Tuesday 31 July 2018

Short story: 'Buried' (the first piece of fiction I've ever shared online!)

Hello you. 

Well, this is something new; I'm sharing a short story of mine today. Which is a first. 

I wrote it last summer, as my final piece of work for Laura Jane Williams's 'Don’t Be a Writer, Be a
' writing course, where the prompt had been to write a short story inspired, somehow, by the prompt 'Woman in crisis'. And it features several generations of women, with the crisis affecting the woman 'off stage' so to speak, the Great Grandmother of the narrator. 

A narrator who - for the record - is not me! It's written in a similar tone to how I write here so I thought I'd just clarify before we begin that it's definitely fiction and not based on my life or family at all. (The photos aren't of my family members either, they're just part of my vintage paper collection!).

If you follow me on Instagram you might have seen that I hinted, in this recent post, that this story features the topic of conscientious objection. A subject I'm particularly interested in and one which I spent some time researching last year; which is how this story came to revolve around the revelation that ... well ... no ... I won't spoil it for you ... I'll just let you get on and read it for yourself.  So, please enjoy ... 


Buried: a story by Julie Kirk 

“I’ll never forget what she said to us on the day of me grandmother’s funeral.”

My own grandmother had paused leafing through an old photo album and with a nobbled finger was tapping at the image of her mother.

“There was me -” she concentrated, squinting behind bifocals, peeling away the years “- our Sally-Anne, Lillian, George-Henry – Georgie – you never met him, he was long gone before you were even a twinkle.” She nudged me playfully, her well-rounded but ageing flesh yielding to mine. “And, erm … who have I said? Me, Sal …” she silently counted, head nodding, trying to recall the names which had grown increasingly, maddeningly, elusive. “Did I say Arthur?” 

I shook my head, no, and the omission seemed to pain her. 

“Well, he was still with us then so ... yes, Arthur.”

And she set the scene: it was the morning of the funeral and she and her siblings were waiting for their mother in the front parlour, lined up as if on parade. As she began casting back, though I could feel the comforting weight of her against my arm, I felt part of her slip elsewhere. 

“There we all were, a bit sniffly and teary, missing Granny - even though she was right behind us, in her coffin - it was what people did in them days.” Then, like a film set collapsing around Buster Keaton’s ears, the intervening years dropped away, leaving her standing awkwardly in a cold street house in 1913.

“And mother looks us up and down” she went on “and says ‘Well, at least you’re all looking smart; no one can say owt about that’. That was it, all she had to say. Bugger that her mother was dead and her kiddies were sad. So long as we weren’t giving the neighbours nowt to talk about, she was happy.” 

Her finger struck the photograph, a typist hitting a full-stop. 

“Right stuck up bitch she was.”

“Grandma!” I mock-chastised. Not that the sentiment itself had surprised me, I’d always sensed the spectre of a rift, but it was more the rawness, the youthfulness, of it.

“What?” she asked defiantly. “No, no. You don’t know. Two of my brothers would be alive today if she hadn’t worried so bloody much what other people thought.”

“Well, maybe not quite, eh?” I said, meaning they’d be well over 100 by now, but, misunderstanding, she dug in.

“Listen, when that war broke out, the first one I mean, our Georgie couldn’t wait to get his head in an army cap. It was all he’d talk about, thought it’d be one big adventure.” she said, officiously polishing her glasses with a hankie. “Said he’d be off with his pals the minute the recruiters set up in the town centre.” she gestured behind her with the arm of the frames. “But, she wouldn’t have it, would she? Leaving home? Going off to war? Not her blue-eyed. Oh no!”

Apparently, a battle had then commenced within the walls of their two-up two-down and Gran described how my Great Grandmother had initially thought that ordering her son not to enlist would be enough to stop him. Then, when it became clear it wouldn’t, she’d tried ‘weeping and wailing for a week solid’ instead.

“But, he must have persuaded her, because ...” I flipped ahead in the album to a photo of lanky limbs trussed up in scratchy wool; Georgie as a Tommy.

“Oh, he went alright. But that was down to Mother seeing Alfie Monroe from a few doors down walking past in uniform. And well, that was that.” With a finger, she made slow circular movements against her temple. “Little cogs started turning. Got her thinking how impressive her boy would look in uniform, how everyone would look up to him ‘doing his bit’”. She shook her head in something close to disgust. “That dried her tears sharpish and he was signed-up by the end of the week.”

