Man in the maze

Only Connect (1) May 2012 - an

I saw him from North Road. A young man sitting in the middle of the maze. A miniature maze made from roped fences, not bushes. He was sitting on the circular seat in the centre. It was 5.45am. His body kept slipping forward, trying to succumb to sleep.

My dreams have been vivid. Is it the heat? Or the supermoon, perhaps? What did I dream off? A butterfly trapped in an inner chamber of a inn. I closed the door knowing that at any moment this fragile creature would set off the burglar alarm. In another I had been asked to play the part of Jesus. It was to be performed outside and I remember standing on the cross, looking down, crucified. Then there was a loss of a child. Last night I dreamt I had begun to menstruate again. I was both alarmed and excited. New possibilities for birth. For a child.

The radio is my delight. The radio fills my day and my thoughts – weaving magic. A series of interviews with war widows yesterday. Such stories. Heartrending. In Afghanistan they have to chose between marrying again into their husband’s family or out of it. If out they will lose their children. All we ask is to be free, they say. Free. Freedom.

You won’t see me for two weeks now, he says. Oh, I say. Are you going away? No, but at least I won’t have to come in here, he says. A cheerful man. A contented man. I miss him in the mornings. He showed me his coins the other week. So proud. This one’s gold, he said. Solid gold.



drawings from spoleto - Sculpture 2007

I found it on the beach. A porpoise. Dead. A deep red liquid oozing from its head. Rooks bobbed around it. Flies buzzed. How did it die? A large plastic bottle of water lay on the sand next to it. I was overwhelmed by sadness. It didn’t belong there, beached, exposed and alone. The day before we’d watched the dolphins. Such vitality, such rolling joyous-ness stopped. I touched it. I wanted to wake it, carry it back to the waves. Dead. Gone. Later it was gone. Who took it? Was it the sea?

It’s life this death. I force talk about moving. He closes down. I close down. An ocean between us. What do I want? I just don’t know. I make a return journey to childhood things. Will it help me know? I read Wind in the Willows both wanting to escape what they are. A bedtime story plays in my ipod about the mouse who heard the roaring. She had to go out and find the source. Even though it was dangerous and uncertain. She encounters a land where old mice live comfortably and safe. Stay here, they say, stay here with us, we’ll keep you safe. No, she replies, I must keep moving and find what it is I am looking for. She finally sees it, that shining hill.

‘Save my life’ say Mary Oliver’s voices all the while knowing as she knows, that the only life she can save is her own. Just last night, I dreamt of the shining hill. Nice.

A man sitting on a bench at 5.30am. A brutish-looking man. Tattooed. Do you live here? he asks. Yes, I reply. Was it worth it? he asks. Yes, I reply, without thinking, knee-jerk, anxious to keep moving, to walk on, it’s lovely.

Worth what? I think afterwards. Worth what?


La Vie en Rose

2012-07-24 20.24.18

Edith Piaf. Fiercely loving, wildly living, hurtling toward disaster. Ending with her father giving her the doll, the death of her child and smiling as she sang that song. In the pink. A life in pink. A rose-tinted life. A body stiff with the pain of it all. What is a good childhood? One of safety, of consistency, of love? Titine the prostitute teaching her to pray, her father the contortionist pushing her to perform to find her voice, her mother begging her for money. A life, no better and no worse. Just. Just different. In pink. In the pink.

In the Spar, the boy with the beautiful eyes telling me his life. I’m sleeping on me mate’s couch. Me Mum threw out me things. All me toys. Me childhood things. She threw out me childhood. It will get better I say. What do I know? He smiles. Thanks mate.

And me. I order Wind in the Willows. Trying to remember what made me feel safe, grounded. Mole, Badger and Ratty. Tales of the Riverbank on the TV. Do you remember? The live mouse, or was it a rat in a little boat? The lapping water and the soft voice of the narrator. Gentle moments in the chaos, the uncertainty of moods. Her moods. Sometimes. Sometimes love too.

I am thankful. I am alright. In the pink.




wallpaper - nightingale room june 2014

Walking. Walking along the road up close to the hedgerows. A microcosm of life. Bursting. Seething. So happy to be alone, walking. Walking in the sun. In and out of the shadows. The smell of warm earth. Alive to the darting of sparrows, the flicker of butterflies and the hum of bees. Just walking, following the road. In no particular hurry. Is this the right road for Ambleside? I asked her. Yes, but it’s a five mile walk. There’s a number 555 on its way, she said. That’s OK, I said, I like to walk. And I do.

