Aase May 17 2012 (2)

I want to be close to her. It is the same as before. Too far. Too far away. I think of her, semi-paralysed, out-cold, wanting oblivion. How can I know that? How can I know anything?

We talk about dying, he and I. His mother was a year younger than her, 93. She shrank to almost nothing. A frail tissue of thing, just skin and bone. And not much skin. She stopped eating weeks before. Just liquid. That perpetual cup of tea, brought on a trolley by some noisy but kind carer. What happens when you don’t eat, I ask, does the body still….? Yeh, he says, there was poo in her nappy when she died. The hospital told me that she isn’t on a drip. Isn’t eating, isn’t drinking. It’s the Liverpool pathway, he says. Is that what it’s called? Really. A preparation for dying. There is nothing more we can do for her, the nurse says over the phone, so she’s gone back to the home. Palliative care. Turning the virtually-comatose body, keeping it clean, changing its nappy.

She tells me she will give her a big hug on my behalf. It isn’t the same. I want to touch, to comfort, to say all that I want to say about how wonderful I think she is. Was. Is. Remarkable. They all were. Remarkable women. And her too. Even if she terrified me. I think of her daily.

She used to make my sister sit at the table when we’d all ‘got down’ in front of her gone-cold food. It was excruciating. A battle of wills. Years later she told me her parents used to do the same to her. The unkindness perpetuates.

She is the last. The last thread. The last intimacy. Will I ever return?


I struggle to write it. And yet, I know I must. Let it percolate, he says. Yes. It will come. It will come.


Stroke seems such a kind word.


Blue (5)

Aase May 17 2012

His name badge reads Kyle. We are next in line and I listen to him conversing with the customers ahead of us. I had to call, he is saying, he was swerving all over the road. He was clearly drunk. Kyle’s large face is pink, excited to recount the experience. Saving the world. Doing his duty. They were on him straight away, says Kyle.Traffic cops. I saw the blue light. They’d nabbed him. He tells us the story too. He is delighted. It passes the time of day. Why not? They called me back, he says. Apparently, he was four times over the limit. Imagine that, I say. Imagine. I ask about Easter. No, he didn’t do anything special, went to see his new nephew. My partner’s not well, he tells me. Oh, I say. She lost a baby. I’m sorry, was she far gone? Seven weeks, he says. It must’ve been difficult for her to see the new nephew. Yes, he says, his face full of meaning, it was. It set her back, I think. Behind us in the queue is a man with no arms. A Thalidomide victim. He holds his cash with his fingers but they are hidden beneath miniature sleeves. I think about the Midwife. It began then in the early 60s. Well-meaning doctors prescribing drugs for morning sickness. It is all he has known. I’m sure he manages. There is no need for pity. It’s just different. That’s all. I wish him well.

From my window I look down onto the Quad. There is a man’s legs poking out from a ground floor flat. His French windows are open wide. He sits on a chair in the sun. On his feet are a pair of immaculate shiny black brogues.

Two young lads walking down Great Darkgate Street. Ahead is another with two girls in parkas. Oh, God, says one of the pair to the other, I’ve left my phone. He shrugs and keeps on walking before shouting out to the lad ahead. Enjoy your day, man, he shouts. Enjoy your day. The lad raises a hand in acknowledgment but doesn’t turn round. Enjoy your day.

And you my love, go well. Fall into unconsciousness with ease, with peace. You have been loved. x


Fairy Lights

Layette - test crop (7)

It gave me a frisson of joy. I walked out into the unseasonably cold air and there they were, all lit up. It’s not Christmas, yet their white, sparkling light was such a fillip. The mornings are growing lighter, though at 4.00 am it makes little difference. The moon was full this morning and shimmered it silvery-ness on the water. It throws a white light into my studio too. A little eerie. A magic light. A fairy light.

I think of Easters long ago. Going to church with Dad and coming home with my cream egg hot in my pocket. And the laying of the table. Mum had a box of impossibly yellow chicks with orange plastic feet. Let me, I’d say, let me do the table. A centrepiece of chicks and tiny sugared eggs atop a nest of cotton wool. I was so proud. Don’t knock it. Smoothing out the crepe paper. What did we eat? Pork? I cannot remember. There was sweetcorn in the hostess trolley and peas and gravy in the white porcelain gravy boat. We used the best dinner service. And I think there was sherry. The TV was full of programmes about the Passion. I didn’t want to see his torture and looked away.

