Traffic cone

It’s been a while since I written this. I’ve been busy. First the workshops, then the performance and then all the writing about it. That took longer than I’d thought. And it was hard. But good. A good process. And she liked it soooooo much. He’s tickled pink. What a generous love. And now? I am a little bereft. There is still stuff to do, inevitably but that push, that hint of panic has dissipated.

Storm Doris passed by without incident here. A few roof tiles shattered. A smattering of road closures and men in hard hats armed with chainsaws near some swaying fir trees. Sky News were here nevertheless, with a reporter in my coat. The impossibly expensive coat. Do you remember?

What else? I have a pile of post-it notes. Aides memoires. Shorthand. A list of titles. Memory joggers. I try to commit them to memory as I walk. A young man coming out of The Angel in the early hours. (It is always the early hours for that is when I walk.) His hand reaching down to pick up a traffic cone. He lurches to the right and then lifting the cone off the ground he puts it on his head. He walks forward a little till it tumbles off. Cursing he lets it fall. A girl walks towards me, her face is bruised with crying. I feel like I am behind glass, watching from such a long way away. Nearing home a owl howls in the darkness.

I don’t have to do it. And sometimes I want to stop. And yet she seems so happy to get the calls. I shall sit by the phone, I told myself this morning, she said, so that I don’t miss her. Sometimes it is just the answering machine. She is out walking with the neighbour’s dog, or she hasn’t heard the phone. I can feel relieved, but then disappointed. It isn’t what we talk of, that is inconsequential, mostly. It is the connection, the separating out, the making her feel special. And she is. I want to fall into the cosiness of her. We talk of feeding the birds, of a wren that comes to her bird table. She has not been well. I walk at sea, she tells me. It takes a while before I realise she is talking about vertigo. Do you have a stick? I ask

There have been bats. In the mornings before dawn, bats lured by our headlights. Bats shooting in front of our car. Tiny swooping black things, like giant moths. Watch out. But they always miss.

A girl in pink tights and a lime green tutu is leaning against the railings of The Academy. Her companion, a young man in black, picks at the peeling paint and says, Elin, Elin, Elin, I’ve just said it now, word for word. His head hangs low. He is frustrated, irritated. She looks down at the pavement, listening but cowed. On Great Darkgate Street, another girl in the exact same outfit, waits, staring. Another girl comes towards me, part of the great surge after closing time. She is beautiful. Dusky-skinned with large almond eyes. Her sense of personal space is to pot and her face brushes close mine. She belches. Close to home a student in a hoodie is leaning against a doorway, is he asleep?

My sensibilities are keen in the early mornings. Smells are acuter and sights are almost wondrous. Walking up the hill behind the Alexander Hall, my reverie is cut into by a figure coming out from one of the many alleys. I hear her before I see her. Gazelle-like, she is skittering down the path in high heels and a short silk dress. Something shiny hangs about her shoulders. A sequinned bolero jacket. We are both equally alarmed. It’s the suddenness. A thief in the night. Her eyes stare. Accusing.

I catch the tail end of radio programme hosted by Paul Gambiccini about the Oscars. He plays excerpts from Twelve Years A Slave. Harrowing. The director, Steve McQueen talks about the importance of showing the horror. I cannot watch it. I know such atrocity but do I need to watch them? A violence to the soul. I can imagine and it is terrible. Some people’s lives. I cannot understand. All I can do is feel for them. Know their shoes.

So what of it? I am pleased with it. I am pleased to have done it. To have seen it through. There was power in it, for me. My ideas manifested. Getting them outside of me. I’d worked hard. There’s power in that.

Time for rest. If I will take it. We shall see. For today, there is just Proust, peace and porridge for tea.

Waffles

They stack up, all those happenings that I want to commit to memory. To capture on the page, just in case. In case of what? In case I forget? Forget the richness of this life. The richness of its detail. Like today, this morning. Seeing a girl in a white dress, the white so sharp against the black of the early day, flashing stark as she ran down the steps. It is an acknowledging of minutia that I may lose amongst the caught-up-ness of my daily life. They stop me still, if only momentarily, these things and that is good. To be still. To pay attention.

