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Writings

Book

He’d stuck a tiny post-it note to his bedside lamp – ‘bulb gone, light kaput’. They are fiddly to change. You have to manoeuvre them out. I tut a little. But what beautiful little things they are. The glory of such inventions. Edison and his 1,000 goes.

Mrs Gaskell is dead. I missed her this morning at breakfast. She died suddenly without warning, falling into Meta’s arms. A heart attack. Instant death. She was only 55. She was happy, life was full, the serialised editions of Wives and Daughters had been well-received and her secret house, The Lawns in Hampshire, had just welcomed them for the first time. (Though she had yet to introduce her husband to it. The first time he sees it will be after her death and he never lived there.) She is long gone. Perhaps she has returned. Either way may she be at peace. What pleasure she has given me.

Harriet Vane and eventually Lord Peter Wimsey are to replace her. I’ve yet to warm to the book. Give it time. Uglow’s biography after all was put down for over five years before you picked it up again and persevered.

I tell him of my dreams and he marvels at what he calls their coherence. Are they coherent? Last night I was looking for a book. Well not looking. I was rummaging through a huge retail outlet full of antiques and ancient things. It was dark, no natural light and I came to an antiquarian bookshop and reached up to shelf to bring down a set of encyclopedias. I often try to read in my dreams. It is a difficult thing to do, at least it is for me. The letters move about or I just can’t recognise them. I was trying to read its title, thinking I could memorise it and try and find another edition slightly cheaper. After all, I told myself I don’t need it in such good condition. I also tried to read the price. It was in pencil and looked like it was in the thousands. It was perfect. Just was I was looking for, full of black and white illustrations, some with huge mouths. Then I was outside and rifling through another book stall where cheaper versions of similar books were stacked. Then I was in a cafe and my friend A was there with her grandchildren. (These are a fiction for now, as she has none.) I had meant to tell her that that cafe had the necessaries for sterilising bottles and warming up baby food. I was glad that she’d found it. Babies and feeding mothers dotted about the place. I was still obsessing about the book when I woke to my alarm.

He told me that ‘one can over think’. Can one? I want to understand. That’s all.

I began it. And there is power in the beginning of something, according to Goethe. And I shall do more today. It’s my world, I can write it as I choose. I get tense at the thought of it and long for tea to lift me. Not yet. Not till Monday. Be strong. To work. Herb tea will have to suffice.

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Writings

Butterfly House

I walked a different way home, up and up through the Buarth. One of the house’s lights were on, in their living room and the curtains were open. I stole a peek. It was a small front room with two two-seater sofas both draped in mushroom-coloured blankets. The imitation gas fire was on in the fireplace and on the wall facing the window was an array of butterflies, mostly single butterflies, framed individually. I stood for a moment, enchanted. Were they real? There were white paper ones too, stuck directly to the wall, flying in-between the frames.

Another heavily symbolic dream, lived through whilst the wind battered my open window. I was catching a train. It was a London one for there were those heavy, clunking doors. I went to the front of the train. Loads of people were trying to board. I was at the back of the queue. I let them all get on ahead of me, including 5 naked young men sans their sexual organs (they were either airbrushed out or they were wearing posing pouches). Then the lights went out and I couldn’t see my way on. I clutched at one of the handles to haul myself aboard as it began to roll out of the station. My friend J was behind me. I got on and she didn’t. I felt bad, should I have helped her? The doorway was packed full of luggage and I had to struggle over it. The front of the train, (that now looked more like a bus with the driver exposed and facing to the right rather than ahead), was full of children of all ages. The driver paid me no attention but talked away to a little boy near her (yes she was a she) handing him an Ipad to explain her point more easily. I searched around for a seat but the children had taken up all the room. I woke then and lay there listening to the wind.

I’m to return to my, for want of a better word, book. It’s been a while. Just re read it, he says. It’ll be better than you think. Read it. Immerse yourself in it. Then write. Good advice. How I long for tea.

Listened to Helen McCrory on DID yesterday. An interesting woman, unusual, I think but very engaging. I’m not an original, she said, I’m an interpreter. Hmm.

