Thursday, 20 December 2018

All you need is love

Well, it is that time of the year isn't it? When we down tools... pick up bars of Toblerone and our TV remotes and sink into the sofa. No? Just me?

It is also the time of year we get to reflect on 2018 and all it has brought us...

On a work level, it was one of my finest. I got to work with wonderful people, saw a project dear to my heart rise like the phoenix from the ashes and met a whole bunch of amazing folk in film - waters I had never dipped my toe into before. After a punishing 2017, it was nothing short of joyful.  On a personal level, going back to college was a highlight - again for the people I met and also because it is great to get out of my Berkhamsted bubble and learn new skills.  The loneliness of writing has never sat well with me.

And yet, there have been moments of complete devastation. When the phone goes and someone says -  'Are you sitting down?' And you say 'yes,' because you always do, don't you? Even when you are standing in your kitchen, heart pounding, thinking - what the hell is coming next? And it is never what you expect and it is never, ever good. People dear to me have had struggles - life or death struggles - and all I have done is offer support and love, while I watch them be more courageous than I could ever be. It is at times like this, that I think of my Father's saying: You are nothing without your health. I hope they (and you) have a healthy and happy 2019.

What have I learnt this year?

1. That when cooking it is best if one stays in the kitchen. Maybe not get on Twitter or stop to write that email or two... never ends well.

2. That being near the sea is a balm for the soul. Cornwall and Croatia - easily two of my favourite times in 2018. Beautiful Brela - swimming around the famous rock every day, as schools of teeny tiny violet fish swam just out of reach - was incredible. One morning husband and I got up at dawn and crept out there for a swim. It was silent, save for the quiet sea lapping at the shore and I held that moment in my head for the rest of the year.

When I feel stressed, I go back there.

3. That nothing on earth beats hanging out with those that have known you since you were 11 and still miraculously do. But perhaps 3 drinks and then stop is a lesson I should have learnt back in 1994... Maybe then, texting your first boyfriend, after not actually seeing him for 25 years, (and I quote - spelling mistakes included) : ' Too many drinks later... We are at a girl's reunion... and I have a daughter and a son and I thought I have a lot to thank you for. Thank you fit teaching me sex and thank you fir making me love my own body. I only wish my daughter felt teh same. I wish you only happiness.'  DEAR GOD. 'What,' said my dear mate C, "are you going to say when he asks how old your daughter is and you reply er.. 8?"  My point, was that I wished my kids would have the great first love I did. Perhaps it got lost in my 12 gin translation. Sigh. Oh and I sent YET another text to his gentlemanly reply, but I cannot face writing it here. I would have to kill myself if I did.

4. So really, a lesson is, STEP AWAY FROM YOUR PHONE WHEN DRUNK. I'm 45 - why do I still need to learn this???

5. There is NOTHING wrong with star bothering, even at my age. But when you meet the most handsome and talented actor of his generation, remember he is not of YOUR generation - so to compensate, tell Timothee Chalamet that he looks like your son. Then exit. Quickly.

6. Hanging out with your kids - when you set down the phone, leave the house and go explore - is amazing. They will be gone in a matter of seconds, (my son is a teen next year) so enjoy it while you can. Every hug in the morning, every lazer quazar game at their birthday party, every blackberry pick in September sunshine, it will all be gone in a heartbeat. So embrace. Go outside. Look up.

7. That Dark N Stormy at 3pm on St Paddys - because B thinks it is a good idea and sure didn't we win the rugby and isn't Ireland fecking class - will end in a broken toe. Be warned.

8. Bike rides are always good idea.

9. Freshwater swimming is amazing. Especially with my two old flatmates. Henleaze you are stunning and I wish I could swim in you daily.  Thank you CJ. Summer you were glorious and exhausting in equal measure.

10. As ever, 2018 affirmed that my greatest pleasure in life is when the lights dim low and I'm holding a hot coffee in hand, waiting for a movie to start. Tomorrow, we as a family are off to see Elf at my local art deco cinema - replete with bar! I'm so lucky to have The Rex on my doorstep - meaning I get to see wonderful films like Summer 1993, Wildlife, BlackKKKlansman, The Rider, Custody (the most tense film I have EVER seen), Coco and Ladybird (with my son) there... I'm still not down with films being on Netflix or Amazon before being on a big screen - I just do not get why you would want to see the cinematography of something as incredible as The Rider, on a small screen? End of rant.

