Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Falling And Laughing

river Exe

Wipers smudge road spray from the brow of the car. Even through the last of these storm clouds a staring light necessitates dark glasses. The windows are open, finding some freshness from the warm wet ground. We are on our way to Granma Grace, Dog and I, running late, catching up time.
I had put my food bag in the foot-well at a poor angle; on arrival I find blood from Dog's food has spilt and everything needs rinsing out: my breakfast strawberries smell of butchery.

We had caught up with time - Granma was sleeping, oblivious - so we took the parking pass to the car and embarked on our routine stroll by the river, walking on a shadow strewn path past the shallow water where the summer has sprung a mush of weed and iris leaves are striking up from soft mud. Where two gulls struggle for mastery of a pigeon corpse, in full view of the other pigeons; for which I criticise the victor and it flies off.

Dog is at a nonchalant trot, smelling stories out of grass. 
Later we will find a deeper river, swim together through reflections of sky and treetops. Maybe a kingfisher will swoop, maybe dragonflies. Maybe trout will brave a swim-by. Maybe Dog will keep herself busy and not excitedly fetch sticks to me while I'm wrestling out of wet clothes in the undergrowth and do not wish to be noticed.
A swan hisses but we're out of reach.

At Granma's a clock ticks, a sleeping breath rolls gently out-in. Dog is glad to have her food. Strawberries smell like strawberries. Coffee brown and soft as mud in the mug I like with the pale pattern of roses. 
I am - again-  readying to consult the internet for news of land for sale. 
I will need more coffee and maybe a bowl of ice-water to drop my brain into.
Much as Dog sniffs findings from ground sources, every piece of land holds for us a future story direction, a mass of potential for joy and/or desperation.
In truth I am ashamed of finding this process difficult. Our means are meagre or amazing, depending on the financial privilege of the onlooker. We have made a simplifying list: a need for water, power, access, trees, isolation, affordability; which has thwarted our hearts cursedly now, but of course we will be glad of it... eventually... Sometimes the adventure is squashed by the responsibility we have to the dream becoming real. There is climate emergency, there is political chaos enabling horror: how to be sure we are combating that? Sometimes the reality is threatened by the power of the dreams, the fun we can have: though fun is essential. Sometimes I remember that the difficulty is part of the adventure: is the very peril I thrive upon: I should not have forgotten.

Later, maybe, when we're walking, Dog and I, we will find a suitable tree. I will practice balancing, remember my rules to live by (courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self control, indomitable spirit). I will know that life rarely lacks regret, but here too should be balance: it is possible to enjoy doing what you shouldn't have done: it is all part of your story and your flow of learning.
I will think of the river and how stagnation breeds poison.
I will be lost in laughter if I fall, and, dear reader, you will be welcome to join me.

River swim at Plymbridge

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

The Hedgebirds And The River Jump

It was the second time I had witnessed this death.
A small bird, a hedge bird, skimming traffic, mistimed.
The first time I heard the thunk, saw the bird spin. This second time I see the body, the size of my fist, hit the road's edge; I see the last breaths drawn in; breaths that seem bigger than the body. 
A sadness strikes through me: for the creatures' fate, for the parallel with the plight of earth; a heavy hold of it.
All day I cannot be comfortable, cannot find peace with it.

Inaction seems like inertia, seems the wrong surrender.
But what action is required: how to push this weight? How to use it?
To make a pendulum and keep hope?
I take my sun-heated brain to the river to think.
It will be different for each of us, says brain, from the willow's shade, though maybe the crux is the same: along the waterway comes a decisive breeze, trailing its weather-fingers through leaves, stirring the river's surface where beady eyed fish pop up to swallow gnats, where kingfishers dart to stab up fish, where storm-felled trunks stick out leafy growths - fuelled by what? And why?
I look.
This instinct towards life has common root. This is the comfort the river brings.
Even in the murk, under the weed, in the mud, bubbles are streaming up.
There's probably more to it, says brain, but please now may I have a nap?
So we walk home, making our cooled feet dusty, and rest.

Art, says brain (quoting Tolstoy) is a hammer, not a mirror.
Rest has been restorative, says I, recovering myself, recovering love, regathering my river kit.
I raise myself - above the river pool, on the little poser's ledge - leaping (taking my dull throbbing fear of heights with me) and jump.
A hammer can swing, and spark joy - retaliative, effervescent!
And with those thoughts we will march: towards the beautiful strike, where the hammer breaks the fear and we dare.

In my garden, hedge birds sing and hop, and nourish the ground, while the river wet t-shirt drips from a line. I'm not a natural diver, I tell them, but the hopeful leap is a worthy start. 

