The Smell of Rain

It’s such a gorgeous smell, that first rain after a period of warm, sunny days. The wet drops ooze into the pavements and roads, melding with dry dust. It smells of summer with all that promise of idleness and sitting, eyes closed, face up to the sun.

If feels better if I yield. There is nothing to be done but wait. He may not even have the operation. The consultant (Such a nice bloke, I really like him, he told me over the phone) said that his artery is unusually narrow which might make ‘cleaning’ it impossible. He was honest with him, without the op the likelihood of a stroke is high. He expresses his fears, mainly for me. I don’t want you to be lumbered, he said. What can I say? I love you, I said, we’ll do whatever has to be done. And yet, he is also sanguine. After the raging at the delay, the lack of order, the chaos, he calms down and acquiesces moving with the hospital-day, eating the food they bring, still getting the puddings (though they are supposed to deny him those – Apple crumble and custard last night, he said) and reading four papers. I have to get the Telegraph too, he said. And there is the compensation of a Costa Coffee, where he ambles down to after breakfast to read the paper, have coffee and a pain au raisin. It is the new drugs, they increase the appetite. The doctor did warn him. Eat fruit, the bumph inside the pill box advises. He calls me from one of the various waiting rooms with ‘comfy chairs’ bemoaning the fact that everyone who passes him seems to have had a stroke. And there’s another one, he says.  The conversations he gets into with other patients in these rooms or in Costa are all about their ailments, naturally. He broke off our conversation to say goodbye to the man from here. He’s going home with his gall bladder still intact. The woman on the couch/bed next to him is also diabetic. She wasn’t given the crumble, apparently. No, she had rice pudding, he said, you know, in a pot. When he called last night a nurse interrupted him to say that they’ve got a bed for him in a ward. He sounded pleased. A proper bed. I hope he slept better. A CT scan today, then a chat with the consultant, and then who knows? Will we still go to London, make the film, see K.? She wrote so kindly about my story, using the word honour. I needed that. Someone reaching out through the vacuum.

Walking down the hill from work I watched two little girls playing on scooters. The smallest of the two and clearly the boldest was whizzing down the hill with her bottom on the footrest, her hands reaching up precariously to the handlebars, while steering her descent with her feet. She was fast. The other girl seemed reluctant to follow her. Then gathering the courage she did so, screaming out ‘Bloody Hell!’ as she sped down.


A Thing of Beauty

I thought I was calm, peaceful and enjoying my solitude. But the raging clearly only skin deep, bursts out, unwarranted when he calls. What is the matter with me? Is it fear, grief, depression? And always there this sense of shame, for want of better word, that all this is mere indulgence. What did she call it ‘a first world problem’? We have so much. I have so much. And so much freedom, autonomy. There is no going down no pit for me, no chain gang, no abuse, no slavery. I am free to do what I choose. I have to work, of course, but even that is choice, really. So why this unravelling?

He called to say that they are not going to operate on him this week. He is furious. And understandably so. It sounds chaotic. An endless Groundhog Day. So I may have to cancel the film-making. That is what made me cry. Not out of disappointment but grief that it is all falling away. And yet, I also wept over my ambivalence. I am so uncertain. Indecision dogs my every move – whether to buy apples or not, what to wear in the morning, which way to walk to work. I am stopped still, quibbling with myself and feeling utterly stupid. And now it may all stop. My one last attempt at something uplifting, a chance to work with M., to be brave, to be bold.  To find something I think I have lost. But at the same time there is this other voice telling me it is an indulgence, it makes no sense, I haven’t thought it through, it is ridiculous and will leave me out of pocket. I sobbed because I had a clear purpose for this week to get the tapestry ready for the performance and now? Well, I am flummoxed. I feel like I’ve wasted my time, I say to him. No you haven’t, he replies, you’ve created a thing of beauty. He is being generous. I haven’t. It is clumsy and riddled with mistakes.  It was only intended as a prop, a means to an end. As an object in itself the irony is lost. I’ll call you after I’ve talked to the consultant, he said. Will you be around at half-nine?

It’s like an airport, he said. And I can picture it. People milling about in that airless no man’s land, that liminal space where nothing is ever resolved. He has to walk down long corridors to get a signal to call me. He hasn’t even been assigned a proper bed yet, just one of those examining couches. Operations are cancelled willy nilly, it seems. His ‘mate’ has had his gall bladder removal halted and his wife is in a real state trying to juggle work and being there for him.

