Thursday, 3 January 2019

Unfinished


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.
Spider-bellies!
Phone-children!
Haha!
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.
Mist.

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!




Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Penguins Bring Good Cheer






On Monday the first thing I take note of is a waning gibbous moon. A blue-silver bloom floating in pale morning sky. Two cloud tufts make eyes, the moon makes a button nose, a face more awake than mine. Cold takes hold of my fingertips, brings attention to frosted car windows. A visible sigh in the beautiful air. It’s Monday and I need to drive. Blow a kiss to the mouthless moonface, grab the ice scraper. (Call yourself petal out loud, no else is awake to know about it. List the things to be done: do this, do the next thing. Get it done, petal.)
Yesterday we trailed to Exmouth, piled the little car high with boys and dogs, took them to the beach. Grandchild 1, Grandchild 4. Two of our counted blessings. One football, a few squabbles: the usual brother-banter. A slimmed down Fat Beagle, a springy Dog who would ache later. A dog’s ball for throw and fetch. (For spaniel Dog, for this is her vital work. Beagle is more about the scents and the schmooze.)
No sooner do we tread the sands than the miracles begin. Penguins, Grandchild 4 shows us (they look much like crows) PENGUINS THAT FLY!! But they are birds, he further reasons, so of course birds will fly. On no account are they not penguins. Grandchild 1 chuckles. Agrees. Joins our conspiracy of cuteness. Penguins!
We go in search of caves but the tide is closing and the sky drops its colour and the little one tells us that the the sunrise is going down. Yes, we say, how lucky we are to see this. A sunrise that goes down! Look - more penguins!
They both get wet feet. They share throwing the ball for Dog. Five goes each: a challenge to get the ball to the sea before Dog grabs it. Fat Beagle grunts at smells. A girl asks to pet him; he has such soft ears. Return the boys to warm up, eat home-cooked food, lie on sofas, lamp-lit and overtired and watching Christmas films - because this year more than ever we’re all in it for the feels, not the stuff. (Though we bought birthday presents for Grandchild 4: he wanted glue for making things and seeds to grow. They’ll be peas and broad beans and purple carrots and, if tended right, the world’s biggest pumpkin grown by a five year old.) And here I am on a Monday, under the nose of the moon- and look, a penguin!




Wednesday, 21 November 2018

The Sense We Make




Laura Denaire Harris, oncology nurse, cancer warrior


Dedicated to the memory of Laura Denaire Harris
19th May 1975 ~ 31 October 2018


We travel a road copper-edged in dropped leaf.
Under crooked branches a filigree of gold and shade falls upon us.
A burst of starlings, as though blown from the boughs: silhouettes swooping through blue, in a bloom of sunlight.
We cross a shining river on a sturdy bridge, each arch has a shadow-shimmer on the water below.
Pass a thatched cottage where a rose shakes in the bite of the breeze.
The air has no warmth beyond the sun’s reach.

We walk through the town to find the right church; pass paramedics kneeling by a man who is prone on the street in a sleeping bag. There are people at a cashpoint queuing, subdued. Passersby viewing with concern. A busker without a coat, his face pinched pink. Shops open, some lit for Christmas. In a gilded doorway, a couple ask directions from a lady who points as she speaks.

We find the church, the hearse - this is just part of life, the big picture of everyday life, this gloss black transport, this crumbled red brick - we remind ourselves. A lady with a pen waits patiently for names to be spelt; each letter stumbles out, however normal we know this to be.
I never saw a wicker coffin before - the prettiness of it, unexpected.
Blindsided by something cute: a detail.

Hush in the congregation save for the pipings of young children.
Murmurs. Tissues pulled from pockets. The church organ plays.
To shoulder a casket is an honourable thing; a piercing bravery, a bond between worlds.
They carry her in that pretty wicker, her family, her friends.
Place her at the head of us, to be celebrated.

People drawing strength from need stand to give tribute.
We see a life - a grand adventure, devotion, mischief, achievements - it is what has passed and will be missed and to be grateful for. How proud she was of her family, of her friends, of her calling to be an oncology nurse: her uniform was her going out dress, today.
(Collectively we are not going to win any choir prizes; it is sweet that we try. There’s a warmth in that.)
Hands press into neighbouring hands, by thoughtful request. Literally, a nice touch.
Each speaker given applause for what they share, and for the sharing itself.
We look after each other, today.
Hands in hands. Arms open: comfort in proximity.
Comfort in the petting of dogs, in memories of kindness and fun. Hot release of weeping, and slow fond tears.
This beautiful mess of grief that can only be made with love - for which we can and cannot be sad - this connection is the joy of sorrow.

Night brought with it the image of a half moon. Leaves blew, colours unseen.
This wonderment of mess!
These details!
Moments, fragments - they become our whole stories: yes, a life is made of moments, yes: it is how we bring our attention to them that makes the composition work.
The sense we make.



Laura Denaire marries Paul Harris, celebrating life



Friday, 9 November 2018

How To Catch A Cold Without Regret



One good skimming stone, one limpet shell saying 'O'



If I wash my hair today, tomorrow I could schedule in some combing. 
Not to glorify busy, if messy hair is a glorification. I forget. It could be fashionable, if that word still exists.
Anyway, here I am babbling: poor time management; though most things seem to be getting done; the big picture is a body of water - me and my task list are bouncing over it, skimmed stones – I'm not at all sure if I know what I’m doing but I’m doing it. 
 There’s a destination which we may or may not reach.
Even r
est time is skittish: yet this fear is relished – if only all fear were like this!  

Doubt is less popular. The work ahead is a weight I haven’t fully figured how to shoulder.   Did I ever figure out any previous burdens?  
Luckily, no! An encouraging precedent!  

 When I am standing on the shore, a real shore, and the air is gathering chill and the water is silky-dark, I doubt my ability to get in and swim. But then I am swimming. Gulls wheel and cry, yacht ropes clank. I’m a giant in a bladder-wrack forest. Perfect twists of wood drift by.  The sky can be anything – bursting golds, dissolving greys, lashing rain - it cannot be wrong.  

 Later again I am curled in blankets, brimming with symptoms, reminding myself that plenty of folk have this same virus without braving the swim: busy without the bounce.



A beach at twilight encourages adventures