Astri, Birger & Tullemor

I dust on Tuesdays. A creature of habit, I have my routine. This morning I found a grasshopper. It was dead and lying on the floor of the bedroom. Bright green. Too green to be dead. How had it got there? Jumped through the window perhaps or been carried by the wind?

In later days, she’d say that I looked like her. A tiny woman, an Edith Piaf in furs. Pinched mouth. Like mother like daughter, bitter brides.

It’s been ages since I wrote properly. So many other things taking up my time. So it will have to be a list again – else the notes bulge from my Filofax. So what do I have here, yes, Harvest Moon. A yellow-orange one for days. It felt strange to see it, not the usual silvery-white but a sun-like custardy yellow. Summer berries is next. Yes, I remember being sad all day and then standing in the kitchen preparing the summer fruits to stew. The feel of the redcurrants and gooseberries, hard-skinned and perfect, and the smell of the blackcurrants and the memories of childhood summers that flooded in. I was made still. Exquisite sensuality. A solace. A solace to feel this way.

Then I have a note about a girl that I saw asleep through a window of a ground floor flat on South Marine Terrace. Outside was black as pitch, she lay on the sofa fully lit, exposed by the glare of an overhead light. Hopper-esque in it’s starkness. She a tumble of duvets. Then there are Witches Bottles, Carnival Bunting and Kit Williams’ book Masquerade. Things I’ve heard of on the radio. The bunting was around Llanbadarn for its Carnival. It was on and gone without us even noticing. The bunting is still up. They live in a world of light. A quote from a poem I heard on an edition of Homefront. I liked it.

I bought him a copy of Gilbert White’s studies of Selbourne. He seemed to know of it. Isn’t it often the case we buy books for others that we wish to read ourselves? I listened to Paul Theroux on In The Psychiatrist’s Chair. He was spiky. A porcupine. But I want to read him. Again.

Then voices on the Prom. Perhaps I’ve already told you. A slight blonde girl sitting on a bench with a large man in a paisley short-sleeved shirt. He smokes. An’ it got to Monday, she is saying, an’ I panicked. The man in the floral shirt laughs.

More radio stuff. An adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s The Professor by Rachel Joyce. My story is not marvellous, he says. And then I heard Christopher Hitchens’ essays Arguably. Lovely prose on such difficult subjects – water-boarding, Agent Orange and Isaac Newton. Someone accused Newton of ‘unweaving a rainbow’.

Outside The Angel at 4.30 am a girl is delving into her handbag for her keys. A tall man walks under a streetlight. He wears a heavy tweed overcoat and there is a gash on his face. He stares at me.

I think about a collaborative piece. Somewhere out on the Yorkshire Moors, perhaps. A trace on the grass of something said, something remembered, something enacted. Long ago. Still left, still impressed onto the landscape.


Talking in the dark


I see them as I walk up the little hill past the castle. They are shapes in the dark. Two or three bodies, either walking towards me or away from me. Away from the glare of streetlights they are muted, their voices hushed. I am warmed by their conversations. I catch phrases, sentences and I carry them home in my head, mulling them over, turning them round on my tongue. Yesterday it was two girls. Lovers, they held hands, swinging them. One dressed in a baby-doll summer dress, her blonde hair long and straggly, the other was heavily built and wore a black t-shirt. The blonde girl was chattering. The lights were all on, she was saying, ‘cos it was summer, and it was really groovy. Later, I passed two men on a bench outside Slater’s bakery. Do you know her? one was saying. She’s really fit. Inconsequential chat. A few days ago, three men, rolling drunk. One was telling the other, if you’re going to vomit don’t do it in that car. It breaks into the dark of my walking reverie. Sometimes they acknowledge me, other times they don’t. It’s ok. I like their youth, their carelessness. There is plenty of time for that. Plenty of time.

He lost him. A fall, a hit on the head. Dead within 4 days. 92. A good innings, they say. It makes no difference what age. He was a husband, a parent, a grandfather, a friend who is no more. I mull over too much. I weigh up what I say. It is the intention that matters. Always. Let it be. Let it be.



Love (2) - detail

We’d met them for supper in the Greek Restaurant in town. They were friends of a friend, over here from Hong Kong. Two men and a woman. Open and friendly, we enjoyed their company. We were seven in all and the woman was perched on the end. There was a slight chill and she wore a grey cardigan. Underneath the cardigan was a T-shirt. As I listened to their chat I tried to read the words. There was an A and an N and a K. YANKEE, I thought. I saw he was looking too. Then she removed her cardigan.

Did you see her t-shirt? he said to me in the car driving home. Yes, I said. Do you think she knows what it means? I asked. Who knows? he said, who knows.


