Milkman

I saw his truck the other morning, early. It’s an open truck that tinkles with bottles when it turns a corner. He drives it fast. A small man, a younger version of Bruce Springsteen. We see him sometimes at Morrison’s. A trolley full, he must have lots of kids. I remember my Nanny’s milkman. He had a horse and cart. Dobbin, I think the horse was called. When we stayed with her, I’d hear it in the early morning, the clip clop of hooves and that jingle jangle of bottles in crates. A comforting sound. Familiar, regular. Always on time. One pint. A silver top. The cream risen to the top. Can I have it? On my cereal. Thick and sweet. I loved her. I loved her cool hands. Her moustache. Her big bloomers. The photographs under glass on her dressing table. Her souvenir of a miniature Swiss Chalet that carried matches. She was safe. Until she went dolally. Rest in peace my love.

Another passing. What can I say of him? We became close. Not a father but known and loved. A difficult man, but near the end gentler. Full of fun. A child man. I loved him in his vulnerability. Yet, such a big man. Pompous at times. Needy at the end. Our last meeting was sadness itself. Him singing, strident, staring, not knowing. And me, sitting, touching, holding his hand, his knee not knowing what to do. He clutched a piece of toast and a knife, both wrapped up in napkin. Why? I asked. He did not know but kept singing. Will you marry me? he asked. Larger than life. I miss them both and yet am glad that they are at rest. Let it be so. Amen.

A mugging

I saw him just before he saw me. And I knew, as animals know, that I was in danger. He saw it, he saw me flinch, make to run and then he was upon me. Darkness. The smell of him. Sweat, damp, fear. Give me money. I have none. And I didn’t. I never walk out in the morning with money in my pocket. I walk empty-handed. I waited for the feel of the blade. Would it hurt? Would I die? Then nothing. The darkness lifted and I was talking to him. Inside. Inside the University. He needed help with his project, a Graphics brief. I sat with him, talked it through, made suggestions. Good ones. He was calm then. The project subsumed us. Then we were in a student canteen. Other people. Should I get out some cash for him? I thought. He has a young family to support. No, said a woman sitting to my left. Don’t give him any money. I woke up.

A symbolic dream. I can read it, understand it. There is comfort there, I think.

I wanted to be alone this morning as I walked but no. First, there was a man sitting in one of the Promenade shelters. He was cross-legged on the bench, a woolly hat with hanging toggles on his head reading a magazine, his sleeping-bag and bagged-up belongings beside him. Then, just beyond Pier Pressure there was a woman sitting on the ground by a bin, her legs outstretched. She seemed to be building a kind of tower with several plastic food cartons. Then she opened one and began eating fast. Her back was to me, her parka hood up against the wind. Further along the Prom a woman walked ahead of me, smoking, a half-empty Morrison’s bag-for-life in her left hand. Later, a cat strode across the road.

The most ordinary, the most prosaic often seems surreal in that early morning light. Liminal time. People catch me unawares, I am too open. The other morning there were three lads, early twenties, possibly younger dancing in the road. Llanbadarn Road. A wild kind of dancing, legs kicking, arms revolving, bounding. In the middle of the road. Noiseless. They made no sound as they jigged about. The world felt slowed down, strange.

See, he said, emerging from his room at 1.30 am to go for a pee, not dead yet.

As I walked down the hill of North Road at 3.15 am a young woman came out of a doorway and crossed the road. She was barelegged and bare armed, wearing black shorts and high patent leather court shoes. A minute later a young man came out of the same doorway, shoeless and followed her. Coming back along the Prom I saw him again, in his socks, walking back to his flat alone.

The man in the basement flat below has bought a wind breaker. You know, one of those strips of striped canvas with wooden poles that you jam into the sand. He is using it in the little strip of garden in front of his flat. He sets it up, puts his reclining deck chair behind it and lies out, fully clothed, drinking from a glass tankard of beer. We saw him on the Prom the other afternoon. Watch out, he said, its the Welshie. You don’t have to say hello. I did. Or at least I nodded. He nodded back.

