Tuesday, 10 July 2018

An Incubation

These hot days steam by. They desiccate. Grass is pale, brittle, like old parchment. Everything without shade is crotchety, dust, fetid, or sheltering in water. I have been all of these, and the last three days each a long shift with bare respite. And my ears become stoppered with infection. This hot world becomes silent. 
Bees move flower to flower, birds turn, open beaks, there are leaves twitching, soundless.
Did this air on skin always feel like a tumble of morning petals?
Um, yes. And the smell of the warming earth under dew, yes, that has ever been my treasure. 
But having a sense impaired, also yes, the focus on what is left is re-treasured; the sense of moment blooms, re-blooms. 
Meditative appreciation, under-grumbled with intermittent pain. 
As some people get tattooed for decorative reasons but some require each etch to bear meaning - I am in need of learning from every ailment. (I try to just be ill sometimes, not much success.)
The outside world is silent.
In my head a muffled heartbeat, a thrum of blood tide, a viscous blurring. Clear bubbles in the ear lava open, buzz and caw and trees-in-a-breeze noises appear, are swallowed up again. I am left in womb-ish muffles, wondering. 

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Late June: Sketches

On the longest day: rise early, missing sleep. Drive towards the risen sun, sunglasses perched. Across the cobbles of Exeter Quay snick-snicks an urban fox, slips quick paced under cover of scratchy shrubs. 
At the home of Granma Grace, an ambulance is summoned (spoiler alert: this turns out okay).
Paramedics Julia and Maria are asking us about end of life care: revive, we say, the quality of life is diminishing, the interest in it not piqued at all.
At the hospital, our Grace is so lovely everyone must be lovely by return. She brings the sparkle. 
A doctor brings her toast with maramalade, both paramedics pop in to see how she’s doing.
We’re home in time to broil chicken for her lunch, she’s having a good food day. 
(Angina medication to be revised.)
Back home there’s Grandchild 2 picking strawberries, she tells me a whale’s tongue weighs as much as an elephant. A cold wind whips up around us, a lovely respite.
We head for Bude, for two hot hours of training and teaching, then we slither to the sea pool at Summerleaze.
The cold wind comes, it keeps Grandad and Grandchild 2 in the shallows.
This Granma is in the water, the water is not cold. It clings around a body like silk and magic.
In the sky, a half moon, a full sun.

Hello Longest Day - here I am. In a saltwater pool contemplating diurnal pivots.
Later, one glass of wine, one bed.

Next day: in the garden is witnessed a blackbird flying by, a whole ripe cherry in its beak.
That day we pick the cherries in. (Most of them, some are for sharing.)

And then: bright round moon in a blue sky, sunset pouring orange red along the horizon, it’s so hot the night is sluggish to start, everything is: the van we bought is having an electric fault fixed, the van lent for its absence needs a jump start.
Everything is lava, the weighted and slow kind. 
We have cold fruit tea and stick some vodka in it.
We see, as the van hood slams, a fluoro-glow at the base of the willow arch - a glow worm!
And then we are running up and down the lane, sloshing our simple cocktails, ogling living lumps of light. 

And then: eat breakfast outside in spite of heat, a sort of protest. Drink cold coffee. And select a car insurance package out of a mass of text and promises and prices. The least popular job is done! 
Do other stuff but we’re too hot to remember what we are doing. Pour water on growing things. 
Wilt. Until the evening when the river water at Meldon turns my hands blue and I’m so happy to have that cold water pressed into my skin.
Sit in the car with a hot coffee, the filling moon behind us, sunset at our feet.