“Then once that novelty wore off she turned to Arthur. But he’d always been a gentle one - ‘Soft as shite’ me Dad used to say. And he wouldn’t go. Wouldn’t take a life. Said all the weeping and wailing she liked wouldn’t change his mind.”

Satisfaction rippled over her face as she recounted how, despite the pressure, from his parents, from men too old to sign-up, and even from ‘some daft girls up on Market Street who’d pushed a white feather into his pocket’, Arthur steadfastly refused to enlist.

“And then conscription came in, didn’t it? Kitchener wanted you” she turned to me and pointed “and he was going to bloody well have you, whether you liked it or not.” 

“So, what happened?” I asked, turning the pages to check if I’d missed a photo of Arthur in uniform. I hadn’t.

“He became a conchie.” she announced matter-of-factly. “An erm, what was it now, oh, err, an ‘Absolutist’, that’s it, that’s what called him. Couldn’t budge him an inch. Went to jail for it in the end.”

I was confused. Until then, Great Uncle Arthur was just someone who’d pressed a shiny coin into my palm, or conspiratorially sneaked me a packet of crisps during one of his post-pub Saturday afternoon visits to Gran and Grandad’s. As a toddler, I’d ridden on his shoulders; as a travel-hungry teenager I’d pummelled him for stories about his trips to Europe. And now I had to make space in my understanding for Arthur the conscientious objector, Arthur the prisoner.

When I told Gran that this was the first I’d heard of it, she hooted.

“Oh, she’d’ve liked that would Mother! Me keeping the family secret.”

She gave the photo album a nudge, sending a plate of digestives skittering across the table like a game of shove ha’penny. “She never mentioned him again after they put him in that prison y’know?”

I frowned sceptically.

“No. Not once.” she stood firm. “When he refused to do anything for the war effort she was ashamed. Wouldn’t visit or write, forbid any of us to an’all. Said he was good as dead to her.”

“What? Really?” I asked. “She didn’t.”

“She did.” she flashed me an ‘I told you so’ face and continued. “That’s what I’m telling you, that’s what my mother was like. And, wait ‘til you hear this, even when Georgie was killed in action, God rest his soul, she still wouldn’t have anything to do with Arthur. Could’ve welcomed him home, water under the bridge. Could’ve held one of her sons again. But no. Nothing.” she paused before delivering the final blow.

“The three of us left at home always said that the Jerrys killed one of our brothers and our mother killed off the other.”

“Oh Gran.” I sighed, reaching out to take her hand, but she gently waved me – and her own approaching tears – away. 

With a crack of cartilage, she levered herself out of the chair, walked around the table to rescue the biscuits from their precarious position on the edge, and wound herself forward in time a little.

“Y’know I never saw hide nor hair of him again until after the second war; 1947 it was. At her funeral.”

She came to a stop behind my chair and with arthritic hands, fingers bent at a right angle to the palms, held on to my shoulders.

“All them years of nothing and then there he was. Big and broad. Suited and booted. A proper man. Different, but when I looked in his eyes he was still there. Me big brother. And, do you know what I said to him, after all that time?”
I tipped my head backwards to look up into her face “Tell me”.

“‘Well,’ I said, ‘You can take that off for a start’ and I pulled at his tie – posh one it was – in a big knot.” she smoothed her fingertips against my shirt collars as she spoke. “And I said to him ‘If you’re going to look all smart like that, what will anyone have to talk about?’”

“And, at first, I thought it’d been too long, been too many years in between, that he wouldn’t know what I getting at. But then he lifts his big hands to the top of my head and he says, ‘In which case …’ and he ruffles my hair into a right mess! I’d only had it set that morning. And, well, we must have looked a proper pair; him with his tie all skewwhiff and my perm like a bird’s nest. Mother’ll have been rolling in her box!” And she flipped my fringe loose from behind my ears with a laugh that sparked from deep within her.

“And then” she said, after the laughter had burnt out into a splutter. “Then, we held each other’s hand … and watched them drop her into the soil.” 


So - I hope that was a vaguely diverting ... erm ... diversion in your day. 

If you know someone who might enjoy reading it too, will you direct them towards it? Thank you, you're ace.

