Cooking in Antarctica

bear

I have talked much about the influence of the radio on my life. It marks out my day – more especially the weekend, where I generally have more time to listen. The Food Programme on a Sunday generally finds me upstairs in the kitchen preparing lunch. Last week Dan Saladino presented an edition about Shackleton’s cook. Green made food in what must be the most extreme of climates. He provided comfort where there was little. Cooking on ice. The endless waiting involved in melting water, defrosting supplies. Working with next to nothing.

The cold scares me. My body cannot deal with it. I literally freeze up, my brain and body ceasing to function. I am in awe of those great explorers, the hardships they endured. I think of them often. The endless trekking through white. And the comfort of food. Not as indulgence but as a warming, nourishing filling-ness. Yet appetite scares me. It feels like it could be out-of-control, that hunger. Yet, I have never known real hunger. How might my idiosyncratic diet fare then? And yet, I know, I know it is not about the food but about the controlling of appetite. So complex and yet so simple. As with so much of life. How about we just let it be? To yield, to succumb, to acquiesce is seen as weakness, a reneging of control. And yet, is there not power in that letting go? To not resist what is.

I am tired. We have journeyed and journeyed. But it has been good. Such warm people. I need to sleep. It overpowers me at times. I stand at the end of the Perygyl and I could fall into sleep, fall into the water and sleep. I have to jerk myself awake. That glorious numbing of cloud, the horizon lost to the sea.

I re-read some of my school reports from when I was 14. Can I get a picture of her? I remember the fearfulness, the shyness, and yet, also a performing – a performer. Never quite good enough. That’s what I bring to such memories. But is it true? Die to the past, he commands. Yes. That might be good. I shall try. I shall try. What is left then? A white space. A white space of possibility. Like ice. Like ice.

Sunflower

me-as-baby

A single sunflower has sprung up on the building site outside our flat. Tall, yet spindly, it is a testament to Nature’s indiscriminate pulsing towards life, whatever. I like to look at it.

Walking two days ago in the early morning I saw two hats and a toothbrush in the gutter. Not together, I came upon them separately. The toothbrush and the black straw sun hat were on  North Road, the purple satin witch’s hat was further down the hill.

This morning there was the moon, shining through a cloudless sky. I didn’t need my torch. The sea made silver.

A birthday tantrum, or so it felt. What was that about? I didn’t want a fuss. No cards, no presents, thank you. And yet, I wanted to be made to feel special, to be singled-out, as I had been as a child. It is no longer relevant, no longer important. There was a scratchy-ness in my not quite reconciled self. Let it go. Let it all go. The past is no longer relevant. A year has passed. Either way a construct. So be it. Live what you ask. Be what you are destined to be. Let it go. Let it all fall away. Fall away.

The Red Hat

ellen-joyces-garden

We often see her, but not at that time. 3.30 am and she is walking down Terrace Road, her red hat perched on top of her head, handbag held against her chest. She wears her keys on a string around her neck. I am making my way home after my morning walk. I smile at her. Good morning, I breathe, quietly. She doesn’t respond, her mouth set grim. Will she be alright? Her winter coat is thick against the unseasonable warmth, her socks gather around her ankles. Old woman, young girl. There is no difference.

The sound of a gun shot. I heard it through the darkness of the Castle Park. Three teenagers huddled over lit cigarettes. I wouldn’t go down there, they say, that sounded like a gun shot. It’ll be alright, I say. It’s Aberystwyth  not New York I want to say, but don’t. There is smoke and a few lads scattering. Then nothing. All is as usual. Safe.

4.15 am. There’s fucking clouds in the sky. A man’s voice shouting. We won’t be able to see the stars. He is remonstrating with his friends who want to sit in the Castle. Why are we going to the Castle? he wails. I want tea, says another. They are just dark shapes. I see no faces. Usually voices are hushed, conspiratorial in the dark. I walk through the fug of it. Detached.

Voices, snatched conversations. Snippets. A snap shot of another life.

You know what? A tall blonde girl links arms with a diminutive man as they walk the Promenade. It is not yet 4.00 am. You know what I like? she continues. I like that we are mates now, innit? The man is silent. He takes a bite out a huge French stick. (I thought he was sniffing flowers.)

