Monday, December 24, 2007

Heilige Nacht

I was going to put up an image of my christmas tree but the photo came out blurred, so this will do for now - and is, in any case, all I really wanted to say. The twelve nights begin here.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Me and Jeanette and Julie go shopping

This is a bit previous, but I think I have already decided what one of my new year resolutions should be: I must make more pronouncements, and make them confidently and without equivocation. I must be more like Julie Burchill or Jeanette Winterson. To incorporate both would be a challenge as they are at opposite ends of a spectrum, but they definitely have what it takes to pronounce for England (I wonder if it has something to do with their both being only children, this unshakeable self-belief).

“Shopping is what you do when you have stopped living,” says Winterson, though actually what she really thinks it that it is ok as long as you go to small, independent shops (and doesn’t she have one of her own called Verde’s?) and buy organic. Julie Burchill, on the other hand, says that if you don’t like Tesco’s you need to get a life and that shopping is brilliant and fun especially when you can whizz around and do it all in the one brightly-lit place.

Well there’s shopping and shopping, I suppose. Signs, Christmas 2007 (I told you I needed to make a resolution). The kind of shopping I almost never do is the clothes and accessories kind, and I was recently reminded of one of the reasons why when I ventured into shopping hell in the Brighton malls. Why anyone would choose to go there rather than all the interesting small shops in the Lanes perhaps Julie would understand: I thought I could do it all in one, stupid me, forgetting that mall shopping isn’t like that, especially not for the orthostatically challenged, as I most certainly was the other day, and feeling sick to boot. I got some wrapping paper, gift tags (why? I don’t use them), an item that I took back for refund half an hour after having bought it and four disgusting plastic painting set things for nieces and nephews that I never would have got if I’d been in my right mind.

But shopping for food is something I understand in my soul. Not so Mr. Signs who, on being asked to purchase a selection of interesting cheeses got a hunk of Cheshire. No disrespect to the good folk who live there, but really this is not a cheese that can by any stretch of the imagination be called interesting. Son of Signs complained about it and then I noticed a tub of duck fat smirking at me from the top shelf of the fridge. It is for roasting the potatoes, apparently. But I do not use duck fat for roasting potatoes, and neither do Jamie or Nigella, and actually I prefer your common vegetable oil. I have suggested to Mr. S that he should consider carefully before using his initiative in supermarkets and some very droll banter ensues – don’t be thinking that we are not entering into the Christmas spirit here. But sick or not, clearly it was time for me to make a move, so I did, to my favoured supermarket which was not quite as serene as this, but not far off. I bumped into several people I knew, well we nodded to each other and they gave me a wide berth – I looked awful, felt worse and had a near-death experience when trying to decide between a Duchy Original pudding or Waitrose’s own richly fruited. This may have had something to do with trying to do a spot of Process-inspired creative visualisation. There are moments when even my richly-fruited imagination fails me. It does so now, dear reader, as I try to come up with a fitting pronouncement to rival those of Jeanette and Julie.

Just give me time.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Bugged

I appear to have caught some kind of bug and feel sick and weird. This means that I am not able to accompany Mr. Signs to Sainsburys for a pre-Christmas shopping marathon. Hey ho silver lining, but actually, as it makes me feel queasy to read anything or even listen to the radio it isn't much fun and I may as well be down among the shoppers. I have a bucket here beside me as I tap, dear reader, just so you know that I have prepared for all eventualities. At least here, in this bit of half-room that we call Study, you can look out at the trees and frosted rooftops. This blue/gold winter weather is perfect and I love it.

I do not know if I there will be any particular revelations concerning Process. If there are you may be sure I'll let you know. Meanwhile, as my dear departed mother-in-law was so fond of saying (near the end of her life) - life goes on. Just as well, really.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Eating the Elephant

So there was this guy who did the Process and on the first day he got out of his wheelchair and walked from from Crouch End to Marble Arch. I don’t know what he did on the second day, but on the third and last day he went home and cut down a tree. A woman who had been bedridden for years got up on day two and answered the door herself. Another threw away her crutches. And Signs? She went to Borders Bookshop in Brighton, had a coffee and bought a book by Ann Lamott called 'Bird by Bird'. It’s a book about writing and so far I’m enjoying it. Reading about the writing process is the displacement activity of choice when I am not writing, and writing about not writing is a close second. The title of the book gets its name because of a story she tells about her brother:

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write [it] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

Well that was day one. On the second day I came home and went to sleep. Then Mr. Signs and I did a reasonably thorough uncluttering job of a room in our house and that felt very good. On the morning of day three I noticed that I woke up and felt normal – meaning there was nothing weird going on in my head, limbs, stomach, or anywhere else in my body. And then I went on feeling normal for the rest of that day. I had a sleep again after coming home in the afternoon and when I woke up I still felt normal. You might think I had forgotten what normal feels like, but I haven’t. Normal doesn’t feel like anything at all, but when you are used to having shackles, normal feels like you are a piece of polystyrene floating on the water. Buoyant. The only reason for polystyrene not to float is if something is attached to it, holding it down. When it becomes detached from what has been holding it down, it surfaces again and floats – no matter how long a time has passed.

Well, but today I overdid it, and I haven’t had much sleep. And on this, the first day of the rest of my life, I went supermarket shopping. Cupboards were bare and son has just returned from the Arctic with a head cold and an overdraft. Life goes on and I am not looking for hallelujah moments. I am happy to take it “bird by bird” and notice that climbing the stairs is easier and for several days I have not particularly thought of needing to take prescription painkillers. I did think about it on day two but then I did the Process and the pain went. Today I have taken one because that is what I feel I needed to do and there is no benefit to be gained from pretending otherwise.

