Tuesday, 31 January 2012

31 Moments Noted In January

One verse of something notable- my little miracle moments- everyday for a month. This is how January 2012 worked out. These experiments are good for my writing practice and my perception of how lovely life is. 

The grass blades are sharp
Cauterised in ice, where
The earth surface is grazed
Open mud coagulates

Sun disc foams in pink mist
A mere soap-sliver in a cosmic bath
Dog catches frost on her belly fur
Tracking a tennis ball over ice-spiked grass

Enthralled dog chases her ball
I pursue the mysterious object
That slices up light between trees
Slide over mud to discover a plastic bag

Conditions are neither warm nor bitter
Air is cold humid, sky pale in blues and greys
Horizon soft focused, smooth mud underfoot
An echo of sun absorbed in wispy cloud

Hand sized bird with yellow ribs
Lights on a branch for good scavenging
A tin of fat and seed hangs in the holly
Yellow flashes in the dark gloss of leaf

Car lurches up the lane
Riding out the trials
Of potholes and the territorial
Assertions of a pheasant 

Boy must get out of the car
To run at the pheasant, they both
Leg it up the bumpy lane
I am in the car, laughing

One clear kill site in the fields
Splay of female pheasant wing feathers
They would not have been abandoned
Had only foxes worn fantastic hats

Clustered hailstones caught
Spawn-like in grass pockets
Imagine a breed of Ice Frog, imagine
A life cycle that exploits evaporation

Last night I looked up
Through a cloud tunnel
At the moon refracting
Rings of deep hued rainbow

Across at the old bomb crater
A bridge is thought of, a bridge
That leads to a tree house, thoughts
Fabricating fabulous possibilities                                   

We are giggling, smashing the hammer
Into chipboard, making a furniture shape
From the unpacked flat pack, while the
Guffawing baby chews up instructions

A kind of day easy
To describe, clear sky
Warm when sheltered
From the bladed wind

The sun picks me up
Like toast, gold and warm
Dipping in the mid-yolk of day
Glorious unexpected gloop

The vine was a stick in a pot
I was uncertain of its promise
Here two leaves grow, like open
Hands pressed wrist to wrist

The wind is a pair
Of puckish pincers
Holding a magpie, flailing
Fixed in frantic movement

I was tired so all the day merged
And I kind of blundered through
Getting things done. Early afternoon
I danced with the baby till she belly-laughed

Cold rain is balanced
By the steam of hot soup
The uprooted vegetables
Simmered and blipping

The rain travels horizontal
I sideways glance it
From the pages of the book
I am reading in bed

Hospitals weird me out, they smell
Of bad combinations. Amazes me how
Nurses can smile here, bringing calm
In reassuring utility uniforms

Driving through intermittent rain
One of those days where I rarely stop
But in transit briefly catch the sight
There are still apples on that tree

Car rumbles down the lane
Not in gear nor aware of pursuit
Brave-feathered pheasant, relentless
Chases down the red metal intruder

Another driving day, not
Unpleasant, not bored
Ice bursts from the plain sky
Bounces off the windscreen

The weather dial turns down
From rain to sleet to snowflakes
They blow in scatters like a million
Spores or tiny ghosts

Twelve hours of cooking fills
Our warm house with savoury
Aromas, slow cooker, low and
Steady, simmers contentment

Four generations gather in a room
Baby plays down on the floor
The fire is crackling, unheard
Under jabbers of conversation

Three games of dominoes
On the coffee table we carved
Our names on, happy-lethargic
From the wood burner heat

Two bananas are
Split, parcelled in foil
Chocolate stuffed and
Shoved eagerly in the fire

Tangerine moon, slung low
House silhouettes at the valley edge
Sleek silver mist in the dips
Sketches out the marvelling man

Headlamps swoop a curve of hedge
And from the dark lattice of foliage
An abundance of berries bounce back
Circles and circles of cordial light

In the morning it’s my birthday
Boy brings cake, Mr makes espresso
In the pot on the stove, he draws back
The curtains on stripes of sunrise

Sunday, 29 January 2012

In situ

Our amateur tree surgery efforts are quite addictive, because it's so utterly satisfying to see the wood pile stack up and know that there will be fires this winter. We are gathering our own comfort and the exercise endorphins give the task some swift returns. We often combine the hedge forages with some coppicing for extra gratification. 

