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)

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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)

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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.

Gaudete

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The doorbell goes. It is a neighbour coming to complain about hearing our washing machine in the early morning. I am mortified. She’s so shy, bless her, he says afterwards. What courage it must have taken for her to come. I am so sorry. How many months have they lain there irritated by it before coming to complain? You and your body clock, my mother-in-law used to say. Yes. It is odd. I am odd. Singular. Its a question of energy. I have it in the morning and I want to get things done. Unimportant things. Clear the decks, ready to work. I am so sorry. It won’t happen again, I promise.

Singular. Yes, I believe I am. I remember a friend at Art School talking about what a visiting lecturer had said about me. Overtly bisexual, though leaning more towards being a lover of men, he’d told my friend that he fancied me because I looked like I didn’t have sex. I didn’t know what to make of such a comment then and still don’t. What does it mean? What does such a person look like? Though at the time I do remember taking it as some sort of compliment. I had been singled out. It hadn’t happened before. I had been noticed for a singularity, that only he, apparently, had seen.

Going into my studio early this morning I was transfixed by the moon casting the roofs silver outside. As I stood watching the clouds scudding across it a sharp flame of white cut through the blackness. A bursting thrust then it was gone. A falling light. A shooting star. Marvellous. Magical.

She writes to tell us she is homeless. No forwarding address, so no cards. Don’t reply, she says. Lines of communication severed. She is with friends. Family is severed.

Traversing through the Castle Park I hear voices sheltering from the rain under the eves of The Academy. It is shut. Whoever it is, they are sitting on the steps. It happened too fast. A tumbling. A rolling tumbling of limbs and clothing. I couldn’t make it out. A falling on the ground. There was no form to it, no rigidity. I walked nearer. A man, a student pulling someone up by an arm. Wrenching. The body soggy, formless, not responding. Are you alright? I ask. Come to bed, the man is saying. We need to get you to bed. An arm flails, flops and then another. The body is yanked to its feet. I turn round in time to catch a glimpse of white flesh. A lower back and black lace, a taught black lace G-string triangle denoting her sex.

He came in to the studio to talk about his book. I was a little nervous. He writes beautifully. I am awed by beauty. It has always been so. A small man. Intense. Intense with the heat of life, of creating. His skin was coated in a thin film of sweat. Or was it the rain? An articulate man. He knew his work. He was attached to it through an umbilicus. The an Irish voice coming through the speakers, lyrical and warm. Generous. A joy, I told him. Was it alright? he asked. It was a joy, I said. Good radio. Radio at its best. People talking. Intimacy. Something shared, something received.

I oscillate. I oscillate between the need to make and the need to write. To and fro. To and fro. I am so easily swayed that some days I just need to be still and do it. One or the other. Just doing it. In it intensely so that it absorbs, covers all the stops, all the gaping chasms of uncertainty. It was too small, he said, too small to publish. They quibbled, ummed and ahed. If you think it’s that good then publish it, he’d said. And they did. Such sureness. It isn’t real, I know this. Not really. Most are like me. Faith is like that, full of doubt. We are seekers, all of us. Seeking a better way, a better way of finding that peacefulness, that stillness of being right, of being ourselves within the act of creation. A rare thing. An elusive thing.

She played a version of Gaudete. It wasn’t the one. I was disappointed. I remember playing it on a journey through the mountains. I’d put it on repeat. Again and again. Maddy Prior’s voice, clear and sharp and those male voices, layer after layer of rich, sonorous depth. Gorgeous. Steeleve Span singing Gaudete. Listen.

Listen.

No touching

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The usual Friday night early Saturday morning mayhem. A girl is kneeling on the pavement of the North Promenade, a pool of purple-coloured vomit in front of her. Outside The Angel a man with long straight hair is screeching with laughter. That is so fucking random, he is saying to a man in a wheelchair. Three policemen and one police woman chat by the newsagent. There are kids everywhere. Girls in sleeveless tight tube dresses teeter about in clunky platform shoes. A girl in a sequinned dress shimmers under a streetlight. A boy curses as his taxi drives off with four giggling girls. At the bottom of the hill a man in a Barbour coat pisses against the wall, a lit cigarette in his hand. Seagulls glide overhead. On the beach the oystercatchers bounce towards the sea line piping out their alarm. Down by the harbour the sea rolls and breaks.

Now I want to write about what I saw last week in London. I went down to visit the V&A. Namely the Clothworkers Centre in Blythe House on Blythe Road. It’s where they keep their collections. The security is tight. Lots of locked gates, talking into intercoms and leaving baggage in lockers. Blythe House reminded me of a old boarding school building, or a prison or a workhouse even. High ceilings, tiled walls, echoing chambers. It was warm, but impersonal. Shoes squeaked on the floors. There were cheerful posters and a marvellous collection of Star Wars merchandise in the foyer. And a very friendly, if a little officious, gatekeeper. He called us by our Christian names, asking for our wrists so that he could affix a paper bracelet with the date and the V&A logo. Then everything in the locker, save a pencil, notebook and glasses and waiting for Elizabeth to collect us. Lift to the third floor and there they were, all laid out on a table.