11. I've also leant that I may no longer have periods (thank you partial hysterectomy, I love you so) but my PMT still rages and thank god for Evening Primrose. There was a point this year as I wept on the school office staff because my cakes for the cake sale had on the drive to school become cake roadkill, that I realised my hormones are the ruin of me. Evening Primrose helps. Something had to.

12. Most of all, I realise how fleeting time is, that we are here again, about to usher in a new year. I know that we must use our time wisely, in who we share it with and what we chose to do with it. I personally need to get offline more and get outside more. Having almost pet ducks (we named - Daisy and Derek) to feed most of spring; the rest of the family seeing a deer in the garden - but only me seeing a beautiful kingfisher hurrah! - has meant me embracing the outside more. Getting out and walking to the end of the my lane, along a canal and up into the woods - is brilliant.

2018, thank you for being kind to me. For affording me health and a stable income. For giving me sunshine and the seaside. At a time when our country is a mess, when everyone seems to be suffering, when mental health issues are only starting to be less taboo, I try and find one reason every day to be cheerful - from a good book, to a hot bath, to a great cuppa - joy is in the small moments. That all we have and can give, is love -  and that really, is all you need.

Merry Xmas and a Happy 2019 you filthy animals.

CM xx

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

The Wife

Let me count the ways that I love Glenn Close: she was able to garner sympathy when she played a mentally disturbed woman who refused to be tossed aside like a used napkin in Fatal Attraction (I even bought the DVD in order to see the original ending, the one that Close believed is the rightful one); she played an adulteress herself in The Big Chill, but one who was willing to het her husband father a baby with her best friend - the fact this felt normal is down to the charisma of Close; she was the ultimate feminist in The World According to Garp; deliciously cruel as Cruella DeVille in 101 Dalmations; powerful and determined as Teddy Barnes in my guilty pleasure Jagged Edge and perhaps at her most luminous, most acidic and most memorable as the utterly wicked Marquise de Merteuil in Dangerous Liaisons. (Who could forget the incredible moment John Malkovich as Valmont demands that she keep her side of the deal and sleep with him or it will be war... only for the Marquise to give an aquiescing smile as her lip curls and she yells a triumphant: 'War!').

She is easily one of my favourite actresses of all time, so I went to see The Wife with high hopes. I couldn't have been more disappointed.

The film begins in 1992 in Conneticut, when Joe Castleman played by Johnathan Pryce, gets a phone call to say he has won the Nobel prize for literature. Joan, his wife, (played by Close) listens in on the other line, her face a picture of shock and wonder. The couple with their wet weekend of a son (played by a pudgy Max Irons who desperately needs a haircut and to ditch the leather jacket) travel to Stockholm to collect the award, followed by the human snake that is Christian Slater - a journo desperate to write a tell all book on Joe. (Slater is terrific - at his sleazy best).

Joan gathers up socks, picks crumbs from Joe's beard and tells him when to take his pills. She is the steady wheels behind his success, which he is quick to explain at every given opportunity. When asked what Joan does for a living, she replies 'I am a Kingmaker' and aint that the truth. There is of course a much deeper reason for Joan's angst in her role of sidekick - which is less of a reveal and more of - 'this fact has been blatantly obvious from the second act.'

Joan's rage simmers until it can no longer... which left me with the question - why now? If you have accepted this role for the whole of your life (one Joe's first wife was glad to escape) then why suddenly kick off? Over the Nobel prize? The 'truth' fails to unpick what role Joe had in this arrangement - how did his ego fare, save the fact he ran around shagging other women? There is a whole well of complex relationship questions that remain completely unanswered.

Close's daughter plays the younger Joan in flashbacks and she has clearly inherited her mother's talent; but there is precious little for her to do. Plus there are no styling differences between present day and flashback, which feels like a missed opportunity. When we hop back in time, it feels jarring and lack lustre, as if the budget ran out and they filmed all the scenes in one day.

