Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The Page Unwritten

I love this about history: the stories; oh, best of all the stories: from conqueror to waif: from tectonic shifts of geology to the hatching of a rare egg: the feeling of otherness that one can glean from trying to understand another time, another place; the awareness of basic human experiences like love and financial insecurity, the shock of mortality, the inspiration of courage shown.
Only… if it were to gently rock to a stop... not a frozen in its tracks stop… perhaps a boat at a mooring on a fine weather day…
The focus, then, would it fall on the oddities of nature?
What if 2013 were most memorable for unusual cloud formation, for admirable sky colouration, for the best spider webs on record?
Do think of it, for sometimes one has had enough of the debris, of the way that people can be scattered, hurt, abandoned, lost, misdirected, miss the point, forget that all this has happened before in different clothes and make up and the outcome was not happy, it never will be.
Mankind has a drive to press an indelible print: part of what makes us lovely, part of what makes us disgusting. What is really worth your ink? A new year is a new page, unwritten.

Monday, 30 December 2013


Sunday Afternoon
December sun turns the landscape silver nitrate: the day like an exposure for a scene: between river and quarry pool where the wall is crumbling. We came here when the wall was covered, unknown under earth and moss. We came here when the earth tumbled, the slate blocks shining, the tree roots, exposed. We came here when the water pushed through stones and through the dark roots, the fingers fumbling.
Monday Morning
White noise in the chimney hollow, tapping rain on window glass, strands of ivy shook loose, soft soot thuds. All the electric is strangled: torches found, candles lit, fire stoked, the fuse box investigated. The storm takes a pause, as though distracted. The lights cough back. No sign of settle in this weather system.
The calendar is close to running out of pages.
Miles and miles we walked this year.
Today I will polish my boots.

Friday, 27 December 2013

The Years

Elmore Leonard advises against opening a book with the weather or wasting plot time describing objects or places. For conversion to film that is sterling advice, naturally, and there's no reason why a reader can't be an involved part of that snappily paced adventure on paper either. One is allowed some fun, one hopes. It's Christmas, so I'm out on a round of visits and meals and this afternoon have been paddling in the sea sipping port and brandy out of a hip flask, so I don't have a copy of the book I want to talk about with me and these words might have an uneven pace, a drift and giggle gait. Clouds drift, beautiful puffy ball gown clouds, the sky is a Wedgwood dome. We're at Bluebell Barns admiring the mackerel shoal sculpture. Later the solar light will catch them shimmering silver in make-believe waters. We are warm on the corner sofa with a clear view and strong coffee. Three dogs sleeping. I shall get back to the point now. The Years is the last book that Virginia Woolf published in her lifetime and if you have time for weather and little details there is something here that makes the whole so much more than the sum of the parts: the description is the narrative. In brief: the novel follows the lives of the Pargiter family from the 1880s to the 1930s (the then present day) and was first envisaged as a sort of long essay of stories about the social and economic life of women. Published in 1937 it is not a new book and it is possible you have already heard of it/read it/studied it: if so, it is worth a revisit, I think.
A very good review here if you want more information (yes, this may be cheating. But my friends are making Bellinis and the mackerel require further admiration.)
The details are not little, after all, they are how life is, and how life is, is important.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Queen Lily Makes A Speech

Christmas is a time for messages, Queen Lily asserts, waving a glass of dry sherry, so here's mine:
The pressure to conform is oppressive unless you ignore it, as is the pressure to react. The will to help, the ability to love, these are what makes you beautiful, what justifies your place in the world. Nothing you put on your face, in your wardrobe, in your bank account or display in your house or garage adds to you at all. But if you are a painted fancy rich curator in a big car I can still find something I do like about you: maybe you have a penchant for fun and a well stocked wine cellar? Every time a line is drawn between them and us the world stays divided. Learn by mistakes, lead by example and raise your glass, or your nice cup of tea, or wheatgrass shot or champagne flute; that's incidental, you probably realised, and let us toast the future of happiness, not just for Christmas but for always, at the heart of a healthy and truly wealthy world. Cheers!

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

O Lovely Calm

In a lull of storm a stroll to the river to see how it spills: fast, capacious. The nouveau delta valley is dangerous and charming. Bright raw wood dots the dark undergrowth: trees fresh weather-felled. Stern faced cloud sails our way. Water tumbles through the quarry wall. Later, maybe, the wall will tumble down, dissipate, river swept. Meanwhile the pool is calm, reflecting a bloom of sun.


Granma Grace laughs. Mr apes her instructions that this bag must go to those people, that bag to these people and the envelopes on no account opened before the event of Christmas Day.
'Or you will die,' I add, mock-sombre.
Her eyes blue-glitter. 'Yes, that's right.' Mock-sombre right back.
Little Granddaughter adds tomato sauce to her pasty platter, then cries, for reasons unknown.
'Well, if you talk to me I can help, okay?' Girl shrugs the drama aside.
A glass of water brings some respite.
Boy fetches biscuits.