We sat in our cwtch watching the sea and I gave my usual Archers rundown. I told him about all the programmes I’d listened to that morning. The tears that came took me by surprise. The Reunion hosted by Sue Macgregor was about the ill-fated Challenger mission. One of her guests was the astronaut Dick Scobee’s widow June. Her testimony was so moving. I started to weep when I recounted her telling of the missing man flight pass. How I love the radio. It moves me like TV never can. It is the voice. It is all in the voice. All those stories. Some fiction, like Ann Tyler’s The Amateur Marriage and others life, like Charlie Chaplin’s autobiography, telling of his childhood poverty and his mother pawning the same theatrical costume over and over again. It was all she had.

Learning to pay attention. I am learning to pay attention. Close attention. There is wisdom in it. It hold’s one in the present. You see the whole then. And the chatter, if only for a moment, stops.

I write these notes, trying to capture it all, all that knowing. A great shedding, I’ve written. A great shedding. What was that about? And now I remember, the maudlin thoughts of his passing. Not yet. I don’t want to go yet, he says, I’m having too good a time. That is good. That IS good. Amen to that.

 

Wasps (5)

He talked at me the whole time she was in the studio. Was he nervous? Possibly. Or just passionate about his work? Hobby turned work. Vernacular furniture his business card said. Welsh vernacular furniture. I was seduced. Seduced by his enthusiasm. I kept picturing the chairs, a dark rich patina, smoothed by use. She, shyer, more hesitant, red-lipsticked. I’m not chasing the money, he said. We have enough. Enough.

I walked home afterwards. He had the car. It was having two tyres changed. A lovely walk down Penglais Hill. Fast walking. Then cut through below the National Library and down the steps passed the Nurses’ Home. Steep, steep hill then down into St David’s Road. I saw chaffinches and gold finches bobbing and darting through the hedges.

A host of birds sing to me at night. My night. Not your night. In bed by 7.30 sometimes 8. It is still light and they sing. Chiff chaff. The sound echoes across the empty land beneath my window. Land that is a building site but surrounded by trees. It is left to its own devices. Up for sale, he tells me. Meanwhile, the birds have it. I fall asleep to their song, happily.

He was there at his window when I got home. Have you had lunch? I asked. In the middle of it, he said, lighting up a cigarette, lamb stew followed by rhubarb pie. The smell, sweet and heavy, filled our hallway. I opened a window wide.

More Diski and her thoughts on smoking. Mum smoked all through her pregnancies. Didn’t do you any harm, she’d say. My sister took up smoking briefly when she died, menthol ones just like her. It gives you something to do. Always, Diski wrote. Most of my lovers have been smokers, and yet, now, I cannot bear the smell. Suffocating the air. I grow less tolerant. Is it just age?

Do you remember the wasps? she asked me. We were talking about the last time we were all together before he died. I do. They were all over your face, she said. I don’t know how you could stand it. I remember. I remember making myself still. I remember the peace of it, the peace in between the fear. And my sister blowing them away.

I want to write about it. I think about it. How to say it. How to tell the story of it, as I walk. It will come. Now, I must go, again. Out into the milky grey.

Soon.

Dreams

The artist Simon Lewty makes art from his dreams. He writes them out in beautiful copperplate script. Gorgeous lines of ink. The writing out of them makes them memorable, encourages, stimulates a memory that would not have been, perhaps. My dreams over the last few days have been so lucid. Is it because I have started writing again? Both my parents have featured. We have spoken normally, always knocking me for six when I wake up and the realisation of their death hits home. Yesterday afternoon I dreamt of being with my father. We were abroad, in Italy, the light was right but the B&B was different, too twee, too frou-frou to be Italian. He needed to buy a ticket and the office, part of a coach firm called Fares was outside of the city. I remember walking upstairs in the B&B and watching the light coming in from a skylight. A hot, yellow light. And I thought with pleasure of my walk in the morning. I found him outside the ticket office sitting in the sun on the ground. I’d asked him the time and looked at my watch at the same time. Seven o’clock, he said. I looked at my watch and the hands were spinning wildly, madly backwards. The dream last night was of me needing to buy perfume and of being in a huge department store, the size of Harrods. I was accompanied by a lover (an amalgam of past and present loves) whom I lost. I unrolled a felt container full of phials and bottles of perfume, smelling  each one. I can recall the odours of them. And then, all of sudden I didn’t have perfume but jewellery, with two rings on my fingers. They were wrong. The hands were wrong, the rings way too ornate for my taste.

