House commission - close-up

We talked about the wedding. I ought to have had a perm, she said. There isn’t time now. Then about the Assembly elections. I tell her I do mine by post. She says she’d like to too but her daughter says its an opportunity for her to get out. House-bound, home-bound. I remember the first time I called her she had an anxiety attack, bringing the phone-call, ever so politely, to an abrupt end. She chatters away now. I like to hear her use my name. It’s a precious thing this reaching out to strangers. I will never know her, not properly, not physically, but we have this weekly talk and it means the world. To me.

Walking home in the early hours there is a young man, a boy really, leaning against the window of The Salvation Army shop eating pizza from a large carton. There is a lit cigarette in his hand. As I approach him, he pushes himself off the window and begins to walk ahead of me. I watch him from behind. Small bum, long slung jeans, tight on the leg. I can smell the acridness of the cigarette smoke. He walks slowly still eating from the pizza box. He is so slow I soon catch him up. He begins to talk to me. I can’t hear you very well, I say, I’ve got my headphones on. I think he says it’s cold. And then that he has to walk all the way to Llanbadarn and that it’s a long way. I say something about walking fast. Perhaps he misinterprets me. Good night, he says. Good night, I reply and walk on. I am touched by his desire to make contact. I generally feel quite separate from the kids I encounter in the mornings. Often drunk or stoned, they are in another sphere of experience from me. I’ve slept after all. It is rare that one chooses to engage with me. I hope he got home safe. Will they sleep all day now?



Book of animals

She is cheerful this morning. I’m not so grumpy, she says, laughing. Will you go to the wedding? I ask. Yes, she says. And did you get a new outfit? Yes, she replies, we went to Marks and Spencer’s and I go a maxi! I love to hear her voice. It sings. Last week she talked about her father, she speaks of him a lot. We had a pony and trap, she said, and pet sheep. She tells me of his sayings, his mores. They are not particularly erudite or brilliant, but she quotes them nevertheless, wanting to hear, to feel his words on her tongue. (I think about Bruce Chatwin’s novel On The Black Hill about the two brothers, so dour, austere, yet intimate.) She talked about her pet sheep. Whenever she had lambs, she said, she’d leave them in a hole and come home alone. We talk of the weather. They’ve had snow. It’s so cold, she says. Her daughter found a dead baby bird. I’ll have to go to church and pray for the weather for the wedding, she says, laughing again. She is better. I am glad.


I’m written out. Three reviews in a row. I want to support, encourage, celebrate. I write for the art, for the artists. Just like teaching – celebrating not denigrating. There is always something. Isn’t there? It takes courage to put oneself out there. I’m not sentimental, not hagiographic, just celebratory. It is enough. Enough, for now.


Wet Paint

Ellen in Joyce's garden (3)

WET PAINT ON RAILINGS. WET PAINT ON BENCHES. The Promenade is having its yearly touch up. I haven’t seen the painter. There is usually a team of them, overall-ed and radio on, paint drying too fast in the sun. Not this year. The wind has wrenched the taped-down signs from the floor.

Wind. Wind was strong this morning. Battering. A young man walking along South Marine his skimpy jacket collar pulled up shielding his face against the wind. Sorry about the music, he said to me as we passed. What music? I heard no music. He hurried on. His winkle-pickers turning up at the ends like jesters’ shoes. Yesterday a young girl, who from a distance looked ancient, shoeless traipsing across the stones, her boots in her hand.

I’ve been writing reviews. Caught up in the writing and the fretting. I’ve a list of things to think about, to consider. The chatterbox in Ta Med Da. She talks so fast. She needs to talk. Anyone will do. I touch her arm. Don’t go, she is saying, don’t go.

I ask what she did at the weekend. She went dancing, in Rummers. The pub by the sewage works. I remember. I remember the sawdust and a new dress. They have live bands. She loves to dance. During the day she works on the tills. She handles my fruit with such care. I thank her. Other people have said the same, she says, smiling. Do you dance alone? I ask, tentatively. Oh, no, she says, I wouldn’t do that. Wouldn’t go to a pub alone. I go with what I suppose I should call my partner. I change the story in my head. She is not alone. That is good.

