Monday, 21 December 2015

In Stitches: A Yule Tapestry

The trip out had been put on hold, while the storm was belting.
The sky was getting darker.

It seems that nothing much will get done.

Granma is in the kitchen, filling up the kettle. Grandad is looking for his phone/glasses/keys/other item: he’s on a rolling programme of searching.
All four grandchildren gather in the next room, out of sight, well in sound.

Grandchild 3 says, with musical clarity, ‘You get on the naughty step RIGHT NOW!’
Grandchild 1 says, with a sense of subterfuge, ’You see, that’s why I don’t like her!’
Grandchild 4 (most likely recipient of the command) simply growls.
Grandchild 2 says ‘What the?!’ (She implies an expletive with a comic shrug.)
Grandchild 3 appears in the kitchen, dressed in the snuggle blanket. It trails behind her, majestic and soft.
‘I’m Elsa,’ she informs. ‘Let the storm rage oooonnnnn!’
Grandchild 4 appears, drawn to stand on the trail of the blanket.
‘Lie down,’ Granma instructs, picturing a head injury.
This is how the dragging game begins.
From the broad space in front of the fireplace, where letter blocks spell CARIAD, past the Christmas tree, where an elf has shinned up to the top star, all the way to the kitchen bin! One by one, then two by two, then a bump or two, and the game is halted by Grandad, picturing lots of head injuries.
It was fun though, with nothing else planned, to grab a blanket corner and be caught in the flow of what is.

It’s late.

Grandad the Hero gets 1-3 grandchildren tucked into bed.
Grandma has cooked bolognaise and walked dogs.
Grandchild 4, last kid standing, asks for a story, one of Granma’s stories.
He sits up in bed, so as not to be fooled into sleep.
It doesn’t work. She tips his head gently onto the pillow.
Four guileless angels, lightly snoring; bright threads going somewhere.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Yule Story 2015

The Porcupines In Winter

Winter is known for being cold. That is usual.
Some winters are mildly cold, and some fierce.
In the forest where the porcupines lived, a new winter was beginning.
The trees stood bare, all the flowers hid. This was expected.
And the weather spirits came, whirling around trunks and boughs, whispering forecasts.
In the forest where the porcupines lived, this was usual.
This year would be the coldest yet, the weather spirits told; the coldest ever. Cold enough to freeze blood, to ice a heart mid-beat. Over and over they whispered this. Never had the weather spirits been mistaken.
This winter would be extreme.
Migratory birds took fright and flew. The forest animals were afraid. They grew their fur extra thick and ate as much as they could manage. But as the fierce wind blew, and the ground froze, they began to die, one by one.
The porcupines called a meeting. Old Grandfather Porcupine recalled a winter that had been almost this cold, when he was a pup. His old grandfather had huddled them all up, so they could share their body heat. Thermal mass would get them through, he was sure of it.
So, they huddled.
If you know porcupines, you will realise the problem.
Each of them was covered in sharp spines. So as they huddled, they also prickled.
The prickles made them fidget.
Fidgeting made the prickling worse.
They were bleeding from constant spikes.
Mother Porcupine was first to quit, but as soon as she broke from the huddle, the rest followed. They were all sick of the pain.
Old Grandfather sighed. Now he thought about it, he did remember that it had been an unpopular solution.
So they went off to forage for food, but there was scarcely any. And every mouthful was frozen solid, and it made them even colder.
The porcupines began dying, alone in the ice.
So they came back to the huddle, since they wanted to survive.
Of course, they all still had spiny coats, and the old wounds were quickly opened.
This is a dilemma, Mother said.
How should we put up with each other, when we want to live but not be hurt?
And then a young porcupine, whom no one had previously considered as being wise, spoke up.
I dreamt of the ocean, he said. I saw the water rise up in waves. Great waves, storm waves. Repetitive choppy waves. What struck me, he said, was that no matter how big or wild or harsh or persistent the waves were, the ocean was always bigger.
I see, said Old Grandfather. The waves are like problems.
Yes, the young porcupine nodded. Like the winter cold and the wounds we have.
And the ocean, that’s our whole existence?
Yes, whether we notice it or not, it is there. And think of the sky, which covers the earth and the sea!
I like that, said Old Grandfather. Tell me that story again.