Often in dreams I have looked in mirrors and not seen my face but that of a stranger’s. The ancient Greeks thought that dreams were visitations from the Gods. For me they seem to be a working through the concerns of the day. I can see all the connections. And yet, the complexity of the narrative is fascinating.

I’ve begun writing again. It is turgid, gloopy stuff. I need to get back into my stride. I talk it through with him. He is patient, happy to listen and offer up encouragement. Talking stops it festering. Festering that fear of not being good enough, of being foolish for trying. But surely if one writes everyday, keeps going, something worthy will come through.

I go to bed in the light and rise in the dark. Topsy-turvy. I could hear children’s voices in play last night as I lay in bed. The light on the tree was golden. The sky was azure. This morning is cold, nipping at fingers. My puffa gilet under my coat for extra layers. The town has emptied since the weekend. Day-trippers and holidaymakers for now subsided. He is happy. He hates such an invasion of his home-town. Work soon. I shall do what I can before. Drip, drip.

She came through the door heavy with grief. Grey around the eyes. Her country lost. A dictatorship. It is a dictatorship, she said. What could I say? What can I say? We spoke in clichés, I offered up hope, vague but sincere. She took it briefly. All I can do is write about it, she said. Yes, I said, write it out.

Spooning

They were standing outside one of the student houses along Llanbadarn Road, snogging. I’ve never really liked the word, but it is appropriate I suppose. Kissing strangers. Snogging. They used to call it spooning. What was that line in Joni Mitchell’s song Edith and the Kingpin? He lifts their faces to the spoon. Or he takes their faces to the spoon? About cocaine, possibly. Spooning. Ted tries to describe spooning to the boy in L P Hartley’s The Go Between. He gets flustered, saying that the horses have been doing a bit of spooning. It sounds rude but also evocative. Snogging sounds immature, fumbling. I remember it. Just like those two. There was warmth, an encountering of warm strangeness. I remember being liquefied, turned molten. My body, older now, is slower to react, more hesitant, wary.

The noise was a shock. After the silence. They spilled out of the club onto the pavements, the road. Seemed like hundreds, shouting, some lurching, all in various states of undress. No coats. The Angel, Pier Pressure and the Why Not were all open. Not students, these were young and rowdy. Some leant against walls, others were on mobile phones calling taxis. I expected an Easter lull. A hushed reverence. The harbour was quiet, except for wind and rush of waves.

By the castle a dog was barking. I thought it was in a car. Some people had perched themselves in the castle turret. 1987 one was shouting. I couldn’t catch the rest. Then he spat, missing me.

Sleepy. Killing time till work. So much I want to be doing.

Elephant

So you work for the BBC, says the woman over the phone. Can I ask? she says. Are you an undercover reporter?

I watch her from my window. She is one of three. The youngest. She is lumpen, where the other two are slim and lean. They ride around their drive on bikes. She is always bringing up the rear, not riding as such but propelling her bike along with her feet. She wears heavy-rimmed glasses. I’d heard her mother calling her by her pet name. Elephant. Elephant, she called. Elephant.

Nellie the Elephant packed her trunk and said goodbye to the Circus, they used to sing at me. Nellie. At primary school. Nellie the Elephant, they’d say. Trunk, trunk, trunk.

Ice Cream

Dad, are we going to have an ice cream NOW?

