Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Buff And Shine

Tiredness is an arse.

An inconsiderate underminer, riddling calm.

Over and over, grace rises from stress, is interrupted.
Focus slips to the floor, broken; mindfulness is kicked crossly into a metaphorical bin. It is not even a good shot. It rolls in shame, crumpled, to a halt.

Oh gosh, we say, or something like that.

And then wonder, what is all this work for?
And what is to show for it?
Did we need something- a house, perhaps? Being warm?
No one remembers, only feels that it is unfair.

But none of that was the point. It was finding the eternal in the moment: the spark, the genius, the serendipity!
How did we forget?
The jaw dropping splendour of the whole universe?
Somehow, we forgot.

Tiredness is a repetitive arse.

It is not the only thing that tangles us: there are many recurrent debilities.
They tangle our steps, like dirty shirts dumped on the floor.
Same old shirts and quirks of fear.

Never mind. Fill up the wash basket. Run yourself a bath.

Be happy when there is enough hot water to lie in the bath, closed in steam.

Leave the shirts stuffed in a machine - think of them, rabidly foaming.

Be happy when there is enough time to lie in the hot bath, to listen to the washing machine: that is one fantastic machine!

And if you should find a corner of ice cream lost in a tub, and there is time, and hot water, and you can eat ice cream in a hot bath with bubbles in your hair?
Then it is magic, nothing less.

Look, Tired, you could say: you are an arse. But it is me that forgot.
And then you will be filled with certainty: how the bits of life that go wrong are perfect: how there’s another universe where life turns out exactly as planned. It’s terrible. There’s no resilience there. Imagination lacks muscle: no buff, no shine.

Buttons click-click in the spinning machine. 

Friday, 27 March 2015

A Revisiting Review

This paperback of The Catcher In The Rye is a second reprint from 1987. It has age spots and a typeface I like (Monotype Bembo) and I would have been 17 in that year but I don’t remember if that’s when I bought it. Surely I had read the book earlier, maybe even in hardback?
I remember Holden Caulfield though; disaffected antihero, soul in a soulless world, thinker in a thoughtless world. He acted on impulses born of that odd mix of emotion and moral responses. He had a keen insight into people, even if he was confused by what he saw: he saw it, reacted to it. He had stubbornness and integrity and that individualistic red hat.

(If you don’t know the plot and/or the palaver of this book, have a quick cheat here: The Catcher In The Rye.)

Rereading was a gamble - what if I’d left my old friend Holden too far behind? Perhaps I would find him gauche, all acne and embarrassment? If old JD had been having a laugh?
What if I wanted to save him? What if I’m a phoney now?

Pestered thus by my own questions it was best just to read and risk.

In the first page doubts were whisked away: I love still the mixed up protagonist, only now there is a layer of maternal care and a core-of-the-earth deep appreciation of the skill involved in using a first person subjective narrative to carry a novel.

It made me think back to adolescence and how much of who I am now I was then. It reinforced my rejection of materialism as a way of life. The quote from Wilhem Stekel: ‘The mark of an immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one;’ made me laugh out loud because that is so close to how I have evolved. 
(Well played JD!)

Printed first in 1951, the language could have seemed dated but I found the 40’s slang no weirder than any slang, it could be accepted as a character quirk; it didn’t seem too distant in history or difficult to follow. 
Holden remains an archetypal teenager; lost in transition, fighting against losing the straightforwardness of childhood, against the superficial aspects of adult life, alienated but filled with a clumsy emotional drive to connect. Holden connects the reader to that awkward phase of life. 
The book covers the whole passage from life to death though, through Holden’s accounts of his family and acquaintances. 

And as a parent I particularly recognise this wisdom ‘The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off, they fall off, but it’s bad if you say anything to them.’

So the old paperback will go back on the shelf. I’ll be reading it again. 