It’s Wednesday again: Mr and me go to visit Granma Grace, we take a stroll to the river so Dog can dip and while she splashes a little snake swims by. A young female adder, we think, but it could have been a grass snake - either way it was a joyful thing to see.
That afternoon, Mr, Dog, and Grace slouched down for a nap, while I wrote these notes and the yellow roses nodded at the open window.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

An Afternoon Nap

At the house of Granma Grace artefacts line each shelf. 
There's a lady in a yellow dress, she's been waltzing for years – decades – caught in a turn, petticoats fixed in a spin - she looks to her absent partner. 
There's a lady in festive red, and three more china beauties above dressed for spring, delicate, all looking to an absent return of gaze. 
On the room's highest shelf a china couple are fixed, blue and white, a dab of yellow, an accordion on his lap, they both look ahead. Toby jugs flank them, one has a roughly groomed beard. 
Below, in her adjustable chair, Granma nods her head in sleep. 

Myself, sat on the sofa adjacent, I would not pick out her life in figurines. I would think of a tablecloth - something just as pretty with cotton lace, with embroidered flowers, with variable shades of white where food stains had been scrubbed out, where one of us had spilt ketchup, another had splashed wine. 
Today I heated her breakfast milk, she ate her warmed cornflakes with the bowl on a lap tray, in her adjustable chair.

Granma Grace sleeps. 

Pigeons flock to the bird feeder she had set up outside. For now she does not watch them, nor comment on who prefers which seed mix nor tut when the crow noise scares them off. 

She is fast asleep, and could be anywhere. 

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Coffee Break On A Long Shift

I am listening - by which I mean absorbing - by which I mean I am becoming part of this - as though easing into the sea, arms and legs afloat, just drifting. I am tired. 
Last night I was tired - but the evening air was so refreshing and my garden was there in the magic dusk, glowing with iris and rose and dots of closing day flowers and the bath-pond so little yet in its stillness infinite deep and I grew to be awake, alive, embracing. 
Then it was midnight so I took a glass of dark wine to let sleep find me. Indoors was hot, I opened a window wide, then sleep did find me though twas all tumbled up, as though I had slept in storm waves. 
Then it was birds shrieking, singing, it was 4.55am, sleep had fled, untraceable. 
Pulled on garden clothes, went out to pour water on plants, ready for a hot day. I knew I would be at work, missing out, glad for bills paid, longing for my own land and no alarm clocks - the birds can wake me and I will find naps in hammocks, I will hunt them, feral.
So all day now I must stop to listen, to remember. I am here and here is valid. 
There is learning to be done.
Gulls cry to the salt breeze, clouds drift - and where has that water travelled?
Sip coffee, cold brewed.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

A Favourite Joke

Granddaughters (aged 4, aged 6) in my hammock, reading a joke book.
“Why did the chicken cross the road, roll in the dirt and cross back again?
Because it was a dirty double crosser!”
Grandchild 5 (aged 1) has a hot-tired-left-out grump going on so I scoop her up, the whole squishy chunk of her, and she snuggles her head to my shoulder.
Plan: put blanket in the other hammock, to cover the bump of the knot work, to make a cozy nest.
Problem with plan: forgetting this sling of string has been left out all winter and is likely to be perilously frayed.
We fell through it. 
I hit the metal frame, G5 bounced unharmed off my ribcage, runs off wailing. The six year old retrieves her as Granma is caught in the net.
(Soft tissue soreness, wrenched, crunched, dignity obliterated, nothing serious.)
Granddaughters (aged 4, aged 6) have found their favourite joke of the afternoon:
“You fell through the hammock, Granma! You were stuck!”

Granma rather likes the one about the chicken. 

