Let’s talk about beauty

Let’s talk about the courageous women in Iran who are standing up for their human rights in the face of horrific repression and persecution. Let’s talk about their bravery, their hope, and their determination. Let’s talk about their shared ecstasy as they laugh, sing, dance and cry tears of joy in the streets.

Let’s talk about the look a couple give one another. The secret, personal, love-filled glance which envelops the other in warmth. The glance that says everything, that reassures, that praises, that admires. A smile with the eyes, and at the same time a laugh, a kiss, a hug.

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A FIFA World Cup Boycott

Having been a rabid football fan for as long as I care to remember, following my infection as a child, the FIFA World Cup has almost always been something to look forward to. The greatest sporting spectacle on Earth.

I remember “staying up late” to see an 18-year-old Michael Owen charge through a helpless Argentine defence, that David Beckham petty kick and resulting red card, and England’s eventual loss on penalties in 1998.

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The Admission

My dad died when he was 50. Apparently, he was the third generation to pass at such a landmark which has prompted my mum to encourage me to see a doctor to see if there is any underlying health condition which are causing us male Viponds to expire so prematurely.

If I am to reach the half century, then my mid-life crisis should have occurred at 25. But instead, it seems to have occurred at 30. Perhaps I am destined for a decade longer on the planet than what I am due.

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Wednesdays were the worst.

At least on Thursdays the bullies were tired and on Fridays distracted. But on Wednesdays they were at the top of their game. They had had two days to recover from the weekend’s grogginess and perfect their dark arts. And now, like a gang of street cats, they would wait for him. Tease, torment, and torture. The mornings weren’t complete until they had produced at least one tear or received a minimum of one packet of crisps as payment for “protection.”

Wednesdays were the worst.

Milo hated getting out of bed on these days. Want not Wednesdays. Waste away Wednesdays. Why oh why must he have to go through this miserable routine every Wednesday. But go through it he must. His dad had told him that he was a big boy now and because he was a big boy he sometimes had to do things he didn’t like. “That’s a part of growing up,” his dad said.

Milo didn’t feel ready to grow up. He felt that it was all happening too quickly. None of the other boys in his class had to do the things he did. Joshua’s mum still made his lunch, Peter’s still walked with him to school. Abdul told him that every morning his mum would wake him up with a huge kiss on the cheek and in the winter would put his clothes on the radiator so that they were as warm as an oven when he got dressed. The best Milo could hope for was that it wasn’t raining when he walked to school alone.

Milo missed his old life. He wished he had a “normal” family again. In golden moments, daydreaming in class, he would picture the three of them around the breakfast table laughing. The sun streaming through the open window behind them, eggs frying on the hob, toast sitting warm and butter-soaked, just how dad liked it. When was the last time they had done that? Milo couldn’t remember. Life was different now. Things had changed.

The ominous grey clouds made that Wednesday morning particularly depressing. They were pregnant with the possibility of rain. They held a silent promise which Milo had no desire to hear. The quiet of the house offered him little comfort. As Milo went about his morning routine, he was a ghost in his own home. Smiling faces watched from photo frames on the mantlepiece and the ticking of the kitchen clock was his only company.

For most of the time, Milo’s parents were restricted to their bedroom. They seemed to sleep endlessly, shut off from the world and oblivious to everything that was happening. They would get regular visits from doctors and each time the conclusion would be the same; “they are stable. They just need their rest. If you ever need anything, you can call me.”

Milo never did call. There was nothing the doctors could do for him. They couldn’t help with his homework, they couldn’t cuddle on the sofa watching action films, they couldn’t get a Chinese take away from The Golden Temple on a Friday night and play board games until long past bedtime. They were useless to him. Acting only as a constant reminder that things were not returning to how they used to be.

“Stable.” Milo hated that word. He used to ask when his parents would be improving, but after dozens of disappointments he gave up.