It’s about keeping moving – through the sun, out of the shadows. Wearing the wrong shoes and doing too much. What did I tell you? he said. Always bull at a gate. Yes, I am aren’t I? I just wanted to keep moving. To be alone in that sunshine. That beauty. Then back to my room. Alone. Free. Tired. Nicely tired. Hot bath and pyjamas tired. It is good. It was good.

What was good? Remember. Earl Grey Tea in Baldrys. There you go, sweetheart, said the man with the tattoos. The early morning visit to Wordsworth’s grave and the rabbits. The birdsong outside of my window. The heron coming to land on the edge of the lake. The white rabbit. The philosophical newsagent. The Mediterranean Salad in Zefferelli’s and the Albanian waiter sharing his love for Sudoku. Philip Roth’s Patrimony. The open top bus. The Japanese gentleman fondling a toy Peter Rabbit at The Old England Hotel. The council worker saving the lamb on the road. The White Moss walks. Marinated tofu salad. Toasted pumpkin seeds. Eating tiny vine tomatoes and cottage cheese in my room. The Charley Harper puzzle. The pale green wallpaper of the Nightingale Room. Going down to a too late breakfast feeling famished. Cold orange juice. Feeling alive. Feeling open. Feeling space. Feeling empty. Feeling grief. Feeling alive.

Walking along the hedgerow, fingers trailing its complexity. So full of life.

Thank  you for it all. The grace of it all. Each moment, each day. So full.



Longest Day

On Reading installation - photo by Andy Chittock (right)

Today began beautifully, though cold. I went out without gloves, the first time this year. My fingers were so numb I couldn’t turn the key to get back in. There are clouds now, white shadows over the sun. Never mind. Let it be.

The longest day. The lightest day. I’ve loved the light. Out at 5.30 am and the day bright. Seeing all. Lovely. Just lovely.

We walk in the afternoons. Together. Slower than when I am alone but I don’t mind. I like the gentle strolling. I like our talks. We see the same people. The woman with the goitre. Do you think she will think me patronising, he asked after greeting her, for talking to her, do you think she’ll think I feel sorry for her? Does it matter? I ask. Isn’t it enough to acknowledge, make a connection with each other, whatever the reason? To be kind. Is it kindness? And the other woman on her mobility scooter, sitting on the jetty watching for dolphins. I saw three today, she says. In between her staring she writes postcards. A nice hand. Then there is Howie and his wife, striding along the prom, his big strides outstepping her little ones. And all those visitors in their camper vans that make him so cross. Spoiling the view for everyone else, he says. I don’t mind. I like passing them in the morning thinking about them being nice and cosy inside, some with their little dogs. Where do they pee? Or poo even?

Yesterday he placed some more of her ashes, on a rockery just up from the prom. I don’t know the name of the flowers, they are like sea anemones, like stars – spiky even. It was one of her favourite spots. He’d switch off the engine and she’d stare out to sea, her head barely over the dashboard. Can you see Aberdovey? Yes, lovely. Do you want a Marie biscuit? No, not now, love. I’m fine. Just fine. There is still more of her in the boot. He doesn’t want to let go of it all, just yet. Not just yet.

We took white gerberas to her grave on the anniversary of her death. Two years. Two mothers. Mine died June 28th 2012. So much has passed since then. Not on the outside but the inside. I am not the same. A transforming.


The other morning there was a cobweb, clinging in all its exquisite frailty and strength, to the jetty railing being blown by the wind.



Inchoate installation 2004 - Artist Ellen Bell

Inchoate. Just begun. Go back. Back to the beginning.

The town is full of fledglings. Sparrows, chaffinches, learning to fly. They skulk in corners, in the shadows only to flutter up in an effort to flap away from harm, from danger. Not ready yet. Not fully fledged. Gauche and awkward. A clumsy flight.

The town is full of poppies. The wild ones. Bright red with the black centre. Their petals like tissue, too fragile for the wind. Wind blown petals, scattered.