This is a retelling of an old story. I’m not sure of its origin. Schopenhauer and Freud both borrowed it to explain social relationships without necessarily drawing the same conclusions, so the moral of this story may be dependent on how you relate to people.
Arthur Schopenhauer observed that the prickliness of proximity allowed only moderate huddling, so that the warmth generated was not entirely satisfactory. People existed at a distance from each other, to avoid annoyance. The rare person had enough of their own heat to do no huddling at all, and suffer no prickling.
Sigmund Freud saw the tale in psychological terms, as a quandary of social inclusion and exclusion.
I saw an opportunity to promote the coping aspect of story telling, so I added the bit about the ocean, but the analogy of the waves and the ocean I received from meditation teacher, psychologist and author, Tara Brach. I also first heard the porcupine story in one of her lectures. Meditation, mindfulness, the sea, the sky, and stories have got me through every winter so far.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Out Of The Mist, With Banana And Hope Intact

Feather Tor was the idea, but when we got to Dartmoor it was lost in the mist. So we left the car and followed along the road till we reached a leat. Even without the mist, or the windswept ponies, or the fire twisted bracken, or the stacked granite masses, this leat flows uphill, so magic is here. I have marched many people up this route, because they don’t believe until they are standing downstream and uphill and the water is still flowing. The old stone cross was our next idea, but visibility was closing in. In my bag I had an emergency banana, but far from fully kitted for any navigational errors. We followed the leat back, and the sound of the road. The wind was throwing horizontal rain. It spat through a gap in my toggled hood and drenched me. Dog was zigged and zagged by it; she wanted to get back into the dry car boot space and lie on her rug. I had to crouch and divest as many damp garments as modesty would allow. We put the heater on and sat. Reflected on magic, landscapes, horizons. Felt that hope was not extinct.

NB: The uphill leat is not made up - and there are a few of them - but it is a geographical trick :-)

Pictured here, waiting for Mr to bring hot pasties :-) 

Wednesday, 11 November 2015


Remembrance Day:

I read, in those lines of names, all the fresh emotion of loss.
It is easier to think of it as in the past, to fix that hurt to a time long gone; to empathise, but not be involved.
This is not how it is.
War has not ceased. The lines of names are not static.
And, beyond this, we ourselves are not immortal. We will be leaving this world, every one of us.
Loss is what our lives should seek to balance.
Be grateful for this chance - be cheerful and bold and embracing and mindful.
Accept yourself.
The best person you can be is not the one who beats you up for not being better.
Push yourself.
Outside the comfort barriers, living begins.
Who died for your right to shuffle in drabness, bored and unfulfilled?
The dream was freedom from oppression.
What would they want to tell us, the people whose names are on that list?
What would they say was important?
Love. The comfort of a well made sandwich. Sunsets. How Aunt Flo never forgot a birthday. A sea breeze. Those friends and family stories of hilarious improprieties. A kind passerby who made up the gap in a bus fare. Coming home.
The details of life, appreciated.
And the bigger picture - the backdrop - is a world in which these details are important.
That would be worth the fight.

Monday, 2 November 2015

A Day Out Of Season

Slept so deep I went underneath sleep, underneath dreams.
I think I slipped out of the universe entirely.
And woke up here.
Warm as summer, the bright air full of small, noisy birds.
I will peg washing out as an offering to this sun.
After walking by the glass river, arms bared; home to drink coffee and eat ice cream, sat at the wobbling pallet table. The seats are damp, nobody cares.
Just sit and taste the bitter-sweet.
Enjoying, before winter comes, a late autumn palliative. 

Thursday, 29 October 2015

The Tough Trough Tragedy: Halloween 2015

I knew that there was something wrong.
Why do we do that?
We know that something is wrong but don’t want to seem silly and somehow that is more important. We do things even when there is a voice in our head shouting not to do it: fear of looking foolish overrides self preservation.
I never knew till then just how strong that desire to fit in was.
I am not what other people would call conventional.
Got purple hair, a half sleeve tattoo of skulls and mermaids, a pierced lip.
Did I listen when people said not to dye my hair or get inked or pierced?
Clearly not.
Did I listen when my instincts told me something was horribly wrong here?
Clearly not.
I was lucky, in a way.
I survived, anyway.
But the others didn’t and that is impossible to forget.
I’m here, alive, but I’m stuck with those images for life.
I lost one finger and my peace of mind.
I suppose you want to hear about it.
Everyone does, like it was something awesome that happened.
It was different; I understand the novelty appeal, I suppose.
So okay, I’ll tell you about it.

