Sunday, 11 March 2018

Pop Home And Put The Kettle On

(Friday was quiet... Saturday had a surprise birthday barbecue in it.)

Granma (aka Mummy) Grace in her wheelchair, layered in coat, hat, scarf, gloves, mittens, light filtering glasses and blanket; she grins, showing a gap, proving over and over that real beauty and perfection are not the same.

Mr does the chair pushing, to the Post Office on Cowick Street, and joins a queue.

It is sixty years to the day since our Grace had waddled up the snow littered street to fetch the midwife and the midwife said you’ve got one coming have you, well pop home and put the kettle on, I’ll be down in a bit.
Grace laughs: yes, she says, it was snowing.

Dog and me wander, she is nose to ground, head full of information she gleans from urine.
(A little collie greets her, but she’s barely distracted, chasing a story peed into brick.)

Drizzle hovers. The wind is pushing it down the neck of my coat. It sticks in my hair.

Then Mr takes Dog, and I take Grace, and she balances a basket on her knee while we choose - there’s so much choice we impose a boundary of our own - just because the word pizza was mentioned earlier, it’s Italian-ish, a feast for Mr’s birthday.
Simple stuff.
Bread. Olives.
Grace has loved olives but she takes only plain food now, and tablets.

We hide the treats in a bag patterned in kittens, head back over the bridge where the wind is whirling, where a cormorant dives and swans are getting bread off people and an aeroplane flies over, ghosted in low cloud. Choppy water flows - me and Dog feel the call of it, the cold, muddy whoosh to the soul.
Dog rolls her eyes, regrets her domestication.

Warm in the little flat, we drape damp fabrics over door tops.
60 years, says Mr.

We look out at the rain and the pigeons gathered.

Seventeen geese, yesterday, Grace says; two swans, a wren, a pair of robins.
Dog puts her nose to the door and falls asleep.
We had a call, earlier, from Laos: held up a magic mirror and talked face to face with our travelling daughter, and she’s been ill and is now recovering and planning for new places: a life of waterfalls and visa requirements.
Small adventures for us today.
We put the kettle on.

Cake made by Abbey Mac (eldest daughter) - tasted as good as it looked!

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Snow Bones At The Beach

Frozen old snow-bones gather in the shade, slanted lumps in whites and greys.

(Think of Mae West: I used to be Snow White - but I drifted.)

Sun at midday reminds us of heat. 

The night sky is brittle, clear, the stars can be seen here, where the dark is let be.

Mornings bloom frost, and also flowers, tender flowers reviving.
Bees wake. They fly like they have winter aches, holding out legs in the noon warmth.

Down at the beach there is snow hiding under sand, and cliff icicles, and melt water flowing, tugging at our boots, tumbling, all the way to the low tide edge.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Spring's Wild Start

‘In like a lion, out like a lamb’ is the weather saying for March, the roar of the lion being usually equated with storms.

We have snow.

Kittenish at first, growing pouncier and slicier, as the roads get icier.
Red weather warnings flagged all over, venues shut, shops shut, schools shut.
Here, as the wind chill gets dangerous, we layer up, we take a walk - a sensible, across some fields amble, not a survival route.

We are hoping that a walk out will be brisk and keep our circulation functional. With both fires lit, the house is not warm. The bathroom is like outdoors, less the wind chill, plus a strong draft.
I always claim to like the outdoor nature of our bathroom, it keeps you connected to the seasons, to the weather. I do like that - yet also wary of being frozen to the toilet seat.