She came in on Saturday morning. Just for five minutes, visibly relaxed in a grey velour leisure suit, she came in to talk about Donald Trump. It is either Trump or Putin these days, she’d said, laughing. Such nice people, she’d said, her ever so subtle American voice turning wryly ironic. Now I’m off to make waffles for the family, she’d said afterwards, taking off her headphones and shaking out her hair. I felt a pang. One Christmas she’d brought me home-made shortbread.

I found it by accident. A story. A children’s story on the Radio 4 extra’s category list. Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden. I have a vague recollection of it from childhood. Had I read it at school. Lovely. A lovely story. Just like National Velvet, which the radio also inspired me to borrow it from the library. Children’s books written by adults who write for all. For themselves, for the child within. Velvet and Carrie are such bold girls, fiery and passionate girls, but kind too. Their lives are transformed, they are empowered. I am humbled. Humbled by fiction as I am by life.

It was quite a noise. It took me a while to work out where it was coming from. High up. High up in one of the student rooms above the Promenade. The window was open to the night. She was shouting rather than singing. Her voice straining, forcing out the sounds. After she’d finished there was a pause, a silence before I heard her say, I really like that song.

Small things and large, impossibly important things. A tube of Bonjela on the ground, squeezed out. Snowdrops, little clusters beginning to appear, and daffodils. A fingernail on the floor of the toilet in the Harbourmaster Hotel, perfectly severed. The flies circling the ceiling of his attic studio. The cold, the dust, the armchair with the union jack. Making coffee to create warmth. Feeling gentle towards him. Wanting it to be alright for him and for me. And him, reading the paper in the armchair. And the flies, buzzing. The pictures looked pristine. I remembered. All those years ago the lights, the reflector, and him clicking his fingers, nervous energy pumping. Other sights. A group of students climbing into the children’s playground in the dark. Up to no good, my mother used to say. Up to no good. And the ship lit up like a fairground just out from the sea line. The lights too big for its size. What was it? I asked him at breakfast. What could it have been? A dredger? It looked like a toy ship, or one of those in an animated film, the scale awry. All out. All out. Small things, big things. The chiropodist telling me about her Red or Dead shoes and her father with Alzheimer’s. I can’t run in them she says. And he? He is getting worse. Though I gave him a little sherry at Christmas and he was good as gold. Good as gold. I shouldn’t have, I know. Good as gold. And big things. Someone on the radio telling the story of Rabbi Maximillian made a saint. Rabbi Maximillian in Auschwitz who surrendered his life for another. Rabbi Maximillian who offered to go into the room with the others in place of man who clung to his wife. Rabbi Maximillian who went into the room with the other men with no food or water. Rabbi Maximillian who was the only one who didn’t die but took the pill willingly when the prison guards wanted the room emptied. Gone. All gone. Clean away. To yield to the inevitable, to accept, to walk towards one’s end, that is true stillness. True grace.

I prepare for next week. And a calmness comes over me.

Buddha on Windowsill

He was sitting outside on a windowsill high up over North Road. He was black, a kind of soapstone, I think. A Buddha, fat and smiling the dark. The early morning streets of town has been full of students. Clubs open. Is it Reading Week? The scratchy, scrabbling, chattering noise of the starlings under the pier echoes the sound of the kids gathering outside the Why Not club and The Angel.  Most wear no coats. The girls are bare-legged. One teeters in enormous platform shoes. She wears a gold ra ra skirt.

There is still a Christmas tree, still bedecked, in a bottom flat along South Marine Terrace.

Yesterday and I find a young man face down on the pavement. I bend down to touch his shoulder. Are you alright? Is he dead? He takes a little while to come round. He raises his head and stretches out his fingers. I’m fine, he says, groggy. Can I help you? I say, offering him a hand. No, he says, fingers splayed out, off the ground. Small hands. A pixie-like face. Dark. No, he says, I’m fine. I’m OK. I walk on. He is ashamed. I don’t turn round.