Which brings me to the woeful direction. At one point I found myself thinking 'did Bjorn Runge run out of shots? Maybe forget to get a better focus?' The lack of skill made me constantly feel outside the film and not at all engrossed in it. The scene where Joe and Joan's son discovers the truth behind his dad's success, is a crash course in heightened melodrama and how NOT to act.

Close is clearly meant to be the mouse who roared but in fact she is a bitter little shrew who simply glowers through most of the film with only a couple of dramatic outbursts. An actress of this calibre deserves better to chew on. Perhaps there are far more nuances and complexities in the book that the director has simply shaved away here making the film feel flat and one note. The climactic scene is so over the top it belongs on a soap opera not the big screen.  Finally, his want to keep Close centre stage, so obscuring other characters from view - literally cutting them from frame - is distracting. Instead of focusing on Close, we are wondering where the headless air hostess is. Did the director not believe that Close was captivating enough without this tedious technique? Mate, the woman steals every scene she has ever been in, so fill the frame!


Spoiler alert: So Joan is the writer not Joe! Who knew! Who saw that coming? Are we to believe that even in the era of Joan Didion, Erica Jong, Sylvia Path and Gloria Steinem that Joan wouldn't have broken through unless under the guise of a man? Perhaps so, but by the late 70s and 80s this surely wouldn't have been the case? I found it somewhat unbelievable that a woman - played by the tour de force that is Close - would have allowed that to happen - to be the silent partner while her husband gets all the glory. If there is a morality tale here, I sure as hell didn't get it.

Perhaps come March, after 6 nominations, Close will win her well deserved Oscar. But it is a shame that it will be for this limp offering and not her blistering performances of old. Close will always be watchable, but give this one a miss.

Friday, 29 June 2018

You learn something new every... Friday.

The best thing I've done this year, has been going back to college.

In truth, there isn't a September that goes by that I don't wish I was picking stationary, grabbing files and heading off to a new classroom. The last time I was at a Uni was back in 2000 when I studied a film course, for one term - simply to know that bit more about it. Prior to that a I graduated (2:1 oh yes!) in 1994. Jaysus. 1994...

This year I decided I wanted to study again, this time to become a counsellor. Of course I love writing - but I want more feathers in my cap. Plus, I miss people. Living and working in the same small town day after day means my world becomes ever increasingly smaller - and I wanted to broaden it again. I wanted new people, new stories, new ideas, new challenges.

It was better than I ever imagined. Counselling training is as much about getting to know yourself and your reactions to situations as it is about helping others. At times you have to really study yourself - in all your naked glory - and its harder than you'd think. You are vulnerable, exposed and all that dark stuff buried deep within starts to bubble up to surface and come out. You may think you've sorted your shit into perfectly packed boxes - but you soon discover that you need to go back and have a good old clear out.

With my volunteering work, past training in life coaching and general fascination with people - I've loved every minute. There is nothing better than helping someone, help themselves. I've got 4 more years of study to go - but I'm excited. There was a time when 4 years felt like forever, but a year now goes by in a flash. By the time my daughter is ready for big school, I'll be a BACP qualified counsellor. There is a real privilege in hearing people's stories; them opening up and letting you in to their lives. The course has taught me - once again - that no matter how it looks on the outside - everyone has had to wade through the trenches of life, that no one is unscathed.

Today was the last day and it surprised me how sad I was to let them all go. Each week I've so looked forward to seeing the group - checking in, doing trios, getting to know them better. Such a wonderful bunch of people: brave, inspiring, honest, caring and kind. Work dependent I may be on the next stage with some of them - but others may be on different paths... We've promised not to lose touch and I genuinely hope we don't. My town sometimes feels like a big glass box; you don't get to know that much behind most masks - so to truly connect with people, has been a joy. My lecturer was amazing... the kind of person that you feel can see right inside you - knows instantly what makes you tick. Unnerving and thrilling in equal measure.