Snow flurries, evenly spaced, pleasing to the eye, all the air filled with this pretty dance.
Down the lane we make first footprints. Dog looks grubby in the pristine drift.
Taking shelter from sharp wind we turn across a field, follow a shallow stream, into the cover of trees, through spiky saplings of holly and hawthorn. Pause awhile by the disused tip, see the yesteryear fridges and rolled old tyres gain a blank gleam.
We navigate under the trunk of a recent fall, admiring the knot work of ivy stem.
Slide under barb wire, onto road, where other feet have trod - no vehicles. Up the steep hill to spy out, but there’s no horizon, no sky, just grey cloud that breaks into pale pieces, and us, and our grubby hound.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Compost For Stories And Garden

6am. Grandchild 3 stirs me from disturbed sleep - fleeing snores and soothing a toddler and a jumbled dream about my dog trying to wake up because she wants a coffee - with this sentence:
‘Granma, Dog’s done a poo in the kitchen, a really big one!’

Explains the dream.

I say not to worry, I’ll clean it up - does Mummy keep cleaning things under the sink? Yes, says my observant side kick, and opens a drawer to fetch me a dust cloth.
I do not use the duster.

‘I think there’s another bit here,’ G3 advises.
‘Might just be a bit of ordinary dirt,’ I say, but she’s stuck her toe in it, so, yes, it was poop.
Toe and floor are disinfected. I make coffee, strong coffee.
Dog lies in corner, affects an apologetic face.
G3, unaffected, eats two breakfasts before her sister shouts to be fetched.

She’s beaming in her cot, our Grandchild 5, framed in curls, holding up her arms.
She’s also sticky. Too late, Granma!
Straight to the shower, G5, never mind the glower.
That should be enough, but after all that breakfast (we’re up to three and a half by now) G3 needs bathroom assistance and she’s said please, a Granma cannot refuse.

Grandad appears, he cooks up another breakfast and makes more coffee and can toilet himself, all of which I am happy about.

When the parents return and hear about the mess and laugh and make hot chocolate, these grandparents take repentant Dog for a walk at Harrowbeer, which was an airfield where Second World War pilots once mustered, and now people come to tread their boots on the grown over landing strips, and pick their steps through what the ponies have dropped.
We should have brought a bag, Grandad notes, mindful of feeding a large garden.
No thanks, this Granma says, I’ve had enough for today.

But when we get home we remember that we’d ordered ten bags from the annual dung run.
I say, ‘I’ll get my gloves.’

And though the wind has icy teeth, daffodils filter light, snowdrops nod, lumping bags brings on a glow, and there we go: good compost in the making, good memories, good stories.

Sit with another coffee (mug sized cup, perfect for hand warming) thinking of this: always after grandchildren time I sort of digest who they are - ruminate - how they are growing, what people they are becoming.

I have a grand view, hedged fields, the tree line by the river, valley slopes.
I wonder at my own future too - we are all always works in process - tip up my cup to read the grounds.
Pretty sure it was shouting YES, though I hadn’t phrased a question. 

Friday, 23 February 2018

Cephalod Coffeehouse: Book Review February

The Crow Road
Iain Banks

Mostly I'm behind the times on reading, because my books are most often purchased via the 50 pence box of our local secondhand bookstore. This one was loaned to me though. The nice thing about reading old books is if there was a fuss about it at the time, I will have forgotten, and read open minded. I had no idea this was any kind of detective novel when I began, it only occurred to me afterwards that there was a mystery to solve. I was caught up in the main character, and the fun of it. It is peppered with death, but warm hearted, and I loved the landscapes. The change in narrator from Prentice to his father, the moving time line, these made the reading a little fragmented but never disagreeable.
'It was the day my Grandmother exploded' is an engaging first sentence, and it held my attention throughout. I'm terrible at summing up plots so I stole the following from Wikipedia, for those who might need more info:

'Prentice's uncle Rory has disappeared eight years previously while writing a book called The Crow Road. Prentice becomes obsessed with papers his uncle left behind and sets out to solve the mystery. Along the way he must cope with estrangement from his father, unrequited love, sibling rivalry, and failure at his studies.
The estrangement from his father concerns belief in God or an afterlife. Prentice cannot accept a universe without some higher power, some purpose; he can't believe that people can just cease to exist when they die. His father dogmatically denies the existence of God, universal purpose, and the afterlife.
A parallel plot is Prentice's gradual transition from an adolescent fixation on one young woman to a more mature love for another.
Prentice's efforts to piece together Uncle Rory's fragmentary notes and the minimal clues surrounding his disappearance mirror his efforts to make sense of the world, love, and life in general. The narrative is also fragmentary, leaping days, months, years, or decades back and forth with little or no warning, so the reader must also piece things together.'

