Tea Cosy

I drank too much tea. It steadied me, filled me, made me warm. I wanted more of their abundance, the detail of their sweet loveliness. Have you a cosy? I asked, knowing, almost completely knowing that they would. Of course, she said. It was a patchwork one. I placed it with something like pleasure over the china pot. The café was getting busy, alive with the voices of women more than a little excited. He had a toasted tea cake. I buttered it for him, just to catch the smell of cinnamon and sultanas.

When we got home my clothes smelt of baking.

Cherry Brandy

I am rushing. I want to get on with work and I need to have my ten minutes sitting first. I am so tense. I have a review to begin and there is always this tension, this fear of that white space. Will it come? Will I make a fool myself, tripping, knicker-less over the page.

There was an A-board outside OXFAM bookshop reading “Welcome Students’ and in the window a selection of paperback cookbooks with titles like Use Your Noodle and How to Boil an Egg.

The same cacophony as I walked. They have not ceased their merriment, though one sounded like a howling beast, or a woman ululating at a New Orleans funeral. I couldn’t work out where they were. The sound echoed around the streets. Eerie.

Our neighbour opened the window as I stepped out. My stomach always sinks. I don’t want to talk, not then. The light clicks on and I know he is there before I open the door. You’re early, he said, you usually go out at three. Does he too want silence, and waits for my leaving? It depends, I said, trying to be warm. But thank you for keeping tabs on me, I said, jocularly. He laughed. Cheers now, and have a nice walk, he said.

I love the detail of my dreams. They have so many layers. At one point I was looking in close at the floor in someone’s home, I like terracotta tiles, she said. Then I was waiting at an airport for a gift that someone had arranged for me. The receipt was in Spanish, and the gift? A tiny bottle of Cherry Brandy. I don’t like Cherry Brandy, he said in my dream. I don’t either, I wanted to say but didn’t, but the thought, the kindness, was lovely to me. It warmed me.

I thought of him through the night. I don’t condone his actions but my compassion for his situation, for his wife and his children overflows. It is a dark world sometimes. I wish him and myself light.

My name means sunshine, she said. But don’t call me sunshine.

I won’t, even if you are.

Lifeguards’ Hut

That’s a sign of the end of summer if there ever is one, I said to him at breakfast, the Lifeguards’ hut has been packed away. What? he asked, looking up from the paper. What is a sign of the end of summer?

He says I mumble. Maybe I do, but it isn’t just me. His hearing is getting worse. We laugh about it. Quarter to two, he says, mimicking an elderly lady he used to know. Deaf as a post, she’d offer up time checks as a way of filling in the gaps of non-hearing. He gets by, tries to make sense of what is being said. What? he says rather too sharply. I want to say, can’t you say pardon? It is ingrained in me, that outward showing of politeness and ‘what’ is so sharp.

The box for the hut is still there on the Prom. All neatly packed away. White and shiny.

They don’t half drink. A girl called out to me along North Road. She was walking, her arm draped in that of her boyfriend’s and wore just a vest top. Hellooooo, she said to me, her head lolling like a rag doll’s. Then stumbling off the pavement she lurched at me, You OK? she asked. Yes, I’m fine, thank you, I replied. I don’t want to talk when I walk. I don’t want to puncture my role as observer. On the Prom a huddle of tall lads were talking. One was shouting above the rest delivering his little speech in an Australian accent. Alright you fucking cunt, he said, you’re asking for it. No? Then his voice changed and his friends laughed. A girl in a thin shorts one-piece, twirled and swirled like a leaf caught in the wind. Her phone was lit and held fast against her ear. She was silent, concentrating, or so it seemed to me, on trying to move herself forward.

I looked for the moon. It was tiny.

Off to review an exhibition later today. We like the drive.

Gone

It was gone. The bag with the three jam and buttered scones was gone when I walked past this morning. Who had taken them? A mystery. I will never know. The man with the floral counterpane was there this morning, but sleeping on the side bench of the shelter. Perhaps it was more sheltered from the wind that side. I would’ve been sad if they had still been there. I hope someone enjoyed them. I shall do it again. I promise.