A couple sit in silence outside The Glengower Hotel, they are both in pyjamas.

The baker is standing outside the Pelican Bakery, one foot propped-up against the wall. He smokes while reading his mobile phone. Morning, I say. Morning.

The smell of bread had wafted right up to the Castle.

Selma and When the Wind Blows. I love watching our films. They move me. They enter my dreams. Full of compassion, humanity. A winding-down, entering others’ narratives. It is good to be such a sponge. A sponge to the struggle of others, stepping-out, albeit briefly from one’s own blessedness. To walk in another’s shoes. That image of them walking across the bridge. Such courage, potent in their vulnerability. Dignity. The dignity of quiet, peaceful certainty. Amen.

Damsons

dried flower from man to man book

He handed me the bag, a broad smile on his face. Damsons. You got me damsons. A hankering. A hankering for that rich, purple bitterness. Satisfied.

I’m busy. There is much to do. Not much time to write this. I miss it. It is playful. A gentle inward-looking playfulness, as well as an archive of things, of things I’ve seen, heard and thought of. I will read it back but for the moment I just need to get it down, captured, preserved.

Voices on the promenade as I sit there, eyes closed against the sun. A sound piece. The warm fug of others’ voices, not understanding, just basking in the murmuring.

I bought stocks and sunflowers. The stocks lasted four days, it was enough. The warm, sticky, headiness of their perfume filling our home. I drink it in.

An upright piano on the beach.

The boy baker standing outside the shop in the dark, texting.

Down by the harbour, a car drives off as I approach.

Two boys, one shirtless, throwing down their spliffs and tumbling into the B&B, noisy at 3 am. The acrid smell stinging my nostrils.

A girl pushing a pushchair on Great Darkgate St.. The pram is veering all over the pavement, her other hand holds a mobile. She is shouting. What I need is a really good fuck, she shouts. I’ll be home soon. Love you. She puts the phone in her pocket, turning her attention to the pushchair. It is empty save for a large shopping back. Come on, Baba, she says, steering it forward towards Penglais Hill.

Last week. A memory. Walking towards the Castle. 3.50 am. A line of people, of bodies, semi-visible in the lamp lit gloom. A curve of bodies, walking as one. A family. Different heights. A family. Young children in high vis jackets, white ankle socks and trainers. An Orthodox Jewish family. Five children and two parents. Walking. Walking the Prom at 3.50 am in the morning. I incline my head. A brief nod to the father. He repeats the gesture.

It is a magical time. Today, the wind, blowing through my tiredness. I fall into it, against it, submitting to its will. So tired. A long journey North, to sit with a friend. Good, it was good. Worth the non-sleeping night, driving, driving.

Grasshopper

Astri, Birger & Tullemor

I dust on Tuesdays. A creature of habit, I have my routine. This morning I found a grasshopper. It was dead and lying on the floor of the bedroom. Bright green. Too green to be dead. How had it got there? Jumped through the window perhaps or been carried by the wind?

In later days, she’d say that I looked like her. A tiny woman, an Edith Piaf in furs. Pinched mouth. Like mother like daughter, bitter brides.

It’s been ages since I wrote properly. So many other things taking up my time. So it will have to be a list again – else the notes bulge from my Filofax. So what do I have here, yes, Harvest Moon. A yellow-orange one for days. It felt strange to see it, not the usual silvery-white but a sun-like custardy yellow. Summer berries is next. Yes, I remember being sad all day and then standing in the kitchen preparing the summer fruits to stew. The feel of the redcurrants and gooseberries, hard-skinned and perfect, and the smell of the blackcurrants and the memories of childhood summers that flooded in. I was made still. Exquisite sensuality. A solace. A solace to feel this way.

Then I have a note about a girl that I saw asleep through a window of a ground floor flat on South Marine Terrace. Outside was black as pitch, she lay on the sofa fully lit, exposed by the glare of an overhead light. Hopper-esque in it’s starkness. She a tumble of duvets. Then there are Witches Bottles, Carnival Bunting and Kit Williams’ book Masquerade. Things I’ve heard of on the radio. The bunting was around Llanbadarn for its Carnival. It was on and gone without us even noticing. The bunting is still up. They live in a world of light. A quote from a poem I heard on an edition of Homefront. I liked it.

