Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wash Day

"Go and wish your Auntie Vi a happy birthday."
It was January 9th 1950, Christmas was over and I was bored. So I went.

My Auntie Vi lived only a few streets from our house and she was my favourite. She always was so welcoming, would give me a hug and invite me inside her house for some tit-bit to eat at any time of day. She was always worried about my small body, that in her mind needed building up. Compared with my Uncle Jim, who was a big man and portly with it, I suppose I had. So armed with a card and small present from my mother I trotted off round to their cottage close to the church. He was a hard working, hard talking man who saved every penny he could, to establish himself and Aunty Vi in a decent home. He had been born at Owslebury to farming folk at the turn of the century and had broken from the mould set for him as a farm hand as soon as he could. He was foreman in the cellar of the local Brewery. That was a responsible job.

Their cottage was a tall, dark, brooding building shaded by immense sycamore trees. Built close to the road it had a huge garden stretching back a long way, on which Uncle Jim worked unceasingly. At nights and weekends he could always be found there nurturing the finest cabbages, the largest carrots and most succulent tomatoes. He grew everything; currants, rhubarb and apples. Right at the back of the garden was a pig sty which contained one Wessex saddleback pig.

"Look at tha-at gurt thing," Auntie Vi would say if we walked up the garden together. "She's a eatin' enough for two." As if in confirmation, the great beast would snuffle and snort along the planks that formed the sty and would gobble anything that was thrown into her pen. She was in fact eating enough for eight as some time later seven piglets were produced.

Closer to the house it smelled much sweeter. Except in the winter months flowers would be in bloom and in summer just entering the garden, was to visit a different world where bees and butterflies could be found and the scent of that perfumed garden was overpowering. I can close my eyes even now and hear that summery sound of insects humming and buzzing, hear the distant voice of Auntie Vi with her broad Hampshire accent and smell that delicious sweet summery smell of the garden. Quite close to the house was a range of outbuildings that contained Uncles Jim's garden tools and next to that a wash house. Between this outhouse and the main house was a delightful rock garden that was Auntie Vi's domain. Surprise visits to the house would inevitably see her couched over little flowers and ground covers. She would be weeding and tending the plants and talking to them to encourage them or chide them for being so untidy.

When I arrived at the house that grey winter morning, I discovered it was wash day. In those days the wash day was a significant days work. It was Monday of course, just like the nursery rhyme. As a walked round to the back garden I could see the billows of steam coming out the wash house door and in the garden area over the lawn, the clothes line was already half filled. The washing was fixed to the line by split hazel pegs and the whole line was supported by a wooden clothes prop, both obtained from the local gypsies.

Auntie Vi was in the wash house, rinsing and blueing the sheets. In the sink by the window was a wash board and a great lump of hard yellow soap. In the back corner was the copper steaming away with the glow of a fire coming from behind a small barred opening in its brick wall. There on the side wall she plunged the sheets into great tin baths, filled with cold water, one of them the colour of deep ultramarine blue. Once rinsed the sheets were then put through the mangle. This device was placed in the centre of the room and the squeezed linen was dumped into a waiting basket. She smiled at me with her warm but sad smile, as she carried out each task. I looked on her with admiration. Even on this cold day her sleeves were rolled well up. She partly wrung the sheets over the rinse bowls and flapping them out fed the edges through the wooden rollers of the mangle. Her strong brown arms then turned the ornate iron handle and a gush of water spilled out over the brick paved floor and rushed to the gully under the sink by the window.

She wiped her hands and arms on a small towel and took me back across the garden path to the kitchen in the house. I gave her the gift and she opened it and looked pleased. Her hair was still done up in a scarf, tied in the front with a knot and her old dress with a faded pattern was clearly her washday wear. As we sat there she took my hand in hers. Her hand was red and rough with years of hard work, the nails cut short like a mans and she spoke about her birthday.
"I'm forty today, did you know that? I don't know where the years have gone."
I said nothing, but went on eating my biscuit.

"If only we could live our lives all over again." As she looked in my eyes she squeezed my hand again. She went on, pleading with me. "Always be kind and loving."

I smiled back at her not knowing in my childish mind what deeper meaning lie behind those words.