She sends out regular emails inviting us to various events. I won’t go again. I like the ideas, her ideas in principle but I struggle with the intimacy of them. She invades with kindness and solicitude. I feel a rage inside of me as a result. A lovely kind woman, I can see how effective she is but I am not comfortable. Don’t I need to be? Isn’t it important? This last one was about a gathering in France and Germany managed by what seemed to be some kind of guru. I want it, I want the truth, the cleansing, the enlightenment they appear to promise but I can’t do the unravelling, not in public, it is too excruciating. Fuck that, he says when I try to describe it to him over supper. You don’t want any of that. No, I don’t. But what do I want?

I woke to heavy rain outside my window. My heart and soul sink at the prospect of going out in it. But by the time I’d put on all my layers including his coat, the rain had stopped and it was glorious. There was a keen breeze but the air was fresh and alive. I smelt gloss paint along North Road, someone had painted their front door scarlet. Trying to be one step ahead of possible rain I went home the back way hoping that the bakery smells would be wafted, carried on the wind as far as the station. Not so. But there was a lovely, sweet perfume coming from a shrub on the top of the little hill that takes us to Llanbadarn Road. I couldn’t work out what it was.

I am sleepy. I need to move. Work this morning, then home to sketch out ideas for this new project. We shall see, one day up the next day down.

A Gift from the Kitchen

I made them. How ridiculous to get het up about doing it. Though I can understand why. I need to do things well. I am not good at failing and it had been a long time since I had baked. But I did it. At one point the dough seemed too wet, though I’d followed Delia to the letter. But it was OK. They were OK. I watched his face as he took a bite. Were they too dry, too moist, too sweet? No, he liked them. She’d advised a 1.5 – 2 cm cutter. They looked cute, mouth-wise, wee, bijou. They could be a bit bigger, he said. He had two, some went in the freezer and some in the fridge. I won’t have you giving them away to the homeless on the Prom, he said. But I did. I’d intended too and these days following my intentions seems, at times, the only thing I can do. I buttered and jam-ed them, put them in a sealed bag and popped them in the pocket of his coat and set off on my walk.

They weren’t there. The men weren’t there. Even the one who wrapped himself in a floral counterpane wasn’t there. The wind and rain had been wild. Perhaps they’d gone inside somewhere or left Aber for good. I was disappointed. I wanted them to wake up to them. Fresh scones for breakfast. A gift from the kitchen. My kitchen. Here you are boys. What should I do? I thought. Take them home or leave them. There was a half-full bottle of pop and a plastic bag with stuff in it (I didn’t pry) on the bench, so I placed my offering next to them. A gesture to the gods. My intention. I thought about what might happen to them as I walked away. Perhaps the street cleaner will chuck them. Will he look inside first? Or some students might find them (like that girl that smiled at me, sitting there on a bench, with her friend huddled up in a duvet – it’s funny how you can see smiles in the dark). Or the homeless men may return and eat them after all. Not bad, they might say, not bad at all.

It’s a drop in the ocean this giving. A can of something for the foodbank twice a week. I think about what they’d like. It was Campbell’s Potato and Leek soup today. Sometimes its coffee, hot chocolate, jam or one week it was peanut butter. A treat. Not in a patronising way. But I’ve been there, in that place of little or nothing, and you don’t lose the desire for pleasure, not then, not ever. The taste of sweetness or salt on the tongue. A tiny transcendence.

He was holding his wife’s hand when the wave took her. They found her wallet. The words of his grief are lost to us, a foreign tongue but the sounds, those we know. What can you say? I am so sorry. Truly.

Pentameter

A form of pentameter, he said, before adding, umm, yummy eggs.

We were having supper and doing The Times crossword and I got completely the wrong end of the stick. Is it some form of geometric shape? I asked. I felt so foolish. No, its poetry, he said. Iambic, I said straight away. How can I be so stupid? Is it mouth engaging before brain? I never truly believe that poetry is for me, even after the MA, until I hear it read, then it belongs to me and I belong to it. Absolutely. Without question.