I'm so glad I took the leap - inspired by a lady in my lane, who is a counsellor still at 80. She told me you are never too old to learn something new - I just never realised I'd learn so much about myself into the bargain.  Roll on September and my new classroom... I can't wait.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

The book of the summer.

Sometimes you read a book that touches you in a way no other book has done in a long long time...

Amazing Katy Regan's book is written from the point of view of not one, but 3 characters: There's 10 year old Zac, who is overweight, bullied and desperate to find his Dad Liam, who apparently did a runner just before Zac was born. Then there is Juliet, Zac's Mum, who works in a sandwich makers, struggles with her own weight, her car-crash of a love life and her tense relationship with her Mother. Finally, there's Mick - Juliet's Dad, who dotes on Zac, but has his own demons to contend with.

The story centres on Zac's quest to find his father - one that he plots with his best friend Tegan - noting everything in his 'mission folder.' Aware that his Mum may not exactly be jazzed on him finding his Dad, he keeps his plan a secret. Meanwhile, Juliet keeps a secret of her own: the real reasons why Liam went away.... Mick and his wife are still recovering from the death of their son, Juliet's brother. But the closer Zac gets in his mission, the more likely it is that long buried secrets and lies will float to surface...

This is a charming tale, where you cannot help but root for Zac and his earnest ambition. Regan's ability to write a convincing voice of a ten year old boy is nothing short of miraculous. Zac sweetly begins every chapter with a fact (who knew an Octopus has 3 hearts?) and has us championing his need to make his Mum happy while at the same time, trying to find the missing piece of his life's puzzle.

Set in Grimsby, on a grim estate, is doesn't hold back in showing the difficulty in being a single Mum, living close to the breadline. Juliet only wants the best for her son, even if that means telling him a big fat lie. This is the kind of book, where you want to be alone when you get to the end - or at least with a huge pack of tissues next to you - as if you don't cry, you simply don't have a pulse.

I kept going back over chapters I read, not wanting my time with Zac to end. A hero in every sense of the word, his ability to remain positive in the saddest of circumstances is a life lesson to us all.

Miss it at your peril!

Available here. 

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

The Mid life C word.

And it aint crisis...but more on that in a sec.

How goes it folks? Round these parts life has been pretty damn good. 2018 couldn't be more further away from 2017 than night and day.... Anyway it's been a while since I did a round up of Things I've learnt part #376 so I thought I'd put finger to keyboard...

1. Nothing is better than waking up to a baby deer in your garden. Life round these here edge-of-town/semi-country parts is thrilling. Yesterday Daisy our (almost) pet duck came into the house. It all went swimmingly until she shat twice on the rug - but thankfully it wasn't on my watch so husband had to clean up... Meanwhile, I spot herons, kingfishers, robbins and goldfinches on a daily basis. Who knew birdies could be so exciting? Their little chirrups and tweets are music to my ears...

2. Nothing is worse than raging PMT. My god, I thought the beast would depart with my womb - but no, as I kept my ovaries - it still rages on. The other week I cried when my (pre-made sponges, iced by my own fair hand) cupcakes ended up cake roadkill after I drove to school. I wept on the school office staff like a BASKET case. Later I wept on my script ed, later still on my children. I knew it was hormones going haywire but couldn't stop it. It was like a car with no brakes. I speeded towards emotional carnage and could only watch - through blurred teary vision.

3. Nothing is better than table tennis, cold beer and kettle crisps.

4. Nothing is worse than a lack of Consistency. Not in cakes - but in life in general. That's all I'm after at this stage of the game. In the quality of pants I buy, in the quality of coffee I drink and in the friends that I have.  I simply don't have the time or energy any more to waste on anything that is flaky/only sporadically good/ doesn't always live up to past experiences. I want the safe, comfortable knowledge that in everything I surround myself with - it is generally what you get on the tin. Anything less has got to go.

