Blue Moon

The moon wasn’t full. I was wrong. It is tomorrow, at least that is what The Times says. And it is to be a super moon. Two full moons in one month. How does that work? I ask him at breakfast. I don’t know, he replies, I’m only reading what it says here. They call it a blue moon. Once in a blue moon. Do they say what a blue moon is? I ask. No, he says. Blue moon you saw me standing alone…

I went out dressed for rain. I wore his coat, under which were my waterproofs, including two pairs of waterproof trousers, two pairs of socks, a hoodie, a hat, a scarf and a pair of two-layered gloves. It didn’t rain. I was sweltering. Girls in tiny dresses with no sleeves or straps teetered past me in stiletto heels. I like the invisibility that wearing his coat gives me. It smells of him, a musty, male smell rather like I imagine a racoon or a muskrat must smell like. It drowns me. I pull the arms down over my fingers so that they hide my gloves from the rain. They too, like my trousers are meant to be waterproof, they aren’t. Or perhaps it is just the Welsh rain, too wet.

The moon makes me scratchy, unsettled, snappy. Not nice. I don’t feel nice inside. I watch my behaviour with others. I watch my temper, my irritability.

She was twenty minutes late. I was so cross. It wasn’t her fault, it was the client before me. I could hear him going on and on. And she is so sanguine, not a someone who forces, or takes charge. Come day go day. A nice quality. I tried to smother my crossness. Sorry, she mouthed at me as she opened the door. I said nothing. Be nice, Ellen, I kept saying to myself, be nice. Sorry, she said shutting the door. I’ve got a meeting, I said, I’ve got to go by 12.45 at the latest. This isn’t quite true, I said to myself again, is it? One o’clock would be fine. Yes, my internal voice continued, but I want a little time to sit and gather my thoughts before the interview. I know, I continued, but be kind, you’re making her feel bad. I want to, I replied, if only a little.

You see the struggle. The struggle to be kind. It shouldn’t be, it should be innate. I felt uncared for. If she cared she would of ended the prior session on time. Ridiculous. It was in my gift to make it OK for her and I didn’t. She makes me uncomfortable, I said to him afterwards. But it isn’t true. I make myself uncomfortable. Anyway, she prodded and massaged and the long and short of it is posture. I need to stand up straight. So that you look like you are five six, she said. That would be good, I said, only realising afterwards that I am five foot six. I feel clumsy in her presence. She is confident in her physical self. At least I think she is. It’s the being told off stuff. Just memories perhaps. Stand up straight, don’t slouch, pick your feet up. And I try, I try Mummy, I do.

The café was busy and noisy. Several kids were shouting. We bickered over which table to choose. He went for the tea and banana. Two in the end. Do you want toast with that? the woman behind the counter asked him. She is impossibly cheerful, he said. Apparently she offered him a bowl of chips too. The smell of chips pervades. A young lad brings people’s orders on a tray calling out, two plaice and chips and a mug of tea? I watch a small man in an over-sized chequed jacket scurry away leaving behind a large blue rucksack. Has he just gone for some more food? I think to myself, not sure what to do, is it a bomb? Should I contact security? Then he is back. I smile at him. You forgot your bag, I say. I know, he says, I’ve got an interview and I’m distracted. Good luck, I call after him.

She was on time, looking a little different without her glasses. I offered her tea but she declined. She let us take a photo from behind and was fine with the recorder. I lost my nerve. I felt self-conscious. She seemed happy to be there though. Wasn’t phased by my questions. I wanted to find a way in, I don’t think I did. I will listen back, perhaps there will be something. I’m very methodical, she said. I love to sort out the threads. Her auntie taught her to knit at six. She was neat. People commented on it. My first thing was a blue scarf. Who needs scarves in Hong Kong? she said laughing. Little bits come out. She doesn’t have any on her walls. I left them behind with my husband. They were all in boxes. Friends tell me that I could’ve got sixty, seventy quid for them. Her hands are neat. Her hair a long burnished red tail. I wanted more, I think. Keep going, he says. It will come right. Doubt is OK isn’t it? Isn’t it?

Scrambled Eggs

The moon is full. Its cold white light was lighting up my studio when I woke. I didn’t even have to turn on the light. I could see the nurses in the flat across the courtyard were also awake. They milled about their kitchen. Their cat leaned its black sleek body against the window, its tail arched and flicking. The moonlight helps. The darkness isn’t so black, so bleak.

