A notelet for Stephe

Remember boxes of notelets – you got them for Christmas from aunts. A4 folded into quarters so that you could write a brief letter to someone, with a picture of Holly Hobby or a watercolour rose on the front quadrant? When you got one, you had to work out which side of which quarter of the notelet to read next – it was like quantum map-reading. Anyway, here is a notelet to my chum, Dr Stephe Harrop.

Dear Stephe,

Two things:

When I was growing up my vision of my ideal marriage – brace yourself, the innocence coming up is disconcerting – was to sit in silence back-to-back with the man of my dreams, reading in my bedroom. Actually, not my bedroom, Katy Boyce next door’s bedroom, which I thought was the perfect bedroom. For a start it wasn’t a corridor, like mine. Will and I have a slightly different marital set-up to that. BUT…

My dream of sitting and reading in companionable silence has come true! I texted you a very specific question because it lies at the centre of the Venn diagram of your classics and storytelling expertise, and what did you do? You proposed marriage! No, better! You proposed a micro reading group to explore the question. You had me at micro reading group, Harrop.

So here we are, at opposite ends of the country, back-to-back, Liverpool to London, reading in companionable silence.

I’m hugging the question I put to you close to my chest – do you think I should be sharing it here? Am I too private about work things? Let me know what you think.

Second thing:

Thanks for pointing me to World of Books. My second hand, just a bit creased, copy of From The Beast To The Blonde arrived the day before yesterday. Here I am with it.

I’ve given myself a double chin, but how else do I take a selfie with a heavy book?

So, given that the question we’re exploring in our micro reading group concerns the origins of a particular story, and whether they go back much, much further to another story altogether, and given our recent, highly enjoyable, grumpy co-rants about tradition and heritage, I wanted to show you something brilliant. Here is the first page:

I’m shivery with delight!

Do you think that Sheila (is it Sheila?) and whoever the ‘we’ is ever got their book back? I don’t think Sheila would flog it. Do you think the stinker who borrowed it, then sold it – for more than its original £12.99, might I add? Do you think Sheila knew it was a risk that she’d lost it for good? I think so. I think that exclamation mark is pointed. I mean, it wasn’t just hers, was it? It belonged to ‘we’. Shit, maybe there was a big argument before it was even lent. A massive falling out because THIS ALWAYS HAPPENS, SHEILA! NEITHER A BORROWER NOR A LENDER BE!! HOW MANY TIMES – I am not raising my voice – how many times do I have to tell you? Fine, have it your way. We paid £12.99 for that, Sheila. And then, two years later, or so, Sheila went round to her friend’s house, From The Beast to the Blonde was just lying there, with a creased back, actually, quickly got out her ink pen (look at the smudged ‘We’. So telling.), and scribbled her message while her friend was out of the room making coffee. How terrifying must your friend be, to not be able to take back your own book, but to have to write a passive-aggressive memo in it? And the ‘with love’! And who carries an ink pen? Sheila (is it Sheila??), that’s who. She’s a doctor. She’s terrible at breaking bad news. She has to write it down on the back of prescriptions.

Isn’t it great?

And isn’t Sheila scribbling hastily for us all, Dr H.? We do want this back. We all want it back, Sheila, believe you me. It’s where we are at. Anyway, I’ve run out of space!

Bloody notelets!

Love, A xxxx

PS We’ll chat after page 51.

A WhatsApp For Will

On the last Friday before the lockdown started, I raced around London, telling stories to bewildered, discombobulated school children. I chose stories about travelling to new countries, overcoming insurmountable odds, sailing into bright futures. Then I got the 37 bus home and stared at the wall.

Will is an Advanced Nurse Practitioner, so while my life slowed and stilled, he was off into central London every day to his new job – what excellent timing, love – at University College Hospital. Most of his team were off or redeployed, things felt uncertain. At the best of times, he doesn’t drink enough during the day. So I started to record very quick stories and Whatsapp them to him everyday at elevenses time. Each of them is the length it takes to boil a kettle and make a cuppa (depending on the levels of limescale in your kettle, I suppose). I called the folder I stored them in Kettle Boilers.

The tales were rough and ready experiments. I’m in no way selfless – I thought I’d practice how to tell with economy and pace, because I am shamefully self-indulgent about those even when everyone on the bill has been given strict instructions about timings (frequently by me). I tried to keep them under three minutes. The stories were thrown together fast. There are stumbles and mistakes. There are attempts to add animation with my very basic laptop and more basic drawing skills. Some days I got better, some days I was useless. But I sent them to Will anyway. They also track my lockdown headscarf obsession, a noticeable increase in chocolate-induced facial padding, and the days when I found breathing hard. I learnt loads – by doing them, and on some days by watching Will watching them (because he didn’t have time to stop for a cuppa at work, so I made him watch them anyway.)

Eventually, I stopped, and started work on other things – One Minute Whispers audio stories, and online Toe Dipper workshops. Oh boy, I miss being in rooms with people.

But the last 8 Kettle Boilers are episodes of a Norse myth that I was once advised (in good faith) not to tell. So I never did, for years. They are ramshackle and I have literally scribbled on them. I wasn’t going to do anything with them apart from send them to Will. I don’t know if Will got anything from being fed a daily story, apart from grimacing at the bodily fluids in them (he’s very sensitive, for a nurse.) But I’ve been thinking about how I hug my creative stuff to myself, just in case. I do that a lot. Just in case what?? And when I come to think of it, the story is perhaps about just that. But I wonder – only in retrospect as I write this – if I’ve started to face, with no make up on, that hugging tendency, as well as experiment in economy and pace, and make a nudge for Will to put the bloody kettle on.

Here the episodes are. In the spirit of not hugging things too tightly to ourselves, if you get to the end of Episode 8, and you’d like to get in touch, share your thoughts, experiments or scribbles, I’ve added a contact form.