Sherborne House - sign

I like it. I like it when things seem to connect. A crossword clue first in one paper then another. A word heard on the radio that comes up in a sentence in a bed-side novel. It makes me feel connected, wrapped-up, held, attached to something other, something bigger. It may be fanciful. But sometimes, just sometimes serendipity is almost like faith.

The rain has begun again. I remember meeting a Catholic priest in Spain. He was the brother of a friend of my mother’s. Paul was his name. A gentle man. He lived and worked in Ecuador. It had rained, he told, non stop for five years. It must feel like that for those stricken by floods up North. My window runs with it. The windows can’t keep it out. On days like this I must put cloths under the frames. It oozes through.

Storm Frank. The residue. The other morning there was sea debris all over the road. Sharp pebbles, grit, blackened sand make me unsteady under foot. A mess. Cars are moved. Away from the sea front, pavements are peppered with wheelie bins capsized by the wind, their lids gaping wide. On South Beach a fringe of the sea’s jetsam. Twigs, tree trunks, plastic bottles, oil containers, string all twisted up, edging the beach. People forage, dogs snuffle. I even saw two men with metal detectors. We could see them from the Prom. What are they going to find on the beach? he asks. We watch as one of them stops, rolling his detector in a circle around a particular spot, his spade in readiness in his other hand. His companion joins him, doing the same with his machine. Twats, he says, and we resume our walk.

We’ve bought a tiny bottle of Prosecco. I just want a taste. A taste on my tongue. A fizzing of something like celebration. A New Year. Will you join me?

Have a happy one. See you next year. 2016. I wish you peace.




Sunday’s are my making days. I sit in my studio, radio on and give form to my ideas. This morning someone is talking about an ash tree. He has felled one and intends to use every last bit of it. And he watches and relates as wheelwrights, wood-turners, toboggan and tool handle makers work their magic. His prose is gorgeous. He talks of the smell of the wood, smoky when cut, its colour, creamy and lists its ancient usefulness. I respond to such focussing-in on the detail of life. He talks about his bouts of depression and how he takes himself off to the woods when it strikes. There is such self-loathing, he is saying, that I cannot work. I need to find out his name. Read more of his work. I tell him of it during our afternoon walk. Was it Richard Mabey? he asks. No, I say, it wasn’t. I’ve read Mabey’s work and attended his talk during Bath Literature Festival. But they have much in common. Both writers of the natural world, both self-confessed depressives. Perhaps it is part and parcel of being sensitive, I muse. Yes, he says, it probably is.

In The Psychiatrist’s Chair, Professor Anthony Clare is describing his guest, Yehudi Menuhin as serene. Yes, Menuhin says, probably for I cannot tell you how happy my childhood was. I cannot tell you how happy. Do we not have words for it? For happiness? Tell us do. And later, days later, in The Listening Project, Syrian refugees converse. Much of it has to be translated. The translators voices are wooden, stilted. And yet, as I listen, a warmth, a humanity begins to come through. I forget, we forget, do we not, that they used to have lives like ours. There is a student, a male nurse, a housewife. One of them yearns to work for the UN. One of them cries over the loss of her home. They are as you and I. War has been done to them. Imposed upon them. They just want to go home. To go home to a home that once was home.

I have to think of a hungry dog, Jude is saying, shutting her eyes and pausing in her relentless showing of our merchandise to the blip, blip machine at the till. She has just told us that her mother is in hospital. It’s some kind of bacteria, she says, we all have it under our skin. It’s called something like streptococcus. That’s it, he says. I couldn’t enjoy my Christmas meal, she says, I was too worried. They’d gone to The Starling Cloud. We went last year and the meat was dry. So we booked for the earlier sitting this time. How was it? I asked. Awful, she said, resuming the conveying of food, we shan’t go again.

The local milkman drives a pick-up truck. He drives past me as I make my way home. The milk bottles, lodged in blue crates, rattle in the back.

I made a start. There is magic in the starting, Goethe said, or something like it. Five hundred words. It is a start. It is enough, for now.