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

A Rainbow Strikes

June is rolling by, awash, so everyone has forgotten that it's summer now. 
This morning I peered into the vegetable plots, into the swaying minarets of onion buds, the splay of cabbage seed pods, not sure if the raspberries were the summer or the autumn kind. 
Lovage flowers, tiny spray on tall stems; lavender in bud: summer.
Wild strawberries and rose petals in the dehydrator and the windows open to better hear the thunder: summer.
After an evening swim one must wrap up: always. 

I am busy writing a story that seems to be running in rings about me, I am busy wild swimming to clear my head; working to pay the bills, reading up on rural planning law to wrestle reality from a dream. Picking the roses, the strawberries, the onion flowers. Tending the cabbage bed. 
Standing still when I remember: see the swallows swoop by.
Or floating, bobbing up toes, while each rain drop ripples out.
Or that stop on the beach, while I am looking ridiculous with a towel on my head; two lumpy layered jumpers, damp jeans, barefoot; a rainbow strikes through darkening cloud. 

Monday, 13 May 2019

Grandchild 7


Waiting, yes. A particular kind of waiting like a string pulled.

This week I have been looking after Granma Grace, we call it our Girlie Sleepover time.
Grace holds this tautness most of the time, close to the bones of her. If I made representative art I would play with the idea of a pulled string twined with blooms - roses, tulips, cyclamen, all colours bold and pretty.
This day the wait has a clear focus. We are waiting for baby news.
Outside it rains heavy.
We watch geese cross the lawn and leave again as though they had discovered something. We hear machinery whirr next door and workmen chattering.
I have to recharge my phone twice from looking: no news.


Granma has stirred and gone back to sleep this morning, for rest calls her more and more. While she sleeps in her bed her foot tapping stops, while she sleeps in her chair it activates. I leave her have a lie in for this reason. Eighty-nine years to process, physical decline from age and stroke damage to accept.
Last night she sighed, 'I wish I had a Mummy to hug me and tell me everything will be all right.'

Luckily I am a mummy, so we could put this right. She laughed at her self: all frail, all loved.
News comes of slow progress - last time this took five days, we remember.
My stepdaughters arrive with flowers and teacakes. Sun pours in. Granma wakes and needs her dark glasses on. She's eating her breakfast in a room full of family. There's a nice cup of tea, there's yellow roses and purple iris.
The vases here are rarely empty.


Slow progress still, so I go to work. All the childcare is coordinated, in place through to Tuesday, just in case. I have my phone, which is old and glitchy. I tell my co-worker, so she knows why I am lingering over my phone. We take our care client out for some fresh air. We sit outside a cafe and I watch a man shake out change for a hot pasty. He holds it like the only good thing that has happened in his life. I wonder what his story is, where it began, if it will find better fortune. Today he is sat on a bench in the sunshine, in a brisk breeze, with hot food.
My phone has nothing to say.
We head for sea air. At Par the sand is glittery. Sun skims gold on the facets of waves. Happy dogs dart. Seabirds gather on a shaded rock. Seaweed twists in the water, moves in drifts, sea-confetti.
No news. I send reports of no news back to Grace. Both of her feet will be twitching by now.
We head for the market, to dally where there's bright things and music and the air is sizzling with onion and spices.
My phone has a photo loading. Me and my coworker are in the Food Hall staring and Oh!
We meet Grandchild 7, with his crumpled rosy face, his calmly stirring fingers.

Here's our new boy with one of his big sisters :-)

Tuesday, 7 May 2019


Summation of my blog posts:
- Weather
- Birds are singing
- Coffee
- Look, words

Today is no great exception; wavy minded, grey glare sky, geese-clatter lost under the roll of the washing machine and the volume of royal baby coverage that Granma Grace is entertained with, empty mug number 3, novel outline on a bit of foraged paper. 
It's hard to think so maybe I should take this as a sign.
A bolt of sun drops through the window. There's pink blossom wobbling on a potted bush. Daisy dots across the lawn, a backdrop of swaying willow. Grace is snoozing through the adverts, tapping her feet as she does for all the things that are going or may yet go wrong for the whole of the world, everything from a stain on your shirt to the sixth mass extinction. In balance of this she also is happy for everyone. If you are feeling anything less than splendid, she is sending you a hug right now, and love, and a biscuit/piece of fruit/check the cupboard, take what you fancy. 