Sunday, 22 March 2015

A Week In Which We Find Ourselves Incredibly Alive

Tuesday Is A  Calm Day
Peelings piled in a pot, hob-simmered; dots of herb leaf turning, jade flecks in amber convections. 
This onion, roasted to a sweet paste.
Bone stock brewed overnight, tucked into the Rayburn’s dinky oven.
This makes soup, a shimmering dark gold soup, edged in lemon zest, earthed with turmeric.
But we are so hungry we add rice, pale rice, carrot, broccoli, red leaf, a fresh shine of onion, orange lentils, tomatoes; all the colours slippery rich with good oils.
We put hot food in deep plates and we eat our feast outdoors.
At the end house the clearance men are working. We hear their chatter. The house is being emptied: we speak of it briefly, sadly.
Our lawn is mowed. The sun shines and the breeze does not steal that warmth.
In the polytunnel, flora is waking; we speak of this, the spring miracle, the full happiness of it.
There will be left overs for supper, we say, and this is how life should be.

Wednesday Is A Travel Day 
Our car becomes one of a mass in a road that is clotted, is sticky with traffic. There are hundreds of roads. We watch a red sun in our wing mirrors, arrive at night. In the B&B the carpets are light cream: what if we are trailing country mud? I wipe my feet more than should be necessary. The people are friendly, it counteracts the carpet. No more worries over soft furnishings: and we are hungry.
Today we will not cook but feast on steak served sizzling. Iron skillets on heat warped wooden serving plates: Mr says, ‘I could make that, something like that.’ We laugh. We drive around too many roundabouts till we find our lodgings again and somehow there’s a bottle of wine and we dare to drink red sat under white covers in our comfortable bed and watch a film on the little tv.
‘Dinner and a show,’ I say and this is funny too.
Midnight passes, sleep creeps. I dream that the alarm is sounding, wake up, confused, struggle back to sleep: repeat.

Thursday Is The Date For Surgery
The sky is flat grey, it almost looks as though it is missing.
Perhaps it is too early for sky. It sleeps.
The roads are busying.
We drive. It’s not far.
Mr is booked into his hospital room. The floor is wipe clean tiles, I note, the decor based on sage green. HIs blood pressure a little too high, nothing to be surprised about. He has a gown to model, a surgical stocking to roll on. I leave him to be glamorous and go back for breakfast.
Breakfast is generous. There is good conversation: it centres on education, martial arts, the grand outdoors, non-toxic foods. There is an extra pot of coffee.
Back to the car, I scan a map. Castle, not too far, perhaps: but I can’t think about castles. I want to be waiting at the hospital.
Room 32 has three chairs and me: bed and patient are away. Are in the theatre of surgery.
There’s no need to be nervous.
The procedure is progressive and straight forward: to take stem cells from a hip joint to regrow cartilage in his damaged knee; plus some standard arthroscopy.
Squirrels swing through spindly tree cover: I draw a picture of the trees on my phone, I didn’t know there was that on my phone and there’s no need to think about complications or the emptiness of the room.
He comes back to me, of course: not quite awake.
Anything that takes you from consciousness, I am thinking, it has that other world risk. Where did you go? And where you went, will it let you back? There is an element of magical journey to it. I keep guard because this grogginess represents a pull back to the other world. I am here to intervene. To check the right consciousness has returned.
His first words: ‘You’re here.’
He stares at the theatre nurses and their blue hair nets as they leave to find a ward nurse.
‘Who were they?’ he asks. He tries to hug me, nearly pulls out the IV line.
‘You’re here too,’ I say.
This is definitely the right one.
I take up a fitful watch on pushed together chairs, a tired relieved mind pondering on pleasant scenarios of an entirely beneficial universe.
Consciousness… the appreciation of consciousness… contentedness through appreciation of consciousness… something like that is how it would work…
The clock moves on. We are five hours away from our home.
Breakfast wears off around four in the afternoon. Then I think about biscuits.
The physiotherapist gives a brief lesson to a weary Mr. We are trusted with crutches. By five o’clock we are flagged to leave.
The drive home is not pleasant as such, only I do have Mr, and I do feel like a hero.

