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He knew

It’s always about the detail, it always has been. The detail defines us, sharpens us. I’ve called her a few times during this strange period. It’s the least I can do. She is alone. She manages, she is a very capable woman but this time she said she was finding it hard. She is a sociable being. She likes company, it lifts her. She chatters away about much and nothing. I meant to pop out into the garden to tie up a rose, she said, before the rain came. The detail, you see. Proust knew this, telling us in Swann’s Way how his grandmother would loosen the rose ties in her garden in Cambray to make it seem more natural, ‘the way a mother runs her fingers through her child’s hair after a visit to the barbers’, he wrote.

There was a tent, a light blue mini jousting-style tent with pointed tip, it’s cloth adorned with sea creatures, lying capsized on the pavement outside Cwrt Cenydd. Had the wind carried from some child’s garden or even the beach? It looked sad, upended like that. Later, returning from my walk I heard the crunch of a snail’s shell under my boots. I’m so sorry. It’s dark I cannot always see my way. I hate to take a life. Any life.

He said he knew, he knew that I was struggling. I could sense it, he said. It made me feel good to know that he’d felt it, that I wasn’t alone with it. I don’t always know what to do, he said. Sometimes you don’t want to talk about it. No, he is right, I don’t. What a precious man he is. What a lucky gril I am.

My line manager writes to say that work can’t participate in the furloughing scheme. So that’s that then. It never was a safe job, I said. Now don’t run with it, he said. He is right. No point being histrionic. It is what it is. So what can I do? Be imaginative. Get that thinking cap on. Something will come. The universe is generous. And the sun is out regardless of the promise of rain. See.

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Writings

Desert

I know why I dream it, it came to me as I walked. The important thing is that I solved it, or at least got myself out of the dilemma. I found myself walking in a desert. There was just sand, nothing but sand, no landmarks whatsoever. I wasn’t too perturbed, but I remember thinking to myself that I was lost, or that I could be walking this terrain forever. Then, as I thought it I found myself (which is often how it happens in dreams) in a busy bookshop, sharing a table with another person, a man I think, and waiting to give a talk of some sort. Then I was walking beside a waterway I knew. I recall thinking to myself I know this, this is familiar, this is nice, I know this. At first it made me think of my time in Covent Garden (I know, there is no water there) then of our trips to Norfolk, and Blakeney in particular and then of Cornwall. Not that it looked like any of these places. Then I was in a waterside cafe and asking for a job. Two women interviewed me. The one who seemed to be the boss was reluctant, standoffish but as we talked I could feel her soften. I’ve waitressed lots of times, I said to her, all the time knowing that I didn’t really want to do it but I’d come all that way and I wanted a resolution. She was hard to soften. At one point, in my eagerness to show willing I put some dirty plates on the dumb waiter. Does that go to the kitchen? I asked. It was an odd contraption that appeared to be going round rather than upwards. Don’t do it like that, the boss woman snapped, you’ll hurt yourself. But I knew even in her abrasiveness, or perhaps in spite of it, she would employ me. That will do for now, I thought. That’s work solved. But it’s funny how the current climate is feeding in. They are sitting too close, I remember thinking. And how come the cafe is still busy? The boss said that they did over 10,000 covers during the day in the summer. I shall be exhausted, I thought to myself, but think of the tips. All very prosaic, but I write it to fix it in my mind. I slept better. Just waking once in the night and then again five minutes before the alarm. We keep it tight, he and I, disregarding the mayhem of the lockdown. Life flows onward. I work as usual, and he reads the papers as usual, though online. We breakfast at the same time and we walk at the same time. Is it mad not to implode, to soften, to yield, to grow flabby with ennui? Are you doing that? She always accused me of rigour. Did she mean it was unnecessary? I do it for myself. To hold it all together. I have done so in even more extraordinary circumstances, believe me. Personally extraordinary, that is, not globally. Still no news from work. Will they furlough us? Huge organisations have no conscience. I keep nudging, will it do any good?

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Writings

Home

The newsreader on the 8 am bulletin said that museums all over the country are asking for our contributions to help mark this lockdown experience. A spokeswoman for The Museum of the Home was then interviewed in which she asked for the general public to send images of their homes during the self-isolation. But we don’t want Instagram-style images, she said, don’t clean them first. The rest of the news was taken up by the fact that the government are going to debate a bill that will give 3.1 million to help children suffering domestic abuse during this period. Two sides of one coin, eh? Some are doing OK, those with gardens, space, a safe income and a loving family, others without those things are not. My heart goes out to them. Always.

