Glimpses

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I dreamt that I was trying to get back all the things I’d given away. Clothes, shoes, gloves and other objects of finery that I’d bundled off to charity shops. There were a pair of long gloves, gold satin with tiny buttons that went all the way up the arm. And a pair of silk shoes emblazoned with tiny shimmering beads. They had been mine. I knew them. I had worn them. But they were dispersed all over the place. How was I to get them back? And, it slowly dawned on me, where would I get the money to buy them back? For I would have to buy them back, wouldn’t I? Somehow I began to reason this through in my dream, asking myself why I wanted them, what use were they to me? They were beautiful, exquisite things but they no longer represented what I was, had become. There was some sadness in this realisation and a struggle to let them go. Their beauty dazzled me. I’d lost something by letting them go.

I woke with the detail of them still resonant in my head. What had been lost? What did they represent? A more fantastical life? Wealth? Success? It was more about overt displays of beauty, femininity even. I don’t know. Sometimes it takes a whole day to shake off such a dream.

I still feel a little adrift. There is always much to do but I lack a definitive object. An objective. Or is just that that is how I’ve always worked, with an end in sight. Now there is no end, just an endless searching. Sometimes, just sometimes, I’d like to tread water, to rest, to let it just flow. Flow on. Without the pushing.

A tiny white feather floats down in to the kitchen sink.

Walking past Flat 1 in the dimming afternoon I look through the window. An armchair lit by the yellow bulb of a standard lamp arch overhead. Over the half-window net curtains I can see a head resting against the back of the armchair. A woman’s head. The hair is white, softly curled, with the texture of baby hair. White. I can feel it’s tenderness. Is she reading? Is she reading? Carers arrive through the day. Three times a day. One comes in a Land Rover and wearing high riding wellies. Is it in between ponies?

I had the radio loud as I cleaned. Jay Rayner with a selection of cookery programmes. In one Nina Myskow was having lunch with Judith Kerr in a restaurant the authoress used to go to with her husband of fifty odd years. I love life, she says at some point in the interview. So vital. So resonant. Earlier Nina had eaten with David Sedaris. Some people’s voices just make one feel happy. His does.  It’s a kind of whiny New York-ish accent, nasal, and down-beat, and yet there is something so uplifting about his approach to life. Self-deprecating yes, but also compassionate. He tells of his father stealing, or saving food. Once he put a slice of bread in his pocket. For later. Two days later he was putting it in his suitcase. I’m telling it badly, it needs his delivery. And Judith Kerr, how can I express the quavering, potency of her voice?

I am tired, tired, tired. Sucked out. Was I ever vigorous? I can’t manage the big things any more, just those in front of my face. Something has been lost, certainly. But do I mind?

Early to the supermarket. Dropping off food waste at the bins and a robin hops in front of me. It bobbed about brazenly. What do you want? I remember the one in our Cambridge garden, hopping about on the soil before me. What do you want little bird?

What do you want?

 

Christmas Tree (2)

Santa

The ground floor flat that I pass on my way to our door (the one with the kitten, now cat) has already got a Christmas tree. I saw it through the window. It’s in a pot and is sitting on a windowsill. It has been dressed and its lights glisten. It looks real. How will it last the four weeks?

I don’t remember ever having a real tree as a child. My mother preferred fake ones. I can’t abide the mess. Sacrilege to her countrymen. They wade out into snow-deep forests and cut their own. She had a white one. I thought it marvellous. The way the red fairy lights spilt their redness, staining the white. It was tall, thick, bushy and majestic. I missed the smell of pine. I ached for it. Another delighted in fake candles. She bought me some for Christmas. They had to be charged and they flickered like real candles. Like gas fires, like electric light fittings made to look like candles. Even churches have them now. No more tea lights for a Euro. A click when the money goes in and a another white plastic stub lights up orange. I miss the strike of the match, the heat of the flame, the catching of the wick and the stink of sulphur. Convenience, health and safety. Just as good. Just as good. Even better.

Not so cold today. The clouds disperse, a dusky pink moving across the sky. Morning breaks.

