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Manchester

His accent was familiar but I wasn’t sure. Where’re you from? I asked. Manchester, he said. We shared place names. I always feel embarrassed admitting to my Northern roots (if you can call them that, for in truth, I have none). I don’t sound Northern. Too posh. Some of the place names I couldn’t remember. Nor the word for pawnbrokers. They litter Piccadilly Square. A warm man, a smiler. What’s this? he asked, holding up a passion fruit. And this? he asked, pointing to an apricot. I thought I knew my fruit, he said, laughing. I don’t want to go to another supermarket, though two more have sprung up. I like the people there. They lift me.

Another northern voice. There’s a march and quarter, he called after me. I can hear that march, he said. I’m never sure what I’m supposed to do. Do they expect a response, these shouters? I smile and let it pass. Do I walk so fast? Perhaps. My mother used to try and halt my striding. Don’t stride, it’s not ladylike. No, I suppose not.

Two young men sitting cross-legged on the ground, one outside The Angel the other outside a student house on Llanbadarn Road. Sitting mute. I love the silence of the early hours. Couples stand in tableaux not speaking, just holding each other.

Lighting flashed yellow across the sea. The storm approaches. And then passes.

Bicycle races through the town. We break the rules and sneak through the barriers. We just want to sit in our usual place. Little girls and boys speed past. Oh my god, says one of them. It is hot. I hear them, breathless. A smattering of parents, of teachers egging them on. A man in a clown’s costume bringing up the rear squirting people with a water pistol.  A man’s voice shouting over a tannoy.

The Salvation Army shop change their window frequently. Once a week, sometimes twice. Different colour schemes. This morning it was lilac and purple. Shoes, blouses, skirts hung in the window on hangers.

The sky clears to blue. The rain forgotten.

 

I forgot. I forgot to ask. Did he feel it? Did he feel it in his bones? The hurt, was he hurt by it? I remember when the Arndale Centre was bombed. I felt that. An inner shattering of all that had previously felt safe. An illusion, safety. We are not safe. Not in the physical sense. Perhaps safety is not what it is about. At least not in an endless, long term way. More a momentary thing. Like joy. It is not what you expect. Yesterday it came. Transient, fleeting but I felt it. I fell into it. Drank it. It was the air after the storm. Clear and cool. And the birdsong. Triumphant. All of this continues, regardless. It does not care. Joy does not care what has gone on before. That is constant, that is safe. And it is there, whenever we choose to feel it.

I am distrait this morning, my back rigid with fighting. Fighting myself. Enough. Let there be silence. And birds. Just birds. Not me. Just birds. Amen.

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Writings

Worldly goods

Tall and gangly, there is something insect-like about him. A daddy-long legs. He is often there, in the University Campus’s canteen with a suitcase on wheels and a small, leather attaché case. That’s all his worldly goods, Jackie told him as he queued for coffee. He’s looking for a job, she said. Trolling back and forth, having his coffee then back through the University corridors. To where? Where does he go, the Library? How does he get in without a card? I suppose the coffee is cheapest in the canteen. Cheaper than in town. He wears the same clothes under waterproofs that stay on whatever the weather. I know that kind of wandering, that trolling. A dislocation. A not-belonging. The misery of the dispossessed. There but for the grace of God. I wish you some relief and the continuing kindness of strangers.

Nineteen killed. My once hometown. I want to feel it with them. All gone. Lives, just gone. And all my inner wrestlings come to naught, are naught. What can we do? What can I do?

We usually see him in the afternoons. He usually walks the Prom then but I’ve seen him a few mornings, early. The other day he actually looked at me, gave me eye contact. Normally he is head down and inward, his grey hair curled awry. That lurching walk, fast with a stick for support, comfort. Thin. His jeans flap around his thighs.

I saw him with her as I came out of work. He shrugged his shoulders at me, what could I do? A young student, obviously stressed, had been pulling a large, oversized suitcase down the hill from the Halls of Residence. It kept toppling over and he went to her rescue. I couldn’t leave her, he said afterwards. I offer to help and proceed to drag it down the hill to the Porter’s Lodge. I catch the relief on his face. He hasn’t the energy these days. Nor do I, not really. But it was him or me. No contest. I ask her questions as we walk. A pale-skinned girl, midriff showing, who’s off to Cardiff by coach. The suitcase is a great lumbering thing. He drives slowly alongside us. She’s going home for the holidays. I’m looking for a job, she says. I’ve got a part-time one. I do filing. All alone in a room. It’s so boring. The petrol’s too expensive so my parents are to pick me up in Cardiff. I leave her at the bus stop. When I turn round she’s dropped the contents of her handbag on the ground and is running after an empty plastic bag that is being carried by the wind across the road.

Rest in peace, my loves. Rest in peace.