Firstly, the first thing I think is important to mention, it was a beautiful autumn day. The sun was hot, a last blast of summer heat, and there was an edge of salt-chill in the breeze, a reminder that winter is coming. 
It makes you glad to have had the summer, but still look forward to the snuggle of winter nights. And the air smelled kind of spiced, a mix of damp leaf and pine and cinnamon. 
It reminds me of apple pies, that smell. And toffee apples. 
But anyway, it’s important because everyone was in a good mood with the changing weather. 
We were having a lovely time doing not much. Kicking up fallen leaves, and no one actually said look at those colours but we were all in the middle of these bright reds, oranges, yellows, deep shiny browns, it affects you. It isn’t jewels but it might as well be. Better than precious. I think. More precious. A moment in time. Thinking of that is almost happy, even now. The spice scent of autumn, the fire colours. Sunset colours. 
We watched the sun flame the horizon: that night the horizon was fuzzed with trees. I love the sunset with any edging: sharp buildings, a haze of sea, those crosshatched tree lines, the rolls of a desert. That night it was trees, part leafed deciduous and part pine, the heavy needled sort that looks a bit like a chimney brush.
Night scent was more salt, damper, thick with bonfire smoke.

I’m trying to think now, whose idea it was.
It wasn't a bad idea. It was a brilliant idea.
We would take a large bucket to the water’s edge. Do our apple bobbing with the dark tidal water.
Because - I forget you weren’t there, you don’t know. Behind the tree line was a beach.
We were upriver, a short way, not far from the sea.
The water tastes salt there, not that you would want taste it.
Salt and river mud: there’s a crisp flavour that won’t catch on.
Anyway, I’m digressing. Because now it starts. The feeling that something is wrong.
I remember it’s Old Bob who starts with the story.
They killed a shark here he says.
We are drawing dark water into a bucket and the torchlight bounces off the water surface.
It’s unnecessarily dramatic.
Blamed the sea monster for a spate of missing persons, Old Bob says. Wasn’t never him, Old Bob says. He wasn't a stickler for grammar.
Wasn’t never, we said back.
We were laughing at the story.
But the water was beyond dark, that night.
There was something about it. I want to say evil but that’s lazy, it’s not quite how it was.
Something compelling. Sort of fascinating but the idea that it was wrong began to wriggle, maybe like bait wriggles. Compelled like fish.
Killed a shark, Old Bob repeats. Speared it open and found no trace of any people.
Not until they followed the shark that somehow, having been gutted, leapt back into the water and led the fishermen to a pile of submerged rocks.
The shark disappeared, presumed deceased.
Under the rocks, the missing people, decidedly deceased.
Smugglers, they think, had done them in.
I don’t know if that’s true.
All the found bones were buried ashore.
Several buckets, we took.
And by now the moon had launched a full reflection on that stretch of deep water.
We carried the buckets back to the house.
Filled up the old trough there.
Dropped in one apple each.

The old trough is made of granite. No one is disappearing through solid granite.
No one should, anyway.
The moon’s face lay amongst the apples.
Here is where I realised that I felt uneasy.
Under the surface, something lurked.I couldn’t see it, I just knew it.
It made no sense.
Why, and how?
And what?
Solid granite, the old trough. Solid.

Anyway, do you want to know who was there?
It’s too late to get to know them really, of course.
But I knew them and I want to remember them.
Tell their stories.

Old Bob was not old in years. He just didn’t speak much and he was kind of yokel. He knew all the stories about local stuff, like he knew about the shark and the missing people. He knew random things like Mrs Knerley had thrown a wrench at her husband and broken his collarbone, because he’d scratched her car. She has a vintage car and wears her hair up in a scarf, 50s style. Old Bob worked in the garage, and he was a good listener. People told him stuff and he would just add it in to a conversation even if it didn’t entirely fit the theme. The randomness was part of his charm.

Mona was random too, I guess that’s how I like my company. But she was The Loud One. That girl could barely breathe quietly. She had an exuberance, that’s why people liked her. Oddly, if you told Mona something, she would not repeat it. She was loud and discrete. Her taste in jokes was dubious. But she laughed so loud it was funnier than the joke anyway. Her clothes were loud, she liked to clash colours and prints. Anyone who mocked that was in for an amazing backlash. Mona would trash them for being boring and they would not get another word in.

Sully was the one we all wanted to take care of. Neglected by an alcoholic mother and an angry, mostly absentee father. He was skinny, big eyed, twitchy. Had self harm scars, self depreciating humour. But he could sing. His voice was like all of the love he should have had. And he dressed nice; quirky, sort of a modern vintage look. Striped shirts, waistcoats, a hat. Wide ties. Pocket squares. He rolled his sleeves up neatly. It showed you that he was working on getting a full quota of self esteem. He didn’t feel sorry for himself.

