Friday, 25 November 2011


Hayley had never thought that her journey home would be so difficult. She was stood motionless in the middle of a train station in Paris, staring up at the departures board, holding a steaming cup of hot chocolate in her frozen hands. Her suitcase sat leant up against her right leg, her whole life packed away inside it. She muttered secretively to herself as she tried to figure out the translations of the French words on the board. All around her, the station was alive with activity as people bustled through their everyday routines. The suited businessmen pushed roughly past the crowds of loitering tourists, barely looking up from their phones on their tedious commute. Small children screamed, running circles around their exasperated parents, and the train attendants left the main office laughing loudly, wondering how many people they could catch out for not having a ticket today. The marble floor beneath Hayley’s feet echoed from the sound of rumbling suitcase wheels, and a cocktail of smells came from each food stall, enticing in those who had time to spare. Hayley stood shivering amidst it all, unnoticed by all those that rushed past her.

A Mexican wave of movement swept around the departures board, sounding like a roulette wheel as each letter was chosen carefully. Reading the newly revealed times, Hayley groaned dejectedly. Her decision was becoming ever more complicated. Hayley had been in Paris for the weekend, attending meetings that were supposedly going to help her gain a promotion at work. It had been her first chance to escape from home in a while though, so she had jumped at the opportunity to leave. Despite being nineteen, and perfectly able to look after herself, Hayley was constantly in battle at home with her overly protective Mother, who felt uneasy unless she was watching Hayley’s every move. When her parents had divorced two years ago, Hayley’s Father had moved to the outskirts of Germany, and at the time had tried to do all he possibly could to take Hayley with him. He hadn’t been successful, but had never stopped trying to convince Hayley to move to Germany and live with him. Something he had recently become very close to achieving. Now, stood in Paris, Hayley found herself torn between the two. She could get on a train that would take her back to England and her overprotective Mother, or a train that would take her on to Germany and her Father, who she hadn’t seen in two years. Typically, both trains were leaving at the same time, and Hayley had only eight minutes to decide which train to take. Eight minutes to decide which of her parents she wanted to see the most.

Hayley’s phone vibrated impatiently in her back pocket. Before she had even looked at the screen, she knew who was calling her.

“Hi Mum,” she sighed, resting her hot chocolate precariously on top of her suitcase.

“Hayley? Where are you?” came the rushed reply.

“The same place I was the last time you called.” Hayley moaned. “Stop checking up on ...”

“But you are coming home soon aren’t you?” her Mum said, ignoring Hayley’s frustrated grumbles. Hayley glanced up at the departures board. Time was running out. She had to make her decision.

“I’m going to have to go Mum; the train’s leaving soon and...” Hayley said dismissively.

“Which train?” her Mum interrupted. A booming voice came on over the station’s loud speaker, announcing the next trains to depart. Glancing back at the departures board, Hayley saw that she only had four minutes left before she needed to be on a train.

“Hayley?” her Mum said, her voice cracking slightly in her panic, “You are coming to England aren’t you.”

Hayley bent down to gather up her belongings. She slung her lighter bag onto her shoulder and pulled out the handle of her suitcase. Three minutes left.


She checked her ticket and turned on the spot to look for the platform she needed. She was going to have to run.

“Mum, I need to go.” She said simply.

“Please,” Hayley’s Mum begged, “Please, don’t go to Germany.”

“Why not?” Hayley asked. Suddenly, without any warning, her phone was snatched out of her hand. Hayley was grabbed around her waist and lifted clean off of her feet. She heard the sound of her hot chocolate mug splattering all over the terminal floor as her suitcase was swooped up by an anonymous hand. Whoever had caught hold of Hayley made sure that she couldn’t see their face as they ran across the terminal to the second platform. Hayley couldn’t catch enough breath to scream. She could only watch frantically as the other passengers walked calmly by, nobody noticing that Hayley was in trouble. She was pushed roughly towards a train and when she attempted to struggle, she was hit on the back of the head, hard enough that she fell unconscious immediately. Her decision, it appeared, had been made for her.

Hayley woke up slumped in the corner seat of an empty train carriage. It was an ordinary passenger train, but it was eerily quiet. Outside it was just starting to get dark, but there was a clinical white light in the carriage that kept Hayley blinking and confused. Out of the window Hayley could see countryside flying past. She had no idea where she was, who she was with or where she was going. Peering through the gap between the seats, Hayley saw a small group of people through the glass doors leading to the next carriage. The suited men were laughing and shaking each other’s hands, as if to congratulate one another. One of the men, who Hayley could see was holding her phone tightly in his fist, saw that she was awake. Hayley watched in disbelief as the man who she was steadily beginning to recognise came through the carriage towards her. It was her Father.