I am sitting in on our seat in the wall facing the sea with my eyes shut listening to him. It’s a little boy, his hand in his father’s, bleating, begging, cajoling as he skips his way along the prom. The sun is warm, glorious. There are too many cars, engines hot, insistent, impatient.

At last, sand.

Another child’s voice. This time an Asian boy. He has just got out of his mother’s Mercedes and has rushed to the railing. Look, Mum, he says, sand.

I am tense, again. Rigid with fearfulness for I have begun writing my memoir again. An uncomfortable process this beginning again, like drawing, you know what you are capable of doing but you have to go through such clumsiness to get there.

I’ve finished Jenny Diski’s book with Afterwords by her partner and daughter. Sadness.

On Sunday listening to Poetry Extra on 4 Extra. They talk of the poet Edward Thomas as having no confidence, that is until he became a poet. Robert Frost told him to. They read his poem Adlestrop over and over again. It is effective, doing that. That layer upon layer of repetition.

The sun is coming. I need some coffee after an early shift at work. A hirsute man coming in to the studio to talk about drilling holes in glaciers at the base of Everest. A taciturn man. Black coffee, please, make it short. No coat.

Earlier I disturbed a seagull pecking at a black dustbin bag of rubbish. It was tearing, ripping the plastic, its wing hanging down on the ground, a little distrait in its fury. As I walked past, it jerked up, taking flight, cross.

A busy day. No chance of writing, of solving the puzzle of what I began yesterday. Heigh ho.

Knit ‘n Natter

They’re vermin basically, she said looking out of the window at the two pheasants in the garden. One of them was limping, hobbling about, one wing lowered, while the majesty of his plumage shone.

We’d gone away. Just for one night. A long trip. Six hours in the car with two or so spent in Motorway Services drinking coffee and doing crosswords. I like our trips. I like being on the move. Giving myself over to the journey.

It’s a lovely village. The air smells of cow dung. Not unpleasant, it is a rich, peaty, sweet smell. We walked to his grave. The narcissi they’d planted were just beginning to flower. The ground around his stone was soft, mossy. A downy green. In the morning when I walked, an hour before dawn, the dark was punctured by the cranky croak of pheasants. I tried to walk without a torch, wanting the dark to subsume me. There was no silence. Trees creaked, small bodies rustled amongst the leaves, wood pigeons cooed and fluttered upwards through branches. In the distance, lorries thundered along the A59. Leaving early to miss the traffic we passed umpteen carcases of animals tossed and tumbled onto the hard shoulder. Dead foxes, pheasants and badgers. One badger was so big it looked like a large dog. It’s body was in tact, its fur unbloodied. I thought of Cynan Jones’s suggestion that some badgers are not killed by traffic but are thrown out of cars newly dead from badger-baiting. Such lumbering, yet vital creatures. They, and the foxes, are out of place, wrong on our motorways. Too fast, too crude for such mystical burials. Twice birds flew across our windscreen. Two near misses. In a far field I saw a deer, a muntjac, with its white flash of a tail.

Coming home the fretting re-starts.

She is safe in her new home. Sheltered housing. She is still young and laughs at it. Knit ‘n Natter in the communal lounge and free use of the launderette. That would do for you, he says, when I’m gone. Yes, I say. That would be fine.

The moon grows full. A beautiful walk this morning. No need for a torch. The waves lapped, gentle. It is good to be here. To be home.

Weasel

The Welsh thing really gets to him. There was a man at the doctor’s, he said, he was behind me in the queue and I gestured for him to go ahead of me. And he replied in Welsh. And I told him, in English, that I didn’t speak Welsh. Were you rude about it? I asked. No, he said, I was polite. And do you know what? What? He continued to speak to me in Welsh. They make it worse for themselves, he said. They get people’s backs up.