And there’s me, the survivor. Purple hair - I already told you that. It’s hard to describe yourself because it’s how you think you are, not maybe what the outside sees. I think I’m fairly quiet but not afraid to be the first up to dance. I haven’t grown out of climbing trees. I work in a greengrocer’s. I go surfing. That is me, I guess, not grown-up by conventional standards but having a lovely time being alive in a way that the 9-5 career minded people forget about. Not all of them, just a lot of them. At least my friends remembered to love being alive. Think about that, because if you’re not loving living, you are wasting it. Not the same as avoiding pain, I should point out. I hurt now, because I’m grieving. But circumstances pass, don’t they, and you grow from them. Even terrible things can grow your soul. Resilience grows.

The old trough. That’s what you want to know about, not my philosophy.
How the water was trembling and so dark, and slippery, and the apples pale, haunted, like drowned faces, and the moon was quivering there, trying to warn us.
The granite had lost all the warmth of the day. There was room for three of us to crouch over the edge; that’s why I’m here. I had my phone fully charged. Old Bob had left his at home, Sully didn’t have a camera on his. Mona had forgotten to charge hers. I said I’ll film it, so I helped tie on the blindfolds. The water looked horrible: like it was going to do harm. My hands were trembling but I still tied scarves around my friends’ faces. Why didn’t I say something?
Mona was saying how nervous she was feeling, and we laughed it off.
They were there, at the edge of the trough, leaning over, mouths open, saying, it’s cold, it feels weird, and then - something, something snapped up out of the water, something ghostly, and way too big to be in the trough and I leapt forward to grab them away because they were blindfolded, I leapt forwards into something like a freezing mist. I dropped my phone, I wasn’t thinking about the phone then, but I lost the footage. So I can’t go back and see what that was. I can only remember; it was cold, and sharp. It took my finger cleanly off. See the edge there? Like a sharp knife took it, a sharp, slightly serrated knife. I could see Mona, Sully, Old Bob, disappearing down: they were pale like the apples, they got smaller, fainter, absorbed into the dark, and there were others in there too, in whatever abyss just opened up in front of me. I put my hand in and felt solid granite. They were gone. I was there, missing a finger. Sully’s coat was neatly folded on the ground.
Where did they go?
I think they’re in the water. But there’s no real explanation, is there?
I’m just a crackpot now, an oddball with a story no one can prove or disprove.
The missing persons’ cases go unsolved.
I work at the greengrocer’s and I still surf. Unless I get a bad feeling, then I stay on land.
I never mistrust my instincts now.
I’m wary of making friends because the loss is so painful, but, you know, I still love this life.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Lessons In Leaves

Michaelmas is long gone and no one has told the blackberries up here. I wasn’t about to let on. Under stripes of cloud and sun, a fruit feast is plucked, is popped, piece by piece, in to a thirsty mouth. Cut stalks noisy under walking feet, fingers tinged purple; from fields to moors over the river, I spy out. I shall traverse this open ground, I announce, whilst the air holds dry.
But into the small woods we are drawn, Dog and I; her by scent and me by leaf.
Sometimes we see more, standing in shade.
Structures in bright relief.
Dog can easily follow the path as it tunnels under fern and bramble. I follow, stumble, trousers caught in thorny twine.

No less happy - this is adventure. This is story living, story making.
We become what we live, so we should live with care and abandon.
In the light, to stride, to acknowledge happiness.
In the shade, to know the light shines through.
To be of structural interest.

Leaves are falling, as we head home along our winding lane.
They land lightly, drift in a breeze, coloured warm.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

It Is Beautiful

In the polytunnel.
Draped in sun, I am sitting.
Contemplating on this, sitting, listening.
Absorption happens.
Bird chatter, scent of damped soil warming.
How the sun has dressed this lawn, in beaded rainbows.
Even Dog gives in to the bliss, lolls her head on the doorframe.

Yesterday was the first frost. The first new moon in the tenth month.
I had stood indoors, where the sun streamed in, where it poured through an old glass bottle-stopper; the facets of it spread a party of light on the wall.
I knew the physics of the trick and remained in thrall.
Everything is illusion, coloured by perception.
And lit, by design or accident, by this thrall.
From us, through us: it matters not.
Absorb, and surrender to the trick. It is beautiful.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Owl's Answers

Yesterday I walked in the small woods. Up the steep slips of fallen leaf.
Found myself under a dome of tree cover. Something about it caught my attention - the circularity, the floor of dark leaves, when the rest of the woods is strewn with fern and bramble.
There was only the sighs of autumn leaves to be heard, high above.
I raised my eyes, un-expectant, to where an owl was asleep.
Yellow eyes opened: we stared at each other.
I willed it to read my questions. I have much to ask. Time paused. Then the owl flew.
I clearly heard the brisk rustle of its feathers.
I had never before woken an owl.
I walked out of the cut field into redemptive rain.
Just before home, the rain stopped. Out of the hedge, two ripe strawberries were gathered.

