Saturday, 30 November 2013

A Yule Tale 2013

This year's festive contribution stems from reading about the Mongolian Winter Solstice: deeply spiritual, community orientated and amply catered. 

Ice In The Evergreen

Leaves have dropped from the birch trees. Silver bark shines against bare dark earth for a while; then the black streaks are stark against a backdrop of snow. We are no strangers to cold here. This is autumn snow. Our winter starts at the solstice point, spans nine lengths of nine days, drops into chill; like a body without a heartbeat, Grandmother says.

'Maybe this year the earth will stay dead.'

She says this every year. I think she believes it.

I love the ice on the evergreens, where the sun touches, that's my glimmer of hope.

'Fetching the water for Grandmother, Monkh?'
'Yes, Vachir. Is winter close? It feels close.'
Vachir laughs. 'How thick was the ice?'
I hold out a finger, horizontal, to show him.
He nods. 'It will be getting thicker soon.'
It is not quite an answer. He is teasing, so he deserves the face I pull at him. Vachir's hut is the centre of our village, and the centre of his hut is an evergreen tree.
'Perhaps this year you can let go of your bad attitude, Monkh. But you may keep your questions.' He pats my head and moves on. He is probably going to look at the sky. He watches the sky and we watch him. Any day now he will say it is time. Since the peak of summer the night has been crawling in: closer, closer. The sun slips away: little by little it strays, further and further.

'I saw Vachir.'
Grandmother raises her eyebrows, hoping for news.
'I think he was just going to look at the sky. He asked how thick the ice was.'
I hold out my finger again to demonstrate. She nods.
'It won't be long,' she says, 'the sun can't go much further, or it won't come back. These are dangerous days, Monkh.'
'Yes, Grandmother, I know.' But she carries on with her words anyway.
'Dark grows no crops, ripens no berries. There must be time to rest but not too much or things will never move again.'
Singing interrupts her: it sounds quite drunk. Grandmother shakes her head. It's Altai, of course.
'That's not going to improve his luck,' she says. It has been a bad year for him though, so she isn't actually cross. 'Some of these rugs are looking shabby, we need to get the loom out.'
'Yes Grandmother.' There isn't much danger of too much rest here.

The wool on the loom is deep red-brown, orange-yellow, blazing red. It's as warm as fire, to look at those colours: they blend and flicker and put a mind to trance. A knock at the door interrupts. It's Vachir.
'Solstice is two nights distance,' he tells us. 'Are you prepared?' He is teasing Grandmother now.
'Always!' She pulls a face at him.
'Food or vodka, I don't mind. Vodka is good but don't ferment all your milk like Altai!'
'What would happen, Vachir, if you couldn't see the sun?'
'I can always see the sun Monkh, no matter how far it travels.'
'But if it wouldn't come back?'
'I know what to do to bring it back. But we must not take it for granted.'
Now my face is all puzzle.
'Be always grateful and mindful and happiness follows.'
'Happiness? From thinking? From a full mind? Like a stomach is full?'
Vachir laughs. 'You ask too many questions. I must knock on other doors.'
Grandmother is laughing at me too. 'Young people;' she says, 'it is the same for people as for the earth.'
My puzzle face squashes up further.
'Look at your naval too long, you will get run over by a yak!' Grandmother and Vachir chuckle away, and he waves goodbye. Grandmother carries on with her laughing like she knows something that I don't.
'That won't finish your rug,' I tell her and she pulls a face at me.
'We'll make dumplings this year.' She says it as though I have asked.
I smile. Dumplings are my favourite part of the feast. We all must bring something to share, something to give up.
'To cling to things is burdensome.'
Vachir says this every year. He definitely believes it. His hut is almost bare, except for these occasions.