Well, I did it. And I am not really any the wiser. Need I be? I don’t know how I feel about it. It’s just an experiment, he says. You’re just trying something out, that’s all. It’s true. But I am conscious that other people are involved. What is my outcome? What do I give them? What will or do they expect? She seemed delighted, he said. And she did. I can’t wait to tell the others, she said. Look what I’ve got, I’ll tell them, an artist-in-residence. I’m glad that she feels that way. And that she seems to accept my modus operandi. My only concern is that the residents won’t see you, she said. The staff have noticed you, though they won’t say anything to you. But the clothes you’re wearing mean that the residents might not see you against the furniture. I had to tell them not to sit on the cat, she also gets lost against this dark leather.

Do I mind? Do I mind that I am invisible? Isn’t that part of the point? How can I explain that to her? She is kind, solicitous, sensitive towards me. I like that. I feel held. I feel that it is OK. Though both he and I got a bit twitchy listening to all the dos and don’ts. Don’t pick up a resident if they fall, don’t let anyone out of the front door, don’t take a resident downstairs with you if the fire alarm sounds and so on. All rather counterintuitive but understandable when she explains it all. I want to be invisible, to watch to just be a presence but it isn’t that simple. It never is. Just by being there a duty of care is expected. Or more a willingness to obey the rules. It is a closed-off community. I felt privileged to be allowed in. To sit and sew and bear witness. They are open to visitors but on their terms. It has to be so. They sit by the front door. One in a coat, woolly hat and gloves waiting to be to let out. They won’t be. They can’t be. Have you got a car outside? the man in the woolly hat asks him. A gentle man. An ex-professor from the University with a soft Scottish brogue. Would you mind taking me for a drive? he asks again. He wants to be of help, it is his want. Next time, he says, touching his arm. Next time I come I’ll take you out. Don’t, I want to say. Don’t promise something you won’t be able to do. But he seems completely compos mentis, he says to her. Why is he here? Everyone here is living with dementia, she says. Can I come with you? he asks as she takes us on a little tour to point out the alarm buttons. Of course, she says, saying his name, as they all do. Names are called out, repeated over and over again. He follows, taking his arm. He didn’t know you, she said. But he recognises a kindness in him, I want to say but don’t. There is so much to say, too much. What was I witness to? The old lady I’d seen before holding hands with a man. I’d assumed that he was a resident too, and that a friendship had blossomed into romance, but after yet another person walking through the front door hailed him, I realised that he was her husband. Her husband from outside, from another life. I do love you, she kept saying as they held hands and sipped their hot chocolate. Lovely tea, she I said. I do love you. This is paradise. Yes, my love, my angel, my flower, he said. His eyes when she fell asleep held such misery.

There are some flickers of joy. I have to acknowledge them. It is important. Like making him scrambled eggs for supper yesterday. I gave time to it. I watched it’s preparation. The whisking of the milk into the yolks, the melting of the butter, the slow hardening on the bottom of the pan, the feel of the wooden spoon in my hand. But it was more the gift of it. A wholesome food. Simple. All it needs it is a bit of time and care. A giving. It was enough. I remembered the taste of it. Make it creamy, I told myself. Just like you used to like it. Like her I don’t like the smell of the eggy pan afterwards. But it is worth it. The gift of it.

Is bearing witness enough?

White Bow

I haven’t got long. Fifteen minutes, that’s all. She advises twenty. Just twenty minutes first thing every morning to write 500 words. Don’t think about it too hard, just write. I’ve got fifteen. So, I think it might just have to be a list. It’s all about paying attention, noticing, recording and seeing what happens. What will it be? What will I be? Mummy, what will I grow up to be? Did you ever ask that question? Que sera sera. So be it. But what is it? My first day today at or is it in the residency. I try to lower expectations, though what I am expecting I cannot say. She jiggled me with her threats of things being ‘borrowed’ etc. I will sit clutching it all. And yet, there is the promise of something. Might something happen?