Now so many years after, when the dreaded forty would in fact, to me, seem like a gift, I know that it was not age but despair and lost opportunity that weighed her down. When I became an adult, my own mother told me about her sister's life. She had been the eldest child and a daughter at that. As soon as she could work at fourteen she was put into service in a large house and learned how to work hard there. When she was twenty she was encouraged to marry a worker on the estate, to eliminate any future responsibility for her by her parents. Because she had little or no contact with her parents or peers since she was fourteen, she was completely ignorant of life. So she did the right thing, and got married.

The day after the wedding, she returned home pleading with her mother, not to send her back. Her mother had merely said, "You are married now, get on back to your husband." Her shame and humiliation cannot be imagined as she had to walk six miles back to the home that she had to make with a new husband.

Twenty years later, she sat with a small boy on her fortieth birthday, remembered her life, but did not shed a tear.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A walk after Dinner

Can I tell you about the time I went back to Nathan's Wood? I took Louise to show her where some of my childhood was spent. It hadn't changed much. We had gone for a walk after dinner at her mother's place. Dinner in those days in England meant the main meal at about midday! It was the usual Roast Beef, roast potatoes, sprouts and carrots boiled into submission and the gravy made up with the fat from the roast. Needless to say the beef was accompanied by a Yorkshire pudding. The obligatory Apple pie and custard followed and after a short break Louise's Mum suggested that we two should go for a walk while she did the washing up.

We turned off the main road by the wood cutters track, alongside an old five barred gate, deeply scarred, covered in lichen and moss with a tangle of brambles worrying the posts at the sides. The approach to the wood this way was by a large open field now sprouting tender shoots of wheat. The curve of the ground looking now like a pregnant woman in her early months. Which of course it was. The rooks fossicking in the furrows scattered reluctantly as we climbed up to the wood's perimeter. The late spring's sun wrapped us up in her warm embrace and on reaching the hazel coppice we felt that exhilarating sensation of well being from brisk exercise. The hazel shoots burst out from their cut clumps and forced the late bluebells swaying in the light breeze to say their last farewell before the shadows of summer foliage put them to rest for another year.

The sun excited midges, may flies and red admirals into activity and dragonflies, helicopter like, zoomed across our path. The scent of nettles, burdock and stinkwort triggered my memory and transported me back to my childhood. So it was, together with Jeff and Tom I had discovered Nathan's wood. The first time we had gone there it had been more by direction than desire. Tom's mum had asked him to go there. His grandfather's brother lived in the woods. For years I assumed that he had a job there. A woodman like in Red Riding Hood or perhaps he was a gamekeeper, I didn't know, nor did Tom. He had a delivery to make so we all made that first journey together.

The old man lived deep in the woods in a cabin that sat comfortably in a small clearing. A tiny verandah looked out onto the remnants of an old oak forest that was peppered with the occasional chestnut and sycamore tree. Behind the shack was a dark, brooding, plantation of mature pine trees.

It took us some time to get to the cabin. Boys like streams do not follow straight lines but take to the natural contours. So we followed our inclinations also, and only returned to the forest track when our interest in foxes holes, partridges and squirrels had waned.

A curl of blue smoke wisped out from the bent chimney shaft and a larger cloud of smoke surrounded the old man sitting on a rickety chair by the door. With his shoulders bent over some task he had an enormous pipe firmly grasped in his mouth that was the source of this other smoke.

When he saw us emerge from the oaken trail, we heard him cough, hawk and spit onto the ground in front of him.

"Ahhh!" He uttered, stuffed the pipe back in his mouth and continued his task.

"Mum sent these," said Tom, proffering the untidy bundle of papers, woollens and other oddments. It had been neatly parcelled up, but two miles, three boys and countless adventures had taken their toll.

"Ahhh! Put 'em in there then." The old man gestured with his pipe toward the door and the wafting stench of his pipe tobacco enveloped us. Tom made to enter the building, while Jeff and I stood awkwardly outside the verandah posts. The old man was dressed in a rough brown shirt with no collar and the sleeves rolled up, his trousers were grey but stained with grease and muck and his boots were dull and tied up with string. His dark face was lined and unshaven and his hands were large with knobbly joints and blackened nails. He got up from his seat and mumbled to us to come in as well. So we all trooped into the little hut.

It was dark in there, and smelled of wood smoke and cooking and socks and candles. A little light filtered in through the window, the panes of glass smeared with grime, cobwebs and dead flies. There was little furniture, a wooden table, two chairs, a dresser packed with crockery, tins, packets and bric-a-brac and a single bed in the corner by the cooking range that strangely, was neatly made up with a checkered quilt of kaleidoscopic colours.

