Monday, 15 October 2018

Wildcat Wind

Not a hurricane, not a typhoon, this storm - a tree feller still, a pouncing wave maker.
Through it drives my little car, my mouse-white car, half hid in leaf, scuffing wheel trim on twigs; around the clumped earth on fresh underside of oak root, bumping down a wind tunnel of branches. Out and back the little car goes, lost in rain and road spray.
I too am lost: busy, distracted. Long hours, long lists.
Between frost and hot, lately, the weather has wandered. Tomato plants lost to the usual dose of late blight, the cucumber vine on last days, flower rot blooming. Chillies are popping out, speedy and spicy and filling the dehydrator rack: pods of winter warmth awaiting.
Earlier I had lain in the hammock, duvet wrapped, listening to bird song, to leaves quiver.
They say that winter will come hard, four months without reprieve.
So in the car I sit, parked away from stray roof slates, eyes closed, and the wildcat wind is not cold and I remember to love the heft of it.
Here again I find myself. A moment: then, check the list: the next thing.

Friday, 28 September 2018

A Chapter In Progress

Not my most current project, since I'm out on a Granma Grace care week and can only bring my l'il Chromebook with me, which limits projects and keeps logging me in on the wrong Google account and suchlike minor mischief. An opportunity however to work on something that could take another decade to finish but if this seems daunting I must remember that the time will pass anyway. Also I have got a little more blogging done which I have enjoyed and hope you have too.
This developing chapter is written in the past tense which I struggle with, please do pick me up if I've unwittingly swapped anywhere. It is not a dramatic scene as this is a calm point, which will suit this book (but no spoilers, I want the finished article to surprise you). Any feedback is valued.

Cafe table, where writers work best, stripy espresso cup
Mr Longhi wiped his brow. The heat grew heavier each year, he thought, little by little, a courtesy so he could get used to it; or he was slower and that was why the ice cream seemed to melt faster. Here I am: heavy limbed, old, warm and weary, happy to open the door of my walk in freezer. If I were a plant all my flowers would be dropped, all my seeds scattered out, and I would be photosynthesising to feed a rootstock. If that’s how it works? But if I were a plant that is what I would do. Yes, I would be feeding something and soaking in every hour of light, soothed in every dark hour. He huffed, laughing also. The heat made him fanciful. He checked his list. They were low on mint, vanilla, strawberry. He stacked the tubs, lifted, hugged them in for the cold before going back up the steps to restock. There is only good ice cream here, he said to himself. It tastes of real things. And I have kinds for everyone - no dairy, no sugar, no fat, full cream, sugary, all kinds. In cones, in tubs. Recyclable tubs, wooden scoops. He had tried to think of everything. Not just because of competition, although one must pay bills, pay wages, and think of this too. ‘Yes.’ He nodded, and looked out of the window at the street down which many people walked. He could see his customers sat under the canopy; bowls of ice cream, little cups of dark roast, tall glasses stacked with ice cluttered little tables; he heard their chatter, smelled coffee, a blend of fragrances, the river water. He looked beyond to the rails that edged a drop to the wide river, the troughs of flowers bursting bright, the benches where a few folk rested under the shade of pollarded trees. Older folk. A pregnant lady with a toddler sleeping in a pram; she looked half asleep herself. ‘Such a long time ago,’ he whisper-sighed, all of his children being grown up, being far away. Funny how you have such a longing. The love has not diminished, of course not. It is not so - visceral? They were once in your arms, the mess of them everywhere. The physical connection. But they have good lives, are good people. It feels like a reward. But of course, there is also luck. His nephew, for example; his brother in law. But he does not want to think of that now. He looked at the painted mirror behind the counter, at the map of his face: a patient terrain, that too is good. He will phone his sister this evening. Invite her down when the heat is easing. They will remember being children themselves. Going to get ice cream. She loved mint best then but she was more inclined to chocolate now, or rum and raisin. A scoop of each! The door was propped open so no bell rang when the young woman came in. She flicked her gaze over the cakes as Mr Longhi washed the ice sheen from his hands. He saw her in the mirror and guessed she would not order cake, nor ice cream. He thought mango sorbet, but the blackcurrant, the lemon, the rose petal: all the flavours were worth having. She lingered over the choice. ‘Let me know if you want to taste any, they’re all delicious of course.’ ‘Thank you.’ Only good food here, he was pleased to repeat to himself, but it depends how you think of it, of course; some people choose not to eat cake, to keep healthy. They order the light meals, which is right for them. If they ate cake maybe it would seem like defeat, like a snub to their own choices. The joy for them is in physical health. Though those people are rare. More common is the struggle to choose health when the joy is in pudding! Moderation in all things, the old man smiled, including moderation. Keep balance. Lose balance to know balance. ‘The mango is sugar free,’ he informed her, ‘the rest have a little to sweeten and preserve, all organic.’ ‘Oh,’ she looked up and smiled, ‘the mango then please.’ ‘Anything to drink?’ She reminded him of someone, but perhaps she had been here before. ‘Could I have just water?’ Yes, plain or sparkling?’ ‘Tap is fine.’ ‘Where would like to sit? I’ll bring it over.’ She looked around, pointed to the round table in the corner. ‘There please.’ ‘Good choice, do take a seat.’
Lisa Southard, writer, coffee drinker, cafe writing, work in progress

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

What Is It That I Want?

Cute duck walking out of river

This week I'm Granma Grace-sitting. We are having a fine time so far, I have only frustrated myself by attempting to get better search engine optimisation while our Grace takes pleasant naps. It isn't a silly thing to try (SEO or naps). I think I have over-tried though, and need to stop before I get reckless - there's a sort of madness in this grasping for success. Perhaps I should go back to querying, find an agent, seek the traditional publication route. What am I actually wanting from this? To get my words in front of more people; to sell books to help finance buying a field. I'm always busy, always working; out at work, working from home, relentless. I stop here and there, recharge, go. 
Bringing a dream to life can be a tough gestation. 