Back to the list. What did I notice today when I walked? A white bow on the ground, on the pavement. A white leather, made-up bow with a dark dot in the centre. Had it loosed itself from a shoe? Or a handbag? The woman who smokes as she walks. She was on the Prom walking towards me, having just turned past the castle. Her ubiquitous bag for life flapped in the wind. She wears a pink anorak and heavy walking boots. Her eyes are always cast down. She has on glasses and is always smoking. Her gait is a heavy one. A farmer’s one. Her legs are wide apart and she clumps. I saw a row of sparkly stars in the glassed-off porch of one of the houses along South Marine. The moon was out, not quite full. A girl and boy were huddled together trying to speak into a mobile. Where are you? the girl was shouting. We’re on the beach, she said, though they were standing on the Prom. By the bandstand, interjected the boy. Her voice had a Northern Irish lilt. Noh, she kept repeating, Noh. The sign for the Pier restaurant had dislodged itself from its hanging. It swung haphazardly in the wind. Children eat free. Vegetarian options. Unrivalled views of Cardigan Bay. Open all day. Yesterday there was a lad striding towards me along North Road. His legs jerked about as he walked, his hips swinging. A sound. A discordant sound. He was singing. Singing along to his ipod. I couldn’t make out the words. He looked happy.

They’re only dreams, he says. Yesterday afternoon I woke from my nap and cried. It unsettled him. I couldn’t shake it off. You’re making me edgy, he said, it’s only a dream. I’d captured a little bird, I felt it’s heart beating in my hand. I wanted to cage it, trap it in one of my artworks. I made moving images, moving animations, the bird was to be part of it. It kept trying to escape and I would catch it again. I was so sorry, so sad to have hurt it, harmed it. I couldn’t see it later in this enormous art piece I’d created. It looked like Cae Melin, with buses and cars moving down it’s hill. See, I said to a woman regarding it, I made that. Where was the bird? I couldn’t see her. Nothing was real. Then this morning I woke from another. I was at an art school, and have been in many dreams lately, making room for my work. Clearing away other people’s work. The top was not level. Where are all the boards? I asked. Have that space, a girl said. There was room, there was a shelf. Yes, I thought, this will do. The studio was high up. A positive dream. I was wanted, welcomed but both students and staff.

Off now. Off to work and then to Hafan y Waun. Wake up sleepy head. Time to go. Time to go.

Sorry No Vacancies

The Shoreline Guest House on South Marine Terrace has reversed their sign in the window. It now reads Sorry No Vacancies. I always get a frisson of something like pleasure when the B&Bs of this town are full. It means business is booming, all is well, there is a heaven and so on. It doesn’t of course. It probably means that the owners themselves are on holiday, en vacances. (I’ve never made the link before between the French for holidays and vacancy. We have no vacancy because we are en vacances. I wondered whether to write vacance or vacances and it seems, so Google informs me, that the jury on that one is still out.) Anyway back to Shoreline, they can’t be possibly be full at this time of the year, not with this weather and surely there hasn’t been a run on travelling salesmen and all the students are back so no parents bringing them back. So it must be that they are away. I hope it is somewhere nice. Lanzarote perhaps?

The answer came while I walked this morning. I was thinking of seaboard. The American, so he claimed last night, for sea line or sea shore. He was pleased, we virtually finished The Times jumbo. You’re on a roll, he said, very good, Poppy. I like to please him. There is never any competition between us. He is delighted when I succeed. And I feel the same way, though sometimes I sink when my mind isn’t sharp. I want to delight him, too much some times. I talk about wanting a father like Dr Gibson in Wives & Daughters. Their relationship (his and Molly’s)  is kind, respectful, fun and warm. He and I had none of that, until the end perhaps. There there was compassion, at least. I’m you’re Daddy, he says. I know, I say, but it isn’t the same. But there shouldn’t be regrets. He brought me what I needed. I chose him for that. Let it be. Love comes and has come from other quarters. I have not been in need, not for a long while.

You won’t have to stress and strain, he’d said. It hadn’t made sense then. When was it? I was coming up to twenty-eight. Oh, a Saturn Return, he’d said, groaning. What? I asked, what? Nineteen ninety, twenty seven years, twenty eight years ago. And yet I remember it so well. His cat, the sound of the traffic outside his window. His terrible teeth and his admiration of my wide-legged red silk trousers. He’s dead now, long gone. You won’t have to stress and strain, he’d said. There is a plan. You won’t be disappointed. All will come right. All will come right, he said. I don’t have to but I do. I do stress. I stress myself. Is it the menopause? I ask. No, he says, I think it is the weather. We rowed the other day about an article he’d mentioned written by a SAD sufferer. She swears by those lights, he said. I wasn’t responsive. I didn’t show the requisite interest and he got shirty. Fair enough. He was being kind and I was being narky.