We bump into her by the harbour. Her voice is remarkable. A jazz singer’s voice. A pub voice, deep, throaty, almost male. I knew her from the pubs, he said afterwards. Margo. She lives in Germany now, but is over here looking after her father. He can be cantankerous at times, she says. She looks tired, trapped. I’ve a week off, he’s going into respite care, she says, but it’s so expensive.

A boy is juggling with fire. I felt wary about getting close. Just a boy in a lumberjack shirt.

I wear dark nail varnish on two finger nails. Looks trendy, he says. It’s a cover-up. To cover-up the staining. Dark, brackish green. Some damage in the nail root. Mum had something similar though not the staining. I live with it. It is nothing.

He had a heart monitor for a day. Tick, tick. Strapped to his chest. Circular plasters. It looks like a colostomy bag, he said. Fragile. Tick, tick.

I dreamt she was still a child. We were bathing her, me and him. Her hair was fine. I wanted to wash it twice. Make it clean. She was silent, acquiescent, trusting.

Breakfast time. Adieu.



Scan of Luka's drawing

Writing is such an intense experience when I’m in it that when a piece is complete I feel a little lost. Like now. I need to work. I realise that. I am searching for something in my work, some kind of affirmation that I am good enough. It won’t come, I know that, for it’s not real. It’s an illusion. A throwback to childhood possibly. A sign of discontent. A sign of fear. Of not being up to the mark. But what is the mark?

We walked in the sunshine yesterday. The promenade benches were full. People sitting, faces upturned to the sun. On one particular bench there were an elderly couple. Crepe-paper faces, big-knuckled hands. He was reading a large hard-backed book that he held perched on his knee. She was staring straight ahead, not looking but smiling. Just smiling. Sitting doing nothing. Not nothing. Being. I felt a pang, a longing to be like her. When I’m older, I said to him, I’ll do that. Just sit. Just be. Why not now? he asked. Why not now?

I have a bunch of scribbled notes, torn pieces of newspaper, post-it squares, yellow and pink. I need to remember, you see. All those thoughts that are so easily lost. Emulsion. Magnolia to patch up the marks on the kitchen wall. Was it me? Spit-spots of beetroot and pomegranate. Then there are the journal reminders. Victoria Wood, RIP, one reads. Yes. What a shock. Like Terry Wogan, she is/was entrenched. Here for keeps. Now she’s gone. Where to? I thought last night as I lay in bed listening to the birds. Where to? And why now? We used to watch Dinnerladies over and over again. I ask if we can watch them again. Course, he says, though I know them by heart. We’d quote from them all the time. Dolly with her ‘it was in the Daily Mail‘ and Stan with his ‘it’s these new-fangled condoms they’re not up to the job’ or ‘you need two types of women, one to the do the heavy lifting’. It always makes him laugh. The familiar, the cosy. Just like her. VW was such a warm writer. You will be missed.

Next on the list is ‘full moon’. It was a gorgeous one, flooding my studio this morning with that eerie white light. My dreams have been exhausting, so much detail. Trying to solve something. What, I cannot remember. Walking yesterday morning, early as usual, I bumped into a couple just leaving a house on North Road. A party. I caught her face as I strode by. She’d made it up to look like a cat with a blacked nose and whiskers. And I think she was crying. The boy she was with looked safe, kind, as he led her away by the hand. Later, we were in Newtown visiting an exhibition I was to review. A man and his wife got out of a car ahead of us. He’d clearly had a stroke. Through his jeans his legs were atrophied, and he carried one lifting it high, unable to place his weight upon it. He sported a thick white beard. He looked tired, world-weary. She left him to walk on ahead, busying herself with the car.

