Traffic cone

It’s been a while since I written this. I’ve been busy. First the workshops, then the performance and then all the writing about it. That took longer than I’d thought. And it was hard. But good. A good process. And she liked it soooooo much. He’s tickled pink. What a generous love. And now? I am a little bereft. There is still stuff to do, inevitably but that push, that hint of panic has dissipated.

Storm Doris passed by without incident here. A few roof tiles shattered. A smattering of road closures and men in hard hats armed with chainsaws near some swaying fir trees. Sky News were here nevertheless, with a reporter in my coat. The impossibly expensive coat. Do you remember?

What else? I have a pile of post-it notes. Aides memoires. Shorthand. A list of titles. Memory joggers. I try to commit them to memory as I walk. A young man coming out of The Angel in the early hours. (It is always the early hours for that is when I walk.) His hand reaching down to pick up a traffic cone. He lurches to the right and then lifting the cone off the ground he puts it on his head. He walks forward a little till it tumbles off. Cursing he lets it fall. A girl walks towards me, her face is bruised with crying. I feel like I am behind glass, watching from such a long way away. Nearing home a owl howls in the darkness.

I don’t have to do it. And sometimes I want to stop. And yet she seems so happy to get the calls. I shall sit by the phone, I told myself this morning, she said, so that I don’t miss her. Sometimes it is just the answering machine. She is out walking with the neighbour’s dog, or she hasn’t heard the phone. I can feel relieved, but then disappointed. It isn’t what we talk of, that is inconsequential, mostly. It is the connection, the separating out, the making her feel special. And she is. I want to fall into the cosiness of her. We talk of feeding the birds, of a wren that comes to her bird table. She has not been well. I walk at sea, she tells me. It takes a while before I realise she is talking about vertigo. Do you have a stick? I ask

There have been bats. In the mornings before dawn, bats lured by our headlights. Bats shooting in front of our car. Tiny swooping black things, like giant moths. Watch out. But they always miss.

A girl in pink tights and a lime green tutu is leaning against the railings of The Academy. Her companion, a young man in black, picks at the peeling paint and says, Elin, Elin, Elin, I’ve just said it now, word for word. His head hangs low. He is frustrated, irritated. She looks down at the pavement, listening but cowed. On Great Darkgate Street, another girl in the exact same outfit, waits, staring. Another girl comes towards me, part of the great surge after closing time. She is beautiful. Dusky-skinned with large almond eyes. Her sense of personal space is to pot and her face brushes close  tomine. She belches. Close to home a student in a hoodie is leaning against a doorway, is he asleep?

My sensibilities are keen in the early mornings. Smells are acuter and sights are almost wondrous. Walking up the hill behind the Alexander Hall, my reverie is cut into by a figure coming out from one of the many alleys. I hear her before I see her. Gazelle-like, she is skittering down the path in high heels and a short silk dress. Something shiny hangs about her shoulders. A sequinned bolero jacket. We are both equally alarmed. It’s the suddenness. A thief in the night. Her eyes stare. Accusing.

I catch the tail end of radio programme hosted by Paul Gambiccini about the Oscars. He plays excerpts from Twelve Years A Slave. Harrowing. The director, Steve McQueen talks about the importance of showing the horror. I cannot watch it. I know such atrocity but do I need to watch them? A violence to the soul. I can imagine and it is terrible. Some people’s lives. I cannot understand. All I can do is feel for them. Know their shoes.

So what of it? I am pleased with it. I am pleased to have done it. To have seen it through. There was power in it, for me. My ideas manifested. Getting them outside of me. I’d worked hard. There’s power in that.

Time for rest. If I will take it. We shall see. For today, there is just Proust, peace and porridge for tea.



They stack up, all those happenings that I want to commit to memory. To capture on the page, just in case. In case of what? In case I forget? Forget the richness of this life. The richness of its detail. Like today, this morning. Seeing a girl in a white dress, the white so sharp against the black of the early day, flashing stark as she ran down the steps. It is an acknowledging of minutia that I may lose amongst the caught-up-ness of my daily life. They stop me still, if only momentarily, these things and that is good. To be still. To pay attention.

She came in on Saturday morning. Just for five minutes, visibly relaxed in a grey velour leisure suit, she came in to talk about Donald Trump. It is either Trump or Putin these days, she’d said, laughing. Such nice people, she’d said, her ever so subtle American voice turning wryly ironic. Now I’m off to make waffles for the family, she’d said afterwards, taking off her headphones and shaking out her hair. I felt a pang. One Christmas she’d brought me home-made shortbread.

I found it by accident. A story. A children’s story on the Radio 4 extra’s category list. Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden. I have a vague recollection of it from childhood. Had I read it at school. Lovely. A lovely story. Just like National Velvet, which the radio also inspired me to borrow it from the library. Children’s books written by adults who write for all. For themselves, for the child within. Velvet and Carrie are such bold girls, fiery and passionate girls, but kind too. Their lives are transformed, they are empowered. I am humbled. Humbled by fiction as I am by life.

It was quite a noise. It took me a while to work out where it was coming from. High up. High up in one of the student rooms above the Promenade. The window was open to the night. She was shouting rather than singing. Her voice straining, forcing out the sounds. After she’d finished there was a pause, a silence before I heard her say, I really like that song.

Small things and large, impossibly important things. A tube of Bonjela on the ground, squeezed out. Snowdrops, little clusters beginning to appear, and daffodils. A fingernail on the floor of the toilet in the Harbourmaster Hotel, perfectly severed. The flies circling the ceiling of his attic studio. The cold, the dust, the armchair with the union jack. Making coffee to create warmth. Feeling gentle towards him. Wanting it to be alright for him and for me. And him, reading the paper in the armchair. And the flies, buzzing. The pictures looked pristine. I remembered. All those years ago the lights, the reflector, and him clicking his fingers, nervous energy pumping. Other sights. A group of students climbing into the children’s playground in the dark. Up to no good, my mother used to say. Up to no good. And the ship lit up like a fairground just out from the sea line. The lights too big for its size. What was it? I asked him at breakfast. What could it have been? A dredger? It looked like a toy ship, or one of those in an animated film, the scale awry. All out. All out. Small things, big things. The chiropodist telling me about her Red or Dead shoes and her father with Alzheimer’s. I can’t run in them she says. And he? He is getting worse. Though I gave him a little sherry at Christmas and he was good as gold. Good as gold. I shouldn’t have, I know. Good as gold. And big things. Someone on the radio telling the story of Rabbi Maximillian made a saint. Rabbi Maximillian in Auschwitz who surrendered his life for another. Rabbi Maximillian who offered to go into the room with the others in place of man who clung to his wife. Rabbi Maximillian who went into the room with the other men with no food or water. Rabbi Maximillian who was the only one who didn’t die but took the pill willingly when the prison guards wanted the room emptied. Gone. All gone. Clean away. To yield to the inevitable, to accept, to walk towards one’s end, that is true stillness. True grace.

I prepare for next week. And a calmness comes over me.