We didn’t know it was a Bank Holiday. He calls me from town. Everything is shut. No wool, no hemp powder, no seaweed. Can it wait? he asks.

No rain today. The sky is still white. I walked in moonlight this morning. Is it beginning to get lighter? The Norwegians have a word for this time between Christmas and New Year, Alex Lester said, though I didn’t hear what it was. I just want everything to get back to normal, he says.

I hear him laughing. He is on the phone talking to a friend about another friend. He boxes and coxes with these visits, groaning. I wanna stay home with you, he says. I know, I say, I know.



Separate Bedrooms

Strawberry Dress

I took them. I wasn’t sure whether I should. Tying them up with a white ribbon, I attached a little red label and wrote a small X. He was in the Promenade shelter, lying prone on the seat wrapped up in his sleeping bag, his face turned towards me. In the dark I couldn’t tell whether he was asleep or awake. I step forward tentatively leaving the little package on the ground beside him.

Boxing Day was traditionally a day about giving, she tells us. St Stephen’s Day. St Stephen stoned to death while he prayed for his enemies. A day for giving not spending. We fill the space, it is our compunction. So uncomfortable with the void. That black bag of Robert Bly’s. See how it has grown.

The wind had dropped. The air was mild. Lots of kids about. The Pier Pressure night club was just spilling out as I walked past. Cocooned. I am cocooned in my waterproofs and muffled against noise with my headphones. Ipod on shuffle. We will rock you, rock you, rock you, carol singing in my head as I pass the open door. We are on parallel planets. They whirl about in slow motion, shouting, barracking. Most are in t shirts, short skirts, heads spinning. One boy runs up the street in a wavy line, a girl hangs over the Promenade railing, her legs akimbo. Hello, a young lad says to me. Hello, I reply and keep on walking. The harbour is quiet, only the oystercatchers pip pipping. No wind. I walk fast, striding. Soldier, she’d said, soldier. Then up through the Castle gardens and down Great Darkgate Street. By now they’ve all pushed along Pier Street and stand in a mangled mess before me. Seems like hundreds, there maybe twenty or thirty. They make such a clamour. Sounds that are wordless. A kind of keening, a moaning, as they lollop about, falling as they walk. Some cling to each other, others lean against shop fronts. Their clothes are skimpy, bare-legged girls going blue. As I stride down the hill a girl follows me. She catches up, her stride matching mine. She carries a mobile phone in her hand. It is lit up, illuminated. Ah, she is mimicking me. She turns to catch the eye of her friends. I feel a frisson of irritation. Usually I am ignored. Usually I am invisible. Not now, not this morning. I keep walking. I remember a time in Covent Garden. The same thing happening. One has to succumb. You have been selected as the fool. So be it. Play it. Succumb to it. We reach the junction opposite Tesco Express. I cross and she turns left. Bye, she whispers.

I’ve never considered myself a bona fide author, says Agatha Christie. (They are playing some recordings of her on the radio.) My profession was a married woman, writing was a side-line.

Then it is Marguerite Patten’s turn. I am preparing supper and he has joined me upstairs. He kisses my cheek. I’ve always thought it rather odd to have cooking on the radio, he says, looking up at me from his paper. I like it, I say. And I do. Especially her. She is making dishes from the 1950s. He was a child then. Lemon Meringue Pie, Crepe Suzette and Steak Dianne. I remember my mother’s cookbooks with their monochrome photographic illustrations. They weren’t the luscious, coffee-table cookbooks of today. The print was small, utilitarian. My first was by Marguerite Patten. I felt so proud of it. It was useful, easy to follow. Calm. Like her. Like her voice, steady, cool as a marble rolling pin. I bought her book when I started studying Domestic Science at O level. It terrified me cooking under the eye of our DS teacher, Miss Macgregor. She was a giant of woman, a Scot. A mannish-looking woman, she wore glasses and thick American Tan stockings. Everything had to be just so. The kitchens spick and span. I could do that. I was always tidy. But the science of it all threw me. I cook with feeling not reason. Nevertheless, I learnt much. But how I wish we’d had Marguerite instead. A little less fear would’ve been good. Now and always. Yes. A resounding yes.