In the night, bad dreams came. In the morning nothing factual remains, only the fear.
Had the owl answered my questions? I hoped not.
I went back to the small woods.

Today the sun shone, the owl was not at home. Dog sprang a deer out of the hedge.
A pair of wagtails swung on a wire, singing.
Butterflies, everywhere, and one dragonfly. It sits on a dead twig, flaunting its shimmer.

These are the answers, I decided.
Because what do these wild things know?
They live vulnerable every minute.

Uncertainty is a wisdom. For the consciously thoughtful, circumstances are insubstantial, except as ways in which to practice an adjustment of attitude.

I eat warm blackberries and follow Dog: she traces after the deer. We go up the slope of the field, the long slope, steeper than it looks. The same angle as the small woods.
We see the summit, aim for it.
Walk and walk, because an analogy makes most sense when it has this physical presence.
We do not quit, so we get to the top.
Somewhere the owl will be snoozing, and it will not worry about dreams.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Roots And Twigs

Ida and Dennis at West Bay

I just wanted to listen to the wind and the fat trunked ash.
The branches, leafless all spring, all summer; in autumn there is nothing to drop but weathered wood.
A tree surgeon is booked. A gap in the skyline is coming.
Ivy shimmies on the bare shoulders of our old giant. It stands where it has always stood, where once it was supple in the breezes that fly the length of this river valley. Solid seeming, patterned skeletal, neural, calmly falling to pieces.

Seasons turn. Change comes. Unplanted, we make our paths through obstacles, and according to which view we seek. The roots of people are moveable, nourished by dreams.
8th September 1925, Burnley, Lancashire: a girl is born, a first child. Her name is Ida.
Four more children follow her into this family. Through the 1930s where work and food are scare, she looks after this brood while her parents look for work. Things are shoeless, hungry. Two of her sisters take ill: they die.
1939: war brings opportunity. Ida joins the Women’s Land Army and is posted to Fairfield House in Honiton, Devon. She learns to drive a tractor. She loves this rural life. She swears to be back.
1947, Burnley: Industrial Lancashire is brightened in love. Ida marries Maurice.
They run a bakery, then a draper’s shop. Ida has an eye for a good property. They move a lot. They bring with them their daughter. Maurice is an engineer. They move house more and more and now have two sons. An opportunity arises to move to Devon. Maurice builds the petrol station there, in Uplyme.
1963, Uplyme, Devon. Ida is 38 and widowed. Cancer takes Maurice away.
(So I don’t get to meet my grandfather at all. I get born in 1970, and my parents follow the rural idyll too. We all move to Cornwall. This dream is linked.)
I am never permitted to call Dennis my granddad, but he is my granddad. Him and Ida meet at a dance in Uplyme Village Hall. They move in together, settle eventually in West Bay.
A combination of Barley Wine and Alzheimer’s makes for some interesting years.
My famous, pub fighter Gran! Later, the maddest woman in all of England still living in her own house. Always, my poor mother.
Dennis passes first. Swiftly, into the night.
But twilight comes for Ida too, a gentler disintegration. Anger is lost, and although language and acuity go with it, a happiness is found. She is a child without responsibility. She sees the sky, the flowers, the seasons flow through the tree line.
She leaves this life of 90 years, closed in a tiny box.
My memento mori includes a stuffed red squirrel and a gold tea set.
The sense to listen to trees.
The grit to keep making my path.

My parents, my little brother, my uncles, me,  and my Gran

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Hedge Life

Overnight the spiders had washed their webs and hung them out to dry on the hedge.

I imagine spiders with pegs, with silk aprons and peg pockets and curlers in their hair.
While the webs blow on the line they brew pots of coffee and settle at a table with a piece of bluebottle toast.

But the butterflies! They seem drunk on life, bumping in-out of leaves, slurring their flight, waving their bright wings. Have they been dancing all night? Are their shoes all worn through?

They will knock over the spiders’ best china, barging about like that.

The spiders seem stoic about it.
Life is a gamble, they say, and thumb through their cookbooks.

Monday, 7 September 2015

The Nights Draw In

Some garden crops lie ready for reap. The rocket (arugula) though flowering still, is falling back. Seed pods turn to parchment, holding bumps of ink. Pumpkin leaves smother the beet, they over-reach - abundant bullies. Some of our tomatoes have been picnicked by mice. Seeds dropped hither and thither: they are not tidy, these mice.
Autumn starts with renewed purpose.
Fruition is the beginning not the end.
On goes the pan, to boil up jam, ketchups, chutney.