I try to listen. I try to listen to wisdom. There was a radio programme about Betty Marsden and Bill Pertwee was being interviewed and talking about a showbiz mentor of his saying to him when he began working on ‘Round the Horne’, “Watch! If you’re not in it, WATCH!”



It gives me comfort as I walk through the yet dark streets of this town to see some lit windows. They are mostly bedroom windows. Or perhaps the occasional bathroom one. What has woken them? Or are they insomniacs? There is one that it often lit up on St David’s Road, though today it was another house, and the kitchen. It’s yellow overhead light was stark against the blackness. The downstairs front room of the wet-house on Queens Road was also full on, as it was the other day when I walked past. Though this morning there was no one sitting at the desk. For it has been made into some kind of office. And today I could see a monitor with a split screen clearly transmitting the visual data from a series of CCTV cameras in the house. Does that mean they have cameras in all the bedrooms? Is that allowed? Apparently the  ‘house’ is notorious in this town. A wet-house for addicts and alcoholics, is it called ‘wet’ because they are allowed to continue practising their habits? It’s meant to be a halfway house, I believe, enabling them to ‘live’ within the community. Their lights were on too, the windows above the office. One had fuchsia-coloured net curtains drawn together in a bunch and tied with a ribbon.  

Walking up to work in that glorious sunshine, I traipsed behind lines of students walking in twos and threes catching snippets of their conversation as they either walked ahead or passed me. ‘She limits herself’, one girl was saying as she began her descent of the hill with her friend. Their voices are always a little too loud, pretending a confidence they don’t really possess. ‘At my school they had two entrances’, a lad with a bulky midriff was telling a girl in black corduroy dungarees, his voice breathy as he climbed the steps. One for the girls and one for the boys, he continued, two doors each, and two staircases, once for girls and one for boys. Really, said the girl.

How was work? he asked when he called last night. It was OK, I said. And it was. I think it must have been the sun.  And she, the big boss, was OK , business-like but OK. She wore a grey skirt of woollen material with a chain of metal rings sewn around the hem. How do you wash it?  I thought as she sat for the camera. When she stood up to use the telephone I noticed that two of the rings had come loose from their stitching around the back. Distrait, a hint, just a hint of something not so together – the fraying hem, the chipped fingernail, the flapping sole. It is never far away this undoing, for any of us. You just notice it more, or it glares more in the attire of those who rule over us.

He didn’t have his operation. When he called to say goodnight he didn’t even have a bed in a ward yet. He’d been kept waiting, hanging around all day with no food or water just in case they’d do it. He found someone from here. He always does. When there was no op in sight they snuck off together to eat cake and chocolate in Costa. This sent his blood sugar sky high forcing the ‘nice’ student nurse to refuse him sponge and custard for pudding. She relented in the end. Will it be today? Meanwhile I hold close to my solitude, a novelty. The first time in this flat.

It’s OK to shut down. I need a new way of thinking about work. The quiet methodical process of sewing helps this. It closes the aperture down a little, narrows my vision to a gimlet point. Let it be. Let it fall away, I have time.



We both saw it. It was driving adjacent to us on the M4. A van with a logo sign-painted along its side that read ‘Traditional Mole-Catching’. What is that? I asked. Does it involve bashing down the hillocks of earth that they churn up? Or do they send a Jack Russell or some other type of small dog to ferret them out? Or do they smoke them out? And if that is traditional what is non-traditional? They do make a chaos of lawns and fields but they are the most delicate of creatures. I remember finding one on the stairs of my father’s first cottage in Stainforth. The stairs were carpeted, slightly dank and dark. The mole was half-way up, how it got there God only knows. A tiny being, shiny black, soft, blind and utterly helpless. I think I wrapped it up in something and took it outside. It was barely bigger than my palm. Moles are just doing what they do, like any other animal. Is it right, is it kind, or even appropriate for us to slaughter them purely for the inconvenience they cause us?