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Writings

Funeral (4)

We were late. I’m never late. At least, I do all I can to not be. I wept at the thought of missing it, of not being there. And yet he’s gone. He went a long time ago. Weeks ago. His body kept in cold storage for almost three weeks. And yet I needed to be there. To stand next to her, to hold her and be held in return. Loss brings back other such losses. All those connections. We wouldn’t have known him if not for her. Twenty years they were together, more. Not happy, either of them but there were the honeymoon years before the reality of each other set in.

We got there in the end, walking in halfway through the eulogy. Are you the woman who was lost? A uniformed lady at the Crematorium asked, before hurrying me in. We got there. I was there. The eulogy was pragmatic, honest as it could be. The pictures of him were unfamiliar. They played Mull of Kintyre at the end. A tenuous choice. I don’t think I ever heard him putting on music, the radio even. A big man, a vital man. Gone. So much space. The space in between. Breathe into the space. An awkward huddle outside. Sibling not talking to sibling. Fighting over money. I met his wife, the one he left for her. I liked her. A twinkle, a spark. I liked her. Paying my respects to the daughter. A cold fish. Poor love. So tight, so stiff. We’re the same age. No connection. She is closed-off, protected. So be it. For her it is clearly necessary. We just need to survive, any which way. He was a good age, she said. The burden gone. Released.

A memory of Aberdovey. The jigsaw in the adult’s lounge, almost finished. A woman doing a bit before she joins her husband on the terrace. A group effort. A shared satisfaction. Do you finish your crosswords? the husband asks him. Yes, he says. We don’t, not always.

Morning comes now. The cloud breaks up. Blue coming through.

Walking back from the Prom and a woman calling out to me. I’d passed her earlier. Where you walking to? she shouted. Home, I replied. Home.

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Writings

Woodrow Wilson

Wood pigeon song dominates the mornings and afternoons. I remember it from boarding school. I’ve always found it comforting, upbeat, safe. Coo, coo. We hear it in Spain too, from the terrace. Woodrow we call him, it, them. Woodrow Wilson. There are two on the tree outside my bedroom window. A pair. A couple. Woodrow and Wilhelmina. Silly, I know, but what the hell it holds us together. A restricted code. A kind of belonging.

Inevitably, we talked of feet. I had broken my toe. It will heal, she said, but it may remain a little bent. That’s OK, so long as I can walk, stride, move unhampered, un-slowed. Then she began to tell me of a client she used to treat at the hospital. Do you remember Oliver’s Shoe Shop? she asked. Nope. I’ve only been her five years. Five years, fancy that. He was the owner, she said. You’ll be shocked, he’d told her, prior to taking of his shoes. He’d been a POW in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp. His feet were in a terrible state, she said. They’d made them march and march. He’d cried, she said. The officers wouldn’t let them help those who fell, who stumbled. They were left there, to starve, to die. He’d cried, then, she said.

It’s a liminal time my walking time. That blue light between night and day. Nearing home I catch sight of man from the corner of my eye. He falls off the pavement. His arms jerk upwards. His head is looking downwards, concentrating. Fuck it! he says. A girl in a red dress walks up Penglais Hill, her heels clicking. Back in town, outside The Angel all is chaos. I walk from silence to mayhem. A jumble of platform soles, fleshy thighs squeezed into shorts, torn fish net tights, broken glass, smeared mascara, the smell of beer and perfume and shouting. They lurch and leer, ugly exaggerations of themselves.

On North Road the smell of their honeysuckle is divine.

Later, a woman is on the walkway potting some lobelias. I’m making such a mess, she says, as I step past her. It does, she says, instead of a garden.

What a dilemma, what a problem? I was moved. Moved, listening to it while making breakfast. A twelve-year-old girl, who, as a result of her father taking a paternity test, is told that neither of her parents are hers. Not biologically. Who is she? she asks. Everything turned upside down. It ends OK. She gains another family, a sister. And two names. She can switch and change. A story, a true story, about perceptions. About identity. The Other One.

And in the studio. A transgender boy with his father. A lissome, beautiful boy turning girl. Happy to be there. Happy to have it all out, out in the open. And his father, gentle, a little shy in his fleecy jerkin and big boots. The gentle being brave. Amen to that.

 

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Writings

Black Bow Tie

It is 3.30 am and two girls are running towards me on the Prom. Excuse me, excuse me, one of them says, breathless. Excuse me, have you seen a boy in glasses, a green jumper and dark jeans? No. Thank you, they say in unison and run off. One of them is barefooted and in shorts. Earnest entreaties. Of absolute importance. To them. The blonde, long-haired one with glasses, carries a KFC takeaway carton. On the ground, there is a black bow tie. A formal one with a clip and ribbon.