Later I will do the Serious Writing. 
For now, make lunch, drink water, eye the flora, tidy up the expectations.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

The Difference

camper van at sunrise, on the cliffs, Widemouth Bay

Ten years of talking, I think, before the camper van dream was dragged to reality. Not just talking - lots of working lots of hours, and meanwhile making other plans and working for those too until the world was swimming in front of my tired eyes and I had to sit down. 
Sit and dream of living in a quiet field, planting trees, making foraged soups and syrups.
We have the van, which may never be finished, being a learning project. 
We have plans which if you took them out of our heads would fill a hangar. There are alterations for variables and equations of 'if this, then that, if not, then this other way' and it is tricky to keep track of where we are going. The underlying why is the desire to live in nature, and to be part of not letting the world be ruined.
In April last year we collected the van. It stunk of diesel and promptly developed an electrical fault. Today it is crammed full of - I'm not actually sure. It is being a temporary shed. But it works, we make good use of it. Two grandchildren have been with us for overnight camping adventures, the rest are pending. We go to the beach and get cold and cook tea, and #vanlife, and it annoys us and we love it.
It is tricky to keep track, with all the working and the planning. 
We are shopping for land now.
We have a list of requirements which we must adhere to, lest we be lost in impractical beauty. 
We have confused faces, not expecting this to be actual.
We are shopping for land now...

Dog in the River Otter
This was Dog's favourite site. Vetoed for poor access, alas.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

At The Start Of The Day

Happy dog on the riverbank, Exeter

Day began unwelcome but I was the one who had set the alarm. I made coffee and peace with myself, opened the door for Dog to slink out, let the birdsong in.
Looked up.
Grey sky - the marbled kind, like smoke frozen.
And the sun bled upwards, orange-gold, worshipped by field flowers.

Most preparations had been done the day before; clothes set out, bags packed with food, laptop, notebooks, comfort things like a wallet and more notebooks and spare pens. The dog walking bag which slings easily about the shoulders. Water bottle. The right keys. 
The drive is good, with this sky to view and smooth moving queues, and Dog settles in the boot as she recognises the journey to Granma Grace's house. There is even a parking space near to the house, a rare treat. One with room to reverse in and still get the boot opened and let Dog leap out, tail at full whirr. 
We sneak in to get the parking pass - hear a light snoring which is the noise of All's Well. 
Put the pass in the car; I have the dog walking bag, my keys, a phone for taking pictures. The right shoes to negotiate mud and goose poop. 
Dog gives me cause to fish out a poo-bag... Of which there are none. There is the empty packet, so I improvise. 
Ten steps later Dog squats into position again. It is not a urination squat. 
Children play here. People come walking. The willows sigh and the river runs and the swans are majestic and the moorhen is terribly cute. It is no place to abandon responsibility. 
Back to an unwelcome experience. I will spare you, dear reader, too many details as long as you can understand that I was innovative and heroic in my construction of a miniature stretcher, and successful in reaching the bin to dispose of all unpleasantness.
Dog and I could then run the gamut of geese along the river path, and find her a place to swim. 
We could admire the reflections, the bold graffiti that brightens up concrete inside the bridges, the nervous-aggressive edge of pigeons staring out from behind spikes (that, presumably, prevent their droppings from streaking the murals?) 
Gull noise hammers at the sky till the grey flattened out. Traffic burbles over bridges. 
A tidy man perched at the verge-side with a rucksack at his feet puts down his cider can to roll a cigarette. He watches Dog, smiling. He looks like he has stories but we have a job to do and coffee in a flask that is calling me, so Dog is dried off with a quick jaunt over grass, and we hustle back to Granma's, feeling adventured.

Willow tree, River Exe, dog walking

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Tidy Up Time

Oh gods - how long had the house been so terrible?
We have been cleaning it, our distractions wrestled till there was room for tidier habits. Vacuuming has evolved to a regular sound; vacuuming through a shrinking floor space. Boxes of stuff: bottles for syrups, display cloths, kitchen kit for the van; the usual clutter of punch-pads and breaking boards, the pile of foraged cloth for projects.
It all has purpose, it all lacks organisation. We have crowded ourselves out of our home, crowded our time with doing: we have got used to it and irritable with it. Little by little we have stopped using our impeded desks. Then last Friday I was closing my eyes, except I was driving, and then stopped my car to breathe night air, afraid. Enough. Saturday, Sunday, Monday, these were all booked for work. On Tuesday there was room for rest, by which I mean I was gifted a day without needing to look at a clock, without obligation. After coffee, no need to be at home, clutter-haunted. Stuffed the car with fuel, jollied off to Tavistock with my best brogues and gaudiest coat. Rifled charity shops for a stack of books, a jumper in twists of pink and purple, a green pashmina, two vintage brooches; rested my bones with carrot cake and more coffee, sat swinging my feet on a cushioned bench. I bought a half round of creamy goat in Country Cheeses. Headed home, so laden, so richly indulged. Mrs Millionaire. Sat down, fell asleep. Woke to the sound of rain. Swapped town clothes for country, took Dog to get muddy. Tilted my face to the sky at the top of the hill. Then it was me, and the house, and - look at the clock or not - it was time. And before my eyes went closing again, the office had become habitable. Oh gods! My arms are aching. Typing hurts. But the next room is calling. There is a level of tidiness required for the mess to remain in play.