I have seen the dolphins. Early mornings. They are close to the shore. What a fillip. What a joy to see them. How many? 1,2,3 or more? It doesn’t matter. I stand on the ‘Perygyl’ and look out to sea. That gorgeous nothingness and suddenly the flat blue is broken by a black rolling, a circle of black with that definitive fin. Wonder. I wonder upon such wonder.

We always sent cards, he liked that. A kind of duty but also a demonstration, a public one, of a role. Father. Fathering. Being fathered. You did the best you could. Monopoly games, pocket money, ice creams, walks in the car, theatre, attending PVs, family parties – you were always present, if not sleeping. Always smiling. Hail-fellow-well-met – even at the end when all you could manage was a wobbly-fingered wave. Beyond speech. Rest in peace. I think of you.

In my dream you told me off for being like a ‘departure lounge’. I was disturbing your peace. I am sorry. I will try to be more peaceful, more acquiescent. Like you. In your wisdom. Like you.



Bedroom Fragments (2) (detail 2)

I love the radio. It’s my companion when I work. It lends form and structure to my day. I love the voices and the way it connects me with a larger world. And I love the stories it tells me. Sentences, phrases, words hang in the air around me. They fix themselves to the walls, some fly out of the windows. Stories. Mary Coughlan, the folk singer, sharing one of her favourite songs – ‘I’d rather go blind’ by Etta James. Another. This one fiction about a character called Rosie and the people who come into her beauty parlour. A sentence resonated. My name was used. My ears pricked up.

‘She was always a little scared of living was, Ellen.’

Yes. I think she is right. Ellen, it turns out is her mother. Nothing is said. They share the same red hair.

Radio. It weaves its richness into my life. When I write I must have silence. I need that concentration. So then, I have to switch it off. And I wait patiently, working to find the words, until I can break the silence once more with the luscious words of another. Yes. Other peoples’ stories. Stories that resonate with mine. Sometimes I think I am just a sponge. Or a cave, a womb, waiting to be filled with another’s beauty. I think that this can be enough. Radio. Yes. Thank you.



Note in book

He told me off. He took umbrage at my use of the word ‘small’ when describing her life. I hadn’t meant to insult or belittle her. Honestly. Honest injun. What had I meant? A contained life. A life lived quietly, in one place. A domestic life. An inside life. He is right. Who am I to say such a life is small? To her it was expansive. A life well lived. And she, unlike me, was at peace. She was content. A contented life. A rich life. A life to be thankful for.

And what of mine? I just don’t know. Sometimes I feel hemmed in, even with this big, big sky. But  it is an inner hemming-in. An inner dis-ease. I recognise this now.

I carry a little red button. Find something, she said, something to represent your child, your inner child. I carry her everywhere. In my pocket. How to please her?

I order a jigsaw. I am overcome with an urge to sit at the kitchen table doing a jigsaw. Most are mawkish in design. I remember them, photographs or paintings of countryside cottages with rose bowers, biscuit-tin style kittens and puppies or worse, lurid illustrations such as ‘Where’s Wally’. No thank you. So I found a Charley Harper design. Elegant. Post-war tones. Will it please her?

Ironing listening to the radio. An archive programme about Iris Murdoch. They talk about The Bell. I must listen again. A. N. Wilson saying she got Alzheimer’s because she realised that her philosophy writings were mediocre. I paraphrase him, of course. It was disappointment at her realisation that she wasn’t brilliant. She worked all the time. What do you do to relax? she asked her. Relax, well, I read, I like to listen to music…to spend time with my husband. She was kind, gentle, they said. A warm voice. I must listen again. And then listening to Mel Brooks on Desert Island Discs. Another warm voice. So certain. So self-knowing. This is what I like. This is what I need. This is what I can do. This is who I am.

I don’t know. Do you? Is it OK to be so unsure? I dream of Tom Hollander as the Rev. He sits next to me. I am about to go up on stage to answer some questions. I don’t know what the questions will be. I want him to notice me, to pay attention to me. To give me some of his warmth. Earlier a voice had echoed in my head. Speak to me. Speak to me, it had said.

What do you want to hear? What shall I say?

The death of Maya Angelou. She wanted to be remembered for her writing, her language and as a woman who loved to laugh. I can hear her.

Shall I learn to dance?




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.