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Writings

Scomfished

I woke from a heavy dream. A dream in which someone had brought me an aquarium, the design (they showed it to me in a what looked like an Argos catalogue) of which was hideous and lumpen, but what could I say? I tried to think about the pleasure and peace I may get from watching the fish swim back and forth (poor captured loves). Then there was talk of sea monsters (I was with a group of women) and they were there before us, alive, yellow and orange, half-men, half-fish, Poseidon-esque, and they are really there in the deep waters waiting for us, one of the women said. I had to walk through a deep dark street to get to this house of women, there were no streetlights and there was fog. I could hardly see where I was placing my feet. When I arrived I was told there was to be a party later that day and would I go. I surprised myself and said yes, but said that I wanted to read before then. What I am not sure. Then I was making this huge bed with the women watching me (R was there certainly) as were the sea monsters. Corner after corner I tucked in. They were the old fashioned blankets with satin tops. Do you remember them? Mum and Dad were involved. I think I was returning to them after the party. It would be late. Was I worrying about letting them know? So much imagery. Some from things I’ve read, crossword clues, things I heard people say on the radio. The unlit streets and the fog is where I am with my work. Going forward, or at least trying to, in the dark. I must do it. I must see it through. But I am scared. Of what? Of failure, of stumbling of being found wanting. Do it for yourself. Better than not doing it, eh?

The stories on From Our Own Correspondent yesterday were heart-rending. Here I am ‘playing-hungry’ with my fast and there are real people, working people, academics, starving with young children on the streets of Bogota having being evicted from their homes in Venezuela. What can we do? What would we do if they came to us? And then the final piece, by someone called Nick Bryant, I think, and his essay to his newborn daughter Honor. Or is it Honour? A homage to the America he once knew. And his saying to her that her white skin is a sign of privilege, that she won’t be stopped by the police and assumed guilty the way of person of colour is. Ah me. I feel my own inner racism, I don’t want it, I don’t own it but I know it is there. I don’t listen to their stories when I should. I feel the difference, know it but don’t want to. We are the same. How long will it take us to know this and make it alright? All equal. All the same. And be kind, be compassionate, be merciful. A heavy day. Let there be some light at the end of that tunnel.

Breakfast of rice and Mrs Gaskell. Soon she will die. And I shall miss her. As I miss her. Eight years ago today. May you rest in peace, always.

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Writings

Zadok the Priest

They’ve been running a trailer on the radio for a programme called ‘Soul Music’ in which several people talk about their personal connections and love for a particular piece of music. This week it’s been Handel’s Zadok the Priest. How I love it. Anyway, in one of the trailers (there are two, the other, rather bemusingly, is to do with cricket) two of the speakers talk about how the orchestra playing the piece at the Queen’s coronation in 1953 ‘loses itself’ that it is not together. This is not a criticism apparently, for both of them seem to like this aberration. It got me thinking about mistakes, both unintentional and intended ones. The Japanese have a word for it in ceramics, A has told me the word but I always forget it. And I remember the little Muslim boy in that workshop I ran all those years ago in Manchester saying how when carpets are made the makers always ‘make an error’ for ‘perfection belongs to Allah alone’. And there is me with my quilt – that enormous bulky thing – jagging the cloth and ruching it when there isn’t meant to ruching. Can I forgive myself and let the mistakes stand? And I watch the blackening start to come again on my third finger on my right hand. Can I just let it be? Is perfection God’s alone? Can I learn to let the just OK pass muster? I sew and unpick continually. My fingers getting hot and tired. But I am learning. Am I not?

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Writings

Plagued

Of Mrs Gaskell’s story, Cousin Phyllis, Jenny Uglow writes: “John, a self-taught mechanic and inventive genius, (is) a man who works out his ideas not for money but from passion, because…..’until he could put them into shape, they plagued him by night and day’.”

I claim no genius status, not at all, but the plaguing, the making for passion and the ‘need to put them into shape’ – that I recognise, that is me. And it’s OK, isn’t it? For at least the ideas come and I and my life is the richer for it. Isn’t it?

Three articles in Embroidery. How lovely. He is proud.

A sultry day yesterday and the morning still holds some of its warmth. I shall crack on with the quilt once the admin is complete. Onwards.

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Writings

A Woman of no Importance

I remembered the title. It came into my head much later. Much later. A delay in memory, as is often the case when we do the crosswords over supper. Sluggish. My brain is sluggish, particularly when I am hungry.

I listened to the new radio adaptation of Miss Julie. I’ve never seen or read it. Hard to imagine what audiences of the late nineteenth century made of it. As shocking as Ibsen’s Ghosts and Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler must’ve been. And equally bleak. There was nowhere for these transgressing women to go. Death was the only option. Or self-annihilation in Nora Helmer’s case. It was beautifully done, recorded on location in some mansion in Denmark with all the echoes therein. I’m glad I listened but it was bleak. So bleak.

