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Further evidence that every now and again Fran writes something more serious
I don’t know what Venice
is like. Once, I was as near as damn it,
on a ship, with the chance to disembark and laze on a gondola trailing my hand
in water, or sip coffee from a tiny white cup outside a café. But I was fourteen, and David was seventeen,
and we didn’t need what Venice
had to offer. We’d made our own romance.
that’s the way I prefer to remember it.
It was 1976. We were on the SS Uganda as part of a school
cruise around the Mediterranean. The night before, there’d been a disorderly evening
of storms, of portholes that showed no water, then all water, then no water. Everyone screeched with delight in the ship’s
common room as glasses slewed off tables and anxious teachers hovered, urging
us back to cabins. We pressed coins into
the jukebox and played ‘Rock the Boat’ by the Hues Corporation,
dancing without balance like badly-operated puppets.
David was with a group of
friends, throwing his blonde head backwards and laughing as the ship see-sawed. I was sure he hadn’t even noticed me; I was
small and dark-haired, not pretty, and he was muscled and over six feet tall: a
rugby player. But as many of our friends
sloped off holding their stomachs, he and I were among the few left in the
common room, and he held my gaze. By midnight,
he’d draped his arm round my shoulders and I was proud in front of his friends. I wasn’t the only one who thought he’d never
morning, in Venice, the storm’s mood had passed. Teachers gave us maps of the city and
warnings about timings. ‘Back by four.’
and I agreed – was it his idea or mine? - that we would hide somewhere on the
ship so that we could avoid the crowds and our teasing friends. Soon the ship had emptied itself of our school
group and the supervising teachers, all clutching their lira and white sunhats.
three hours before someone came to find us.
We nestled together in a corner on one of the decks, away from the glare
of the fervent sun and of the ship’s staff, and while everyone else explored
the waterways and the Venetian glass shops, we kissed. On and on, we kissed. His hands mapped the skin under my summer linens. I leaned back several times and searched his
blue eyes for a sign that he too was in love, but then just closed my own eyes
and gave myself up to the moment.
Mrs Drake's voice came sudden, like a slap. We stood
up at the teacher's command, clumsy with disappointment and the heat of the day, smoothing down our
clothes. David wouldn’t meet my eyes as
he mumbled ‘sorry’ while the diminutive Geography teacher lectured us. David was at least a foot taller than she. I’d expected him to be defiant, mutinous, defensive. But he stood, head bowed, hands at his side.
Still, I couldn’t
bring myself to care about punishment.
Nothing could hurt me now that I had David.
us, though, and I was left in a bland, beige sick room alone. I sat on the edge of an examination couch,
swinging my legs and flicking through leaflets about sea-sickness for hours. Then I was sent back to the dormitory and my
friends. I was a heroine for a time, and
they harangued me for every detail.
really wanted was to see David and to hear him say, ‘I don’t care. All I want is you.’ But, on the flight to England the following
day, a Friday, I was made to sit with a teacher and David was at the back of
the plane with another one.
England, I called his home number hourly.
His mother said he wasn’t in.
At school on the Monday, I saw David’s
blonde head, lofty above others across the dining room. He was surrounded, as always, by a group of friends.
I jostled my way out of the lunch queue to go and
speak to him, my throat dry with thoughts of a future.
As I neared his group, I realised he was holding hands with a girl in the
sixth-form, a lithe brunette called Lisa who nuzzled her head into his neck. 'Hi,' he said, his voice lazy with disinterest, and his eyes looking straight into mine as if to warn, 'Say nothing.'
know if I want to go back to Venice.
It’s meant to be a beautiful city. But I’ve never had the travelling urge like friends
who holiday in Rome or New York. I guess
David may have been to Venice
many times, perhaps with Lisa and a couple of blonde-haired boys. I wonder if, while he’s explored the Marciano
Museum, or a fruit market, he ever remembers me and the things he told me in
It's nearly a month since Christmas and I still have my pile of books and notebooks from friends and family on a chair by the sofa. I can't bring myself to put them all away. There's no reason why I should. No one's dared to move the pile so that they can sit sat on the chair for a while anyway. But these are lovely presents: novels, books of poetry, books about poetry, delicious notebooks .... what's not to like? I haven't always received such pleasing gifts. I was married in April 1982. At the end of that month, I turned 20. Yes, a young bride, and one who wasn't so delighted with her birthday present from her new husband. 'I've bought you an ironing board cover, too,' he said, looking pleased. 'It's the right size. I've checked.' And indeed he had. It was prettier than the plain blue one on this picture: flowery and cheerful. He had tried. Nevertheless, we had words. I was compassionate, don't worry. I was his first
My try-to-get-fitter walk in the fields today was a silent one. I usually listen to the radio through earphones but have lost one of the soft earbuds and nothing spoils a walk more than having hard plastic nudging up against your fragile tympanic membrane. The BBC's 'Woman's Hour' is a brilliant programme but loyalty has limits. It was disconcerting, walking in silence. Listening to radio distracts from the disturbing reality that my legs are propelling me in forward motion because, if I think too hard about this, I frighten myself. Today, while walking, I had to listen to my own thoughts. And now I've listened to my own thoughts, I remember why I like radio better. The inside of my head is like a wastepaper basket. Be grateful that I only offer you a brief excerpt. Oh, look, that bird is - / Where did I put that mark scheme. I'll need it for - / My shoes are getting muddier./ Maybe mash with the fish tonight / really muddy / The trees are definitely more
Ben Cottam (@TheCottam) posted this statement on Twitter today: 'When you're growing up, no one ever tells you how much of your adult life will be spent pushing tumbling Tupperware into cupboards.' I know, right? Why does no one say? And what else does no one tell you about adult life, particularly later adult life? I have made a list. 1. That one day you will say, 'They'll freeze, dressed like that,' and 'Let's go home. It's nearly 10pm,' and think nothing of it. 2. That a summer will come when you will start the days dressed in cardigan and socks and only take them off when it's warm enough to leave the kitchen door open. 3. That police officers, teachers and nurses, rather than getting older, get younger, birthday by birthday, and that one day you will be burgled and then visited by a seven year old with a notebook and a helmet. 4. That the music in pubs and clubs becomes louder, brasher and more sweary, year on year, so that