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  • Writer's pictureJ.M.

Update and A Story From The Archives

an hexagonal patchwork pouffe
Technical support's birthday pouffe

Today is the technical support's second birthday. His second birthday this week - the family are all home for a celebratory roast dinner, with cake. I'm not sure how long they're staying, have to wait and see what the weather does. It's ramping up outside now. Have to say, on a wild weather day, it's lovely having everyone safe at home.

So, due to birthdays, the demands of perfect roast potatoes and the delightful danger of children striding into the kitchen needing breakfast, I'm drawing on something from the archives. But first a quick update...

This week I've had a breakthrough with TWG2. It doesn't show itself on my progress chart - yet. It's hard to evidence some breakthroughs, which often result in a reduced number of words, but I am moving forward and the story is becoming increasingly solid, which is a wonderful thing.

I've also continued to write my story for adult readers every day, spurred on by the BXP 2020 challenge – my routine is to get at least 200 words down before I walk the publisher. Then I come home and juggle the distractions that present themselves.

One of those distractions is Playing Out. For the last three years we've had a street party in our road for The Great Get Together. So last year, when the council hosted some training with the Playing Out people from Bristol, I went along. It was the next logical step.

We’ve been closing the road for the kids to play since 1st November - a mad time to start but it's worked. The weather has been on our side and children from surrounding streets (with their parents) have also joined in. It's been great – not only do the children have screen-free fun with other children in their community, everyone benefits from the significantly improved air quality as a result of stopping the traffic for just a few hours.

It's really easy to organise – Southampton City Council have made it especially so. And it's a great reason to go and talk to your neighbours - all of mine were really pleased for it to go ahead. We played out last Friday, the council came along too with award-winning Southampton filmmaker, Paul Maple. So while I wait for Paul to work his magic, here's a story from the archives, inspired by our street parties.

Street Party

Andrew could see the woman in the distance, a wad of papers flapping in her hand as she marched down the street towards him. He felt a jolt in his chest. Was she coming for him? She had before. You know, accosted him in the street, breathing all over him and trying to make him look her in the eye.

He'd listened that time; he'd had no choice.

It was this time last year, he'd been fumbling in his bag for the key. Although it was on a string attached to the handle, it always got lost in the shopping. When he looked up there she was peering down at him barring his path to the front door.

"Oh, there you are I've been trying to catch you. I've been talking to everyone in the street to make sure they're happy about the idea of a street party." She pushed one of her bits of paper in Andrew's face. He couldn't read it; he didn't have his glasses. But it was red. That was certainly a sign - very political colour, red.

"This tells you all about it - it's an opportunity to meet the neighbours, find out a bit about each other, eat lunch..."

Andrew had the horrible picture of them all in one of those burger places. He could think of nothing worse. Or perhaps he could - maybe all the people in the street crushing into this woman's house. He was sure she lived in one, not a flat like him and certainly not just a room like so many of his burger-loving (he assumed) neighbours. She strutted about like she owned the whole street not just one bit of it.

"Where?" His question came out as a hiss. This was the first person he'd spoken to all day.

"In the street of course," she said breeziliy. "We eat together in the street. It's the whole point."

Andrew felt his brows furrow - they did that a lot nowadays.

"Oh, we close the road," she continued, "that's what I need everyone's agreement for." She pushed her glasses back up her sweaty nose. "Warm isn't it?"

And that was when she breathed a long puff of hot sugary breath all over his face. He pushed the key in the lock and said the only thing he could think of in that situation. "Not today thank you."

He'd seen what went on of course, from his window. It started with the flags, the sort he remembered from the school fêtes of his childhood, when he'd been marched along by his mother to help on the tombola, his fringe stuck to his forehead with her spit and elastic cutting into to his legs to keep his socks up. He wanted to scratch behind his knee even now.

Then on the day of the ‘street party’, a Saturday, the road became strangely quiet. Cars skulked away nosing round the sign at the end of the road that usually announced a lot of noisy road works. Children took their place, shrieking and shouting to each other, on bikes and scooters and brightly coloured plastic ride on toys. Ooh and those modern things that had made a fearful racket once outside his window - on the kerb, off the kerb, on the kerb off the kerb with a clunk each time – skateboards, that was what they were called. Andrew had had to come out then and tell the boy off. He'd probably be a man now.

After the children, people from the houses and flats, his neighbours, carried out tables and chairs. Under a blazing sun and bright blue sky, unusual for June, some of them erected shelters, not for the rain he supposed, there hadn't been any for weeks.

Food and a fraternisation he hadn't seen before, followed. Smiles, handshakes, trays of cakes and foreign pastries travelled up and down the street as folk lounged on deck chairs, sloshing suspiciously amber-coloured drink, all over the road. They behaved as if they were in the privacy of their own back gardens - if they had them. And more and more toys, bats, balls, bubble blowers, blackboard chalks water guns... tumbled out into the street with the shrieking children.

It had all made him feel very uncomfortable. He retreated back into the cooler depths of his first floor flat, his lumpy sofa and an old film on the television.

The next morning, the cars crept back. He noticed with irritation that one had parked right outside his house. It shouldn't have irritated, he didn't have a car himself but there was a dropped kerb there now, so no more skateboarding thank goodness.

It was almost as if the previous day hadn't happened at all. The neighbours had gone back inside their houses and cars were whizzing up and down again to avoid the traffic lights on the main road. He'd felt a sense of relief. The world had gone back to normal.

After a his usual breakfast, a boiled egg with two slices of toast, one spread thinly with marmalade, Andrew picked up his shopping bag from the hall stand, took the stairs at a careful pace and left the house for the Coop and his Sunday paper.

As it was pulling away, the offending car revealed something that made him drop his bag and his forehead wrinkle in a wide-eyed open mouth sort of way.

On the road, chalked in a pastel green, were the words Hello Mr Morris next to a large circle inside which were two dots for eyes and an off-centre deep u-shaped smile. Obviously the work of a child, the second R in Morris had been inserted as an afterthought.

It had been as if the street itself was speaking to him, calling to him. A jumble of emotions turned somersaults inside his chest - the cheek... an invasion of privacy... they remembered him.

He was so flustered, he turned, reached for his key, the one attached to the inside of his bag and went back indoors.

Instead of the paper, that Sunday he spent the whole day by his bedroom window reading the road until the confused emotions he'd felt on seeing it for the first time settled into something like a warm sponge pudding in his stomach.

Of course the words, his words and the other artwork that had adorned the rest of the street faded over time but for weeks long after most of the squiggles and unidentifiable drawings had gone completely, the smile and the little remembered R remained, occasionally protected from the rain by illegal cars.

In the autumn the council renewed the whole road surface into a perfect flat black tarmac and a sadness like cold pale custard drenched Andrew's insides.

Sometimes if he passed a child in the street he'd look up and try to smile, in case it was the one who'd drawn his buried smile. Only if it was with its mother of course, he didn't want rumours to start. But the mothers did what most other mothers do and held the child tighter and closer. It was easy for Andrew to look away.

But almost a year later, here she was again.

The sweaty woman stepped off the pavement onto what would have been his house's garden once upon a time. She flapped her wad of flyers, like fan. They were still red. "So can we count on you Mr .... er....

You could see that she was trying to remember as she glanced at the spot in the road,

chalked picture on the road of a smiley sun
Playing Out, 7 Feb 2020

now a perfectly flat matt black surface.

Perfect for skateboarding and...

"Will there be chalks?" he croaked.

"Of course we have loads left..."

He snatched one of her papers, pulled the key from his bag and went inside, with the unusual sensation of his mouth creasing into smile.

Thank you for reading!

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