At breakfast he read from A Nature’s Diary. You know why the birds are bobbing about on the pavements? he asked. No. They can’t get at the worms cos’ the ground is frozen. It says here that they forage amongst leaves for beetles and puff their feathers out to keep warm. They try to carry on as normal, it says here.

Details (105)

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Sometimes it is all I see. Details. The devil is in them, they say. Details. The things up close. Close up. Close up to the face. Like Rilke’s rock. Someone told me a long time ago that I wasn’t good at seeing the overview. An Art tutor. It tended to stick, the things they told me about myself. I see the details, zooming up close to what I can manage, what I can handle, what I can deal with, what I can change.

Walking this morning in that cold, I see the shimmer of frost on the wooden slats of the Perygyl. Fingers touch the handrail for safety. Watch yourself. Don’t slip. The stars in the thick black. A penny in the road.

The town tree is up. Still bare. No decorations yet. It is enclosed by a square of farm gates. Appropriate for a rural community. The lamppost decorations have been hung but like the tree, remain, as yet, unlit. Readiness. In readiness.

The frost on the steps up to the flat looked like glitter. Glitter. I loved it as a young girl. It was magical to me. Making decorations with her. She made such an effort. It was a pleasure to her. Twigs, pine cones and leaves from the garden sprayed silver and dipped in glitter. I remember the chemical smell of the silver spray, like pearl drops. The glitter would spatter everywhere, like the mica in the pavement, fairy dust. And the little Nissen hut. Can I do it? I’d ask. Can I? I tried not to rush it. Savouring the joy of having it under my command. My little world. Set the little yellow light. Yes, it’s working. Then lay the cotton wool to make the snow. Then set each individual Nisser in the scene. Some skiing, some cooking, some dancing, some eating. Careful, now, don’t knock it. There.

I used to bother, she is telling us as she scans the apples. But now its just for myself, I don’t. Though I bought a little tree last year, from here, you know. Yes. I know. Less is more these days. I am one step removed, it seems, from most things. At a distance. Even my work. I am inside of myself with it, contained, watching, waiting. I do but I don’t. It’s the fuss. I don’t want the fuss, the flurry. No presents, no panic-buying, no major consumption of food. It’s too much. I want to watch, to wait, to wait and see. I see the details. I like the smells, the anticipation. The smell of pine. The smell of mince pies. To remember. To find glitter on my fingers.

I go slowly these days. My feet hurt again. Under the arches, a tearing. I walk each step. Feeling each step. The little mermaid with knives in her feet.

He is cold these days. His hands so cold. It will pass. Winter will pass. But not yet. The surprise of white on my gloves. The steel coloured skies. The stillness. The frozen stillness.

A story about Oslo. A female policeman. I like to hear the street names, to recognise the places. It is the coldness in me. Never really acclimatised. A place within which I seek to belong. I steal the details, hug them home. I have some. A forest, a coffee shop, a rented room with a white painted floor. They are mine. They live in me. Frozen. Glittering.

Jay (2)

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He was a colleague, a teacher like me. He was into the occult, was making drawings for a tarot card deck and was a good friend of David Icke’s. I liked him. He ate apple pie and custard in the office and consumed copious amounts of garlic to ward off colds. He talked about sighting jays. They’re omens, he said. Powerful. Not necessarily bad. Just a warning that something big, important is going to happen. I’ve seen maybe two or three. I saw one again yesterday. Outside my bedroom window. A flash of white, the underwing. Then that lovely almondy-pink plumage of the body. When I saw one in Bath it stayed in the tree above me. This one was looking for something, diving into undergrowth, only to reappear again. We shall see. We shall see. I am more ambivalent these days. Learning to yield, to accept what is. Not going digging, searching, even to the point of walking past Mysteries. We shall see.

Cold. I struggle with it. I remember those months in Norway. Not enough light. The grey. The interminable grey and the cold. This morning the frost glittered on the pavement, the promenade benches. There was no one, no one about, save a young man in a parka, his hood up, smoking. I said good morning but there was nothing, nothing back. I wore three pairs of gloves, two hats, a hoodie and a hood this morning. And my big, impossibly expensive Norwegian coat. I wrote to her once suggesting that she might like to contribute to its cost, by way of a Christmas present. I heard nothing back. The cold and the dark bring on a blueness that penetrates all I do. I accept it. It is my melancholy. I welcome it in. Finding comfort where I can. The smell of bread, of coffee, the little two bar heater in the studio, hot water bottles……there is enough. I think about people without. Without in this cold.