I don’t know how I feel about it. I listen to them in the studio, chattering away and if I’m happy to be separate, it is a nice, pleasant hum. I can tune out, willingly. But if I’m feeling low, or isolated the sounds are harsh. It was the same with Norwegian. Language can make one welcome or unwelcome. No, that’s not strictly true, language couldn’t care less, it is the users, the manipulators of the language that do that. I think of the Irishman, and the Breton girl, both happy to embrace Welsh. I am too affected by him over this. I try not to be, but I absorb his hurt. It makes him feel less Welsh in his hometown. Or at least that is what he believes. Fucking Welshies, he says. Fuck ’em.

The smell of bonfires was gorgeous yesterday morning. How to describe it? Smells are tricky and too often conjured up via hackneyed phrases. That smokiness. Dry, sharp, almost acrid, it catches in the throat. Get to close and your eyes smart. It is a grey-black smell. But hot.

3.45 am and a girl in shorts runs barefoot across the main road beyond the Prom to her car, her feet tiptoeing on the tarmac.

Three rock pipits twee-twee from the rocks by the Perygyl.  I cannot see them.

The sky is a mass of stars.

Walking back home along Llanbadarn Road an animal runs along the pavement, and crosses the road. In the semi-darkness it is hard to see what it is. Is it a cat? No, it’s too small and its back is arched upwards, a mound, a moving, skittering hillock. Is it a weasel, or a stoat? Surely not. They are countryside, not urban creatures, aren’t they? But there is a stink. A smell, not of cat, more like fox. A sharp, hot, bitter stink. The shadows swallow it up.

New work. Always new things to learn. Be with it.

Two hours of Diski. I read of her cancer treatment. Hard going. She doesn’t mince her words. I am sorry. She was spiky. And why not? It is authentic, that not wanting to be nice. Nice. Nice.

Sweet Peas

I saw them in the supermarket. Not as packets of seeds but as little plants, their twisty, frond-like stems already emerging. I longed for a garden then. Their scent intoxicates me. I remember two years on the trot when I managed to grow them by our kitchen door. Lovely. That burst of joy at their sweetness. I failed to grow them from seed in Cornwall. Nothing. No show. Could I plant them in a pot and put them on the flat roof outside? Would there be enough sun? I’d have them to cut. The more you cut the more they grow. But I lack the paraphernalia. Trowels, top soil, mulch. All that stuff that I hear them talk of on Gardener’s World. One of my fantasies is to be invited onto Desert Island Discs. And what will you do on that island all alone? Kirsty Young will ask me. I’ll learn how to garden.

Back in list mode. There is too much to mention. I have a little pile of post-it notes, lurid orange and green and torn sketchbook pages and even some scraps of newsprint, scribbled on during breakfast. It all backs up when we go away. Two away days last week. Mobberley then Hay. More of that later.

First. Chats in Morrisons. Our favourite till person. She warms to us. She talks now. It all came out. I can’t remember the question that prompted it. I’d joked about cross stitching being more exciting than going out to Rummers (our local wine bar, positioned somewhat bemusingly next to the town sewerage plant). No one at the moment? I’d  asked. Then we’d talked about surnames. For the moment it’s ____ she’d said – revealing a surname shared with a famous sixties actress who had had a fling with Prince Charles. Oh, do you intend to change it again? we’d asked. Not likely, she’d said, laughing. I’ve had three already. Three marriages. We found ourselves looking at her afresh. Well, well, we said. Then she listed the ways in which they left her.  Fifty ways. One had a kid and a girlfriend on the side, another went off to Denver, Colorado and the other, she’d spat, went off with a trollope. Well, well, we said. Well, well.

I have a head full. A head full of ideas. And yet, there is this domestic pull. Just like Mole in Wind in the Willows I want to spring clean. I want to wipe down skirting boards, clear out cupboards, wash windows, defrost the fridge, bag up old clothes, and make the flat smell like new.