Lip-Lickin’ Fried Chicken is still open at 4.30 am, it’s lights a harsh yellow against the night. I can smell the salty-fatness that hangs in the air. People traipse outside, greasy cartons in hand, to sit on benches or in the promenade shelters, eating in silence, too tired to talk.

I listen to my Ipod when I walk, at least I have the last few days. Sometimes it is my attempt to counteract the dark. Other times I choose not too, preferring to hear the birds, the sea, to feel the environment through sound as I walk. I put it on shuffle. Poetry, stories, music, and teach yourself Norwegian meld together as I listen. I never know what is coming. Yesterday it was the story of Winken, Blinken and Nod. I remember the tale as a child. There were beautiful grey-toned illustrations of the three in their wooden shoe boat.

John Moore’s daughter talking about him in the radio. In the evenings my parents would retire to the TV room, she said, to watch comedy programmes. At the age of ninety-seven, she said, my father would sit in the studio listening to the radio and draw.

One morning walking along Terrace Road there were a pile of broken egg-shells on the ground. I stopped walking. A door had been splattered with eggy-goo. A whole box-full. A dozen, two dozen maybe. Why? A practical joke? There was a nastiness to it somehow. Sales of flour and eggs to under sixteens are forbidden, reads a notice in Morrisons.

I think about work, not writing but making work. It’s not there yet. Perhaps it will never be. Work v domestic chores. An ongoing preoccupation. What is work? What is valued? Women working. I think of those I know doing their nine-to-fives. And me here, trying to find my way. Always thinking, always writing, always making. Is it work? Do I work hard enough? Is there value in what I do? I try to find answers in other people’s lives. Past lives. They just did it. The Brontes – baking bread between the writing. And John Moore’s daughter saying home-work was the same as making. All part and parcel of the same thing. Yet, I remember Jeanette Winterson saying, ‘I need a wife’ to do those things. And Freud, just painting, the rest, the everyday stuff done by others. Uglow too. Does it make one less of a creative to want to have domestic order too?

The labels have come. It seems strange to read their names. I need to ponder it. To think about it. To think upon, as she used to say. Will you guide me, whisper in my ear?

Enough for now. I am done. Adieu.





We do crosswords together at suppertime. Saturday it’s The Times, Sunday The Daily Telegraph now that The Independent is kaput and weekdays it’s The Guardian and The I. It is a gentle thing we do, companionable, a gentle stirring up of our brain cells. I always want to please him, to impress him to excite a ‘well done, Poppet’. Some nights I am too foggy. Other nights I’m on a roll. He often knows what I don’t and vice versa. Sometimes we come up with the same answer simultaneously. I’m better at anagrams. I do them in my head, not on paper, moving the letters around in space, in the ether. At breakfast I do Sudoku and lunchtime Codewords. It’s a switching-off thing. A non-thinking thing. Restful. I love our life together, it is peaceful, loving and kind.

We couldn’t remember his name. We remembered Cleggie and Foggy. The Last of the Summer Wine, the character played by Bill Owen, five letters ending P something. I can see him, I say. Me too, he replies. Is there an L? Does it end in Y? G loved that programme. A silliness really. Nora Batty and her wrinkled stockings. I went there once. We sat in the café. He remembered just before bed. Compo. It’s Compo. Of course, I say.

Sunday afternoon and we are driving along Queen’s Road. The young homeless man is sitting on the Library steps. The lower half of his body is cocooned in a aquamarine-blue sleeping bag. He looks like a merman. The upper half is naked. He is sunbathing. I think he is smiling. He has all he needs. For now. The sun is all he needs.

Today the sky is a milky grey. No sun today.

Sometimes, you just have to listen and a better way, a simpler solution just comes. Listen.


Fish Lorry

Scan of sea horse

Walking down into the Harbour I can hear its generator. It is not yet 4.30 am. In the dark I can just make out the driver, out of his cab, his wellies galumphing along the tarmac, a bucket in his hand. From sea to table in 24 hours, promises the lorry’s strapline.

