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Writings

Objects of Small Pleasure

Sometimes it is just a word or phrase that I catch as it or they emerge from the radio. Yesterday it was a man voice talking about what he called objects of small pleasure, which were in his case pencils. I didn’t catch the rest. Small pleasures make life liveable, for me at least. They don’t overwhelm or threaten an anticlimax, they are comfortable, hand-able and pocket-size. Like the daffodils he bought for me, or the little jug she gave me for Christmas two years ago, or the taste of tahini yesterday, or a line in a novel that makes me smile. Such things aren’t everything, they won’t solve much – world poverty, hunger, the coronavirus or stop the floods – but they cheer, they lift and that has to be enough.

I walked this morning as usual even though they threatened howling gales and it surprised me how many people appeared to be awake. They weren’t out like me but windows were lit in the darkness. A Hopperesque scene with those oblong blocks of yellow light, usually from a ceiling light. No figures just a shape of yellow, seemingly amorphous, floating in the black.

Reading Worsley’s book she informs me that it was women who used to sew together the printed pages of a book before it was bound, which in those days printers didn’t do, this was then courtesy of a bookbinder. She also makes lots of connections between Austen’s sewing and writing. Her niece describes her as ‘doing two things at once: ‘working’ on one task with her needle, and another with her brain.’ Nice. I find sewing does the same for me. On the next page Austen is quoted as saying: ‘I really am impatient myself to be writing….I can command very little quiet time at present, but yet must I begin.’ Amen to that, Jane. Me too. Me too. I am impatient to be writing but first things first. That form. It must be attended too.

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Writings

Baby

There is an artist who’s work I admire that uses his dreams as material for his drawings. They are texts, handwritten that describe his night time reveries. They are beautiful documents, copper-plated and written on thick, watermarked paper, and huge. My dreamworld has become increasingly important to me. I try to read them, to unravel them. Often topsy-turvy they are mines of information. Last night there was a baby. It was mine, and it was hungry. I knew that I’d made it a bottle but in all the mess of rubbish in the space I was living in I could find it and the baby kept crying and crying. It was distressing. I wanted to satisfy it, calm it but I couldn’t.

It’s St David’s Day on Sunday and the daffodils are out way before. She told me last week that she remembers that they always came either on the day or after. As I walked into town at 3 am a man was coming towards me carrying a bunch of freshly cut daffs. Even at that time. Was it a present?

The floods continue to ravage Shropshire. My heart goes out to those affected. Poor souls. It is biblical in its impact. May there be relief for them, soon. Please make it soon.

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Writings

Hoarder

I often dream deep when I don’t get enough sleep, as I did last night. Lots of them, broken by visits to the loo. The one that stuck featured a group of people, myself included being taken around this house. We were led to a door to a flight of stairs. Well that is what it looked like. Actually it was a self-contained flat. We were told that an old lady lived there, a Mrs Smith. The man showing us round told us she was his client and proceeded to open the door. It was jammed all the way down the stairs and beyond with boxes, clothes, plastic bags all full with stuff. He asked if any of us would like to look inside. One man came forward and began to try and push himself through all the clutter. He got nowhere and soon returned all creased and hot. She thinks she is still alive, said the man showing us round, but actually she is dead. It reminded me of yesterday’s dream in an airport, a kind of no man’s land where we were waiting for our flight for days. I remember stairs there too, but normal, domestic, carpeted stairs and a big door that I was going to open but then didn’t realising that once I did I wouldn’t be able to return to where I was. On the stairs was an envelope under which was someone’s wallet. Had they left it behind? Should I check? I was asking myself as I woke.

A good, good day yesterday. A full day. A rich day. There is much there, much enthusiasm, much support. Now I must make sense of it all, establish some order, some control. And begin.

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Writings

Jane

Some books give me such joy. Lucy Worsley’s Jane Austen at Home is one such book. It’s the detail, the minutiae of Austen’s day-to-day life that captivates. Worsley is thorough, painting a real life, a nuts-and-bolts life of a woman not the literary genius that she has now become. I love it. Truly. And it is worth going into work to engage with it. I’m currently in Bath with her, just before she is to leave. (When he was looking for a flat for me, all those years ago now, he looked at the one that the Austen family almost took in Sydney Place, for it seems that it was too expensive in the end. He thought it shabby, so we didn’t go for it. It was a gentle connection nevertheless.) Biographers’ opinions vary but it does appear that Bath wasn’t a happy place for her. I get it. I loved it but sometimes, just sometimes it brought me down – though whether that was a fault of place, I cannot say. She did write Northanger Abbey there (she initially called it Susan) though it was years till it was published, posthumously, I believe but mostly it was an unproductive time. Too topsy-turvy, the death of her father, the constant moving and being at the beck and call of wealthy relatives – I suspect. In a letter from that time she writes: ‘I do not know what is the matter with me to day but I cannot write…..fortunately I have nothing very particular to say.’