"Ahhh! Sit ye down."

We sat on the floor by the black leaded range in a stone alcove. An enormous iron kettle puffed a fine stream of steam into the archway and we could see other pots, pans and ladles slung up over the arched structure. As my eyes became accustomed to the gloom, I picked out the curtained corner, where his clothes must have been kept; the rag mats, no doubt lovingly made by a relative, deft with the rughook; and the assortment of boxes and tools and trash that made up this old man's life.

For us boys it was a wonderland. So entranced were we, that we spoke not a word but glanced around us, taking in the spectacle of this strange man's life, breathing in the peculiar smells and hearing the crack of the fire and hiss of the kettle.

The old man spoke again.

"Ahhh!" every sentence started with this growl. "You'd be wanting a biscuit, then?"

We all nodded, not that we were particularly hungry, but we were so in awe, that denial was unthinkable. He went to the dresser, and produced a worn tin and we each took a biscuit. I don't know what sort of biscuits they were but so large and hard were they, that we could only nibble at the edges and then stuff them in our pockets for later consumption.

"Mum says is there anything else you need?" Tom blurted out, suddenly remembering this parental instruction.

"Ahhh, No! You be a telling your mother I'm right for a bit."

With that he winked, at Jeff and me, knocked his pipe against the chimney breast, shifted the kettle, lifted the iron plate on the range, hawked and spat into the glowing fire, with an accuracy that made us all grin with admiration. He sucked on the pipe to no avail, and commenced to load it again from a packet of tobacco labelled Black Beauty. I could see on the packet, there was a picture of a black girl with short frizzy hair, looking serenely out at me. I determined there and then that I was going to smoke a pipe when I grew up.

"Come an have look at this 'ere outside," he said tiring of entertaining us inside the hut. Replacing everything as it was on the hob, he shifted to the door. We got up, and followed him out.

"Got rats," he then said and showed an array of dead rats strung up on a wire a few feet from the verandah. He returned to his chair and we could see that he was maintaining his rat traps for further use.

"Could use a dog," he went on. His sparse words were all we needed to paint a picture of his life in the woods. He told us of, "that damned fox; the hooting owl, those pesky squirrels." On an on went his menagerie of companions and adversaries and how they filled his world.

"Saw n'adder afore you came." He pointed to the far end of the clearing. "Won't do no harm if you leave 'er alone. So don't go chasing 'er." The thought of chasing an adder had never entered my mind but now it sounded like a really good thing to do.

He walked with us a little way, talking about the trees and plants, his pipe billowing clouds of rank smoke around us. Then with such suddenness that I felt a pang of regret, he dismissed us.

"Ahhh! Off you go then." He turned abruptly and left us to find our way out of the woods.

We often went back there, and he tolerated us, giving us the 'dog' biscuits as we called them or a drink of water.

I told Louise about him and we found the clearing in the woods, not quite so far in as I had imagined it. The hut was gone except for a few stones and wooden stumps still in the ground. We found an old enamelled basin and of all extraordinary things a rusty rat trap, virtually hidden in the nettles that had overtaken the site.

"So what was his story?" Louise asked.

We were walking now on the soft pine needles beyond the clearing. The fresh pine smell filling our senses. I was going to shrug my shoulders, when I remembered that Tom's Mum said he was a recluse, and my Dad had called him a poor old sod. So I told her what I could.

"We didn't see him much after we had started High School, we tended to do things in town then. You know, chasing girls and that sort of thing,"

Louise opened her mouth wide with mock indignation.

"When he died," I went on. "There was this talk of his wife dying soon after they got married. Caught the flu in 1918-19. Hundreds of people died then in an epidemic. Well, what with being in the trenches in the war and all that sort of thing he couldn't cope and just disappeared. The loggers found him camped in Nathan's wood and he stayed there ever after."

"Well make sure you do the same if I go first," said Louise with a grin.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A wonder on the Rue de Rivoli

I was supposed to meet Brenda on the end of the Rue de Rivoli by the Metro station, just where there is a crossing to the Louvre Museum.
"I just want to browse a bit in these souvenir shops."
She smiled that cute smile of hers and disappeared inside a shop that was clearly going to test our Visa card again. Why is it that souvenirs and mementos are so desirable and attractive in a foreign country, yet are just so much junk when you get them home? We had already agreed if we got separated where we would meet on the hour. In a city like Paris there is always so many interesting sights and scenes that waiting for someone is never a hardship.