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Wandering The Coffee Dunes

coffee, writing, tired, life, fresh air, springtime

I went to bed late, woke up early. It's warm for February so while the kettle fizzed I opened up windows. Birdsong flitted in. I found the last scoop of coffee in the emergency pot. Soft, fine powder and for a while I imagine a coffee dune and what sort of erratic foliage would tug a living there?

(Answers appreciated - flora and fauna. I have a twitchy spider that looks like bonbons...)
Sat in bed, lap top propped to never quite the right height. I've been working on chapters that are like a crazy patchwork and just trusting that they'll balance better than my keyboard and not result in carpal tunnel syndrome. 
Musty-coffee coating my tongue. 
How long has that pot been lurking? 
Birdsong, blue sky...
The answer is, get your hammock slung up. 
Because of the tired way I am dropping and forgetting stuff, and drinking strong but muddy water. 
Fresh air, rest. 
Find your way then.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Meet The Goddess 1

Dragon stories

Update: the question of appropriation sat heavy. I went away and did some research and some long hard staring at colonialism in particular. Because this story arrived as a dream I had let it be, as though one's unconscious mind would be free of all complicity. What an idiot! But consequently wiser, rewriting the whole book, and finding the plot to be revising itself. I have three invented (admittedly similar, but this repetition of types is common to most mythologies) Goddesses now, one for chaos, one for order, one for compassion. Currently leaving this post up because mistakes and misfootings happen, it feels wrong to pretend they don't. And I loved Makari so much! He's a lizard now, still grumpy, and unnamed. Original post: Another excerpt and another cry for attention here: firstly, how's my writing? This is first draft stuff and can take a hit, please be honest! Secondly I am drawing on existing deities, so I am using their names and while there are precedents for this, am I appropriating? These goddesses (there are three of them) turned up with the story - one to sit with you in times of pain, one to say how to put things right, and one to bring the compassion and love to endure all karmic trials - so I could make up names. Maybe I am overthinking/over caffeinated. Anyway - here is the introduction to our first goddess and I need to go sort out compost.

Over the broad domes of their temple a vast sun is rising, creating a shadow temple that ripples across the river. Through shadow palm trees swims a sinewy, shaggy headed dragon, smoothing out limbs, eyes half shut, a hint of red at the edge of each pointed tooth which is just the sun’s fire reflecting. It breathes in and out deeply, slowly, blowing bubbles in the muddied water, smiling, stirring the mist that lingers on the riverbank. Birdsong shrills. Large flowers, heavy with colour, begin to open; bright birds seem bee-sized next to those bold petals. Night colours roll away to a vignette.

In their temple, the first to stir is Akhilanda. Her name means She-Who-Is-Never-Not-Broken. She has been waking and un-waking all night, as she does every night; hearing every scuttle of the mice, every stir of night wind, every cry of every creature.
Her scarce sleep when it came would come to her as though she had dissolved, and waking would be like swimming up through ink.
When she is lying awake, every pain you have ever felt, she feels. It breaks her, over and over. This is why her skin is dark volcanic rock, finely cracked. Inside she is made of light, a shifting bloom of compassion: a quality of light more than a colour or level of intensity.
Akhilanda looks at her hands.
A light that makes them feel whatever it is they need to heal the wounds without the scars making them brittle; she thinks this sentence every morning, it stops the pain from driving her to madness. It does not stop her being tired or grouchy, she adds, to herself, so it would be best to get up and get some coffee brewing.
Her crocodile, Makari, is grumpy too: Makari is always this way.
She pushes her arms up to the sun’s warmth, rolling her thin cover to the floor where Mak is lurking. He grunts and snaps. She stands and sets her cover back on the flat sandstone of which her bed is made. Every morning she must stretch and realign her limbs.
‘Ugh,’ she says. ‘It isn’t easy, Makari, being like this. I am like a loose jigsaw puzzle.’ She takes up her broom and sweeps the floor, as best she can with a crocodile shuffling about. ‘It isn’t easy, with you being in the way either!’
He sneezes the dust pile into a cloud.
Makari’s fat haunches sway indignantly towards the yard, taking her irritation with him. Akhilanda watches his progress, eyes shining. From her doorway she can see the shaded yard, the low wall, the palm tops, the sky. She hears the birdsong, feels the cool of the river in the air. She can smell dust and a rise of humidity.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019