Now its Desmond Morris on Inheritance Tracks. His voice is not what I expected. Posh. Reserved. Polite. We married in 1952, he is saying. People ask me how our marriage has lasted so long. Separate bedrooms, I tell them, he says. Separate bedrooms.


For now the rain has ceased. Not so in Leeds, York, and other parts of North Yorkshire. My heart goes out to them. Here take it. May it make you dry. We have had floods before. We will recover. So too Australia and their bush fires. Two extremes. We will recover. Your suffering is mine. Here take it. My thoughts, my love.


Wrapping Paper

Ellen in Joyce's garden (1)Ellen in Joyce's garden (2)Ellen in Joyce's garden (3)

I’ve gotten into the habit of doing it, of pouring anxiety into that space, that gap that is this holiday. My back tenses. The muscles grow rigid, immoveable. They feel like fashioned iron. Boxing Day. A nothing day, really. An anti-climax, Christmas gone. What else is there to say?

We had to shop. We needed fresh. The shelves were empty. Everything is topsy-turvy. Neither of us do well under such conditions. We like the tracks, the well-worn directions.

I sew, teaching myself cross-stitch. Idle hands. And I listen to Clive James talking to John Wilson. His father, a soldier in the Second World War, was taken prisoner by the Japanese. He died on his way home from being released. I had to be the man of the house, James said, I was scared stiff. I’m still scared. James is dying. I’m at the terminus, he says. He is open about it and without self-pity. He talks about his work. I wanted to be good so much that I didn’t enjoy anything. He lives in Cambridge. We would pass his house on our way into town. There was an Euan Uglow painting visible from the window. It was of a lemon.

We go for coffee. Is your name Mark? he asks. Mark is cheerful. Yes, he says. You may know me from the Post Office at the SPAR. I work here now, he says, collecting our empty cups. Everyone is cheerful. Sam and Emma have had good Christmas Days. Though Emma’s oven broke. We cooked the turkey the day before, she says, thank God, every thing else had to be mashed. On Christmas Eve all the staff dressed up. I love Christmas, Emma said. I’m going to dress up as a Christmas Tree. Sam had on a bowler hat and sequins stuck onto her face. Ta-da!, she said standing before us, her arms outstretched and looking like Liza Minelli in Cabaret, I’m Jack Frost. Toby was an elf.

Is it morbidity? This obsession, or let’s say curiosity, about death. Surely it would have an ia at the end, like other anxieties, he says. Maybe, I say. Morbidia? he suggests. I noticed it last night as we watched Call the Midwife. Sister Monica Joan was lying on a makeshift couch, nearing her end. I wanted to be her. I felt it. I wanted to be near my end. All that stuff sloughed off. That minutiae, that background noise of care and worry, that is really nothing at all. I wanted to be in a state of recognition, of paying attention to what is important. I wanted the focus of death. Of course, I have a romantic view of it. Was it Camile? Or Candide? Or the Lady of the Camelias? Lying on her chaise-longue looking ‘interesting’ in her state of near death from consumption. In reality there is pain, loss, fear. We cannot ever know how another truly feels. I watched my mother-in-law and my father, both twitching with it, their bodies not knowing how to be peaceful with the process, not, that is, until the very end. How can the living know? But how I seek it’s calm. That final succumbing.

She had her arms full. Five rolls of it. Wrapping paper with Seasons Greetings printed all over it. It’s Boxing Day. Is it a cost saving exercise? Stock up for next year? Her husband looked like a farmer. There was another man. Hi, he says, as we get into the car. How’s it going? I went to school with him, he says, shutting the door. The woman is small in stature. Her mouth is open staring at the two men talking. She grapples with the rolls of paper. Her mouth is open and in her bottom row she has only one tooth.

He stops the car and bounds out. Is a fiver OK do you think? he asks. He’s sitting in the doorway just beyond Smiths, a paper cup outstretched. He re-enters the car. I think he’s a bit drugged-up. Not that I can blame him, I’d do the same if I was sleeping on the streets. I think I saw him this morning sleeping in the shelter. I wish I’d brought the biscuits. I’ll take them tomorrow, wrapped in a red bow. Merry Christmas. Someone thinks of you. He always looks so sad, he says.