There were three of us in the group, plus Mr. Signs who accompanied me. The trainer was a woman who had had M.E. for eighteen years and now doesn’t. The process is used to treat all kinds of things, not just M.E., and it is recognised that this is a physical illness – not “all in the mind”, even though mind is used to bring about a change in the body’s response. Some illnesses appear to respond well to it, others not, nor would it be the right thing for everyone. The process itself is learned in three stages and is simple – but needs to be done regularly and consistently and my inclination is to look at the results after someone has practiced it for a while. Even so, it has taken me by surprise to witness how mind and body (mine) are willing to engage. Therefore I am hopeful. And mindful of the answer to the question: how do you eat an elephant? Answer: bite by bite.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Lightning of Signs

An auspicious start to the day: I have had a mug of pretend latte (instant made with one third boiled water, two thirds hot milk, sugar to taste) and a warmed-up croissant that is a few days old, but it is marvellous how heat revives it. There was a Marlborough Menthol lying around so I smoked that. A run around the forest is out of the question, I have M.E., dammit and, to quote the terminally miserable narrator of Dostoevsky’s ‘Notes From Underground’: “I am a sick man … I am a spiteful man. An unattractive man. I think that my liver hurts.” Well actually, I am a woman, really quite attractive and only occasionally spiteful, and I do not think my liver hurts as such - but it is not OK. Fact. It’s an immune disorder thing (PBC). Fingers crossed I’ll see out the rest of my natural without a transplant, but – my eyes are drawn to the top of Chapter One of the Dostoevsky. Scrawled in my handwriting is the following:
“What can we believe? Reconstructing the true motives beneath the surface presented by the narrator is part of the pleasure of reading an unreliable narrator. The narrative becomes a study of a split personality, a hypocrite or a liar.” ‘Struth, but this is wonderful. To come across oneself in the act of doing – what? Writing notes to a future self, perhaps; one who is no longer capable of such willing and energetic engagement and has all but forgotten the self that was.

But it’s all up for change, folks, because tomorrow I begin a three-day course of something that goes by the name of the Lightning Process which sets out to do a re-programming job so that the immune system begins to behave appropriately again (though they can't do anything about the liver thing, but sorting out the M.E. will do nicely). There’s lots about it on the internet if you want to find out more. It’s a challenging thing for anyone who has had this a long time because accepting the condition, its limitations and the fact that there will probably be no cure is one of the things you learn over time to do – or go bonkers. And doing something like this opens you up again to hope, and actually they won’t let you do the course at all unless you’re prepared to come believing that real change is possible. I have told almost everyone I know that I am doing this and had a mixed response. Most people have never heard of the process but wish me well. A couple of people have tried to warn me off and some have been quite threatened by it and hostile, a response I understand because it was my first reaction when I came across it. I was deeply suspicious of something that promised so much. I questioned whether the people that pronounced themselves cured really had M.E. in the first place and whether the initial high after the course was borne out by long-term well-being. I don’t have answers but can no longer ignore the number of people who seem to have benefitted and I want to test it for myself. Anything ventured is always something gained. Someone said that to me recently and I like it. So I come out with something, whatever (and try not to think about the plastic doll you get given at fairground booths when the ball didn’t quite hit the mark). The big prize, perhaps. The jackpot. I will keep you informed but it may be a case of learning the "technique" and then practising over a period, rather than a hallelujah moment. If I come back claiming to be a new woman who loves spring cleaning and cake-decorating then you will know I have been replaced by Stepford Wife. But, you know, one has to risk a little now and then to live well.

And on another positive note, I have been given this as an early Christmas present:
You just put him in water and he grows into a psychotherapist. In fact he’s the only shrink that grows, is available at all times and doesn’t charge a penny. I am blessed.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Meme Time

I have been tagged by Kahless - so how could I refuse?

A ~ Available: - For what? A chat? Cup of coffee? Lunch at the Ritz or something - ok.

B ~ Best friend: You, Dahling - who else?

C ~ Cake or pie? Both please, with cream.

D ~ Drink of choice: Coffee

E ~ Essential thing used every day: a cafetiere

F ~ Favorite color: No. And it's 'favourite' in England.

G ~ Gummi bears or worms? I am vegetarian when it comes to eating sweets.

H ~ Hometown: What? I am a diaspora Jew.

I ~ Indulgence: I am an essentialist.

J ~ January or February? No preference, and you're being obscure again.

K ~ Kids and names: I have both.

L ~ Life is incomplete without: Leurve.

M ~ Marriage date: Why do you want to know this? Why? Anyway, I have two.

N ~ Number of siblings: One whole, four half, one ex-step (don't say I don't tell you things).

O ~ Oranges or apples? Say the Bells of St. - ?

P ~ Phobias/fears: I'm working on them. OK?

Q ~ Favorite quote: "Neither art nor the artist has a moral responsibility to liberal social causes".

R ~ Reason to smile: Life goes on. My mother-in-law used to say this a lot when she was losing the plot. But it's undeniably true.

S~ favorite Season - "I love Paris in the springtime, I love Paris in the fall, I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles, I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles". And you are still spelling it wrong.

T ~ Tag three people: Oh splendid - a chance to spread the joy around. I tag Barney who as everyone knows (or jolly well ought to) is Ms Pants's remarkable, long-suffering hybrid owly cat. I also tag Chip Dale, because if he won't do it then his wife Gabby might as she seems a very good sport. And lastly, I tag The Periodic Englishman because I really think we need to know what he has to say about all these things, and anyway, where is he?

U ~ Unknown fact about me: You know almost no facts about me anyway. I'm a brunette. Sort of. Sometimes more than others.

V ~ Vegetable you don't like: Brussel sprouts. But sometimes they are ok. With chestnuts.

W ~ Worst habit: We haven't even been to lunch yet and you ask me this? Away with you!