It was warm. Unseasonably so for the still early morning. A shape passes me in the Castle gardens. Hi, it says. Hi, I say and walk quickly on. There are courting couples on benches, coatless students, silent now. I feel cocooned by the warm dark, grateful for its dryness. Nearing home a car pulls up alongside me, its headlights flooding the pavement with yellow. My hackles prickle. A window rolls down. It’s a taxicab. I’m going to Llanbadarn, says the driver ducking-down low to speak to me, do you want a free lift? I thank him, explaining I’m nearly home. He grins and gives me a thumb-up. No hard feelings. He drives off. Nice. I am touched by the gesture.

This morning was colder. They promised it would be. And rain. My coat got saturated. The Pier was still open, a bouncer in a yellow high vis jacket stood outside smoking. Students lurched about in groups of three and four. Pizza Lush was open. Through the window I could see a large man leaning on the counter eating. Walking down Great Darkgate Street a young woman was walking ahead of me, shielding her head against the rain with a Pizza Lush box. From behind she looked like a painting by Botero, wide thighs tapering to impossibly tiny feet. She wore a short leather jacket and a lacy emerald-green mini-skirt. I followed her all the way down the hill. Occasionally she’d break into a run, her legs swaying from side-to-side. Then she’d slow down, returning the pizza box to above her head. As I turned into Llanbadarn Road, she was continuing up Penglais Hill.

I’ve finished it. It isn’t what I thought it would be. I have so far to go. So much to learn still. Is it worthy of publication? I wanted to share their stories, that they so generously shared with me. Have I done them justice? I feel tongue-tied, made awkward by the responsibility of it.

Wait and see, eh? Wait and see.


Birdsong (7)

2012-07-24 20.17.40

Sometimes it is still light when I go to bed. The other night the birds were singing. It was beautiful. I opened my window and the air, fresh and cool, entered the room bringing with it the sound of song. I don’t know enough of ornithology to distinguish whose call is whose. I can pick out blackbirds and I know there are rooks, magpies but there may also be chiff-chaffs and certainly blue tits. It wasn’t a cacophony, not like the dawn chorus can be, all of them vying for attention. No, that night it was gentle, a subtle calling from tree to tree. I fell into sleep to their sounds. Lulled. A babe in arms. Emptied of thought, of care.

She answered the phone. I am glad. It’s been two weeks. Her voice was strong. She trusts me, is glad of the call, I think. We talk of church, of her daughter’s job. She didn’t go to church at Easter. It’s too cold for me, she says. They’ve no heating. I’ll get a chill. I miss it. I ask about her garden. Oh, there’s nothing in yet, we’ve had too much frost. For some reason we get onto travelling. Oh, no, she says, I’ve never been abroad. My father, you see, had depression. So much goes unsaid. She is not an articulate woman. But her inner life, well who can say? Who can say?

Rain then sun. Such is April.


I am writing it for myself, I think. Is it reason enough?



Carrwood sign 2011

My umbrella has been blown out of shape, raggedy like the rooks on the Prom, their feathers cast awry by the wind. I walk with it. It fits easily in my pocket. It offers some shelter from the rain. It is dying, losing its usefulness.

I am always a little lost when I’ve completed something. Cast adrift into nothingness. And I need to be a-doing. Always.

I still use a Filofax, you know. Old-fashioned, certainly, but I am a note-writer. A jotter of ideas. In different colours – quotes, books to read, radio to listen to, ideas. I like the scribbles. I am trying to contain but with style, with creativity. A chaotic kind of order, held together with paperclips.

I think in pictures. The scribbles are pictures.

Her potager garden. Chekhov was always planning gardens, he said.