Some nights curl in, as a coverlet.
Not this night, this early September eve; this uncovers, supersedes.
We lose the illusory day and are left breathless.
Facing darkness we are reached by pins of starlight. Distance in galactic scales: still they reach us.
We are moth-like, small parcels of heart and instinct.
It is the winter’s cold strike that readies the seed.
The pull of the stars that wakes us.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Cloud Based Activism

Round bales carapaced in black, in the fields, in formations.
Clouds that blew in from an oil painting, circa 1700.
Love how the trees lean from a predominant onshore.
Our white car, new, we even keep it clean, drives by the crossroads where the sheep thief was buried. Circa?
Imagine the dirt under his fingernails; why this detail? They hanged him on Gallows Hill.
Up in the town they beheaded a priest, circa 1600.
Not the same ‘they’ as in people, the same ‘they’ as in upholders of the law.
Home is mildly clean, swept, the garden tangled, verdant.
So what’s the right thing to do?
This history that leads to here, this present time stuck with bits of beautiful, bits of raw inequality?
From global to local, the thread that leads to my own door?
Where does this go?
Simple advice to myself: it is up to me, just what I do. Avoid apathy.
Buy local, there’s a start, make your own bread.
Hand over the earth with minimal apology.
Broken necks are vivid stories: keep the stories, leave the acts.
Life is full of breaking.
Move on with the clouds.
Mind drifts, nebulous, fractal.
Either storms come next, or sun.

Thursday, 20 August 2015


It is possible that we did.
Track through the maize jungle, doused in rain.
We were monkeys, giggling.
Slunk big cats, louche, fantastic.
Bright birds.
Or maybe it was something we thought of: today’s adventure could be…
Trespass through the living crop.
Maize grows with toes, it can, at any time, rise up.
Run on its toes like raptors.
Leaves wide as machetes.
Take nothing for granted in here.
Rain forest magic in here.
We have our best adventure-trousers on, and Wellington boots.
It is possible.
Anything is.

Saturday, 8 August 2015


It must be a year since the damsons were planted, and the meadow grass grew its gold splay, and now we have it just right to backlight this spiderweb.
A garden takes time but returns it in increments of moments that somehow contain timelessness; like the sun can be caught in one raindrop, perhaps, reflective magic. 

This morning Mr is finishing a sleep that began on the sofa last night. Dog was curled on her bed, Fat Beagle had taken the vacant man-space, before we went out for our garden wander. The mist was thickest over the river. We walked in dots and all the while the sun was clearing it up.

I have my coffee mug, and my camera, a slouchy t-shirt, old shorts.
Two dogs snuffling, for scent-gossip and their favourite grass snacks.
‘Look at this web.’ I say, but they just stare down to the river.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Holiday Pieces

Of beach and field and chips and ice cream, of campfire stories with smoke and marshmallows, of flickery lights and buttered vegetables, of a whale skull and wide skies and unexpected swimming, one holiday is assembled.

Never dressed in day clothes much before midday.

Breakfast served in waves of impulse; eggs and toasts, and bits of fruit peel piling on a picnic table.
Dogs underfoot, wanting to help with anything we might drop.

Children cook at the mud kitchen, making delicious cups of mud, but sometimes they are not children, they are snow leopards and puppies, or ponies, or cows called Betsy.
Grandad gets tethered to a tree; again.

Wet clothes lump on warm stones; dry ones rescued from a tide stranded rock.
Laughing: we spend some time on that.

At night we follow the lines of flames, up, up; all of us struck, over and over, with every sliver, every glint, that there are the stars of our origin. What else could we need?

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Water And Skin

Widdershins, barefoot, slowly walk around the block, around the lanes that lay around the fields, warm road sometimes flat, sometimes not. 
Kick small stones from a bold instep.
Pods of storm cross overhead.
The maize crop has grown, enough to whisper secrets. Leaves shiver, clustered like spears.
Sun on puddles makes them shining pieces of dropped sky. 
In the river tethered clouds skim and bump. 
Here, flip-flops in hand, just walking, listening, absorbing.

Later, hear the wind shake; shake the light from the sky.
Rayburn lit.
Water hot.
Light a candle, take a bath.
Water on skin. Rain on glass.
See steam droplets on tiles, sparkled by a naked flame.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Two Rescues

Next-door have a cat, a great advantage in the discouragement of rats.
But here on the ground is a fledgling; feathered, with wobbly flight skills, a wagtail chick.
This should not be cat food.
Dog pays it scant attention, until I pick it up. Then she gives a look that announces both her acceptance of the situation and her opinion that I am a traitor.
The fledgling sits in my hand. It too looks at me. Tiny mites climb all over it. They dot my hands. I get some dust and a box to bath my new friend. It remains unstartled.
There’s no further sight of Next-door Cat so the fledgling is allowed back to play around the flowerpots. Parent birds are watching. I am watching. It hops out to watch me.
The urge to name it is strong.