How we might perceive the world

*A Work In Progress

There's a book that is demanding to be written. All my work is bossy like that, but this one more than any previous endeavours. It is kicking its way out, then throwing itself like a possessed jigsaw. All I have to do is put it together. 
This particular piece of it is from the point of view of a person with a profound congenital disability, and hopefully gives a voice where a voice would not easily be found. I don't know where it will fit in the big picture. Anyway, feedback appreciated... 

The ‘I’ that is writing this does not exist.
No one can know what I can or cannot articulate, what it is that I know, even if I know myself at all: as you could not articulate the difference as you passed from unborn to born, but only react, involuntary.
So this ‘I’ is a supposition.
There are sheets of medical words to explain this condition. And there is this ‘I.’

Life was a dream to be woken into, a beat of hearts, a warmth we did not process: we only knew it was different when air entered our lungs and our bodies unbundled.
Nor did we know ‘we,’ nor do I know it now.
There is a loneliness of which I may not be aware. Maybe that first missing is with me still. I cannot tell you.

Existence was physical. Air in lungs. Noise. Light. What sense I made of it - it is not translatable. Something was summoned from me by external stimuli.

The world of sight was - is - light and blurs. I am named blind but light - the sparkling kind, the flickering, I will follow that. I can reach a hand to a thing, hold, caress, reject, fling.
To touch - is this a counter to isolation?
When the rain blows in my face, I am smiling. Laughing. This joy is observable. Do I mean you to observe it?
I cannot tell you.

Sound is hearing and feeling. I will pluck a string and press my face to the vibration.
Here I seem content, self-contained, missing nothing.

When something feels wrong - a pain, an unhappiness, I cannot tell - I will thrash my arms. No voice comes from me. Indigestion, ennui, migraine, same thrash.
Here I seem locked in, attempting to escape.

Questions, answers, sticky weblines.
How different we are, how alike. How any ‘I’ can be a supposition, invention, brought to exist, ceased to exist. How fickle existence is unless our attention is mindful.
How the blow of rain can wake us.

Thursday, 3 January 2019


trinkets, memories, china cups, family memorabilia, grief, happiness

Granma Grace has weathered five or more (the doctors are not certain) strokes; she has a confusion that thickens as the day goes on, a deepening layer of impending doom. She has a foot that twitches, even while she sleeps, with this certainty of worry. Something somewhere is wrong, or will go wrong. That’s one layer out of many though: optimism is not obliterated, gratitude abounds, the love of simplicity: draw the curtains back, she will wait for the birds to alight on well stocked feeders. She will ask that the little cat who warms on the step be fed a treat. She will check the sky for the beautiful weather about to happen. She will love to go for a walk, however brief. Sometimes she cries for the loss of independence, quiet tears. She says she does not know how to repay us for our kindness in looking after her. Mock-strict I tell her this is prepaid love, and there’s a very healthy balance on this account. She blooms into laughter - it’s so good, it gifts me a halo. Today as the curtains are pulled across there is a lone swan waddling about her garden. He was here yesterday too, and had tried to follow me into the house when I fetched the washing in. He is a widower, she says, he visits here alone always. He nearly came to tea with us, I tell her, but I shut the door because those things can poop a pile! Yes, she giggles, that would not be good. I watch it graze, and walk at ease through the goose-gaggle that arrive later. Granma Grace drops into a deep nap, feet elevated in the recliner chair, legs blanket wrapped, foot a-twitch. I am staring from the window still. I see a magpie hopping (one for sorrow, as the old rhyme goes) I say, yes, Magpie, I know. If I see another (two for joy, as the old rhyme goes) I will laugh - that too, I will say. The good with the bad. (Like a flower in midwinter. Like our prepaid love.) I see a brightening of cloud. Hear myself think: After all the terrible facts have been met, dear Grace, dear All, what will have we become? What breaks us, makes us: if we will bend, we will bloom again. Life is not meant to be unbroken. We must learn how to be broken. We must learn that we are not broken, that is not the right word. We are works in progress, unfinished always. At the end of a life you see a wholeness, an alpha to omega circle. You can hold that up to the light, admire it: but it is not really finished. Memory connects. Love connects. What connects, affects. What affects, continues. No wonder we love the weather so; the tides. Connect. Affect. Continue.

