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

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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

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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

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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.

Mother-daughter

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She went the day after. The day after her daughter died of a heart attack. Their relationship had been rocky. It has been written about, made into a film. It was common knowledge. And the daughter’s chaos. That too. So young. Only sixty. Feisty. Though another actress said in an interview how she hated that word. Volatile, perhaps is better. Who knows? I don’t. Just unhappy, perhaps. A car crash. This is not about judgement, but sadness. Compassion too. For both. We choose our parents some say. Though many would poo poo such a notion. Do we choose our children too? The mother died of a stroke. I remember that word. My grandfather. He’s had a stroke, they said. I didn’t know what it was. Such a nice word. We stroke dogs, people we love. A stroke. She died of a stroke, her son said. The shock of losing her daughter was too much. Too much.

I think of losing him everyday. I cannot help it. I try to make it a positive, an energetic, moment-filling thing. Make the best of him. Cherish him. It is unending this love. And yet.

It was her birthday the other day. She is gone now so the birthday is defunct. A red-letter day no longer red. No longer read. My missing her is passing. It passes. She is gone, no more. Little remains. Even the symbols lose their power. Her children remain, that is so. And I see her in all of them, in all of us. In myself.

She died the day after. Mother-daughter. Mother-daughter. Sometimes it is just too much to bear.

Taxis

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There were pots of tete-a-tete daffodils in the supermarket. I wanted them. I wanted their yellow. Not yet, I thought, not yet.

Pier Pressure had opened for Boxing Day night. Disparate bodies sat eating pizza from large open-lidded boxes on the benches nearby. A police car crawled by. Outside the station two long-legged bambi-girls hang round each other’s necks, their long hair entangled in arms. One of them is shouting. I can’t see at whom. She is aiming her shouts at the passageway between the Vale of Rheidol and Lord Beechings. A languorous beauty, her voice is sharp and insistent. You having a wank? she screeches. You having a wank? Silence. Then she begins again. This time the sound is more like a wining child. Where’s the taxis? she asks her friend. Where have all the taxis gone? she wails. I need a taxi.

I see his shadow first. He is standing on the corner of Bridge Street and Mill Street. There is always a frisson of fear at that time of the night. Always. A young man with a tie awry over his checked shirt. He is standing under a streetlight looking at his phone. Good evening, he says, looking up at  me. You alright? Fine, thank you, I replied, and you? Nice. A nice voice. Nothing to fear there. Nothing.

I step over a tomato ketchup sachet that had burst its contents onto the pavement. Red.

 

I tried. He didn’t want to be forced. It wasn’t right to do so. He isn’t some kind of performing seal. I tried to be sanguine. Perhaps it isn’t right anyway. Let’s reason it through. I’d thought about including a child’s voice reading the alphabet as symbolic of learning to articulate, to read, to ‘learn one’s letters’. That was before. That was when I thought it was to be connected to sampler making. Those first forays into literacy for young girls. And I liked the idea of hearing a young voice grappling with the alphabet. And yet, it suddenly didn’t seem right. What was I trying to create? Is it really about children, childhood, those first encounters with language? Then I got K to read Rumpelstiltskin. The beginning bit where the miller brags to the king that his daughter can spin gold from straw. She has a lovely voice, warm and rich. Motherly. It’s what I thought I wanted. But after recording it again it didn’t seem right. The performance needs to be tight. It is too easy to err towards the mawkish. I want to include that tale and The Six Swans too but more because of their influence on my practice and my own personal mythology than from any childhood nostalgia. It is always about getting back to the nub of it. She read it well but there was too much music, too much lyricism in her delivery. I wanted something flatter, droning. The tales create the context for me. They always have. They are about work, impossible tasks, being good, acquiescent. They are about women’s and girl’s domestic tasks turned magical. I need to do the readings. It needs to be my voice. This is a very internal experience, more that I’d determined it would be. Can this still be of use? Can it entertain? The two tales and a whispering of words, perhaps a short repeated phrase about the tension between art and craft from Rosika Parker’s Subversive Stitch and then a short sentence from Paul Auster’s The Invention of Solitude about writing read by him. I need his voice in there too. It is right that it is there. Rumpelstiltskin representing the dungeon, the locked room, the oubliette and The Six Swans representing the industry done in silence. I am fearful that this an utter indulgence. Yet I need to do it. How often I write the word need. I need to act this out. To get to where I need to get. Things come through. Ideas, pure and lovely in their yet un-heaviness. This is about my practice. We talked of it as we walked. An acting out of the tensions. This is what I do, these are the inner restraints made manifest by corset and crinoline, the silence, the intricacy and impossibility of the task. Am I good enough? My struggles with my innate domesticity. The inner world laid bare. Will it read? How much do I tell?