X ~ X-rays you've had: No, really - here you go again. Don't you want to know if I believe in life after death or something? I do, as it happens, which is just as well considering I've had more x-rays than you've had hot dinners, probably.

Y ~ Your favorite food: Oysters. Chips. Stuffing and bread sauce. Purple sprouting broccoli. Don't know. I am a woman with a taste for most of what Life has to offer.

Z ~ Zodiac: Libra, dahling. Moon in - can't remember. Bored now.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Advent

Well, it’s here: first week in Advent. I still do things that prepare for the great midwinter event and the sun’s turning at the darkest point of the darkest month; and not just the business with the turkey, the trimmings, the wrapping paper. This time I have lit all four advent candles at once instead of doing it gradually, adding one more as each week passes. I want all the light of them now. I also want to make a space that is ordered in such a way as to accommodate emptiness – not barren emptiness, but that space where words and substance come, the empty place that is starlit, or it is dark but it is a dark where things happen.

And add to the wishlist a handful of beans, and wherever I throw one something will grow. These kind of beans are only given to poor people who don’t have much and I wonder if I am poor or rich. There is no room at the inn and the stable is filled with clutter. Out with it.

I seem to have been hearing the word ‘transition’ a lot recently, perhaps because I am in it, writing mainly fragments I do not wish to share. Increasingly, the real writing suggests a secret activity, one where even the end result should not be shown, not be witnessed by anyone at all, but I choose to read this as a temporary condition.

I had a good couple of days in London, staying with a friend who is also in transit, between one phase of life and the next, and living in a beautiful bedsit in Belsize Park. It is not one of those IKEA’d shiny fake parquet floor and microwave oven jobs that you see everywhere advertised for about £180 a week (and it costs a fraction of that). It is the kind of place that students and people like me used to find in the seventies: scruffy and woodchipped with real sash windows that shake with the wind, a gas fire that glows – no central heating – and people of fragile means in other rooms who share the bathroom and occasionally pin up a crayonned sheet of paper asking God to give grace to accept with serenity the things that can’t be changed. I didn’t know these things were beautiful then but I find them so now because they are passing, almost gone, as this house will be when it comes into new ownership and is converted into studio flats. But also it was a reminder of the beauty of a life lived uncluttered by too many possessions, too many certainties, and the possibility of grace.

We met my daughter for breakfast and I gave her a pair of Ugg boots which she put on her feet there and then. Later she sent me a text to say she loved them and “they’re the best present I ever got” which says something about the boots but more, I think, about her capacity to relish and rejoice in the particulars of the moment – which makes me exceedingly happy.

Son has this morning flown off to Sweden to see a friend and northern lights. He came back from Oxford sporting a sheepskin coat bought for £50 in a second hand shop. This was to see him through the cold weather and it looked great but was, I could smell at once, riddled with mould. So it is lying wrapped in polythene in a shed until I can think of a solution to this, and he has gone off with a new quilted and windproof thing bought at Millett’s yesterday just before closing time.

In a week’s time I begin The Process. More thoughts on this anon.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Platform

My son is walking the streets of Oxford with hundreds of other students who are protesting against the Oxford Union’s decision to allow Holocaust revisionist David Irving and Nick Griffin (leader of the BNP) to address students tonight. Unlike most of his friends, who are protesting against the decision, my son thinks they should be allowed to speak. It is a difficult position to maintain. He is nominally a member of the Jewish Society who have written an impassioned letter on behalf of their members, one which probably reflects the views of most of them, but not my son, who thinks that there is a frenzy being whipped up which is preventing people from thinking. Me, I don’t know what to think about it, or I change my mind hourly. I think there are intelligent and moral reasons why they should not be given space to put their views, that these things can't be separated from the real world and made to look as though it's all ok and legit, even though the subject is Free Speech. On the other hand, I regret the fact that the people who might have spoken against them have withdrawn – that an opportunity may have been missed. And what with one thing and another – death threats to students from neo nazis – I am hoping that things don’t turn nasty.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Shards etc.

I have just spent half an hour cleaning up after a glass bottle smashed onto the terracotta tiles of my kitchen floor. The bottle was in my fridge and contained I don’t know what, but it smelled of some vile concoction of vinegar and herbs (and something medicinal) and must have been there long enough for me to have forgotten about. It was one of those things that take up residence and stay for so long that one just doesn’t see them any more until they jump out of their own accord.

Picking up the glass pieces and the nasty little splinters of glass reminded me of the word “shards” and how it is one of the words that is outlawed by the Poetry Police because, I suppose, it has been over-used. Of course, that might once have been enough to send me to the notebook to write the definitive Shards poem but now I have more pressing things to occupy me, such as looking at the dust particles on my living room window and trying to decide whether to wear socks inside my new Ugg Boots or just wear them like slippers, barefoot. I do in any case have the feeling that Shards is not one of those words that I feel moved to redeem. I remember a letter I received many moons ago (reader, that was deliberate so don’t be thinking you have caught me out) from an erstwhile with whom I had broken up. He had once given me a tulip made of glass, a lovely thing that unfortunately broke during a flat move. In the letter, he said of our relationship that it was like “gripping the shards of a broken tulip: once it was so beautiful but now it draws blood.” Even then, I had a sense of the naffness of this and couldn’t help identifying the two culprit words (beautiful was the other) that weakened what may have been a nicely compelling image, even if a bit overblown, to round off a relationship that had, to coin a phrase, gone some distance past its sell-by date.