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Writings

Anxiety Dreams

I’m not sleeping well, though I do sleep. I can remember at least three dreams. Paul Weller has a song called 22 Dreams. Can you dream 22 dreams in one night? And remember them? In mine I was losing my hair, in another the Prom was jam-packed with holiday-makers sleeping in their cars or sitting outside them on the pavement and I couldn’t walk passed them and keep my required distance. In the final one I was visiting the gallery I’m do a project with and the director was making me coffee but the pan from which he was pouring still had a cloth in it, which was soaking up the liquid. It’s almost all gone, he said, not noticing the cloth. I said it was fine and I’d make my own. People were milling around and again not keeping their distance and then I was outside looking for him but he was nowhere to be seen. The landscape was different, I was now in a suburban setting, more like Guildford than North Wales.

They’re just anxiety dreams, he said at breakfast.

I saw no one this morning apart from an Eddie Stobart driver in his cab waiting for the night workers at either Tesco’s or Marks to let him into the loading bay. Oh, and the man on his computer. He had headphones on this morning. I wonder what he does. A mizzly, drizzly morning which wasn’t unpleasant to walk in.

Onward. Work. Licorice tea. Two days to go with my fast. A bit of hotchpotch but I believe I’m better for it. Though the hunger never really went away. Saved money though.

I listened to a consultant from Ilford on The World at One yesterday talking about the impact of the pandemic on him and his staff. They’ve been working 13 hour days. I was humbled and moved. He sounded a kind man, but a tired one. Two patients have come out of intensive care, he said. That is good. Bless them. All of them.

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Writings

Lawnmower Man

We’d passed the time of day before, said hello, nodded, that sort of thing but never actually properly spoken to him before. We’d gone to the wasteland (now our wasteland) to sit in the sun and he came along with what looked like a large bag of garden waste. Where’s he going? he said, watching him head towards what he calls ‘our little dell’ (though we’ve not yet been down there). Probably to empty the bag, I said. We greeted him when he returned. He has a nice face, open and friendly. Though he has two grown up children, I’d say he was in his late forties, sporty and fit, he bounces a little as he walks. I’ve watched him often. We can see their house below us, the lawn he cuts lovingly every weekend and now the bench he sits on at about 11.30 am every day with a cup of tea. He’s as regular as I am. I do my yoga then and can see him as I do. Do they watch us? We exchanged names and talked a little of the situation and of their neighbours who have since left. They were a little distant, he said. These were Elephant’s parents, do you remember me telling you about them? We thought they might be part of religious sect that discouraged mixing with ‘non-believers’. He told us where he worked and what he did, which makes our supposition perhaps a little less likely, but you never know. It’s nice to know their names now. He makes me feel safe. He looks capable, kind. I wonder what he does. He is less worried about coming across as nosy then I am and asked all sorts of questions. A common cultural attachment exists between them after all. He had a real local accent, he said, could you hear it? They are very Welsh. She is a diminutive woman, who loves the sun. She’s as brown as a berry now. I am interested in people but I try to hold back. Let them be. We saw our nearer neighbour yesterday on our return from the dump. Over a hundred now she does look frail. Do you think she is thinner? I asked him. She may be failing, he said. It was strange this new rule of standing away. It feels awkward, rude. She did it and so did we. One tries to be friendly at the same time but the body language belies the smiles.

I lay in bed struggling to sleep and fretted over the situation. How will it be once it is relaxed. What will normal feel like? How will it be to return to work? Will work be open to me? It is hard to find out what one wants in this stasis. Let it be then. Just be here in the present, breathing, being alive.

A misty morning, not unpleasant. And I am feeling a little better. My tastebuds are beginning to reawaken. I am grateful.