River Paddle On A Frosty Day

Read my To Do list - threw it on the fire. 

Put on my red coat. 
Found two dry oak leaves in a pocket -  catch a falling leaf, get a wish, I remembered, so I put them on the fire too, to let the wishes be free. 
And walked back to where that tree stood bare, and further through the woods. 
I found treasures, such as stacks and globs of fungus growing in turned up roots - that tree too I knew - before it fell, recalling how its roots were snaky and caught at our feet. 

I found the drowned quarry blooming with algae like some suspect cauldron, stirred with weeping branches.
Heard the wind above singing in a language I recognised but could not translate.

Rested briefly at my favourite bench, a felled tree this one, left jutting over the river. 

Strolled to where the river has a beach, storm strewn in flat stones; the wind chill too much for an unplanned swim by an un-furred creature. 
At my feet, two heart shaped stones. Puddles have skins of ice. 

But I long for the water.

Walk further, to the mossed stone bank, wind-shielded by valley hills. 

Deep green, deep spongy moss where I slip off each boot, each sock, laugh at the pale glow of this skin. The water is cold, biting cold, the un-mossed rocks too slippery and too sharp - this paddle is done in less than half a minute - I love every second of it. 
Sit on a dry slab, chuckling, dabbing off drips, rolling good socks onto bright feet. 

Monday, 19 February 2018


When you work as a carer and your shifts become palliative, the outcome is obvious.
There’s a tumble of variables around how you feel about this: how your relationship was with this other human, were they suffering, and suchlike.
There is a need to maintain professional distance, yet be truthful with yourself.

There are endings. There are last meetings of friends and family. Hard to envision a life shared without tears, regrets, hilarious remembrances. The most complicated things can become simple - the simplest gesture, a kaleidoscope of references.

You look back too and see, that trip out turned out to be the last.
The last time the favourite top was worn, the last time we watched the favourite film.
But that glance back is not sad, exactly.
Because of your work, something wonderful happened. And kept happening.
A luminosity.

When death came - it was as though an artist had signed a fine portrait.

How lucky we were, to be part of that. To witness so readily the joy in our grief.

Grief is deeply personal, I do believe, and fundamental. As much as it can fracture, it can join us, and we can resolve to work together to create better worlds. That’s my universal view.

My personal tribute was impromptu, towel-less. Having kept myself wrapped up all winter to avoid being a carrier of respiratory germs, I saw the sea rolling and kicked off my trousers along with my boots, and nearly lost my abandoned clothes to the fast tide, and dipped my shocked-happy body in the ocean, and swam. 

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Future Me

Under the blurred waxing of a blood moon, we are frowning, getting pestered with details, nothing so vital, just needing attention, but there’s not enough sleep for this nonsense.
Metaphorically one cannot step without finding a splinter in a sole, a bee in one’s hair, and the phone ringing and the hob on fire, and there’s no coffee.

There will be peace and quiet though, under that mess. I will find it. 
Might need help.

So I will meditate, I will take a guided meditation - I have a list and choose this one: Guidance From A Future Self. She will know about the mess and the peace.

So I am walking barefoot without splinters or thistles in an imaginary, familiar place, smelling warm salt air, fresh cut grass, to a bench where Future Me sits. I can’t see her clearly, she’s hazy, I like her presence, it seems wise.
How will I get to where you are? Is my question.
I don’t exist, she says, I only exist depending on what you do. I can’t help, it’s on you.

Never mind, I wake up and there is coffee, treacle thick, and I take Dog to the real beach.