Friday Is Tired And Achy
I ache. Mr aches.
We wake up to watch the eclipse. Our eyes are safe from harm, thanks to the thickness of mist. We watch the mist darken, come back to light, it lifts to reveal a fine day.
Along the skirt of the hedge as I am walking with Dog, I find a rabbit skull. I put it in my pocket, the pocket of my red coat, zipped in, fragile bones in the red-dark.
It is reborn, in imagination, a wild ghost companion.
Spring bursts more marvels. I eat one primrose flower, leave the rest for chunky bees.
It feels as though I have defrosted from the winter earth, a seed able to sprout.
Mr is bored and encouraged: he longs for fit and well, fit and well is possible… in six months or so… six weeks on crutches… he practices his crutch control.
Dog gets happily under our feet.

Saturday Is Race Day.
Overtired, reluctant. Just want this over with. Would not even get in the car if it weren’t for that annoying team spirit.
This week is too much!
I get in the car. Quit is not today’s word. There’s 15 kilometres of muddy obstacles I need to get through. For some reason that I don’t entirely recall.
It looked like fun?
So, only partially crippled with nervously imagined disasters, I do join my team. And once the ordeal starts, you go with it. You remember how to be capable. How to find strength. How to accept and give help. How much fun mud is. The joy of doing what you didn’t expect. The happiness of a supportive crowd. How to love a pinch of sun in amongst the wind chill.
At the top of the rope: how scared I was! (This is me at the top of anything!)
A skip full of ice when you’re chattering your teeth out?
A lake of cold water?
Another dunk?
Here’s a slippery height, with a chance of rope burn!
(Mind says NO, body does it, inelegantly for certain, but IT IS DONE.)
The final climb was more challenged by inoperably cold hands than by height. Adorable strangers would not let me fail. From the top, I reached down to someone: maybe this was my favourite bit: to see how people turned to help before they celebrated their own triumph.
This evening, bruises are fantastic proofs. A hot shower gets peak appreciation.
Mr is a bit jealous and I admit to a small gloat.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Vernal On Sunday

My calendar says it is the 15th day of the 3rd month of the 15th year of the 21st century, a specificity that should focus a mind to the present point.

My head says, is this Sunday? Possibly it is…

No real decisions are made but we find ourselves stalking the moorlands with a sharp wind and a shovel. 
We heft a small sack of horse poo half a mile or so, a circular route, back to the car. Unburdened then up Cox Tor, all the way to the panorama and the full push of wind. We hide for a while in the dip of a rock nest. Dog wags patiently.

We climb down over knolls of buried stone; matted in grass, it reminds me of sloth hair and giant knucklebones. Gargantuan knuckle dragging sloth monsters slumbering under our feet.

In every pool, ladles of frogspawn, rich bubbles of life. 
Even here, where the vegetation is dwarfed by harsh weathering, there is succulence in this waking season.
The sloths will be dreaming of warming sun.

We sit in the car, heater on; we are eating ice cream, rubbing Dog-steam from the windows to watch crow birds hop.

At home, time has flown.

Roast dinner cooks, getting ready to grease hungry lips.

We raise a bamboo arch for future beans.

Dog has gravy on her biscuits then sleeps, then wakes herself with dream twitches.
We laugh and we are so greedy today, we bake pudding.

The day seems plated up, a glut after winter.
Spring is here: we feel it, as though it were in our very blood, in each cell, renewed, this capacity for enrapture.