Today a youth in a baseball cap and striped tracksuit is shouting at the closed door of The Angel. You fucking mong! You fucking wanker! He shakes his fists. The clumps of students surrounding him ignore him. It is as if he isn’t there. You mong! It rains. A girl in a strappy leather dress hugs herself for warmth. Lines of taxis wait outside New Look. A man smokes a cigarette in a doorway. I find a black purse in the road. I walk away at first and then go back for it. It is empty except for a bank debit card. I post it through the NAT West letter box. May its owner soon find peace of mind.

I don’t mind the rain. It’s OK when you are in it. It is warm and the wind is gusty. There is an aliveness to it.

I listen to the sound of sewing. Calming. Therapeutic. I sew Proust. Word by word, letter by letter.

How will it feel to spend the day in crinoline? To sit in crinoline? And sew. On and on. I feel too separate from it. A little scared. There is so much I cannot contain.

We sat in our seat in the wall warmed by the sun and he talked of my goodness.

Yellow Pencil

She used to buy me hyacinths. The second, not the first. Hyacinths, I think they were called swibel over there, but I cannot verify this. I saw the word on a flower stall in Majorstua, I bought one for a friend. I am sure they were called swibel. She bought me single hyacinths, in a pot. I spent a week drawing them. I put them in my room on the windowsill. Even when it snowed I opened the window at night. I love the smell, even when it gets too much, too heady.

Too much. Too much to recall. As I walk I try to commit it all to memory. The broken yellow pencil on the path by the castle, just the rubber end. The globe light still lit high up in the Cambria, like yellow moon in the darkness. The metallic tick ticking of a rock pipit as I stand on the Perygyl, torch off, sensing the sea. I want to sense it, rather than know it. To be it. I make myself transparent and the sounds pass through me, the waves, the birdsong.

Seagulls circle the promenade, gliding in the air, gorgeously flashing white under the streetlamps.

I call him a boy scout. He wants to be useful, to stick his neck out. He calls about the unlit streetlamps on the Prom. Which ones exactly? he asks and I try to remember. Third, fourth, fifth and sixth from the Bar. He rings Aberaeron and asks for Doris. Doris isn’t here, a woman says, but I can help you. We all deal with the lights. She asked me to ask you which ones exactly, he says afterwards. I don’t know exactly, I say. I said you’d say that, he says.

They’re fucking wankers, shouts an Irish girl halfway up Great Darkgate Street. Her shirt has come loose from her jeans and her belly is exposed.

She was back yesterday. I was pleased to see her. My stomach gave a lurch of pleasure. I surprised myself. We have missed her. She is still in pain. I’m off the morphine, she says. Just cocodamol now. It was the sun, it blinded her and she drove into the back of another car. Oh, is that what it’s called, she said, I call it Penparcau Hill. His was a Merc, she said. He was bloody furious. I couldn’t speak. It was the shock. My trolley sets off an alarm, and tutting she hobbles over to switch the button. I am mortified. Pain makes you tut. She didn’t mean it. We are the same age, she and I. Is she bored in her job? Is it a nice to be so contained and unchallenged? I like to know what I’m going to do each day, said Robert Redford in The Horse Whisperer. Her tone is flat. Emotions are cool, in check. The red-haired checkout girl in green. See, she says pointing at a badge pinned to her tunic, it arrived. Finally, she says, after all this time, they’ve got my name right.

 

My head is full of words, put there by literature. Words from the radio and Amanda Vickery’s Voices from the Old Bailey, words from Peter Carey’s Jack Maggs and now from Cynan Jones’s Cove. Words from the crosswords we do together. Words. I write in my head as I walk. I am trying not to. I want to be empty. To be transparent. To be emptied. The words burst like ripe blueberries in my head. Glorious, rich language. The language of the seventeenth, the nineteenth centuries. I am just a sponge. And I need to relay it, to write it out so that I can be emptied. To write it out without judgement. An observer. Caitlin Moran said something about observers in her chat with Kirsty Young. She was like a machine gun rattling away. I love to write, she says. She is not afraid. To be not afraid. To be empty. I am fed, nourished by language and yet I want to be beyond it. To feel the wind right through me, to smell the odours of the earth from the inside out, to be not separate but part of it, yet shapeless, unformed. Spirit. And Elisabeth Bishop the travelling poet. Observing. Not judging, being there but not there. So it was with Norway. I couldn’t get inside. I wouldn’t eat the food. He made me cry. I wanted the language but they wouldn’t speak it to me. I wanted in but couldn’t manage it. It was so dark. Even with the white snow. And cold. I remember his sweetshop. A grocers really but for us it was always the sweets and the big bars of chocolate with whole hazelnuts in. Adult chocolate, I thought. So grown up to be eating chocolate with whole nuts. A shy man. I remember him dying in that hospital cot, grown so small, and trying to smile.

