Tag Archives: Fiction

Book Review – Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma by Kerry Hudson

adult blur books close up

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

‘Graffiti and scorch marks, echoes of small fires, decorated doorsteps. Golden Special Brew cans and crushed vodka bottles, bright as diamonds, collected in gutters. Front gardens were filled with mouldy paddling pools and, occasionally, a rust burnished shell of a car. I had never seen anything so beautiful, so many colours, before in grey Aberdeen.’


Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma

 

This is a novel with nothing held back. While the title is light hearted and the cover art bright and cheerful, both are deceiving. The cover shows a silhouette of a young girl holding a giant red balloon against the backdrop of a Scottish suburban town. It is important to address the significance of this image. Readers may recall a similar painting by Banksy, named Girl With Balloon which was originally painted on a wall in London. Beside the painting was engraved “There Is Always Hope”. While Banksy’s painting shows the girl releasing the balloon, possibly representing lost hope or lost innocence,  Hudson’s cover shows the girl being lifted by the balloon.  Considering this when addressing the text, it is clear that Hudson wished to demonstrate that one can only hold on to hope by not letting go. Critics have described this book as containing bittersweet humour and Hudson cleverly intrudes in the second chapter by saying that this is in fact a ‘humorous cautionary tale’.   As soon as you begin reading, expect to get dirt under your nails. The author launches right into the location of the novel using regional Scottish dialect and local Aberdonian vernacular.  The story begins with the birth of out protagonist, Janie Ryan. Born to Iris (formally Irene), a single, homeless mother who comes from a line of women described as ‘fishwives to the marrow’, Iris has recently returned from London after trying to change her destiny (not wanting to become her mother). After falling pregnant to a rich and married American man, the relationship breaks down. Iris is forced to return to poverty in the back streets of Aberdeen but is keen to ensure that things have changed,’ I didnae go all the way to fuckin’ London to come back an’ be the same old Irene!’ Unfortunately, Iris falls back into her old ways and for Janie; this has a direct effect on her life. The reader follows the protagonist from her first home to temporary care and then to a string of homes over the UK in some of its poorest areas. Janie watches, as her mother gets involved in some abusive relationships, including one with alcohol, and watches helplessly as her mother loses hope.  Towards the latter end of the novel, it is clear that Janie is falling into the same habits as her mother, however, a string of unfortunate event forces her to reassess her life. The end of the novel, like the cover art, is left to the reader’s interpretation. Can Janie break the cycle and make changes to her life, or is she destined to become her mother? This is not only a well-written novel but also a powerful commentary on life within the poverty trap.

Kerry Hudson, Tony Hogan Bought me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma, 2012 published by Vintage Books

©Eilidh G Clark

 

If I Can’t Find You, I’ll Try To Find Myself

Everything is hushed, even the waves hemming the sand seems to hold their breath. Dawn is breaking and teasing the horizon. The world seems warmer. Tiny orange  crabs scurry sideways into jagged rocks and now I am alone. I feel naked. Alive. All that I hold are my most intimate thoughts and a new respect for life.

Visiting the Maldives had been a distant dream of mine, since – well since forever. I had lost my mother seven months earlier. Her sudden departure from my life was not only tragic but deeply confusing. Life as I knew it had changed. I found myself searching for answers instead of comfort and could not see beyond the noise. Seven months had passed and I found myself frustrated. I spent too much time sitting on my doorstep, looking to the sky and searching. I found nothing. Waiting for nothing is the most desperate way to pass the time. You feel the outside expanding rapidly from your doorstep while you slowly shrink inside your own head. After receiving a small windfall, it didn’t take me long to find my escape. “If I can’t find you, I’ll try to find myself.”

I watch the sun climb. Shocking red and orange slices flash upon the placid sea. Blood rushes around my body; my head feels light and my skin tingles. I want to grab this vision and stamp it urgently in my memory; nothing had been or ever could be this beautiful.

Sunrise is followed by nature. The salt water and wet sand creep up and swallow my legs. Schools of fish swim daringly close to me examining by pale white limbs. I enjoy teasing them with my toes.  A stingray skims the surface of the shore, round , large and flat like a piece of old leather being carried by the waves. I stand up and follow it until it disappears into deeper water. “Time is irrelevant. Time is unconnected to the world outside. The world outside is now extinct”.

I am walking. My island has opened up to people. Swimwear –  bright and cheerful which somehow looks dishonest here. Every soul I see equally treasures the silence. I see the emotion on every face that turns toward me. Passion has touched their soul. Passion has touched my soul.

I find a spot under a palm tree. It is a light relief from the burning sun as the fan like branches shade my skin. A tiny lizard scurries up the rough bark and hides from me. I have stolen its place. I close my eyes and breathe in a smell of warm salty sea and dry foliage. It is the pure and clean smell of the natural world, stripped back to its rawness, undeveloped and unpolluted.  Unspoiled.  All of my senses are kick-started. I am alive.

