Saturday, 6 January 2018

Laughing In The Morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Sparkly Ice Magic

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

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

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

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

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

It’s past midnight before they are all asleep.

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

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Diary Poem 2017

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Yule Tale 2017

Titania's Curious Other Life

‘It’s been this way for… I don’t remember…

Like I’ve just been born out of this… box?
It isn’t an actual box, of course. It’s a room. 
A room in my mind.
Location regardless, I’m trapped in it. 
Here I am trapped. In a room. In my mind.
It doesn’t matter how much those idiots say oh, get dressed up, go out - I can’t!
They can’t see that I’m trapped. Because it’s in my mind.
Not their minds, they don’t have any.
They are just tin, hollow tin.
They don’t even want to go out, they just wait for orders. 
Being stupid makes them content, they are boxed up, lined up, they can’t see life should be anything else.’

Titania sighs. She has given her monologue to a row of cardboard angels, and gets blank smiles in return.

‘Not hiding. Trapped.’

It is hard for them to understand, she knows, but she wishes they would make more of an effort. They look at her as though she were a shy child hiding behind a sofa. 
As though they are pretending to go along with the trapped story. 


The room that no one else could see was small. 
Not what she would have chosen, but you can’t chose when you are a prisoner. 
She would have chosen something - not ostentatious, but beautiful, calm, rich in textures. 
A green velvet chaise-lounge, a glass lamp, a warm soft blanket, bookshelves, a palm tree, perhaps a painting of the sea, the wild salt-scented sea, with foaming waves. 

Not concrete. A scrap of carpet to sit on. 
A bit of ivy growing through a corner chink, the only decoration. 
And an empty box, like an echo of the room.

She can curl up in the box, pretend a bower. So she does. 

Curled up, a little cramped, she sighs more, thinking of stars and seascapes. 
Sleep drifts in, then she dreams: of darkly furred pines casting wolfish shadows, of flames dancing with woodsmoke, of the songs of wolves, waves bursting spray under a bulbous moon.

But on waking nothing has changed.
She climbs out of the box but cannot go anywhere, because of being trapped. 
Though they would bring her invitations, nice ones, tied with ribbons, and they would say as though she could just go: buy yourself a nice dress, it will be fine!


She would like a dress, she thinks, it might be an antidote to this spartan existence.
If things could change.

What would change?

She stretches her legs. It is important to move. To be ready, should the door unlock.
On a whim, she looks back in the box. 

Once she had found a small flower there, a sky-blue hopeful bloom. 

In the box this time she sees a string of stars, glowing tiny stars knotted in twine! 
She picks them up, holds them up. Stars! 

As she holds them up it comes to her that she should decorate the ivy, that the stars would look even more beautiful placed in those glossy leaves; she twists them in, around the stray stem.

They are perfect, shining in the greenery. 

Titania sits on the carpet scrap staring. 
It doesn’t matter being trapped. Her eyes are full. Her heart is full.
How beautiful those stars are! 
Under her the carpet turns moss green.

‘Things are changing.’ 
She says the words out loud without needing anyone to hear them. 
She lies down, to watch the ivy slide and widen to a trunk, the stars spread along low branches; wind up and up to the evergreen tip.

Her plain clothes shiver into tulle and sequins.

Titania climbs the tree. Her limbs are stiff but the boughs are regular, the fir-leaf is earthy, fresh, energetic.
‘Come on Titania,’ she says, ‘this is it - up, up!’
Till she is at the top and sitting, jostling in with the largest star.
‘Oh my gosh,’ she says, ‘I have no idea how I will get down from this tree!’
She laughs. 
From here she views the painting of the sea; how light softens in the glass lamp.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Wasp And Map

So, where are we?

There’s a wasp in the bathroom again, wandering on foot, has an air of lost yet determined.
Can relate. I photographed it.

Where was it we wanted to be?
Can’t recall. Mostly we have dropped the habit of expectation. There does need to be space for spontaneity. 
A map point check, that’s what we need.

We had started out on this journey, let’s presume a mountainous route, not on the mountain at all, but way below sea level.
Mountains were myths. 
Nevertheless, we trudged upwards.
Trudge is an apt word. Eyes almost shut, one foot at a time, weary, that word holds the feeling well.

Don’t be sorry for us though, we also had good coffee and places to go wild swimming, and car park picnics, and belly laughs.

And a sort of destination.

A bit of land to call our own. A house we built. A sanctuary. I want a lake, and woods, and probably a pirate ship, and a hillbilly hot tub, a sauna made of old tyres - it’s all so real in my head, but we’re not there yet, we shouldn’t over-design it.

The route is mysterious. Mist shrouded.
Planned and unplanned, events help, hinder, help, hinder.
Make a guess.
Brave the step.
You get the picture.

As less and less of this year is left, it’s a natural reaction to look around, check co-ordinates.
SO: after a slew of working 70-100 (plus!) hours, and still growing vegetables, and still writing books, and being (a bit) tearfully delirious, I find myself here…
Business school course: done. We’re on to the mentoring phase now. Intending to start to a charcoal business, diversified into foraged syrups. All to fund the land, these enterprises, without ruining the earth.
Work: slowed down to an average 48 hours per week. All 15 modules of a shiny new care work certificate completed too. Smug: but I rushed it, might need more effort yet.
Garden: red sprouts in season. We love them. Limes aplenty on the polytunnel’s most iconic tree.
Books: one got published, I remember. I did that. Next couple in process. Written, need re-writing, as many times as it takes.
Teaching: been an Assistant Instructor (with the Tae Kwon-Do Association of Great Britain) for years, have recently, somehow, survived the requirements to gain my full Instructor certificate. Not sunk in yet, this news.
Family: lots. Bonkers. Grandchild 1 is weeks away from being 8 years old. 2 just earned her 9th Kup belt. 3 wants a works van. 4 is in love with her book advent calendar. 5 is coming out of her clingy phase. 6 can’t wait to pile in.

Idyllic, on the whole, lingering exhaustion and the state of the kitchen aside (#many have eaten here, few have died) the trudge makes us appreciate it all the more. 
Not boastful, not bragging: grateful, and surprised at what we’ve got.

Last night, after class, I sat in our car, our smelly, dirty car, listening to the irregular percussion of rain, watching a line of beech leaves, how they snaked in the strong fingers of the wind - and it was, surely, exactly where I needed to be.

I don’t know where the wasp went. I wish it well.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

November Cold

Poorly me sat in bed, looking through a window:
I see the grey-stone shed has chartreuse lichen and one tawny leaf stuck in the centre of a wobbly tile: all the roof looks like the teeth of a doddery monster. There's a job to be done before winter storms in and floods out the dodgy electrics.
Roof dentist.
I see drab olive clouding the polytunnel - it needs washing, so what there is of winter's light can filter through, keep our greens growing.

Later, when my cold-head clears, none of that will trouble me; nor the rat burrow newly appeared under the compost bins, nor the pruning or the planned adventures with miscible oils, or setting out the fruit cage frame which should have been done months ago. So I will not fret.

Patience for resting is a new skill.
I shan't say I've mastered it. The dusting got done, and the carpets swept, rosehips brewed, and maybe I did flavour some sugars, and wring the juice from an orange. And one load of laundry. Perhaps.

The air is like a reverse heat haze, not quite rain, not quite mist, a sort of smudge and glimmer. I'm watching plumes of fir darken to silhouettes, and how the fence is lost under ivy, and how the wooden slats on the big shed have weathered in. It looks like an upturned barge.

There's bare twig in the back hedge, new growth in the field beyond.
Dormancy, winter brings: potent in pause.