I take up my needle and write……

Crows (25)

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We’d tried to escape. Just for one morning. To sit idly by on a sofa in a too hot room looking down onto the sea. But it had been shut. The hotel. The hotel had been shut. So unexpected, we were discombobulated, thrown. We saw the scaffolding as we drove up the driveway and there were virtually no cars. Unheard of, no cars. Where is everybody? he asked. The sign on the door said hotel reception open again on January 19th 2017. No other explanation. Not even a happy Christmas. Nothing. So we drove back and stopped at another favourite. That too had changed. She’d died. The proprietess had died, last February. A real shock. She’d always been there, smiling. It had all changed, though some of the pictures remained. We stayed for tea but there were no silver pots here. Or indeed tea leaves. No Lapsang. I wanted it’s smokiness. He lit the fire, though the warmth didn’t come. Everything pared-down. A taster menu. A list of single words, Duck, Swede, Lager and Lime. Incomprehensible. He was proud and talked of guests coming from Birmingham for that very special dining experience. No biscuits, but we do have toffee waffles, he said. No thanks, we said. We drove back and ate lunch in the car, sitting looking at the sea from the harbour. Outside the car the crows gathered. Perched on the Promenade rail the wind fluffing up their feathers. They strode and prowled around the cars, waiting for a window to open and a chip or a lump of bread to come hurtling out. But mostly they perched being jostled, ruffled by the wind. Their walk is a kind of lurching roll, like old women, plumpish women in big skirts. They are sanguine about the lack of food-tossing. Some sail off, gliding through the wind down onto the beach. Others stare into the distance. So what, they seem to say, I don’t care.

He read me some of his father’s poetry. The broadcast had finished, I think he was more than a little high afterwards. Shall I read some? he asked. He had big hair, a great big white bouffant, coiffed this way and that, defying all laws of gravity. Had he been a teddy boy in his youth? He wore a navy cardigan and a tight light blue shirt. Shall I read some? He was proud. You must be proud, I said. His father had been a sea captain and he’d send poetry home. Instead of letters, he said. He even had a code which he’d used with my mother, he said, to let her know where he was. Narvik, was one, he said. He’d told me, he said, you mustn’t go to sea. None of us, he said. So I became a teacher and then I went. We all write poetry, he said. Shall I read some? And it was good. A list of place names. A musicality of names, curling rich and rounded. It’s a special Welsh metre, he said. Nadolig Llawen, I said as I left. Ciao, he said. Ciao.

There is much I will miss. I find this going away a difficult-ness. A friend writes from America. She is moving for the first time in a long while. You have moved often, she writes, I not at all. She is thrown, discombobulated. Bobbing about, rootless. I know how you feel. I get it even for just these few days. I lose my centre. I miss. I miss my work, the radio, my walking, my silence. And yet, I know there will be joy. Always, always. Paul Durcan reading his Christmas Day on the radio. A recording of his voice and his marvellous poem. Gorgeously confessional, gorgeously layered. A riot of expression of thought of sexuality of religiosity of love. He and his friend Frank sharing Christmas Day.

I watched a magpie as the coffee percolated.

Let it be, they said. Let it be.

The Kindness of Strangers (2)

letter

I must have dropped it on the way to the postbox. It was raining when I left home, a light mizzly sort of rain. I pressed the four envelopes hard against my coat in an attempt to keep them dry. Four envelopes containing three birthday cards and a return to sender for an ex-tenant long gone. The return to sender one had been outermost. I cared less about it than the others and besides it was a mailshot sort of envelope, slightly shiny.

I walk fast, even faster in the rain. Trying to miss, to dodge the raindrops. I must have dropped it on the way. The postbox is on North Road. It was still pitch so I couldn’t see how many envelopes I slipped into the box. It was full. I didn’t hear my cards fall to the bottom. There was no dull thud or even a sometimes clank. Then I walked. I walked the length of the promenade, down to the harbour and then back through town via the Castle and Great Darkgate Street. In the still black its whiteness shone. A white oblong on the pavement. A wet pavement that shimmered in the streetlight. It had fallen address side up. Stamp side up. I had no idea it was mine until I got up close. The handwriting was familiar. My stomach gave a lurch of recognition. The words had run in the rain. The paper was sodden. I shook it free of drops, checking to see if the postcode and name were still legible. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t get there. She wouldn’t know the difference. Things get lost over Christmas. Christmas birthdays get lost. Get lost in the stuff of it all. All that unnecessary stuff. But the thought is there. I like to follow the thoughts through. So I decided to send it regardless. Regardless of its running wetness. There is another box nearer home, up a side street towards the hospital. Is it called Iowerth Avenue? I forget the names. They are not straight roads, I know that. They run into each other. One can get lost, temporarily.