5. There is nothing better than a good movie in an art deco cinema. The other week I saw Custody - a fabulous french film that was utterly terrifying. My buddy R and I could hardly look - yet there was no gore. Who knew a seatbelt alarm in a car could be so threatening? If you haven't seen it - do. Also, in my local art deco cinema - replete with bar -  (this is SUCH a good idea.... especially when I saw Mission Impossible 4. A bottle of red and I forgot how terrible it actually was) I saw Beast. The script is flawed, the plot ropey but it has an AMAZING Jesse Buckley in it (more of her in everything please) and the HAWT Johnny Flynn. Is a serial killer or not? Frankly he was so hot I didn't care. I would have shagged him too Jessie - so totally get it hun.

6. There is also nothing better than bike rides. I'm on the verge of buying a hybrid - mainly because in Cornwall for my birthday we hired bikes and cycled 11 miles on the camel trail. The sun shone and we saw a seal frolicking in the sea. It was like a little birthday gift from above. I had forgtten what a joy cycling is... Dinner at Rick Steins with squid ink risotto and lobster salad made it one of my best ever birthdays. Every time I look back on the photos of those 3 days away I feel happy. Mini breaks are the answer to life, I am sure of this and only wish I had thought of it sooner...

7. There is also nothing better than waking up in Ireland on St Paddy's day, realising you are free from the shackles of kids and husband and are with your oldest school buddies. Obviously it would be wrong not to neck Guiness, watch Ireland win the rugby and then join a Neil Diamond sing-a-long with an entire pub, before swallowing several dark n stormies, a bottle of Shortcross gin and going home with a broken toe from energetic dancing. It would be rude not to.

8. There is also nothing better than catching up with your oldest buddies, even if just for 2 beers on a Sunday afternoon in London...You take that time, those moments and reconnect - it is like you saw them only yesterday.

9.  I thought there was nothing worse than turning 45. But actually, I'm fucking loving it. If this is mid-life - bring it on. Sure, the skin on my neck is thinner than paper and if I look at a cake I'm 6 pounds heavier and what is with pubic hair deciding to grow in odd tufts? I mean what is all that about? But apart from all that - I'm just happy to be healthy. To not be walking like a walker like last year. To be around my kids - because sweet jaysus Sproglet is almost 12 and he came home announcing he and his buddies had found my blog at school and were looking at photos on it. Holy shit - what when he reads it? Now that will be the worst thing in the world.....

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Thank Feck for that.

And so it is we come to say Goodbye to 2017. It was a wrong 'un on so many levels for me - personally... so I am more than ecstatic to see in 2018.

In spite of all the difficulties - often it felt like I was wading through treacle - I feel I learned a lot. It is often out of the darkest times that you really do see what your mettle is made of - what you can accept, what you can change and what work you still have to do on yourself.

Yesterday as I was clearing out the family calendar, I realised I had done a disservice to 2017 - by dwelling on the negative. There was much to celebrate too - a house move; my children celebrating birthdays, watching herons swoop down to my garden stream; swimming in the sea in Ireland; star bothering non entities at X factor; holding Prince's guitar; watching Call me by your Name and reading the book; taking my kids to Paddington 2 and all of us crying at the end; watching Marah at Dingwalls; Halloween trick or treating and realising I was having more fun than the kids; tobogganing in the snow: watching my daughter score a goal; my son's leavers' service in July and him being awarded player's player of the year - making his whole year; the Harry Potter play (6 hours of theatre in one day is a LOT); working with some great writers/people who I admire and most of all, getting my health back - walking straight is an underrated joy...

Most of all though, my friends and family saw me through 2017. I valued more than ever those who were supportive, those who cared, those who let me weep and never judged me. It really is priceless being able to be vulnerable with folk and know that they aren't looking at you with pity... and who fill you with hope. It was a year everything went backwards and things I had built all fell... but the only way is up...

My dear friend Jo told me that once I moved, everything would change - and she was right. I feel more at peace than ever. Since then, November and Dec were the best months of my year - possibly because I saw so many friends/family... Which is what matters most to me really - the whole connection to others. I'm not good at being alone, left in my own head. (Something totally at odds with being a writer).

So, to 2018. I'm just glad I'm here. That I have my health. Around me many friends are going through  heartbreak, with their parents being ill. It made me realise how this all goes by so fast - and so many things just don't matter. I'm guilty of sweating the small stuff - worrying endlessly and feeling the fear. So, whilst I'm not making great resolutions - or aiming for dry January (just being a little drier) or writing lists... My plan is simple: To enjoy it. To look out more than in. That's all.

