up against the clotted cream pastries in the window. It all looked delicious and forbidden and wrong. Lydia opened the door and the little bell at the top of the lintel tinkled merrily. It was all so inviting, thought Annabelle. Lydia’s robes were more voluminous and darkest purple than usual and there was even a hint of gold thread throughout the bodice. She smiled encouragingly at Annabelle.

“They look lovely,” sighed Annabelle, nodding to the cakes.

“They look even lovelier inside on a plate with a pot of tea,” said Lydia, gently.

“I can’t eat them. They will go straight to my thighs.”

“I’m sure you have perfectly lovely thighs.”

Annabelle blushed.

“My tea is getting cold. Are you coming in?”

Annabelle hesitated, looked up and down the street, and then walked purposefully into the tearooms.

An hour later, Annabelle hurried down the street, fishing in her bag for her keys. Lydia was rushing behind.

“Don’t forget!”

Annabelle turned around, quickly.

“I can’t.”

“You can if you want to. These opportunities come along so rarely. Seize the day! Carpe Diem as the Romans said!” Lydia rushed on down Church Row towards the graveyard and turned left. Annabelle paused on her front doorstep. The door opened from the inside. Simon was standing there.

“I was worried.”

He looked down the street and saw the departing figure of Lydia floating past the church in her long skirts and flowing scarves. Annabelle silently handed him a box of cakes from Louis Patisserie and hurried inside. Gingerly he opened the box and sighed happily. Then he looked worriedly into the house. Why was she bringing cake home?

 

marion takes the Tube from Hampstead.

darlings

another thousand words into the Novel……and then out into the beautiful Los Angeles day.

It was barely dawn. The street lamps were still lit, not by gas these days, all re-worked to fit electric bulbs, but still within the original early 1800s encasements, black and forbidding, standing proudly to light the way home. A morning bird sang out in the trees at the end of Church Row. Apart from that, a car or two, heading into the center of the city, whooshed past, its headlights beaming quickly into the darkened streets, and then silence again.

Marion walked out of her house in full corporate drag – a tan Macintosh coat, navy Donna Karan shift dress and beautifully tailored jacket and expensive retro T-bar Cuban-heeled black patent leather shoes, the sort usually worn by dancers on a hot night in Havana. Marion had a thing about slightly inappropriate shoes. It always amused her to see how it threw people off when they checked out her outfit from suitably chic corporate attire to – huh? When they got to the shoes.

She shivered a little inside the coat. This place was constantly damp, she realized. A heavier coat was needed. Probably from that place the English called Peter – Peter – what was it called again, she wondered? Ah, yes, Peter Jones. Why was it called that? Was there a Peter Jones who had set up the business back in the day? And didn’t everyone know it was never a good idea to name the business after yourself if you wanted to sell it some day, because, in effect, you would be selling your name. As an advertising executive she had created many a new campaign to cover up the fact that there was no founder in place anymore. Who has the advertising contract for Peter Jones, she wondered, looking up and down the street, trying to remember where there might be a cab rank.

The street was silent. All the drapes in the windows of the houses were drawn. Not a soul stirred. She looked at the flower baskets hanging on the lampposts. There was actual dew on the blooms. Marion raised her eyebrows to the sky and shook her head. This place was beyond cute.

“It kills me,” she said out loud. Her voice, an American voice, here, in the midst of such almost-pastoral splendor, broke the spell. Suddenly a door to the left opened and Annabelle, in a very sweet dressing gown, came out of her house to pick up the bottles of milk on her doorstep. She noticed Marion, and stopped dead, pulling her dressing gown around her more tightly. They stared at each other for a second.

Annabelle’s breeding rose to the occasion. “You must be Marion,” she said, softly, aware that the street was still full of sleeping neighbors.

“Good news travels fast.” Marion did not want to be charmed, but the whole effect of sleepy-head-blonde (probably natural) hair and a pale blue toweling robe while picking up actual milk bottles from a step was adorable. She smoothed down her expensive Donna Karan tailoring and looked down the street again, wishing a New York taxi cab would just pull up outside the house, like now.

“Oh yes,” smiled Annabelle, “You’re an American, I forgot. Lydia did say.”