widower, swan, grief, happiness, memory, perception, love

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Down With Maps And Plans

Van, adventure, Dartmoor, life, family time
Once we were on the beach, though not planned, swimming was obvious. Wellies off, socks off; just having a paddle in this clear water, it's not so cold, we should go out deeper... Leggings off, wade out oops, a wave rises. Now me and Dog are swimming, not walking. Floating fur blurs her edges. My dress darkens, green-black, moves like kelp-fronds. We are lost to the elements awhile. After this dip I wrap up, skin a-tingle, pinked, glowy.
No one is surprised, except the owner of the spaniel that peed on the wet clothing I dumped on the shore. Oops!

Back at Granny’s house I am peppered in sand, laughing. If I take off my socks there'll be a dune in here. We all warm up with tea, and more laughing. Me and little niece use fuzzy felt to create a goat headed farmer, a horse headed pig, a pig headed cow: then we name the imaginary objects we are throwing at each other.
Slice of panettone. Tea.

Tired from laughing, tired from a long shift finished that morning.

Mr does the driving, we go home to change clothes and vehicles. We have a plan.
We will take the van for the night, park up, in the morning take a swim. We will look for a place named Crazywell Pool, which we’ve been waiting for a chance to discover.
It is dark as we head across the moors; the map is taking us down tiny soggy roads, more tracks than roads, grassed over, boulder strewn. We decide to turn back. We take a short cut to Burrator, following the same map to a lane where there’s a tree branch down, so rather than risk being stuck we promptly reverse the van’s rear tyres into the mud from which they cannot escape.
There is no phone signal, no internet.
No amount of jacking up wheels, nor building bespoke roads of stone or branch, or formerly pristine van mats, will create the necessary traction.
Torch batteries run out. We abandon self rescue in favour of getting the bed set up, (slight tilt, seems sleep-able) and open the emergency wine.
Dog is having the best time, running after owls and foxes, fetching sticks. She sleeps soundly.
We sleep a bit.

Daylight seeps through tall pines, and one old beech tree fixed in curves.
One historically important barn solid beside us.

After coffee and a few more tries at rudimentary road building we manage, with gymnastic balancing atop of a stile, to get a text message to a friend, and then one back, and so on, till, eventually, the rescue van was dispatched. I chased it down, waving a high-visibility jacket: nearly burst a wild pony with surprise hollering. Sorry, pony.

A mere sixteen hours or so after our accidental park-up, there's no time (or energy) for swimming.
Not too late to get to Plymbridge Woods to walk with granddaughters. If we can find it...
Again the map is thwarting though we did not get wedged or sunk merely perambulated in unnecessary circles, arrived on the wrong side of the river.
Walked over the bridge, up the hill. Legs reluctant.
Grandchild 3 waving at us - opening arms for a warm big hug. She doesn't throw those hugs around, this is a real welcome.

Even so, the inner monologue is grumbling: so tired... so fed up, plans not working and this is my one day off and the stupid maps…

Ah, but this hug, it's not perfunctory. A grand press.
And there’s Grandchild 5, peering around her ice-cream, puckered up, and I lean down for a sticky snotty kiss and a smile, and a little hand takes hold of mine.
‘Come on Granma,’ she says, like I was here yesterday but this two year old hasn’t seen me since when- September? October? When they moved away.
Granma does as she’s told, follows two of her counted blessings along the river trail; salt on skin, mud on boots.

(Dog has the best time, in and out of the river. Sleeps for days. Makes no plans. A world mapped in scent and instinct.)

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Winter Buds

winter buds, symbols of hope

Naturally the idea that wouldn’t leave me be this morning while I needed to get ready for work has gone off in a sulk somewhere. It will return when it needs to be written. I will drink coffee. Coffee with a rich silty aftertaste. Coffee that gives me that moment of pause, which when I’m busy maybe I neglect? The warmth of it welcome too, as I’m letting any old words wander out, as the rain pools under a cold push of wind and the sky is so dull and flat it’s like no sky at all. I’m sat by a wall’s length of glass, drafty, good view of the greenery flailing, chewing up my coffee dregs, thinking about lunch not because I’m hungry but because there’s no food.
There’s pennies in my pocket, lunch can happen, an improvement on previous days. Fair to say I have bemoaned and embraced low income life - only first world poverty after all - and am loving moving on. Car, chromebook, a lit fire, lunch, a long list of things I am happy to have. Soon we can start to look for land to buy. Doing my best not to fear losing this hope. It is not an entirely irrational fear. A point of change is vulnerable. A point of stability is vulnerable. Life is vulnerable. I dreamt I woke up on a surfboard atop of a monster wave: no idea how I was going to cope, no point in panicking, I just had to deal with it. Then I woke up, so I hope my dream-self made it. I hope I make it. The rain is getting biblical. The idea slopes back. It says there are two Christmas’s coming: two futures, two lives: and this is true for most of us. There’s what you wanted, and what it is. There’s a gap to navigate. Everything is vulnerable. Outside the river is swelling over the street. A mass of muddied water. Pretty boats dip. If you look closely at the windblown winter trees, there are buds.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Yule Tale 2018