I am less muddle-headed this morning. Though I am sad. It makes me sad, he said this morning. We’d talked about communication the night before and how I feel things have changed. It is partly his deafness, age and the new drugs he is trialing. Things have to be repeated frequently, and where in the past we just understood each other, now we have to search for meaning, often getting frustrated or irritated. It is not peaceful. He says he will give a hearing aid another go.

Whenever I see someone walking towards me, or ahead of me, in the dark hours when I stroll, I go into a kind of red alert. I read all the signs, taking note of gait, what they are wearing, how they hold themselves, build, height and age. I notice everything, even their smell. This man was coming down the little hill from the Buarth. I stayed in the middle of the road. The streetlight behind him kept his face in shadow. He was a big man, his arms were held out, up away from his body. His shoulders were rounded. He bounded down the hill, almost rolling. His hair was cropped short and the back of his neck was several rolls of flesh. He felt safe, there was something malleable, jaunty in his rolling walk. Morning, I called out. He looked up and smiled. You alright? he asked.

He’s just gone. A friend is taking him. It’s hard to let him go. I watch and wave from the window. He looks vulnerable, has done for such an age. Will they do it? Will it be smooth, without complications? Let him come home safe. It might be better if I died, he said during supper. Why? I asked, holding my breath. It’d be simpler, for you. Simpler, yes, I answered, but I’d be without this, without you.

Morning comes  – that blue. Black opening to blue.



Was it a nightingale? It sounded so beautiful with a truly complicated song that trilled and tra-laaed for almost half an hour, at least until I went to sleep. There is a bank of trees on the edge of what is, and has been, a building site since we moved in almost five years ago. The fact that it is a ‘building site’ means that on its outskirts Nature is left to her own devices, and excepting a few of the flats’ cats who pick their way over the muddy trenches left by the JCB, the birds that come to sing in the trees are virtually unmolested. I have no knowledge of birdsong, I can recognise a blackbird but that is probably it. It may have been a nightjar. But I like to think it was a nightingale.

The kids were out in force this morning. The balcony-cum-fire escape of the Pier Pressure was teeming. I had some music playing in my ear as I walked but I could still here the hiss, the clamour of voices. When I generally go past they are coming down from the high of the evening, the alcohol is wearing off and they are preparing to stumble off home. A girl sat on a lad’s knee on of the Prom benches as she chatted to her friends. Later striding along Llanbadarn Road I see a couple from the corner of my eye. She is leaning provocatively against a wall, part of the little slope that winds down from the Buarth. I can’t hear what they are saying. I catch the shimmer of her sequined mini skirt in the street light, the whiteness of her blouse and the pout of her red-lipsticked lips. I think of parodies of old French movies, Allo Allo and Joni Mitchell’s song about Yvette saying ‘Avez-vous une allumette?’

He is to go into hospital tomorrow. The consultant wants him there for 8 am. A light breakfast. They may operate tomorrow, it may be the next day. How do they manage with so many ifs and buts? He seems calm. And we drove there OK, with just a little bickering. I notice a difference in him its the new drugs, certainly. But I was tetchy too, tired and ragged. It’s all this holding of breath. Can I ask that he be alright? I think of the knife on his neck, his skin cutting. It is routine for them. No big deal. To me he is love.


Wood Pigeon

Wherever we go there are wood pigeons. Here, in Spain, I even remember them from boarding school. I love their call. I’ve heard people via the radio complaining about it. I love it. That woo, woo. That coo, coo. We give them names, like Woodrow (Woody) Wilson and Wilma. Alliterative, childish, silly names. Our code. Our restricted code. There are a couple that perch on the trees outside our bedrooms. The bird song is getting more insistent, the warm weather and lighter (oh, joy) mornings must be making a difference. I hear it when I walk. The blackbirds especially. Such a hopeful sound. I am walking better, not so tired, not so lethargic. I take on three hills. Good for you. Good for the arse, the thighs. Go on do it. Faster.

She sounded terrible, bless her – scared, sad, defeated. I got so ill, she said, I had to go to the doctor. I haven’t made myself a cup of tea in a week, she said. It’s hard to yield, I understand that, you feel like the whole of life, the life you’ve been holding together by the skin of your teeth will crumble if you do. I understand, I say. I am just the same. But sometimes you just have to, your body insists. It needs rest. I like it when she says my name. I’ve been phoning her now for what, seven years? And it was tricky at the start, she was so shy, so reserved, so withdrawn. But now, she says my name, acknowledging me as someone who cares, who is interested. And I am. I’ve never met her but I like to picture her. She who loves those dogs who stray into her parlour from the farm up the road, and the cat who sleeps in her shed. She who grows green beans and patiently awaits her daffodils which come later then the ones here because she is so much higher.