I am rallying from what has been, so far, a challenging autumn. I am perhaps unusual for a PWME in that this is often my best season, but it has not been so this year. There may still be time to gather something, though. I have spent a week with a good friend from Poland who has been happy to tune into the variable rhythm of my days as it represented a rest and a refreshment from her usual relentless busyness. We also went out for poetry, music and theatre. Saw The Giant by Anthony Sher at the Hampstead Theatre which you can read about here and here. I particularly liked the set and the costumes but came away thinking that there had been too many words, and wondered if this was a reflection of my energy levels or whether it really would have benefited from more editing. It’s sometimes difficult to assess.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Roar and a Whimper

I have been honoured and bestowed with a Shameless Lions award for "Powerful Words" which I am proud to add to the collection of trophies on my sidebar, particularly as it comes from House of Pants whose lovely poems I have just been reading in Obsessed With Pipework. Funnily enough, I had just decided to subscribe to this on the strength of the name alone, before I even knew that House of Pants was in it (and hers are the first three poems). This is, of course, a Sign – of what, I don’t know and really, one can’t be expected to do everything. Reading the signs does not necessarily mean interpreting them (though I do sometimes have a stab at it). Enough just to know a Sign when one appears, and to trust that all will unfold in the fullness of time.

But where were we? Roaring words. I haven’t made so much as a squeak on the blog for a while but have been bleating elsewhere, in shocking pink notebook to be specific. Being somewhat more than usual energy-challenged, I’ve only had the wherewithal to do one or the other, and the other won out. But don’t think I haven’t missed you all or that there haven’t been loads of things I’ve been telling you – in my head, that is. Just to prove that this is true, here is a snap from a recent trip to Homebase.

I was having another Stepford Wife Moment and thought, I must show them this. I had so much to say about it too but you’ll just have to take my word for it and try and imagine what it is I had to say because it’s all gone now – wiped. That’s what happens if you don’t get the words out quick as they come, you see. They bugger off. All I know is that at the time – Wednesday evening of last week, to be precise (which for some unaccountable reason I feel it behoves me to be) – I had returned to Homebase with one of their standing lamps that was so hideous when unboxed, and so defiant of being assembled into anything resembling the picture on the box that decided I could not give it houseroom for one minute longer. I looked at the Christmas tinsel and the lights, took in the fact that I was the only punter in the store and was brought to my knees. Take me now, I said to no-one in particular, but there may have been an angel at my side and you can see the brush of its wings in the bottom right hand corner, or I may have been struck by a combination of unearthly fatigue and opioid prescription drugs. Reader, no-one came. So I stood up, got a bag full of slow-burning tea lights and lived to do another blog post.

I thank you.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Eating Light

I was looking at the word “virus” the other day and realised that I didn’t really know what it is. I use the word virulent a lot to describe something that is aggressive, unpleasant and destructive. I think of it as something alien and unfriendly to the place it comes into. My body behaves as thought everything is a virus and must be fought with all the resources it can muster. I am a poor country always at war. The army has taken over and has held the country in its grip for many years. It cares nothing for the land or its people. It cares only for war. At this very moment it is calling on its demented soldiers to fight against this activity of tapping words onto a screen.

My mother called me the other day. It was a bad day, I was struggling to remain upright, the army has perhaps got wind of plans afoot to take back the land and is fighting with all the weapons at its disposal.
“I have been hearing all about M.E. on the radio,” she said, “isn’t it awful! There are all sorts of people who have it much worse than you. I’ve been hearing all about David Puttnam.”
“David Puttnam,” I said, “is still able to work. He gets a bad spell every so often.”
“Well I’m just saying, I’ve been hearing all about it on the radio. You sound well.”
I’ve asked her if she and partner would like to come for Christmas lunch. She says,
“Oh no, we don’t eat.” She does, of course – big meals, roasted meats, organic vegetables, cake and wine and cheese and fruit. And just as well, really.

I have been reading about people who give up all food and drink and claim to live on air and light alone. They might take a bite of something like celery or chocolate, just to experience taste or texture, but they don’t eat as such, or drink. I am engaged by the idea of living on light. Can’t help wondering, though, how this would work if one lived in, say, Finland, where it is pretty dark all through the winter. A woman was quoted as saying that she had the sense that food was somehow poisonous to the system and that breatharianism could and should be achievable.

Consider: there would be no shopping to do because no meal times. No breakfast, lunch, tea, supper, snacks. Nothing to offer people when they come to visit but the light from your windows and, presumably, yourself (for you would be existing at a much higher vibration). You would be, I suppose, like the angels. No need for toilet paper because with nothing going in there would be nothing to come out. And appetite all gone. What about the companionship that comes with sharing food? The word companion has the word bread in it. It is a person with whom you break bread. We don’t just hunger for something to fill us up but for everything that earth can give here and now, while we breathe in it, which includes turkey with trimmings, flaming pudding with spiky holly on a white plate, crunch of toast just burnt at the edges. I picture sitting around a table with people I love or wish to know better: I have no food to offer you, just my breath and my words. And to my mother I would say: “well, here is a table full of light, then. Have that.” I don’t think so. No, it wouldn’t suit me at all.

Virginia Woolf, in her last diary entry, said:
“And now with some pleasure I find that it's seven; and must cook dinner. Haddock and sausage meat. I think it's true that one gains a certain hold on sausage and haddock by writing them down.”

I have just eaten a baked potato with grated farmhouse cheddar, leek and chive sausages and broccoli. I think that one gains a certain hold on life by relishing and eating them.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Lightening ?

It is a dark and stormy night and I thought it was time to put up another blog post. Why this should be I can’t quite say as nothing remarkable has happened in the world of Signs or, at any rate, nothing that I would care to properly identify, though I should perhaps mention that the poet Collin Kelley, who I invited to a Poetry Café at Lewes Library, gave a splendid reading last Friday, even though the number of people that showed up was disappointing, and this in a town so chock full of poets you can hardly move for bumping into them. But no matter – the ones that did come were glad to be there.

I have a silence in my head. I am not sure whether I want to hear something or not: on the one hand it is disconcerting to drop a stone into the deep well of the mind and find that there is no splash, no echo; on the other hand when the sound that comes back is not a splash but a strange sound that makes one back away from the edge, the silence is not necessarily such a bad thing. I am not in the vein to meet Grendel or his mother.