Tables are set up and covered in fine dishes. Three lots of fried dumplings this year! Altai puts a jug of fermented milk on the table. He lets go of the handle slowly. Vachir pats his shoulder. The smell of food is wonderful: rich and fat. That will keep the cold out! But we can't eat it yet.
Vachir counts heads with his eyes that can see the sun no matter where it goes. He holds his hands up. As well as food, I can smell the pine tree. Vachir keeps his hands in the air, so the villagers sit, facing the tree, facing Vachir. Tuul takes a while because of her leg. Enkh's baby cries at first but she rocks him and he sleeps. It becomes expectantly quiet. Vachir closes his eyes. The tree tells him what to say, Grandmother told me. He can see the sun and he can hear the earth.

'In the dark we look at ourselves most clearly. There is no distraction in the true night. We admit our faults. We understand what to do, to make right what may have gone wrong. We make a promise to do this. Now is the time for this moment. It is the time when the sun is almost beyond reach.
We follow the old ways to know again the light and warmth.
We bring something to share, to show that we will help each other.
We bring something to relinquish. To cling to things is burdensome.
Look to yourself, in this darkness, do not look elsewhere. But if you are distracted, remember to forgive mistakes, let go of troubles: whoever is lost in this darkness, let us help, let us not harm. That way we will travel back to light as the light travels back to us.
Year by year, we share, we relinquish, we are thankful: it has not failed us yet. If you are with me, if you are ready, we will find our light.'

Old Temur passes Vachir a cup. He drinks every drop out of it. His eyes roll back. Old Temur beats a drum. I hold Grandmother's hand, and Tuul's, who sits uncomfortably on my other side. Vachir sings a strange and wordless song. It is hot, the pine scent grows stronger, fresher, cools the air.
The North Star sits above us. We don't see it from here, but we know it. This is the Winter Solstice, the point from where the day begins to grow, the night to shrink.

The wordless sounds can swoop, like flying, and the air cools and the sounds take us all the way through the cold black air to the North Star and we see a shimmer of faraway sun: and hold out our hands and the faint warmth reaches back and we all feel the promise made: it will find us as we found it, we are part of it, we are all part of everything: earth, water, air, fire.
Altai will let go of his grief.
Tuul will not worry about her leg.
Grandmother: what will she do? Stop teasing?
And me: I will love her for looking after me. I understand mindful. I am grateful. Maybe I will still ask questions!
It is silent. How long has it been silent?
We open our eyes. It is so bright in here: the tree bursts with shine, it sparkles more than ice in the evergreen.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Baby Boy

They are that small: who can remember? It's not been so long but still we puzzle it. He has a frown. It is troublesome to be born, he says, with this frown and his closed eyes and his scrunched posture. Oh, we say: Baby Boy it will be lovely, you'll see, later, when your eyes can sort shape from colour. Ask your cousin, she has been here for years: two, nearly two and a half. She puts a hand on your hair, it's soft as her own rabbit. You hold her finger- he's got hands, she tells us: her eyes open up wide, all mystery and appreciation.
Little Grandson had said all along: when the baby comes, my brother. He is at school when we visit, forging ahead, reconnaissance stuff. Of nature tables and Lego, of numbers, letters, hierarchy, protocol, dinosaurs and biscuits, he has knowledge to impart: gravitas with giggles: such a wry smile he has: those boys, we will be saying: oh, those boys!
Every day, every minute: babies are born: ergo: every day, every minute: the potential is immaculate.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Waiting Begins Around 7pm

Anxious happy: calm is the desired state. Think of the mind as flat water. On the shore so many fine grained, foliated, metamorphic rocks: perfect pieces of creation, the perfect size to hold, smooth, multi-tonal. It won't be long before a few bounce out, skimming rings; a visual echo. These waves descend from surface to sediment: they are dippy, in their hither-thither, deep in their love, predictable, wonderful.

