House Wife (2) 2008 med

When I am distrait I clean. A need to establish order, I suppose. Returning from a long morning at work, I do the same. Kitchen tops are wiped, bed covers are smoothed, cushions plumped and pictures straightened. I am distrait, as is he. We manage. Welcome it in, I say. It is there, this anxiety, we must live with it. No, he says, I cannot, will not. Fighting it is useless. It is age. It is life. It is uncertainty. Test after test. He acquiesces, more than I would. He trusts. He gives himself over then comes home and consults Google. Anything to make him feel better, to take away the uncertainty.

It has been a while since I wrote. Have you noticed? Have you missed me? I remember a farmer brought in to talk about the anniversary of Foot and Mouth. There was an inhaler beside him when I went in to check he was OK. An asthmatic, clearly. I heard him coughing through the office speaker. Afterwards, he looked sheepish. Did I do OK? he asked, my brain froze.

Passing the studio at home, on my way to bed, there was a light outside. A strange light. Greenish, eerie.

I thought the word was garrotted, or was it carrotted? No, he said, it’s carotid. What will I do without him? But this must not be about me. Give me the strength to carry him, to carry his fear. I read about Charlotte Bronte losing her last sister, Anne. Four days in Scarborough. They travelled to the seaside. The air might help. It did not. Four days and she was dead.

We watched Jane Eyre with Michael Fassbinder as Rochester and Mia as Jane. A beautiful film. Her waterlogged skirts dragging through the bracken and heather of the moors was so powerful. The sisters would walk the moors daily in their petticoat-ed skirts and tiny fragile boots. I have some, Victorian boots. They are minute, tender, with soles of kid. His beauty unsettled me. It is rare these days. Last night I dreamt of fish.

The radio continues to nourish me. Charlotte Bronte found similar solace in the books that her publishers would send her. Neil Ansell’s account of his five years in a remote Welsh cottage. He arrives with just a small bag of clothes, ‘I wanted to know how lightly I could tread on the Earth’. It is the simplicity that appeals. I yearn for it. A Spartan life. A life of paying attention, of being still, of observing. A life of no self. Listen, it is good. And then yesterday, a book about Paris read by Simon Russell Beale. The author wrote about the Bohemians. A man from Guadeloupe, I think he was called Privat. Privat walked and walked the streets of Paris, writing in cafes and bars. ‘He wrote his books with his legs’, wrote the author.

I think about writing all the time. Possibly it is because, at the moment I cannot do it. Not yet, I am too busy with the commissions. There is so much I want to do. To reach out with, to communicate. Though, in truth, I write for myself. Of course.

My favourite bowl finally broke. It had had a crack for over two years now. It was green. A pea-green.  I loved it. I ate everything out of it. I let out a cry as it fell from my hand. It was a childish cry. A petulant one. I know when I do this now. I cannot get away with it. But it is OK. To be a child, to mourn the loss of something familiar. I bought another. Two in fact. White ones. Heavy, solid with the wood ‘food’ impressed into the clay. I like them. I grow used to them. The maker, Keith Bryner-Jones, makes cups, plates and jugs. I have a hankering for a jug. For daffodils. When the money comes. When it comes, perhaps I will treat myself. Something in, and something out. Give and then receive. A good balance.

I find a note. I write them on scraps of paper. Sometimes I forget what they refer to. Stitching families together, it says. Stitching families together.



Plinth Project detail (1) (email size)

I write this as an act of bearing witness, not only to my life but that of those I encounter while living it. And these encounters are real and fictional. Though at times it is hard to decide which is which, such is my deep involvement in them. These meetings are mostly physical, I touch and am touched by them, but they also occur via the radio, a book or more occasionally the television. My emotional response to all is equal. It is only a story, they tell me, as I weep over a film, a play or a novel. It isn’t real. Isn’t it? What is real? Is my reality your reality? How can we know?