I returned to the appointed spot at four o'clock and amused myself by taking shots of the street and crowds. Already I had got through so many that day I started to worry I might fill the memory chip before the holiday ended. As I crossed over the road at the pedestrian crossing I brushed against a bundle of rags in the gutter. I wondered what on earth it was. As I looked down I could see that it was in fact a beggar sitting there. When I got to the other pavement I glanced back. The beggar was in fact a woman, head bowed with just a small brown hand poking out from the collection of shawls and wraps that enveloped her body. I focused the camera and took a long shot back through the traffic, of her pathetic figure. Hardly anybody seemed to notice her and even less offered her a coin. As I panned my camera around, disguising my detailed observation of her, I was staggered to see that in a quieter moment with less people around she drew forth from the wrappings, a little baby. She unfolded her clothing and there in the midst of the street, suckled the child. The traffic roared relentlessly on around her. Tourists and Parisian's alike streamed by her, and there in the noise and the filth of the gutter the baby took its fill.

The mother looked kindly down on her offspring and her begging hand rocked up and down as though merely by such movement the passers by would come to her aid. I was overcome by emotion. I crossed back over the road again and dropped a one Euro coin into her hand. Almost imperceptibly, she glanced at the coin, from the coin to me, then nodding in acknowledgment, bent her face over the child again. In that fleeting moment I could see that the mother was a girl of outstanding beauty. Her high cheek bones, her well formed nose and the darkest of dark eyes were set on an face of unblemished dusky brown. Then she was gone, hidden in that bundle of nondescript rags. I returned to my post awaiting Brenda. Looking back to the girl's position on the roadside, I could scarcely believe that anyone was sitting there.

"What do you think of these?" Brenda voice sang out.
She was back with her prizes. I had to admire the silk scarves, the miniature street signs and the ubiquitous Eiffel Towers, right there in the street with all the crowds milling around us.
"Lets take the Metro back to the hotel."
She nodded agreement, while I wondered about the money we had just wasted, while the beggar girl sat in the gutter.

Brenda could see that I was a bit testy about her spending, and eventually drew out of me the reason for my mood. She cynically suggested that she probably was a professional beggar and she made a reasonable living. I could not believe such a thing, especially not from the few moments that I had observed her.

Later that week unbeknown to Brenda, I returned to that same spot. Brenda assumed I was just snapping away at street scenes, which bored her silly, considering them wasted shots. Having had a busy day shopping in "Au Printemps" she intended to write a few postcards at the hotel to unwind.

The girl was there again, in the identical position. It was much later in the day and the light was fading fast. As before I crossed the street then returned. This time I placed a five Euro note in her hand. She recognised it immediately. Her look was longer this time and there was a flicker of recognition, her other hand was drawn out from the bundles and barely touched my hand in return. There was no smile, no utterance before she lowered her eyes again. But when our eyes had met, I had an overwhelming feeling of love and gratitude, pass from her to me, that I will remember for the rest of my life.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

How the palm tree outsmarted the sea

The sea was in a terrible mood. She roared in against the land with a fury few had seen before. She was being egged on by the wind who howled encouragement and frightened all the creatures that had to live in that place. Most of them hid. The little birds huddled together in the branches of trees and put their heads under their wings. The land animals found burrows and scrapes and hollows and closed their eyes and waited for the storm to pass.

On the sea itself the towering waves, grey green, flecked with spume, rolled in and over again and again and the sandy shore was hidden in a froth of salty suds. In the air the clouds raced by, changing shapes, weeping with joy, splashing anyone who was about and thoroughly enjoying the frolic. A few gulls that were about, flew high in the wind and were blown and tossed in the sky almost completely out of control. They streamed by each other, using only the energy of the wind to turn, dive, rise and stall and then to catch a gust again.

The sea had never felt so powerful before and even when the wind died down and sang a gentler song the sea continued to throw her weight about. Flotsam covered the beach. Fronds from the palm trees were torn off, weeds and bushes and leaves blew into great piles of debris and the sea saw all this and smiled to herself.

"Who is mightier than me?"

No one answered.

"I can do anything I want."

Still no one answered. But the sand on the shore was so frightened that in trying to nod in agreement made funny wavy lines as it followed her up the beach and back out again. This pathetic show of obedience didn't satisfy her, so she threw a great heap of planks and seaweed and shells out of the water up against a palm tree.