Little Grandson is with his cousins. He needs a distraction or two. A shore of stones would do well for him. When he was done with the tricks of magicking spray: like walls of water: he would see how a wall could be built on the land. A line of the stones, layered up. A house, or a castle: something more permanent than the splash and no less charmed. In the garden will be enough trees to feed a herd of friendly dinosaurs. Maybe he will sit on the wall and look at the reflective water, at how the world can be upside down and this is how things are.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Pumpkin Bona Fide

Down to the river curiosity draws booted steps. Today is a day to kick off boots, if the washed squash is still there, oddly trapped: wade out to find out if it's real, plastic or other as yet uncertain thing.
It is there, an orange shine between weeded rocks.
It still seems unexpected.
The shallows are shallower, today: the boots have clearance, an inch at least below the rim. There's a  comprehensible path for the rescue, which contains mild peril.
The water pushes, impressively weighted.
Rocks underfoot are loose, and slippery.
Measured steps, practiced calm, a hand stretched to steady on a halfway boulder.
And then, the squash is lifted: proves itself real, being flawed and open under the waterline. I can see seeds in the cavity.
Steadily, back track, lift it higher on the bank, out of the flood plain into a bed of moss and dry leaf.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

An Ice Glaze

Subdued sun: noon has early evening light.
Plants are frost-brittle. A quality of stoppage rules the sky until a distant shotgun ruffles up the pigeons. The hedge is warmly hued, under the glistening freeze: if the sun were fiercer today it would steam, like the neck of a serpent in a torrid swamp.
Over the roll of the earth Dog and I stroll, happily absorbed, homewards.
On the couch a damp Dog has snuck. In through windowpanes a brief lift of sun: it compliments the handsome leaves of the avocados.

Monday, 25 November 2013

An Unforaged Squash

A tonnage of leaf from pale to brassy rustles like brushes on cymbals. The river silvers and suddenly a pumpkin is caught between two rocks. I want to fetch it but the water would flood my boots. I don't why I didn't take off the boots: to avoid the cold, in spite of adventure?
If I had reached it I would have placed it above flood level and wondered all year: will pumpkins then grow wild in the woods?
It was smooth and unsmashed so perhaps it was plastic. I would have brought it home to decorate the garden or tumble into a recycle bin.
Whatever the truth: I stood in the shallows, brimmed with marvel.

Underdogs Happy Dogs

The air is notably colder. It condenses, crunches into surface ice. Coffee flask rolls in the passenger foot well: glugs, reassuring. Bags are packed and loaded.
The address is not difficult to find. The house is cute. Here is a child I saw last as waving white fuzz on an ultrasound. Here are the dogs I walked: three years ago over the flattened sands of Castle Rock. Here we are, eating curry and talking names for a newer baby while a blonde elf child scores the dresses on a dance show. A Staffordshire terrier curls underfoot. The other, the scruffy part Lurcher, sleeps on his cushion. You should know his story: that once my friend was having a terrible day and sat on the steps of a theatre. A neglected fur tangle snuck up to sit in comfort with her. She saw the burns on his whippy body and could only take him home. There was talk of the Dog Warden, initially. If we can't home him… the man said. He has a home, she decided. A future.
Curry simmer wobbles the stovetop pan. It is later than we thought: we have talked so well.
Morning starts in a sizzle: bacon, egg, mushrooms, sea salt, fresh pepper. Sandwiches are made, though we claim this unnecessary. Coffee we do not protest.
Next task: parking. And the various duties of a competition: today brings one slick of sick, one bloodied nose, one ice pack to hold to a throat, a few questions; This is Cadets, Ring 15, up to 75kg, is the Instructor here; an improvised rubbish bin: refreshments for the medics who bring both mend and cheer. There's the lad who finds himself solo in his weight division, asks to move up, fights the bigger lad, loses, is glad for the experience.
On the trawl homewards, those sandwiches are fantastic: the coffee superlative.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Ice And Fire

In the night the world is crystallised.
In the distance is traffic noise: here only one human, a cat, a few chickens, a dog stirs. Sun edges a dark cloud much as flame edges a fry pan.
In the field Dog wakes the wild birds, springs two roe deer. She catches nothing, cares not, exhales happy steam.
In pale cloud scatters the moon is camouflaged. From the horizon a puzzling dot grows into a hot air balloon.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

