Sunday, 26 August 2018

Last Of The Summer Sky

A steep hill covered in ferns, a blue sky
There’s a geography of warmth - the land and water holding a summer range - there’s winter in the edge of the wind. We go walking where traffic from copper and tin once rolled. Old mines tumbled in, and a sort of emptiness ringing. Barb wire keeps us from the mined earth. Strange holes underneath, gored rock, and the steep hills are made of innards dug and dumped. I have a shiver of nostalgia for the people that braved this, a repulsion for the scarring. Above this lonely place is the last of the summer sky. Under foot wildflowers and grasses take hold, fat with sun, bold, healing. Water rushes out of sight, beyond the wire. Dragonflies are in the trees, in and out the willow leaves, they draw our amazement for skill and colour. Sun on skin. Ice in the breeze.
Blackberries weighty clumps - not too sweet, just right - stain fingers purple. Summer is bowing out, just right.

A country lane with grass growing over it, miles from anywhere

Friday, 17 August 2018

Bristol And Back

Bristol, at We The Curious Museum, a foot on a metal floor in pretty lights with steam

So after the ear infection cleared up the shoulder injury happened – I don’t know how, might be tendonitis, but that was almost under control and then plantar fasciitis (painful foot thing) made an appearance and then the shoulder thing came back worse and the pain robbed my sleep and everything is a disaster without the respite of sleep. Yes, undeniably, this was the scenario. Yet also one does not wish to be defeated by this, it’s one layer of reality only. Reasons to be cheerful is a nice long list too. Family, friends, garden, van, beach, moors, rivers, woods, an actual sunny summer! 

So I was tired when I drove to Bristol, had to stop at Taunton Deane services to attempt a power nap; compromised with a fresh walk and a punch of coffee. Finding Temple Gate car park took an additional travel round a busy block, but I made it, I met my friend Jen and sometime over the last 27 years her hugging skills have improved.

Jen loves an itinerary so we went to the ferry for a mini tour. Being on water works for me. Bristol has a chunky tidal river, a history as thick as the mud, I’ve always liked it. No enslaved humans were brought ashore here, they used to like to tell, but now they will admit that the boats passed through and the profits invested in grand buildings and no one’s hands are clean. They give apology, and look to broaden that history further though it is not pleasant. 
Off the ferry we wander, stop for a lunch – I eat all the olives, Jen takes the dough sticks. We both take a top up coffee. 
We The Curious is a science museum of sorts, this is our next stop. It’s the planetarium show we’re after but there’s no stopping us playing on exhibits – the place is pouring with grandparents taking grandchildren out for the day – my crew would love this too – meanwhile I do the ‘Ohh!’ and ‘Ahhhh!’ on their behalves. Where else can you create rain, weigh a brain, change the genetic make up of a nematode worm, visit each light in the Summer Triangle? 
In the planetarium tiredness and the relaxation of star viewing drifts me from outer to inner space more than once.
After that we drift, looking at the riverside, the fresh graffiti, worn out locks, low bridges, plaques of old seafarers. We drift to a pub that was rebuilt in 1845 after a terrible fire, have a glass of wine on the quayside. We pick up a tour – Blood, Booze and Buccaneers! In which we follow a pirate around various pirate history related bits and pubs of old Bristol, gleaning bits of truth and enjoying stretches of fiction. There’s a parrot that tells us which is which, of course. It’s different and fun and Jen even sings a bit of shanty (with the rest of the group) which is unprecedented involvement when we’ve switched to strictly non alcoholic beverages. 
It ends late enough for us tired things, we walk back to Jen’s hotel and my car park, we say good bye, excited for future plans (Cornwall, Brighton, anywhere the rest of our gang can gather.)
Deep breath. Dare not drink more coffee. Put Sat Nav in place and accept that confusion, roadworks etc., may lengthen the journey – actually find that a couple of last minute lane changes constitute all of the drama. Arrive at my brother’s house, can’t remember exactly which one it is till I spy the number on the gate. The gate that Mr built, you’d think I would know! 
Blame tiredness, I’m too tired to fight it now, and my shoulder is hurting. Take herbal tea, take painkillers. Sleep is not easy, I can’t get comfortable.
Really, I say to my body, is this a reaction, a fear of getting too comfortable and losing creative drive? Pack it in! Nothing will get written if I can’t focus on the page – I’m so tired, you must stop.
It didn’t seem to be listening. 
Morning arrives. We all tumble from beds – my niece aged three says come and play! My brother says see you soon – he has to go to work (but the next day is his birthday and he’s off to Wooky Hole!) My sister-in-law cooks me basil eggs, brews more coffee, bakes a sponge for a strawberry roll birthday treat. Little Niece and I build a dinosaur, draw a dinosaur, draw balloons, cut up paper, run a shop, take all the Playmobile people to the toilet, check that we have water bottles in our handbags. In her world is me, Auntie, her parents, her grandparents, herself and many dinosaurs. I follow her, hollow-tired, still smiling. 
Deep breath, time to drive home. I remember the way. I stop twice for air and coffee, my shoulder keen with pain. It is effort, this journey.
Get home, put feet up, attempt rest. 
Go to work – teaching, luckily, no big care work shift. Pull my eyes open for a few hours. Dig deep. (Suffer in training, survive in battle – we all have our battles.)
Down at the beach Dog gets her run, it’s her we came for, the onshore wind is cold.
Take a warm layer just in case of swimming.
At the shoreline, the wind is cold, the sea warm. Before I even know about it I have waded in, the waves are pushing me over, I’m jumping in foam, laughing. Diving under swell. The sky bursts orange-pink, up in the deepening blue a moon sliver shines. Get out, wrestle off the wet stuff, under my fluffy robe, realise the rest of the dry stuff is back at the van. But I have my robe, I wear it home. My ears are full of water – is this circle of discomfort restarting?!
Night comes. Sleep comes. 
In the morning I can hear, my shoulder aches a little. Both feet firmly on the floor. 