I have been re-reading bits of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and find I am still carried away on the sheer energy of the writing as he (whoever) travels from east to west and from north to south, hitch hiking, scrounging petrol, drinking, smoking. It is the progenitor, I suppose, of all the road movies and strongly romantic. There is something about the beat writers and their lives that has always drawn me, a vicarious pleasure I get from the vitality that drives them – perhaps because I myself have never been what is called “robust”.

I have signed up to do a certain Process in December to see if I can bring about a change in my long-standing Condition. You will notice how coy I am being about naming anything – this is because I would rather not draw a host of desperate, hopeful or angry googlers; there has been much heated debate about the various Processes currently around that are meeting with varying degrees of success. There seems to be a belief that it may be possible to reprogramme oneself, or at any rate the hypothalamus, so as to bring about extraordinary changes in the body’s responses.

I have nothing to lose but a few hundred pounds. When I told my mother that she thought I was planning to go on some kind of crackpot diet – in which case it would have been a story of the incredible shrinking, not to say disappearing, Signs. And I have no intention of doing that – yet.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Darkening of the Light

Great title, says Mr. Signs, but people might think you're dying. You won't think that, I hope, when I tell you that it's from the I Ching and carries the image of the light sinking into the earth, which is right for the time of year. This is the view from my window as I sit tapping at the keys by the light of my trusty anglepoise and the Dell computer screen and the sun is going down. Out there in the darkness is my writing shed which I am not using very much at the moment, partly because the heater is faulty and we have come into quite a cold snap, but also because I like it here too.

As a young child, I lived in a German village and at Martinmas (which isn't until 11th November) I walked around with the children from my Kindergarten carrying a moon-faced lantern that was lit from within by a candle. We sang, Laterne, Laterne, Sonne, Mond und Sterne. The first time I did this I hadn't been in Germany very long, so this may have been the first song I learned. My mother was walking and singing beside me. The longer and darker the nights became, the more the candles were lit. I have never dreaded winter and the dark months. When my own children were little, I walked around with nightlights in painted jars and hollowed-out turnips singing, the light shines bright all through the night, la bimma la bimma la bim. It's something to carry with you, the image of light in darkness, for when other kinds of darkness come - the kind that is harder to identify.

I have challenges at the moment: some of those are good, necessary or adventurous ones; there are several poetry cafes coming up, writing to do - and I have decided to be brave and take new steps to see if I can bring about a radical change in my health. I fear failure but I will "do it anyway" on the basis that you only ever really regret what you don't do. Some of the challenges, though, I could do without; they are the kind that take light from you, and strength. It's ok, I've done it before, the lantern walk. When you are out in the open with the elements threatening to snuff out the flame you do what you can to shield it, and then you go back inside singing, the light grows dim as we go in, la bimma la bimma la bim. So that's what I'm doing for a space; withdrawing and keeping the flame safe and lit. It's Hallowe'en soon. I'll be lighting one for you all - and spooking around. (Obviously).

Saturday, October 20, 2007

She Considers Her Father's Hands

I can never forget his hands now because I only have to look at my own to remember the shape and texture of them. What shocks me still is how I only really took them in the last time I saw him alive, and it was such a surprise – to notice, to see this inheritance of mine. They were elegant and spoke of tenderness, the skin brown against the white sheet. The skin; it is my skin, the only skin I recognise by touch. First there was his, then there was mine, then my daughter’s. The first time I touched her I thought: this is my skin. It is strange, coming up against something so belonging to oneself but in another, and recognising it for the first time – because you can never know your own skin like that. And we are connected – not just to each other but to some place on earth that the people who were our ancestors inhabited. The people had skin like ours and we would know each other by touch. I sometimes wonder if there is a place in southern Spain where our lost relatives walk, holding each others’ hands, touching the baby’s cheek, with no idea that one of their people is here on this island that the Anglo Saxons and Normans made their place. One of their people is here, wanting to go home, which is the skin of her father’s hands.

I have a crystal heart. It’s the only thing I have that belonged to him, and it was something I gave him once for his birthday. He kept it on his desk, a small treasure. I tell myself this: that by holding it I make it warm, and as it warms so do we, my father and I, the substance and essence of us, always touching. Sometimes I fall asleep with it still in my hands and I wake in the middle of the night and it is there; warm as blood against me.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Magicians who Lunch

I lunched with a friend today in one of my favourite cafes. Anyone who looks at the photograph below and knows Lewes will guess where I was. There is an exuberance about the place, part of which is given over to selling fresh produce and was today glowing with pumpkins, and the exuberance is also on the plates of food they serve. I had a plate of mixed salad. The white cone thing is something edible and crunchy. The bread is focaccia which, as I am staying off wheat for the moment, I passed on to my friend. It was a remarkable salad, particularly in the way it defied the laws of physics: however much I ate it didn't get any less, in fact I could swear that by the time the plate was removed there was actually more of it.



For dessert I had fresh berry Pavlova. This did seem to behave normally and though there were a few berries and an orange segment at the end, the Pavlova had quite gone.


One of the things we talked about over lunch was tarot. My friend, whose latte you can see just beyond the sprig of mint sticking out of the Pavlova, has many different decks and interesting things to say about some of the variations in symbolism. I once had a tarot reading where I was told that my special card ("significator", I think it's called) was apparently the Queen of Swords. When I asked why he said, "because you just are," and for some reason this seemed a good enough answer at the time - better than if he'd said something about sun sign, colour of hair etc. I am a bit ambivalent about swords. Whenever I do a "spread" - about once every few years, there always seem to be too many of them and I'd rather trade them for a few cups, especially ones that are full and running over with good things, like the exuberant salad plate (and health?). My friend tells me that the Queen of Swords is an impressive lady whose time will come. His special card is The Magician, who is creative with the stuff of life. And only now am I wondering whether he was the one responsible for the seemingly magic plate of salad.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Written Word

I like what Paul Auster says:

"It is the only place in the world, I believe, that two absolute strangers can meet on the deepest level. It's something that reinforces our common humanity. That's the power of writing. You don't feel that in a movie. You don't quite feel it when you look at a painting, although that can be close, but the articulated word and articulated thoughts communicated from one person to another is the province of Literature writing."