Who knows what 2018 will bring - but I wish you all, what few stragglers still look on here - great joy - please, if you do one thing this year - give yourselves a break and allow all you do, to be good enough. Be kind to yourselves. Before you know it we will be issuing in 2019 - it is but a heartbeat away.

CM x

Monday, 18 December 2017

The boyfriend

She almost didn't see him.

The bar was packed and the band had just started up, belting out tired old wedding songs, so conversation was practically impossible. It was her 16th birthday and she was celebrating: there had been pizzas at Harvey's restaurant and an inedible cake her best friend had made. The group somehow bypassed the doorman at the entrance to the bar in the bowels of an old church. She had just ordered a 'black russian' drink from her friend, which made her feel somewhat sophisticated. It had cost her buddy way more than the usual pint of cider and he had handed to her and stormed off, unimpressed. Shrugging off her guilt, she turned to look for the rest of her friends, squeezing past a row of bizarre cinema style seats just beneath the stage.

Then she caught sight of a tall, lean, brown haired boy, perched on the seats, laughing with his friends. He had that relaxed stance, a t-shirt clinging to his toned frame and a wide open smile. He was so handsome she thought for a minute of simply walking past - after all, he would never look at her. But the alcohol made her brave so she pushed through the crowd until she reached a girlfriend nearby. Taking a sip of the sugary drink, enjoying the sting of the alcohol on her tongue, she wondered how she could get his attention. A thought struck her. She leaned in and whispered to her friend: "Wish me happy birthday." Then, "Say it louder."

And he heard, immediately looking at her and smiling: "Happy birthday. So what age are you?" She knew she had to lie. Would she pass for 18? Or the age on her fake ID? Doubtful. She plumped for 17 and waited for his reaction. He grinned and closer to her.  He smelt of beer and a faint musky cologne. She noticed he had dimples. He offered her a drink and aware that her exotic choice may be met with distain, asked for a cider instead.  Her girlfriend made small talk until he returned and then discreetly left her to it. She flicked her long blonde hair to one side, tilting her face, desperately trying to remember the article she had read in Cosmopolitan about how to flirt. Do you stare at his lips? Or is it into his eyes? The vodka was loosening up her nerves and she found herself talking too much. He didn't seem to mind, telling her he sold cars, lived in the expensive end of town (with his parents, but this was 'temporary') and that his name was Mark. He was 19. She didn't know any boys older than her, so the fact he was out of school made him instantly more appealing. She felt the eyes of her school buddies on her as they walked past - their eyebrows raised as if to say 'who is he?' She gave a slight shake of the head, glaring at them, silently praying they wouldn't interrupt her.

But talking became too difficult with the base player directly above them, so he guided her to a darker corner of the sweaty bar and his hands came to rest of the small of her back. She was thrilled when he lent over and kissed her - his lips soft, his tongue gently playing with hers. He pulled her closer and she pushed back slightly, uncomfortable in such a public place. Glancing at her watch, she realised her curfew was up and unable to tell him the truth, she made some excuse about having to meet a friend at another bar.  He offered to join her but she managed to excuse herself and he gave her his number - telling her to call.

She raced across the street to the taxi office, giddy at the events of the evening. Her stomach flipped, thinking over the kiss... A kiss from a 19 year old no less.  She pushed the small bar mat with his number on it into her wallet - the one with stickers and notes from classmates and a long list of all her friends' home numbers. It was 1989, long before the days of owning a mobile phone. She stared out the window of the cab as the lights of Belfast darted past, wondering how long should she wait to call...

Every day she would pull out the number and study it. Daring herself to pick up the phone.

Finally she did.

He chose the dirtiest bar in Belfast to meet. The back of Laverys, where he said he was meeting a friend and she could join them. Too afraid to go alone, she corralled her best friend into coming too. Getting off the second bus she had travelled on to get to the bar, she pulled down her black stretchy mini skirt. The tight purple jumper she wore accentuated her curves. She glanced at her reflection in a shop window, hoping that she would get past the doormen, that she would pass for 18.