What a beautiful day. A perfect sky. Silence except for the cawing of crows.

My dreams were too vivid. Moon dreams. A woman murdered and cut in half. Bagged up neatly, severed at the waist. No blood. And an acting role I had to do at short notice. On the West End stage. I missed the matinee and then I didn’t. There were contracts to fill in. I didn’t know the script. I hadn’t seen it. But somehow I was all alright. It was alright.

My sewing gives me tension. It is slow work and I still do not know if it is working. Persevere. Something will come from it and if it doesn’t at least you have seen through your imaginings. Is it the same with everyone? I see it so clearly in my head that I have to make it. If only to manifest it into physical form. Then to cancel it. Discard. Perhaps not a sensible, time-effective way of working but this is an unearthing process. It is not linear, not sensible, but felt. It will come. I am sure of it. Aren’t you?

Happy Easter, by the way.

I remember Caramac eggs. Sickly cloying. I would save them. Never gorging. They looked so small once the packaging had been removed.



Lists #10

Paper boats - mass

Some days I chase my tail. I cannot find the time to do it all. Such days are my list-days. That’s all I can do, write lists on odd scraps of paper and torn post-it notes: learn to play the piano, walk a marathon, read the instructions for my camera, paint the balustrade, re-listen to the programme about Charlotte Bronte’s letters and the new biography of her life, wash dressing gown, make soup, call bank.

I have to do the same here, on this page. Instructions. Write about: newspaper front pages, bearing witness to the pain of others, mass killings and the death of a lonely old man (not missed for two weeks until a neighbour pushed open the letter-box and smelt the decaying stink of him), the homeless boy sleeping outside Costa Coffee, Colin in Morrison’s, his long, gentle fingers pushing my apples into a bag I didn’t want, grumpiness towards my neighbour after a long journey, ‘do I look like a shopper?’, sharpness towards a waitress when she brings me food I don’t want and mendings, neat metal stitches.

Soon. A week of writing. Breathe. The air this morning smelt of fields. Later of newly-mown grass. Something like bliss. Can it be? Can there be bliss against such pain? There is, there must be. A silver-lining she calls it. The cancer, contained and removed. She is happy again. A daughter safe. Something like hope. Something like forgiveness.




Gin Palace

Wire letter sample (1)

Their chatter relaxes me. It is inconsequential, a kind of background noise that they use to interact with their clients. It’s all ready for you, she says, nice and cosy. Pop off you clothes and hop on the bed. I brace myself as she presses down the cloth strip onto the warm wax, ready to rip. How was Dublin? I ask, remembering that last time I was there she and her colleague were anticipating their Christmas Away-Weekend. We take it after Christmas, she’d said, when it’s not so busy. Dublin? It was fab, she says. Underarm as well? That’s it. Did you go on the amphibian craft? I ask. No, she says, there wasn’t time in the end. We went on a bus thing instead. How about restaurants? I ask. Any good ones? To be honest, she says, it was more of a liquid weekend. I don’t drink much usually but we found this gin palace. A hundred and fifty different kinds of gin. With different garnishes. It was fab, she says. I don’t drink much usually but with gin I’m fine. No ill effects whatsoever in the morning. There, that’s you done. Take your time. Open the door when you’re ready.

Something white is bouncing about on the beach. The breeze catches it, lifting it up and then dropping it. A white puffed-up thing. It twirls about then comes to rest. I move closer, straining my eyes in the morning dark. Its an inflated plastic bag. I think of American Beauty and the young boy filming the dance of a cellophane bag. Concentrate on the detail. Pay attention.

It’s end of term. Crowds of students like shoals of fishes at 4.00 am in the morning slowly moving down Penglais Hill. A boy lies down in the road. There is a frisson of tension. A taxi cab drives down the hill slowing its speed. The boy bounds up. A girl voice drawls, Craig, the g extended like a sigh. On the prom a large boy is smoking by the railings. I kick the bar and turn, walking towards him. He looks at me, and as I draw near he says, Sorry, I was talking to someone else. That’s alright I say, smiling. There was no one else there.