No touching. No touching, not even with gloves. Give me a shout, she said, if you want me to turn them over. And here’s magnifying glass if you want one. Rest it over the film like this. Any problems, give me a shout, she said, returning to her desk behind the counter. There were five samplers, four by children and one by a woman. The children’s ones were ornate, accomplished. One had tiny beads sewn into the design. The stitches were miniscule. One of the samplers, by an Eliza Richardson in 1837, had been made when she was but ten years old. It was made, the words claimed, ‘on the death of an affectionate mother’. I thought of Aase. How old had she been when her mother had died, six, seven or was it eight? A work of grief. A work to sublimate the grief? A work to channel, to direct the grief? Had she wanted to do it? Had any of these girls? There was such a sense of enforced stillness about these works, young skittish limbs made still. Or am I imposing this image upon them? What were they proving by making these pieces? That they could sew, would be useful around the home either as servant or wife, that they could write, form letters, read and recite scripture and literature? The cloth is fine. I think about sewing in candlelight and without glasses. Tiny fingers making tiny stitches. Were they made to sit in a corner? Why do I read these objects as items of punishment? There must have been pride, satisfaction in the making. It’s just the stillness, the concentrated effort from such young bodies. I cannot imagine it. You’d have done it, he says. Yes, perhaps. Though I remember my frustration in needlework classes at the age of eleven. Nothing looked right. I couldn’t do it without error. I felt clumsy, cack-handed.

There were two other researchers in the room. One, on a table adjacent to mine, was looking through a magnifying glass at some patterned silks and making exhaustive notes. She wore a white chemistry lab coat. The other one was at a far table leaning over various ornate gold brocade crinolines. A group of students from Goldsmiths came in, standing for a moment to stare round the room while the tour guide, exquisitely chic in a black pleated crepe skirt, delivered her spiel.

I held the wheeled ladder as he mounted its steps to take some aerial shots. Will this do? he asked afterwards, showing me his phone.

In a far corner there was a clothing rail, several outfits hung from it, bundled up like swathed babes in calico.

We looked at the final sampler together. He was as moved as I was. It was smaller than I’d imagined. And unfinished. The thread was red, the cloth an off-white. What are the stains? he asked. Who knows? Again the text was smaller than I’d imagined. It must be 50 or even 55 point. How did she do it?

Little is known about her. Elizabeth Parker of Ashburnham. That’s in Wales, isn’t it? he says. She was a maidservant. Made in her private time, her spare time. This wasn’t a work about showing prowess, or accomplishment, like the others. This was made to please or impress no one. This was a work of compunction, or necessity. She needed to write. She needed to confess. Something had happened, she’d even considered taking her own life. A priest is mentioned, as are her employers. Something happened. She is telling her story. She is sewing her story. Rather like the woman of Greek myth, was it Ariadne, who wove the tale of her rape, her tongue having been cut from her body by her deflowerer. Sewing her story. Telling it through cloth, through thread. Again, it is the stillness required, the concentration, the concentrated concentration. It is virtually perfect. And turning it over it is impossible to see the stray ends. And yet, for me it isn’t the words but the endeavour that moves me. The continuum of it. The commitment of it. Embroidery is such a contained, demure, controlled form of communication. A slow, painstaking making-up of text. Caught, formed within the cloth.

As I cannot write, she writes. What does she mean? She is writing. It is indelible, caught, contained for ever. Did she hide it? Did she work it in secret, like Jane Austen with her ‘two square inches of ivory’? Who was she writing it for? Did she feel expunged? Who kept it? It is unfinished. Why did she stop? And why red? It is dramatic.

Tapestry is benign. A gentle art. At least when practised by women. A soft art. And yet, the needle is sharp, it pushes in and out remorselessly. Puncturing and piercing the cloth, sometimes a finger. Ow. A dot of blood.

A marvellous thing. I stare and stare at it. Up close, through the magnifying glass each stitch is revealed. Perfection no more but a stitch-by-stitch account. The threads still shining, their silky natures in tact.

Later, sitting over tea in Café Valerie in Knightsbridge I am still overwhelmed by it. I carry it in my head on the bus, walking in the rain, on the train back to Guildford. Potent. It is potent with feeling. A held thing. One woman to another. She didn’t feel good enough. Cloth was her medium not paper. This she could do. This was her way. Benign, safe, unthreatening. What could she be saying that would hurt? Safe space. Un-incriminating. Not like paper. Not like paper.

A grey day. Nothing moves. A grey cover of cloud. Two crows on the roof, one preens the other, a beak spiking up neck feathers. Gulls glide in the sky. Nothing moves. A mizzly rain. Stay in. Stay home. A melancholy. An Ancient Mariner kind of melancholy.

I cannot write, she wrote. I cannot write.

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 arching 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? Carers arrive through the day. Three times a day. One comes in a Land Rover and wearing high riding wellies. Do they visit 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, bobbing about on the soil before me. What do you want little bird?

What do you want?

 

Christmas Tree (2)

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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.