Desert Island Discs with Emma Bridgewater. A jolly person, buoyant, a lover of life.  Clearly. She cried when recounting her mother’s suffering and hers. Always leave room for the miraculous, her mother used to say. I like that. It made me smile. Absolutely. Thank you, I will.

45 years. Just finished watching it last night. Beautiful yet excruciatingly sad. So little said. It was all in the face, Charlotte Rampling’s face. And that stark Norfolk flatness, I love it. He doesn’t.

You see there is so much. Amidst all the internal struggle, there is so much. So much to be thankful for and I am. I am. I promise.

Telephoning

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I’m not a natural on the phone. Telephones make me self-conscious, awkward. I like to see people’s faces. To know what I’m dealing with.

I’ve never seen her, never met her. We’ve talked on the phone, once a week, for over three years now. Her voice is soft, sometimes timid. She suffers from anxiety. A kind of general state of unease, of fear. We talk about the weather, her daughter, her neighbour’s dog, living up in the hills, her garden, her daughter’s job and career. She asks me questions but I hedge, I bat them back. Samaritans training is ingrained. This isn’t about me. I want her to talk. Sometimes she has cried. Not that often. Once when one of her neighbour’s dogs died. And almost when she talked about a neighbouring farmer shouting and swearing at her and her friend.

I wonder what she looks like. She talks about being old but her daughter is still only in her twenties. We talk about what she likes to do. Crosswords in Take a Break magazine, watching soaps, Emmerdale and Pobol y Cwm and reading. She reads a lot. Yesterday we laughed about her falling asleep in front of the TV. She keeps the TV on sometimes for company. Though not in the daytime. And the radio.

She’d had a accident. It made her scared to go out for a time. She does now. Her voice is stronger, she laughs and there is warmth. I tentatively suggested on her answer machine that she might prefer me to call twice a month or perhaps only once, now that she is stronger. She listens to her messages but she didn’t respond to this one. Does she want them, these weekly chats? Is it important to her? I cannot say.

There is a comfort in hearing her voice. I sit on the floor and look out of the window as we talk. Sometimes I bombard her with too many questions. I need to take it slower. I give her that time. I give of myself. A small thing. She always knows its me. I ring at the same time each week so that she will know. Be ready. It is all about connections. Strangers connecting. There is an intimacy in it.

I cherish her.

Gordon

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It is 4.10 am. A young woman stands outside The Academy, a coat by her feet on the pavement. She is shouting. I cannot see what it is that is alarming her. Her voice is sharp, grating, insistent. Suddenly she lunges forward, her shouts are louder now. Gordon, she shouts, fucking leave it. Fucking leave it, she repeats. Gordon, fucking leave it. She is standing over two young men who are rolling in the street outside Starbucks. Hands grasp at tee-shirt sleeves, legs kick. They are a tumble of limbs. Fucking leave it, Gordon, shouts the girl, yanking at his shirt. Another man lies slightly apart from them. He is roaring. Roaring like a wounded beast. He holds aloft a half-empty bottle of beer in his right hand. A line of blood seeps from his left bicep.

Peace is shattered. I watch as a taxi pulls up, waiting, his engine thrumming. I pass an ambulance. Its windows are open and the lights are on but it is empty. The shouting has stopped. The smell of bread from Slater’s Bakery helps. A comfort.

Even in the dark the sounds are large, perhaps larger for that fact that one sense is hindered. The clamour of starlings under the pier, readying for murmuration. The long drawn out screeching of the seagulls, though tonight they were silent. Then there is the constant humming of generators down by the harbour. The silence is heightened by them. A purring, a meditative om. Then later, almost home on the Llanbadarn Road the birds. Tree-dwelling birds. Not song. No this is aggressive, a kind of clicking, husting noise, a spitting kind of chirruping. Not twee, not gentle, this is about territory.