Family Christmas story, contains shelf-elf

Shelf-Elf Barry And The Ugly Christmas Jumper Situation

Shelf-Elf Barry wished he worked on the Christmas production line. Okay the hours were long - September through to December, and you had to be ambidextrous to avoid serious repetitive strain injury, but once you got to that Christmas Eve deadline it was sherry and mince pies and eight months holiday. And no thinking required!

Most production elves would look at the shelf-elf hours and scoff, of course. A mere 25 days! But they never once had to think about work, they could just do it.
Barry worked all year to storyboard 25 unique scenarios, and how to get in and out of each one without being seen, and then there were the incessant training drills and fitness routines that were a core part of being on special forces shelf-elf detail. He felt like he was getting too old for this nonsense. Retirement, alas, was hundreds of years away, and Santa never sacked an elf without also turning them into stuffed toys, which wasn’t how Barry wanted to end up.
(Santa hadn’t actually ever sacked an elf: that was because he’d made that rule and it worked.)

Barry sighed, checked his survival kit, checked it again, cross-referenced it with Larry’s.
Part of the problem was that he couldn’t decide what his Christmas Eve finale would be. He’d just copied last year’s onto his storyboard and somehow got away with that, but the family would know. Mum, Dad, Little Lily, Little Bertie: they would be let down if he spelled FARTY SPROUT PANTS in the tinsel again. Barry was extra-checking his kit to take his mind off what a disaster his mission was going to be. No shelf-elf ever wants to be winging it. Meticulous planning is everything.

Larry had all his ideas but his pack was missing a sugar ration, so he had to go down to stores and argue about that. Store Elves were jealous guardians of sugar in particular.
It was in ample supply, they reasoned, so there shouldn’t be any need for more.
It was ample in the supply house, Larry would tell them, mainly because they never gave any to anyone.
Luckily he had the correct paperwork so they had to sign over a ration for him.
‘May Rudolph’s blessed nose shine upon you,’ he told Barry what he’d said to the Head Store Elf, ‘then when I was walking away I went, like, and may he fly over and poop on your head! I know he heard - I kept walking!’
Barry chuckled. ‘I hope their ugly Christmas jumpers come alive and- hey, that’s the idea I was missing!’
‘Oh yeah.’ Larry packed his sugar safely in his case. ‘That’s a good one!’

Everything was going well now. Shelf-Elf Barry was enjoying his mission. He’d signed a pledge against plastic so no clingfilm across the toilet this year but he’d excelled himself unravelling toilet paper into a giant snowflake that blocked off the shower. He thought he might have gone too far when he drew an ugly portrait of Mum on the mirror using the last of the toothpaste, as Little Bertie had woken her up in the night and she was all tired and teasy; she had burst out laughing and stuck her fingers in it, and cleverly made it into a most unflattering picture of Dad instead. Phew!

The children loved the reindeer poop cookies, and the dolls’ skinny dipping in the goldfish tank, and all of his danglings from lampshades and baubles, and every bit of mess he made: and lo and behold on Christmas Eve it began to snow! And he had his best trick yet to pull!!
(In shelf-elf training they warn you about the smugness. In retrospect Barry could see where it had begun to go wrong.)

Shelf-Elf Barry dragged the jumpers out onto the sofa. There were four of them, as expected.
Dad’s, featuring a padded stuffed turkey.
Mum’s, featuring a tree with real fairy lights.
Little Lily’s, featuring a shark called Santa Jaws.
Little Bertie’s, featuring... a cactus? Well, it was red and green.
Barry climbed up the back of the sofa. He took out and shook up his bag of fairy dust, intent on checking for lumps, then opened it and sprinkled just enough. He didn’t see the loose paperchain slip down from the ceiling until it hit the bag from his hands and all of the dust went Poof over the jumpers.
‘Oh- Great Rudolph’s butt!!!’ Barry watched helplessly at first as the sparkles intensified, then his training kicked in and he ran for cover.

