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.

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.