And where, I wonder, does The Blog stand in relation to this? I know I am talking to people - even if there were no comments I would know that because I can see from the stats that they look in, and though some flit in and out again, there are those who stay and read. But it isn't the same as the "I and thou" connection I experience when writing in my notebook, even though there is no guarantee of anyone actually reading the words. My stepfather, before he went mad and cut himself off from the world, wrote in the journal that he shared with me:

"Who is the stranger who lives with me?" He was a writer. It is my opinion, though I can't be sure, that the stranger was the "thou" he had become separated from.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Something Lovely This Way Comes

A brown parcel arrived today with my name on it. What could it be?

A birthday present from Cusp! A live, sentient creature!

The cat is curious. She likes brown boxes very much.

Do you see her? Sitting on the desk of my writing shed with her purple notebook and quill pen, beside a lit candle and a copy of Nathalie Goldberg's Wild Mind. Do you see the label around her wrist? Her name is Fraulein Poesie and she speaks german. She says she is a poet who writes mainly about nuts and forests and likes a glass of wine or two in the evening.
She is wearing her favourite purple trousers and pearl earrings, and look - she has a necklace of variously-coloured glass beads.

Poesie meets a couple of the housemates. They have never met anyone this cool (apart from me).

Poesie is no fool. She keeps a wary eye on the cat, who has already shown an interest in Poesie's tail. They talk, but keep a respectful distance.

Signs puts on her purple "crushed silk" shellsuit trousers. Poesie says, "Wow!" They gaze at each other in mutual admiration. Signs is holding Poesie's writing book which is a beautiful, matching colour of purple. Oh, you should see her lovely button eyes close up (press on pictures to enlarge).

Cusp - I don't know what to say. A beautiful present, such as I have never had before. And she is Real.
How is it that you do not yet have a Creative Blogger Award? Please pick one up immediately from my sidebar.
And Poesie, who is now my writing and blogging partner, has asked that you also pick up a Nice Blogger Award as well. She says you are "ein sehr nettes Madchen" (we had the umlaut but it seems to have got lost somewhere) and she is sending you her love.
p.s. It looks as though there are some of Poesie's relatives (sockmonkeys) up for adoption.

Supermarket Heaven


Is this not pleasing? I almost said beautiful but that would perhaps be overstating what is, after all, simply a trip to the supermarket. Sorry about the fact you can’t make it larger and have the experience of almost being there – this due to my not having adjusted mobile phone settings – but you can still see, can’t you, the serene, unpeopled space, the shiny floor of which has just been trodden by the feet of Signs who has just picked up a packet of Purina chicken and rice cat food. This is how it usually is in Waitrose in my little town, a very different picture to the Sainsbury’s experience where most people seem to go because it’s thought to be cheaper (depends what you get) and there is more choice (I’ll live with that). There are shop assistants who stop what they are doing and help you find whatever it is you are looking for. They seem to know what they are doing, what is on the shelves and whether there is likely to be such-and-such in the next few days. Walking up and down the the aisles I have fun pretending to be Stepford Wife, adjust my features to look like Katharine Ross (it’s the 1975 version I like), play muzak in the head, beam benignly at people for no good reason, and if someone were to tell me to “have a nice day” I would probably reply, “yes, thank you, I will.”
This is how my life needs to be at the moment - uncluttered, simple and serene.
Yeah, right.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Chocolat - A Perfume

It is the sweetness of interiors, the light inside compared to the darkness without, the one giving substance to the other. It is the red velvet cushion by an old oak table and the flames of many candles.

I want this sweetness, I will not give up hope.

There is a table covered with orange and red fruit, loaves of freshly-baked bread and red wine the colour of velvet. You ask for a glass of red wine and drink it quickly. I ask how you are.
“I get anxious,” you say. “Sometimes I get anxious when I go out on my own.” On the way back from the Ladies you lose your way. I come half way to meet you and see you standing in a doorway looking left and right, baffled. You look happy to see me. A man has been watching you.
“Is this your mother? I think she got a bit lost.”

You are re-telling bits of our history; how you invited me to come with you to Switzerland for the good of my health, how you kept inviting me but I never came. You never did invite me but, having told the story, it serves as truth. You have told your husband and niece: “I kept inviting her and she never came.” The truth is that I waited and it never came – the invitation, the gift, the sweetness. Your days are numbered. I have seen it before, this sudden dimming of the light. We must have the sweetness wherever we can get it, there’s no time to lose.

The perfume is in a range called “Chocolat” and is the richest of all three. Another one is darker, with an edge, sophisticated, and the other is the white chocolate of the three and popular, I am told, with younger people. It is champagne at midnight while fireworks light up over the river. But I have chosen the one in the middle that carries its sweetness unreservedly and without apology.

It is £55 for the small size and £85 for a bottle twice the size. A saving, says the assistant, of £30. But I do not want a large quantity, I want it small and neat, it will be enough so. I do not want excess. It is my birthday present. I will have it on my dressing table and wear it through the winter.

Is it significant or symbolic that they are temporarily out of stock?
“A run on it,” says the assistant. “Last year everyone wanted the Empress Josephine, now everyone wants this.” They will telephone me in a couple of weeks when the new stock comes in. You write me a cheque for £55. It is fine. But I wanted something to take away with me, to hold in my hands, not this slip of paper signifying a transfer of money from your account to mine.