The knitted turkey was first to its feet, and its head reached the ceiling. Barry kept very still. Next was the tree, with glowing eyes, and fir fronds that stuck out into claws. The shark was a bit wobbly, walking on its tail, but soon snapping around happily. Then the cactus got up, with its gigantic spikes. ‘Hug me,’ it said, in a sickly cute voice. ‘It’s Kwismuss.’
Barry didn’t answer. He didn’t move. This will be good practice for when I’m stuffed, he thought. He was certain he’d be sacked.

The turkey was pecking at presents, putting holes in boxes, wrecking the wrapping. Then it began to attack the wallpaper. The jumper tree knocked over the real tree and tore the curtains to shreds. The shark ate the goldfish in one snap and began chasing the cat. The cactus was headed for the front door, slashing everything in its path with deadly thorns.
‘Hug me!’ It demanded as it stepped out onto the street, leaving the door wide open.
It must have been a Christmas cactus as it instinctively picked up snow in its spiny hands and made a snowball, which it hurled through next-door’s window - and that’s when everybody began to wake up. They noticed the snow, which they were thrilled about, and then the cactus, followed by the turkey, the evil-eyed tree and the walking shark, which were kind of thrilling too but not in a good way.
(Mrs Trope at number 30 simply poured her sherry away and went to bed with her earplugs in, but the rest of the street was up and horrified.)

Barry scrambled to the windowsill and peeked out. The turkey was stomping on a car, jumping up and down on its bonnet. The tree was ripping up a shrubbery, shrieking with glee. The shark was smashing ice off a pond and swallowing a plastic flamingo. The cactus was throwing rock hard snowballs through every window, demanding hugs. It was Christmas Eve, and Santa was going to know about this very soon. Barry was going to have to call it in.

He slumped down from the sill and dragged out his radio.
‘Shelf-Elf Barry, Bravo-Alpha-Romeo-Romeo-Yankee, code red.’
‘How red, Shelf-Elf?’
‘Makes Rudolph’s nose look pink… Four Christmas jumpers gone rogue on fairy dust.’
‘Right. Stay tight, we’re coming in.’

Barry wasn’t expecting Santa himself to arrive. He heard the jingling bells before he saw the shadow of the sleigh appear on the road.
‘Oh… mistletoe and wine!’
Barry shook his head in shame. He couldn’t help feeling relieved though, especially as the jumpers shrank and fell harmlessly to the ground, and every broken thing was mended, and the goldfish and the cat reappeared uneaten. He figured he was stuffed, though, and there was no escaping the Santa magic. He picked up his pack, smartened himself up, and went to meet his fate as bravely as he could.

Santa picked him up and sat him on his big fat knee.
‘Shelf-Elf Barry,’ he rumbled, ‘this is your pre-debrief.’
‘With respect, Santa, it is Christmas Eve and I’ve taken up your time already so I can wait.’
‘Time!’ Santa roared laughing. ‘I’ve got that under control. I’ve just wound it back. There’s more than one reason I’ve never had to sack an elf. First, you’re all terrified of being stuffed. Second, I can rewind time and we can put everything back - but just Christmas and elfish stuff, so I can’t intervene in human history, unfortunately.’
‘Oh.’ Barry was stumped for words.
‘And there is something you didn’t know, Shelf-Elf Barry. The sad truth.’
‘Oh, Santa?’
‘Sometimes, Shelf-Elf Barry, Christmas jumpers are ugly on the inside. That’s the sad truth. Good people buy them, sometimes they add tinsel, but, ugly is as ugly does. Especially when they’re all puffed up with fairy dust… Now, get off my lap and finish your detail!’
‘Yes Santa!’

Shelf-Elf Barry went back to the house where the jumpers were lying as they had been before the sparkle-storm of fairy dust. He was so happy to be back at work! He shoved a  cushion inside each jumper and gave them tiny bauble heads before climbing to the top of the Christmas tree. He almost got smug again, but then he kicked himself and set up his hammock for a quick kip before the chocolate-fuelled children came powering downstairs.
‘Happy Christmas.’ He said, just talking to himself. ‘Happy enough to hug a cactus right now!’

He gave the jumpers a nervous glance. Fairy lights twinkled and snow fell, the jumpers were just funny festive clothes. He heard the echo of a Ho Ho Ho overhead: and then, not a creature was stirring, not even a shark.

Shelf Elf Christmas story for all the family

Funny seasonal story, Christmas, enjoy!