No sun today. The sky is a grey-white. A seagull flies high above the roofs, circling.


It’s all about words, James says, all about words.



Season's Greetings

There was no one about. No one. No one walking at 4.30 am except me. One or two taxis went by, their lights off, no longer taking bookings. No wonder. The world, except me, is asleep.

The tide was coming in. It had been high the night before for the road was strewn with shale. Early breakfast then off to Llanbadarn Church for early Communion. We were the first there. The curate was shy, diffident. Are you visiting? he asked. We sat in the Lady Chapel. He knows his way. Altar boy, choirboy, Head Chorister. So many years. Years before I knew him. His brothers did it too. Traditional. Welsh families. Not now. Not now. There were five of us in all, including the curate. I liked the silences. I could hear a robin in the churchyard chirruping.

The tree over his parents’ stone is leafless now. It is gnarled and thorny. The stone is wet with rainwater. He bends down to pick off a slug. Next year I will plant some snowdrops, I say. Yes, he says, his voice catching. Yes, that would be nice.

It is so quiet. I can hear the ticking of my clock in the bedroom.

We listened to the Kings College choir while I prepared the meal. No big fanfare. Cold cuts for him and sprouts for me. The Puritans banned turkey and all that spicy food. Did you know that spicy food was an expression of wealth? They had to come from the Indies back then. The things one picks up. I like it. I am a magpie for it.

The communion wine makes me feel a little heady. The other members of the congregation were two men. One middle-aged, the other quite elderly. The elderly one had a hearing-aid, it whistled. He read the lesson. We all came in jeans and waterproofs. The rain is cold and hard. Bless them in Cumbria. I think of them.

I called them yesterday. My sisters and then her. She said she loved me and that she was tired. Spring will come soon, she said. Is there snow? I asked. No, not yet she said. Do you have a tree there? I asked. Yes, she said, and stars, lots of stars. She said she loved me. I hope it was me she was thinking of. I hope so. I hope so.

An etiquette specialist on the radio talking about when posh people open their presents on Christmas Day. In the interregnum, he said, between breakfast and luncheon.

There are still some students left in town. Stragglers with no homes to go to. There were two lights on in Alexandra Hall. I remember at my boarding school the girls who had to stay behind over Christmas. One house-mistress between them, or they had to shift their things into the San. I felt so sorry for them. A coldness. A left-behind-ness. The other day there were four boys walking along Llanbadarn Road as I set out. They were noisy, walking fast, if a little chaotically. I walked into the road to give them room. They walked on. One called out Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas, I replied, smiling at being noticed. It was enough, that. Then later coming towards home. Another four students, three boys and a girl. One of them was peeing in a grate. I could hear the stream in the dark. Then a tall boy in a t-shirt put his hands in the air as I approached. Don’t stab me, he said. I smiled to myself and keep walking. I thought he was going to stab me, he says to his friend. The girl is saying, no Steve, I know exactly where they live. To your right, they live over there. Later, I could still hear them shouting. One of them had had a whole chicken in a plastic covered tray.


‘This Barret Meeks, is your work,’ thinks the main protagonist in Michael Cunningham’s novel The Snow Queen, ‘you witness and you compile. You persevere…….the building of a high-profile career is not required, not even of those gifted with greater-than-average powers of mind…God…does not need you…to arrive, at the end, in the cloud field, with its remote golden spires, bearing an armload of earthly accomplishments.’ No. It is enough to witness. To bear witness. As I do now. Paying attention.