A Colour Wash

Day cold bright in blue, in luminous cloud
Washing scarcely dries on the rotary line
Though the wind breathes all over it
A day does what it does so a fire is struck
A half load of t-shirts dangle in the polytunnel
The grass grows overlong underneath
Indoors, the wet towels and trousers of today's wash
Hued inky, plum, pitch-black
Drape the amber wood of the old clotheshorse
Silver change gathers in a pot, for later, for the launderette.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

A Candle, Creamy White

An hour's yomp to Feather Tor and back. Mud sucks boots. Wind slaps face. Coats inflate, puff the walkers up ping-ping like popcorn.
The watch is consulted. It gives seven minutes to climb the slabbed granite and wrestle the air.
We are on time for Little Granddaughter, who has been playing and needs glasses and an eye test and has not drawn a picture of a cat: the very idea! But she will see the cats at Nanny's house and they have hair and she has hair but cats don't have glasses or a eye test.
She relates this information to Nanny.
'Peppa Pig!' we say to each other, remembering the episode. Pedro Pony sports a fine pair of spectacles.
Rain falls, heavy, smacks an acorn onto the windscreen.
Cardboard is coaxed to flame. Gravy simmers on the Rayburn hob.
A table candle pulses, creamy white.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Crouching Winter

After the frost moon hail falls.
Cells of ice hold tight
On the weathered planks of the pallet table.
The sun wakes up cold, splashes watery light.
Leaf by leaf colour blows from trees.
There's a perceptible breath of winter:
It pads closer: a thing luxuriant
Stark, sparkling, perilous.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Night Exposure

The moon is a summoning eye
All things are drawn to it.
A line of hopes and fears strings
From here to there; swings shakily
In that peerless pearling light.
There is no denial.
The moon gazes on everything
Serene, steadfast, startling.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Soul Blazing

The earth turns our view out of day, into night. A deepening mottle of cloud, silk-soft, harmonious, settles low. All is shadow in the antiqued light.
Eyes adapt, ears are confused: there is music: the percussion of which is traced to water twisting in a ridged drainage pipe.
Cool air on skin; scent of wet grass. A lick of dark coffee, lingering.
Like the water tumbles a convergence comes.
It is enough, in life, sufficient of itself, to have this sentient experience: to be delighted by it. Anything that is not part of this is superfluous.
It is not what is done; not endured, adored, embraced nor denied; it is the perception of it.
It is walking through this blend of evening shades, soul centred, blazing.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Steering Boots

If I like a path I like to walk it to the end. Most often it steers to another path. Maybe I'll choose this one, maybe I won't: it's all whim, here in the park where the wind plucks trees bare under a vague sky.
I like to walk where I walk, off the path prescribed in tarmac: locate fallen leaves, amble under portly old firs, stand, observant, on the concentric lines of the stump.
Hands and knees are the best kind of cold: wakeful, not painful. A random taupe leaf sticks to my boot's toe.

Friday, 15 November 2013

House Of The Aptly Shambolic

Hail strike on windowpanes wakes us before the day has begun; one of those frustrating days where simple tasks are complex traps although no crockery slips off the draining board and tea is prepared in time and there are moments where rainbows loop themselves in cloud even if Dog sighs, disappointed in a shortened walk; my phone case is easily mended and Little Granddaughter says 'So'ry Nam-ma,' unasked, sincerely.

(So'ry being word ointment for situations in which, somehow, something is broken or food or beverage, somehow, makes contact with carpet.)

It feels colder than the gauge reports. The night sky is clear, in part; three quarters of a rotund moon exquisitely visible.
On the way home we stop to buy milk. Car park trees, shivery in the wind chill stand isolate, planted apace.
Home is warm, dishevelled; has a smell of coal smoke, wet dogs, boiled vegetables. It is, in short, a suitable mess.