I have words to cut. Words to cut for a workshop. Hundreds of them. A monotonous task but sometimes it is all I ask. Is it nice to be so contained and unchallenged? How can I know another’s life? How can I presume?

I prepare breakfast listening to Madame Bovary. It was boredom. Is it nice to be so contained?

My neighbour is still awake as I set off on my walk. I hear his cough before I open the door, and the radio. Later, he will cook bacon, its smell pervading through the floor boards, up into the bathroom. He stands at the window coughing and smoking into the still night air. It looks cold out, I say, always struggling with the small talk. Yes, he says, but you look well wrapped up. Sleep well, I say. Sleep well.

Blue Cardigan

One of the bakers from Slater’s Bakery is standing outside the shop, one foot raised up behind him pushing against the wall. I hear the metallic click of his lighter. His long white apron is stiff with flour. Under his apron he wears jeans, a white t-shirt and trainers. On his head is a light blue hair net. He keeps his head down. No eye contact. No good morning. It was the same with the boy in the great coat this morning. A small youth, his coat, long and grey with flashes of red lining. He kept looking ahead, separate, self-contained.

It makes me anxious all this un-knowing. It is all so new. I have no experience. Just ask for what is in your head, he says. It sounds easy. Yes, of course. And yet, what is in my head is not the same – it cannot be. There are no strictures in my head, no pitfalls. Still as I write this I know that even this isn’t true. I want it to be right but there is too much going on, too many voices. I need it to be simple. Clear. Just the sound of sewing. It is enough. I like it. It is the only bit I genuinely like. The rest is too much of me, too much of my stumbling, my awkwardness. It might work for someone else, a stranger hearing it, but not for me. It needs to be simple. Cut it back, cut it right down. Pared-down. It is right. I think.

A pair of red trousers, neatly folded, have been left on a the little bench on the hill above Llanbadarn Road. On the prom someone has draped a blue cardigan over the rail.

Remaining

Ellen in Recording Studio - Oubliette project - Jan 2017 (6)

As I walk back home along Llanbadarn Road I can see through a window in top floor flat a Christmas tree still lit and dressed. Twelfth night is long gone but I understand. The lights are a joy in all this terrible dark. On North Road too windows are decorated with garlands of fairy lights.

Sunday morning early and I see a white dog running into the entrance of the Pier Pressure. A girl is shouting, I can’t hold him. Several people crouch down and try to corral him into a corner. He wags his tail joyfully. A man arrives, lead in hand, the dog bouncing up to greet him. A couple are ahead of me making their way to their parked car. Behind them is a girl. I watch her. A large, rounded body of a girl in a sleeveless dress. Her feet pronate outwards, the heels of her shoes worn down either side. She rolls as she walks, struggling, slow. I pass her with ease. Don’t overtake me, she implores, turning her lovely big-eyed face towards me, I’m going so slow. I smile and notice the sprawling spider tattoo on her arm.

A sign in the window of Harry Daniels Funeral Directors on Mill Street reads, this business will be closed from January 6th 2017 due to retirement and unforeseen circumstances.

A robin jumps in front of me, a flash of black.

A man with a beard lumbers down the hill, walking in shadows, headphones clamped to his ears.

The tearings of a green fishing net lies as jetsam on the promenade.

Storm remains. Christmas remains. What remains.

The old man in double-breasted suit and watch fob talking passionately about a bill nobody cares about. He too rolls as he walks, his shoes, curling at the toes. Later a neat little body of a woman in tight zipped-up jacket with pink collar is hoisted onto the stool to face the camera.

No wind this morning. A light misting of rain. I stop to hear the sea. What remains?