The path through the Quad is littered with branches. Crows are building their nests. We can hear the scrape of seagulls’ feet on our roof. You have to be careful, he says at breakfast, they can be vicious around their young.

The radio peppers my day with delights. A programme about Anne Sexton, mostly filled with her two daughters’ anger. We called her Joyce, one of her poems ran, so we could call her Joy. As parents we start out with so much expectation of happiness. They will change our lives, we think. How can they? I dreamt of a baby last night. It was right up close to my face and petulant. Then a short story this morning. I only caught the beginning. A lollipop lady knitting baby clothes for other peoples’ babies. The night before I dreamt that she told me that she didn’t want me to contact her anymore. The shock of it. The grief of it. Then I was in a room. It was white. All the furniture was covered in dust sheets. More radio. A snippet of Henning Mankell’s memoir. I felt relaxed, he wrote, as I always do when nobody knows where I am or who I am. Later on DIS Gloria Steinem talked of her mother. Like many women I’m living the unlived life of my mother, she’d written years before. At 81 she has much grace. And a quietude.

We were six at church. A new person. A red-haired young man. He scuffled past me to the back pew. The old man with the fluffed-up hair came to talk to me. I asked about his accent. I couldn’t work out whether it was Yorkshire or Lancashire, I say. He pulls a face. Yorkshire, he says, North Riding. I see it now. I hear it now. Cosy. Always. Though I don’t say that. He tells me he used to be a gardener for a large stately home nearby. I worked till I was 75, he says, until they sold it. It’s luxury flats now. I ask if he has a lovely garden. No, he smiles, I live in a flat. At the end of the service, a palm cross in my hand, I stride off down the apse. I hear my name being called. It is the old man. Gosh, you walk fast, he says, catching his breath. I had to take two for every one of yours. He walks with me out of the church. There must’ve been a wedding, he says, looking at the confetti that has blown against the edges of the turf. Their not meant to use confetti. It’s nice though, I say. He continues chattering. He is deaf. Usually I hear the bells, he is saying. Then he tells me that the man who usually sits next to him in church is in New Zealand. He’s been all over the world, he says. He seems to know everyone’s name. Have a nice Easter, he says, turning left towards home his hand raised in goodbye. I am touched to be so singled out. I always am.

Paul Daniels died. A part of my childhood. I found him a little excruciating as a child, never having been comfortable with what my mother would’ve called a ‘show-off’. It was later, much later, when Louis Theroux did his programme about him that I felt a warmth, a sympathy, a compassion for him. There was a sadness behind the showman that was both intriguing and pathetic. Rest in peace.

She was standing on the rocks. A young black woman in leggings and a tight vest. She was curving, stretching, holding yoga poses, her body strong and lithe. She laughed as she wobbled, then re-gaining her balance her face became serious, staring, concentrating. We walked on a little more and I saw the photographer crouched amongst the rocks, camera lens pointed at her. I knew him.

He, her husband, called them ‘as dangerous as Lucifer matches’. Letters. Her letters. Charlotte Bronte’s letters. Many were burnt.


Mrs Hubbard

Sewn letter large text detail

Walking down Loveden Road at 4.30 am I can hear voices in the dark. It’s like, you know, Mrs Hubbard and her cupboard, a girl’s voice is saying. So no one’s there, replies another.

The birdsong before dawn is marvellous. Arriving at work at 5.30 am it fills the air. Layer upon layer of calling, chirruping, piping.

I wasn’t going to reply. It felt odd, more than a little creepy. On her card she wrote that she was a secretary in an engineering firm. She wanted us all to do a drawing and enclosed an S.A.E. I wasn’t going to reply but then thought about it. It was rather sweet really. I want to see what happens, she wrote. It was an act of immense optimism. I wonder how many artists responded. Yesterday I received another card from her. Thank you for your contribution, she wrote, and I’m enclosing a token of my gratitude. Inside the envelope was the remains of what was a Lindt chocolate rabbit wrapped in gold paper, now flattened.

He was so gauche. His nerves emanating as a smell. A smell of fear. Gosh, you’re early, I said, opening the studio door. Yes, he said, sorry. No, no, it’s fine, I’d said, suddenly cottoning-on to the reason why. He had to wait half-an-hour then, sweating with anxiety in that little cupboard of a room. They pitted him against a feminist. She was good, well-informed and sharp. You did fine, I said, as he took off the headphones, forcing a smile, he grabbed his bag and scarpered.