My poor man. He too gets scared. Don’t we all? A small blip and he is spinning with fear. The doctors become a lifeline. He wants to be told it’s going to be alright. Fair enough. I feel his spinning. It is getting me in the gut. What next? He flies off the handle so easily. It can’t be easy being in his head. Be kind. Be compassionate. Don’t react. Let it be. Be steady for him.

I thought about my book as I walked. I don’t see the whole yet. Just snippets, as I said. There was a book I read years ago about a series of photographs this woman found of her ancestors and near family. She created a narrative around those photos. I think about Mum and her mother. And the photographs she had on her wall of her. She does the same. They were so absent and yet the photographs belie that fact. See she was there all the time, they say. Their presence, their pride of place states this. And she was so beautiful, my grandmother. The sun shines in her face, from her face in those black and white photographs. Who has them now? Probably she does. She has claimed most of the manifested memories. I understand, that is not a judgement. The absence is too painful to show, let’s mask it with untruth. And yet, untruth sounds harsh, more a kind of re-telling. I don’t remember the photographs of my maternal grandmother being in any of our family homes, they seemed to appear only when she went to Spain. Was it nostalgia, a longing that was being expressed? She never articulated such things. There is so little to go on. I will be writing absence. A land of absence. A land of absent mothers.

We are off soon – a long drive to see his consultant. He seems sanguine – willing to give his body over to the knife. I seem to be watching from behind glass.

I think about that little house. Does it miss me?



I love the documentary programmes that come on air in the early hours on Radio 4 Extra. This morning it was about the hot-housing of children into becoming ballet or sports stars. Some begin at the age of three. It takes a massive toll on their bodies. I’ve always hankered after that kind of myopic brilliance. To be a master of something. It never happened. I am too interested in too many things. A magpie. A butterfly brain. But I can see the pitfalls too. What if you find after all those years you don’t have want it takes? Better to have many baskets eh? (The sounds of those echo-y dance rooms with the plinkety-plonk piano on the recordings were so evocative of my childhood visits to ballet classes. I had no confidence, even then, and felt awkward and clumsy and couldn’t for the life of me remember the choreography. I believe Mum sent me to gain some grace. )

Still a little moon this morning as I walked. And just now I heard the owl – with its waaah, wooooh, sound, like a rather bad impression of  a ghost. Certainly no twit, to twoo.

We’ve been tetchy with each other ever since I’ve come home, I said to him yesterday. And it’s true. We scrapped over parking, him riding the pavement, and various other silly things. His emotions are near the surface. He is better but ever aware of the anxiety lurking, or even trying to push through. It is up to me. I shouldn’t react, dampening that egotistical desire to fight back. I can be bigger than that, can’t I?

A drama on the radio called the Launch about an ex-fighter pilot writing an expose of his brother’s death from ‘friendly fire’. It was full of bile, of recrimination and bitterness. He meets the perpetrator of his brother’s death and the launch of the book in an old aerodrome outside Cambridge. His ‘enemy’ reminiscing about the ‘good’ bits of war said, ‘You had purpose – you knew who the enemy was.’

Sometimes I think about what I’ve started, the book and I am made rigid with fear. How can I take it on? Will I ever complete it? And I have to take a grip on myself. It is too early to make decisions. Just read. Make notes. Plot the structure. Take your time. It is about being in that place of indecision, of panic, of fear. Nothing is shown. There is no concrete proof that it will be done. And yet I know that,  as with any leap of faith, one has to be comfortable in that place of not knowing. For after all that is the space where as yet, any thing can happen. It is the unconstrained space, the open to anything place. Find your peace with it. Take little steps, he said all those years ago.

Sometimes we ask each other questions we don’t really want the answer to. Like last night when he asked me if I’d be happier living alone. You would wouldn’t you? Sometimes, yes. It is my natural state. And yet, look at this. Look at how close we are. And I know it isn’t about a change of place. The adjustments, the real adjustments are internal. Always. A least at first. Else we just take our problems with us, unconsciously stowed away in our suitcases.