A clear sky this morning. Cold but clear. I’m not well in myself. Off colour. Peaky. I will take it steady today. Gentle. Breathing in and out stuff. No more demanding than that. Sleepy now. My eyes are heavy with it. Post-massage. It was beautiful. A gift. I went so deeply under. The couch was heated, my bones were thankful. So heavy, so relaxed. I snorted a few times. Did she hear? I touched her arm and apologised. She is discreet. You needed it, she said, I can always tell the ones who need it.

Every week, I could do with it every week.

First Snow

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First snowfall on Monday. Driving over the mountains, the little icon on the dashboard warning of ice. A long day teaching. The sleet splashing against the windscreen. Lorries taking the corners too fast. In and out of sleep. Letting him drive. Giving over to it. Head lolling forward. Having given myself.

This morning walking back home. A still morning, milder, the wind just beginning to get up. I walk past the Pelican Bakery, a brief sidelong glance as I stride by. Windows running with steam. Then past the Cartref student home. Then something espied in a phone box. Not a box really, more a booth. Clear glass, no door. A red hat, a jumble of bags. No, not just that. A sleeping bag. A body in the bag, sleeping. All hunched up, like a game of sardines, his head pushed up hard against the Perspex. He was asleep.

Earlier in the Castle Park, a light ahead of me. A girl on a mobile phone talking loud. She ended the call and walked past me, her torso illuminated by her phone light. Then past The Academy into the mayhem. The Wednesday night mayhem. Students shouting, running, play-fighting. One lies down in the road in front of OW’s taxi. Don’t go, he shouts. A girl watches him from across the road, giggling. I see a five-pence piece on the ground, and then another. I usually pick them up. For luck.

Yesterday, a drizzly day in Hay. Lots of books bought. To deconstruct. To cut. Fairy tales for a workshop. Always returning. Books I recognised from before, Andy Pandy, Rupert annuals. Saccharine stuff, some of it. Fairy tales washed clean of import. Now treasured artefacts, jacketed in plastic sleeves. Saved. Some crayoned in. Names in the front. So proud to be able to write. To right.

Lying in bed I still feel the motion of the car.

Torch

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I saw him through the dark. An amorphous shape moving towards me from the entrance to the Castle Park. A wheelchair, a man in a wheelchair. As he approached he stopped the chair and pointed upwards beyond my head. Look, he said, look up there. He was pointing at the moon. Yes, I said. Look, he said again, at the ring around it. He was insistent, determined to get me to pay attention. Yes, I said again, I saw it as I walked, it has lit my way. He smiled then. Are you going to be OK in the dark? I asked. Can you see? Shall I offer him my torch? I thought. I’m fine, he said, peaceful now, his arms gripping each wheel ready to move. I touched him, his arm then his shoulder. It felt good to do so. I know him. Not to talk to, this was the first time. I know his face. I’ve seen him on a Monday night in the Indian restaurant, on the prom playing a guitar in the sun and outside The Angel  surrounded by students. Happy, he seemed happy to be among their throng. Spilling out at closing time, three or four in the morning. I think he is deaf. There is something fixed to his skull. On the outside. It makes me feel a little queasy. When I spoke to him I gave him my whole face. He watched my lips and inclined his head. Sometimes he is listening to something through headphones. I may be wrong. He lives fully. He absorbs and responds to what is. I touched and was touched. And the moon? A half shape but still magnificent among the cathedral-like clouds, building up and up into great towering  edifices. A chill morning, three pairs of gloves and two hats. I love to be warm. Sometimes that is all there is, the need and the satisfaction of comfort.

Worked late last night. Four students doing a Pop Quiz. I listened to their laughter, their screeching and singing in the studio. They were having fun. So confident, so self-assured. It is good. Youth is soon spent. Let them be full. Full of it. Like him.

I watch it all, satisfied.

Tornado

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It felt strange,unfamiliar. The wind was rattling the windows and the leaves where swirling in circles. Eddying. Eerie. Magical. It was only later that we discovered it was a tornado. A tornado here. I thought they only happened in America. Far away. The stuff of fairy tale, of children’s stories. The Wizard of Oz. And the sound. A great howling, whistling. Ninety-four miles an hour, apparently. At work everyone was agog. Two strangers sitting in other people’s desk, shipped in from the city, no doubt, to cover the story. They spoke fast down the telephone, their voices clipped, rasping.