So, this dream, this field and the living we will make and do within it, why do I want that? To be living in tune with myself and the earth, to spend quality time with family and friends; a sense of achievement comes into it too. The van conversion is near finished (it will never be entirely finished, being a first project especially, one is always learning and adapting things) and this time last year having a camper van was only a dream. How did it happen? We made ourselves rich by making our wants few, plus long work hours. This scores high on the sense of achievement. Maybe the land will come the same way. And with the land comes projects; swimmable water, woods, field kitchen, charcoal kiln, hillbilly hot tub, old tyre sauna, maybe a pirate ship on a little island for my ducks to live in? (Yes, I definitely want that!)
And a space for my writing - whether anyone reads a single line or not, underneath all of this dream making is the compulsion to write, the words that seem anxious to find me. If I had nothing else, if no dreams appealed, I would want to be writing.
The words come now and they say - stop chasing, keep working, it will all happen, pay attention. 

Today Grace and I will go walking, by the canal, to a park, somewhere where her memories are gathered. Yesterday we strolled to the river and down by the flood defences which are all new. Out of the water hobbled a little duck, just as curious to observe us.
Come live in my pirate ship, little duck, please; come remind me how to be.

Things to do by the river Exeter: say hello to a duck. Granma Grace leans from her wheelchair to chat to the little curious duck.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Egg And Moon

Flash fiction comparing moon, skull and egg

Three Kinds Of Rain

Rain smudged view of a fence top, photo taken from inside car

Rain today, two main kinds.
Heavy: each drop has a discernible weight, the drops are close together.
Light: the water barely felt. Drops fall sparsely and, where acknowledged, are perceived as a change in temperature as they touch the skin.
Until you are wet the air is warm, a summer vestige. Leaves burnish, fruit drops. Blight flourishes - we watch for it, harvest, cut back, holding onto bounty; basil, tomatoes, cucumbers, physalis, aubergines, samphire. This year the lime tree has not blossomed, it may need a new pot. We’re ticking over here, though, not rushing to mend. Make do will do. Our minds champ to be on the land we will buy. Patience, the rain says. It brings the word from the sky, from the sea, from millennia of water cycles. Uh-huh, we say. We can breathe this day’s air, watch our crops, brew and chop and fill the freezer. We are here in this moment but can’t stop the fear or the thrill or the gnashing of ideas - the future that is coming, we want to meet it - the rain is laughing, of course, it knows these words too. Night. I’m driving home from work. The weather is a rain-fog, a whole cloud dropped to earth.

Steep hill top viewed through wet window

Friday, 21 September 2018


Beautiful glossy acorns

If the storm had a body, this was one jab from one fingertip, no more; elsewhere the hurricanes tore, here the road was lost under mulch, here light branches fell. We felt the roar, the joyous power, we were safe in our home. In the morning the sun rose, an orange fire caught in grey cloud, sparks that lit tree tops - copper and iron. Images of a weather god, hammer swinging, forging - a ploughshare, I think. To turn over earth and plant a green crop, to keep our soil safe through winter.
Day and night draw even. Nights will start to stretch. We must think of winter stores; hunkering down, shoring up.

I feel like we will have enough, we will get the work done. Often when contentment loomed I had feared it. It seemed a dulling of my senses, of this edge to edge living. This time I am plumping cushions, setting the wood burner. And yes the house is full of boxes and bottles and things to be done, we have not reached the still point of cosy - but I am ready to be comfortable. Nothing stops storms, whatever zone you inhabit. In the temperate zones the seasons will morph, the days and nights will shift their hours. I too am changing, and yet not: I am sky, all this is but weather.

Silhouette of tree against grey sky

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Autumn Soundtrack

Hogweed seed has dramatic umbrels

September, mid afternoon; we hear the constant fluctuation of wasps in the willow arch, hungry and heedless of the hornets that are raiding wasp-grubs. Leaves are drying, edging into new colour, whispering. Indoors, every hour is backgrounded in blips. Apple wine, timing its own fermentation, a liquid metronome. September, first autumn month, the ninth month, the evening: against the dark, logs crackle fierce in the fire pit. Wine sloshes into glasses; a soothing mesmer made. Eyes droop. We stoop to bed hearing ourselves list jobs to be done, plans that slide into dreams of us on our land, and there is music playing and we are laughing (but this is us snoring, by now.) September dawn, birds’ chorus bursting bright. Later in the morning, coffee softly drops into a pot.

A log glows purple in a fire pit at night

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

September In The Water

Quarry pool on Dartmoor, with two happy swimmers bobbling about

Lisa Southard takes a bow... and dives off a rock

Lisa Southard jumping off a rock, mid air, before the big splash

Like a pirate, Lisa on an island wearing a stripy top.

Summer signs out on the calendar, maybe distractedly: it leaves a trail of warm days.
In these days we can find a body of water appealing, strip impromptu, dip and swim; strike out limbs, put trepidous feet into murk, thrilled by the press of weed.
We can be merfolk, pirates, explorers, in our storied dialogues; jumping from rocks, invading an island of boggy grass.
Then we put coats on, walk brisk, eat a pot of good olives.
We can run down a beach into shallow waves for miles, till the dog gets tired and swims back.
We can slither back through rock pools, joining a gull tribe. Hear the kittiwake's call. Days are busy busy - too much needs doing - but nothing more than this.

Out of the water when we are wet and the breeze finds us we recall that summer has signed out, that we are in the remnants. Clothed again skin has a buzz of circulation, a flush of warmth.

A tired dog sneaks off to rest after a long sea swim

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