Sitting in the sun afterwards helped. Our ‘garden’ has been bulldozed along with all the sun-yellow weeds, insect life and butterfly life. Flattened. So we sit on our new little chairs like a couple of sunday-trippers parked up on a hillside pull-in in Derbyshire in the estate’s car park, hidden from view. We make do. Getting old seems to involve a lot of that. We talk. Yesterday it was about revenge and forgiveness, truth and reconciliation. He’s for revenge mostly, I take a more liberal view. He wants retribution for the loss of life over this virus, I want some good to come out of it. It’s good for us this though, it sharpens both our brains, I like it.

I long for the taste of things in my mouth. Yesterday it was fresh raspberries. And grapefruit juice. Shall I get you some? he asks. Get thee behind me. Leave it for another week. I want to be strong. The rice fast continues and my stomach still gnaws at me, hungry, eternally hungry. I think of that Hispanic man in Boston airport’s departure lounge taking his lunch break from working in the newsagents, opening up a tupperware and eating just rice. Cold rice. Cold white rice. Hunching over it, fork in hand, shovelling it in. And then raising his fork to great a colleague across the way from him who also had a tupperware container with what looked like pasta in it. Cold pasta, no sauce. I don’t need to do this but it makes me think. And that is enough. To know a little of hunger. We who need never go hungry. Though I have, and not always through choice. It stays with you, like the Auschwitz survivor who always carries bread in his pocket.

I dreamt of my friend. I was going to work for her, to do some teaching. I was travelling there by train but I forgot where her university was and got off at the wrong place. I asked for it when I got out and knew it was wrong. And then I was with her telling her that of course I knew all along she was in Leeds, how could I have forgotten? She was teaching pupils with Downs and it involved carrying lots of their belongings, mostly clothes. One of them was very ill, a lump on her leg. The rest is a blur, except for images of stations, of travelling, of journeying, of being on the move, trying to get somewhere. No, he says. Not yet. Not yet.

The short stories and book and the other book cook away in my head. In awe of Gaskell, I will try to push them through into life, into being. Write them for me, he says, I’d love to read them. Yes. That is enough. It is enough. All of this. Enough. A big enough life.

The sunrise was a gentle pink. The air warm. And it was light by 4.30 am. What a joy!

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Writings

Singular

He calls me singular. She used to call me rigourous. I suppose I am both those things. I am certainly an ascetic. Or at least I lean towards asceticism. A Puritan, like the American in one of Oscar Wilde’s plays, though I cannot now remember the title. Something about a woman (played by Diana Rigg in the radio adaptation and Martin Jarvis was her ex-lover and he was the one who kept calling the young American girl the Puritan). The birdsong this morning is delightful. They command the morning time. (A collared dove has just landed on the television aerial outside my studio window. And I can hear its mate calling to it. Off it goes.) The rooks sit on the pan tiles of the roof opposite. They preen and stare, preen and stare and then fly off. The sky is clear, a beautiful day is promised. Why am I singular? I set such tasks for myself, they are tight, uncompromising. A test of strength, perhaps, usually to do with food. My head is full of ideas. Help me to see them through, to let them waste away through a lack of air is painful to me. We finished Wives and Daughters last night. It was moving and funny at the same time. Francesca Annis is splendid as Mrs Gibson, verging on the grotesque but strangely pathetic too. As is her daughter, the lovely Cynthia. And Michael Gambon as Squire Hamley is spell-binding. I loved it. Tonight we begin our revisiting of Cranford. The sun is such a joy shining through into the corners of my darkness. I miss her. I had such a longing to be held and to hold her this morning as I walked. Eight years dead. I wish she could have had a happier end. I know she is safe now. All sadness, grief and bitterness gone. I cannot ask for more. Help me to be all that I can be. Help me to overcome my fear of failure, of not being good enough. It was your hand-me-down that. I understand why. Let me be free of it. As much as I can. He’s left for his walk. And I have work to begin. Much. How I long for tea. How many days is it? The Gaskell bio continues to engross me, with Meta Gaskell, the eclipsed daughter, the artist with her portfolio of unfinished drawings, asking her friend, What shall I do?

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Writings

Sleeplessness

I hadn’t expected it. In one Call the Midwife that we watched featuring the elderly lady who had been a suffragette in her youth and imprisoned, talked about the sleeplessness during their hunger strikes. That was the worst of it, that and the hunger, she said. And I only did a day. The other unexpected symptom were the palpitations. My heart was racing. It couldn’t calm it. So we talked about it. And he quoted Maynard Keynes, something like, when the facts change, I change. It helped. So a rice fast it is. I had my first portion this morning. Plain brown rice with a little oil. It sits a little heavy in my gut but it is nice not to have that yawning hunger pulling my chest inward.