Names. Two pieces of French fiction about names. The film Therese Desqueyroux with Audrey Tatou and a radio adaptation of Martin Guerre. Here names represent family, land, power. One longs to shrug it off, the other wishes to claim that which is not his. I didn’t take his name when we married, not the first time nor the second. I’d had it before, you see. A common name. It wasn’t snobbery. I’d just grown accustomed to my own. I’d grown into it. After all that fighting it as a child. The butt of jokes, albeit gentle ones. Nelly the Elephant hummed under a small boy’s breath and later, much later, Chuck Berry’s My Dinga-ling. It belonged. It is something poetic I think, the end of my name aping the beginning. I forget the term. It just fits. Why would I change it? Besides, I belong to myself. In the end, that is all. That is all the belonging we have.

A radio programme about latch-key kids got me thinking about her. I think about her most days. She is long gone, I know this, but her influence lingers. How could it not? The participants mostly accepted their fate, understood why their mothers had to leave them to their own devices during those afternoons after school. And it was mothers, not fathers, that these now grown-up children talked of. She had to work, they said. One, whose mother had been a doctor, described how his mother would have everything organised. Food was prepared the weekend before and put in the freezer, labelled with instructions. Itineraries were set out, rotas for who did the re-heating and washing-up. All those stray hours accounted for. He saw this an act of love. His parent, though physically absent, was present in spirit, overseeing their day. As I say, it made me think of her. She always planned. Was always planning. I do it now. Meals are sorted out in my head long before they are made. Our fridge was never empty, there was always a hot meal. The house was clean, clothes washed and ironed. Our days were routinized, ordered, even when her sadness got the better of her. We were held by her. Not cuddled, but held by her practicality, her planning. It was the kind of love she could give. Even towards her second husband, a marriage that became embittered, there remained this kind of love (epitomised by the placing of his suppositories in the fridge to keep them cool). We do what we can, give what we can.

A noise at the bottom of North Road. A shouting kind of noise. Names being called out. And a loud, SORRY. I turn down the hill to see three students, a girl and two boys, coatless scurrying up towards the back of Alexandra Hall. The girl is cradling a traffic cone against her t-shirt as she walks. She wrestles with it. It is cumbersome and keeps slipping down. Later, on Penglais Hill we pass another of the students’ halls. A group have gathered outside. It is not yet 8am. Most are in pyjamas, some in shorts, a rather large-bottomed girl is in a pair of diminutive pants. They stamp their feet and huddle together. We can’t work it out. Oh, I know, I say, it’s the fire-alarm. He laughs. Do you remember Oxford? he says.

An early this morning. A paper review. In the disabled toilet I can hear the cleaner in the Ladies singing. It echoes through the walls. In the unattended studio my contributor belches. Does he know that there is a speaker in the office that relays all the sounds from the studio? Probably not. Besides, I don’t think he’d care. A two-hour stint. I read and sew. Sew and read. I sew Charlotte Bronte’s words and read of her sister Emily’s death. ‘No poisoning doctors’, she’d said. She would see no-one. Except at the very end. You may fetch one now, she’d said. Two hours later she was dead. We do not abide here long, wrote Charlotte in a letter to Ellen Nussey. No. Death creeps ever closer. (She was his age, and he.) So be it. Amen to that. The hush of heaven is a happy prospect from here. For some, for many. For me.

A jackdaw perches on the gable outside my studio window. Do they share the same internal chatter that we do? I wonder. I wonder.



Speaking Soul (12)

I didn’t know her very well. We’d see her whenever we went to the hotel for a meal, which was only on special occasions, Christmas twice, lunch with my father and step-mother, dinner celebrating our re-marriage and afternoon tea. She was always gracious. There was no side to her, he said, as I read out the piece about her in the Cambrian News. An elegant woman who loved her work. She lived for that hotel, he continued. She cared about detail, everything was just so. Calm. She exuded calm. It was a special place for me. An oasis of ease. I loved sitting in front of the fire in the back bar looking out of the picture window at the little grotto with a put of good tea. We meant to go over Christmas but didn’t find the time in the end. I am sorry for that. I didn’t know her very well but I shall miss her. I shall miss her place on this earth. Rest in peace. And thank you.

There are snowdrops, a clump of them. Clump is the wrong word, a clumsy, rather oafish word. A smattering. A cluster. They have sprung up by the pavement along Llanbadarn Road, pushed up through the moulding leaves. Their white is stark against the russet red of the leaves. Their drooping heads are so tender, so freshly white. I celebrate them. A gift indeed.