She repeated "I can do anything I want," to the palm tree.

The palm tree just waved a frond or two and replied, "You don't belong here, why don't you go away?"

The sea was furious, how could such a stupid looking plant speak to her like that. She determined to make the palm tree pay for her insolence. On the next high tide she came back up the beach, and said to the palm tree, "I am more powerful than you, therefore you must bow down to me."

The palm tree laughed in a coconutty way and ignored the sea, hoping that the sea could not reach her. And besides she had her own problems, which she shared with no one. It was the deadline of survival for her kind.

For years now she had been producing coconuts but none of them had ever taken root and grown into a palm tree like her. This made her very sad. When they dropped at her feet the coconuts could not take root in the shade of her fronds and eventually withered and died.

When the man creatures came and knocked them from her crown she thought that they might plant them. But later she saw them cutting off the fibre husk and cracking open the shell to drink the milk and eat the fleshy lining that was meant for the little seedling.

While she was thinking about the problem she looked down at the debris that the sea had thrown at her. There were sea shells and crab's claws, cuttlefish bones and quite a lot of stinking seaweed.

If the sea can throw all this at me why shouldn't I do the same and throw a coconut out of my shade? So the very next time the wind blew hard she dropped one or two coconuts down and sure enough they rolled a little way down the beach.

"Grow little ones she called."

But before the coconuts could mature and put down any roots the sea came back and threw then back up the beach to her and they sat down in all the rubbish that had been left there last time.

Each time the sea came close she would thunder up the beach and demand that the palm tree bow down to her. Again and again the tree tried to send her little round offspring away but each time they got pushed and tossed about close to the palm tree and never left home.

"If only I could get my babies a long way away they might have a chance," she said.

The very next time it was stormy weather the palm tree was pushed and tugged by the wind and she resisted as usual. Then in an unguarded moment a stronger gust of wind came and pushed her off balance and her whole trunk swayed and she found that she was leaning over. This gave her an idea and as each successive blast of air ruffled her fronds she bent with the wind and soon found herself bending right over the beach. When the gale had died down the palm tree did not resume her upright stance but continued to lean out to sea. So when she dropped her next batch of coconuts on to the beach they rolled right into the briny sea and floated there nodding back at her.

The sea looked up the beach and saw that the palm was bowed down towards her. Instead of getting into a frenzy at the palm tree for disobeying her, she remained calm. She didn't throw her weight around or anything else for that matter.

Gently lapping at the shore she said, "About time too." Then without thinking went back out off the coastline singing a sea shanty. "I got the better of that frilly, frondy, foliage."

All the while hardly noticing that she had taken a whole bunch of happy coconuts on the biggest adventure of their lives.

So it was that the palm tree outsmarted the sea and managed to get her coconuts taken away on the water. And there on another beach they were able to put their roots down and grow into palm trees just like her.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Mandy's magic mirror

The drizzle had not let up for days. When you feel sad, you need some sympathy, even if it's only from the weather thought Mandy. Mandy's Gran had died two days before. Mandy just couldn't believe the rush to get her buried, clean out her house and tie up all the ends. It almost appeared that she had never existed.

"RELATIVES RAVAGE RESIDENCE". Mandy pictured the headline in an imaginary newspaper in her head. How callous all her Gran's children were. Her aunts and uncles on her Mum's side descended on the sadly empty unit even before the funeral and squabbled over the pickings. Uncle Ron with his beaky nose and a head as bald as a badger had brought tools with him to pull up the nearly new carpet in the lounge. As Mandy watched she pictured a wildlife documentary of vultures pulling at a carcass. She revised her headline, it now became:

"SAVAGE SONS SYMPATHY STINKS".

So Mandy alone of all the relatives, cried in church. The others anxious for the service to be over, fretted in their pews. Mandy went to the cemetery and shed more tears as the coffin was lowered into the ground. A few friends and neighbours stood in the rain and the final words were said to a clutch of umbrellas and the bare headed Mandy. Rain and tears streaming down her face.

She returned to Gran's unit the next day to tidy up. It was as though a bomb had hit it. Every room had been ransacked and in the small back yard was a heap of debris. The relatives had come, had seen and had scavenged. Now they were gone.