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

A Sleep After Work

I am in the hammock, resting.
Dog’s important work, about which she is so enthusiastic, is to spit bits of mulch into my wineglass. 
My arms vibrate from the catch-up of strimming hedges and edges - how the wild sidles up, mouth open, ready to swallow us whole! Tenacity to admire, and good to be sure that if we take flight things will grow. Our wilderness is fertile. 
Because of storms I had shifted my hammock stand chandelier to the shelter of a tree. It suits that space as much, dangling crystal foliage. 
Hard green pods appear on fruit trees - all but the pear, nursed back from a near fatal fireblight, but that is in full leaf.
To be at peace here one must embrace the noise of birds, for they can’t all sing. 
A wind whips flame; across the fire pit a twisted log crouches, salamander-esque. 
Fat gnat-ish things fly. The swifts will be in flight soon to gobble them up. 
I am in the hammock, resting. 
Hedges and edges neat enough. Beans planted out. Onions cropping. Cabbages grow leaves big as sails. Syrup pots cooling on the stove. Roses blooming. 
I have drunk a swollen globe of red wine and not the pestering of Dog, nor the birds or wilderness, nor storms, not fire, can keep me from sleep. 

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

The Illusionist

Summer must be sliding in behind us, slowly turning up the dial. 
Primroses over-bloom, droop, even the bluebells are heavy. 
Elderflower buds besieged by black-fly. 
The lawn cut one minute and replacing every daisy head, every pimpernel, every dandelion with great sleight of hand. 
Bees are in on it, prepared. 
I am running for the hosepipe, feeling hypnotised. Azalea pink, chive flower purple, the fine stripes on citrine gooseberries - such awe is struck, such spectacle, such skill. 

Take an interval in the hammock, the silky hot hammock, too hot for a blanket this time - see how it is as though one could take a butterknife and slice through anything - until the breeze comes, draws across, makes a cooled crust.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

An Evening At Home

Last night, as I was leaving work, fingers of mist reached from the moors to snatch the road; and the road was almost lost. It became a ghost trail, yet still led home. 

The sky was a void, backlit by an unseen half-moon. I had seen moon and sky clearly by day. 

In the garden our van glimmers, by the light from an open door. Mr notes that the outside bulb needs replacing. 

In the van, he says, the insulation is all in place. 
He has some dust in his hair. He looks up. Dog is round my feet, her tail knocking at the bags I’m dragging. 
Oh, says Mr, we won’t be seeing any meteoroid showers tonight!

It’s good to be home, post-heat, post-work, pull on pyjamas, put feet on couch. 

Turn on the projector, we can watch the sky from here. 
Well, I can. Mr and Dog are fast sleep.
I have a glass of nettle wine. I’m watching tigers hunt. I’m watching the sleepers smile. 

Day view of the van, insulation installation in progress -
easily as shiny as the moon!

View in through back doors.
End section will be the washroom and storage space.  

Friday, 27 April 2018

Pea Pot Plans

Air temperature rose and fell. People are reading this like runes. What joy, what doom awaits? I am not speculating, only trying to work out when best to catch up on late planting. 

The polytunnel is a steamy breathing earthy space. Seed trays are incubating. 

Peek repeatedly under repurposed plastic and crockery hoping for that poke of green. 

There’s one self seeded tomato - how smug it stands in the scatter of egg shells, though the nasturtiums tumble around a hundred times bigger. 

Lime shoots pee-oww from every crack of bark; we made soda from the first batch, it has a fresh-bitter bite. 

Dandelions are strong and fast - from their flowers I made a mock-honey. No wonder the bees love these florets!

Today in the dampness I felt that the earth was holding warmth, and pressed boot soles into soft clay-mud around the empty horse field - while Dog snuck off to feast on things unknown, hiding in the rising crops, sheepish in recall, wolfish in lip-licking.

Peas, I remind myself. I’m going to try some in a pot. 

I daresay there’ll be jokes. 

