living

50 Word Thursday #13 – Descending

a flash-fiction piece.

There was something wrong with performing The Lark Ascending in the smoke. The bird took on a melancholy attitude not in keeping with Vaughan-Williams’ intent. Not the joyful, high-flyer, chirruping in the early light, over remote fields of tall grass. Then here’s me, stuck amongst the second violins.

“How could anyone be tired of London?”, asked a principal cornetist. The majority of the brass section seemed to concur. You’d think they’d prefer their air fresher, wouldn’t you, what with all that puffing? I mean, the percussionist I could understand, what with the clatter and thump in the streets.

I am a country girl. I had the opportunity to play fiddle in a small folk group; the mandolin player, I recall, had a beautiful voice and looked like an Adonis; we could have played sweet music together, beneath the starlit skies. Instead of the obscuring haze of city lights.

A tutor convinced my parents that my talent was too good to fritter away in rural pubs and village halls, to literally scrape a living on a secondhand, mass-produced instrument. So I was packed off to an exclusive conservatoire in Paris and, five years later, here I am.

I live in London, though mostly it’s living from a suitcase. If I’m not performing, I teach kids of aspirational parents in Kensington. Sometimes I’m asked to play behind some famous pop artist, but don’t ask, who? One is like any other to me. Like every day, living in this city.

(5 x 50 words)


written for 50 Word Thursday #13 – a weekly challenge.

This week’s prompt phrase from “Bizarre London”, by David Long,

“How could anyone be tired of London?”

This week’s photo prompt,

The rules (copied from the host)

  1. The completed piece must be in multiples of 50 words – a maximum of 250 words. Anything is acceptable – poetry, story, anecdote.
  2. There will be a photo and a random phrase that I will take from the current book I am reading – you can use either or both.
  3. Please pingback and tag 50WordThurs so I can do a summary.

One hello and two goodbyes

I have written before how I could become in time one of the last sons of Middlesex. I mention this because recently I have seen photographs of this once agrarian county of England being consumed by the creeping tide of a London expansion. Suburbia was to be its new crop, perennial and unyielding, though eventually showing signs of going to seed. Looking over these photos of precise grids of similar houses, of clean, barren streets between orderly rows of little shops, I feel sadness even though I never knew its countryside. I imagine the farms and the people working the fields, and the villagers, self-contained and neighbourly, and their children playing in the streams and brooks, under a broad, open sky.

Samuel Johnson once said, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life“. But I bet he never lived or worked in its suburbs.

They say that the entire human population can be housed in average sized family homes, with a small garden, in a suburb not much larger than Texas. I think this would be a good idea. And we could all go to work in Oklahoma, leaving the rest of the planet to be “rewilded”. Or at least managed in a sustainable, close to natural way.

I, myself, had a desire to leave as early as ten years old but had to endure it a further fifteen years. Yet, after a further quarter of a century in my adopted home, I can see the invasiveness of urban culture around me. Expansion seems inevitable, grace, peacefulness and beauty is discounted and up for grabs. Our government has promised 300,000 new build homes each year to solve a “crisis”; it’s not clear for how many years.

Idealist, or fantasists, I’m not quite sure, talk of going to Mars. It may come to that and I feel as sad for that generation to come as I do for the generation I imagined in the old photos, losing their lifestyle, their future and their culture. For progress.


Written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #65.

Middlesex was an English county, known as a “Home County” for being close to London, the capital and traditional seat and home of the monarchy. In 1965, it was divided between Greater London and neighbouring counties; it ceased to be although addresses containing Middlesex were valid until the introduction of national alpha-numerical “post codes” made this inclusion unnecessary.

The name derives historically from the domain of the Middle-Saxons, the collective immigrant/ invaders/raiders (along with the Angles and other Germanic peoples) who came to rule some time after the Romans, around the 5th Century and up until the Norman conquest in the 11th Century.

The radical north-west suburban expansion into what was coined “Metroland” on account of the above ground extensions of the London Underground rail networks, began in the early twentieth century. Further sprawl was partly contained by the “Green Belt”, a narrow ring of permanent countryside, though this is continually under threat.

In Samuel Johnson’s day, London more or less finished at about Hyde Park.