It’s the rules that freak me out. I am awed by them. I am with all forms of creativity. You must do this, you must do that. I’m a Johnny-come-lately, a mountebank, a fraudster, a charlatan with all things creative – I take shortcuts, reinvent the wheel and all those other clichés. I cannot follow. Ever. I love poetry’s succinctness. Its condensing of emotion. Making breakfast, Rick Stein came on the radio guest-hosting a programme called With Great Pleasure where the guests chose a series of their favourite readings. He chose a Ted Hughes poem, I believe it was from Birthday Letters. It was from the period of time that Hughes and Plath lived together in Devon. It was just one line, so simple in its construction and syntax (is that the right word? – you see) – ‘people stare at you in wet shops’. Just exquisite. That use of the word ‘wet’. People sheltering in there out of the rain, the fetidness, the steam on the windows and this remarkable blonde-haired American, shining like a beacon, a candle to the moths. And I am to go to his house. To stay there. What a gift.

I’ve been cracking jokes all night, he said. He was a young man standing with a group of friends outside The Pier Pressure nightclub. He was tall, straight-backed and well-spoken. I’d noticed his red cloth baseball boots first – new and clean. His hands gesticulated as he spoke. I’ve been cracking jokes all night, he repeated, just to get my message across. What message? I don’t know. I’d walked by by then. Cracking jokes sounded such an old-fashioned turn of phrase.

I’ve been cracking eggs too. I did it with gusto, I said to him. Yummy, he said. They’re perfect.

The sun on the trees last night was stunning. A yellowy orange, like an egg yolk, a burning that lit up the bank outside my window. Come and see, he called from the hall, wanting me to see the flash of sun on the hill. But I’d already got into bed. Too late.

I walked up and over the Buarth on my way home. No bakeries open this morning. No smell of hot bread. A cat trotted towards me in the gloom.

I dreamt that I had four warts on my middle finger or was it my ring finger. A chemist did give me something for it. She was confident that they would go. But I had to wait before I could take it. Various internet interpretation sites offer different explanations. One said it was about the loss of personal honour, another said it heralded difficulties and another said it meant money was coming. Who knows? Isn’t it just fear?

I am racked with it today. Nameless, rootless fear. My back is rigid.

Now for the Big Sleep, said my sister in my dream handing me a small brown paper bag. Did I open it? I think it contained a bottle with a syringe. Prior to that she’d played me an audio of what she listened to to get to sleep.

Why is she such a challenge to me? Is it her confidence, her bright shiny newness? I am so full of uncertainty. Over everything, big and small. I am a wobbling jellyfish, formless, always shifting, changing with the tide and at times highly poisonous. Or so it feels. I want to be kind, to be good, but sometimes I just cannot do it. I seek certainty, completeness, endings and a sense of something solid. This is right, this is me, this is meant. All the while knowing that such things are illusory. Nothing stands still. Nothing. And yet, I long for it.

Bless those the wave has taken. I hope it was swift, no time to fear, to drown, just gone. Without pain now. Lifted. Spirited. Away.

Fergal Keane’s piece for Our Own Correspondent yesterday was beautiful. Ah, the radio. It is a joy to me.

Will I make them today?

Plus Fours

Is he the one that I’ve seen sitting by the loos down by the harbour?

What is it about eccentric dress? It is often just teetering on madness.

He was coming towards me. His gait was stride-y, with long steps and a little over-jaunty. It was three am and he had on a big bobble hat, a tweed jacket, walking boots and matching plus fours. You don’t often see them, except on a shoot or sometimes on a golf course. He raised his hand in greeting as he walked by. Was he the one who offered me chips a few weeks ago? He said hello. He had a large bushy, grey-ish beard. I was glad that we spoke. He was coming back towards me ten minutes later. Where had he been? No greeting this time.