Love Birds

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You two love birds doing anything special for tomorrow? asked the man in the estate car. I smile, he says, no, we don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. Then he says something I don’t quite catch, something about being affectionate every day. The man in the car laughs. Well, he says, you both look beautiful on it. He pronounces beautiful as if it spelt with a double o. Like the man used to do on those turkey adverts. Is he laughing at us? It doesn’t matter. We both warm to him, sitting there in his car on the Prom as he does everyday, listening to classical music, his window open so that he can hear the sea. A contented man, I think. Rather like John, Yorkshire John (or is it Lancashire, I always get them confused) who used to work in The Treehouse. We saw him this morning in the supermarket, impossibly cheerful and immune to the cold. Shorts all the year round, and this morning just a t-shirt, the temperature dial on our car flashing 0 degrees. How does he do it? I shiver at the thought. Think of me in the summer, he says. Think of me then.

She called as I was preparing supper. She was so sorry she’d missed us, she’d only gone out to do a bit of shopping. Her voice is soft, lyrical, you can here the Welsh-ness, treacly. Her house had been pretty, her garden lovingly tended. I’ve just spent the day with a friend seeing the snowdrops. She tells me the name of Hall. Everybody else seems to have had the same idea, she says, laughing. I ask if she is happy in her new home. It’s a perfect location for me, she says. The Guild is just up the road and when I can no longer drive the station is just round the corner. I’ve no idea what she means by the Guild. But she has company, and for that I am glad.

I saw her legs first, poking out into the pavement. It was 4.00 am. I’d wondered if I’d see her. Sometimes I caught a glimpse of her out during the day. Those same heavy-lidded eyes. Sad. She sits out smoking, in the dark, fully clothed. An insomniac, perhaps. She sits in the dark, in silence. I break it. Good morning, I say. She replies, looking at me without curiosity.

I’m feeling a bit nervy, he says on waking. That would’ve been enough in the past to sink him. Not now. It passes. A bit nervy, a bit anxious. It comes and goes. He lives with it. I live with it. It is part of the dark. The sun lifts it. See here it comes.

A murmuration of starlings passed overhead three times as I walked to church yesterday morning. It moved fast. There was a swish, a whish and whoosh as it passed. A scattering of black, then nothing. The birds have it in the morning. They are the lords. The masters of the sky and air. Their song is a cacophony. Glorious. I walk by hedgerows and they are a hive of activity. Sparrows, blackbirds, blue tits. They flit about and seem to follow and then lead me forward.

At 9.00 am I look down into the Quad beneath us and see a large, squarely-built young man in a tee-shirt, shorts and flip flops walking down the path carrying a large bouquet of red roses and a black box with a red bow. He carries them like a footman, holding them before him, solemnly. Later I see him again, with a girl this time. The same orange ribbon hangs from his pocket (though they are trousers this time), she pulls it out. There is a key on the end. She strides ahead key at the ready, he follows behind.

Two men call out to me from the Bandstand. It is 4.15 am. Is there a pub club somewhere near here? one of them asks. No, I say, I don’t think so. And not at this time. They mutter something and wander off.

I dreamt of babies last night. Too much Midwife, I think.

His mother had died the night before so the female curate had to take the service. I like her. I keen to such women with their dulcet tones and soft, baby-white hair. She was nervous, pages where lost, a wafer dropped, and yet, there was a deep gravitas that made it alright. It doesn’t matter, I wanted to say. We all wish you well. All six of us. A small congregation. I am greeted, welcomed, even though I scurry away like Cinderella at the end, not wanting the small talk.

I’ve got to go, I said, there’s a pan bubbling over. And it was, the sprouts coming to the boil with the lid jumping, water spitting over the hob. I’m not good with the telephone, I get edgy, feel trapped. There’s no time, no time for chit chat. And yet, I want to say, I do care, I do love you. You know that don’t you? Don’t you?



Learning to Read (3) (close-up) 2014

It was just under three hundred miles there and back. I saw six badgers in all. All dead, on the side of the road. Great, leaden bodies, perfect, noble even, in death. The writer said that often the dead badgers we see on motorways and A roads haven’t been killed by traffic but have been dumped there by badger baiters. Poor brocks.