“Don’t know why you need the newspaper around here, with Lydia on call.”

“She is a terrible gossip,” giggled Annabelle, marveling at Marion’s outfit. She looked like a fashion spread from ELLE magazine. One of those shoots where bold women in brightly-colored skirt suits were always sticking out their hands to get a cab on Madison Avenue. Suddenly the Church at the end chimed six o’clock. Marion rolled her eyes at the cuteness of this place again. She found Annabelle’s presence slightly un-nerving. She was so innocent looking. She just wanted to get out of there. Get to the office. To a place that she understood: numbers, research, campaigns, order and lots of caffeine.

“Well. I must run.”

Annabelle looked down the road to the Church clock to check the time. “Good lord, it’s only six o’clock!”

“I like to start work early.”

“I almost miss it,” sighed Annabelle.

Marion just wanted a cab. She did not want to hear about the travails of the lonely housewife. Not unless she was working on a campaign that aimed to improve the lot of a lonely housewife through some new miracle product. But Annabelle did not need a cue to start talking.

“Somewhere to go everyday. Must be nice.”

“Couldn’t you get yourself a job?”

Annabelle bristled, slightly. Marion was not yet attuned to the cues and missed it. “I have a job.”

“But you just said,” Marion looked helplessly up and down the street. Not a cab in sight. Annabelle pursed her lip and was silent. Marion looked at her, quickly, realizing her mistake. “Right. Sorry. My mistake.”

“Diana said you’re living here alone. You don’t have a family do you?”

Marion never enjoyed this particular conversation. “Why do I feel judged?” she said, seemingly amused.

“I didn’t mean,”

“Yes you did.”

Annabelle was taken aback. She was not used to being challenged. Marion hoisted her expensive Hermes bag onto her shoulder and smiled brightly, but dismissively. “Now where do I get a cab around here?”

“Most people get the Tube.”

“The What?”

Annabelle pointed to the High Street and then motioned taking a left turn. Marion nodded her head and started to walk briskly. A man appeared as if from nowhere walking in front of her, a furled up newspaper under his arm, carrying an umbrella. He walked purposefully towards a building with a sign that said “Hampstead Station” in white lettering on a blue background and a red, white and blue circular motif with the words Underground. She followed closely behind him, watching as he bought a ticket at the machine and swiped it through the electronic gates.

It was nothing like the New York subway system, for a start, there was no one around; the platform was deserted, apart from the man with the newspaper. Marion started to make notes in her small black moleskine journal about the man’s clothing, the Edwardian tile work in the station and the advertisements pasted on the opposite wall.

She did not notice the man was doing the same thing, while glancing covertly at her from time to time.

BrightestLondon_web

a morning in bed, writing a novel, thinking of london.

darlings

happy friday!

we don’t have anywhere particular to be until Later so we decided to stay in bed and write (what a lovely sentence to be able to say) as we are writing a minimum (on most days) of 1000 words into (not of, but into) the new novel.

may we share a bit more with you?

firstly a few photographs we took before – on a trip to London – just to add Context – and get you in the right Feeling or mood.

oriel sloane square 20th Century Fox London BBC london ready? do you have a snack and some caffeinated beverage? it’s a longish read today (and may we say thank you for reading – we truly Appreciate it, darlings).

There is something quite lovely about an English early spring morning. True – there was still rain on a daily basis. But in between there were glossy bursts of sunshine, which brought out birds and children and dogs in a fit of activity. Annabelle stood at her kitchen window and watched the sparrows tussle with each other in the guttering. A door banged and shook the windowpanes slightly and the birds scattered up and away, onto the back garden shed and over the rooftops. Annabelle looked in the direction of next door. That must have been Marion leaving for her new job.

Annabelle took down a tea towel and started to dry the dishes, in something of a dream. Secretly she wished she had a job. It must be nice to have somewhere to go. She finished drying the plates and put the kettle on to make a pot of tea. A note from her son’s school was lying on the table. She picked it up and frowned. Mark was not doing well and she had no idea how to help him. Her daughter, Libby, was the smart one and, to make it worse, somewhat athletic too. But Mark was different: lost in thought most of the time, in his own world.