Mr climbs the boundary of dry wall
Steadies himself with booted feet
Planted firmly down against granite
Stones, against ungainly trunk of tree

Chainsaw rattles. Mr tests the elected angle
It is uncomplicatedly reachable. Serrated
Blade rotates slickly through the branch
Drops it down onto the old buckled roof

I drag the cut wood clear
Admire the twist of it
Solid muscular against soft
Textured fuzzes of field grass

Tangible overhead, a block
Of solid-blue sky. The branch
Is a compact mass, is weight
Pressed against the ground

I trace the strain in my legs
Pushing my feet into the earth
Levering this length of beech
Out of the twists of thorn

From weed tangle into open field
The wood is dragged here, where
It will be portioned for the fire
Mr is distracted though, in the hedge

So many stray hedge branches
While Mr is in situ here he will just
Zip the saw through a few more
And I will roll them out too

Sawdust sprays on a chainsaw wave
Scatters over leaves and lies on dirt
Whorls of flaxy slivers of tree
Released, fly out, pattern down

Three more branches fall
Under the notches of sharpened
Blade. Each prize smugly heaved
From the field edge

Lines of heavy muscular
Streamlined monsters lie
Prone, like we have been
Hunting great beasts

Friday, 27 January 2012

The Happy Cartographer 1992

With a little bit of ’91 back story in which I definitely underplay how stressed I was, not so much lying to myself as determined to make it all okay. The effort is a bit too much, and after a year I do get miserable, and then I dislike my miserable self, and I dislike the self-loathing too. But it’s a learning curve, and it helps me understand the pile up of negative feelings that other people suffer. All the best artists have empathy.

‘November 1991

Daughter very ill with virus all week, so I am sitting in the college launderette cleaning sheets and missing lectures. My girl is more important. I did also spend a whole afternoon in Leeds looking for a Christmas Ball outfit. Depressed at myself for wasting time.

January 1992
The virus has turned into a lactose intolerance so my daughter is on a special diet and putting some weight back on but we have to go for more tests (sweat on Tuesday, apparently.) I’m behind in my work and feel I’ve got a mountain or two to climb. Not that worried, I’ll either do it or I won’t, in which case I’ll just walk around the mountains and forge a different path.
Feel very tired but my girl has been brilliant.

My daughter this week:
Rolling on the floor in a college hall-
“What’s wrong dear?” I ask
“A cow is eating my leg,” she tells me.
Shredding tampax and rolling on the kitchen floor-
“What are you doing dear?”
“Swimming, Mummy, with the fishes.”

February 1992
It’s a very fresh spring morning. The sky is glacier blue and just as cold. We had no heating card, the only heat in the house comes from the oven; so I’ve just baked bread, which we ate warm; or the kettle; so there’s cups of coffee to unfreeze fingers; and we have some sunlight which is a good illusion for warmth. And a postcard of Castle Beach in summer. 

November 1992
My journal has been packed away for months. Now we live at number 12, nine of us. We are quite squashed. I don’t have anywhere proper of my own to work. Money is the greatest worry, Access Fund hasn’t worked out. I have to um and ah before catching a bus or buying lunch never mind buying books or interesting travel. It’s frustrating. Time is tight as well, I want to do more writing but I get too tired, my eyes stop focussing.
This term has been fraught. I’m not as happy as usual, nor is my daughter. It’s a strain trying to keep her quiet in the mornings. Perhaps we made a mistake living here but there are advantages too.
I’m afraid of not coping. If I’m sensible I can see that I’m just going through an awkward time. My daughter loves nursery, has brilliant fun playing with everyone.
I’m feeling faded and old, ugly and uninteresting, useless and lost. I hate feeling this way, hate being ill, don’t get the point of it, it’s a waste of time. I try to jolly myself, change my clothes, do something about it, then it all goes flat again. I think it’s caused by a lack of control: I’ve got no space of my own, can’t afford to please myself, can’t stop being worried. After teaching practice there’ll be more time to concentrate on my own writing and drawing. I’m much more committed to making something of my creative work, which makes circumstances all the more frustrating. I get angry enough to run away and start again, live somewhere without any social contact: in a beach hut with a desk, a drawing board and a bed. I could work all day or night, lie on the beach and hear nothing but waves, never look at my reflection.