A cloudy morning. Heavy. A few drops on my head as I walked. More and more shops are opening. The cafe, that used to be Lilley’s, is now offering takeaways, and the hairdressers that I thought had gone out of business has merely been refurbished and looks raring to go when they are allowed to open next month. We talk of what I should do come July. I want a new job, part-time, with regular hours and no take home work, so that when I’m home I can concentrate on my writing and my making. Thinking of it, the application processes and the toll they take on my self-esteem gave me indigestion. Let’s not think of it now, he says, let’s leave it for now. OK. But I need to send out a request so that something will come, something will wait for me. When it’s time. I walk past the bakery and yearn for that cosy, warm busy-ness. Romantic I know. All that standing would take its toll. It’s the smell really. Heavenly. Simplicity. That’s it. And usefulness.

He’s going to bring me gooseberries later. They are from her allotment. I can’t eat them yet, so in the freezer they will go. Ready for the breaking of the fast.

I need to get back to my writing. And I will next week. I promise.

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Writings

Fast

Day one.

He looks at me with concern. Are you sure you want to do this? Yes. I am. I am certain, though my body may have other ideas. I have done it before. A few times. Did I manage a whole week? Possibly, but I think I drank fruit juice too. Why do you want to do it? he asks. Good question. There isn’t just one answer. I want to clean myself out. I want to stop getting the stomach pains, the cramps, the bloating and all the other myriad symptoms that are lumped under irritable bowel syndrome. I want to feel at peace, emptied out, lighter in mind and body. Food makes me feel heavy, weighed down. Not fruit so much, at least not citrus fruit. I have a crap relationship with food. I’ve ingested so many of the dos and don’ts, often conflicting ones, that I no longer know what I should and shouldn’t eat. And my appetite. Well, there’s a thing. I can’t remember when I began to be scared of it. You’ve got a good appetite, say my family, friends and him sometimes. Ugh, I hate it. Have I? I eat slowly. I eat a lot of vegetables, fruit. So it looks a lot. You see it isn’t clear cut. The other thing is is the desire for an unclogged mind. I might see my way forward then. Clarity. And time. All that preparation time, think what I might do instead. But I have to be careful. Remember what happened in Bath, he says. Yes. I know. I will take it one day at a time.

So house has been cleaned, emails read, this done and then work. No tea. I miss that. Two weeks until I have another cup. Today it’s lemon juice and ginger. Breakfast was a huge pot of licorice tea. I shall work on my taste buds and direct them to focus on the taste of the teas. Like the lemon zinging on my tongue. It will have to do.

I dreamt of both my parents last night. They were together and happily so. It was a mishmash of families. Mine, her step one and the one from Tanum. All together in one house. But we were also out at a restaurant, on a foreign street I am always revisiting in my dreams. We were trying to plan the evening ahead. My father said to my mother, we may as well dress for dinner. And there was a baby there, my baby, who suddenly started to wail. I want my milk bottle, it said to me. My mother handed one to it and it began to suck. I thought it was a stranger’s bottle and not clean but she pooh poohed my worries. She took care of everything. I felt loved by her. I even think she told me I was beautiful. Earlier in the dream she’d pinched the flesh on my arm, not brutally, but to demonstrate and said that I would grow old and have sepsis. It’s what happened to her. And she died of it. I miss her. Like that. She could love. But in the end it just got to hard. She was so brittle.

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I have been here before

It is marvellous the chance encounters one has via the radio. Yesterday it was with an adaptation of J B Priestley’s play ‘I Have Been Here Before’. It was a little dated, but nevertheless gripping and more than a little unsettling. I told him about it as we sat in the sun on our new chairs between our car and one of our neighbours, sheltering from the wind. It will do. Now that the pallet and bricks we used to sit on have been bulldozed away, we make do. And making do is OK. He is so wise. I tried to fix the gap issue with our front door by sticking down some insulating tape. It was too thick, making us struggle to open the door. Off it came. Life is messy. I feel messy. Now don’t go allowing your mind to convince you that you are hopeless and that the whole day is a waste of time, he says. He knew that it would try. I can change, as the play suggested, it is possible to stop going round and round in the same groove. I can stop it. It isn’t you, he said, it’s the tape. We can learn from it. It doesn’t matter. Nor do her comments matter. It’s up to me how I take them. I stuck to my guns. I gave a little but not wholly. It’s all a juggling act. But in the end it is he and I. Our love, our care, that’s what counts. He means the world to me. He’s funny, loving, eternally patient and so loyal. Be grateful for every moment with him.

I begin it tomorrow. I think of hunger, mine and others. I want to do it. To manage it. I want the discipline of it but also the clarity it promises. Think of the time it will free up and how my taste buds will zing afterwards. Make me strong. And kind.