Her best friend had been forced by her minister father to attend a prayer event, in a nearby church hall. Feigning a sick bug, her friend escaped. They giggled and lit up cigarettes the minute they got out the door. Her hand was shaking. The bar was unusually busy and she couldn't find him, so they got half pints of cider and stood smoking, hoping they fitted in. He arrived with a friend and for a moment she thought he was blanking her and her stomach fell to the floor. Then he made his way through the throng of people and kissed her - on the cheek. She felt disappointed, as if she had somehow been demoted. His friend was warm, chatty and bought drinks. He made more effort with her than Mark and she suddenly wondered why she had bothered to come. Her best friend had to get home, to be wrapped up in her 'sick bed' before her parents got back; so suddenly she was on her own with the men. She felt uncomfortable, like she was intruding on their meeting and declined another drink.

Mark's friend asked her about her studies and she almost slipped up that she was doing her GCSEs, when her lie would make her an A level student. If he noticed he didn't say anything. As Mark finished his second drink he came closer, hooked his arm around her waist and tried to persuade her to stay longer. She felt wanted and desired and it was almost enough to make her stay, but she knew it was getting dark and she couldn't afford a cab home. Mark ordered shots and lined one up for her. She pretended she knew how to drink them and watched as the friend downed his and copied him. It made her gag and she coughed, her eyes watering. When he kissed her in front of his friend she didn't try and stop him, pleased he was acknowledging her at last.

On the bus home she felt excited - does this mean I have a boyfriend, she wondered?

He sold cars in a local dealers that her Mum drove past on the route home from school. It meant going the long way, but she would often lie and pretend she had left something important at her Step-Dad's house, so they would drive past and she could stare in and watch him work. She always slunk down in her seat, lest he see her in her school uniform.

She called him several times and left messages with his mother but he didn't return the call. She would stare at him as her Mum's car slowed at the lights and wonder why he had grown cold.

Then he rang.

It was Friday and he suggested she come over the next night - he would be babysitting his younger sister and they could hang out. She agreed, too quickly perhaps and spent the day fretting over what to wear. In the end, she chickened out. She hadn't got her driver's permit yet, so it would mean spending the last of her hard earned money from her glass collectors weekend job on a cab and then how would she get home later? She was tired from studying for her CGSE exams and wanted to curl up in front of the TV. Her next door neighbour Lorna advised her against going - she didn't know him well enough. Part of her wanted to go, to get to know him, to spend time alone with him. Isn't that what adults did? But without the false bravado alcohol gave her, she felt vulnerable, too young for such an encounter and yet... yet she din't want to lose him.

When he called back later to give her his address, his voice was slurred and she knew he had been drinking. She told him she couldn't come but he wouldn't accept her excuses. He got annoyed, saying he had come home from a barbecue and put his little sister to bed, all to see her - and now she wasn't coming. Worried she was losing him she agreed to come over and he said he would pay her cab. She guessed he must be really keen to see her. She applied some lip gloss and mascara. Had a shower and washed her hair.

She stood in front of her wardrobe and debated what to wear. In the end she selected a bright multi-coloured shirt from Benetton and simple black leggings. Garish and loud, the shirt wasn't remotely sexy. She threw on a cardigan as the night had a chill in the air and asked the cab to meet her at the top of the street. She told her Step-Dad she'd be back in a few hours, pretending she was just going next door to see her buddy. Then she ran up the hill, waiting for the cab. She shivered, something in her gut told her not to go.

He paid the cab driver, waited for his change and then ushered her inside. The house was big and modern, the TV room at the back. No sooner had she sat down on the gold sofa, than he was all over her, kissing her and roughly grabbing at her breasts. She squeezed out from under him and asked for water. He told her unkindly she could get it herself, and pointed towards the kitchen. She opened the door and he hissed at her to be quiet, or she would wake his Grandmother who was asleep in the next room.