Dump Him

Strawberry Dress

The radio lends structure to my day, offering points of reference of rootedness. On Sunday afternoons I listen to Poetry Extra whilst preparing supper. It brings the unfamiliar, the strange. I taste the words, running them over my tongue, only to revisit the experience, though this time prepared, when it is repeated early the next morning. Last week there were poems, readings and interviews with the American poets Louise Gluck and George Simic. I was caught by Simic’s poem about the County Fair and the six-legged dog. The presenter, Daljit Nagra, described his work as ‘unexpected turns of joy’. Unexpected turns of joy. Yes. I stir the soup. Yes. Yes.

Wednesday was a scratchy day. The night before had been a broken one. The harsh bell of the telephone. Too much. I unravelled. Four times I went up there. Was it the remedy? Perhaps. Finally, we came home. I ate porridge, he ate cornflakes. Too jaded to make proper food. But I did make time. I did make time to stew the berries for breakfast. Summer berries. Not many. Just a few. Gooseberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants. An unexpected turn of joy. Right there. There in our kitchen. The feel of the tight, shiny redcurrants, the hard hairy-ness of the gooseberries as I nipped off their stalks and the blackcurrants, that smell, so evocative of summer. Past summers, a musty, dusty warm smell. I remember the scratches on skin from going into the bushes to pick them. The nets against the birds. The stains of red on fingers.

I watched as she strode into the canteen. A short, diminutive figure in black. Black shorts, high on the leg, torn, ripped stockings and Doc Martin boots. Her hair was long and dyed a flat black. She wore it in a chignon, to one side, for the other side had been shaved, shorn hard. She strode in defiant, ready to bristle, to scowl. Under her black leather jacket she wore a black T shirt. Emblazoned in white were the words DUMP HIM.


The Seagull

Love book cover

I’ve never seen it on the stage, though I do remember visiting the Almeida Theatre during its run sometime in the early 1980s. And a fellow Theatre Design student at Wimbledon did a design for it. It was beautiful, as everything she did was. I heard it on the radio last week. Helena Bonham-Carter and Alex Jennings starred. It was bleaker than I’d expected. Trigorin was clearly Chekhov himself, or at least his mouthpiece, with his thoughts and battles with writing. Never being able to just be, always making notes. What you remember is the periphery, what is happening when you are writing. No one is happy in their skin, their lot. Yes, bleak.

I capture fleeting quotes, write them down and then forget where they came from. ‘The kindliness of her was beyond analysis’, was one. And ‘The kindliness that was the whole of her’, another.

Another note reads Mum’s sparrow. Yes, we’d talked of it the other day. I try out my pre-Enlightenment hocus pocus on him and he listens, not judging, keeping an open mind. I like that about him. I treasure that about him. She came to me as a sparrow the night she died. I know it. It flew it and perched on the ceiling fan, remaining for several minutes before exiting from the window. It wasn’t nervous or scared but very calm, just watching. It repeated the same procedure the following evening. The owners of the house said they’d never know it before. Never, they said. I didn’t share my theory. The magic, the mystery was mine. Only he knows.

A man sleeps on a Prom bench. It is 3.45 am. His arms are folded across his chest and his legs are stretched out before him, crossed at the ankle. An opened pizza box is beside him, the pizza a three-quarter whole. He is snoring. By the castle I cross paths with a man carrying a large rucksack on his back. A traveller, he wears heavy, winter gear. Morning, I say. Morning, he replies in a clear, articulate voice. Later, at bottom of Great Darkgate Street, a young man passes me. You a’right? he asks, beaming. Yes, I say and beam back. There was part of a trailer on the beach. Two wheels still fixed to an axle. Had the tide brought it in? The wheels were a little skewed. The seafront B&B has its NO VACANCIES sign up. I’m glad. I wish them a busy summer. Yr Hafod still has rooms free.

Listening to the end of Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms, I was caught by its understated simplicity. His wife and child had just died.

‘After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.’

It is enough. It is enough.



Ellen in Joyce's garden (3)

When the air is warm like this smells become distinct, particularly in the dark. And the mornings are becoming dark. That opening of blue is no more. This morning there was a smoky mist. It smelt. It smelt of wood smoke. The air was heavy with it. Further on I walk through of heady fog of first honeysuckle and then buddleia. Sticky, honey-ed sweet, their perfume hangs in a cloud, unmoving. The wind of yesterday has gone. On North Road there is the lavender. Garden after garden has it. I draw my gloved hands through it, bringing my leathered fingers to my nose afterwards. Salty, sweet, musky lavender. It always makes me think of dusty linen cupboards. A sharp, almost acidic smell with undertones of comforting soft sweetness. I remember the rows of purple in Norfolk and in Provence. On the Prom the brine of the sea is warm and salty. I taste it on my lips. And later by the harbour I remember the stink of the lobster pots. Today there is none. The sea laps, the fury of yesterday forgotten. Later, much later there is the smell of bread.

Listening to the reading of Craig Brown’s One on One on the radio – I think about fictional meetings, fictional conversations. I think about traces, what we leave behind of our thoughts, our musings, our sayings. So little is left. Mostly gone. Gone.