I can live with it like this. Under par. That is what I am, a little lacking in get up and go. Every hill is a mountain. But it is OK. I’ve been listening to Martin Sixsmith’s radio programme about psychology. There is no such thing as madness, said one of his late contributors. He uses audios from the past, it is fascinating to hear Freud and Jung in particular. There are only varying degrees of sanity, he continues. Another talks about anti-depressants and how they suppress all feeling. They are not discrimatory. I want to feel. And to do so one has to take the good with the bad. Or alternatively not judge either. This is how it is. Grey today, a little lighter tomorrow. It is all experience. All colours through which to encounter the world.

Best to learn poems by heart, come to know them, he says. I’ve begun. Well my first reading. Philip Larkin’s High Windows. I will print it out today and begin to learn. I know so few. Learning by rote had gone out of fashion when I was at school. I want to teach myself. Begin at the beginning, always. I can quote a little of Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese, and I do frequently as I walk, but not much else.

I am prepared for Monday. Am I nervous? Yes, it is beyond my control. I don’t know what will happen or whether I will bring anything at all. Just myself. Just bring yourself. My new tapestry came today. This is what I’d imagined. Much simpler than cross stitch. It came in an enormous box. It’s getting closer to what I’d thought. I’m looking forward to starting. So many things on the go. I have a lifetime though, don’t I?

Dick

 

Is what I do here so different? I am trying to do as he suggests and give it a miss. I just quickly check for messages, that’s all. Don’t scroll down. Just don’t. I don’t want to see. Both sisters have written something. I’m glad that that the first is happier now and feels more able to be open and communicative. And the other? Well, she does so much and it all goes down. What to make of it? Is it not the same? A capturing of life. A showing of life. Perhaps not. I write for myself. Who knows who reads it? Maybe no one. I write for myself, always. I write to get it out, to make sense of it, to order it. Facebook has to be different. The motives are not the same. Look at me, some are saying, look at my life, don’t you want it? Others are saying I’m feeling shit will you love me? Will you make me feel better, my friends, my thousands upon thousands of friends? I too post things there. And on Twitter. But I tell myself I am expected to, that I must advertise my writings. I keep me out of it, mostly. Not here, though I try to write vaguely, no names. No names.

Dodo. I say. Her sister calls her Dodo. Dado? he asks. No, I reply, Dodo, DODO! How can I hear you when your head is stuck out of a fucking window? He is shouting now. Now he is laughing. It soon goes, that fire, that flame of anger. It is me, I am agitated. He picks it up. It is me.

I’m standing on a ledge with my head stuck out of the skylight. The sun is hot on my face. I need some sunlight. I should go for a walk but I am tired and long for my afternoon sleep. And it is cold. This is a compromise. I can see forever, way over the rooftops. I feel my face warming. Lovely. Just lovely. Except for the shouting. What is the name of the film? It isn’t a film, I want to say. It’s a book. Middlemarch, I say to the clouds, the trees, the rooks. What? he calls. Middlemarch. Middlemarch.

If you were a character from fiction who would you be? Dorothea Casaubon. Why? She is full of ideas, full of schemes, longs to do good, to have a big life making a difference. She gives it all up for love, for marriage to become another hidden life and unvisited tomb. Or Jane Eyre, Elizabeth Bennet, or Jane Bennet or maybe Charlotte Lucas sans husband or Lucy Snow from Villette……

Two girls were sitting on a bench as I approached the Pier Pressure night club. It was gone three am and lots of youths were milling about. The girls, one dark, the other blonde, were sprawled on the seat. Every now and again one or the other of them would turn and shout at a crowd of what I can only assume were lads walking on the other side of the road. Grow a dick! the blonde girl shouted. Her hair was in a side pony tail and her lacy vest had slipped off her shoulders. Grow a dick and come back to us, she continued. Her friend repeated her words but louder, her red-lipstick-covered mouth a cavern. GROW A DICK. GROW A DICK AND COME BACK TO US. YOU’LL HAVE TO GROW A DICK IF YOU WANT TO HIT US!

Hit us? She didn’t mean that surely. Or was it some kind of restricted code for ‘hit on us’ perhaps? Is this the new courting? The new wooing? They weren’t scared to taunt in this way. They were delighted with themselves and their wit.

Walking past The Angel something flies towards me landing with a clatter on the ground. A boy tumbles towards it, legs awry. If I can’t do anything, he shouts to his friends, at least I can throw my phone.