We were a odd grouping. They talked of cricket, drinking clubs (The Spartans and the Stinkies), daughters, flying Business Class, coming upon a mother duck with thirteen ducklings. The waiter had his new teeth in. He smiled at us, nice to see you again. The rainbow trout were humungous. A bit of fish stuck to his lower lip. He talked of his cousin Peter and the rogue who was trying to swindle him. A little too trusting. Naïve, he said. I don’t mind if he gives it all to the boy upstairs, he said. It is easy to be with them these days. They ask little of me. A hug. And to listen. I can do that. I can do both those things. It is a pleasure. We live simply here. I like it. I am content with what is.

Next year I will travel. Next year. Next year.



Theatre cafe Oslo small

It is no more. She is no more. He is no more. All is past. In an hour’s time she will be committed to the flames. Made dust. Dust to dust. Ashes to ashes. Old time elegance. An archaic gentility. You must speak properly. I am fast forgetting the sound of her voice. Halloo, halloo, her voice would carol on the answer machine. Halloo, are you still there? Sovnent stille  the death notice reads. Peaceful sleep. Be at peace. Rest in peace. Peace be with you. And with your spirit.

It was parked outside no 2 South Marine. A black van. Window-less. The words ‘Private Ambulance’ had been printed discreetly on its side. It was 4.30 am. I described it to him later, as we walked. What is it? I asked. It’s for transporting dead bodies, he said.

The warmer air brings the crane flies inside. Daddy longs legs. They unnerved me as a child. They would fly at you, a leggy-fluttering in your face. Don’t, don’t. Don’t Daddy. Can you get it? I ask him. He snaps at it with his hand. He misses, he misses again. Come here, you bugger. Don’t kill it, I implore. I won’t. There, got you. There is a small one in his bedroom. A tiny one. I try to catch it. Come here, little one. But my hands are clumsy. These hands that can do the tiniest of stitches. They are too clumsy. I hurt it. Oh, no. A leg is dismembered. It lies still. I pick it up tenderly by its wing and put it through the window. It is too late. It is gone. And I am sorry. So sorry.




She is passing, has passed. Past. Gone. She sang, she drew. She was a star. A light. Her face was etched with years of smiles. A child-like woman, ever flirtatious. She had style, grace. She was tenacious. And I loved her. She preferred the company of men. She deferred to them. Put them first. Always. And yet, she was a proud spinster. She made her own way. Giving up her singing at forty and forging an entirely new career for herself as a hospital administrator. I remember our lunches at the Grand. Lobster followed by hot chocolate. I’ve messed myself, she said to me afterwards, her face downcast as she came out of the cubicle. My love. Sagging elastic-waisted crimplene trousers under a mink coat. Her legs leaning inwards. A sickly child (I had my own cow, she’d say, to give me milk) she’d outlived all her siblings. She sang. A querulous voice at the end. The last time we spoke on the phone she didn’t know me. She was polite but cold. The time before we had exchanged our love. She knew, she knew I loved her. She met Munch, several times. My friend lived next door, she said, we used to steal apples from his garden. She had a passion for her 45 year old Spanish gym instructor. We’d speak English together, she’d say. She took him to the opera. She believed it was reciprocated. She was ninety then. She died yesterday at 5 am. Aase Thurn-Basberg 29.07.1921 – 31.03.2016. Rest in peace.

We see her daily. A cadaverous face under an anorak hood. She leans against a wall, her scrawny bottom perched on a window shelf. Still wearing her tartan slippers, she draws heavily upon a cigarette. The door to her flat, ajar. Her chin curves up, nearly meeting her nose. Under that hood, she is just chin and nose.

It was a mass of flapping white. On the greensward just by the Tattoo shop. A flurry of wings and airborne feathers. A grey-haired woman in the corner, hands dipping into a 10p COOP recycled bag and throwing bread. The seagulls diving, grabbing, fighting for every crumb. Do they come each day? Do they know the time she will come? Do they expect her? Word had obviously got around, there were hundreds of them. Does it make her feel good, needed?

I am sad. I am grieving. Let it be. Today is for her. My heart at a loss. Lost. The sky, a milky stasis, knows.