In come the waves, wild, strong.
Are you coming in or out? Is my question.
Stand still, says the froth, you’ll not see anything unless you still yourself.
Yes, I say, soothed, and go home to make soup.

Of course Future Me is hazy. I’m building her from sea foam.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Book Review January

Hot Flashes & Cold Lemonade

Firstly - sorry for the late posting. Undertook 5 hours of sparring to raise money for a UK charity that helps prevent young suicide, we think we’ve raised over £2000 which is ten times what we expected, and I also entirely underestimated the toll on my arms. Made it through the week but not much typing happened! And if that wasn’t a good enough excuse, my care shifts have changed to waking nights. Good for your creativity, to be tired, apparently, as it unhitches your mind and lets things connect freely. It is not good for sentence structure or attention to punctuation so I’ll stick a secondary apology here in case none of the following makes sense.

The book I am reviewing is Hot Flashes & Cold Lemonade by Susan Flett Swiderski. It’s a first novel, self published, but not an entirely wild gamble. I have been reading Susan’s blog for eons, it’s a welcoming, humorous place to go, pretty sure every comment gets a response, and I really appreciate the work it must take to write and host.

Hot Flashes is a light toned novel, which I was expecting, given the hospitable bubbliness of the blog. The main protagonist, Pearl Bryzinski, has hit menopause, and her beloved Daddy has taken off (with that blue haired floory in the flashy brown Pinto). This throws a challenge to her usual positive demeanour, so everyday life has an immediate conflict. The plot uses this, along with a car crash, a heart attack, a trip to Atlantic City and some other things I don’t want to spoil, to highlight Pearl’s journey into seeing things as they really are, and being able to value what she really has.

The characters are layered, believable, and able to drive the plot: this is the right way round for me. There’s some grittiness to the subject matter too - I was reading it thinking, this author has more to give. If I nitpick, I would say the incontinent friend, while a fabulous thing to be putting in a book, was a bit distracting, and the eldest son maybe needed a pinch more charm to really make sense of his success.

There’s talk of a next novel, totally different, which I’m really looking forward to. It’s a good thing, to see a talent developing. 

2nd Purple t-shirt from left = me, v. tired!

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Laughing In The Morning

Our matriarch, the impish Granma Grace, has not had the best of times, of late.
A succession of hospital stays, a succession of strokes and falls - it has taken its toll on us all.
My sister-in-law has given up her job to care for her mother, and keep her cosy in her own home where she wants to stay. Mr takes over once a week to ease his sister’s work, and to spend time with the lady who has done so much for her children and her grandchildren and still won’t stop apologising that she can’t cook us all a feast these days.

‘I’d give up,’ she sighs, ‘but I’m too nosy, I want to see how everyone turns out!’
This is a good sentence.

She gets her words muddled, especially when tired, and some of them come out unintentionally inappropriate, some fantastically creative, burbling like a hillside brook, clear in meaning to us - because we know this scenery, this beautiful bonkers place of Grace.
We even pick up words. Paramacetameter is good for headaches, did you know?
Or Cerebatolamol.

It frustrates her, of course, but she also says that she knows big words, big fancy words, and nods smug, and then her grin turns into laughing.
Laughing is a human duty to her.

Her home is in a fine location for walking. Wide flat pathways edge river and canal, the water hosts swans, geese, ducks, gulls, cormorants, and kingfishers. 

Post storms, flood defences are churning.
A ladder floats by, torn from a mooring. Swans turn their bottoms up, where the water runs dark and flat. This morning there is a moon, a waning gibbous moon, keeping company with the sun.
Light skims the deep, makes a continuum of crystals in the overflow.

Down the path we walk, Dog jumps to swim alongside, the sun makes us squint.
Other people walk towards us.
Grace says, ‘Good morning,’ to them all.
And if they don’t respond she says, so clearly, ‘Well I think it is!’
There’s no duty in our laughing then. 

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Sparkly Ice Magic

A peek back at the void between Christmas and New Year. 
We filled it with grandchildren (and work, which is sort of cheating). 
Managed to corral four of the little Gs for Granma’s instantly regretted plan. 