No wind today. A blue sky and a few spit spots on the window. I am tired. It has been full on. It makes me cross sometimes. I feel out of control. The phone rings and rings. Smile, he says, be nice. It shows in my face and it tells in my voice. I just want to be left alone sometimes. Sometimes it is just too much. And yet, I am grateful. It is not hard work, just demanding, all that to-ing and fro-ing. Twelve hours yesterday, up and down, up and down. No time to ground myself. To touch earth. To be home.

They said on the news that he didn’t approve of the scattering of ashes. Nor did he approve of ashes being kept on the mantelpiece, or as in his case, on his windowsill and in a great maroon plastic pot by his shoes. I like what I hear of him. As a Pope, he seems modest, gentle, a good man. And so, I am disappointed to disappoint him. You see I want to be scattered. I want to be returned to the air, not buried in the ground, that thought is abhorrent to me. I sometimes think of it when I walk. No, not sometimes, often times. I think about being committed to the air. Lost. Taken. Become nothing. The final scene in the film Bridges of Madison County shows her children hurling her ashes up into the sky. A marvellous gush of smoky dust, up and up then down in an elegant cascading descent. The image is slowed down, almost stopping. When we scattered Mum, forgetting to test for wind we got sprayed with the dust of her. It made us laugh. A bursting of the sadness. Afterwards we bathed in the sea. Cleaning. Cleansing. Gone.

Suffragette was a beautiful film. It still resonates in me, lingering. A beautiful lingering. Sometimes though it is too much, to witness such suffering, such bravery, even if it isn’t real. And yet, it is real. Is it not?

And the stories I’m reading. Mary Costello’s The China Factory. It got it for the title of one of them. The Sewing Room. It is a haunting. The relinquishment. So close. I hold her close.

You see, every day has it compensation, it beauty. You only have to look. I walked the Perygyl today, this morning. The first time in days. It was moonlight. I walked on white. The sky a clear Prussian blue. The wind cutting. I felt alive, luminous. Made luminous by the moon.

Two funerals. One young man, one old. One had over two thousand mourners, the other, we shall see. He will go, in his black coat. He offers lifts. He is kind. The men will line up, heads bowed, solemn. He died at home. He’d grown a little unkempt. Sleeping in a back room.

She tells me of the grandparents, both sides. We talk of dementia. Her father’s and her grandparents’ dementia. When I was three my grandfather use to whack at people with a stick, she told me. I was terrified. No one made a fuss, I just knew to steer clear. At least they were looked after, tolerated, watched over. Kept in the family. Her brother won’t be seen with them, too embarrassed, she said. It makes her boil. I could swing for him, she says. He cancelled at the last minute. Just can’t, can’t do it. She is more practical. Taking it head on. Strong. I like her. And her. Both strong women. When the appointment ends they close down. Shut. Finish. I feel a sadness then. Intimacy terminated. I understand. I do. But there is a sadness. Always.

A beautiful black eye

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We both misheard her, smiling at the incongruity of it.

What brought you here? I’d asked, while she scanned our food. A beautiful black man, we thought she’d said. A beautiful black man. How nice, I’d whispered. Where is he now? we’d replied. Oh, he’s still in Kidderminster. He didn’t follow me. We looked at each other, perplexed. Yes, she continued, I came to my parents with a beautiful black eye. The penny dropped. Was he your husband? I asked. Yes, she said. That was twenty years ago.

I am sorry. She is a gentle being with soft hands. Each piece of fruit is tenderly handled, there is no rushing. Other people’s stories. Each life, so rich, so full of import. We are the same age. We talk about playing hockey at school, uniforms. I seek a common ground. There is no difference. You’re late, she sometimes says and laughs. Or comments on the amount we’ve spent. Raising an eyebrow if it is over our self-imposed fifty quid. She has a light, high neighing kind of laugh. I like her. We seek her out. We know her name, it’s on a badge on her chest. She doesn’t know ours, and doesn’t ask. The intimacy is contained. It is enough.

The moon was full. The sea was silver. They say that tomorrow’s moon will be gigantic. I love it’s light in the dark.