Withstand

glove at harbour (2)

The wind helps. For all its violence, and I was almost lifted off my feet by it, it sobers me, focussing my mind on the moment in an attempt to withstand its force. And the moon. I love to walk in the light of the moon. It is eerie, too sharp, too attentive. It throws white shadows upon the sea, and the clouds become ominous flying ships in its glare, scudding across the sky. No one is out, except for one man who comes out of the darkness at me, down the hill from the Castle, his plastic bag of Spar groceries flapping in the wind. I say good morning but my voice is swallowed up, lost.

Two visits to the dentist yesterday. I was not brave. It is the sound of the tools, that terrible screeching in one’s head. Makes my body goes rigid. It is the having to give over control. And yet they are gentle. The hygienist and the dentist. Both treating my unwilling mouth with tenderness. The feel of the rubber glove against my gums. Does it hurt? No, not really, I just expect it to. Relax. The crown is lifted. Off. I feel denuded, my tongue aches to search out the tooth beneath. No. I listen as he cleans it up. Carefully, minutely. A caring man, I think. He used to come and do Cis’s false teeth, he told me. I can imagine. Detailed work. A man with glasses, a beard and short, thick upper arms. He smiles with his whole face. All done. All done. I am grateful. Back in place, re-cemented. Another thirty years? Who knows.

The sound piece is almost done. I loved doing it. The reach of the voice. The control, the managing of sound. I liked working with him. Another gentle man, for all his fourteen stone. They spoke of rugby, naturally.

Five out of ten today. An improvement. You just have to be in it. Know it, own it, withstand it and it will pass. It will pass.

Cat-napping

Wedding W & C

Her light is usually on when I go for my walk at 3.30 am. I walk past her ground floor flat on my way down the hill onto St David’s Road. Sometimes I can see her through the net curtains, a fine cloud of white hair resting its head against the anti-macassar of a high-backed arm chair. A flurry of visitors, we guessed carers but it could have been family, come back and forth. There are always cars parked outside. And now? Nothing. The light hasn’t been on since the New Year. That yellow light. Nothing.

He showed me her picture in the local paper. I think that’s her, he said. She died on the 30th. I thought so. I thought that was the case. Wife, Mother, Grandmother. A huge family is implied. For me she was in the shadows. Brought a couple of months ago to live in that rented flat. No furniture of her own, or so it seemed. Though there were always flowers in a vase. She was brought there to sit in that yellow light. A home from home. In the light yet in the shadows. Rest in peace.

A tall man, rake-thin with a wispy beard is ahead of us in the supermarket queue. I watch as he shoves his groceries every which way into a plastic bag. Tins and pots. Tins with saver labels on them. Tins of tomato soup, baked beans, boiled potatoes, peas and pots, a multitude of pots of jelly. Wobbly jelly it says on the label. In another bag is a bottle with wire contained cork encased in gold foil.

He is at the window smoking when I return from my walk. I can see him as I walk up the stairs, framed in the custard-yellow light of his bedroom. I whisper a good morning, trying to find my voice. We talk of sleep. He’s had a nap and will return to bed presently. My morning is his night. Both idiosyncratic. He plays online poker in the darkness I walk. You’re like a cat, I say. Napping. Snatching small hours of sleep. Cat-napping.

He had been standing on the concrete incline that led down to North Beach. The wind was sharp, harsh. Big fat white earphones were wrapped around his head. He was drinking. Leaning into the wind. I think he noticed me, but made no attempt to move. He just stood there staring at the sea, his bottle brought to his lips over and over. A cliché. A spirit bottle. A swig, the sloshing sound as the liquid was returned to it base. Brandy, whisky? I couldn’t tell. In America it would’ve been in a brown paper bag. He was young. A student. Living his own screenplay.

I wake from a dream with a sentence in my head. It made sense when asleep but brought out of the dream into this reality it does not. A nonsense. No translation. No sense. This good, it said, ends in ig.

Kind

scan-of-scribble-text-tapestry

Discarded Christmas trees rest against wheelie bins, back doors or lie beached on pavements. We drove past a woman just outside her front door leaning her full weight against a six foot tree as it threatened to topple in the wind.