I bought him a copy of Gilbert White’s studies of Selbourne. He seemed to know of it. Isn’t it often the case we buy books for others that we wish to read ourselves? I listened to Paul Theroux on In The Psychiatrist’s Chair. He was spiky. A porcupine. But I want to read him. Again.

Then voices on the Prom. Perhaps I’ve already told you. A slight blonde girl sitting on a bench with a large man in a paisley short-sleeved shirt. He smokes. An’ it got to Monday, she is saying, an’ I panicked. The man in the floral shirt laughs.

More radio stuff. An adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s The Professor by Rachel Joyce. My story is not marvellous, he says. And then I heard Christopher Hitchens’ essays Arguably. Lovely prose on such difficult subjects – water-boarding, Agent Orange and Isaac Newton. Someone accused Newton of ‘unweaving a rainbow’.

Outside The Angel at 4.30 am a girl is delving into her handbag for her keys. A tall man walks under a streetlight. He wears a heavy tweed overcoat and there is a gash on his face. He stares at me.

I think about a collaborative piece. Somewhere out on the Yorkshire Moors, perhaps. A trace on the grass of something said, something remembered, something enacted. Long ago. Still left, still impressed onto the landscape.

Talking in the dark

Alec

I see them as I walk up the little hill past the castle. They are shapes in the dark. Two or three bodies, either walking towards me or away from me. Away from the glare of streetlights they are muted, their voices hushed. I am warmed by their conversations. I catch phrases, sentences and I carry them home in my head, mulling them over, turning them round on my tongue. Yesterday it was two girls. Lovers, they held hands, swinging them. One dressed in a baby-doll summer dress, her blonde hair long and straggly, the other was heavily built and wore a black t-shirt. The blonde girl was chattering. The lights were all on, she was saying, ‘cos it was summer, and it was really groovy. Later, I passed two men on a bench outside Slater’s bakery. Do you know her? one was saying. She’s really fit. Inconsequential chat. A few days ago, three men, rolling drunk. One was telling the other, if you’re going to vomit don’t do it in that car. It breaks into the dark of my walking reverie. Sometimes they acknowledge me, other times they don’t. It’s ok. I like their youth, their carelessness. There is plenty of time for that. Plenty of time.

He lost him. A fall, a hit on the head. Dead within 4 days. 92. A good innings, they say. It makes no difference what age. He was a husband, a parent, a grandfather, a friend who is no more. I mull over too much. I weigh up what I say. It is the intention that matters. Always. Let it be. Let it be.

Wanker

Love (2) - detail

We’d met them for supper in the Greek Restaurant in town. They were friends of a friend, over here from Hong Kong. Two men and a woman. Open and friendly, we enjoyed their company. We were seven in all and the woman was perched on the end. There was a slight chill and she wore a grey cardigan. Underneath the cardigan was a T-shirt. As I listened to their chat I tried to read the words. There was an A and an N and a K. YANKEE, I thought. I saw he was looking too. Then she removed her cardigan.

Did you see her t-shirt? he said to me in the car driving home. Yes, I said. Do you think she knows what it means? I asked. Who knows? he said, who knows.

Dump Him

Strawberry Dress

The radio lends structure to my day, offering points of reference of rootedness. On Sunday afternoons I listen to Poetry Extra whilst preparing supper. It brings the unfamiliar, the strange. I taste the words, running them over my tongue, only to revisit the experience, though this time prepared, when it is repeated early the next morning. Last week there were poems, readings and interviews with the American poets Louise Gluck and George Simic. I was caught by Simic’s poem about the County Fair and the six-legged dog. The presenter, Daljit Nagra, described his work as ‘unexpected turns of joy’. Unexpected turns of joy. Yes. I stir the soup. Yes. Yes.