The massage was sublime. I needed that kind warm oblivion. But I am knocked out the next day. But thank you and enjoy Amsterdam.


The Postman’s Wife

He always stops him to ask after her. The postman’s wife. She has cancer. She is undergoing chemotherapy. Of course, they are poisoning her, he said to me afterwards.

He called just before lunch, he was badly shaken. I’ve just had a shock, he said. It was clearly a scam. Someone, well two people really, telephoning him and purporting to be from the HMRC and accusing him of not paying enough tax. They threatened him with a possible prison sentence. I was in the loo, he told me, and didn’t take the call but called them back. Two foreign-sounding men, one was his supervisor, he said, and they were so aggressive. I told him to call our accountant. Who, when he did, just laughed, apparently. And I wasn’t much better. Come home, I said. And when he did all I could focus on was giving him tips as to how to deal with fake calls in the future. And yet all he wanted was to be hugged, to be given succour. I got it eventually. They make you feel such a mug. But it is understandable, they can come across as so credible.

No moon again this morning, I have missed it. I do miss it. A man up a cherry picker was fiddling with the top of what looked like a lamp post just outside the station at 3 am this morning. What can be so vital that it cannot wait until daylight? The headlights from his van had been trained on him to give him more light. Three police cars were parked outside the back of The Marine Hotel. One also has its headlights full on, lighting my path as I walked, in lieu of the moon.

He told me of his friend, a Californian potter who gave up making because of the pain and difficulty it caused him to get his work ‘out there’. It is always been my motivation, to be seen, to be recognised, to be acknowledged. Never have I done the work for its own sake. DM asks me to look at his new films. They are sublime – studies of the extraordinary amid the ordinary. Birdsong mingles with the chatter of tourists, nothing happens then a leaf drops – gentle pieces that make you watch intensely. And that, surely, is merit enough. Are we working in a futile vacuum if the work has no outside destination? I think about my sewing. I want to finish them. To see them through, to see the process through. For after all they were never about the end result. It was always about the sitting still, the being still, the extraneous sounds (radio, birdsong) and the reading. There are others who work, worked, for works sake – Emily Dickinson, Primmy Chorley, Proust – can I not do the same?

Walking in the wind and rain, I came to what we call the ‘prow’, a kind of corner of the Prom that looks like the front of an ocean-going liner. The wind had grown fierce by then and I saw, from a distance what looked like a man going round and round in circles. I got near and could see he was wearing a Mexican-style poncho and dark glasses. His car, which was parked just ahead of him, had the driver’s seat window open and Indian music was coming through it. On the dashboard was a plastic sunflower in a pot. He nodded his head in acknowledgement of me and continued to go round in a circle.

Two dreams in rapid succession though only the first stays with me. DH was a deejay and I kept wandering past his studio window and giving him bon mots and quips to share with his audience. I made him laugh, delighted him. Some other  woman in the studio, seeing what I was doing, suggested that I should be interviewed, Yes, I said and they could translate it into Welsh. I was delighted by the attention, happy to be useful, wanted, loved even.

Accepting is the key. The key to it all and a way of halting this gut-ache. So be it.


Act of Faith

It was a quote from a trailer advertising a radio play that was due to be aired in the next few days. I think it was a play by Arnold Bennet. ‘It’s an act of faith to make anything’, one of the female characters said. An act of faith, the belief that it will happen, that you will make manifest an idea. Yes. My life has been an act of faith, all too often with a wobbly faith in myself. Drawing, writing and sewing, and not necessarily in that order – those are my main acts of faith, of making, of creating. They run into each other, are often indivisible. I think about drawing as often as I think about writing. I want to master both. To be the best I can. To make without self-consciousness. To write without self-consciousness. I woke from a dream in which I was at a party held in my honour. Everyone was there, family and friends. There were plates of food everywhere, lots of green food, some looked more like plants and shrubs than salad or vegetables. I was in  wheelchair. I knew I could walk and as I was trying to get myself about I was thinking to myself I could just walk. Sometimes I was slow, other times fast. I was hungry and went off in search of food, offering to get some for L. as well. I came to some cold chicken, thinking she might like some and almost took some to see what it was like. You don’t eat that, I said to myself as I tore the flesh from the carcass and went in search of olives instead. A seemingly prosaic dream but to me one that is weighty with import.