She picked up Mark’s textbooks and started to read about the Tudors and the Stuarts. It engrossed her so much she did not notice the kettle whistling furiously on the stove. Annabelle stopped reading and turned off the kettle then, without knowing why, she walked quickly into the garden and threw some seeds out for the birds. It was a few moments before she realized she could hear voices in the next garden.

“But why ENGLAND?” said a woman’s voice – an American voice.

Annabelle crept closer to the fence that divided the two parts of the house and sat down under the apple tree on a low bench.

“Why not PARIS?” said the voice.

There was a pause.

“They speak English, don’t they? Well, I’d pick it up.”

Another pause.

“You’re killing me. This is like something out of a PBS Masterpiece special with Dame Maggie Smith and her cohorts of strange village women in tie-dye robes and I just don’t see why I got punished. The numbers were great. You know they were great. They were off the chart great!”

Annabelle was fascinated by the woman’s voice. She realized it must be Marion. She sounded so brave, so present and so gloriously angry and defiant. It was exhilarating. Annabelle felt desperate to see what she looked like. She decided to risk peeking through a hole in the fence.

At first she could not see anything. Just a mass of newspapers strewn across the picnic table, which she knew was a bit wobbly because it used to live in their garden. There was a large coffee container from the American chain on the corner – that must have been why she heard a bang this morning – Marion leaving to go up into the high street.

And then she saw her. A woman with sleek blonde hair but not brassy blonde, expensive, high-end salon Hollywood movie star blonde – and she was running her fingers through it in frustration. The cellphone was clamped to her ear and she was wearing dark glasses. Annabelle was impressed. She had never seen anyone wearing Jackie Onassis large dark glasses in Hampstead, especially not in their own back garden, before nine AM.

But her clothes! Annabelle got as close to the fence as she dared to take a better look. Marion appeared to be wearing pajamas under a Macintosh raincoat. But not the sort of pajamas one found in John Lewis – those sensible ones in flannel with unflattering drawstring waist and saggy bottom.

Marion’s pajamas were white satin with a thin navy blue piping down the front and a monogram on the pocket from some fancy store in New York probably, thought Annabelle. And the way the trousers flowed was so elegant, just skimming Marion’s long legs at the top and occasionally touching her ankles gently as she stormed around the garden. She must be wearing some sort of silk tank top under the button-down jacket as the thin material glowed gently in the spring sunshine. She was a vision, thought Annabelle, quietly hugging herself on the other side of the garden fence.

The phonecall ended abruptly. Marion threw the phone onto the picnic table where it skimmed off the newspapers and fell onto the grass. She left it there and stormed inside, banging the back door loudly. Annabelle leaned back against the tree and tried to breathe evenly. She could not remember the last time she had been so exhilarated by someone.

The rest of the day passed in a slow rhythmic haze of tasks and chores and rather too much sitting down reading about the bloody battles of England in Mark’s textbook. Annabelle knew she should feel guilty for not really enjoying her life, but nobody knew she didn’t. The house was sort of tidy. There were meals and outings and she always showed up at parent’s evening at her children’s schools. She loved her husband. It was impossible not to. The whole of Hampstead appeared to love Simon Jones. And it was not as if there was something necessarily missing.

But ever since her family divided the house and rented out the other half and Elyse’s accident – she shook her head – the therapist had told her not to dwell on either matter so she would not.

******************************************************

Marion slammed the back door hard. She was furious. The office in New York was adamant. She had to stay here in England, at least for a year. She would much prefer Paris. It’s true, she did not speak French, but she would learn. Americans did so much better in Paris, everyone knew that. Why England? She fumed and stormed up and down the hallway, making the umbrella stand rattle and the rugs bunch up as her slippers scuffed on the tasseled hems.

Had someone been watching her from next door? She heard a sound when she threw the phone on that wobbly picnic table, a giggle and a shuffling from behind the fence. Where was her phone? She looked around. Still outside. She walked out into the garden again and grabbed the phone. Then she stopped and listened. Perhaps that person had gone back inside. Marion walked up to the fence and peeked through the slats, which were coming apart. Their garden was actually lovely. An apple tree, not yet in blossom, a small garden seat encircling the tree, a sturdy long table set with two benches and a stone flagged pathway leading up to the back door.