I am overly watchful of him. I can’t help it.

The companion of the sky, wrote Charlotte Bronte in her grief, the solace of the solitary.

I glance at the article before secreting it away in a drawer to read later. She championed those who live alone, it said. The solitary. The unmarried. The childless. Rest in peace A.B. Anon. I will return to you anon.

The sun shines.

What a joy.



Wire letter sample detail

It took a moment to work out what it was. I’d seen a cat earlier, trotting along North Road. You expect cats, night-prowlers that they are, but a rabbit, and by the seafront. Bounce, bounce, along the tarmacadam. Bobbing in the morning darkness.

The air was warm. I came out earlier than usual. At 3.30 am hordes of students were still slunking around town. The pizza and fried chicken shops were bursting with bodies, all shouting. Groups of twos and threes making their slow way back to Halls. One young man was clutching a traffic cone, screeching. A police car crawled up and down, not stopping, just observing. Beyond the castle the pip pip of oystercatchers echoed from below the sea wall. The sky was a mass of stars.

I was in work early and so was the guest. She was nervous, her eyes wide. I’ve never done this before, she said. She had a script with her, two pages of questions and answers. Do you think they’ll follow it? she asked. No, I said, trying to think of ways of calming her. They kept her waiting almost an hour. Budget day, important news, more important than the love letters she came to talk about. I’ve got to leave work early this afternoon, she said. It’s my cat. He was attacked last night. Oh, I’m sorry, I said. By another cat, she said. He’s rather timid. A colleague in the studio suggested that TV might like the story. The guest looked horrified. I’m don’t doing telly, she said. They’d found two boxes. Boxes of love letters. She was nineteen and he was fifty-nine. A pop star of his day. Long-forgotten now. She pursued him. They wrote in French. Someone kept them. Preserved. Was it her?

It’s his last day tomorrow on the tills. He’s retiring. I’m going to sell me house and me car, he says. What will you do then? we ask. Don’t know, he says. We’ll see where life takes me. His hands and face are a livid purple. They won’t let us wear gloves in ‘ere, he says. Is it his heart? He’s a bit of dandy, heavy chains of gold adorn his wrists and neck. A contented man, I think, except for his cold hands. We shake hands and say our goodbyes.

Always changes. Some stark, dramatic, others imperceptible.

I’ve four sessions today. I need to succumb to it. To fight it makes me uneasy. Let it be. No time to do anything other than sit and wait and make others comfortable. That is a good enough day, I think.

Overhead the clouds hover, static and stubborn. They promise sun later.

The owner calls the flat the crow’s nest. We are up high. High in the sky. Sometimes we are level with birds in flight. I like that. I can see their underbellies. They fly towards our window, only to swerve upwards at the last minute to land atop of the eaves.

Sometimes is it as if we live in the sky.




Sewn letter small text detail (2)

It always helps, talking to him, that is. He irons out my creases. He calms my inner chaos. I lay it all out before him. He listens, bearing witness with his gentle wisdom. It always helps, talking to him.

It’s something to do with being in that particular environment, it makes me a little stir-crazy. I feel hemmed-in. Held in. Locked-in. They are all so furiously busy, well most are. Doing what appears to be important things. Telling important stories. And there is the alien language. I am shut out by that too. I know the feeling too well. It isn’t their fault. They don’t intend to alienate me. They are just doing what they do, speaking what is, after all, their mother tongue. Sometimes, when I am more ease I am happy to sit there letting it all float above me, unconcerned, not responsible. On the outskirts. But other times it really gets to me.

I take in my sewing. And that is an act in itself. Unconventional. Un-art. It is a considered act. I was nervous at first. What if they ask questions? I don’t know how to explain it. Not yet. But no-one did. No questions. Except one. The authoress. She strode right over, whatya doing? Is it cross-stitch? I mumbled something about letters and Charlotte Bronte. Oh, she said, have you read the new biography? Do I want them to show interest? I don’t know. It is all ego stuff. I can mostly let it go. There is an ease to what I do. It is just time, that’s all. And in that wasted time I can at least think. Think as I sew. I read somewhere that girls were given sewing to keep them quiet. Keep their hands busy. It is an act, a performance, sewing in public. Whatya doing? I don’t know. I feel like a charlatan. I always have. In every art school I ever attended. A charlatan. Whatya doing? I don’t know. I just don’t know. No yet. Maybe never.