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Writings

Beep, beep then go home

I get myself in a tizz over nothing it seems. My body is rigid with it. The rain lashes outside, though it was dry, thankfully, when I walked earlier. Some mornings the most that I can do is go out and do the food shopping and come home. I do my best to rise to the occasion, for we must greet the people we have come to know there. The managers, the under managers, the shelf-stackers, the other shoppers, who like us are out at 6 am, and the staff working the tills. Morning, campers, called out one man whom we see most mornings there. He looks like an ageing Roy Orbison, for he always wears dark glasses and his hair, long and dyed black has that same distinctive fluffy, brittle quality. His over-cheerfulness gives him away. Is this hard for him too? I want to run. He stands his ground and chats with him. We talk to S on the till. It is expected. It passes the time of day, he would say. He is singing when we get to his till. He talks about the job he had before. Too much responsibility, he said. I’d get home and I’d be worrying. No, this is better, he says, it’s just beep, beep and then go home. Perfect. His Liverpudlian accent makes the word like treacle and ends it with a k. I ask whether he will make pancakes. No, he says, my sixteen year old daughter makes them. He chooses a mixed pack of mini cereals for the food bank and it takes me back to staying with J and how we’d fight over who got the Coco Pops. I loved those little packets. Anything in miniature captivated me. And to be able to have something entirely to myself. I could give way over the Coco Pops, as I often did, Frosties were fine, I even secretly preferred them, not liking the way the Coco Pops turned the milk brown. J wasn’t a natural host, or indeed grandparent but to stay away from home was nevertheless a treat, and I loved the sparse, neatness of her house.

I want to spend another day working on the alphabet piece – I think that is the struggle, not feeling I can justify it to myself. And yet, I’m trying to find something, a way of working, a path and it needs that time, that dedication to unfold. Let it be. Allow yourself the time.

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Writings

Mother Tongue

We’ve met a few times now, that is, when I can fit it in in my oh so rigid routine. I like her. She is fresh-faced, open, young but 23 and fearless. Or so she seems to me. We meet ostensibly to talk Norwegian. My mother’s tongue. I persist in trying to get a hold of it. I know little. I struggle with the pronunciation and feel tongue-tied and stupid. But she still chatters on to me. Mostly in Norwegian, though sometimes, when it is clear that I haven’t the foggiest what she is saying, in English. We meet in a cafe, an unpretentious place where hoi polloi go for egg and chips and sit on the banquettes in the window overlooking the street below. I feel comfortable in there. He knows the owner from years back. I buy the girl a drink. She never offers to pay, why should she? She, after all is helping me, letting me stumble through the foreign tongue so patiently. Yesterday she brought me another book. They are always childrens’ books. I struggle through those too but they are good practice in seeing the words in print. This particular book was written by a dentist to try and encourage children to take care of their teeth. They are so practical the Norwegians. She shows me another side of the culture. I am used to city dwellers, at least those from the suburbs of Oslo, wealthy, intelligent, cosmopolitan. She is a farmer’s daughter. Both her parents are farmers. And yet, she is brave, and her English is amazing. She has big plans. After her degree her she wants to go to Edinburgh. She never asks any questions about me. I am of no interest to her. I wonder why she meets me. She is kind I think. But not curious. Is that a feature of the young, this lack of curiosity?

I had many dreams last night. In one I was in the sea, it was deep and I was frightened of drowning and what was underneath me. I felt something. Was it a shark? No, it was two dolphins, they rose smiling in an arc in front of me. And yet, it was all very illusory and the sea, rather than being cold, wet and dark was white, like sheets, and billowy as a duvet. My fears were groundless. I was safe, not drowning.

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Writings

Denmark

I can’t always catch what she is saying down the phone. Her voice is quiet, apologetic. A cancelling out of noise, rather than a making of it. I thought she said Denmark. And then when I questioned her I realised she had. It’s at Denmark, she said again. Denmark? I asked, thinking surely not, she never travels, hasn’t even been in a plane. Denmark Farm, she said. It’s like a shorthand, a restricted code. She has always lived in that place, that small community, she knows it as she knows the back of her hand and offers it up with her quiet voice as a cipher, not intentionally, but that is how I hear it. She talked of wanting to do a craft class over Easter. Again, I had to struggle to hear it, to make sense of what she was saying. Something to do with woolen animals. Then it came, felting. Felted animals. It is brave of her. All these forays into a bigger world are brave steps for her. I want to hear them described and hand them back to her as prizes. See what you have achieved. And the two of them so open to all viruses – so easily assailed. I want to wrap them up and make them safe. She was as grey as I was yesterday. I didn’t lift her. I was sorry for that.