I always feel a little shaken when someone talks to me during my walking. I’m in another realm. A realm of inner thoughts and silence. I struggle to find my voice. Where is it? When I eventually find it, it sounds foreign to me and as if it’s a long, long way away. From down a tunnel, or a cave. Hello. Yes. No.

I have a pile of post-it notes, written in a scribble when I got home. A pile. All stuck together. I shall just have to list them. Things, sightings that I didn’t want to forget. Things I haven’t had time to write. I’ve been writing, you see. Reviews. Three this week. It took it out of me. The intense looking, the note-taking and then the creating from nothing. He wants to go through it with me. What does that mean? I remember the PR editing process. Heart-ripping stuff, but worth it. It was better for it. Tighter. I need to learn. I need these processes. But my heart falls at the prospect. Prick me, do I not bleed? So be it. So back to the notes. A list. A list for the details – those gorgeous clouds of sensation have almost gone. I forget names. Do you? All through my walk this morning, trying to remember the name of the actress who plays Sister Julienne in the Midwife. I had to ask him at breakfast in the end. He knew – he’d remembered. It begins with a J.

Notes:

A girl in pink knee-high socks. Waiting on a pavement-edge. Another girl on a corner, asking me, Do you know a number for a taxi? A strong south Walian accent. Wearing an Hawaiian shirt. I don’t know where I am. Earlier a boy dancing in the road. In the middle of the road at 3.15 am. Dancing to his ipod. I could hear it. Elton John’s Rocket Man. A man walking his Labrador on the Prom. Silence. A vigil. Suspended animation. A pink plastic Stetson in the road, shiny with sequins. A boy in a jockey’s silks, his friend in a policeman’s outfit with a fat, curly wig. A fancy dress at the WHY NOT? club? Why not? The Beast at his window when I got home. Was that your bacon, I smelt earlier? I asked. No, he said, it’s the chicken curry I’ve been making for tomorrow. Then the word Annie. I don’t know what this refers to. Perhaps it will come back to me. Annie. Who’s Annie?

I dreamt a lot this week. Dreaming a lot is a sign of intelligence, so says Steve Wright on his afternoon big show. A dream where I was naked in public. It happens often. I am embarrassed but make the best of it. I have long hair this time to cover some of it. Act natural and perhaps they won’t notice. As a child I’d dream I had forgotten to put on my knickers for school. In this dream I was looking up at a toilet at the top of a tall flight of stairs. Everything is open to the elements. It was not dirty but dusty, like a new model that’s been left in the showroom. And there was a bath, half-filled with grimy water. Then our neighbours had gutted someone else’s van. I was shocked, they seem so trustworthy. Everything removed. It was empty but pristine but they still drove it. It still worked. A sham van.

Then, weeks back. Notes about students on the Prom in the dark carrying pallets. Large industrial pallets to put on a fire they’d lit on the beach. One in a dark great coat. All done in silence. Then a girl in the road in front of South Marine Terrace. Two police officers, one with her hands on the girl’s shoulders. All are silence. Holding her. Then up by the castle, three seagulls soaring in the sky, flashing white above the street lamps. Mesmerising. Then walking into the chaos of noise outside The Angel. Bodies jostling me. Side-stepping and seeing a business card on the ground. STITCH it said. STITCH it ordered. Later, down by the corner of Great Darkgate Street a lad in rugby gear and no shoes, a tip-toeing run, shouting, O to his friend. O, where’s the boys? Then further up the road I follow three boys, one also in a rugby strip. A number 33 on his back. Two leave him and cut up a side road. He walks on ahead. Then stops to let me pass. It’s still dark. He starts to talk. How are you? he asks, his voice slurring. He is young with a gentle face. Very drunk, swaying. I try to fob him off, wanting to keep striding, to go home, in silence. No, he says, I’d rather walk home with you. I don’t want him. I don’t want him. I try to suggest that I walk on ahead. No, he keeps saying, no I’d rather. We come to the corner of St David’s Road and he lets me go without a fuss. Good night, I say, take care.

 

 

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Writings

Scintillating

An eerie morning walk fall of remarkable sights. Well, remarkable in their sensationalism. First, coming down the hill past the Alexandra Hall there was a policeman, his car headlights trained on Constitution Hill. A sharp, cold yellow in the blackness. He was standing, in his shirt sleeves aiming a strong torch across the slope. Up and down, searching, searching for something or someone. Giggling students walked along the Prom, oblivious.

Then a girl separating herself, then running from a pair of other girls along the pavement, across the road from the Prom her dress alive with sequins, afire, white and scintillating. It was beautiful. A beautiful sight. A shimmering, an animated shimmering in the night. Starry. Like the sky, though that was still. Caught.

Then the moon. Half. A half shape in the same black.

Then the hum of the fishing boat, getting ready. Getting ready to sail. Gorgeous. Remarkable. Yes.