She’d wanted to continue her education but her father wouldn’t let her. What would you have liked to have done? I asked her. I wanted to be a children’s nurse, she said, but I was scared of injections. Would she mind that I talk about her like this? I protect her name. It is just I want to both share and remember. All of this is really about memory. Remembering what people say. It is important to me. A record. An archive of this life.

Do you live in Uni accommodation? a student asked me as I headed home down Great Darkgate Street. It was 4.30 am. He was coatless, swaying a little and holding a KFC carton in one hand. No, I replied, are you lost? No, he said, I just need a taxi. Town was full of them, carousing. A dry night, not too cold and Reading Week next week, all perfect for revelling. I look in windows as I pass. Bald overhead bulbs shine on clusters of bodies around tables. Heads are hidden under hoods, long legs sprawl, table tops are covered in bottles. There is a low thrumming of music. A glut of figures gather outside the Fried Chicken shop and another outside The Angel, their instruments and DJ’s turntable lying at their feet. I am always taken aback when someone talks to me. It breaks my reverie, my internal musings. What do they see? I am cocooned in a big coat, waterproof trousers, hat, gloves and scarf whilst they are dressed for the club, the women barelegged and tripping and the boys t-shirted and reeling. I walk through the miasma of stale beer and cigarettes towards peace.

Windless today.

I’d forgotten her name. I’d warmed to her. She’d asked me questions. The only one to do so. But that wasn’t the only thing. It was her underlying melancholy that attracted me. She was fiery, opinionated but good. The goodness shone through. All alone in that big, monster of a house. All alone except for the old dog that lived with her. They’d bought the house together. Their dream. And then he died. She is managing. She always will. An iron will. But underneath a raging sadness. I think. What do I know? I know I liked her. I like her. So I asked her to remind me of her name. And she did. Thank you. I won’t forget now. Sounds like worry. Sounds like Florrie.

You’ll always be a worrier, she said. Casting it in stone. So be it.



Test text (16)

We talked for over half and hour this morning. The first time I called her she could barely manage five minutes, bringing the call to end saying she felt dizzy. Now, she chats away. It is a delight. She has blossomed. She even laughs. A kind of chuckle. Delicious. Light as meringue. She’d just come back from a walk. She said we. With your daughter? I asked. No, the neighbour’s dog. She’s pining for Jet still. And she is funny, she said, barking at things I can’t see. We talk of all things. Her daughter’s old primary school teacher, who told her she couldn’t sing in tune. The storm in Aberystwyth. Llandudno. And the mild winter. Even the primroses are out, she said. And the daffodils. In the past you struggled to get your daffodils open for St David’s Day, she said. I hold the phone closer to my ear and love her. She is a stranger to me and yet, there is love, it cannot be anything else. Go well.

We were sitting outside Morrison’s waiting for it to open. The remnants of Imogen were still whipping up the rain and the wind. Looking across the car park we could see an elderly man blown hard against his car, trying to make his way to the trolley park. I better go, he said, reaching for the door handle. No, I said, let me.

He was large man, with flaccid flesh. He reminded me vaguely of the vicar in Dad’s Army, he even had that slight aristocratic voice. His trousers were too short and thin. His raincoat flapped around his thighs. Can I help you? I asked. Oh, thank you, he said, but I’m alright once I have hold of a trolley. I touch his arm and leave him to it. He is slow but steady, his cheek made pink. I see him as a widower, he says as we get into the car. No, I say, I think he’s been living with his aged mother and she’s died, leaving him the family home. Spot on, he says.

The Prom is like a bomb site. The road is cordoned off. Apparently, someone was arrested for getting too close. We wanted to look. The sea was a marvel. Wild. A torrent. One is drawn to it. Drawn to its danger.

His shoes were muddy. I remember my father cleaning his shoes each morning before work. He didn’t do much around the house. He wasn’t a practical man but he always cleaned his own shoes. I’d watch him sometimes. The cleaning stuff was kept in a box in the hallway cupboard. He did it carefully but briskly. At that time I was too young to even tie my own shoe laces. To me he seemed so confident and so dapper. I loved the care he took over his appearance. They both did. My parents. That was before they got too tired, he with a brain tumour and she with disappointment. I clean his shoes, with love. I serve. I chose to. I always have. Always will.