Next I find a bee afloat in a tub, and pick that up. It revives, and walks up and down my arm and will not leave until it has rubbed its legs and buzzed its wings back to health. I sit in the polytunnel, Dog lies out in the shade.
The bee walks, it tickles.
It feels like it is licking my hot arm. Do bees lick people?

Later Dog has her owner back - we run to the river and swim. We jog back. I hope the little bird is okay. The bee I know is busy in the flowering parsley.

Across the lawn a fledgling hops. Parent birds in tow.

What did I do today?
Amongst the usual work, I gave a bath to a baby bird and was licked by a bee. I swam in the thick of the rain-stirred river while the sun dried my washing.
And, in the oven, homemade pizza, nearly baked.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Cooking For Camp

First pans on: no time for photographing after this!

The first thing the grown ups say is ‘Remind me again why I’m doing this?’

The team leaders are thinking of the 5am wake ups, the number of times one child can lose a shoe, or need the toilet, or answer your question about where did you put your shoe with an anecdote about a hamster.
(The shoe will be in the first place they looked for it, but not until you look for it too.
Shoes are magic like that.)

This year I am not team leading: I am on the kitchen crew. I don’t know what it is that I should be wondering why I’m doing it, it’s never been done by me before.

Everyone should have a try at kitchen crew in order to fully appreciate the work that goes on to get the masses fed and the dishes washed. It starts and ends with heavy lifting. I’ve seen the bespoke field oven and the fry table and the gas bottles in place every year and never thought they were easy to shift about. Closing gap between knowledge and experience brings a nice practical sort of wisdom but can also hurt your arms.

Luckily the ironman chefs do the heaviest lifting - I secured the job of pressing the button to make the hire van lift go up and down. Not so taxing on the arms, which meant that they were available to assist with egg cracking, mixture whisking, bread dipping, eggy-bread flipping, hot oil splashing (sorry about that…) bacon sizzling, mushroom sifting, potato jiggling, water fetching, tea bag locating, spare spoon finding, fry-table scraping, scrubbing and eye wiping.

It was volcanically hot. I regretted the thermal socks but at 5am, before the burners were lit, it was cold.

First perk of this job is the sitting down afterwards.
I think my forehead may actually have been steaming.

Then there is the trip to the shops to top up lunch supplies. It comes with coffee and cake.

The opportunity to shower off grease is a half perk because the ‘shower’ is a trickle of water that requires the showeree to press against cold tiles in order to achieve any level of dampness. Still, none of us are here for our own convenience and it is entertaining.

I have the personal perk of sitting by the camp fire on Saturday night and reading a story. This year I read a brand new tale (borrowed a bit from Shakespeare) ‘Elf Night.’
The beard wrestling is very popular (Shakespeare missed a trick there! All my own work, the beard wrestling.)

Here’s what we do it for: of course: these children, away from home, learning to link with other people, learning to become good people. The sort of people who would give up a weekend to offer this experience.

Looking up from words on a page, I see rapt admiration, I see half asleep dreamers, I see contentment, appreciation.

5am isn’t so early.
The oven doesn’t get any lighter.
Everything must be washed and dried and bagged and put back in the hire van.
We end up rather tired.
‘Remind me again…’ we say.

‘How was it?’ I ask the children who were new to camp this year.
One says, ‘I loved my breakfast.’
Good answer!
General consensus: they will be back.
And so will we.

What you do for yourself leaves this earth with you: what you do for others, lives on.

Malvolio from 'Elf Night'

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Niece, First Viewing

Here she is.

Petal pink, goosey fatted

She had been dreaming of light
A sky light

A sky opened up for her

Into air she swam; part aquatic
part rosebud
grown from the warm bed of her mother -

humidity nothing for her
but reminiscence -

Her father breathes
deep, for joy
barely, for amazement

She breathes: is moving -

one thing to dream of light
another to meet it -

The singular miracle closes her eyes
Sleep, sleep will make sense of it

They will wake up, of course
The new parents. To look at her.

They have been dreaming of this light too.

Here she is.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

The Best Smirk We Have Ever Seen

This well earned smirk, caught on film.