With his bed made, lunch packed, and his bag and shoes sitting expectantly by the door, Milo made one final visit to his parents’ bedroom. As he gently pushed the door open, he was greeted by the familiar stale air inside. All was quiet. It was peaceful. Edging to slip out into the hall, Milo stopped as he caught the gaze of his mum from the bed. She raised her arm slightly as a flicker of a smile crossed her face, “good morning my son,” she said weakly. Milo walked softly over to her bedside and took her hand in his. “I am so proud of you,” said his mum. “You’re such a strong boy.” Milo smiled warmly. He stroked his mum’s arm as he saw tears begin to form in her deep brown eyes. “I am sorry…” she started, before her voice broke. She gazed at him lovingly, unable to finish the sentence. Milo kissed her on the forehead “Mum, it is okay. Even grown-ups need looking after sometimes.”


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A Crowd Gathers in Lower Winderton

The whole village was abuzz with excitement. Rumours had been circulating all week about when the announcement would be made, and now, finally, it seemed to have arrived. April May was there wrapped in her finest shawl, Mr and Mrs Doodleberry were stood waiting patiently, and even Old Man Winters had left the safety of his beloved garden shed to see what the commotion was about.

The mood was reaching fever pitch as the biggest names in Lower Winderton gathered outside of Miss Lavender’s Post Office. Eventually, Miss Lavender emerged from her shop and stepped out into the warm July morning. A hush fell over the crowd. The number 47 bus rolled into its stop, the driver turning off the engine and sticking his head out of the window for a better view. Across the road, Boris the daschund yapped eagerly.

Miss Lavender paid no attention to the expectant crowd. Setting down some potted plants, she continued as if they weren’t even there. Such composure, such poise. How did she remain so calm among this whirlwind of emotion?

“Is it today Miss?” came a voice from the crowd. “We heard it was today”, said another. “Please Miss Lavender”, a third voice chimed in, “I have been having trouble sleeping these last few nights. It is like Christmas. I can’t take it anymore.” Nods of approval rippled through the crowd. a murmur of agreement.

But Miss Lavender did not respond. Instead she slowly made her way back indoors, calmly flipping the sign on the entrance as she did so. The handful of voices began to grow into a chatter. Suddenly everyone wanted their feelings known. The gathered crowd began to edge forwards, determined to speak to the owner of the Post Office.

This couldn’t go on much longer, there would be a danger of a riot breaking out. Not since the infamous summer of ’03 had there been violence in the village. “Egg-custard-tart-Gate” as it was now known. They didn’t want a repeat of that anarchy. Poor Dave Wellington almost lost his glasses that day. No, we cant have that again. But emotions were rising and the crowd continued to creep forwards. Miss Lavender was playing with fire now. The whole village knew that she liked to live on the edge – this much was obvious, her complete disregard for coasters had seen her banned from many an afternoon tea session. This was something different though. This was a case of life and death. If she couldn’t pacify this angry mob of pensioners and divorcees, she would get torn limb from limb.

But wait. A shadow in the doorway. A deathly silence fell as once more Miss Lavender appeared. A roll of Sellotape lay wrapped around her left wrist and in her hand was a single sheet of paper. This was the moment they had been waiting for. The anxiety faded, the frustration dissolved, the sun seemed to beam even more strongly overhead. Eyes were now as wide as the turning curve of Miss Millers old Citroen. Everyone’s face flickered with a promise of a smile. The single sheet was held aloft for all to see and on it, in crisp golden lettering, were the words everyone had been waiting for.

Lower Winderton’s 125th Annual Talent Show. August 4th.

Jubilation swept through the crowd like one of Janet’s brooms in the Church after Sunday service. It was a wave of ecstasy unmatched by anything they had felt all year.

Nigel managed to bustle his way to the shopfront determined to get the first picture alongside this year’s poster. He faced little competition this summer as his main rival Edgar had to be moved to a care home at the end of February. A nasty fall had put a stop to his ambitions of silverware. Nevertheless, Nigel was taking no chances. He had pulled his son out of school especially for today’s festivities and armed him with a Nikon that was almost as old as he was.

By the time Miss Lavender had finished sticking the poster to the noticeboard, many in the crowd had already rushed home to practice their routines. No doubt Aunty Jules would be preparing Mittens for another round of tap-dancing and rumours swirled that the Fitzgerald twins were planning something even more ambitious than last year’s zimmer-frame acrobatics.

What a glorious occasion it was set to be. Just as the tour guides advertised, Lower Winderton was truly the greatest English village west of the M40.


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