There was a police van outside the clock. I thought the police man was holding something like a water pistol. I couldn’t quite make it out as I walked past him. Then he called out to me, Water?, and offered me a bottle. No thanks, I said, touched and yet a little perturbed that he thought I might need some. The students milled around, drunk and loud. It’s sweet, and almost paternalistic, a nice gesture, looking after the freshers, dehydrating their drunkenness. Is this just an Aber thing?

Flat cleaned, emails done. Time for work. Did I tell you about the royalties? I am so pleased. It’s come from me. All of it. And it’s proof that people read it. My words, my thoughts. That has to be good. Doesn’t it?

Grandicourt

It was on my lips when I woke, or at least on my dreaming lips. Grandicourt. I was someone’s name. I cannot say who. It reminded me of a character from George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda and I’ve just checked. Grandcourt. The evil, dastardly Grandcourt. Not far off. Is there a connection? Who knows the workings of the subconscious.

I was late going to bed last night. Well, for me. We started talking about work. Trying to even out the creases, make it OK in my head. It’s the thought that I may have done something wrong, offended them and that that is why they are not calling. It hurts. I know I often get such things utterly wrong. You’ve got the wrong end of the stick, she’d say. Have I? Possibly. I pick up something but like a medium and her spirit guides it’s all in the hearing and the translation.

I concentrated on the word trust yesterday. What does trust look like? It is a warm word, a fulsome word. It’s like falling into sleep, into bed cuddled-up, coddled-up, safe and sound. It’s like yielding, falling and someone’s catching you, soft as down. I want to let it go. I never liked it, not really. It is too unsettling. I make plans and they go awry. I want to work here, in this room, using my real skills. I thought of all the people I could approach as I walked this morning. There is much I can do, I will not be disempowered. I will keep my nerve. I just have to find enough. And enough is doable. It’s all about opening up to possibilities and seeing what is there.

An expected royalty payment. Just a little. But enough. I am pleased. Proud, even. Always.

I’ve been listening to the short stories that have been on Radio 4 Extra this week. How I love being read to, even James Bond – which isn’t really to my taste. It’s the voices, the threads, the narratives. I write down quotes, lovely sentences that resonate with me, like: ‘Their hearts were on the shipping lanes running away from home’ – an extract from a story about a ‘disgraced’ American woman destined to wander the high-spots of Europe yet longing to return home to the US and a BLT. Was that what it was called? They’re all chosen by Stig Abel. Should I know his name? It sounds familiar. And then yesterday he said of Truman Capote, before introducing a marvellous story of his about a mink coat, that ‘he preferred to underwrite’. Yes, such spare prose.

I’ve also listened to the latest omnibus editions of Homefront. What a marvel. Fiction based on fact and following life in Folkestone exactly a hundred years ago during WW1. Again it is the voices that seduce. The familiar voices of Joanna David, Anton Lesser and now Geoffrey Palmer. I weep and smile.

The student populous is dwindling on the Prom these mornings. Less sick on the pavement, less hullabaloo.  A gaggle of girls hung around on the corner of Pier Street, one of them broke away to chase a squawking fledgling sea gull. Are your alright little guy? she kept saying as the bird trundled away squawking even louder.

Our neighbour was at his window when I returned home smoking. My heart sinks. I don’t want to talk. But I do. You have to. And I over compensate running on about nothing except students, sick and Fresher’s Week. Cheers Now, he says as I turn to go. Bye.

Bye.

Big Moon

He couldn’t sleep last night. I’ve just looked out of the window, he said, coming into my bathroom, there’s a big moon out there.

Is it waning now? It’s seemed big and round for days now. Is it a Harvest Moon? he asked at breakfast. I don’t know. I don’t know anything about such things and I feel like I should. I love it. I love seeing it light up my studio first thing in the morning with that rather eerie silvery light. And when I walk down St David’s Road as I begin my walk the houses on the right hand side are shining in its light I feel uplifted, raised out of the darkness and unafraid.