I like the rituals. The ritual of sharing bread and wine. Drink, eat and be merry, my loves. I think of you, all of you. Merry Christmas, Nadolig Llawen, God Jul. x




Are we being humbugs this Christmas? I wanted to try it. Just to see if you pare it down what is left. No tree, no cards, no presents, no special food. But there are candles, silver-pine cones, a tree decoration from Habitat and some mistletoe. I like the simplicity. I’m a puritan. And yet, and yet I do also love the pomp, the tradition and opulence of Christmas. There is a hotel in the Cotswolds that we have often visited during the winter months. I like nothing better than to sit by their fire with pots of tea and smell the pine of their Christmas tree. The decorations are completely over the top. But it pleases me. There is grandeur, excess, opulence and glorious aromas. How to reconcile such opposing desires. I relish buying presents for those I care for and yet I find the over-spending rather alarming. I adore the wrapping, the making beautiful and yet I also love a bare white wall. And it is nice to step out of the panic.

Hello both, shouts Sandra from her till, you ignoring me? Let’s go to Mark, he’d whispered, but it was too late. I like her. There is something poignant about her bluster. She is wearing a elf’s hat. Like me hat? she asks. Someone said I should be wearing little red boots too, she says, but you wouldn’t see them from under the till, would you, I said to her. You ready for Christmas? she continues. Friends of mine aren’t bothering, she says, they’re having egg n’ chips Christmas Day.

They opened at six this morning. Had many customers? I ask her. Six, she says. Read the news yet? she asks. Give me a chance only just got the papers, he says. I watched Sky News, she replies, something about Miss Universe, one killed, thirty injured. You entering this year? I ask. No, not this year, thought I’d give the others a change, else they ain’t got an ‘ope ‘av they?

Her hands are tiny. Her arms strain beneath her sleeves. There is a festering, slightly acrid smell to her. We pass Jude on the way out. Nice antlers, he calls out. She smiles.

An astronaut on Desert Island Discs. I love Simon and Garfunkel, he says, especially that line, ‘Cathy, I’m lost, I said, though I knew she was sleeping.’ He gave nothing away, at least not overtly. His loneliness out there in the galaxy was only hinted at. A gentleman. Elegant.

They didn’t promise rain this morning. I went anyway. I always do. In the dark. A man walking past a parked car, under a street lamp. He smiles at me.

On the radio a young man remembering his father learning ‘The Knowledge’ at the dinner table.


It’s because it can’t be as it used to be. My parents still together and agreeing not to fight. My mother in all her finery. Us in our new dresses. Patent leather shoes, virgin soles on the carpet. Candles lit, table dressed. Sherry. The fire lit. Crackers. The tree resplendent, presents spilling out from its base. The dogs, overexcited and banished to the kitchen. Dad handing out the presents, laboriously reading out all the labels. Tearing wrapping. (There’s a bag over here. Hold onto the labels so that you know what’s what for Thank You letters.) The smell of annuals, bath salts,  body lotion, chocolate. A novelty game. A Sindy doll with accessories. Taking my pile upstairs to linger over. A mixture of pleasure and disappointment, one impossible to separate from the other. Tiredness. Hanging up my dress. Hearing the back door open and my mother calling to the dogs.

A life made rich with memories. I am free to choose. It is enough.

The sky is milk-white. The windows spattered with rain.

We still haven’t come up with the state, he said. Something e ending with a. Six letters. Nevada, I said. Where did that come from? Brilliant, he said. Clever girl. Clever girl.


The Violin-maker

Dad dying

It was dry as I walked. Punters were pouring out of the Pier Pressure nightclub. The air around the entrance stank of warm beer and sweat. Two girls were huddled around a van, talking to the driver and passenger. They hung upon the door, their heads pushed into the opened window. One was wearing a floral cotton dress, a parka and a tinsel halo.

He said he was a violin-maker now living in Berlin. He’d sent an email to Bob Harris, saying how much he enjoyed his early morning Sunday show. Thanks, Bob, he wrote. A violin-maker. I keen towards people who make. People with craft, with skill. With skilful hands. I make facsimiles, copies of things. I’m a fake-artist, a fakery of jiggery-pokery. It’s OK. There is some beauty in it. It’s about ideas. Things don’t have to function or work. They give a sense of something, they act as a reminder. But I think it is the cause of my lack of certainty. Where am I going with this, with that? What is it for? What is it’s purpose? Maybe there is none. Maybe it is just about filling out my days till it is time. Time to go.