6th November 1992
Life is a little happier now. My student loan has arrived so we can afford Christmas. Went shopping for some presents in Granary Wharf, my daughter got her face painted like a cat and we all had fun and popcorn. Much more settled and relaxed, life has a pattern again.’

The virus brought dysentery levels of sickness and diarrea, even water wouldn’t stay down. I was trying to give my daughter high sugar snacks and milk, so some energy would keep her little body going. She was painfully thin and her belly swollen, and after six weeks of the doctor saying it will just sort itself out, frantic mum took the vomiting child on the bus to casualty. I was shaking with fear and the effort of not crying. The very first nurse we saw said, ‘that looks like a food intolerance of some sort to me, which can happen after a virus.’ She was right. I have a deep respect for the wisdom of nurses. I told my doctor he was an idiot, I made an appointment just so I could tell him off. Also, looking back, I think it was acceptable to be stressed by this experience. I got a dress from a charity shop in Wakefield, a silver one, the remains of which are still in the dressing up box, but my afternoon traipsing around Leeds was more about needing some time out. If I’d realised that, I would have gone for a walk along the canal instead, and come home refreshed.
By February I am back to treating poverty as a challenge to my imagination. Being poor has been a real bonus in that respect, I don’t think a comfortable life would have pushed my thinking hard enough.

And then there’s November 1992, a very important month. No reflection on my housemates, many of whom are still (brave people) my lovely friends, but the stress piled up and I did crumble in a bit of a pathetic heap. Homelessness was looming, college work piling up, I have no idea how I got washing done, my daughter was on a lactose free diet and any slip ups meant she was horribly sick, I had to get her to nursery which was 10 miles in one direction, and then get to my teaching practice, 10 miles in the other direction, reliant on the whimsy of public transport. Little wonder I kept getting poorly and overrun by negative thoughts, I was massively overtired. I needed to be put in the beach hut to recover. But! At the bottom of the abyss, we find the voice of salvation (a Joseph Campbell quote.) It was finding myself in this metaphorical ditch that started me thinking, how do you climb out?
I have a dragonfly tattoo on my left shoulder, which is a symbol of transformation, I had it done when I knew everything because I was 17 and I chose the Emperor Dragonfly as a positive emblem, something to encourage me to always be capable of transforming.  If you want to change, it is possible, but it will take effort. When you are exhausted, effort is a ridiculous thing to ask of yourself. It is so much easier to give in, to let circumstances run you down.
The very first habit to cultivate is to take responsibility for your self.
It was my fault I was tired, it was my fault I had no money. It was my fault I was whinging about it. Harsh to own up to, but the plan is to make yourself better, not beat yourself up.
All of my diaries, the organisational type not the journals, are full of lists. I made a note of what needed doing and how and when it was going to get done, including some rest time. It was a simple enough practical step. I recognised that some things would be late, and some things would not be done at all. I prioritised and everyday checked off what was done, rescheduled what wasn’t done. This is how I started to feel like I was in control of my own reaction, no matter how awkward life was. I don’t remember if I had come across Victor Frankl at that time, I was certainly trying to get inspirational reading done as part of my life education. (If you haven’t heard of him, Victor Frankl was a Jewish prisoner in a concentration camp, and he decided that the best way to not let the bad guys win was to not let them control his inner life. Put him on your reading list!)
It is funny how quickly we move from gloom to popcorn…
I should like to add that affording Christmas was more about the train fare back to visit family than the presents (I guarantee you they were mere cheap happy trinkets) and that it is the effort of putting myself back in charge that makes the difference, there wouldn’t be a loan coming in if I hadn’t scheduled the application!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Colourful Fish In The Green-Field Aquarium

Getting up too early and bravely doing the washing up has the distinct advantage of allowing the mid morning slump to be thoroughly exploited. Both Mr and me get fidgety though, we like doing stuff best of all. I love aquariums. Fish are always doing stuff, and they mostly look relaxed. 