Wednesday was a scratchy day. The night before had been a broken one. The harsh bell of the telephone. Too much. I unravelled. Four times I went up there. Was it the remedy? Perhaps. Finally, we came home. I ate porridge, he ate cornflakes. Too jaded to make proper food. But I did make time. I did make time to stew the berries for breakfast. Summer berries. Not many. Just a few. Gooseberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants. An unexpected turn of joy. Right there. There in our kitchen. The feel of the tight, shiny redcurrants, the hard hairy-ness of the gooseberries as I nipped off their stalks and the blackcurrants, that smell, so evocative of summer. Past summers, a musty, dusty warm smell. I remember the scratches on skin from going into the bushes to pick them. The nets against the birds. The stains of red on fingers.

I watched as she strode into the canteen. A short, diminutive figure in black. Black shorts, high on the leg, torn, ripped stockings and Doc Martin boots. Her hair was long and dyed a flat black. She wore it in a chignon, to one side, for the other side had been shaved, shorn hard. She strode in defiant, ready to bristle, to scowl. Under her black leather jacket she wore a black T shirt. Emblazoned in white were the words DUMP HIM.

The Seagull

Love book cover

I’ve never seen it on the stage, though I do remember visiting the Almeida Theatre during its run sometime in the early 1980s. And a fellow Theatre Design student at Wimbledon did a design for it. It was beautiful, as everything she did was. I heard it on the radio last week. Helena Bonham-Carter and Alex Jennings starred. It was bleaker than I’d expected. Trigorin was clearly Chekhov himself, or at least his mouthpiece, with his thoughts and battles with writing. Never being able to just be, always making notes. What you remember is the periphery, what is happening when you are writing. No one is happy in their skin, their lot. Yes, bleak.

I capture fleeting quotes, write them down and then forget where they came from. ‘The kindliness of her was beyond analysis’, was one. And ‘The kindliness that was the whole of her’, another.

Another note reads Mum’s sparrow. Yes, we’d talked of it the other day. I try out my pre-Enlightenment hocus pocus on him and he listens, not judging, keeping an open mind. I like that about him. I treasure that about him. She came to me as a sparrow the night she died. I know it. It flew it and perched on the ceiling fan, remaining for several minutes before exiting from the window. It wasn’t nervous or scared but very calm, just watching. It repeated the same procedure the following evening. The owners of the house said they’d never know it before. Never, they said. I didn’t share my theory. The magic, the mystery was mine. Only he knows.

A man sleeps on a Prom bench. It is 3.45 am. His arms are folded across his chest and his legs are stretched out before him, crossed at the ankle. An opened pizza box is beside him, the pizza a three-quarter whole. He is snoring. By the castle I cross paths with a man carrying a large rucksack on his back. A traveller, he wears heavy, winter gear. Morning, I say. Morning, he replies in a clear, articulate voice. Later, at bottom of Great Darkgate Street, a young man passes me. You a’right? he asks, beaming. Yes, I say and beam back. There was part of a trailer on the beach. Two wheels still fixed to an axle. Had the tide brought it in? The wheels were a little skewed. The seafront B&B has its NO VACANCIES sign up. I’m glad. I wish them a busy summer. Yr Hafod still has rooms free.

Listening to the end of Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms, I was caught by its understated simplicity. His wife and child had just died.

‘After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.’

It is enough. It is enough.

Honeysuckle

Ellen in Joyce's garden (3)

When the air is warm like this smells become distinct, particularly in the dark. And the mornings are becoming dark. That opening of blue is no more. This morning there was a smoky mist. It smelt. It smelt of wood smoke. The air was heavy with it. Further on I walk through of heady fog of first honeysuckle and then buddleia. Sticky, honey-ed sweet, their perfume hangs in a cloud, unmoving. The wind of yesterday has gone. On North Road there is the lavender. Garden after garden has it. I draw my gloved hands through it, bringing my leathered fingers to my nose afterwards. Salty, sweet, musky lavender. It always makes me think of dusty linen cupboards. A sharp, almost acidic smell with undertones of comforting soft sweetness. I remember the rows of purple in Norfolk and in Provence. On the Prom the brine of the sea is warm and salty. I taste it on my lips. And later by the harbour I remember the stink of the lobster pots. Today there is none. The sea laps, the fury of yesterday forgotten. Later, much later there is the smell of bread.

Listening to the reading of Craig Brown’s One on One on the radio – I think about fictional meetings, fictional conversations. I think about traces, what we leave behind of our thoughts, our musings, our sayings. So little is left. Mostly gone. Gone.