‘Let’s go ice skating,’ she says, ‘at the Eden Project!’ 
It’s sparkly magic there and that has made Granma overlook her mortal fear of ice.
(Once there was an accident: head… crunch… she still hears the echo.)
But sparkly magic is strong, she tells herself.
Grandad rubs his knees to comfort them. 
Oh, but look at those four sparkly magic faces! 
Pretending altruism, Granma also pays for Uncle E to attend - Uncle E who can actually skate. 
(He isn’t fooled. He is bribed.)

‘You don’t have to skate, if you don’t want to.’ Granma says 1000 times, to each little G, forgetting that a lack of pressure will compel.
So she has to queue for skates, give up the welly boots, mince onto the ice.
Grandchild 1 is eight years minus one week; skating and smirking, he’s off. He fears looking foolish: he’s a blend of brave and ego-tastic right now.
Grandchild 4 gets first whirl with Uncle E, eyes wonder-wide, like a life size puppet.
Grandchildren 2 and 3 edge the rink, holding the rail, finding and losing balance, bursting with giggle-shrieks. 
Grandparents also edge, also giggle.
What on earth is happening?!
The music is fun, the lights do sparkle.

And look:
G1, sailing in bliss. Skill of a nearly eight year old. Nearly. Eight. 
G2 stays close to the rail, trials moves. Earthy chuckle when she slips. Starts again, somewhere between experimental and methodical.
G3 is fourandahalf. She flings herself, being surprised each time by a gap between expectation and reality. It does not undermine her recklessness at all. 
G4 is justfour. He has great determination to master a skill, interspersed with a great desire to be noticed, which he expresses through the medium of sudden dancing.
G3 and G4 account for most of Grandad’s shin bruises. And the delayed onset muscle soreness awaiting Uncle E. And Granma’s sore ribs from laughing. 
‘Were you scared, Granma?’ Mocks Uncle.
And she laughs again, because she had forgotten about the fear.
Magic Ice!

The little Gs are cold though, queuing in their wet socks to regain boots.
So - everyone runs to the top of the rain forest (biome) (looking out for dinosaurs) until they are too hot.
So - everyone runs to the ice cream kiosk - and outside to watch the laser show - bearded with melty chocolate, until they are too cold again, and tired, and being mean to each other and making up.

It’s past midnight before they are all asleep.

Grandad pours two brandies.
Granma says she might have ice with hers.
But only if it’s sparkly.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Diary Poem 2017

 One A5 silver diary has been the recipient of the many lists and appointments and events this last year. Everyday I have noted a moment that made that day particular to itself, a mindfulness exercise. Reading them through revealed a sort of diary poem so I applied some editing and here it is: 


Trees sing like whales in high wind.
Cold bright day, looked at the sea, ate fish.
Ate too much sugar, structured a poem.
First snowdrops seen.
What I thought a lupin turns out to be a hellebore.
Slept beautifically.

Storm Doris, bins akimbo!
Rescued scarecrow.
So many rainbows it's raining rainbows!
Stabbed in thumb by hawthorn.
Dog had toast and sausage.
Saw deer bound through sparse snowflakes. 
New Storm Doris blows over hellebore.
Did all my Tae Kwon-Do patterns and hid biscuit tin.
Watched hailstones bounce off camellia leaves.

Brown patch on sock does turn out to be coffee. 
Stuck in brambles with Dog. On release, shared pasty.
Misplaced slippers. Wearing leopard print dressing gown and rigger boots.
Breakfast cake.
Full flat moon.
Robbed of nap by fog.
Planted onion sets, worthy backache. 
Nearly asleep in pudding.

First swing ball of year, no injury.
Singe retinas on sunset, came home without trousers.
Shovelled dung in polytunnel. Red as a steamy lobster in dungy sauce.
Rayburn demise is the talk of the hamlet.
Saw big rat run across road, at Porth Kea.
First swallow of the year, spotted in our front room.
Saw a crow fly with whole slice of white bread in beak.
Hard to be cross with anyone who sings their own hold music.
Washed spilt wine off purplish Dog.