Feel free to leave me a comment either here, (or on Instagram where I'm @withjuliekirk), either: 
  • about my story;
  • about short-stories you think I'll enjoy;
  • about conscientious objection as a subject;
  • about your own family experiences of war ... or secrets ... or both;
  • or about anything else this post has stirred up in you. 
Thanks for reading me today. 


Friday 6 July 2018

50 Shades of Nay. How I'm ending my relationship with hair dye and embracing the grey.

Hey you. 

If you follow me on Instagram - @withjuliekirk - you'll already have a heads-up on this because I spent much of the day posting IG Stories while I tried out a hair dye removal cream in the hopes it would reveal the grey beneath. (Spoiler alert: it didn't).

(BTW: I've saved all of those stories in my 'Grey Hair' section of my IG ‘Highlights’ if you fancy watching me attempt to wrap my head in clingfilm. And why wouldn't you want to do that?)

So, yes, I've decided to share my flirtation with grey here and Instagram. And, because I'm not above using a terrible pun in telling you all about it, please welcome the new no-dye blog series I'm shamelessly calling... 50 Shades of Nay.

I don’t like being ‘found out’.

If I’m entirely honest, I find it weird enough when people know things about me that are general knowledge, so having people know something about me that I’m actively trying to hide is, at best, rattling.

And, having my grey roots breaking free and glinting shamelessly in the sunshine, revealing their natural naked selves to all and sundry, has come to feel too exposing. Too out of my control. Too furtive.

But rather than spur me on to do a better job at hiding them, maybe by buying one of those root sprays, I’m doing the opposite: I’m exposing myself.

No, wait. Hang on there. I didn’t mean it quite like that. Let me rephrase …
  • I’m no longer waiting for my roots to give me away.
  • I’m going to hide them in plain sight instead; by growing them out.
  • They’ll no longer be able to scream ‘grey roots’ when the rest of my hair is grey too. 
  • (Yes, I accept that going grey is going to bring with it its own delightful set of neuroses ... but I'm saving those for a future blog post!)

So, for the foreseeable future at least I’m laying down my disposable gloves, because I’m done dyeing.

I’m not ruling out ever turning to dye again. After all it can be fun. I mean, that’s why I originally started dyeing it. It was a relatively quick and easy way to play with my image, to temporarily become someone else and often, in doing so, step further into myself.

Thinking back, there's been:
  • The perfect peach streaks that delightfully appeared when I experimented with an all-over copper on top of blonde highlights.
  • The sharp red bob with a fringe the summer I took a film-making course.
  • The brazen burgundy streaks on a white hotel pillowcase, from where my hair was drenched in the rain the night I saw Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet.
  • Plus all the shades of rich woods, precious metals and gemstones a shop shelf can hold.

But then, as more grey began to emerge, I started to leave the fun colours behind. 

The regrowth from those would leave me wearing three distinct colours
  • the dyed shade, 
  • my own dark-brown roots,
  •  … and the greys in between.
Which is when I took up cafĂ© colours instead, turning to ‘iced coffee’ and ‘frosted chocolate’. Which, as well as making me peckish, reduced the obvious distinction between the dyed lengths and my natural roots. Which offered less of an obvious regrowth and yet ... there were still the greys making their way through to the surface like an invasive plant forcing its way from the darkness of a tumbledown shed and out into daylight.

And then, more recently I've been using the underwhelmingly titled ‘Dark Brown’ as a cover-up and now - along with the enthusiasm of whichever copywriter named that shade - my desire to dye has just fizzled out.

(I suddenly feel like getting on my hands and knees. looking up to the sky, shaking my fists and yelling 'I don't wanna dye!!!!' But then ... maybe I breathed in too many fumes from the dye-stripper.)

My first step towards going grey: making the decision to stop dyeing. 

(AKA: Saying 'nay' to dye. Because '50 Shades of No' doesn't roll of the tongue as easily.)

The last time I dyed my hair was 11 weeks ago, on the 16th April (2018). 

Then I used a lighter brown than usual (probably called something inspiring like ‘A Lighter Brown Than Usual’) and it didn’t really cover the grey. So at that point, fed up with wasting the time, money and mental energy hiding grey had begun to take, I already had one foot out of the dyeing door.