The car slides to a halt. All systems fail.
A few hours later I am happy because I can move my head.
But I was all ready very happy.
These events are not directly connected.
Or they are.
Shall I begin with a beginning?

The Chap, known then as Boy; although his sister being seven years his senior often led to the absentminded title of Maid, and I would pretend I had said Mate; since the age of four, had wanted to be a carpenter.
Had his own tools, collected from birthdays, from approving relatives.
Had graduated to power tools.
Eight years an intended carpenter, this Boy, until the age of 12 brings him to a bigger school and a reconsideration.
Carpentry will be a hobby, now, he says, he might be bored with it otherwise. He will become a Naval Officer instead.
Okay. Mum is fine with supporting her children. Some things like committing atrocities she would not support, but this urge seems humanitarian.
He mentions (in this order) disaster relief, big ships, artillery, a good uniform (but not so much the one with the shorts and long socks) a regular pay cheque.

Over years by turn (outside of home) he is patronised, teased, almost told not to dream lest it bring failure.
Maybe if this was you, you didn’t mean it.
Perhaps you did.
But whether you present yourself for repentance or a punch in the face (from me, he is too busy, I will choose a knuckle-punch btw) it matters not. You matter not.
Undistracted, he pursued this goal. Afraid of failure, yes. But quit not.

Meanwhile his mother sits and taps a keyboard on a succession of mostly improvised desks.
She is a writer so she gets the fear of failure do it anyway approach.
She is me, who writes in the third person. Everyone says not to do that. Lol.
(Never lol either!)
I am not a cult of personality girl.
I am about character.
If you are about character, it will show. Regardless.

Click back. 9th July 2015.
At the British Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, UK
A rain of fine spiders, new hatched, spin over us, the audience, them, the participants.
34.8 degrees, the thermometer shows.
Hot lines of almost officers in woollen suits and simmering caps hold up swords.
Helicopters are showing off.
There’s even a side story featuring Eddie Izzard who looks fantastic in heels and navy blue.
We cannot be star struck today though: only eyes on Chap and his new sword.
Clouds and breeze make brief visits. The heat holds. Someone will faint, or several. There are bets on it: 15, one person reckons. Nine in the last batch, we learn.
We can see our Chap clearly and how his face goes pale. Clammy pale.

Twice: twice he falls in the heat!
He is not the only one, just the stubbornest one.
He will not be persuaded to the shade.
Twice he unkneels and puts back his cap.

[Meanwhile this writer mother of his is distracted. She is not one for giving in either but what she doesn’t know is that one of her neck vertebrae is misaligned. Years of ill fitting desks plus that overly aggressive game of swingball… yes, more dangerous than you might have thought… has knocked out, bunched up, turned muscles to bullies, pinching up nerves. And sleeping in a tent (having cleverly spliced this week and a low budget with a camping holiday) which usually she loves. Not that she gives it too much thought on the 9th July. Well she tries. Not a wimp. But this really hurts. But how pleased she is, how proud, how glad! ]

All those doubters and twice the weather couldn’t rout him.
Good work Chap. Characterful.

He marches past: that is the best smirk we have ever seen.
Mr gets a picture of it: it’s a favourite.

Mum turns like Herman Munster; does anyone remember him? Like she is back braced.
Smiles for photographs.

And the next day she is useless, packing up camp. Tired. Can hardly move.
Says to her self, I will be mindful still. Hear the peacock in the park make his cry. Taste the coffee.
This is a fine test of mindfulness.
I am glad to be here.
Mr says he will drive his car behind hers, in case the pain is too much.

But when the car stops, when the dials slump and nothing will respond at all and the traffic is heavy, she snaps: is this a reflective joke, you mechanical fool?
Wake up car!
Into the hedge the car is slid.
People who are not good at guessing gesticulate. But this is funny; I’ve just parked here for no reason, is that what you think? This hedge is so awesome I just had to get closer!
Mr pulls up, puts on hazard lights. Phones the rescue service. An hour or so, he is told.

Ah well. There is a grass bank and we have picnic chairs.

The car is not as expensive to fix as it could have been.

There is an appointment free the same day at the surgery. One cranial manipulation later the pain is on the way out.

Note to all selves: from niggle to excruciating, life offers experiences. You deal with these as you deal with them.
Throw yourself at it. Pick through it.
Maybe you’ll learn what works: then do that.
In the interaction, this is how your life is lived.
And this is what will decide how your story ends.

Not circumstance.

Before the parade.
Here's Eddie.
Our Chap is 3rd row back, 2nd body in.
Our Chap assumes the faint-without-impaling safety kneel down position.
34.8 degrees hot.
And marches off.
Post-smirk smirk with sword.