Monday, 16 April 2018

Minimal Bump

I get in the van, wiggle the driver’s seat - because today I am the driver. I check, I can reach the pedals. Note: headlight controller here, wipers there, horn may be employed by a palm strike, brake is the one in the middle - it is very much like a car, only longer and higher. And all we are doing is rolling merrily down the A30 to visit family, no stress of punctuality, no test to be passed. 
Emerge from drive, take the corner, no troubles. 
Take deep breath: it’s only a dual carriageway, not even a motorway, and there’s nothing exactly to be nervous of, not when you address the vagary. Tis only new, tis only the healthy worry of stepping into a new phase, of becoming Van Driving Me. 
Admittedly, when the window trim came swiftly loose and smacked the side window I was unnerved. But after we stopped and checked and it would not pull free, and we fixed it back with electric tape (all that was available) it was bearable. It might come loose again but would not be flying off and busting windscreens. 
The tape came loose. The trim slipped out. Again, nipped off to a side road, re-fixed. Rain came, washed the tape away. This time we found a town and a store and duct tape. This time worked.
The extra practice, nipping off and on the main road, through traffic and lights and roundabouts and roadworks, was a bonus. Van Driver Me was fine. 
So we went to the woods on foot, stomped in mud so Little Niece could test her new boots, so she could make friends with Dog and Dog could do that trick with a stick balanced on her nose, and we could find our first bluebells of this year and let stream water run over our feet, and look up through the spring-green leaves. 
We came back via the van, to show it off. What adventures you will have, my mother says. It has begun, I say.
Mr drives back, we are sharing.
I take pictures from our roaming vista. 
There’s work to be done, to make a home of it. 
We feel at home though; that has happened with minimal bump.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Last Night's Sleep Was Interrupted

     Mr, having reduced his salt intake and increased his exercise regime, has gained some attacks of debilitating cramp. 

Nocturnal cramp. A midnight that bites.
Pained, not entirely wakeful, he spirals down our stairs to stretch it out - misses the bottom step, crashes into the oven, knocks a crock of fruit tea over the kitchen floor, breaks the crock, the best beloved iron pot that his Mum gave him, that I make all my syrups in, that we use every day, for everything.
Mr has sadness, cramps, and a bruised knee.
We throw bath towels to the floor, soaking up spilt tea. 
Put the broken pot back on the hob. 
Accident? Omen? We try to sleep and find it difficult.
Somewhere upwards of our bed the moon is waning.

Early morning mist and frost we see: we too are bleary, we too are cold. Coffee must brew.
It is slow, but the sun strengthens. 
Washing pegged to line. Wind blows fresh, not cold. 
Dog shares our restlessness so we go down to a field where primroses crowd the banks of a stream. I pick a pile of petals, breathe the perfume in; hold one to the sun, let the yellow bloom of it reach me like a tonic. 
Sunlight rides on the water.
I think about how light does that - floats on water but reflections on a wet road seem to sink into the ground.

Come home with a wet dog, a tub of flowers.
Put the broke pan out - maybe frogs can make a house of it.

Out with the old is the energy of the fading moon.
Making way.
The anxiety of tired hangs around regardless. 
Hook up my hammock: rest.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Van Life? Really?

I am scared. 
We have worked hard and scrimped and saved and now we’re spending the money.

Like a magic trick: pouff!! It will be gone.

Now we pray to the Universe that we are not mistaken.
We open our eyes wide to see the curviness of the learning ahead.

Those are some hourglass figures!

We have paid the deposit, made the necessary investigations concerning insurance, and the specific details of conversions. 

A long wheel base Ford Transit ex-fleet highway maintenance van stands on a forecourt with a SOLD sign. It has a head dent and it smells of a diesel spill. It has a chem-loo which you’ll thank me for not describing. Low mileage, service history in full. Fair price.

Is this really happening? 

I’m lurching into this experience like a learner driver kangarooing their clutch control.

It seems that we have bought a van, yes. 

The man who puts windows in is about to be booked.

From collection we have 90 days to convert it to a legally specified definition of a camper van. 

I have never driven a long wheel base.

We access our home on single track farm roads.

The cornering on our driveway is frightfully tight!
Deep breath time.

There's a pickaxe in the shed, the corner can be adjusted.

I am agitated, and astonished, and it doesn’t matter what, we’re doing it anyway.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Blue Sludge Blues: supporting my fellow blog writers!