Finally, when I got a fringe cut in, two months ago, a lot of the grey which had  - until then - been skilfully lurking beneath my parting was suddenly pulled front and centre. And became really obvious:

At this point I'd begun to think life would be much more streamlined if I just stopped worrying about going grey, and allowed it to happen. 

Kind of like a 'Frankie Goes to Hollywood approach to hair dyeing': Relax don't do it, When you want to go to it. Relax don't do it, When you want to ... erm .. grow out your grey. 

Or something like that. 

It was about this time that, in order to speed up the process, I genuinely considered either cutting it very short ... or just shaving it off altogether and seeing what grew back! 

I think I'm over that urge now.

However, the next time I see my stylist I will definitely be asking for something a bit shorter than usual. (I won't be mentioning shaving it off though, because judging by how excited she was when I got her to give me an undercut 2 years ago, I think she might leap at the challenge!)

So, yes, cutting it off is one way to get rid of the over-dyed lengths, but I'm impatient. And I hate the way you can see the grow-out line and so ... I turned to chemicals. 

My second step towards going grey: hair dye removal cream.

Faced with a calendar's worth of waiting for a full head of grey, I wanted quicker results and so I bought myself a hair colour remover product.

Ahem ... I may have taken the opportunity to take some super-flattering photos that - should I ever become a singer songwriter - I will consider for use as album covers. 

I turned to this method - the colour remover - not the stunning 'Old Towel Portraits',  mainly to remove the annoying band left behind from those lighter dyes I mentioned. 

If my hair is going to end up two-tone dark brown / grey for the next however many years it takes for me to go as white as all of the flesh that's suddenly gone on display during this heat wave, then so be it.

I'll call it zebra-hair and it'll be on-brand. 

But I don’t need black, white and a big four inch strip of  lighter brown too. Plus, if the remover managed to "Remove all types of dark colour build-up" - as was promised on the box - then all the better.  

However ... as anyone who's watch the Instagram Stories I filmed during this lengthy (and sulphurous) process will already be aware ... 

Reader, it didn't work. 

Rinse until the water runs clear it said.  The water ran clear from the very start. Nothing moved. 

So far, so disappointing.

But that's not all.

Not only did it not remove that band of lighter colour I was so keen to wave goodbye ... 

Reader, it brightened it and made it MORE OBVIOUS!!

I mean ...

I suppose there's a chance I could have better results if I go to the salon and have my stylist work her magic on it but, for now, I'm just going to live with it, and look for the positives (I'm digging deep for these, people. Deep.): 
  • the conditioning treatment it came with made my hair really shiny and soft, like after dyeing. Which I haven't had for the 3 months without dye so ... that's something
  • It's kind of, almost, blended out some of that annoying harsh regrowth line. That, or the colour's just so bright now it's dazzled my yes and I can't see straight!
  • And ... I got an unexpected new colour for summer! 

But all of this has now left me faced with the one method I was trying to avoid: patience. 

Because that's something I've got in abundance. *Rolls eyes so hard they vanish beneath my newly ginger fringe*.

But I'll give it a try. What choice to I have? 

In the meantime I'm laying down at the feet of the Pinterest gods and pinning images of all the stylish grey haired women I can find. 

To motivate me.

To stop me from slowing down in the 'Permanent Colour' aisle the next time I'm walking through Boots. 

To keep me going. 

To keep me going grey


Now I want to hear from you
  • Have you let your grey grow out? 
  • How long did it take? 
  • How did you stay motivated?
  • What have you learned?
  • Did you go back to dye?
  • Has anyone had grey highlights put in to blend it through .... that's my next big plan! 
  • Anything else I should know?
Oh and ... 

If you dye your hair, please know this:
  • We can still be friends. 
  • This is a personal experiment based on aesthetics and a desire to be free of hassle ... it is not a moral/ethical/social judgement!
  • I am not going to become a militant pro-grey activist but I will be occasionally blogging and Instagramming my journey to the grey side!
So do get in touch - whether that's here in the comments, or on Facebook, Instagram, email, in the street (ew, on second thought maybe not, I don't do casual talking in the street.)

Under this newly orange, brown and white hair ... I'm all ears. 

Julie x 

p.s: Feel free to pin / share this image if you think your friends / followers would be interested in reading this. Thanks in advance!