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Writings

Cat

My phoning is at the moment rather redundant, she isn’t alone, her daughter is with her all day and yet I persist. It’s partly that I don’t want to put her in the position of having to say no to me. She is a gentle being, so alive to causing offence. So I continue calling her every Friday. I like hearing her voice, though at time it is a burden, especially when I have other things I feel I ought to be doing. But it does both of us good. I like to think she believes (and it’s true) that I think of her, hold her in my head for that period of time, my time is hers and I want to hear her stories. She tells them well. Often they are repeats but it doesn’t matter this is her life and I treasure it, no matter how small. To her it is immense, her world, her whole world. Yesterday she told me of her cat. A feral creature, well virtually who lives in her shed. She’s had a second litter. Though she couldn’t work out where the tom or toms had come from. I hadn’t seen any, she said. But pregnant she was and has had four kittens. The cat allows her to pet her generally but when she has kittens she is aggressive and tense. Understandably so. And the other day when they’d gone in to see them there had been only three kittens in the basket. The mother had the other one in her mouth and was trying to secrete it in a gap in a pile of lumber. They rescued it but not without her baring her teeth and puffing up. Was she trying to protect it? I asked. She couldn’t say. It’s a concern for them, as is how to get her spayed in this lockdown. She can’t bring herself to slaughter the kittens, something that most farmers, he would say, would not think twice about. I ask about deliveries. They have one for this week but they are hard to come by. I think of her, wonder what she is like. I imagine someone bird-like but I could be wrong. Sweet woman. Keep well, keep safe. Enjoy your garden this weekend.

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Writings

The Archbishop’s Kitchen

I’d been meaning to listen to it for a while now and I tuned in briefly yesterday via YouTube. It was strange, if not a little bizarre. There he was in all his robes and regalia standing in front of his computer screen in his kitchen. I found it hard not to be distracted by the objects in there. There was a small, plug-in transistor radio on one of the surfaces to the right, and rather sweetly a paper calendar, the kind bought for a pound in a local church fete, or the local sub-post office, hanging rather askew from the glass-fronted dresser behind him. I like him, or at least I like what I know of him. His vulnerability and doubt is made open, which takes courage and he seems to be a kind, compassionate man just doing his best. It can’t be easy. What a crew to guide, eh? He lit a candle, and we could hear his wife in the background saying the responses. The candle took a while to take, but he kept calm, steady. I miss the mystery of the Abbey, so much. I miss the Sunday morning service, early, in those lovely ancient pews right up by the altar with no choir or pomp, just a small congregation, the lessons, the Eucharist and my thoughts, and then walking home up the hill with the taste of the Communion wine in my mouth, heady and sweet.

I understand it now. That’s why she lays things out on the patio area outside their flat to let the sunshine rid them of the virus. The children’s books, the vegetables, all laid out in a row against the wall. They are a sweet family. Just the two of them and one child, a little boy whom they clearly dote on, her especially. We watch them from our vantage point in the wasteland-cum-building site-cum-dump pretending to be planes and running across the playing fields their arms outstretched. They are Chinese, I think or they could be Korean. The little boy knows a little English, as do the parents. I think the father must be an academic at the University. I like the cultural hotchpotch who live here. We keep our distance, but there is respect and warmth, I hope.

I asked for guidance. Do I let it all go? How would that feel? To let go, to no longer seek. Would the world come and find me or would it let me be? And how would that be if it did? I have enough to do still, enough to learn. I want to master the sewing, Norwegian, complete my book, to become a better writer. But they are all personal goals, inward things, they are not things I can offer the world, for the world does not want and shall not have them. Does it matter? Is it important? If I died tomorrow would anybody care what I had done, what I had achieved? He is the only one who bears witness. He matters. And he is content. There is nothing you have to do, he says. Earn enough to pay your part of the rent, and then do what you like. That’s all. No fanfare, no name in lights, just a quiet continuum. Can I bear that? Can I let it all go? I don’t know. I don’t know yet. I still have those prickings of ideas. Will they be content to be worked through and go into a drawer? I don’t know. I asked for guidance for a better understanding, a greater knowing, will it come?