Mandy had lost her parents when she was barely sixteen. A few years with her dad's brother's family made her quickly independent. She lived by herself but had always managed to visit her Gran once a week, had a meal with her and did a few chores like cleaning and shopping. Now even that was over. She now felt very much alone.

Her Uncle Bert had spoken to her after the funeral. "Clean up after we have gone", he said. "Then take a set of keys around to the real estate agent. He will arrange to put the unit on the market. A second hand dealer will give you a ring during the week to pick up what is left."

Despite her indifference to her mother's family Mandy did tidy the place up. Gone were the cosy flowery brocade chairs she and Gran sat in by the fire and where they ate their meal off trays on their laps. Gone were the little ornaments, the china shepherd and shepherdess, the ebony elephants and the Royal Doulton tea set in pride of place in a walnut china cabinet. Gone were the old pictures from the wall; the Stag at bay, the Laughing Cavalier, and Bubbles, the little curly headed boy with a soap blowpipe. All gone, all those memories wrenched from her heart. The pain was terrible. Mandy sat down on the floor, wept a little and blew her nose noisily into a tissue. She had checked every room. The few sticks of furniture left would fetch nothing. She hoped the dealer would charge Uncle Bert to take it away. Again she wrote a headline:

"DEALER DIDDLES DUMB UNCLE".

Mandy laughed at that one herself.

In the back yard there was an untidy heap of bits and pieces. Some would go in Gran's little bin but the rest she would have to take back to put in her own wheelie bin. There were plastic bags of rubbish, a broken wooden chair, bits of carpet and matting and a picture frame.

"What picture did they throw out?" Mandy murmured to herself. She turned it over. It wasn't a picture at all. it was the old mirror that Gran had on the wall in her Bedroom. The gilt frame was coming apart and the silvering of the mirror was worn away in one corner. To Mandy it was a precious find.

"You are coming home with me," she said.

She packed as much as she could in the dustbin and jammed the rest into the little boot of her Mazda 121 and then placed the damaged mirror on the front passenger seat with a seat belt holding it. Later with a little patience and skill Mandy glued and tacked the frame back together, bought some gold paint and repainted the frame, refixed the wire to the back, polished the glass and hung it her own bedroom, with a scarf draped over the faulty silvering.

The mirror had so many memories for her. Her Gran had owned it for ages. She remembered her own mother brushing her hair as she stood before it when she was eight years old. Her Gran had given her a pink ribbon that day and they had gone into the bedroom to tidy her hair before placing it on her head. Then she had run out to show her Gran and then had turned to look back in the bedroom. Her Dad was brushing her Mother's hair as she sat in a chair in front of the mirror. It was not his brushing that touched her, it was the way they held hands as he did so.

There were the times that after her parents had died she used to talk to her Gran, tell her about college, clothes, boys, and her hopes and fears. Her Gran would listen and nod, and hug her when she was down and laugh with her when she was happy. She recalled the smell of her Gran's place. It was a clean, tea-potty, chocolate biscuity smell.

She remembered too, only a few weeks previously when she herself brushed her Gran's hair. It was no longer the full flowing dark brown hair it had been. Thinner now, mostly grey, her Gran closed her eyes and appeared to doze in the chair as she gently brushed it for her. The expression on her face was peaceful, half smiling, contented, beautiful. As Mandy looked at their faces in the mirror she felt that indescribable feeling of warmth and satisfaction as the link between her, her mother and her Gran was shown in the reflections.

Now the mirror was hers. Each morning when Mandy awoke, the mirror was bright and reflected the light from the window. As she looked in she could see herself, soft and drowsy, waking from sleep. The curves of her body and the sunlight in her hair, made her glad to be alive. In the evening, the fading light gave her reflection a more mysterious glow, the interesting shadows cast a feeling of exotic allure to her face, her hands seemed to wend and wave in seductive ways and she saw, that despite her earlier teenage fears, she really was quite attractive. When she looked at herself she was proud and confident, wrapped in a warm blanket of love.

She found she talked to the mirror, and in her mind, her Gran would tell her what to do. She would reassure her, guide and comfort her and was her true mentor. Now, when she looked back to the day of the funeral, the hideous family and their greedy claims for the remnants of her Gran's past, she felt content. She knew the most precious possession she had received that day from the scrap heap was the memory of love and affection that was kept alive by the magic of the mirror.

"MANDY'S MAGIC MIRROR MENDS MEMORIES".

"That's the best headline yet", said Mandy.