So I posted it all the while wondering whether someone else have picked it up and posted it. Would someone else have taken the trouble. There is a stamp. It wouldn’t take much. Would they have cared?

The kindness of strangers. The kindness of strangers does exist. I have seen it. I have received it, many, many times.

I wish you shelter. I wish you a haven. All of you.

I dreamt of trains, of journeys of trying to buy a ticket. I had to stop off somewhere, it was complicated. Could I get a ticket? No problem, she said. There is no problem.

I wish you a very merry Christmas.

Restraint (5)

love-book-cover

I want to pay attention, if only to still my mind. It starts to fret and needle as I walk. It is worst at the beginning. I try to turn myself outward, outside of thought. I smell the air, always such a surprise when I first encounter it. This morning it is the odour of freshly fallen rain. The atmosphere is still heavy with it. Wetness on the eyelashes. I stop at the breast of the hill by Alexandra Hall and see the beads of dew on the grass. A sort of hard, wiry kind of grass, like the beach kind (it is marren or marron?). Cutting and harsh. The dew hangs like jewels shining in the lamplight. The Promenade is a mess of grainy sand. There must have been high tides. The lights from the pier are ablaze. Pier Pressure is still open at 3.45 am. There are several students eating on benches. Empty pizza boxes lie wet and flattened on the Promenade flag stones. Two girls hover outside the door to the nightclub. She went down to eight stone, one of them is saying. No coats. They shiver as they talk. The hissing clamour of the starlings underneath the pier grows louder. The stink of guano makes me want to retch. I endeavour to close my nostrils to it. Coming from the Castle to Great Darkgate Street there is the usual hullabaloo of students gathered by the clock. The girls wear almost nothing. Miniscule dresses tight across flesh, exposing voluminous thighs. Do they feel beautiful? I watch as two middle-aged men stare. Keeping on walking I pass a group of boys and girls waiting for a taxi. One of the girls in wearing a black and white striped short jumpsuit. I find myself staring. Hello, says one of the boys to me. I smile. Ooooooo, he says. You going for a walk? he asks. I’m halfway down the hill by now. Chain reaction, he is saying. On Llanbadarn Road I hear birdsong. Is it a chiff chaff? Then there is a robin bobbing, first on the road then from pavement to tree.

Waiting for him by the gate yesterday there was a crow then a squirrel perched on top of a fence. We were all looking at each other. A moment of stillness. The crow its head on one side and the squirrel frozen, its paws clinging to the fence post. And me, smiling, holding my breath.

I got so blue talking about it to him on Thursday. I need his good opinion. He is in an invidious position. He is my judge, I make it so. My reader, my editor, my outside world. Outside of my head. And he tries his best to be fair, to be honest and helpful. He wants clarity and I don’t always feel it. I fuss and fiddle over detail. It has always been so. This time it is about the costume. What a great day. I cannot tell you how good it feels to be in corset and crinoline. It felt like coming home. It felt natural to me. The clothes fit. But the top, the jacket doesn’t. Is it because it is too big or just too fussy? I don’t know. I want to be half-and-half. This isn’t just a historical performance, a simple – this is a Victorian woman sewing. It is more than that. It is an experiment in practice. A practice-experiment. I want to know how it feels. I want to see what happens. Wearing the whole costume limits it. Contains it. Provides a full stop. I am still trying to get somewhere. If I make it all too finished, too complete the destination will not be discovered. He argues for clarity again. They will need to know. They will want to understand. Yes, he is right.

What places you take me to, he says as we park the car outside a huge, seemingly derelict, lock-up on the West side of Cardiff. We call them adventures and they are. Me in my underwear stepping into a crinoline and being strapped up into a corset. No heating. Judith, Welsh National Opera’s wardrobe mistress is in a padded coat and boots. I never take them off when I’m here, she says. She doesn’t want me to help. I raise my arms above my head. My body jerks was she tightens the corset’s laces. I am high on it all. It feels right. It feels like home. The restraint of it. My rib cage, my waist all contained. Rigid and hard. Held. Will it work? Will it read? I need to write about it. I need to write it all down. Write it out. It is about associations, triggers. Drawing Room and nineteenth century associations of domestic work, needlework, silent restraint, busy hands keeping busy and the murmurs of voices. But it is also about writing. Forming words, finding words. Writing what you see and feel. And the tension of it all. Am I a writer or an artist? The pull of each. And the domestic part of it. Made at home. Contained in the home. The artist contained, restrained and safe within. Emily Dickenson, Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen. Domestic writers. It will come together. It will but each stage must be lived out. Felt.

A milky sky. We have coffee out first thing. He asked my name. It is rare. His is enough. He says it now at every opportunity. Bye, he says. Bye.