Marion wondered what their lives were like next door.

Her white pajamas had green grass stains on the bottom and her slippers were soaked from the morning dew where the sun – what sun there was – had not dried out the lawn. She turned around and leaned back against the fence, getting the back of her pajamas jacket stained from the mud-spattered wood slats. She closed her eyes and sighed. She must make the best of it here. They were not going to let her go back to New York for a long time after…………but best not to think about that now. Maybe if she did well they would let her go to Paris in a year. Was there even a Paris office? If not, she would open it.

Slightly less angry for a moment, Marion considered the damage to her pajamas. From what she knew about England, there probably wasn’t a twenty-four hour dry cleaning pick-up service. She turned back to look over at the eaves of the house next door, just where the apple tree curved over the roof. Maybe her next-door neighbor would know about the local cleaning services. What was her name again? Arabella? Isabelle? Annabelle. Yes, that was it. She would ask Annabelle about the area. It would be good for her to have an English person for research purposes. After all, if she was going to have to sell products to the English that they didn’t know they needed, she was going to have to tap into their psyche.

For a start, she needed to know what did people who lived in houses like this and had benches round an apple tree feel?

Pleased by her strategy, Marion decided to get dressed. Tomorrow was her first day in the office. Later on today, she would meet Annabelle from next-door. Excellent.

Her mobile was ringing. An American number but she did not recognize it. Not New York. Not a 212-area code. Where was a 310 number? Oh, right – Los Angeles.

“Hello?” she said.

There was a click on the other end.

Marion dialed the number back. It was engaged. She tried again. Still engaged. Odd. Then her phone rang. An English number this time. She picked up.

“Hello?”

“Marion?” said an English voice.

“Yeah.”

“It’s Diana Knoll-West – just checking up on you!”

“Everything’s great, thanks.”

“Oh, good. Well, if you need anything just ring.”

“Actually, there is something,” said Marion, looking down at her pajamas. “Is there a dry cleaning pick-up service?”

“A pick-up? Sorry, don’t quite see what you mean there.”

“A dry cleaning service that will come and take away my clothes to be cleaned.”

There was a pause.

“I do believe that Mr. Brown on the High Street is open tomorrow, you could ask him if he could dry clean your clothes for next week.”

“Next week? Wait. He’s not open today?”

“Gosh, no, I think he only works Wednesdays.”

“Let me get this straight – a dry cleaning service that doesn’t pick up and is only open once a week and takes a week to dry clean?”

Diana took a deep breath, she was equal to this; of course she had read all those articles about New York and its 24-hour delivery culture but, really, imagine. “Marion, this is England, remember, not New York!” she tried a gentle laugh on the other end but there was silence from number 28 Church Row.

Finally Marion spoke. “Where do you English people buy pajamas then?” she said. Only dry-cleaners in New York could probably remove grass stains from satin piping.

Diana was thrilled to help. “Oh, we always buy PJs at Peter Jones,” she said, “Do you have a pen? I’ll give you the address in Sloane Square.”

“You mean you people still go to an actual store?” said Marion, in disbelief, “Don’t they do online same day delivery?”

“Gosh. I have no idea. We’ve always gone to Peter Jones and had lunch at Oriel after, such a treat, delicious scones. Yummy Eton Mess and Pimms.”

Marion had no idea what Diana was talking about but it sounded like major carbohydrates. So this was England – no 24-hour dry cleaning pick-up service or online same-day delivery from whatever Peter Jones was. She wondered how long it would take Brooks Brothers to deliver from Manhattan.

“OK, thanks, Diana. I’ll ask my assistant at the office tomorrow to get me orientated.”

“An assistant? What fun!” trilled Diana, but Marion had already rung off and walked into the kitchen to find something to eat.

She opened all the cupboards but apart from some tins of treacle pudding – whatever that was – and the cookies in a plastic Tupperware – and some (she blanched) full-fat milk – that had to go – she poured it down the sink – and (white) pasta – there was nothing she could eat. She looked in the freezer. Several packets of frozen peas, some cheese topping pizzas and, she noted, no ice-cube tray. In a drawer by the stove she found some delivery menus for Chinese and Indian food. She put them back. Could not risk getting fat this year. Not if she was going to run the Paris office at some point.