Mr and Little Grandson play rugby in the front room. Baby Boy is there, sleeping in a Moses basket. They play with a soft ball but just to be perfectly safe they shhh don't tell Mum.

Girl, Little Granddaughter, eyes of brown onyx; walking home, blowing kisses.

Boy looks at his list of cards to finish. Sighs. He helps unload, reload the car.

New baby in a pram, arms akimbo, feet blanket tangled. Toddler sister turns blue play dough into jam and bread and there's two Nans at the table, a Dad at the door, an Auntie washing her hands, a small dog, a Grandad in passing, a Mum manhandling vast bagged turkeys and me paying compliment to the lovely blue jam. A hamper from us, bottles of deep fruit hues. Other talk of babies of course and the terrible weather.

Sixty watts of electric light shine through our homemade lace shade, adds striations to the walls, colours like sandstone. Sheen-soft gold, the window dressing swings in a storm wind. The bead trim clacks. The beads look like small grey shells. A long day of driving in spray; side wind shoves; sharp and obscuring rain, coffee from the pink flask. Never seen Yeolmbridge so low in the water. How cozy up here, wrapped warm; downstairs the car keys hung up on the hook, the raincoats in a row drying, the fire chugging, the front room strafed in crafted paper off cuts.
The fridge door creaking open so we can repeat the marvel of the gifted bird: crammed in, twelve and half kilos plus gizzards.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

An Acknowledgment Of Birds

A walk on the safer side, today: no ponies lurking amidst twilit bracken and bones. Over the arcs of cut-crop fields clouds tower. They have storm left in them. A storm shortage is unlikely.

Dog has a beauty day, first a whole body mud wrap then tea tree foam, cold rinse and an ear trim. A mild chill brews in my head and back indoors it is all about wrapping up. This jumper is bobbled from use: comfortable and flecked gold. Presents stack under the tinsel tree, labeled.

This time last year, we review: Mr Craig gave us the beautiful shock, the surprise wedding! We were thinking of our friend who was touch and go after a car crash. Ian Rice was poorly, we were used to it, it was just a fact. Little Godson on the phone, telling us about snow and a kestrel that hit a pigeon.
The pigeon survived.

Two magpies, I saw, out walking: one for sorrow, two for joy…

This year: Baby Girl joins her parents for anniversary celebrations, the young man who survived the crash smiles and waves when I drive past. I love the Christmas card I get from Little Godson and his Mum. There's a picture of his clownish Dad, the memorable Mr Rice, and several of the godson gooning in snow.

The custom is to greet a solo magpie, to deflect the sorrow it represents, something I have done out of polite habit, as though the bird would be offended otherwise. This year I have changed this: I say, I know, Magpie, there is always sorrow somewhere. No point pretending or hiding. A sigh is released. And when I see two magpies harbingering happiness: I know that too.

The kestrel, I said to Little Godson; they had called right after it happened: that was a surprise wasn't it?
The child responds in all innocent joy: 'I nearly shat my pants!'

I could hear his mother shriek in the background.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

An Idiot Celebrates

After a roast feast, thinking of Solstice resolutions, put Dog in the back of the old red car, drive to the car park at Feather Tor. We are heading out, just Dog and I, to that intriguing stack but it's past mid-afternoon on the shortest day and that is not the easiest route without a torch. I have my phone for a torch and emergency contact. I have misplaced my gloves, and though the rest of me is adequately togged, this is a sign of poor boding. We change tack, head up Cox Tor instead. It has a nice clear path up and down, level with the car park. At the top the wind is impressive. Stop to take a picture, holding on to the vantage point and my phone: my camera, my torch, my emergency contact; is almost whipped from my fingers. Uh oh. I decide it will be easier to descend shielded, and cross back to the easy path: which at this height on the tor is also easy to miss, especially if it has been raining and the terrain is boggy, slippery, littered in pointy rocks and a person is hurried because dark and mist are blowing in. When I remember to take bearings the car park is not in sight. The wind still blows into my face, Tavistock lights, twinkling for Christmas, are down to the right, therefore this should be the correct side of the tor to be on, roadside, not moorside. Squint and just about make out what could be the intriguing Feather stack… or am I seeing what I want to see… It's rather dim, and boggy. What now? Glaring in the last light is the skeletal remains of an adult pony. Dog gives a femur an appreciative lick. I like her pragmatism. One cannot fret if one is jollied up. A few more brave steps and a dark line suggests a path and the shine on the surface says tarmac. Aha! Civilisation is reached. It's mapped, all we need is a clue. A cattle grid and a signpost: two clues! I phone Boy, our navigation expert. 'Cattle grid? Between Princetown and Tavi? Is there a steep hill? Turn left. You'll reach another cattle grid. If you do, that's where the car park is.' I have a conversation with Dog about how the whole point of going up Cox Tor was to come down the same way, and how rude of her not to remind me, though I did appreciate her company and what do you know, there were three clues not two, the incline of the hill included. We reach the other cattle grid. I can see a lone car shape waiting, am fiddling for the key when the storm breaks. Spontaneity can make an idiot of you, and if you survive you get wise. Also, you decide to get a proper torch. And stick to the route plan.