At work I read Jenny Diski’s In Gratitude. A book about her cancer and her relationship with Doris Lessing, a surrogate-mother (sort-of) to her when in her teens. I am so absorbed that sometimes I cannot separate me from her and vice versa. In her foreword Anne Enright wrote about how ‘shifting between genres helps a ‘writer’ (and for this also read artist) dodge judgement, it also confounds some sense of authority…’ I raised this with him in the car as we drove to Cheshire. I do the same, I said. He didn’t agree. And yet, it had pinged in my head. A flash of recognition. Perhaps I am being too sponge-like again. Yet, I cannot help it. It is how I traverse this life, feeling intensely for others, being of the same skin. (A scribbled note accompanied this quote – order Diski’s other book, called something like ‘smoking in bed’ and read her past articles for The London Review of Books.)

Sometimes I don’t know what to write. It is too much. The experience beyond sense. Beyond understanding. We snapped at each other afterwards. Nasty words. Sharp tongues. I was sorry. He was sorry. It was me. It was all those feelings that I couldn’t make sense of. He is so changed. It is what, six months, nine months since we last visited? My sister had warned me of the loss of teeth (skin cancer does that apparently) but I thought he’d be the same mentally. He wasn’t.

Take the lift to the second floor and ring the bell. Numbers are punched and the door opens. We ask for him and she gestures to a figure at a table with two others. His head is tiny and his body, once huge, has shrunk. He has what looks like a white skull cap affixed to his pate. I touch him. Say his name. Nothing. No recognition. Eyes dead. He is humming, singing, making noises. He used to do this when telling stories. He’d used accents, booming them out. He thought he was good at it. Didn’t mind the attention. This is gibberish. This is nonsense. I sit across from him my hands on his knees, looking into his eyes. He stares back. His singing gets louder then stops. He calls me a nice lady. Is this your husband? In his hand he holds a spoon and half a piece of toast wrapped up in a napkin. He bangs it on the table. I tell him my name and he makes up a song with it. That’s not very nice, he says, do you want to marry me? He smells of decay. His teeth are rotting. There are gaps along the front. His clothes hang off him. There is a label with his name on his belt. We don’t stay long. I kiss him goodbye, hold his hand. He accepts the touching without questioning it. His neck smells of aftershave. He talked of the office, of having people who are looking after things for him. He cannot find the right words, but it calms him talking of it. That was his power, his sense of self. My name was unfamiliar to him. It was nothing. I am nothing.

A slow death, she called it. We’d sprung ourselves upon her. I needed the comfort of her. Her neatness, her smallness, her cosiness. Surrogate mothers, I seek them everywhere. You’ll have to take me as you find me, she’d said over the phone. Had I irritated her, coming unannounced? But then it was alright. She hugged us, made tea, brought slices of cake and we talked. Her house was a little chilly. The tea out of the best china was good. I needed that. I needed her. How was he? she asked. We told her. Ah, she said, it’s a slow death.

Then the next day sitting in a bookshop in front of camera, talking. The sun flooding in. The smell of books. Shoes-off in an armchair. Did I give her what she wanted? Not sure.

Walking my early morning walk with an umbrella. I liked the patter. I felt protected. Windless. Two students. I saw their shadows first – looming up across the castle wall. He wore a parka, a furry-lined hood over his head against the rain. They both carried plastic cartons of food. It’s kinda mad, she was saying as they passed me on the steps. Then by The Angel, a girl in patterned leggings standing outside Pizza Lush. Such perfect bodies. And another in a black silk shirt-dress, a coat held over her blonde hair. Her legs in skin-coloured tights. Moments of stillness as I walk by. Beauty. Time stops then continues. Voices. Snap-shots. Then I am home scribbling it down on paper before it is lost. And yet, it is lost, most of it. That heightened looking, that intensity is lost in the flatness of daylight. It is inevitable.

Off to make waffles now? I asked her as I dropped the studio line. Yes, she said, it’s a weekend tradition. She’d come in to talk about Trump. So soft, dulcet like a meringue.

Enough, now. I’ve paperwork to do and a fridge to defrost. Heigh-ho.