After you finish your glass of wine you take some of mine, pour it from my glass into yours and drink it down in one as though you need it. What is to become of you? I ask you to check your phone book, see if you have my mobile as well as house number in case you are ever out and anxious and need to reach me. We walk. A sudden fatigue and I need to sit down.
“Not well?” you say, “not well?”
“The blood goes to my feet.”
“My feet are cold,” you say, “I wish the blood would go to my feet.”

You won’t come to my house to eat, I have been trying for years. So little space, so little time, mother, to gather all under one roof, have something distilled, some essence or substance of us that may be pleasing and acceptable.

You have decided to have a house party for your next birthday in the new year. I ask,
“Shall I bring a cake?” Your face lights up, forgetting to say no.
“A cake? Oh, yes!”

Monday, October 8, 2007

Nicely Hitting the Mark



One doesn't always like to be summed up and labelled. Don't you remember those teachers' reports that were either not very nice or somehow failed to hit the mark? And how one carries them on life's long sojourn (or completely discards them, but bear with me for the purposes of this post) like an ill-fitting cloak? And then later, much later, it happens that you are again summed up and labelled and this time it is like the gown that falls over Cinerella's shoulders after the fairy godmother has uttered the words: you shall go to the ball. And you are, for once, appropriately clothed. You are a contender, a winner, a star - you are, in other words, a Nice Blogger. Thank you, David of Witnessing, King of Nice Bloggers.


And, as if this were not enough to make you dance into the small hours, forgetting about midnight and M.E. and the fact that you are probably metamorphosing into a pumpkin as you speak, along comes someone else with something that has your name written all over it and - oh, it is like a custard pie in the face, the nicest of all custard pies (and I know of which I speak for I like them very much indeed), and you lick your lips, sink your teeth into a bit of crust and just know that it is good, for it is an award for Blogging That Hits The Mark and it comes from Anna (F.O.M.P.) Mr .


And just for that, Anna - you know what? I'm throwing an award right back atcha, har! Have a Nice Blogger award yourself, and not just for that but because you are nice, dammit, and I'm sure you know that but if you don't then you should, and be proud of it. Because I say so. Because Nice is the New Cool as far as I'm concerned and as I am a Blogger that Hits the Mark, what I say goes. Power, huh? Goes to the head like champagne, is what I find.

And Kahless - where is she? She's been hiding away for a space, but now she's back and this is a good thing for she is Nice as well as a whole clutch of other things (just count the awards) and, plus, she makes a mean curry. I used her recipe, it's the best. When you've added the Nice Blogger award, Kahless, you'll have one more than me, not saying I'm competitive but I'm keeping an eye on the situation, ok?
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Who more deserving of a splat of recognition for Blogging That Hits The Mark than Baroque of Hackney. Will She enjoy the custard pie in the face? I think so, because she is someone who appreciates pies and if you look at this you will know what I mean. And more than this - she writes beautifully, exquisitely, generously about poetry, culture, the stuff of life, in sickness and in health. Good health to her, I say, and thanks for the words and the presence.
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Now. I may be Nice and I may Hit The Mark, but this does not necessarily mean I am Clever. I am back to the problem of how to put the award things onto my sidebar. Please do not send good advice, for I know all about it, I just don't seem to be able to do it. But I will later, with assistance. I am not proud. Add this to my list of virtues.
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Take no notice of the * - blogger was refusing to let me have a space between those paragraphs. I know nothing but remain undefeated.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Holes, Poetry and Stuff

I’m sure I must have said this before, but I have for some time now had this notion that there is a kind of black hole into which things disappear: mainly single socks and ballpoint pens – the good ones, I mean, not the kind we all have lying around that have run out of ink and for some reason refuse to be discarded. Of course it is annoying and inconvenient but I have more or less resigned myself to the idea and adapted accordingly, replenishing stock when necessary or just wearing socks that don’t match and writing important messages with the lime-green crayon that has stuck by me when other implements have dematerialised. But I can’t help noticing that the black hole is becoming more aggressive. It has begun to swallow umbrellas, kitchen utensils and books that I wish to refer to – and yes, before you ask, I do know what day of the week it is, the name of the Prime Minister and how to spell antidisestablishmentarianism. And much good may it do me. I want my socks, my pens and my books - particularly those. The black hole can keep the umbrellas if it wants. So it is that I come to my shelves looking for a slim volume by the poet Peter Abbs whose reading I went to last night, in order to reproduce a poem of his here, but I can’t. I will have to wait until either the black hole, as occasionally happens, spews it out again or I decide to replace it.

I come away from a good poetry reading feeling this: that poetry is bread. That language matters, is essential, must constantly be revitalised, must be vital if we are to survive with souls intact. And our minds: if all words are hijacked by accountants, men in suits, Sun newspaper and slogan merchants, what can we know or apprehend and what are the consequences for the life of the imagination? As an activity too, the making of poetry is good for a body, as I have witnessed many times in myself and in others. I haven’t written a poem for a while, and suddenly I miss it, that activity. I have been working on my prose project – (ok, novel, but I’d rather say that in a whisper) and it is writing, but it is a different kind of writing. “Do both,” I hear you say – and I should and would, but feel I can’t until I’m securely established in this project, and that time has not yet come.

It is le weekend. Mr. S. is attending his art class, the cat has been dining on a bluebird, there is bread to be got and milk, washing powder – stuff. Tomorrow our daughter comes for a late celebration of my birthday (son being back at university), and we will go out for Sunday lunch. The trees are almost turning, there is gold in all the green, and life is good, sweet and rich. Who can blame it for asking so much of me? What, in any case, would I hold back? Black holes, I defy you. (Give me strength!)

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Big Issue, Please.