Blue Sludge Blues & Other Abominations
by Shannon Lawrence

Release Date: March 15, 2018
Horror short story collection

A collection of frights, from the psychological to the monstrous. These tales are a reminder of how much we have to fear: A creature lurking in the blue, sludgy depths of a rest area toilet; a friendly neighbor with a dark secret hidden in his basement; a woman with nothing more to lose hellbent on vengeance; a hike gone terribly wrong for three friends; a man cursed to clean up the bodies left behind by an inhuman force. These and other stories prowl the pages of this short story collection.


From Maelstrom:

"As I sit listening to the crash of waves outside my hotel window, the fan tap-tapping away above my head, I wait for it to come for me."

Buy the Book

Also available from Apple and other countries through Amazon

About the Author

A fan of all things fantastical and frightening, Shannon Lawrence writes mostly fantasy and horror. Her stories can be found in magazines and anthologies, including Space and Time Magazine, Dark Moon Digest, and Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things. When she's not writing, she's hiking the wilds of Colorado and photographing her magnificent surroundings, where, coincidentally, there's always a place to hide a body or birth a monster.

Social Media Links

Monday, 19 March 2018

Subterfuge And Weather

The lying was done. We had a surprise party, as suspected. That surprise, during which the weather was exceptional sunshine, meant Mr would not suspect further. So, confused but knowing family life can be confusing, he arrived at the address in Jacobstow prepared to babysit.
But we had blithely lied.
We had Friday night fajitas instead, with moderate beers, and the tired children (fed earlier) had moderate tears, and the grownups fell asleep in chairs.
Saturday we mustered to Widemouth Bay, to walk on the beach with teeny whirls of snow.
It was bound to happen, so Grandchild 3 fell in a pool to fill up her boots and go back to the car to shiver.
Grandchild 4 opened bare hands, bright pink, showing his collection - sea snails, he said, and helmet crabs - they don’t have their own houses, they wear other shells like hats, he said, that’s helmet crabs.
Grandchild 1 was feral on rocks. Grandchild 5 cried, we guessed she was cold.
On the way back to warmth we took a wrong turn, a pretty one full of thatch and moss.
Defrosted, the children played indoors everywhere, we heard the thunder-music of their steps.
Cupcakes were brought to being, and a red curry.
Put on a show, we said to the throng, who were getting fractious again.
Grandchild 6 blamelessly farts.
Grandchild 1 has mastered the armpit fart - he can do elbow and knee versions also.
Grandchild 2 stops telling everyone to applaud or not applaud in order to read a message which she can spy scrawled into the snow that is settling on the garage roof.
‘D-I-C-K head?’ She says. ‘Did my Mum write that?’
(Not this time, actually.)
Grandchild 3 is not distracted. ‘Ladies and Gentleman!’ She proceeds with her ballet.
Grandchild 4 does magic, but only if you close your eyes.
Grandchild 5 needs to go to bed before her stares start turning us to stone.
All are herded to bed, then the grownups stay awake and play charades and forget to be moderate, because isn’t that how charades gets played? A sacrilege if sober!

Sunday starts a bit headachy, with the thunder-music, and the smoke alarms set off with a row of crispy sausage.
It’s a bit snowy, enough for a cute postcard, not enough to keep us in. Grownups need the fresh air and coffee cure, children need un-cooping.
Again a little snow falls. Hands cramp, babies fuss.
Back to the warmth we go, armed with ingredients, for a mix of cooking and Scrabble and Twister and film gawping and arguments and collaborations and even total cooperation. Bliss settles.
A lot of snow falls.
Exceptional snow, for here, for this time of year. The roads are closed. Plans are changed. Wine is opened.
After a feast, and a recovery period, there was only one thing to do.
Well, two, but after Fat Beagle ate the first carrot nose and Dog the second, the snowman project was reassembled.
Until dark fell, until we couldn’t feel our fingers, no one would admit defeat.

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.