I cook things sometimes just for the warm, rich smells that give the flat. Sometimes it is coffee in that wonderful authentic Italian coffee pot, other times like this morning it is almonds toasted in a frying pan. No fat just the heat turning them brown. Nutty, honeyed, toasty sort of smell. Gorgeous.

It’s the small things, she said, or implied, I forget which. Do what you can to instil joy. He tries to convince me. It is getting lighter, he says. It is. Promise.

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Writings

Enchantment

I’ve listened to the whole series of Geoffrey Wheeler’s forays into the UK’s Grand Theatres on the radio. Yesterday I listened back to one on the Grand in Swansea and another on the one in Ayr. In the Swansea one he interviewed the ex-Theatre Chaplain, a woman, I forget her name. She talked about going to that theatre as a child and her feelings at seeing the red velvet curtains hiding the stage before the play opened. ‘They shared an enchantment with you’, she said. I followed those with a programme hosted by Roger Law (of Fluck and Law) on breeding English Rabbits, a special spotted variety based on a painting that a wealth of breeders are trying to emulate. Fascinating. It ended, perhaps inevitably with Law eating rabbit pie.

A good day yesterday, even work was fun with some guests for Ifan show bringing in Poppy the Jack Russell and two ferrets.

I send you love, and you and you my love. Nothing is as bad as we think it is. Even in my worst bleakness I know this. Trust it. You are loved. All of you.

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Writings

Pale Blue Hot Pants

They’d promised rain and wind and yet there they were in what are ostensibly summer clothes pouring out of the nightclubs and bars. I watched as a particularly pneumatic girl with long, blond, peroxided tresses skipped across the road, her hand firmly clasped in that of black lad, with a huge grin on his face. I’ve got the cherry on top, his smile seemed to say. Look at me. Look at her. And I did. She with that bottom, and those voluptuous thighs barely contained in a pair of pale-blue hot pants.

I love the radio. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I love it. The things that one just comes across. What a richness, what a joy. Yesterday there was a programme about collecting. Stamp collecting in particular. The British Guyanese Magenta. It sold for 9 million. What craziness. It’s all about order. Establishing an order, neatness, control on a chaotic world, apparently. There used to be two until one of the collectors way back set fire to one. ‘There’s only one now,’ he said, after he’d put his lighter to it.

My laptop is still struggling. I must try to not get frustrated. It will be resolved, sooner or later. Be patient, my love.

I dreamt of her again the other night. She was a baby and then a woman. I changed her nappy then she was bemoaning the state of her thighs. I like having her close. It is enough.

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Writings

Alphabets

My back is rigid from the battle I’ve been doing with myself all morning. Well, since 1.45 am when I woke. I have no path to follow, it is entirely of my own making and that should be a freedom and yet all I do is harangue myself for the choices I make.

We’d talked, he and I, and he’d suggested that I look through my plan chest drawers of begun projects and see what I could find. I told him of my yearning to make ‘something beautiful’. Anyway I did, in between going back and forth to work. And I did find some cheer in it. There is much work there, and endeavour but each needs time to be completed, and more importantly faith. I need to believe in what I do. As I need to believe in myself. It is a pattern. I finish an intense piece of work, usually some writing, and then I panic. How to fill the gap? What should I be doing? And then my mind is off, shouting, declaiming, digging in.

I want to keep open. I want to accept what is but also keep open. There are many different strands to my practice. It may not always have been the case, though I remember even when I was deep in the production line I still hankered after more conceptual projects. And actively sought them. Perhaps the kindest, calmest thing to do is accept that that is who I am. I need to do lots of different things. Though each, in my fastidious way, needs to be done equally well. I need to write, I need to design bigger projects to get me out of the house, my head and my comfort zone (they are rich things, though scary to me) and I need to make, to be involved in something that evolves, grows, uses my hands and allows my mind free-rein. To do just one of these things won’t suffice. I’ve tried but it won’t. And yet, they are all work, all have creative significance, even if they don’t, as in most cases, have much currency in the outside world. My reasons for work are manifold. It’s as needful to me as breathing. And yet, I am wobbly, am still wobbled by a path that is no longer clear.

He rings up after reading yesterday’s piece to tell me of spelling mistakes. I snap a little. Once a teacher always a teacher. He is trying to help. But it isn’t always welcome. I should ring back and apologise. I will.

My laptop is failing still. The part has yet to arrive. Meanwhile I write this at an angle, else the screen goes like fizzing mist. I give in. Other work time.

And I forgot to tell you of them. The alphabets I found. Cross stitch designs from the 1900s, German I think, of alphabets. And I can download them for free. Marvellous. They are so beautiful. I want to make them. Why or for what, as yet I cannot say but the joy I felt at finding them was so strong I have to act on it. And yet, my tension comes from the uncertainty of it. Can I allow myself this seeming indulgence? I just want to try. To see what comes from it. I’ve begun drawing them out. I’m terrible at following patterns. It is a discipline. I want it, I need it. Let me.