Plinth Project detail (1) (email size)

He called them ‘tacits’, those gaps on records. Breathing spaces. Silences. I liked that. Something is tacit, unspoken, an understood silence. A comfortable silence.

A friend has been visiting over the last few days. She didn’t stay with us, our flat is too small. A neat but tiny cupboard. She stayed in a hotel on the prom. She loved it. We drove out into the landscape, sweeping along those winding roads. I was in the back, concertinaed up. I didn’t mind. We both suffer with car sickness. Sitting on newspaper was suggested. She tried it but wasn’t convinced. We lunched in hotels, lounged on sofas, drank copious cups of Lapsang Souchong, Earl Grey and Green tea from shiny metal teapots. Just lovely. Just perfect. We talked and talked, of literature, of mothers, of daughters and of mutual friends. What a joy. I was filled up with love. An enriching time.

I woke from an angry dream last night. I was trying to find something and going down and down these circuitous steps. It was a class, a class about poetry and we hadn’t been told how to find it. I got there eventually but the class was ending. I was fuming. The class members left but the teacher, a beautiful, calm, generous woman stayed behind. I began to cook and we talked as I cooked. You’ll want to go, I said and stopped cooking. She didn’t reply but I understood that she intended to stay and share what I had missed. I returned to my cooking. Just before my alarm, I heard myself saying, it was about the metaphysical poets, wasn’t it?

I feel so little anger these days. Sometimes rage leaks out into my dreams.


Radio 4 Extra has been running a feature on Somerset Maugham this morning. He always makes me think of being an au pair in Norway. My employer had a small library in the upstairs of the house. I used to do the ironing in there. Mountains of white linen napkins. As I ironed my eyes would read the titles of his books. There were books on Homeopathy, Radionics, Philosophy, Law, Religion, Art but very little fiction. Though a well-read man, he found it relaxing to read Crime and Science Fiction. Neither were my cup of tea but I did find an anthology of Somerset Maugham’s short stories. It felt odd to spend a cold Norwegian winter reading tales set in Malaysia and Thailand. Nevertheless, the association is forever fixed in my mind. When I returned to work in Oslo almost thirty years later, they too had a Maugham anthology. Is it peculiar to Norwegians, this love of Maugham – that quintessentially British writer?

She didn’t call. I didn’t think she would. It is OK. It is hard for her. I am learning to forgive. No. There is nothing to forgive. There never was and never is. It is just people doing the best they can. She and I. Always. Let it be. Be at peace with what is. It was painful to talk of her but good to. She wanted to understand, to know how I felt. That was a gift. A loving gift. A gift of loving.

Thank you.


Pavement Flowers

Poodle parlour

I’ve said it before and I will say it again. I love the radio. I love listening to its voices while I work, clean, cook or just think. Ideas, phrases, words and music permeate through, touching everything I do. Last week, a programme was on, I was half-listening. Suggs was presenting it. It was about Soho, the old Soho, the seedy Soho. He was interviewing Paul Raymond. They were talking about the prostitutes that used to walk up and down the streets or lean against walls, one foot hitched up. ‘Pavement flowers’, Raymond called them.

Then there was one about the salt mines of Cheshire. They are disused now and act as storage space for the Civil Service. I had no idea. The presenter was told about the foals of pit ponies who were taken down there to pull the wagons. They kept them down there, never to return to the surface, never to see daylight again. They grew too big to get them out and had to be shot. Poor things. Poor things. Perpetual darkness. An underground life. I am made still by the thought of such cruelty and by such noble acquiescence.

My leg recovers so slowly. Am I still doing too much? We go to the prom for just fifteen minutes or so – to sit and breathe in the air. The sea is wild today, as high as a mountain. I notice other hobblers – on sticks, using walkers (just like his mother’s, her ‘pram’ he used to call it) – and the runners. They flash by, free spirits, pain-free. And yet, it is good this being made slow. It makes me think, weigh up and be grateful. It is good. I will be patient. I will acquiesce.

There is a new boy at the Indian restaurant. His name is Schubert. We ask glibly if he is a musician. Ah, yes, says Wellington (the new stand-in boss since Ronaldo has gone) he plays for weddings sometimes. Schubert, Wellington, Melvyn, Cruz and Mohammed (also known as John). They are a joy. Wellington particularly, he smiles like a new-born. You are family, Melvyn said.