There was nothing else for it – she would have to get dressed and head back up to the High Street to find a salad or something light. Marion would not admit it, but she was almost excited to explore the new area, but just until she could go back to New York or move on to Paris, and only in the name of research to study these British people without 24 hour dry cleaning services and a desire to still go to actual stores and buy things and then carry them home. Marion shook her head in disbelief and went upstairs to get dressed.

********************************************************

Annabelle was baking. She kept consulting the Nigella Lawson cookbook but was utterly convinced that whatever she was making would never look like the photographs in Nigella’s book. She was so absorbed by the food porn photography that she did not notice her daughter, Libby, poke her head around the door.

“Homework!” said Libby, quickly, and then clattered up the stairs, banging her schoolbag behind her.

Annabelle rushed to the hallway. “Not so fast, young lady!” she said. But there was silence from upstairs behind closed doors. Sally padded into the hallway to help Annabelle and looked up at her with her huge brown eyes. Annabelle crouched down to bury her face in Sally’s fur and stroke her. Sally started to lick her with some ferocity and clearly deep pleasure and Annabelle realized she was covered in cake mixture. Was that dangerous for dogs, she thought? Sally did not think so and Annabelle wondered again at her lack of natural ability at this housekeeping-children-and-animals activity. Looking up at the stairs again she decided to take charge and headed for Libby’s room.

She knocked tentatively at first and then more firmly until Libby answered, her face visible but the rest of her body covered behind the door. Annabelle had an inward panic. Full body tattoos? Piercing? Was her fifteen-year-old daughter wearing a slut-walk-outfit of something feminist yet ironically streetwalker-esque?

Annabelle and Libby did a stand-off from either side of the door. Ever since Libby had turned a teenager there had been little communication. Libby looked furious and with a pent-up anger that Annabelle remembered well from her own teen years. At least she had shared a room with her sister who got to hear all her angst. Libby just had a younger brother and he refused to do anything but lark around which drove Libby mad.

“I’m doing my homework, what do you want?” Annabelle could not remember why she had come upstairs. Libby narrowed her eyes. “Where’s my hockey kit?” she demanded.

Suddenly Annabelle also felt angry, but she did not know why. “Are the workings of the washing machine completely unknown to you?” she spat. Libby shrunk back, suddenly scared.

“You’re the mother.”

“Mother, yes. Slave, no.” There was nothing else to say.

Mark Jones, thankfully, chose that moment to come home from day school. He stood in the hallway and looked into the kitchen – nobody there – and heard voices. He knew his mother and sister would be arguing so he threw his dirty boots into the hallway cupboard and called to Sally, who came rushing down the stairs, thrilled at his arrival. They ran around the garden and waited for the storm upstairs to subside.

“The prodigal son returns!” called Annabelle from the top of the stairs. Libby closed her door firmly and Annabelle made her way back to the kitchen. Mark came in from the garden all scabbed knees and sweaty and seemingly taller than he was when he left that morning.

“What’s for supper, mum?”

“The cry of the disaffected youth returning from a hard day in the salt mines of education.”

Sally and Mark exchange glances and the dog slumped down onto the kitchen rug, looking hopefully at the cake mixture on the counter.

“My own expensive education is utterly wasted on you children. I thought we could converse about Keats and Milton.”

Mark was used to his mother’s plaintive wailing. He patted her arm and walked to the freezer. “Shall I put in a frozen pizza?” he said, realizing that there was nothing but cake mixture on offer right now.

“Do we possess such a product in our humble pantry of organic delicacies?”

Mark grabbed two boxes from the freezer, opened the Aga’s top oven expertly and popped two pizzas in. Annabelle looked suitably abashed, but grateful, and went back to staring at the photography in Nigella’s book and back at her cake mixture. There was the sound of the front door opening and closing and a cheery voice talking to someone on his cellphone. Simon Jones entered the kitchen and surveyed the scene, proudly. His pretty wife was baking, his son was suitably covered in mud from some sporting activity, there was a dog and – he checked the room covertly – the scary teenage daughter was safely ensconced in her bedroom and not snarling at him for once.