Blood, Booze and Buccaneers, Bristol, Theatre tour: a pirate leans against a wall smiling. His parrot is on his shoulder.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018


Mr pushes Granma Grace in her wheelchair through a tunnel of wisteria

We took Granma Grace for a garrulous walk around Pince’s Gardens.
To get there we went over the river on the busy bridge, under the road through chirpy subway graffiti, along dusty Alphington (which Dog did not like) under a railway bridge of rough red stone, through quieter streets which once was all grand houses and some survived the bombs of the Second World War, and in the gaps modern boxes were built, and pretty trees grow, and hydrangeas and fuschias make appealing hedges.
There was a boy lived this way once, his name was Gordan, his house was called Kingsley, number 38, it backed to the allotments where his father grew vegetables of many kinds. Grace smiles. This is where Grandad Gordan lived when they first met.
They would walk around Pince’s Park (which was built in 1912 and also survived bombs) and that was, she thinks, 70 years ago, at least. We are, at this point in her tale, in the Gardens, coming out from under a magnolia tree, about to step under the wisteria arch.

I love the wooded stems-become-trunks, the tubular turns, how each twist has an air of randomness and purpose, an air of things we almost understand (the forces of nature, growth, determination) how the foliage pours out, and the flowers lift to the light.

Seventy years ago, Mr says, gesturing at the supporting frame, this steel would have have been wrought iron then?
Yes, says Grace.
And the wisteria only 40 years old.
Yes, says Grace.
The stems would all have been greener then.
Yes, says Grace, we would have been.

She misses him everyday, but it is fine to be walking with your son and his wife, and happy Dog, and have stories, and new shoots winding fresh: years go by and need not be lost.

a china figurine looks up from a book, there's a rainbow shining on the wall next to it

Friday, 3 August 2018

Views And Pictures

collage of pictures of dartmoor on a cloudy day


Dartmoor, on the night of the blood moon: we found a spot to park, walked ill shod to a set of tors - not too far, keeping markers in sight - the weather was coming in, blowing mist. 
Mist when stirred can thicken fast. 
We did not think we would see the red moon through the cloud but we walked anyway and climbed and felt the air around us and the pulse of the earth beneath. Wild horses were calling. The sky darkened. We tumbled back to the van to chop up vegetables and heat oil. Dog lay on her stinky cushion under the table, disdaining the clean water provided. Rain fell, a soft kind of rain. 
Mist was an intermediary between day and night.  
Someone somewhere will have a view of the red moon, the lunar eclipse. We have this. 

Before the heat rose Granma Grace and I strolled out. The quayside was in pre-bustle: shopkeepers propping signs for coffee or furniture or the lure of cake, bright kayaks being hauled in lines; people of two kinds: blurry from sleep, or scrubbed and fresh. The pull-across ferry on stand-by. We stopped to watch swans - twenty in this fleet a-swimming, plus a straggler. 
‘Missed the bus,’ Grace says. ‘Oh dear!’
We drift down to the flood defences where the reeds grow far taller than us. There’s a purple flower we can’t name, plantain in seed which we pick for the garden birds, and bindweed, which Grace calls granny-pop-out-the-bed. I tell her about the small dark fish swimming in the river weeds - her eyes won’t reach to that these days, but she can picture it. For a while we watch at the weir, where the gulls are noisy wheelers, where a cormorant flies and dives - Grace misses this too so I tell her, at first she thinks I said coal miner, a coal miner is diving. This too she had pictured - a grime blasted man, and his yellow safety helmet floating off. 
We take the high road back to see the reeds and flowers from above. 
‘Is the meadowsweet gone over now?’ Grace asks, for she can’t spy any of those creamy-fluffs of flower. 
By the river though we see a puff of honey scented bloom, plus the six young swans still grey in plumage who are feasting in the weeds, bottoms up. 
How beautiful, we say, all along the walk and back, with a light breeze and blue sky and wildlife and reflections and happy dogs on the common. 
The kayaks are getting allocated to a group of school age children, we stop to observe: but our attention is taken then by the rising of a cormorant wrestling an eel. The bird is sleek black on a rippled shine of river, the eel is twisting silver eights. Three times we see the bird dive and rise, till it had gone too far down the waterway for us to follow. 

A group of swans swim with their symmetrical reflections on a dark river