The man delivering the Pause for Thought talks about how he struggles to like everybody. And how that makes him feel. He concludes with a compromise, if it is indeed that. He talks about bearing witness. Bearing witness to others’ suffering, challenges, ordeals, life experiences. Bearing witness, standing alongside, being present for another. That’s how it was as a Samaritan. It wasn’t about liking, but about compassion. Standing for a moment in another shoes. It is enough. It is a loving act. An act of love.

The Year of the Monkey. Not good for tigers, it seems. Lay low, plan but do not act. I know a monkey. He fits the bill. Quick-witted, intelligent, short-tempered, a bit of a rogue. We weren’t suited. But I am grateful for what he brought me. A gift indeed.

I hear the owl most mornings. Is it the same one? Not a wit-a-woo, as I said, more like a howl.

I was nervous. Would he still be the same? Was he still alive? Would he remember me? Was he still upstairs? we asked the Receptionist. A cheery woman, yes, she said, second floor, take the lift. Locked in. Enclosed in a floor of thick-carpeted lounges. Full of wanderers. A woman in an expensive padded jacket, says hello and have I met you before? No, we say, nice to meet you. We ask a member of staff where he is. More cheery faces. Everyone smiling, except the large woman we walked past downstairs, in a black t-shirt. She looked a tartar. He’s over there, says the carer. A large man in an armchair staring at the TV. Was it even on? I take his hand. Hello, he says, do I know you? I sit on the table across from him. He tells me he’s been silly, and that his eyes have been watering. I give him handfuls of names, talk of events, places. Do you know my wife? he asks. Yes, I say. Do you know my family? he asks. Yes, I say. Isn’t it a small world? he says. It’s been so nice to meet you. Another carer comes over to take him to his lunch. Do I know you? he asks. Yes, she says, I take you to lunch every day. What’s your name? he asks. She laughs, Julie, she says. Locked-in. He is locked-in. I only came here yesterday, he says. Did you? I say. Are you happy here? I ask. It’s nice enough, he says. I don’t know really. No. How can you? Lost. It is all lost to you. You remember your job. I was important, you say. I have lots of friends, you say. Do you know any of their names? Yes, I say, do you remember so and so? I think so, he says. His eyes cloud over. They have always been rheumy. Weepy eyes. Sad eyes, like a spaniel’s. I am so sorry. I am so sorry, you are lost like this. The woman in the expensive jacket comes over to shake his hand. Do I know you? he asks. She walks off. It is a bedlam of sorts but with carpets. A happy home. Make this a happy home, sings Gladys Knight. Not home. He remembers his homes. He will return, he thinks. Not now. It is too late. He is lost. You are lost. I hold your hand and remember. I shall remember for you. With love. Always with love.


Night Walking (5)

Wimbledon Dada show

For me it is a brave thing, this night walking in the dark. I’m scared you see, of that dark, that is. At least, I am until I’m out there, in it. From the inside it looks impossible. I cannot, I cannot imagine being out in it. And then, when I walk out, it is alright. The air is so alive, so fresh, it fills my nostrils with life. The wind, the rain, it is all part of the vigour of life. Yes, the rain hurts, it pricks my face, but it is vital. As is the sea. Each day it is different. Ever changing and yet constant.

The sea birds mass on the shore. I see them every morning. Sometimes they face the sea, other days they look inland. Equally spaced, they stand together but slightly apart, in silent communion. Sharing a common animation, aliveness. Waiting. Waiting for morning.

The other morning a similar mass of Chinese students walking down Llanbadarn Road. It was 4.30 am. What had they been doing? They were wide awake. Some were on phones, others were talking. Were they going to somewhere or coming from something? That’s it you see, there is so much life that can go unmissed. If one pays attention it can seem almost magical. A man opening his door, the yellow light of his porch flooding the blackness.