Since reluctant waking broke me
From my agreeable bed, a lengthy time
Has lapsed, seems like it’s not lazy to snooze
Here in the shade of this blaze, it’s earned

Kicked back to full recline
I do not slide all the way into sleep
My eyes rest. I hear dog panting
From the shelter of the pallet table

Mr talks to the cat; he gets bored
Being prone. He takes his rest pottering
About, looking things over, checking if
He should water the tub plants, indecisive

It transpires that the hosepipe is handy
Mr will bring a shower to the tub flowers
And the damp earth will smell
Delicious to me, like a forest floor

I am averse but restless
To unpack myself from this
Webbed chair-bed, fabric print
On my bared legs itches

Back to the field, with the barrow
And the chainsaw, sweat-damp
Floaty in the haze, everything has
A little illusiveness to it

Sun fire makes a shimmer that
Somehow has this scene looking
As though we are all underwater
Leaves move in breezes like seaweed

We are colourful fish in the squared
Green-field aquarium, caught in the day’s
Delirium, dog zips like a tetra, we are
More languorous, smoothly moving

Enjoying the press of the humidity
We choose a branch that hangs low over
The buckled roof of the old sheep-shelter
Park up the wheelbarrow

We pause to plot, to pick out
The best angle for cleaving branch 
From tree, which spot to stack new logs
Where to stock up the slim kindling twigs 

Monday, 23 January 2012

The Happy Cartographer's Halloween 1991

The cardboard spider was splendid indeed. Halloween and Christmas are the two festivals that promote decorating the house, so maybe that’s why they are my favourites. The sparkles, lights in trees and candles in pumpkins, caught my imagination early. Actually, as children, we were given turnips to carve, pumpkins were too exotic for our household. For safety, we carved with spoons not knives. Carving a turnip with a blunt spoon is not easy, but the end result was proportionately satisfying. 

‘Halloween 1991
Put our decs up and partied. I made a black and orange spider, out of cardboard, to match our streamers. Flat looks funky. Inflatable flashing spook is a big success. Daughter extroverted as ever, chasing guests with an egg box dragon. She decided to wear a green hat, rose patterned gypsy dress and a fluorescent beach bag. Went to bed happily too. I think parties are natural environments for her. Lots of people around, lots of drink to go round and I made pigs liver pate, pepperoni pizza, baked potatoes, sausages, crisps and sweeties for our party tea.
Next morning.
Tired but not ill. Tidied up by 10am but it’s still smoky in here. Making post Halloween bash hash for tea and have plenty of college work to do! I love festivals. They keep you in touch with the world, seasons and life as an ongoing process, all cyclical and sparkly.’

Smoking indoors!!!!!!!!!! OMG. I almost cut out this sentence, for shame, and then I remembered the flat next door. One set of our new neighbours was a retired bus driver and his wife, they were both heavy smokers and had heavy emphysema. 

Also, they had a teaspoon collection, which they kindly invited me to view. Displayed in a wall mounted wood and glass unit, these commemorative spoons were mostly sent to them by other people, as the couple were too ill to travel much. I don’t want to promote smoking but neither can I claim that I’ve never done it; it was a night-time comfort routine for me, a moment of pausing before sleep. The teaspoon collection helped curb the habit. 

The other important thing here, beyond the cultural shock of indoor smoking and back to the map of finding happiness, is that we like to celebrate, we pay attention to the moment. My reason for loving festivals holds fast, that was a habit worth cultivating.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Swelter Tells The Chrysalis

When sunny days are not frequent or expected it is only polite and sensible to make the most of the lovely relaxing cheerful moment. Ideally, a kayak, a big lake and a picnic, but if it means lying in a sunshine rectangle in a bikini in the bed-sit window, then you should do it. I have, and it makes life a bit ridiculous in a very healthy way. Here I only wrestle the rusty sun lounger chair out of the Museum of Agricultural Artifacts and Sundry Articles (this is what we call the shed.) 