Thursday, 19 December 2013


Little Granddaughter gives instruction as to where one may hide. In the launderette it is a wedge of space between the supersize tumble dryer and the oddly angled wall. This will be the last place to be searched. It will be her turn, then: she will hide exactly there and it will be the last place to look.
In the dryer towels steam, and t-shirts and a stream of clothes, and the twenty pences and the pound coins drop in, till all the washing is dry.
Yesterday on the beach the wind blew wave spume and rain so we headed back towards the car and arrived patched in damp so we changed our clothes and bought an ice cream.
'I like a beach,' the flutey voice says, cuddled in with Teddy, a fine vanilla cone, a purple plaid blanket. 'I don't like a sea.'
'Why not?'
'It's crying.'
Between wipes across the windscreen the scene is clear: heavy clouded sky, unstill waters, the wave spray leaping, catching low light.
'It's crying?'
She nods and squints and eats her sweet ice cream.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Because Of

Storm Approaching

Water pours brown out of the tap, but hot, restfully hot. Window chinked open to let out steam. Swamp meets spa, lying in mud coloured water, peering through fog. Beyond the glass, trees lash, boughs crack, things whistle, flap, blow away. Storm air tendrils in, gentle-curious. Small dark bodied spiders tuck up in corners. One taupe slug navigates peels of paint, over on the wall where the mould is boldest. The geranium is making an effort. This thought, as the water pours, brown and hot, scooped up for rinses in the plastic pot that once held sweets at the Shaolin Circus:
That not in spite of this but because of it, happiness is here.
Dog loves Swamp Spa

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Homely Affluence

Day starts, slow as stone, a carved opal
In the earth warmth beds down deep
There's a level, the rabbits know it
Where the frost can't reach

Under the window trundles trailer loads
Of rich stinky dung, heaped and steamy
They are building a castle of it
At the top of the field: views of the river valley

Monday, 16 December 2013


Drab weather, indeterminate, damped, that's how it seems, looking out. Indoors smells of spray paint. A cold air stream runs from the door to the open window, brings an earthy edge.
Dog is pacing.
Metallic-sticky hands wipe down the front of the old smock: a pause to count: twenty years, or more or not much less, of paints layering over blue cotton. Hung up now with silver sparkles drying, a clodge of glue, old colours flaking. Heavyweight rain drummles the lean-to roof. Waterproofs are pulled on. Four oversized papier-mâché baubles glimmer in the cool living room, secretly stuffed with sweets.
Dog is prancing.
On green wooded paths, precipitation gives a rich shine. Winter's kingdom is deceptive. It blurs and covers. Under the surface life waits, curled in seedpod wrappers.
Dog is both ecstatic and replete.

Sunday, 15 December 2013


Christmas lights are paused. The extension lead is redirected for a laptop battery boost. Boy clicks and complains of hitting bedrock. We have a houseguest this week: the two lads lean in to the screen and comment.
Can't you-
Click click.
No this is as fast as you can travel, except falling out of the sky down-
Click click.
Oh, yeah, or there's, you got some smoke I guess-
Click click.
Dun-du-lalala, dun-du-lalala-
Click click.
Dog sleeps in her basket, deposed from sofa dominance. Dried mud flecks her coat from our earlier walk; from the storm thrown woodlands where the boughs knocked and the earth coughed pheasants up.
Click click.
A few Christmas cards are squeezed on the mantelpiece, in amongst the various items: a wooden model man, vegetable seeds, wedding photo, address labels.
Click click.
Have you ever made a cannon-
Click click.
You haven't lived! I'll show you-
Click click.
In comes Mr, shuffles himself a sofa spot. The lads move up. Dog wakes, sneaks in. The TV sings, aspiration songs.
Our tree is dressed smart casual; santa hat, musical tie.
Outside the weather eases down: it cools. The moon fattens up accordingly.
Click click.

Dog pats Boy

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Friday's Solicitous Commute

In the car I am doing the flipside of a road rage: the untrammelled voluminous song. Sorry, pedestrians, for the flinch the noise caused: but not for the noise. What tune it held or dropped is irrelevant. The lack of trammel is the crux.

In a sky of black glass the half-moon shears off rays, squint-bright. Stars are set, expertly: some sort of algorithm one suspects.