I think about my parents. Their lives, so full, potent, at least in our eyes. And now, poof, up in smoke. Gone. So what is the conclusion, to live well here, now? He says, I do. The worth surely is in the being. The being it. I am a maker because I make. What I make is neither here nor there. It is enough to take myself to the page, to the bench. Isn’t it?

I walk in the dark. I round a corner and two men walk in front of me. They startled me. Did I call out? My body pumped with adrenalin. A curious feeling. Then it subsides. It’s OK. You’re safe.

The sky is a pale greyish-blue. Morning is not yet here. Birds sail into the wind.

There was an ambulance last night, parked just beyond the Quad. It stood there for over half an hour before a body was wheeled towards it on a stretcher. The body was sitting, hunched over. The rain poured down. A woman in a pink dressing gown hovered.

Is it just decorative or does it have worth, meaning? A crow caws. Follow it through. Do it all, he says. Yes. Richard Branson on the radio. I just say yes. Have a blast, he says. Yes.


Santa Train


I kept hearing it. A whistle, high-pitched, carried by the wind. It’s the steam train, it must be, taking families to see Santa. Is he is in a grotto somewhere?

I remember being taken to see him in the House of Fraser department store in Manchester. I dreaded it. It felt awkward. I didn’t believe him. He was too human, too solid. I felt the warmth of him as I sat on his knee. And then to be asked what you wanted for Christmas only to be given something cheap and plastic in return. It didn’t make sense. And besides, we were different. We celebrated Christmas Eve not Christmas Day. Put some Mince Pies out for the Nisser, Mum would say. Who? You know, she’d say, like on the snow scene.

I loved that snow scene. A little hut, snow made out of cotton wool, a bulb of yellow light and little elves skiing, standing and playing all over it. They’re the Nisser, she’d say. They are sprites. You have to appease them so that your crops don’t fail. We were farmers, we Norwegians, she’d say. I thought it magical. As I did all the decorations she’d put out. Twigs and pine cones sprayed silver. Plastic berries, real holly leaves and the most luxurious tinsel, thick and luscious. Gold and silver. She took such trouble. I can see why now. It’s what they do, the Norwegians, a talisman against the dark. The last advent candle lit tomorrow. I miss her. I miss her style, her attention to detail. I remember the first taste of Christmas sherry, the light-headedness. And her looking so beautiful. Lipsticks kisses on my cheek.

Thank you for all those memories. For the Kerplunk and the Tiny Tears. I love you.


Christmas Tree


Do you remember I told you about it last time? she asks. You know, I said it had a kind of umbrella-like thing underneath.

And then I realised, yes, it was like the one I saw in the window of the charity shop at the top of town, near the clock.

We bought it last year, she is saying, after Christmas like, cos’ they’re cheaper then, you know. We kept the receipt, just in case. Yes, so it has snow blowing up over it, she says. Yes, it is quite pretty, but it can be a bit noisy. It’s fine, she says, if you try not to listen to the noise. No, she says, we don’t have it on all the time.

I love to see the Christmas trees in people’s windows. Koselig the Norwegians call it. A sparkling of lights against the gloom. The town’s Christmas decorations were lit as we drove home last night. What a fillip it gave me. Is it universal that feeling? Something like joy floods my innards. I am lifted. In one of the flat across the Quad is a fibre-optic tree. It slowly changes colour, red to blue, gold to green. A subtle, soft and gentle transforming. I stood and watched it for a while in the dark.

Do you have a tree? she asked.

It felt odd to see her. We make up names, characters for people we see out and about. Small town games. Familiar faces that are not really known, just guessed. My Little Pony we call her. She speed-walks. Each day we see her, a new set of fluffy ear muffs, pink trainers and pink sweat top. Moving at a somewhat languorous pace. She’s hardly breaking sweat, he says.

We’d seen her about quarter of an hour before. Not training this time, just walking along the Prom. Walking at the same pace, he said. It’s no different. Speed-walking, my arse. And then there she was coming up the stairs. I was waiting to go in. She won’t be long, Jess said popping her head out of her door. Don’t you want to come in, Wendy? Wendy. My Little Pony is called Wendy. I’d smiled at her and she’d flickered one back, her face stiff. Five minutes later she was out and bouncing down the stairs. Bye Wend, Jess had called, have a nice Christmas. It felt odd to see her so close. I felt I’d been unkind to her, making up a name, a narrative. She doesn’t know, he says. No, I say, but somehow it doesn’t feel right. Odd. It had felt odd.