Thursday, 12 March 2015


If we are lucky, there is a recollection from childhood that we revere for being a time when expectations were delivered upon. Impatience at the waiting will have existed, but we remember the thrill better. Ingratitude may have been present, but not held in memory. We were open to the immensity of receiving and satiated by the result.
It could have been a toy, a feast, a visit, any number of details.
If we are lucky, we have this in memory.
This is the uncomplicated bliss with which I hold a new seed catalogue.
Those who garden understand, those who don’t feel let down perhaps - a seed catalogue? Recaptures all that?
Not recapture, not nostalgia.
A development of the grateful receipt that allows true happiness. As adults, we must do the work ourselves of course, it is a more proactive experience.
We make decisions - here the priorities are edible and medicinal - towards constructing our lives, living how we wish to live in order to make the most of being alive: not existing: living.
Through the pages I go, dreaming, making practical compromise, adding a layer at a time, growing reality from reverie.
Reading and gardening are the finest of addictions.
Both embrace hope, failure, perseverance, courage, magic.
Both can be shared.
I am holding up my words, hands grubby with earth, open.
Those seeds are let fly.

Monday, 9 March 2015

A Night Drive

When I click the beams full, my car has the eyes of a giant.
The road and the night are one colour.

I follow a line of stars homeward.

All the sky is stars: a maze of lights: the eyes of my car gape.
How simple it would be to amble up, meander, squint-bleary, marvel time away.

How would we find our way back?
I don’t know.
I think we would be laughing too much, but then find a bean stalk, helter-skelter, plonk, back on the driveway.
Find a pot of gold in the footwell.

Friday, 6 March 2015

St Piran's Day

Frost held the grass still, early this morning. Birds sang. Daffodils, without the nods of breeze, seemed lost in dreams.

Today they took Clarrie to the crematorium.
There will be a fine view over the woods from there. Maybe the starlings will fly, make sympathetic murmurations over the canopy of Cardinham. 

Grandchild 2 passed the pegs, while we hung out washing on the rotary lines. My back ached from levelling soil, from making new beds in the polytunnel: we will grow melons for the summer.
‘It is sad, Granma,’ the little one says. ‘Your friend is died.’
And she says, ‘Oh! I love melons!’

She helped to seal the envelope of the memoriam card, carried it to Carol next door, for passing on at the service. Ron was going up to feed the chickens: the little one went up too, made backward skips away from the pecking.
‘Remember Clarrie’s sweet peas?’ Carol said. ‘We collected seeds in September, you can have some. We can all grow sweet peas at the side of our houses.’

Grandchild 2 came back beaming, holding a large white egg.
She loved it too much to eat it right away. We went home to have pasties for lunch.

‘What shall we do next?’ I asked.
We called Granddad down from his shed workings. Lilly Scare The Crow took up her residence over a vegetable bed.

My back ached, it couldn’t be ignored; the end house stood empty, not even a tea towel on the line. But the sweet peas will come again, in the sun, simmering fragrance.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Cliff Top Tea

This skyline is a pale bleed, cloud into sea, dissolving. The sea is salt-milk, wind churned, flung in daubs, white froth on fish-silver sheen. Above the wind-line clouds edge inland, sun on their backs, grey fleece and opal. A three-quarter moon in the clear sky sits, pulling tides.
Mr and me, in the car with the bad starter motor, sit, eat bargain bucket cream tea from regrettable plastic.
Gulls are calling, in flight, at the fierce air.
Gorse shivers non-stop.
This show is fantastic.
It has everything.
Cloud swallows moon.
Crumbs of scone skim out into the road.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Whispering Earth

Winter melts.
In breezes Spring, the unfurler, the light of wing.
Wind comes cold without bite: a soother of fevers, a sweeper of fears.
Warmth comes, in beams of sun.
What is it that you want, the earth whispers: I can grow it.

Up in the field the old barn is breaking.
‘Entropy.’ I point: Dog has an air of trying not to laugh in my face.
(What is it that she knows?)

At home mess has vigorous regrowth. Today it signifies creative abundance.
Crumbs of bread because our soup was delicious.
Mud prints over the kitchen floor because the garden begins its bloom.
Drain still blocked and this matters not: if anything, how the water spills, the foam from washed clothes, the icky slick of dish water, it is lively, jaunty even, over the messed up gravel.

Washing whips on the line till we pull it in out of the hail.
The sun comes back, beaming warm.