A preparation day. Just get the stuff ready. And stop fretting, it will be what it will be. It is a try-out, a tester. There are no right or wrong ways of doing it. A simple line. I think about a sampler but perhaps it is too complicated. I want to be alert, just let my fingers do mechanical things. That is enough.

I want to ask her. She wrote about it in her Book of Silence. She talked of her day where she walks, writes, prays and sews. What do you sew? I want to ask. What do you sew? And there is a quote I want to find in there. She writes about a woman who was shipwrecked on an island for years, if I remember correctly. She too sewed. It mapped out her day, gave it form. What did she sew?

Time to work. Enough. What is it that Goethe, there is power in beginning?

 

Hot Drink

I’ve just spoken to her. She isn’t well. Her voice sounded faint, quavery, scared.

I’ve been sick, she says, and I have this pain in my back. I thought my kidneys would be better, they’re not. Sorry for being such a moaner. You are no moaner, I reply. You handle it all with such fortitude, such grace. All you want is for your energy to return, that is all. I am sorry. What can I do? Is there something sinister going on. Her daughter has stayed home from work so that she can take her to the doctor’s. Usually you can’t get an appointment on the day, she says. I’ve been lucky, I’ve got one for ten o’clock. I make my excuses and ring off. I am so sorry. Sorry that she is scared.

I’d forgotten to take my phone to bed with me. He left it in on the stairs for me so I missed the alarm. I overslept. Only by ten minutes but it throws me. He was doing what he thought was best. I didn’t want to wake you, he said. I know. He is kind. Next time please do. I heard the alarm in the end. Waking from a dream where a woman’s phone had burst into flames. She and her husband were supposed to be looking after me but she was utterly distracted by the phone. Then later, again when she was supposed to be caring for me, I had to ask her for help. I was hurt. Can I have a hot drink? I asked her in the end. I was hungry too and ate a dry English Muffin. I can remember the taste of warm, rather bland dough in my mouth. Does one usually taste food in dreams? I was in an art school of some sort and had to choose whether to climb up some circular, fire-exit-style iron stairs up to the studio, or stay on the level I was already on. I went up. Ellen can’t buy the tiny buttons she wants, said a tutor. I don’t want to buy them, I wanted to interject, I make them. Two girls were sitting on high stools working on costumes on mannequins. They were making trousers. I can’t touch them, one of them said. All I remember is feeling of neglected, of being out of sorts, a little lost.

I can’t get things clean enough. Marks everywhere. I want spotless and have to settle for tarnished, marked. His blood didn’t come off the sheets. He doesn’t mind. It doesn’t matter to me, he says. I want white. Pure white. Apparently Barbara Streisand always has a new toilet put in whenever she stays at a hotel. Am I that fastidious? I’d like to be. Jenny Diski had a pure white bedroom. How is that?

The sun is out. The cleaning has been done. Jeans and books bagged up for Oxfam. I like this sloughing off. Will I want these things, will I miss them? No. Let them go. I hope she will be OK. Is it the infection in her hip? Keep her safe. Let her be well.

Fixodent

I woke for a pee at 11.30 pm from a richly-layered dream. I knew this. The landscape stayed with me but the details were lost on waking. Let me remember the next one, I asked as I climbed back into bed. And I did. My now deceased Norwegian aunt was there. We were in some kind of hotel, but as is often the case with my dreamscapes the rooms are not closed in, or defined, they lead into each other. She was staying there and had her own special room. Even in my dream I remembered her sojourns as a young woman to London to sing and how she’d stayed at the Holland Park YHA. A little different then. We’d visited it together, she and I, years later. How delighted she’d been. Perhaps it is listening to the production of Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark on the radio that brought forth this image into my reverie. Who knows. I was to sleep there too but I was shown a downstairs room that appeared to have no ceiling, or indeed, walls. I thought of rain and how I would shelter and then I noticed that there was a semi roof running along the edge of the non-ceiling. All would be well. There was also some kind of performance or critique going on, for at the end of the dream a man put his head round the door and said, She’s marked you down. It stayed with me, that phrase, she’s marked you down. I knew to whom he was referring. But she always loves your new work, he said by way of consolation. I knew this too. This was a blip as far as she was concerned. She was confident in my ability. Need I be downhearted? I’d asked to remember it and so be it. I take the consequences. Perhaps it had been his somewhat throw away comment, well what will you do now? Perhaps I read a criticism, or at least as requirement to always have the next new idea. But he too qualified his statement, you’ve got to have something to worry about, haven’t you? he said. I tell him the dream and he laughs. It had to be an older woman, didn’t it? he said. Yes, I said, though funnily enough all my art tutors have been male. Perhaps this is not about my work after all.