“How are you feeling?” Hayley’s Father asked quietly as soon as the connecting doors between the carriages had closed. He sat down on the chair next to Hayley and felt her forehead with the back of his hand.

“Dad?” Hayley whispered cautiously. It still didn’t feel right to her. She hadn’t seen her Father in two years, and suddenly he was sat in front of her, as if he had never been away. “Dad, what’s going on?”

Hayley’s Father stared emotionless into his daughter’s eyes, taking in the faint stain of blood that was seeping through from underneath her hair, the bruises on her wrists and the petrified expression in her eyes. He moved to a seat further away.

“Dad, where are we going?” Hayley asked.

“Germany.” He replied simply, “I can’t let you go back to England.”

“Why? What is going on?”

“I can’t tell you yet. Wait till we get home.”

“I don’t have a home Dad!” Hayley shouted, losing her temper with his coldness. He was now sat as far away from her as possible, avoiding her eyes and glancing every few seconds towards the group in the next carriage. Hayley didn’t know this man sat in front of her. It wasn’t the same man that she used to play in the garden with for hours at a time, no matter what the weather. The person she would turn to when she had a problem or when she simply just needed to see a friendly face. It was like there was nothing within her father anymore, as if his emotions had been sucked from him and locked away in a place he couldn’t quite reach. “I don’t know where my home is now Dad.” Hayley tried again.

“You just don’t have a home in England anymore.” Her Father replied irritably. “Listen Hayley, just stop messing around. You’re coming with us to Germany; I’m fed up of playing games.”

“I don’t understand what’s going on.” Hayley cried. “Who are you with Dad?”

“Stop it with all the questions!” Her Father yelled, jumping to his feet and staring daggers at Hayley. Where her Father had thrown his hands up in anger, Hayley noticed the steady accumulation of missed calls and messages on the screen of her phone in his hands. No doubt they were all from her Mother, and Hayley felt a short pang of guilt and regret. She could picture her Mother now. Her frantic expression and wild eyes. Her hair would have been scraped back away from her face and she would be shaking her leg constantly as she sat waiting for news, unable to rest easy until she had control again. As tears began to finally show, Hayley’s Father seemed to momentarily lost heart. His shoulders slumped and his hands fell limply by his sides as he watched Hayley curl up on her chair and hug her knees. He sat down beside her and tucked the loose, stray hair behind her ears.

“Listen kid, you’ll have a brilliant time in Germany. We’ll catch you up with the language and you’ll make some great friends. My house is a lot bigger than what you’ll be used to, it’ll be an adventure.” He said softly, in an attempt to cheer Hayley up. “You would hardly ever see me, you can do what you like. I’ll arrange a car for you if you like, you can explore wherever you wanted.”

“I could do that in England.” Hayley replied defiantly.

“Well you’re not going to England.” Her Father said curtly. “There’s nothing there for you anymore.”

“My Mother is there!” Hayley shouted, but she was answered with a sly smirk.

“You’re coming to Germany with me Hayley.” Her Father said blankly, “That’s my final word.”

Then, without waiting for Hayley to even attempt to argue back, he went through to the next carriage to join the group of people who were watching them curiously. He was welcomed back with a chorus of jeers. Hayley wondered whether any of the other men in the next carriage even knew who she was. She certainly didn’t know who they were.

The tears were now unstoppable. They ran freely down Hayley’s cheeks, leaving pale traces on her skin where her makeup had been washed away. She felt lost; with nobody around she could trust. She could hear shouting now in the next carriage, in a mixture of German and English. She could hear something that sounded like her Father’s voice, but it was no longer recognisable to her. The men weren’t shouting in anger however, they were laughing. Piercing cackles that burnt into Hayley’s mind. She had had enough. She couldn’t sit around any longer and do nothing.

Silently, not even daring to breathe, she crept to the locked doors of the carriage. Searching the other seats as she crept by, she found her bags hidden under the furthest chair. She grabbed her lighter bag, leaving her suitcase behind. She felt as if she were a child again, sneaking down on Christmas eve and hiding from her parents as she investigated the presents under the tree. It would always be her Father that found her then, but she was determined that he wouldn’t find her this time.