Hours pass, or perhaps it is just seconds but the next thing happens alarmingly quick. The brilliant blue horizon turns charcoal grey. In the blink of an eye the neighbouring island vanishes. The atmosphere feels instantly charged. Excitement and fear presses heavily on my skin and I watch in wonder as the sea trembles and spits out her waves as she chokes in the dense air. Colossal globes of water pelt from the heavens onto the world below. All at once I am alone again. Noise booms in my ears from the waves and rain and the intense screeching from the unhappy bird high above my head in my palm tree. I am motionless. I watch the storm gather itself, teasing my island with its wildness and ferocity, and I long for it. My heart pounds in my chest, my ears scream as I suck in the humid air and hold it as my body wretches. My eyes explode with tears cascading from deep inside my broken heart. I clench my fists and my eyes stare ahead, finally seeing myself through my blurred vision. I sob for my mother, I weep for the loneliness I feel without her and for my uncertain future.

Almost as quickly as it begins, the rain stops. The world stops. Only for a moment.Like I am caught between when time began and when time ended. I am nothing but am everything. The sea throws its last wave onto the wet sand then lies still,  tranquil. Silent.  Before my eyes is a florescent sea. A bright shocking bath of glory against a cruel bleak sky.

My eyes dry. The grey moves along the horizon until all that remains is a flawless sky that never ends. The sun lies down  on the clear and rested water and time resumes.For the first time in a long time I understand. My close encounter with a tropical storm has awakened me. Like the storm, my grief is fierce but beautiful and will eventually pass. I am alive. I can be whole.

 

©Eilidh G Clark

 

It’s Always Night Here

Everything is dark. I wonder if the orange heat has burned my eyes out. Some of my whiskers have fallen off because I keep banging against the dark. The night has grown walls all around me. I am normally free when the sun goes to sleep. It is the time when we own the world, when we can stretch our legs and run and play with hardly any fear.  You see, before the orange heat, we could see quite fine when the day turned black. I need a diddle but I keep banging into darkness and there is no room.  I want my Mummy.

          I had thought we were together, all seven of us, and Mummy. I guess I was wrong. Everything had felt confusing, with all the orange heat mixed up with the night blackness, which turned into poisoned air, and made  seeing and breathing ever so hard.

My tail is all cramped and curled up and it stings from top to bottom. I cannot sweep it out for relief and I have to sit on it which makes it feel burny and sore . The dark is like shut-eye and I feel confused. My fur is all itchy and sticky. I want to ask Mummy what to do. I am afraid. Wait. There is a little stripe of light in a part where the dark isn’t mixed up. I press my nose really close to it but the tip of my nose nips so I shuffle onto my side and stretch my paw out and scrape. Everything smells wrong. There is a scratchy smell and it bites my throat. I push one claw into the light stripe and it gets stuck. I think maybe the world has shrunk.

I think my foot is broken. It won’t move and it feels like it is facing the wrong way. There is a sharp stretchy feeling wrapped all around it. When I try to press it on the floor I feel my head go all wishy-washy and I nearly get sick. You see, I think it broke because I was looking at the light stripe and I nearly pushed my paw right into it but then everything started to move. My body flew  upwards but the night has grown a roof and I was crashed back down hard onto the floor and it kept happening over and over. I tried to get my paw out of the light stripe but it stayed stuck and I tried to shout out but I choked. I think my head is still moving up and down. I’m really too hot and I need something to drink. I think I diddled on the floor, it smells really horrible and it’s in my fur.

Everything is noisy. I can hear my heart beating really loud like it’s outside of me. As well, there is a loud squealing sound that I think is in my brain but its outside of my brain too, squeezing me tighter and tighter, and I have to breathe proper fast to stop it crushing me. I don’t understand where I am. Is this the world? I’m scared and I can’t run because there is no forward or backward, just a solid end in the darkness. I think my breath is the only air around me and I have to keep sucking it back in just in case it goes away and I can’t breathe anymore.

I wish Mummy was here, or my brothers. Callum is the oldest, he is three and even though he bites my tail sometimes he is still big and strong and could easily push hard into the light stripe. I think the light stripe is where the world used to be and I am stuck outside of it. I know I’m trapped or stuck or something. Billy is the same age as me; he can chew his way through everything. He once chewed a whole white shiny bag that flew into our nest and got stuck. Only instead of spitting out the shiny stuff he ate it and was proper sick then pooped out white curly snakes; it was rotten. I bet he could chew a hole through this outside world and let me back in to the proper one. Philip, Lawrence, Salvador and Russell are all my age and we cuddle lots. We had only just got our brown fur when the high sun came last week. It’s nice to nuzzle your nose into your brothers soft warm belly. Mummy has the best fur though. It’s long and white and smells like grass and corn and sunshine, even in the night. It’s always night here but it’s not freedom. This night blinds me, it is a prison with walls and a roof and no day, except the light stripe. Perhaps the sun has been folded up and the dark has squeezed it so tight it can only peep through the edges of night.