Sometimes the rooks murmur like the starlings. It is more of mess though. It is as if they have been suddenly chucked up into the sky, ragged and unkempt. Some sit by the parked cars by the harbour. They have learnt to do so. They wait, wait for the scraps that may be hurled from a wound-down window. They wait patiently, the wind ruffling their feathers. When nothing is forthcoming they hop away, a little disconsolate.

I don’t know what I can do, so I ask him. He has no answers either. I ask it if troubles him. Thirty thousand. I cannot imagine such a number. To loose everything, the whole fabric of one’s life. How does that feel? I want to stand alongside them. I walk in the wind and rain and pull myself inside myself for warmth. Can they do that? Is there always hope? Is there? What do I wish for them, those refugees and indeed the homeless here, the man in the shelter? What do I wish for them? A resolution, food to eat, warmth, safety, a chance, hope, peace and the grace to cope with what life has brought them. Is that enough? Can I do more?



Ellen Bell Call Me © Stephen Lynch Photography 001

‘I become weak when I enter the region of fiction; and you say, “real experience is perennially interesting, and to all men”, so wrote Charlotte Bronte to G. H. Lewes.

But where’s the story? he said.

So how’s the film going to end? he asked, I don’t know, I said. You’re the creative writer, he said. Not of fiction, I said. In the end it ended positively, I thought. But he lost his job, his wife, he said. Yeh, I said, but he’d grown tired of it all, jaded. He ended up with a friend in the boy. And they were going to write the stories, other people’s stories together.

I asked after her grandmother. Oh, she passed away, she said, a while ago now. She died in hospital. Do you remember, she was the woman who wouldn’t open her eyes. Her last stand. Did she look at you before she died. Sort of, she said. They say hearing is the last thing to go, she said. We took in a CD player and played Welsh hymns. I woke early, about seven o’clock, I knew something was up. So I went and sat with her. She died around eleven. No, we did have the funeral in Chapel, too gloomy. Yes, the Crematorium is nice. That big window. I sat and watched a red kite during the service. My brother read a poem. No, we haven’t had time to miss her yet, we’re too busy sorting out the house. Her name? Morwenna.

To be continued. His essays always finished to be continued. A suivre in French. Continue. To be continued. French phrases played in my head as I walked this morning. Anna Massey in Hotel du Lac saying je vous en prie. It’s like the Welsh at work. It, the words, just flow around and over my head. Some I can make sense of, others are just sounds. I listen to the intonation, the timbre of the voices. I remember my mother talking to my grandmother or my aunt on the phone. Her voice suddenly unfamiliar, speaking her mother’s tongue. Sometimes it made me cry. I thought I’d lost her.

A suivre.



Wind Sounds

talk to me - cream telephone (2)

It was wild yesterday morning. The wind was a force. I walked into it. Then it seemed to shift direction, now it was off the sea, now it was from the south, then the north. I was buffeted, my coat hood flapping against my ears. I don’t mind it. It is alive. I feel alive. My limbs are bruised, my muscles used in such a walk. And such sounds it makes. Not just the wind itself but the objects it encounters. Down at the harbour especially, such a jangling of rigging. Sometimes there is a scream, a screech, then a howl. All is intensified in the darkness. There is a whistling, a singing, a whispering, a rattling. The harbour water grows black, it swirls and shifts. No wonder sailors imagined sirens, singing mermaids. Such howling is barely human, beyond human. Who would go out in such weather? I would succumb to the drowning, let it be, let the howling cease. Take me into the dark, cold depths. There is warmth in death.

I woke cross. It was my dream. There was a little girl. A blonde-haired little poppet. Moon-faced and charming. But she kept appearing at windows. High windows.  She was on ledges, on balconies, unafraid, it seemed of falling. I was responsible for her and I couldn’t stop her from putting herself in danger, from taking risks. She made me cross. I couldn’t catch her, find her. She’d just appear at opportune moments at the side of my vision. I know what it means. I can see it.

Another Lee Hall radio play. They are good. They are fantastic pieces of writing. All from a child’s perspective. We listen as they try to reason out the unreasonable. Trying to find their own power. A fourteen-year-old girl who wants to be become pregnant to compensate for the loss of her father. You’re not pregnant, shouts her mother after they’ve been to the doctor, you’ve not even had sex. And yet, she is such a wise girl. Profoundly so. It’s not about hate, it’s about love, she says. At least the baby will be mine. And her brother, Scout, who buries his father’s socks to make him come back to life. And he does.