“Darling.” He kissed his wife

“Mark is rustling up a couple of frozen pizzas,” said Annabelle, nuzzling into her husband’s neck with happiness at his return from a business trip.

Simon looked at his son with pride. “We are sending him into the world fully equipped,” he said. He ruffled his son’s messy hair.

“You two are so weird,” said Mark, and took an apple from the bowl on the table.

“He even makes balanced nutritional choices,” smiled Simon as Mark started to bite into the apple, pause, and then offered him some.  Simon took the newspaper from his briefcase and headed to the table, grabbing a bottle of scotch from the sideboard. “Snifter, darling?”

“Not until I’ve finished baking,” said Annabelle.

He poured himself a generous measure of Scotch into a thick crystal glass that was part of their wedding anniversary set from his parents. All felt right with the world. “Baking? Haven’t done that for a while, darling?

Annabelle paused. “I’m turning over a new leaf.”

Simon didn’t really hear her. He read the paper. “Sorry, darling – leaf?”

“I’m re-embracing the female arts.”

Mark put his head in the fridge. He emerged with a stick of cheese. “What, mum?”

“The female arts,” said Annabelle.

“Mum’s acting weird again,” said Mark to his father. “Maybe it’s the Change, we learned about that in biology.”

Simon looked up from his newspaper, suddenly worried. His wife was not yet forty. “Good lord, where are we schooling our children? They only did rugby and Latin in my day.”

Annabelle wiped her hand on a tea towel and comes over to the table. “It’s got nothing to do with hormones. I just wanted to see if I could really do this.”

Simon put down his paper, walked over to her and looked into her eyes carefully. He really loved her. But sometimes she got the oddest notions in her head. “We are very happy with the creative chaos around here.”

Annabelle blushed. She really loved him too. “I met someone at the shops today.”

Mark puts his head into his hand. “You’re getting a divorce!” he cried. Annabelle laughed. Simon looks a bit shocked at his son, why would he think that so quickly?

“No – a woman,” laughed, Annabelle.

Mark looked interested. “You’re a lesbian!” Simon looked worriedly at his son. He was only eleven. How did he know about divorce and homosexuality already? Perhaps the day school was more liberal than it appeared.

He turned back to his wife. “Are you, darling? You can tell me,” he smiled, indulgently.

“You know her – Lydia James. She lives in the big house on the High Street.”

“The one with the flowing robes?” said Simon, absentmindedly, half-watching the clock. Mark saw him look and suddenly jumped up.

“The match!” Mark ran out of the room and Annabelle heard the television go on. Simon wrung his hands and looked guiltily in the direction of the television room. She laughed and waved him out with her tea towel.

Annabelle looked down at Sally on the kitchen rug and confided in her. “Apparently Lydia is the leader of a goddess cult,” she said. Sally raised an eye to the other room and wondered whether to watch the football match with the boys. “She told me that I’m about to have a big awakening.” Annabelle leaned in to look at the author photograph of Nigella Lawson and wondered if Nigella had had a big awakening at some point. Of course she had, she smiled to herself, she’s Nigella Lawson. And she finished the baking, put the scones into trays bought from Peter Jones in Sloane Square and slid them into the bottom over of the Aga. Then she poured herself a Scotch and walked into the garden, pulling a soft cashmere cardigan from Jigsaw, that she’d had since university, around her shoulders and looking at the house next door for a long while.

Jeannette Winterson's shop

yes.

well-spotted!

that *is* Jeannette Winterson’s shop, in Spitalfields, London.

(we thought the muses would approve and it’s ever such a nice shop too).

btw (as the young people say) we are Not comparing ourselves to the Terribly Smart Ms. Winterson (although we do admire her greatly) – we’re sort of aiming for the Genre of the Domestic Drama (isn’t that what Publishers call such things?) so well-explored by Shirley Conran and Jilly Cooper/slash/E.M.Delafield (helpfully there’s an article by Jilly – can we call her Jilly? on E. M here) – but with a twist (quite a few twists, actually – we Do like to slip magic into the Plot).

did you like it?

*nervouslooktocamera*