No matter what I write about, I write about the transcendence of fear. Not the conquering of fear itself, only the debilitation of it. I write appreciation, the most useful and genuine form of love. I write how to measure the weight of your life. The more I write like this the more I think it, feel it, live it. I look for it. One who looks stands back from the crowd. If we all look there should be no crowd: only company.

And after the journey of song and thoughts, the old red car reverses up the driveway.
For further entertainment there is wine to drink, and watching a bellied moon get stuck in a tree.  

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Field Visit

Not expecting company the cows
Were shy: they had not brushed their hair
Perhaps: but these are tiny baby cows
A-scared of me, the visitor explains
Her hair all feral in the wintry air, her hands
Drape palm up over the fence, a gesture
Placatory to the shuffling herd. An affable
Insouciance ensues.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Rub And Squish

Why does lemon go with fish?
Zen question.
Pluck this from here and that from there.
Squeeze it. Marinade. Fizz some ghee in a flat pan.
Green beans, shiny in steam.
Wedges cut from root vegetables crunch up, warm coloured.
Salt sweet and peppered.
Ghee melts, biscuity.
Fish from a river, fruit from a tree.
Doled out on warmed plates.
Some rub, some squish; agave, cocoa, apricot, rye with butter; there's a pudding. Sap, bean, dried fruit, grain, battered milk.

How the world looks after us.
The more we reciprocate, the more we can relax.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Dragon In Winter

Over the summer an oak tree fell into the river and took the form of a dragon: a whiskered Chinese dragon, playful, amenable to our games. Even Dog clambered onto the ridged back and splashed back happy to the water. Storms came, in the autumn: an elemental surge, bigger than riverbanks. Under the squall and flood, the Oak Dragon disappeared, or the soul of it was freed, or both, we could not be sure.

Today was ice bright, impetuous. The river calls though the water has levelled down. Familiar rocks reappear. The bank edges are changed: soft sanded mud re-moulded, the drooping tree snapped. Dog swims in open water, where the Dragon had stood. Fast paced the water moves, unimpeded. Snatches of branch stick at the opposite bank, inside a shadow, a ghost-spot, a dark echo.

Downstream, revealed, the body of an oak, a former dragon: not dead: transformed. Progressed. Dog sniffles after ducks. Ducks hide in the old dragon's curves.

Across the winter crop fields a heron stretches wing. It flies across the sun and cannot be caught on camera.

A real life is not a spectacle, not a list of things owned or done. It is a process that happens in the interchange, in the engagement of experience. Knowing the worth of what you have known, of what you have now, without stagnating or clinging. One cannot halt the storm, nor unbreak the bough. Whatever happens, Dragon knows: a real life happens in flow.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Giraffes In The Bookshop

This day starts in the dark, with Little Granddaughter, Monsters Inc, Mr Small and Willy, a dreaming chimp.
She speaks as she finds: Christmas, jumpers, ponies, chocolate… where is the monkey… there is the monkey and he's asleep and he's singing and he's painting one banana 'nother one banana!
Streams of consciousness converge, diverge, trickle, surge. She sets up a bookshop, is called Shopkeeper now.
Teddy rests in Dog's basket. Dog sighs. Nam-ma hauls up one fringed blind, to watch the sky, leaves one shut, for warmth. Over a peaked range, solid on the horizon, between frayed edges the light lifts.
'What would you recommend, Shopkeeper?'
Nam-ma buys two giraffes and some giraffe clothes while her coffee brews.

Saturday, 7 December 2013


Little Grandson requests some Hide and Seek. For his entertainment Granma picks a flagrant Hide, simply picking up a duvet that is lying on the sofa bed in the multipurposed play and guest room and draping it over her head. Boots, bright red boots, are sticking out underneath.

Footsteps she hears: the closet door squeak, the spoken 'No, not under the bed. She's not in here, Grandad.'
I am in here, Granma thinks. I am a person sized floral patterned lump stood over these red boots: somehow Little Grandson sees only floral bedding and has not registered the change in layout.
'Are you sure?' Grandad is in the room.
'Really sure?' That's the voice of Uncle Boy, a bit tired and gravelly after 11 miles of kayak with a sludgy partner.
'Yes,' the Grandson says, no trace of doubt. Even though the duvet is stuttering suppressed laughter.

Granma, Little Grandson and Uncle Boy sit to a table laden; several cheeses, meats, a pâté, two relishes, a chutney, a basket of breads, a bowl of frilly rocket leaf, a block piece of butter.
New Baby Boy sleeps and makes gentle wind on his mother's knee.
Baby Girl babbles from her Nanny's lap, and sometimes grumbles, and falls fast to sleep just as her bottle is ready.
Grandad drifts between, refills his plate; he loves the carrot relish in particular: not more than the children of course; and all the talk is food and children; Little Grandson eats mostly ham with butter.