She tip-toed around the house and when she returned, she sat on the chair opposite to him. He turned the TV lower and insisted, with charm, that she sit beside him. For a few moments there were flashes of the man she had met the first night, in the Empire pub. His beautiful cola coloured eyes taking her in, making her feel beautiful. He kissed her gently, complimenting her... He told her she had great lips. She responded, but he tasted of garlic and beer and she could feel his erection jabbing at her thigh. Within seconds he had shoved his hands in her leggings and despite her protests jammed his fingers inside her, demanding to know if she was a virgin. He guess she must be as she was so 'tight.'  Embarrassed, in pain, she admitted she was. He shrugged, announcing he'd had virgins before. For a moment she thought he was going to rape her and the fear that gripped her momentarily froze her to her seat. He was on top of her now, his whole body pressing on her so she could hardly breathe. She realised how strong he was, how supple - and how quickly he had contorted her into a position where he was starting to unbuckle his jeans.

She tried to push him off and he asked her why she was frigid? His voice had changed. He was angry, sullen. She said she wasn't ready and hoped he would stop. He took her hands, sat upright, softened his voice and changed tack. He tried persuasion instead. He liked her, almost as much as the girlfriend he had recently lost in a tragic car accident. He laid on thick the devastation he had gone through in losing her, and now, now he had a chance to feel happy again - wouldn't she want that?

She nodded. Afraid to speak. Scared she might cry. Then they were kissing again and his hands were peeling off her leggings and her bra was knotted roughly against her breasts, her shirt hoisted up as he bit on her nipples. He kept taking her right hand and shoving it onto his penis. For a moment she wondered where his jeans had gone, was he naked? The room was dark, the TV the only light - shadows flickering on his face, distorting his features.  His tongue was thrusting in her mouth and she just wanted to scream, but she had got herself here, she had said she was 17, she had made this happen. She felt stupid and afraid. She wriggled and turned her head but he kissed up and down her neck leaving trails of saliva. She had to make him stop, so she blurted out that she was 16. He almost didn't hear her. Then he sat back, looking at her with.... with scorn? He got up and did up his jeans, leaving her lying there, half naked, cold.

Awkwardly she pushed down her bra, fixed her leggings and underwear and pulled on the baggy cardigan. She tightened it around her like a comfort blanket. She waited for him to sit next to her but he sat by the television barely looking at her. Then he barked, "I'll call you a cab."

She knew she had done something wrong - was it saying no? Was it being 16? She went to him, tried to sit on his knee, to show she was mature after all, but he got up and suggested she wait outside. Confused, she went to the door and asked if she ever would see him again - after everything she still liked him. She felt she was to blame for it all. He'd made all this effort to have a date with her and she  had ruined it. He told her to wait on the other side of the road, not directly outside his house, in case any of his friends saw her. The comment stung, but she tried to act cool, like it was all fine. She stood on the pavement watching him close the the front door, holding her head high.

She cried silent tears in the cab on the way home.

A few days passed and she missed him. She thought of him as she looked at the bruises he had left on her breasts. She drove past the car dealers and watched him on the phone. His face was more tanned; the summer had delivered the promised heatwave. School dragged on and desperate to know what she had done wrong, she picked up the phone and dialled.

His brother answered and she asked for Mark but was told he was out. They got chatting, he wondered who she was - he had never heard Mark mention her. She coyly pretended to be a friend and then mentioned how she liked their house. He wondered when she had been there and she admitted on Saturday night - when Mark was babysitting their younger sister. She waited for him to be impressed, to maybe consider she was Mark's new girlfriend.

Instead Mark's brother laughed. Then he said she must be confused - because his sister was at an ice skating competition, with his parents and grandmother,  in Dublin... No one was home.

Just Mark.

She thought it was funny, this joke, this trick. It must be, right? She laughed along because she felt foolish - then she wondered if this proved how much he liked her, the effort he went to, to get her there alone.  But deep down she knew the truth.

Mark never called again. One day she looked up and he wasn't at the car dealers any more, or the day after that... or ever. She told her school friends about it - the time she had crept around a house, when in fact no-one was home.... on a 'date.' It was a hilarious tale, always got the laughs. What a joker!

She grew up and realised that the story isn't funny any more.

In fact it was never funny at all.