So happy I spontaneously wash up.
Owl swooped over windscreen, obscuring road.
Saw newts.
Oh, the beautiful moon!
Came home, have forgotten bread.
Lie in hammock one hour.
Hit slurry puddle on way home CAR STINKS.
Wrote a good speech about real life.
Ill, but hoovered.
Best lightening seen since about 1994.
'Granma, are you a grown up?'

Toilet broke, water off.
Too rainy for cement.
Failed to buy hat.
Accidentally washed slug.
Melted. Breaks spent lying in tree shadow.
River swim.
Where storms to?
Did a million things, drank coffee, hammock.
At Froggintor: three foals skipped by.
Kids home from Glastonbury, glittered and knackered.

Did 3rd Dan patterns in river, subsequently developed ringworm.
Only minor injuries, stole rum.
Lay in hammock for 8 hours.
Found 2 onions and ate them.
Watched swallows teaching their babies to fly.
First melon spotted in polytunnel.
Cleaned spider poo off window frames.
Ate first blackberry of year.

From our window spied a glow worm, plying her light in a field hedge.
Saw a kingfisher on the beach.
Parked illegally, watching fireworks, with picnic.
Blackberry roulette: sweet or sour?
Nearly stood on a frog.
'Those rocks have beards!’ A boy points from a rock pool.
Raspberry cream sponge.
Half baled fields in a low mist. Rose vodka nightcap.
Peripheral autumn detected.
Wore shorts and lived outdoors.
Weather immaculate. Cold brewed coffee and grasshopper company.
Picking mint barefoot.
Huge rain.

Huge stormy rain.
Found a hornet in my flip-flop.
Slept in car. Drinking coffee in morning mist.
Polytunnel, hacking back to hold off blight.
Eating blackberries dilute with rain.
Ate too much tagliatelle, regret nothing.
Fuelled by Toblerone.
Most of today's calories came from one sandwich.
I don't know what day it is.

Trying to bond with wood burner but too tired and miss Rayburn WahWahWah. Calm self with soup.
Rescued with pasty.
BABY! Had cuddles around 9pm. Fat moon, mottled cloud.
I try to nap in all lull moments.
Did make chicken pie.
Dog ate my fox skull.
Labrador tries to eat Portuguese Man O War.
Overdid coffee.
Popped into Truro for food, came back with vegan hair conditioner and Big Issue magazine.
Tired tired tired.
Storm Brian is a literal blast.
Observed party sized bottle of Lambrini stuck in low tide river mud.
Unexplained jar of olives in car door.
Waded in river, wet to the ribs and joyful.
Bristol - with chainsaw, did not go to plan.
Nice burgers, evil dog farts.
No one remembers how to alter car clock.

Pumpkin syrup is my new best friend. And, oh, that moon!
Listened to fireworks.
Homegrown veg, Roast dinner. David Attenborough.
First heavy frost. Mist rising from lake on morning drive.
Cold out and we have fires lit.
Biscuits for breakfast.
Swimming at Tunnel Beach. Tingly! Marvellous!
Picked meadowsweet.
Ate two strawberries (wild).
Nasturiums frost nipped. Talk of snow. 
Found a butterfly. It sat on my finger for years.
Out comes the moon, steals our hearts.

Trees, backlit in mist.
Heavens! We cleaned the fridge.
~Granma: 'How do you like your toast?’ 
~Grandchild 3: 'Oh, just uncomplicated please Granma.'
First world problems: in Tavistock, queuing for handmade cheese.
Barely past dark, contemplating sad news, out for an icy run, see the sun rise, colours like lava in ash.
New Years Eve, a beach walk, hailstones and rainbows.

Defining sentence of 2017: My pirate hammock has a chandelier.
Wishes for 2018: one van, one acre of land.