The wind was less strong this morning, though the rain struck like splinters of glass on my face.

He bought us some daffodils. To remind us that Spring is coming, he said. And their British. I was less than grateful. Too tired to want another thing to do. I tried to pull back. Thank you, I said cutting the ends and immersing them in water. Thank you. Sometimes I am cross and I am sorry for it.

There was a tube of Fixodent on the path down to Llanbadarn Road. It seemed out of place, inappropriate, considering the demographic. Where had it come from? Someone’s pocket or had it fallen out of the recycling bag that the wind has clearly blown onto the path?

I need to write this morning, though I long to sew and hear the end of Stone. I need to write about what I want from next week. I am concerned about the residency. I want to be able to maintain a low profile but am not sure that she will let me. And the interview. Did I tell you she said yes? I saw her again this morning pushing a trolley with ten bottles of water inside. We’re not on the mains, she said. It’s spring water, perfectly fine but I’d rather not drink it. She looks different without her glasses. What do I want from her? Is it enough to say, see what happens? I’ve been thinking about detachment today. How to be more detached. Guide me. It doesn’t mean not caring, it is just more peaceful, somehow. Sometimes, I believe that is all I have to offer. Peacefulness. Let is be so. It is enough.

Wind Chaos

He fell. Just now, just as he was getting up from the breakfast table. It happens in a blur, too fast and yet slow too. I wanted to catch him. I was at the sink washing up and saw him slide and then tumble over onto his back. I wanted to catch him. Are you alright? Such an inane thing to say but we all say it. Are you alright? He is shaky, breaking into a sweat once he gets up. He sits down again. A turn. He’s had a turn. How terribly strange to be seventy, sang Simon and Garfunkel. Yes. His arm is sore. I pull back his dressing gown and there is a mighty bruise. I fetch Arnica cream and put a squirt of Rescue Remedy spray on his tongue. He acquiesces without demur. I felt the soreness for him, with him, my stomach aching. I make him a hot water bottle and he goes back to bed.

The wind is creating chaos. I remember our horses used to go wild, cantering around the perimeters of their field madly, manes flying and whinnying as they galloped. Something in the wind got to them. They wanted to push at the boundaries. The students, it appeared this morning, were the same. The wind fired them up. The clubs were still open when I walked. A security guard was tying up the last of the heaving metal railings they use to marshal the queues. Music still throbbed through the upstairs windows of Pier Pressure as the final leavers pushed their way through the gusts up Pier Street in search of pizza and KFC. Walking along North Prom I watched a figure run down to beach towards the sea. It was a girl with bare legs. A man was running after her. He grabbed her pulling her from the water. She seemed to crumple, falling like an unstringed marionette onto the sand. It was like a dance. A modern dance. A wordless dance.

They’re promising 40 mile winds, he said last night. I thought I’d have to forgo the Prom but I managed as far as the Castle, till it got too much. I turned into the Castle keep only to see a lad running behind me clutching what looked like some kind of food carton into the wind. Does running into it make it easier, is that the trick? I get lost in the Castle ruins. Always. Me too, he said at breakfast when I told him how I’d shouted ‘Where am I supposed to go NOW!?’. I’ve lived here all my life, he said, and I still don’t know where the paths will take me. Up and down, and then out into the full force of the wind. Hopeless. I turned one corner, thinking whether I’d try the running trick, when I saw a young man lying face down in the grass and sobbing. What do I do? Do I ask if he is alright? Knowing full well that he clearly isn’t? Or do I let him be? I had no choice in the end as the wind pushed and buffeted me down the hill. Best leave it, he said. Best not get involved. I remember standing next to a girl on a corner of The Strand, years ago, and she was weeping profusely. I touched her arm, is there anything I can do? She shook her head and offered a weak smile. The difficulty was, no is, mine. I wanted to make it alright. I wanted there to be peace, no grief, no pain. Just stand with them. Just be with them, in silence.

They wear so little clothes. The girls especially. All décolletage. Cleavage burgeoning. I glimpsed a tattoo on a thigh, a huge dragon encircling the flesh. Another girl walked ahead of me with a male friend, red-leather mini-skirted she wore tights that mimicked stockings. She was chattering away in Polish.

