She put a finger in a foxglove and wished for a boy, and nine months later he was born.

Love. It is all about love. Today we have been two years married for the second time. A lifetime of getting to know each other all over again. Have we ever not known each other? The past gets lost in the presence. Which is mine? Which is his? He gives me such safety. As I do him. Kindness, love, gentle knowing. But sometimes, just sometimes, I yearn for my red shoes.

We act to transcend our ordinary lives, said the actor. Yes. We create to reach beyond what we already know, to step outside of ourselves. To make ourselves bigger, visible. Alive.

A woman shouting at the sea, ‘Give them back to me!’ And it did. But another four are lost.

I carry a red button in my pocket. I carry her with me. My child. My other self. She has to run to keep up with my stride. ‘Stop striding,’ she used to say, ‘it’s unladylike.’ But I have so far to go, I wanted to say, too far. Sometimes. Not there, yet.

The promenade has a line of red ribbons. Bring back our girls. Red ribbons. I remember the pink ones. A public expression of solidarity. Reaching out to those we cannot help. Show us what to do. What can we do? Keep your fingers crossed. Pray. She believes he is watching over her. Both of them are. Are they not? Better parents now, more mindful. Perhaps. Fairy tales. Telling fairy tales. Believing in something like joy, something like good, something like love.

I keep my fingers crossed for the two hundred, the four and the one, wanting to find her ‘home’, her place, her rightness. Let it be. Father. Our father who art in heaven………..




Bedtime Stories 09 (small)

‘You were always a worrier,’ she used to say.

Nanny. Nanny Clarke. Freesia Clarke, or was it Fuchsia. I’d get the two names confused. Freesias with their sweet, sweet scent and Fuchsias so pink. We’d pop them open. I loved her. I loved staying with her when Mum and Dad went away. Staying in her little council flat. Climbing the big stone steps, so cold. Painted light blue. Her bathroom that smelt of soap – plain soaps. She had a tray that was suspended over the bath. There was a pumice stone and a loofah. No central heating. We would dry ourselves in front of the electric fire. A little flat. A tiny kitchen, freezing floor and those blue and white striped jars with biscuits and tea bags. Her living room, with her souvenir on the mantelpiece. Souvenirs from Switzerland and Spain. She didn’t go. Other children had remembered her and sent them. A miniature Swiss chalet – a container for matches – and a cuckoo clock. I loved them. Her treasures. In her bedroom there was a dressing table with a glass top. Underneath were photographs.

She made me feel safe. As a child. She was steady, reliable. Her hands cool and strong. I loved being part of her life. Waiting for the milkman and his horse, delivering the half-pint bottles, hearing the clink of glass. The walk down to the park. Feeding the ducks. Then back to the flat for cauliflower cheese. Safe. Steady. All those sayings. You can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Don’t cry over spilt milk. Safe. Steady. Reliable.

Dad told me she went mad. Started peeing in milk bottles. Wandering around in the nude. We didn’t see her again. The loss of her. Large. The loss of the child.


‘The grieving process can take two years,’ she tells me. So be it. I am ready.



Beauty, 2009 (detail 2)

‘I was never more than a B+ kind of person,’ she says as she rubs cream into my feet. I like her, my chiropodist. A gentle, warm being. Her chat mixing the inconsequential with the profound.

Yes. B+. I remember that feeling. Me too. An A was a rarity. An A+ almost unheard of. And yet, like her, I worked hard. I still do. Trying to reach beyond the B+ into the realm of the A. Top marks, a gold star. What a good girl. We see you now. We recognise you now. How could we have missed you? Such a star. A gold star. A shining star stuck into my school exercise book. Can’t wait to show them. See. See. Oh, yes. Well done. We always knew you could do it. Never doubted you. Not for a second. Did we?

The anxiety of reaching out, beyond one’s own limitations. Or what is a heaven for? Asked the poet. Heaven. Being good. Shining. Standing out. Being noticed. Getting attention. Succeeding. Beyond my wildest dreams. What are they? Those dreams?

My writing clumps along. Unbeautiful, leaden and self-conscious. Can I write myself into beauty? What is beautiful writing? That which transcends the ordinary? Is not the ordinary beautiful?

We watched ‘American Beauty’. I have avoided it. Thinking it too dangerous. It unsettled me. The loss of faith. The fear of being known, of being intimate with one another. Of being found. Wanting. Watching. Beauty. What was the beauty? The girl, part vamp, part child? And if so, which girl? Or was it the disappointed wife? Or Lester in his final act of grace? Or the boy with his earnest mindfulness? Or America at her most ordinary, most lost, most claustrophobic?