Be kind was Pinky Lilani’s maxim for businesses on Desert Island Discs. Be humble and kind was the refrain from the last song Bob Harris played on his look back at 2016 show. Be kind. A simple request.

I collect words for my lexicon. They come from all sorts of sources. Crosswords, stories, overheard conversations, Poetry Extra. Borage blue and Sparky Lea. Barry McSweeney a Northumbrian poet, previously unknown to me. The drink took him too early. If he couldn’t write he’d write with his life, said friend and poet Ian Sinclair. He didn’t have skin, his flesh was exposed to the air. Torment in pursuit of ecstasy, said another. More words. Pelt, apogee, physalis, flotsam, inchoate and sing.

We make the sound today. I am nervous. I know not what I do. Always new.

Courage.

And be kind.

Liminal

shadow-nerja-4

I heard it said twice. Twice within a hour. Words said on the radio. Words relayed through the radio. Liminal. I forget the context. One was in a poem, I think. The other from a programme about snow. I like words that I do not completely understand. Words where the meaning is elusive. You can make them your own, fashion them as you will. Upend them. Mould them. Liminal. Between worlds. Between words.

They look out for him. They seek him out. He has to keep moving on just to get a couple of hours of peace, of quietness within which to read his papers. At the moment it is Jack. Jack is a widower. He’s lonely, he says. That’s all. He just wants company. They check the time with him. When will you be in? Seven? And the baristas are the same. Haven’t seen you in a while. Yesterday the man he calls Mr Baldy stopped him in the supermarket asking where he’d been. He fudged a reply. Didn’t want to say that he been going somewhere else. That he preferred it. The coffee, the people. No not prefer, just liked the comparative quiet. Did she get the job? he asked him. Yes. See you soon, he said. Sure. Mustn’t disappoint.

The night before New Year’s Eve. Neither of us wanted to go. Too cold, too dark, too expensive. Too expensive for what it is. So much rather be at home. But we mustn’t disappoint. I want to be truthful but he will not have it. It was an awkward evening. Something was not right. I feel his edginess, his wariness. He squeezes my thigh. Conspiratorial. We’re in this together, held by our mutual desire to be at home. It is nice to see them. His friends. Old men. Food down their jumpers. A little distrait. One wears the new jacket the other brought back from the Middle East for him. Lovely, we say. It’s very warm, he replies, proud. Happy for the gift. He has one for him too but had to leave it in Dubai. No room in my suitcase. It’s his birthday the following day. Seventy-two. Doesn’t look it. Still the rogue. Still the maverick with a small m. The other friend always orders fish. He eats fasts, snapping at the food like a reptile. So fast that a bit of salmon has fallen on his lap. He glances down briefly and continues to eat. His fork is a shovel. He doesn’t talk as he eats. His concentration is entirely on the plate. The flakes of salmon must’ve gone down his sleeve. I watch as he opens up his cuff and shakes him arm over his plate. The other man eats slowly, less interested in the contents of his plate than in a girl on a long table opposite. A family gathering, a party. All ages. I’d noticed her before him. A dark-haired, heavily made-up girl who looked cross, peevish even. She’d stood up to reach over for something on the table. Brooding, aware of her striking-ness, her not-to-be-forgotten face. She looks like a young what’s-her-name, you know married to Michael Douglas, he says, encouraging his two friends to turn round and stare at her. Catherine Zeta-Jones, I say. He doesn’t reply. She can’t be more than eighteen.

Whistling. Out at sea through the dark. A kind of whistling. Is it a bird? The wind? And now our fridge is doing it. Is it something to do with the suction? Every time I close it it starts. A high-pitched kind of wailing. Is it dangerous? he asks.

Resolutions. I have hardly thought of them. The day almost passed by. No champagne this year. Didn’t want it. Slept through it to the new. The New Year. Let it be. A motto rather than a resolution. No make it a resolve. To let be. It is bigger than it first seems. Let it be. The good and the bad, so much so that they are no longer distinguishable. They just are. Let it be. Be at peace. Peacefully letting it be. Begin today. A day with no pushing. No forcing. Just letting it be. A slow detaching. A gentle detachment. Cutting those golden threads. One by one.