Its being re-decorated. We close for January to give us time to decorate and make repairs, she said. I followed her through the tiny, hallowed rooms, where all the furniture was draped in white conservation tissue, down some flagged steps into a basement room. It went well. I forgot some words, crinoline and link, and didn’t boost some pieces up the way I’d planned but it went well. She understood. She got it. Wait and see. Something will come. Something will come. I did it. I made it happen. That is enough.

I’m having the living room redecorated, she said. Everything is under dust sheets, we will have to sit in the kitchen. And it was fine. I like the emptiness of rooms that are being re-painted. An opportunity for some sloughing-off.

I’d been so agitated. Too much to put in place. And that water. We’d heard the gushing and it was still gushing when we return from the supermarket. It has stopped now though the outside lights aren’t working. A reminder that all, really, is chaos. Order is an illusion. Why seek it?

You write to create order. To put things in place. To understand.

I am dog-tired. Pushing into the wind was hard-going. It rattles the windows now, and rain lashes. Ah, winter. They say that catkins are coming out now, he says, reading from The Times’s Nature’s Diary. They’re also called Lambkins. Or was it Lamb’s Tails?

Before The Archers

It’s fifteen minutes before The Archers. I have to write this in fifteen minutes. A nice problem. A quickie. A quick shuftie. Is that the word? What will I talk about? I’ve been reading about writing poetry and had two cups of tea. Both have made me a little high, separate, watching and alert. I had to go into work for a guest who was doing a paper review. A big bear of man. It’s cold out there, he said, rolling through the door in t-shirt and jerkin. He didn’t smell of the usual after shave. I asked what time he would finish. 9.15 I hope, he said, as I’ve got to go and play the organ. Where? I asked. St Mikes, he said. I need time to shower, he said. Ah, I thought, that’s why there’s no aftershave. Three cups of coffee and he only needed one pee. I had three pees and only two cups of tea. He’d bought all the papers, even the horrid ones, like the Sunday People. He pushes all of them under his arm as he leaves. For the guinea pigs, he explains. It’s the detail. Poetry is the detail. Show not tell, Sansom quotes. A picture springs up, young kids, guinea pigs in a hutch in the garden. That musty smell of hay and guinea pig poo. Parents bemoaning the fact that, they’re your pets, you wanted them, but we always have to feed them. A good way of teaching kids about death, about responsibility. How hateful it seems now to keep those blessed little creatures in a cage. I remember my rabbit. What am supposed to do with it? I thought, even then. And then she began to eat her children. Why Mummy?

She called me. A warm thing. An ordinary love made extraordinary. We talk of prosaic things. What a gift that baby has been. We connect. We touch across the phone line. She is in pain. She is so grown. So grown-up. My baby girl. Can I own her now? Can she own me?

Smells. I am alive to them. The group of students ahead of me on Llanbadarn Road leaving a stink of nightclubs in their wake. I can smell it for yards and yards behind them. Stale beer, perfume, aftershave, sweat and take-away pizza. Hot, sticky and clammy. It doesn’t fit in the cold air, it won’t mix.

I took her advice and watched a snippet of it. Hands sewing. It amazed me how much they moved me. Those hands. No nail varnish, old hands like mine. Knowing hands, sewing. Nails cut to the quick, sensible. Sewing. I have become obsessed. Not by the craft of it but by the doing of it.

I shall be away two days. No writing. I will have to handwrite. Won’t I?

He was so derisory about painting by numbers. I felt a hurt.

I watched her. Our neighbour. I’m ninety-nine, she told him. I heard her door open, though I smelt the reek of all that closed-up, un-aired cooking first (onions, curry, boiled potatoes and the inevitable cabbage, it comes through our bathroom tiles sometimes). I’d just come in and was opening up our giant umbrella to leave it in the hallway. I watched her go to the door. She is deaf. Deaf as a post, he says. Her TV booms through our floorboards. Quiz shows mainly. A sharp woman. The same birthday as my mother. That explains it. She won’t be helped. I stand watching as she goes to the door and is surprised by the rain. Wet rain. Big drops. Should I offer her my umbrella? No, I don’t. I am unkind. Not wanting to break the membrane of her silence. Preferring to observe. Or is it that I fear her no? So closed in. Just like her. She is going to church. The wife of a missionary who is long dead. The mother of sons, five in all. And an illustrator, self-taught at the age of fifty. A sharp one. A tough one. She uses a stick but walks every day into town. Won’t be helped. Would you like my umbrella? I test the question on my tongue. No thank you. I’ll manage. I’ll manage, she’ll say. But she didn’t. Did you?