Anita Brookner has died. It never seemed fashionable to like her books. A very particular readership, I think. Melancholic novels. Elegant restraint. Unrequited love, foolish passions, un-spilt. Women lost in a fifties greyness, waiting to be saved. Edith Hope was my favourite, the romantic novel writer of Hotel du Lac. Anna Massey played her in the film. Beautiful. Rest in peace. And thank you for the gift of your stories.

And Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. They said on Radio 3 that he went to live on Orkney. Why do I keen towards such tales of withdrawal, isolation? I see it in my mind’s eye and long. He wanted to concentrate on his composing, undisturbed. Do you have to be important to do such withdrawing? Is it enough to just wish to be ordinary. Quietly ordinary.

It’s been a while since I called her. She weighs on me. I want to reach out but the phone is so difficult for both of us. It was the first time she didn’t recognise my voice. She wouldn’t speak English. Her voice was strained, cold. I must put down the phone now, she said in Norwegian. Have I lost her? Try her again, he says. Try her again another day. It may be just a blip. She was like that once before, don’t you remember? Give it a few days. OK, though I am scared that I’ve lost her. I love her, you know. I know. I know.

The congregation had swelled. Seven in all. One of us had to wait for a second sitting for Communion. Walking home the birdsong was a cacophony. On Llanbadarn Road a woman comes towards me with a spaniel on a lead. They stop at the junction. The dog sits patiently awaiting her command. She makes him wait a little too long. There is restraint there. A control. The dog, however is at ease. Floppy with trust. I smile at her. It isn’t returned.

Still no word. Shall I text again? I just don’t know. Stay still just a while longer. Trust like the spaniel.

Let be just a while longer.



Paper boats close-up

My mind has been elsewhere. I haven’t paid attention. Except for a red coat pulled tight across generous hips. And a skinny girl-child being scowled at for taking a bite from a doughnut. It’ll spoil yer tea.

It smells like Spring, though the sky is milk-white.

She says she wants to use one or two of my poems. I thought they’d been lost. Overlooked. I felt foolish. It won’t be in print but spoken, on a video. Given life. Breathed into. Shall I read them?

My mind has been elsewhere. I haven’t paid attention. Except for the metallic stink of guano as I walked by the Pier. And the robin that bobbed before me, returning twice as I walked up the incline. Such tender little things, legs like fuse wire.

My mind has been elsewhere. I haven’t paid attention. Except for thinking of her, often. Trying not to worry or feel hurt. Let it go, I say. Let it be. Let be. Let what will be, just be. Just be. Simple, isn’t it?

Who killed Zebedee? by Wilkie Collins. I listen to it again on the iPlayer. Zebedee from the Magic Roundabout. I never really got it as a child, though I always felt a pang when it ended. A five minute slot each evening at about 4.30 pm. Just before we had tea (though I’d call it supper now). I knew it was for us. Your programme, he would say. Just for us. Dougal, Florence, Dylan and Brian (I think he was the snail). The end credits made me sad. Something was finished. I was no longer held in its cosy embrace. I felt the same about Play School. So long ago.

Supporting herself by her needle. A line from Wilkie Collins. That’s what women did then. You couldn’t now. Not now. Not now. I want to write about making art as a gift. But what constitutes a gift? Something left? Something inserted between the pages of a book?

We talk about friendships. I hurt on his behalf, though he doesn’t ask me to. Do I feel responsible? Would he have done it if I weren’t around? Let it be. Let be. I think I have to carry it all. That big black bag of responsibility. I don’t need to. It doesn’t help. Not ever. Let it be.

The wind broke some windows in her greenhouse. I think that’s where I got my chill, she says. It’s not very big, she says. Oh, there’s a few tomatoes and runner beans, she says. Her voice is thick with catarrh. Will you be watching the rugby? she asks. Oh, yes, she says, we shout at the telly. Thanks, love, she says, thanks for calling.