I don’t know how I got here. We were playing just outside the nest. Mummy was having a snooze, and the daytime was nearly packed-up. The field was all soft and swaying. The corn was making lovely long grey shadows on the ground that were shaking and shivering, and we were trying to catch them. The field was swishing and whistling and Mummy was snoring in the nest. Then all at once we stopped. There was a new sound. It was like a hissing and crackling and we could hear screaming and laughing from the people folk that pass by outside of our field.

“Stay away from the people folks,” Mummy always warned us with squinted eyes which meant ‘no joking’.

“They can never catch us Mummy, we are too fast,” Callum said with some reassurance.

“Keep away,” she just kept saying, “Them people folks don’t like us mice.”

So we were standing listening to the crackle and hissing and snapping when the air started to get terribly hot. Through the grass and corn, the air looked thicker as if it was not clear and see-through anymore and it made my eyes water. We ran to tell Mummy, her nose was already twitchy because the air smelled thick. She woke up just as we were about to shake her and her eyes were the biggest fear balls I ever saw.

“Fire!” she shouted. “Run.”

None of us knew what to do except trust in those big round fear eyes and follow her. I looked behind me and saw the orange heat. I think that’s what fire is. It was big and fast and chasing us. It swayed and stretched higher than the corn and spat little pieces of orange heat up into the sky, then angrily grabbed them back down again. It whipped and waved and grabbed the corn and grass into its belly which just made it bigger and angrier.

We were fast but the orange heat was faster. I ran and ran. I couldn’t see my family anymore because we were running in black air. It wasn’t just the dark, the dark was our friend, it was the night, the night had come down too quick and it got mixed up with the orange heat. It made my breathing hurt. It’s hard to run with your tail off the floor but the night had attached to my tail and the orange heat was nipping it. I ran faster and faster until I was up on a hill outside of the field. I felt like my eyes were going to pop right out of my face. I stopped to look at where our little nest was but everything was orange. I was about to carry on running when I started to fly. It was like my tail was pulling my up to the sky. I wriggled and shook my body and closed my eyes tight to stop my brains falling out of my ears. Then I felt floor. The orange heat was gone and the world had gotten so small that I couldn’t move.

I think I am outside of the world. I think I flew into a pocket of the mixed up night by accident and I got stuck. If I go to sleep, maybe when the day comes the light stripe will grow and melt the night away and I can find my family. I miss my family. I diddled again and my paws are dipped in it. I feel really hot but I can’t stop shivering. I will try to sleep, if only I could stop shaking.

It’s still dark but I cannot see like I normally can. The light stripe is fading away and I think perhaps the weird darkness has stolen me and I am sinking deeper and deeper into it. The squealing isn’t so loud anymore but my heart has moved from my belly to my ears and I can feel it just as loud as I can hear it beating. If I push my face right up to where the light stripe is fading, I can smell something new. It smells like turnip or cow droppings or both mixed up and made worse by the warmth. It isn’t a good smell but it feels cooler that this dark pocket which smells of diddle and orange night and rotten skin. My paw is still very sore but I can move it so maybe when you’re lost you can’t be broken because you don’t really exist in the world. I wish it would make the pain less though. I want to sleep again but my tongue is stuck to my teeth and I need to hold it inside my mouth to make a little wetness, otherwise it might fall off. Besides, if it hits the floor it might taste diddle and then I might die.

I feel like I am moving but I haven’t even sat up. I might be dreaming. But the light stripe is bright again and I think I can smell the world, the real world.

I’m falling………

I felt  like I was falling forever but I have landed exactly where I was.  It hurt, my bones are shaking and I can hardly stand up. It is still night and I am still almost blind. I bundle myself tight into a ball and cry. I want my Mummy so bad.

Just when I thought I was lost forever, the day came again. I was sucked back out of the mixed up night with my tail, and I seemed to hover in the air upside down for such a long time. I squeezed my eyes shut but when I didn’t move, I opened one of them just a little and saw a giant eye with long wiry eye-lashes blinking at me. It was huge and green with a giant black circle in the middle that grew and grew. I twisted and shook and screamed so hard because I had never seen anything so awful in my life.

I am falling to the ground, like in slow motion. The grass is warm but ever so short and I can’t even hide. My eyes sting and my legs are shaking but I manage to run a little.  I have to keep going forward and never stopping for fear of the orange heat and tangled darkness catching me again. Maybe if I can stay in the light long enough Mummy will find me and take me home. I wonder if I have a home.

©Eilidh G Clark