Puzzles

What is it about talking to her? Sometimes I don’t want to do it at all. Friday comes around and I am not resenting it exactly but less than eager to do it. It is just me and phones? Possibly. No, I think it is more the heaviness of another. Or at least, what I perceive as heaviness. In truth, the only person I have to ‘carry’ is myself. Sometimes she isn’t there. I always leave a message on her answering machine so that she knows that I haven’t forgotten. I’ve been calling her for years now. Age Cymru have long since stopped doing telephone befriending but I keep doing it. I tried to explain that the service had ended, giving her the option to drop out, to end her connection with me. But she didn’t respond. So I keep on calling. It has become part of my week. We talk for fifteen minutes or so. Sometimes, like yesterday, I can barely hear her. She has a soft voice at the best of times, and often I think she is translating from Welsh. Her words are laboured, slow (what I mean to say is). And then she is frequently out with the sheepdog, Bonnie, a refugee from the next-door farm. She arived and stayed. They provide the food. While she has moved in permanently. Taken refuge after the loss of her dog-companion. Bonnie herself hasn’t been well, suffering a stroke, was it last year? She cried then. I held her across the phone wires. We’ve shared much. She doesn’t talk of her inner life. It is mostly about her ailments, her daughter and Bonnie. Yesterday she told me of an elderly relative, a farmer, who’d been visited by thieves. He shouted at them and they left, she said. I think they were Irish. He was very shaken and it was only five in the afternoon, she said. It has shaken her too, clearly. I tell her (her daughter) that if we hear anything to just let them take it. Leave them to it, I say. She hasn’t been well, beset with a kidney infection. What with her being unwell over Christmas I’ve had to do more than usual, she said. I got a chill down my back. How old is she? With a daughter in her twenties she can’t be more than sixties, surely? So tender. And the daughter too. She gets uneasy, unsettled when I’m unwell, she says. I can see that. I’m sure she does, watching like he used to do with his mother for every symptom, every sign that they might go. Clinging too tight. I ask if she is warm. It’s an old house, we don’t have central heating, she says. We’ve got electric heaters and a coal fire. The antibiotics are kicking in now, she says. You’ll take it easy, I say. Yes, she says, I’m exhausted. I like to do puzzles, she says. Her voice always a little quavery when she introduces a new topic. Do you? I reply. Yes, crosswords, though not the hard ones, and the ones where you have to put in a missing word. Are they in Welsh? I want to ask. Though I don’t. Does she sound different, seem different when speaking her mother tongue? I didn’t used to know my mother when she spoke Norwegian. It frightened me sometimes. She became a stranger. I think of her with her puzzles, her Take a Break magazines, tending her garden with her carrots and runner beans. I tell her of the snowdrops I saw and she tells me of the daffodils in the next village that have been in bloom since Christmas. Her daughter drove her to see them. Just so that you can see that Spring is coming, Mam, she said.

I do it for myself as much as I do it for her. The first time I called she had to put the phone down after a minute she was so anxious. Now, she chatters away. Thank you, she always says at the end. Perhaps I shouldn’t try to make sense of what I do for her. Perhaps it is nothing. For me it is about engagement with another being’s life. I fall into it like a pillow, a feather bed. I see it. It is an intimacy. A lovingness. And I do. I do love her. I love the rise and fall of her voice, her tenderness, her uncertainty, her shyness. I think of her up there, exposed to the wind (I thought the roof was going to blow in), the snow and rain. A hilltop girl, born and bred. She doesn’t want to go or be anywhere else. A part of me. The inward, homed part of me. Soft. It is enough. There is a world there, in her voice. A world of experience. Of loving. Raising a child on her own, divorcing a husband who wasn’t kind. And then her accident. (I haven’t been right since.) And their various forays into alternative medicine. Her puttering as she calls it. Pottering, puttering. She takes time. She knows the landscape, the animals, her garden. Not small but big. True.

Poems are true, writes Peter Sansom.

She helps me pay attention beyond my self-serving, running-along mind. For that I am truly grateful. Keep safe and well. Till next week. x