The homeless boy was in the café. I’d seen his two big, lozenge-shaped bags outside. He was sitting at the long table downstairs, on the corner, his bags on the floor next to him. There was a small iPad charging on the table. He was doing a crossword, mouthing the answers silently to himself, an empty plate and cup by his side. He won’t take money, he says as we slide into the car, I’ve offered it but he just says no. How does he manage? I ask. Who knows? he says. I’m glad he has his breakfast in there though, I say. I don’t know that he does, he says, it’s the first time I’ve seen him in there. I tell him about the iPad. He can’t be destitute then, can he? he says. He has no home, I say. No, you’re right, he says. The boy smells of the cold, of the night. Damp. Does he ever get warm, truly warm, warmed through? He stays on the same street, sleeping outside Smiths. What keeps him here? Is it a choice? I often see people talking to him. Once he called the police because he hadn’t moved for hours. He thought he was dead. It will kill him. It is too much. We are not protected against the cold. I fantasise about going to the Poles. But to be in such a landscape scares me. I want the white, the emptiness, but how to deal with the cold? It is uncomfortable to encounter those who do not want to live conventionally. I remember a man in Cambridge. He wanted nothing but to left alone to walk a series of streets and to sleep where he chose. I used to think of him at night as I lay in my bed. Sometimes we just have to let go. Let it be. Let them be. Let be. Leave them in peace. To be.


Toast – now serving all day

Home 2009 (small jpeg) 2009

We had our first snow fall. The beginning of Spring. Early March. It didn’t last. If they’re big flakes they don’t stay, she told me, smaller ones do. Counterintuitive, I think.

It’s been a while hasn’t it. I miss it when I can’t write. It isn’t important. It isn’t of any great literary merit. It is just an offloading. Not like Henry James. I listened to a programme about him yesterday. Extracts from his memoirs, his journals and his letters. So erudite, so observant, witty but not caustic. Be kind, he wrote to himself, be kind. Be kind.

The Archers is beginning to make me sick to the stomach. There needs to be some relief, I think. It is like going down a dark tunnel. I have heard such stories. It is true to life. Women turned mad by partners. Turned from their homes, their children. It is heartbreaking. Sanity is a gossamer thread.

A Mother’s Day card sent. Well meant, but not from her. No, thank you, not again. Not again.

A flurry of tests. We sit in the eye clinic. It began there, in the eye. He goes in, I wait in the foyer. Most of the chairs are taken. The air is fetid, too hot. Airless. Do you want me to come with you? A middle-aged woman asks her elderly mother. No, she replies. That’s me told, says the daughter to another woman sitting beside her. She’s so indifferent, she says, watching her mother make her way to the consulting room, bent over, feet dragging and with hard-cased, top-clasped handbag held tightly against her chest. It’s good really, says the other woman. I stare at the wall in front of me. And then at the radiator. There is a blob of chewing gum stuck to the paint. Set hard in the heat. Two collapsed wheelchairs lean against it. Next to me two woman murmur to each other in Welsh. The one nearest me bounces her feet. Radio 2 is on in the background. I notice the speaker hanging from the ceiling. Human League are singing I’m only human. I turn my gaze to a painting hanging above the radiator. It looks like a muddy Odile Redon or one of Max Ernst’s frottage pieces. The title has been painted into the left hand bottom corner. Cataract Lights. There are bursting star-light circles dotted around it’s brown expanse. He told me I had to walk 10,000 steps, he says putting on his coat. That’s doable, I said, thinking he said a 1,000.

Walking the Prom, he begins to count. Don’t speak, he says. Later, he says, how many was that? I haven’t been counting, I say.

Rosemary Tonks is featured on the poetry programme, Lost Voices. Rich vocabulary. Sexy. Hotel rooms, steamy-windowed cafes. Broken relationships. Bad choices. She calls him a criminal. She disappeared. Maybe she had nothing more to say, muses Adrian Henri. A messy divorce. Her family lose touch with her. She disappears. Becomes a recluse. Won’t answer the door.

I think about Sark. Mervyn Peake. A seigneur. No cars. We don’t want cars, the tourism officer says. An island. I make plans. I make plans for my old age, my dotage, my aloneness.

Ruby Wax with her inheritance tracks. I don’t listen to music, she says, it makes me too sad. Such emotion must be contained. The black dog hovers. Sanity is a gossamer thread. So it is. So it is.

Ah, here comes the sun.


There is sign in the window of The Pelican Bakery, Toast now serving all day, it reads.