I pondered on the nature of work yesterday allowing myself to consider the notion of work –  learning, education –  for the sake of it. I want to learn the craft of writing, as I want to learn the craft of drawing. What if I just dedicated my time to that – regardless of whether it brings in money or not? I have my journalism and my BBC job to bring in cash, however intermittently. And they? Well it will come when it comes. My life is more than that. I want to be the best I can be. To be a craftsman in every sense of the word. To dedicate my time to honing, to bettering, to flying. It would be an inner, inside experience, nothing to do with outside recognition. It will be interesting to see what P. C. has now done with her work to introduce it so overtly into the exterior world.

No moon this morning. Or the usual array of lit windows that give me such pleasure, particularly when I walk down from the Buarth. The windows in the terraced houses there are very fine with curved, arched tops and stained glass.

He is so much better, even staying up with me for a protracted breakfast, reading the paper all the way through. And we are back with birthdays. It was good to write up my notes yesterday, I mulled them over and re-remembered the texts that I read, seemingly such a long time ago. It is in fact hardly a week. I have booked to return. I see that little house in my mind’s eye, waiting for me. Anticipating returning to that compactness, neatness and simple modesty warms my heart. And he talks of our trip to London with optimism. He wants to come. Hurrah.



I was lying on the floor or our kitchen-cum-dining-room-cum-living-room at the top of the flat, waiting for the oven to finish cooking the supper. He was reading the paper by the radio/TV ready to switch Classic FM to mute when the adverts came on. What are you thinking about? he asked. And I told him. About a man I saw at Boston airport last year. I’d seen him first behind the till at one of the newsagent. He was Hispanic. Then I saw him again when he sat across from me in one of the eating areas by the big windows that look onto the runways. He was clearly on his lunch break. He was eating white rice. Just white rice. No sauce or vegetables or meat. Just cold white rice from a Tupperware container. He ate fast, hunched over the table, shovelling the rice into his mouth. He called across to another man just behind me, also airport personnel. (I could tell from his uniform.) He was West Indian. Whatya eating? The Hispanic man called out. The other man, also eating out of a Tupperware lidded bowl, tilted it towards the other to reveal what looked like a cold pasta salad. Nice? questioned the Hispanic man. Yeh, said the other. Neither seemed fazed by the spartan nature of the Hispanic man’s fayre. Just rice. I think about food a lot. Not out of greed but out of a wish to plan, to control what and how much I eat and to simplify. Just rice, is, can be nice. I hope it was choice and not poverty in the Hispanic man’s case. Sometimes just one foodstuff at a time is a good thing. You taste it then, really taste it. Like on a fast.

Serendipity. A joining up of ideas. I first saw the crumpets on an advert in his morning paper yesterday. With a picture of a middle-aged man smiling and talking about eating healthily for less. (Not quite sure about that.) It reminded me how I used to love crumpets as a child. Their texture was so singular. Mum would grill or toast them and I’d spread butter then honey on the hot, holey surface. I loved the way the butter and honey seemingly disappeared, only to wait beneath to catch in my throat and drip down my face after that first bite. I thought them so sophisticated, such an adult taste. Then later in one of the Hancock’s Half Hour repeats on Radio 4 extra Sid James refused a crumpet moaning that the melted butter always dripped on his tie. Then this morning walking to the harbour I walked past an open bin bag, its contents spilling out, amongst which were three whole crumpets.

The bag lady was out again today. You know the one I see on the Prom with her bag for life swinging as she trundles along in her trainers, always wearing that same pink sweat top. She never looks at me, though we must have passed each other countless times. I smell the cigarette smoke on her. She normally shops in the 24 hour garage on Mill Street. And then she walks. Is it a health thing, has the Doctor advised it? She doesn’t look as though she enjoys it. But there again I probably don’t either. The moon, which is full today, I think, makes a difference. All that light – I feel lifted by it. No Perygyl today. Too wet.

He’s asked me to go with him. Of course. I want to help, to put him at ease if I can. It will be an adventure, I said, like going on one of our trips. She responds to my email to say that her job is on the line. Her skills, which are legion are no longer wanted. I thought of her all day. Poor love.