An hour and a half. An hour and half it took for Windows to update my laptop. I know I’m impatient but it seemed an age. I wanted to write, to write something before I called her. Time lost. I read a little, sewed, thought, stared out of the window. Waited.

I am edgy because there are so many ideas and yet, I don’t know which to follow. Not really. Sandi Tostvig’s partner insists that the first cup of tea in the morning must be drunk before anymore ideas are discussed. It is good to be full of ideas. At least that is what we are lead to believe. And yet they are like shoots, they need nourishment to survive to flourish. Which way? I am dreaming of journeys again. Which one? I write every day, something. What of my art? It is there in my head all the time but there is no direction, no path, no place for it at present. Sometimes I am fine with that. Experiment. Experimentation is good. But then it needs air, to be seen, doesn’t it?

I sent some poems to a literary journal. My first ones. I’ve heard nothing. Are they bad, then? Does it matter. Is it wrong to want to give them air?

Charlotte Bronte sent some of her poems to Robert Southey. He replied exhorting her to know her place. She replies, ‘you do not forbid me to write……you warn me against of the folly of neglecting real duties…. of writing for the love of fame.’ Mendelssohn told his sister that the housekeeping must be done before she could finish composing her ‘Songs without Words’. Later Queen Victoria congratulates him on them and he has to confess that they are his sister’s.

Creation is always tinged with a little foolishness. We are sticking our necks out. Look at me, we say. Make, write for yourself, he tells me. And I do. The processes, when I am deep within them, are wonderful. They are my escape, my stillness, my calm. But what then, what does one do with the result, always so smaller than imagined.

The buds are pushing through in the municipal beds along South Marine. Yes, she says, we have daffodils. They’re about six inches above ground now. Though there’s a mist at present. It’s wrapping us in, do you know what I mean? You feel, you feel, trapped. I know, I say, I know.



Mind book cover

We rarely row. And even then it is soon over, both eager to apologise, to right the dis-ease. Today it was in Morrisons. A silly thing. It usually is. Latex gloves. They didn’t have the ones I usually use. He got the wrong ones. I snapped. But it wasn’t because of him, it was her. She unsettles me. She is too brash, pushing the food and other things through too fast. I can’t get on top of it. She is rough, not careful like Jude. She unsettles me. She unsettles him too. I can’t stand her, he says. She’s bossy. She shouts.

She stands up at the till. She gives the impression she has better things to do. There is no sharing the time of the day. Not like Michael. He is the opposite. He asks about his eye op. Oh, it was brilliant, says Michael, pausing the scanning of the kiwi fruit to talk. Keep going, I want to say, but try instead to practice patience. Michael is explaining the procedure. Apparently he has 20:20 vision now. I wait with my plastic bag open and ready to receive the fruit. It’s better than it ever was, Michael is saying. He has several burst blood vessels on his nose. I like him. There is gentleness to him. He is always ill. Either coughing or blowing his nose. He smokes. There is a silver identity bracelet around his wrist. Anyway, must get on, he says to Michael. Oh, yes, look at me, says Michael. It’s all this time off I’ve had.

They have the supreme quality of transience. Mrs Miniver talking about fireworks. It was on the radio. Penelope Wilton read it. I didn’t know it was a series of books too. I know the film. I watched it in his honour. Perhaps he meant the books. The supreme quality of transience.

Another radio programme about the spirits of famous composers and singers writing and singing through another. A housewife from Balham, composing on behalf of Liszt. Why not?

Wanting to believe.

We had a slight contretemps yesterday too. A misunderstanding. It was the coffee, he said afterwards. Yes, it makes one edgy, sharp. Soften. Soften. Retract the claws.

I hung some mistletoe. Ward off the spirits. Not the kindly ones. They are welcome. God Jul.