‘I’m going to a town that has already been burnt down……I’m so tired of you America..’ sings Rufus Wainright and more recently George Michael.

All will be well. All must be well. Mustn’t it?



Birthday Letters (Low dpi)

It’s your birthday today. Twenty six years ago, sixteen minutes past four you came. To me. I know so little of your life. I find a picture of you on the internet. It’s from four years ago. You are on a boat. The wind tugs at your hair. Your hand is covering your mouth. That same shyness. Entrancing. Your friends have tweeted their admiration. Are you pretty? There is a tall grace and yet an awkwardness. You cannot be held still – gazelle-like you are always ready to dart off. Or is that just my impression? I text you, wanting to say more than I can or should. I keep it short.

So much grief. It is ugly today. I have finished Sally Magnusson’s book. So full of love. A mother cherished and held right to the end. He did the same. Such compassion and such patience. These  people overflow with humanity.

An image of clapping hands filled my mind as I woke. Just hands, hundreds, thousands clapping me. Is something coming? Is it something I have done? Or yet to do?

I have a book to write. I am scared by the enormity of it. It stops me still. How do I begin? How do I begin to write of how you were? Is it true? Is any of it true? What am I good for? I trail through my slides preparing for a talk I must give next week. I see the work – some of it good, or at least almost good, reaching for something noble. It’s so tenuous this creating. The faith ebbing and flowing. More ebbing these days. What am I fit for now that the two of you are gone? Who will recognise me? Who will celebrate my life? As I celebrate hers. At such a painful distance.

Bless you, my lovely daughter. Go well.




Brev (1) close-up - Axis

Sometimes it is all I can to do focus on the details. Those tiny things that circumvent my life. Pleasing things that calm, steady and ground me. Sensual things like stroking talcum powder on my skin after a bath, making my hands all white. Imbibing the familiar smells of washing straight from the machine, raspberry jam on a warm hot cross bun, toast, simple soap, hyacinths, morning air after rain and coffee. These are my comforters. I locate these smells when I am low, I seek their comfort. The kitchen cupboard with the brown paper bag of fresh coffee beans from the Monmouth Coffee Co. The bread bin made rich with aroma of sweet spiced currant buns. My bathroom tray of perfumes – Miss Dior, Chanel No 5, the sample from Jo Malone. And there are the actions, simple ones such as preparing food – slicing my breakfast grapefruit, cutting bread, spreading butter – watching my hands moving, acting, doing their part regardless of the state of my mind.

He died two years ago. I didn’t know. I had lost touch with him. We both moved all the time. He was in France and I was moving between England, Norway and Wales. I thought of him often. I still do. A beautiful man – full of grace. He would dance alone. In the Birmingham clubs. He loved Barbara Streisand and Bette Midler. He could be cruel and suddenly kind. I think of him in Marseilles, in Aix and in Avignon. I don’t know how he lived his life after Michel died, thirty years ago. Was he happy? Was he satisfied with his life when it came to its end? Was he ready? Just fifty. That’s all. As a young man he lived wholly in the moment. I had much to learn from him. I still do. Rest in my peace, Mark.


The sensation of living

drawings from spoleto - Duomo 2007

All I am good for today is to steal, magpie-like, ideas from others. I scan and flick, allowing sentences to capture me. ‘What stands out is the sensation of living’, writes Rebecca Ray. Yes. The sensation of living. The sense of being alive. The senses involved in being alive. I am reading Rachel Joyce’s ‘The Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’. He is walking, in deck shoes, to Berwick-on-Tweed to see a friend who is dying of cancer. A long way. He is exhausted, wet through, losing hope and suddenly the sky opens up and he sees everything with a new clarity, a simplicity, a beauty. The sensation of living. Using the senses to live, to be alive. Yes.

I think of the sun. An Italian sun. Spoleto. Walking up the steps from the Duomo in that light. So sharp it hurts. Everything is clear, distinct. Terracotta against azure. And white. Such white. Such clean white. And smells of sweet pastries, ground coffee, steamed milk, chocolate, peaches, petrol, dog shit, ice cream, baking bread all assailing my nose. To be away, like that. Transported to a foreign place, away from the minutiae of oneself is so wonderful. Sensational. I am made alive by the gift of it. Giving myself time to be in it. Alert to everything. Skin, nose, mouth, eyes, ears all alert to the everything of it.