The students are losing steam, I remarked to him at breakfast. Or so it appears. The clubs are still open each night but there is less noise, less clamour. I mean you can’t drink yourself silly night after night for ever can you? The last few mornings Pizza Time on Northgate Street has still been open as I walked past. Today a man was moping the floor. Who goes all the way there for a pizza? Is it the ones who live up Penglais Hill? Is there enough trade? So many shops open and then close within the year here. I am cheered by the entrepreneurial spirit but saddened when it can’t stay the course. I tweeted about Crimson Rhino but no one responded. Is it not missed, even a little bit? I thought that their idea of a game night where people could play Scrabble, Chess and Draughts together was lovely. Did it work? Its a ramshackle street, Northgate Street, at the best of times. It need some love. CR was a bright spot. As is the Pelican Bakery, long may it last.

The Perygyl was lit by the moon this morning. I caught my breath, absorbed as I had been in listening to my footsteps on the wooden slats. A body. A body lying on one of the benches. A homeless man in woolly hat and walking boots. Was he asleep? I kept on walking and stood at the end looking out to sea as is my wont. When I walked back he had gone. Had I imagined it? I’d felt uncomfortable knowing he was there. I like my solitude there, I value it. Where had he gone? I walked warily until I was up by the Castle. Bodies walked around in the shadows. Music thumped from inside The Angel. How do they sleep in the newsagent next door? Poor loves. A door opened from a house along the main road. A clanging. A boy almost fell out. Then bashed against the window. He couldn’t stand up straight. Gone. Don’t get involved, I hear him say. Leave him. A huddle of students stood in a cluster further along the pavement. They were laughing. Something about Mark the Raper. Is that really what she said? They looked so young, so gauche. Eager to make friends, to belong. So long ago.

He woke me with his text. And I lay awake afterwards fretting and trying not to. I have to accept. Accept what is. Let loose. Let go. It will be what it will be. He is a good man. Kind and gentle. I bear him no grudges. His abundance is not mine and vice versa. It will come. And besides do I really want it? Wouldn’t I rather be doing something soulful, using my skills? Absolutely.

Have I told you lately how much I love you?

Teddy Bear

Town is bursting with Freshers. They steal my silence and replace it with noise and shouting. I don’t mind. I can’t be churlish, this is their time, their freedom. All is new. And there are so many to impress, to rub up against and get to know. The police are out in force too, as are the St John’s Ambulance. They have to stand around for hours by the town clock watching the youth snogging, yelling and throwing up. Bless them. They’re barely much older themselves. It’s a wild, frenetic time. I walk into the chaos of it from the Castle park, the pounding music from The Angel and the Why Not?, the heated, sweaty raucous clamour outside the Pizza take-away shop and the general mayhem in the Square.

I try to catch their sentences, uttered often in a slur as I walk past. Such as the girl with white blonde hair down by the little road off the Prom, running ahead of her friend and hiding behind a wall, saying Boo! as he walked past. Then hand in hand they walk to their digs. It’s just a joke, I hear her saying as they push in through the door. Then further along the Prom there are the three girls walking towards me, their arms around their shoulders. The one on the end wears a white sequinned-dress that sparkles in the moonlight. Are you OK? she asks the one in the middle. They are all lurching a little. Are you going to in be sick? she asks, more urgently. Are you going to be sick? she asks again. No, says her friend.

Coming down Great Darkgate Street I have to inch past a cluster of blokes, one, a small man in very baggy linen trousers. Further down the hill a lad is shouting, seemingly at the man in linen. C’mon midget! he shouts. I turn in alarm. Is this going to end up as fight? No, he is joshing, they are mates. C’mon shortster! he shouts again, amiably.

None of them see me. I am an observer. It will calm down. They will get down to work but for now let them be free.

The moon is gorgeous . I walk in its light, glorying in it.

Ahead of me on Llanbadarn Road, a lad walks with a giant teddy bear under his arm. The bear is white with a grey bow, it flops about as he strides, looking rather forlorn. Where has he got it from? There is a window in a house on North Road that is chock full of bears, huge ones, pressed against the glass.

A gentle day yesterday. Work is still fitful. But I have my own to do. My life’s work. It is enough.