Thursday, 14 November 2013


Frost spreads in the night and the morning arrives sparkling. The sun keeps a clear path, melts it all, it keeps the sparkle: the twink, the sense of mischief and glamour. Dog and I run through field grass kicking diamonds. Oak leaves blow down, opulent in colour: one falls into my hand, almost directly, a clear gift.
At home one has wetted boots and an old brown leaf: yet the experience will not depreciate.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Wash Cycle

All around, walls of cloud. Propped above, precarious, a blue sky. Washing on the line all day, in sun and brisk wind, is drier but not dry: holds a scent of autumn, an apple-spice, cool air smell. Each peg unclipped drops into the pot, each item lumps into the basket. Starlings make their massed flights, indistinctly edged against the pallid glare of sun. In the field behind one pheasant whirrs up, wings so mechanical. Cat is curled, sheltered, by the flowerpots. Dog pushes her nose along the grass. In the kitchen the Rayburn is lit, the washing up is regrouping, is always regrouping. Hot sticky swirls of rosehip line the big pan.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Eleventh Hour

Boy has an alarm set.
We take our two minutes reflection on the drive to Plymouth.
Rain smudges sky and land together.
On Royal Parade poppies decorate trees.
Every memorial is adorned: bright rings under the dark lists of names, the dense squared stone.
Names, listed; lives, loves, heroics, fear; compressed to this. Too many names to unfold each: too much to endure, too much to forget.

Sunday, 10 November 2013


A Sunday set aside for remembrance.
Most of the day I am up in the nursery room, painting a tree for the imminent grandchild. Little Grandson sits cross-legged in the cot, asks one question for every brush stroke. Why is paint wet, for example, and where's the owl.
Soup for lunch, two kinds, homemade.
Baby Girl drops by to visit, chewing car keys. She brings Mum and Nan and a light up teddy. Little Grandson kisses her on the nose.
Back at the paint face, the last leaf is lined.
Coffee and cake to celebrate.
Across the world; we see by television; a hurricane has torn up towns, wiped out homes, lives, securities.
Little Grandson is tired, he drags a blanket to the sofa.
A poppy wreath props on the cenotaph. A camera pans over faces: tensed, grieving, respectful faces.

Friday, 8 November 2013


Shoes unlaced, socks inside out, left on a car seat.
Trouser legs: one two: rolled up.
Prints in pairs press soft sand. Onshore the wind blows, steals a childlike chuckle, throws it over storm bashed garden walls.
Rain drives sidewards, cold as pebbles.
The café is open. Soup is waiting.

At night the moon crescent rests over clouds: the glimpsed belly of a genie.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Sleep Deficient

23:32. Put the espresso mug down.
Admit, relinquish. The sky, vast and soft and cold and black and silver speckled, turns slow overhead, whale-esque.
How wearisome it seems, to need sleep or nutrients or basic hygiene.
One would rather be as the sky: existent, encompassing.
Can eyes crumple?
Under-shadowed: distant as the night.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013


We are under water.
Shoals of rain flash past: deft, tiny pieces.
Puddle surface breaks like mirrors.
It is the nature of water to unshatter: smooth to its course.
Without flow it chokes.
At home chicken bones are split to broil in a steel pan. Steam jitters the lid, escapes in warmly spiced blooms.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Low-Key Festivities

The way the wind blows is roguish today. It ties knots in loose hair, chucks tree debris, tugs at moorings. One pheasant attempting flight is held at a hover till it gives up. Clouds are pushed till they fall into one fuzzed grey spread.

Indoors, a busy oven: the last of the pumpkin seeds roast, a pan of butter boils to ghee. The floors are swept and we are indecisive about the washing.

Drive home from work under a dark sky, not one firework appears.

There are evenings when we have stood, bundled in outdoor padding, sighing at flagrant fires in the sky: tiny against mountainous flames: writing shapes with fizzing white heat: thrilled by the tar barrels: ears crackling with luminous shrieks.

Indoors, behind the Rayburn door, coals and hand-hewn logs form an orange opal underworld. The flames are lazy, magnificent, mauve-tinted.