Easter is coming early. Shrove Tuesday next week. I made him pancakes yesterday. We didn’t know. Lent. I dispense with treats. Coffee beans from Monmouth Coffee in Covent Garden with their smell of toffee and chocolate and Jo Malone Candles, my monthly massage, pomegranates.

I heard the owl as a I walked, albeit briefly, this morning. It isn’t twit twoo. It’s more like a moaning, a keening. I couldn’t see it in the dark. It sounded like it was overhead. It’s call echoing above me.

The sky is a mass of clouds. Milky white covering the blue. The wind has dropped and there is no rain, yet. The bird song is splendid pre-dawn. They think it is Spring. Not long, not long now. Soon.



Billet Doux - sketchbook - 1000 pix

As he talks I stare at his fingernails. They are long, like guitar players’ fingers. Long and yellowed. It’s the cigarettes. He is wearing a black cotton shirt and tufts of white chest hair protrude through the buttoned gaps. I find it awkward talking to him. I’ve never been good at small talk. And this isn’t even a party. I am just passing, on my way up to our front door. He is at his window, smoking. It isn’t that I don’t like him. There is a warmth. I can sense that he is kind. But there is a sardonic-ness to him. He deflects attention from himself by somehow making me feel a little foolish. Or am I being over-sensitive? Is it just that I don’t wish to talk, to stop, to pass the time of day?

Just pass the time of day with him, he says. That’s all. I am awkward, and I sense he is too. We ask about each others’ day. I’m busy, I say. I’m retired, he says. He says he’d like to travel. Central America. But he is grounded for the most part by his aged mother. He doesn’t say this but it is implicit. He asks, so I tell him that I’m an artist and a writer. Do I mumble it? My confidence is not as it was. He tells me his mother was an illustrator. Oh, I say. Anything Welsh, fairy stories, he says. And my daughter is an artist too. Is he dismissing me? The world is full of artists.

Why didn’t you tell him? he asks. Tell him about what? Your achievements, he says. Because, I say. Because, I don’t need to. And yet, and yet, there is still this longing to be…to be what? Recognised. To do well. To rise about mediocrity. Why, why not let it go? There is no peace to be had in such a seeking. I look her up. His mother. On the internet. They are detailed, romantic images. She didn’t begin till she was sixty. Self-taught. Admirable. She has stopped now. She is in her nineties and her eyesight is failing. She has even published an autobiography. A potent woman, I think. I know others like her. Potent.

Yesterday the air smelt like Spring. We saw crocuses on the bank. Yellow ones. Single ones pushing through. We talked about The Backs. We remembered our Sunday walks, the flood of crocuses. There is a house on Llanbadarn Road that has a lawn beset with snowdrops. What a joyous sight.

Storm Henry is stirring up the sea. A steely grey. Turbulent. Anxious. Fretful.

I dreamt of two meals. I had to attend two meals. People kept arriving. I watched them come through the door. The elderly, the young, steadily they poured in. I had to tell someone that I had to leave. I’ll tell them soon. Soon, I thought.

On Pause for Thought she talked about the philosopher A. J. Ayer. And about how he was an atheist until he nearly died. He claims he then met the Supreme Being. He’s a much nicer person since he died, said his wife. In 2012, on Desert Island Discs Sir Terry Wogan implied that he no longer believed. Kindness was his thing. And yet, the papers say that the family priest was flown in. Did he change his mind? Was it a comfort thing, for his wife? Light a candle for me, he said.

I catch a bit of Lee Hall’s radio play I Love You Jimmy Spud. Jimmy is a trainee angel trying to save his Dad from cancer. God is a bastard, shouts his Dad. He breaks his heavenly trumpet. Dad dies or does he? I couldn’t tell. I’m going to cover the world in angel kisses, says Jimmy. Angel kisses. See my feathers, they’re starting to grow, he says to Scout. I think of Mervyn Peake’s Mr Pye, having to become devilish to stem the onslaught of his wings. On earth not even angels are perfect.

You do not have to be good, writes Mary Oliver.  You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Amen.