Reaching up above her head, Hayley pulled sharply on the emergency stop lever. A piercing alarm began to ring and the laughter from the next carriage came to an abrupt halt. As everybody else on the train was thrown around like rag dolls by the sudden braking, Hayley kept her balance. She kept her head, she kept her focus. She was too angry to panic.

“I’ll do anything to get back to England.” She told herself boldly. She took one final glance down the carriage and saw her Father stumbling around trying to get through the glass doors towards her. “Anything.”

Friday, 5 August 2011

Golf, Granddad, and the Spicegirls

Recently I finished another book, and when I was sending off portfolios to universities, this was an extract from that book that I sent off.

This morning, I made the dreadful mistake of getting up at the crack of dawn and going for a jog with Mum. It was the start of my “get fit for summer” regime. However, like all of my ridiculous ideas, I only plan on doing it the once. I swear Mum is on steroids. She powered on ahead, leaving me coughing and spluttering behind. All the joggers seemed to be in competition with each other as well. There were hundreds of health conscious lunatics out this morning, and all of them were trying to run just that little bit faster than everybody else. Mum was the fastest though. I sat down on a bench and watched her overtake everybody else, I was so proud.

Afterwards, I managed to persuade Mum that I wasn’t the type of person for proper exercise. I explained to her that you didn’t have to run around to do sport, so then lucky old me got dragged along to play golf with Dad and Granddad. It wasn’t even crazy golf. It was proper golf, with birdies and everything!

Golf is the most boring “sport” on this planet. It was designed by boring people, for boring people...with stupid trousers, of which my Granddad owns at least thirty pairs. I had to result to hiding Granddad’s ball just to amuse myself. I lasted for six holes before Dad found out that I was cheating.

The only exciting thing about golf is the cool buggies that you get to drive around the course in. Granddad took ages to figure out how to drive it, and when he did, he drove it like a complete maniac! He managed to get us lost, despite the bright yellow signs telling you the exact way to go. We ended up missing out four of the holes because Granddad didn’t have a clue where he was going. He just pointed the buggy in the general direction of the next hole and forgot to steer. So inevitably, we took a shortcut through the forest instead of going around it. Thankfully, Dad took over the steering; otherwise our golf buggy would have been wrapped around a tree by now. We wouldn’t of been hurt though, because the buggy dies if you go over ten miles an hour.

After golf, Dad left me at Granddad’s house whilst he went DIY shopping. He said that he would only be half an hour, but I knew he would be longer. Dad gets lost in B&Q. Granddad told me that he was in urgent need of someone from the younger generation. Turns out he had brought himself an IPod in the bid to become more “hip”, as he put it. Unfortunately, he nearly put a hip out trying to get the box open. I had to show him how to open the plastic casing, and he was so amazed by that that he hovered behind my shoulder asking questions and commenting on modern technology. He wouldn’t stop talking though because he lives so far into the dark ages that everything is modern technology to him.

Granddad’s CD collection was abysmal. A bunch of war songs and rather surprisingly, the entire works of the Spicegirls. I wasn’t completely convinced that “Pack Up Your Troubles” would mix well in the same playlist as “Spice Up Your Life”. I’m especially concerned about Granddad’s vocabulary, because he told me the curry he had had last night was too “zig-a-zig-ah”. Well at least he has music to listen to whilst attempting his daily cross word.

As Dad was taking a lifetime, I took Granddad out in the afternoon to do his food shopping. I really wish that I hadn’t volunteered to do my doting granddaughter bit though. It was horrific. Granddad truly lived up to his reputation of being the world’s worst driver. He drove over a roundabout; stalled on the tram lines and then when we got to the car park he went in through the out and parked diagonally across three spaces. The store manager even had to come out and ask him to move the car. He did. He just parked exactly the same but across disabled spaces this time. I left a note on the windscreen saying that the driver of the car had dementia and that I was very sorry.

When we eventually made it into the store, Granddad was completely hopeless. I was too busy pretending that I didn’t know him to actually notice what was going in the trolley. I only realised just how awful Granddad is at shopping when we reached the till. He had got cream instead of milk, corn flour instead of sugar and even a kilogram of coal for a barbeque that he doesn’t even own. It took me an hour to do his shopping all over again, and even then he kept trying to sneak moisturiser into the trolley because he thought it was mayonnaise.

When I finally made it home, with a tin of beans as a thank you present from Granddad, my parents were painting the landing ceiling. I walked up the stairs and all I did was casually point out that Dad was in fact painting his half of the landing a completely different colour to Mum’s, and bedlam broke out. Mum just couldn’t appreciate how hilarious the situation was!