Is it is enough to be just that creature? To not record, write, draw or deconstruct it, life. But just be in it. Part of it. Is it enough?

I walk Spoleto in my head. I walk Nerja in my head. I walk in those suns. A creature of habit. A creature of sense. Sensational, isn’t it?



Talk to Me - book installation - Dying (small)

Will it ever pass? Like a stone in my soul, she described it as. Of course, hers is a nearer, sharper grief. Grief for a husband, a partner, a mate-of-the-soul. Mine is for a parent, nay, two parents, neither of which I saw that often. And yet, their existence, their presence somewhere, anywhere on this earth touched mine. Not always positively, I admit. But they shaped me, they moved me, they impacted upon me. And now? What now?

Should it have stopped by now? This weeping. Should I have stopped weeping? I just don’t know. Doing anything, particularly making, creating things, writing things is presently such a weighty business. I have to pull myself up, pull myself from a sleepy languor of wanting. Wanting to what? To disappear, to keep on walking, to run away, to fly away, to take myself somewhere else into another person’s life. I am not unhappy. No, not that. Just. Just not happy. I am locked in that space in between and it hurts to recognise it.

I want to get on a train. No, I don’t want to talk to people. I want to get into a car and be carried somewhere distant. Somewhere vague. Remote. To a hotel. A large hotel. Old-fashioned with heavy, ticking clocks that acknowledge the minutes, slowly, reassuringly. To drink tea from a metal pot that is hot to touch. To stare at a large log fire. To lie in a strange bath. To sleep in the afternoon. To read Agatha Christie paperbacks, much thumbed and yellowing. To not be me. To look in the mirror and not be me. To be in transit. Moving on to somewhere else. ‘You’re always running away,’ she used to say. No. Not now. Not for a long time. I am tethered by obligation. I am a good girl. Always.

How good it would be to fly.



Bedroom Fragments (2) (small jpeg)

Other people’s stories. They are not mine and yet they resonate. An uncle painting a mural on a childhood wall. Then the layers of wallpaper, floral upon stripe. Another’s father who made dioramas. An Edwardian. A polymath who stopped eating.

On Mothering Sunday we took her flowers. A circular arrangement, stiff in oasis. It was too fancy, too particular. I wanted to take a posy of freshness, of spring. We talked of getting a glass, a thin vial, a test tube vase and pushing it into her earth. Then we shall bring cornflowers, lily of the valley, daisies – even buttercups. She’d like that I think. Soon we shall take her to the Gower and set her free over those bays. A painted lady followed us as we walked.


I am still so grey, so fearful. I don’t know why. It is an ugliness, a stopping of joy. Let it return, this joy, that joy. Let it return. Soon.


A Good Enough Life

speaking soul - venetian blind front shot - presentation

Was it good enough, the way we lived our lives? Did we do enough, say enough, live enough? Love enough? Some days to be just enough, is enough. Just that breathing in and out, the motion of living without complexity or design. It is a hard enough art. Just that. Just that breathing in and out.

‘I’ve had some news’, he said, as he handed me the papers. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I got a letter from the NHS, they want me to donate me blood marrow.’

I ask if he will have to be hospitalised. ‘Oh, yes’, he says, ‘probably for seven to eight days. An’ they’ll have to put a needle into me pelvis, just there,’ he says jabbing at his hip.

He is full-up, made quiet with pride.

It is enough, this is enough, just enough. A good life, this.

A good enough life.




Speaking of Love


Acts of Love (Talk to Me) 2010 (550 pixels)

I am forgetting the sound of their voices.

His was rich, sometimes treacly. He spoke slowly, gently, carefully, choosing his words. Towards the end he whispered out his phrases, only able to find a few – ‘kind of you to come’ and ‘good to see you’. ‘Stuff them’ was the last one I heard him uttering, far back, from the reaches of his throat. Hers was sharp, brittle and latterly, rasping. Her younger voice was more resonant. Strident. I hear it sometimes in the voices of my siblings. They way they call their dogs, their children and when they are stressed.

Voices that played such a part; dominating the landscape of my childhood.

She a bitter bride, he a lax husband. Kitchen rows and bedroom squabbles.

I cannot remember happy sounds.

Shall I invent them?

And yet, I am a product of that, their kind of love. The soft and the sharp.

It is enough. And I miss them. Terribly.