Mid morning quiet lazy time
Arrives, it’s too hot for cups of tea
I will find my sunglasses and drink cold
Coffee from a china cup and saucer

Smug and swelling
The fat late green
Tomatoes have been
Waiting for this extra sun

This moment can be maximised
With some effort, the reclining chair
Is heaved from the shed, I give myself
Permission to indulge in lounging

I have both book and magazine
Sun cream that smells like coconut
Pretend I’m on holiday, let my limbs
Slump, just being happy to be

Mammals and reptiles
Consummate at basking
With halfway eyelids
They float in burning air

A drowsy bee passes, overloaded
With pollens and the weight of heat
That seems to wobble it, a clumsy
Wooden puppet flight path

After a while I might look
At pictures of pretty dresses
The costume is part of how
You write the character

In these magazine dreams, I can
Review myself, paying attention to how
I enjoy the physical world, how I express
My own kind of beautiful

In my book I read a clever phrase
On the progression of dramatic styles, it
Highlights the eternal flux of the human condition
How we love and hate to change

Swelter tells the chrysalis
It is time, open up, let
Instinct press outwards
Into the unknown 

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The Happy Cartographer 1991

In which my fortunes progress from Pauper’s Allowance to a student grant, and maybe some loans. I had started a degree previously, but interrupted my education to concentrate on the baffling business of how to be a mum. It was the general consensus of opinion that this would be the ruin of my life, and I would not be able to do anything with my life subsequently other than drop out several more illegitimate progeny and drink too much cider. They were kind of right about the cider.

‘February 1991
I’m on Employment Training now, learning to help people with literacy. Facilitating, they call it. I should have a City & Guilds certificate by September and then I should be off to do my B.Ed [degree.] Life seems to be taking a more definite shape, the direction definitely forwards, shame it’s not a more gold paved path.

March 1991
Great Grandfather’s ninety-first birthday. Daughter drew him a picture and we bought two bags of Devon toffees. He loves toffee, whiskey, flowers and China tea. Last year he received twelve bottles of whiskey, of which one remains. He only got two this year.
It’s reassuring to visit and hear them talk; ‘Oh, no, he’s not very old, he’s not seventy yet, is he?’
Before we left, Daughter was given 20p and I had a whiskey.

October 1991
Just moved to West Yorkshire
Looking forward to Christmas, have an overdraft to cover presents. Daughter settled into nursery, we are wallpapering ceiling to floor with her paintings.’

 The goal I had, to get my degree, was my own and not a reaction to public opinion. That’s not to say I wasn’t sensitive to the negativity, I just reflected on what I wanted to prove to myself and where I wanted to be and acted on that, rather than thinking what I needed to do to prove other people wrong. I’ve been a bit eccentric all my life, so I must have grown up accustomed to other people’s frowns. I have included the bit about the 91st birthday as this also highlights a bit of eccentricity that encouraged me to continue being myself. Not sure the overdraft was a good idea, but we definitely enjoyed it. This is a very brief entry for quite a momentous event, mainly as I was too busy doing things to do much personal writing, things that were very exciting to me at the time, like finding the laundrette and getting a library card. One of the best things about having a goal is the sense of being on an adventure as you travel towards it. Life needs adventure. 

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Flameproof Lyme

Fire making is a very important part of living in our house. Without it, we are cold and so is the water that comes out of the hot tap. It takes a lot of ignition to get a lyme log to burn, you have to mix them in with the more amenable woods, like alder and sycamore. Good thing we have plenty of overgrown hedges to scavenge through. It's hard work, but these are satisfying steps to take.

The art of fire making is in the ignition
Raising the heat from a spark in spindled bundles
Sustaining the flame to burn sizeable fuel
Cut from the dense hedges

From the mass, single branches
Are shaken out. The brittle skinny ends
Broken off, bunched and fixed with twine
From the bulky twine roll

This is the satisfying old fashioned skill
Of faggot making. Each one represents
A future fire lit, as nights draw in and frost
Thinks of appearing in daylight

Twigs thicken to sticks, snapped
In even lengths, until we need the saw
For small logs, and start a second stack
Next year’s fire fodder, left to season out

It’s quick work, cracking twigs
And wrapping string, we pick through
The tumble of wood, swiftly, neatly
Reassemble it in order of mass

Larger logs lay out in irregular rows
We learn each type of bark and grain
The sycamore will burn quite green
But the lyme is almost flameproof

The first barrow load careens
Back up the path. Dog follows, she has
Picked out a stick, and carries it
Prodding legs on passing

I daydream of other lives
Just for comparison, this one
I find is constructed from purpose
Accident, experiment, attitude

All lives are combinations
Intended steps and the slips
Which depend on character
For the choice of interpretation

We prepare our woodshed contents
For what is expected, the usual pattern
Of seasonal shift. There is always variance
But nothing entirely unrecognisable yet