They planted snowdrops for him. It was cold up there, she said. Yes. I cried for him yesterday. Just a year, seems like a decade. What do I miss? Just him being there, somewhere. Blood of my blood. He did his best. He always came, except once. Was that the beginning of the end? I found one of his postcards, yesterday. Funny that. They were visiting Vienna and I’d asked for a Klimt. He sent one. His writing is scribbled, some in capital letters. It hadn’t been a good holiday. They visited us shortly afterwards. He was distant. Had it begun then, that insidious creature eating its way through his brain? Probably. He wasn’t himself. And yet at the end there was such grace. I miss you. I miss the you that you had the possibility to be and just briefly, became. Rest in peace.





Winny - 1970s - (small jpeg)

He came home with a birdfeeder (essentially a plastic tray that suckers onto a window) and a bag of seeds called ‘peckish ‘. I’d seen them a few days ago. Blue tits. Hundreds of them. I hear them daily, with their metallic, clicking call. And I wanted to feed them, to please them. So I filled the tray with seed and fixed it to the kitchen window and waited. And waited. Nothing yet. Each morning I look to see if the seed has been disturbed. Nothing. Nothing yet. They won’t come, he says, not if they can see you there. Perhaps not. We’ll see. I’ll wait a little while longer.

I remember her holding a sparrow. It was in Spain. They are everywhere, nipping in an out of bushes, pecking at crumbs. It was injured, a broken wing. She held it with such tenderness, its heart fit to burst. I can’t remember what happened to it. Did it die? She used to do the same with the ducklings on the farm. I recall several in the kitchen being fed bread soaked in milk. She’d kneel down and get up close. Small things. She felt safe with small, dumb things.

The muscles in one of my legs have gone again. What is that about? Am I meant to slow down? I felt it go, in the gym. A tearing, almost a snapping. I try to walk through it, hoping it will just heal. On its own. It won’t. I need to rest it. And each morning I walk a little less. Just to the sea this morning. Just a mile, not much more. I need to go out – I need the fresh air. Just a little, then I will rest. I promise.

My phone went wrong. Not sure why. Mercury playing its tricks. Its OK. I was secretly glad. I stiffen when it rings. I always have. What is that about, this dislike of phones? Even when it is him. There is a separation, a distance – a face that I cannot read. And yet, they fascinate me too. I’m even making a piece of work about them. The things people say. You can hide behind them – become someone else. Become kind. Yes. It is possible to do that. Become kind.

God, you were beautiful. I miss you. No, I miss the possibility of you. And that is something to be lost. Yes.


Tongue Sandwich


She was there again the other day, standing looking out to sea. I remembered her name and called it out. She turned to face us, slightly bemused. How are you? she asked him in Welsh. She’d married a Breton. Do you remember? He is dead now. I think of Lucy Snow and Monsieur Paul in Vilette. Is it cold enough for you? he asks her. She hugs her oversized red coat to her. At least it’s not raining, she replies, do you know I’m ninety-three?

Norman Wisdom on the radio. He is dead now too, I think. A thick, treacly voice. A voice that smiles. He is talking about his life. His parents had divorced when he was young. He was sent from orphanage to orphanage. He survived, joined the army and learnt to perform. He remembered reaching third on the bill and during a curtain call hearing a woman’s voice shouting his name. The voice got louder and louder, so much so that the manager brought him to the front of the stage. Later, in his dressing room a porter announced there was someone to see him. It was his mother. She was the one who had been shouting his name. I never let her out of my sight again, he said, never.

Take a photo of him, she said over the phone, holding a piece of white paper. Yes, that’s it. He’s going to write down a word that encapsulates how he feels about the coming election. He was left-handed and I watched as he slowly formed the letters. What’s it mean, I asked. It’s Welsh for ‘excited’ he said, smiling for the camera.

We took the day off. It was nice. The sun shone and we drove slowly, climbing the hill to the hotel. The sleepy hotel with its lounges flooded with warm sunlight. The guests hobble about with sticks or loll on sofas doing crosswords and pouring tea from heavy silver pots. I listen to their gentle babbling more than content. In the corner a man is talking across a divide of sofas to another guest. Tanner’s claret is the only red wine I will drink, he is saying, though I am not connoisseur. (He pronounces connoisseur as ‘connis-sewer’.) They know I won’t drink anything else so they get it in specially.  An elderly man sits down at a table next to us. He nods his head in greeting. Lovely day. I’m coming up again tonight for a meal, but I thought I’d still come up for lunch. For my tongue sandwich, he says. He nods again and asks if we would mind if he opens the window before settling down to his crossword.

Sitting on a bench in the sun, by the flagpole, watching two robins, I felt happy. Then a party of delegates from the Welsh Ambulance Service disgorged onto the tarmac through the French windows, laughing and cat-calling as they posed for a photograph. Time to go, he said. Time to go home. Come on. Come on, poppet.