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Writings

Failure

‘Our failures help us to know who we are,’ said a voice from the radio yesterday. I think it was from a TED talk but I’m not sure. Do they? I am running down. I am losing pip, pep, zip. In other words I am flattened, sans motivation. I think I’m ill. I can still function but something isn’t quite right. I have no appetite, my poo is green and I ache all over. An infection possibly, exacerbated or intensified by the fast I’ve been trying to do. Day three was calamitous. I couldn’t eat it, the rice that is. It made me want to retch. So I didn’t and ate three rice cakes instead. I’ve given up on it. I’ve failed, and I even took some gastrocote to try and alleviate the acidity in my stomach. And this morning I weakened further by taking two paracetamols. Why don’t I get you some oranges? he said. OK, I said, grateful to not look at rice again at least for the moment. What was that all about? Why was my taste begin affected? And why does the simplifying of diet, which is what this kind of fasting is, bring on such a healing crisis? I don’t understand. I try to. It’s my body after all and I think I know it. He thinks I don’t and I stumble over my explanations, feeling stupid. I dreamt and dreamt last night, waking in between. Dreams of work and people not keeping their distance. Dreams of her and Brian Aldridge from The Archers, for some reason. She had two sons in my dream, who were both running around. And something to do with her hair, and long strings of cotton wool, the kind they use when hair is being bleached which I then had in mine. She looked well, strong, beautiful. I am so proud of her. I hope she is OK, it can’t be easy. So it was just herb tea for breakfast. It felt nice not to do battle with food and so far I am not hungry at all. I baked yesterday, desperate to fulfill my list of things to do that day. The mix was too heavy again. I had to make it up as I went along not having the specified ingredients. They’re a bit like rock cakes, he said, tasting one gingerly. But they are meant to scones. But they taste nice, really nice, he said. Is he being kind? I feel like Ria Parkinson. Failure again. Just keep trying. Some days are like that. And that has to be OK. Doesn’t it? I wanted to be emptied out. And I am being. Totally. Be careful what you ask for. Will clarity come soon? Will it?

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Writings

Rising

I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning, not in the ‘it’s too cosy here, I don’t want to get up’ sort of way but in the more desperate, ‘I don’t think I can, or I can’t bear to get up’ way. I haven’t had such a feeling before. Yes, I’ve dreaded something I’ve had to do and wanted to stay put but never this, never this pull, this impossible resistance. Though not quite impossible because I did resist it. If I was alone I don’t know that I would’ve. We are made of stern stuff. I have it from her, she was too and it made her grim in the end. I want to give in. To stay there and hide, to not surface into that dark. It is better in the morning. The sun helps. He helps. We talk of pills. It would make me happy, he says. And my fear of them makes me mishear him. No, he says later, it would make me happy to know that you’d got over it. Get over it. I wait for that. I wait for it to pass. Surely it will. Won’t it? If it’s the menopause surely it will do so, it will go. If so, I want to see it through, like this fast, grit my teeth and show my resolve, my strength, my stern stuff. But I just don’t know. All I know is that it is hard these days. Hard to put that proverbial foot in front of the other. And I feel ashamed for being this way for I am blessed, certainly. I can see the sea. I can walk to the sea. I have food to eat, a warm bed, clothes to wear and my love. Who is ever steadfast. Meaning for the moment escapes me. Perhaps I just need to look at it another way. I long to be on the move, to be going somewhere, anywhere, to just fly away for a while, to a hotel, to be somewhere else without this self, this sad self not wanting to do anything, to be anything but asleep.

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Shabby Town

I’ve always thought it, and my opinion hasn’t changed since coming to live here. It is a shabby town, seaside towns often are, forgotten ones, at least. And the seagulls exacerbate the problem. Mind you, they did the same in Bath, and that city can be, and mostly is, beautiful. Tuesday is bin day. And the seagulls have a field day. There is detritus everywhere, particularly at the time when I walk. That time, that liminal time between night and day is theirs. They screech and moan at each other, beaks open they honk like they are retching, their webbed feet surrounded by the litter they have torn from bin bags. I saw a young man scurry out of his flat, his feet bare and with just his knickers on to put his bag out. He looked so fragile with his tiny arse and white scrawny legs. The town was empty otherwise, just strewn with crap. The gulls fly over head, white sails over the sea. The wind was up, it was bracing.

This is the second day of my rice fast and I’m feeling a bit shitty. It comes and goes but I long for tea, real tea. Is that what the headache is from, a tea withdrawal? He’d say,and in fact does say, why bother? But I want to be cleaned out, I want the clarity, that promise of certainty. Do I ask too much? It is a challenge, the body craves and insists and the mind is a weak thing, mostly. Still, I still cleaned the house and carried out my duties. Just one step at the time. I think it is heightening my senses though for I got such a strong scent of earth as I walked up the hill home – a gorgeous smell of dew-dampened, dusty soil but also a loam, rich and mulchy. I felt the gift of it. As I did of the small cheque yesterday from the NSI. Nice. Thank you.