In my little town - the nearest one to the village where I live – there is a High Street with a Smith’s, a Boots and a Woolworths and an assortment of other shops you’d expect to find in any other little town. Outside the Boots Opticians, by a paved walkway that leads to an underpass, stands a woman with a thick, dark brown plait of hair that comes right down below her waist, and in her hands she holds copies of a magazine.
“Big Ishoooooo!” she calls. “Big Ishoooooo, please!”
She has a powerful voice, like a strong, clear foghorn, and she holds the note at the end for as long as she has breath for the “oooooo.” Most people walk past, and if you slow down for any reason she will come up close to you, switch off the foghorn and try to catch your eye with her own, and she will smile with large rosy lips and beautiful teeth and her voice will become like a housecat’s pleading miaow as she says, “Big Issue, madam, please. Please, madam, Big Issue.” If you buy a copy she will reward you with a look that says you have done a good and beautiful thing. If you walk past she will draw in her breath with an eloquent gasp, as though she has just been stung by a nettle, before recommencing her chant.
“Big Ishooooooooo! Big Ishooooooooo, please!” She is known, perhaps not surprisingly, as the Big Issue woman. She does not come from round here. She comes by train and goes back on it after her day’s work. She has been spotted getting off at Croydon.

She has been doing this for years. The note never changes, nor does her voice falter or lose its power. She has always dressed exactly the same, in long skirt and serviceable boots with a shawl around her shoulders and, with that hair, she looks like someone from the cast of Fiddler on the Roof and I picture her great great grandma and mine and (from the Ashkenazy line at any rate) plucking chickens together in some shtetl. She has exasperated, irritated and intrigued me and now, after all these years, I would miss her if she suddenly decided to withdraw her presence. I cannot help but admire her dedication to purpose, her willingness to give herself up to the one song line which has, as I count, only two notes, the main one being on the dying fall of the “oooooo.” She could have been (perhaps is) a singer. She will catch our attention, whether we want it caught or not.

Her voice has been added to the list of tunes that play themselves in my head. My unconscious likes to think it has a sense of humour and has, for example, played “Stand By Your Man” during the break-up of my first marriage as well as something from the mists of time (and how that was downloaded is a mystery) called “Captain of Your Ship” by Reparata and the Delrons. Today it is the chant of the Big Issue woman. I am going to see a new psychotherapist. This makes it sound as though I’m trading in an old one and do this all the time. I have, as it happens, done this before, but not for a long time. Having made the decision to go for it again last year, I put off actually doing anything until the voice that would not be silenced finally won and I said yes just to get it to shut up. It’s not that I don’t respect the voice, it being the utterance of my inner self. It’s just that I’d like to move forward without that particular number being played and re-played:

“Big Issue. Big Issue, please.”

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Update:

Saw therapist who said she didn't like "seeing clients with entrenched M.E." She had worked in a Health Centre with "some of them" and found that the M.E. "got in the way." She asked me if I had thought of practising "something spiritual, like mindfulness, so that you can practise being in the Now."

Big Issue. Very Big Issue.

Note: I did not consult her because of M.E. but had mentioned on the phone that I had it. The walk to her house from car park was up a very steep hill. On arrival she asked if I had enjoyed the walk. I said I had been concentrating on walking uphill. But, she persisted, had I enjoyed it? I said not really because I had been (I repeated) concentrating on walking up the hill. But, she continued, had I not enjoyed the lovely view on the way up? It was a lovely view, I said, but no, (for the third fucking time) - I had been concentrating on walking up the hill. I realise with hindsight that I should at this point have walked out.

A few vittun F words apply, I think, but nothing seems quite strong enough just at this moment.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Not Drowning But Waving

Greetings, Blogfolk, and I hope this finds you in the pink.


In Norfolk there was sun, sand, me and my shadow.


Sometimes there were mermaids in the sea

Some mornings there were pancakes and fruit for breakfast.


At night there was moon looking at me through skylight.


On my birthday there was home-made lemon drizzle cake.
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Every picture tells a story - but a story is never, dear reader, entirely to be trusted. Or?
"I'm telling you stories. Trust me." (Jeanette Winterson in The Passion).
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There were words and there were words. There was word count. Good enough.
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I am happy to be home again.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

In My Shoes

Sometimes fatigue has the power to disarm me afresh – I stand back and gasp at the intensity of its singleminded purposefulness, its aim being to disable me and lay me flat. When it strikes it does so swiftly and decisively, no amount of pleading and negotiating on my part will shift its resolve. I can muffle it with pills and an overdose of caffeine but it will be whispering in my ear that it is only a matter of hours and minutes and I will be the more completely floored for having thought to go against its dictates. I have described M.E. as a stalker, but sometimes he (it is still masculine, and given the nature of my primal relationships I don’t know why) takes on a kind of god-like aspect. He is a jealous god, who will admit no others and wants to have me, by hook or by crook, for his very own and sometimes, even now, it throws me.

I have spent three days trying to get shoes. In Clarks shoe shop I sat down and wept – well at any rate, I sat down. The bored assistant with pencil skirt and polished bouffant hair tried not to look at me as I brought back the shoes I had bought only yesterday. I didn’t talk about orthostatic intolerance and how any kind of shoes seem to hurt me these days even though my shoe size is a respectable size 6 standard fit, how I have been looking everywhere for those rubber Crocs that look and feel like beach shoes and are apparently out of this world comfortable (I know about how you can get everything online these days but I need to try things on) and how I would wear anything at all, even those PVC pump things in New Look, or their expensive Italian leather equivalent in Russell and Bromley as long as they put a sole between me and the ground beneath my feet and didn’t hurt. I didn’t say any of that. I said I’d like a refund and she wondered how long till going home time. Sign here, she said, and have you got your Visa. I put the wrong pin number into the machine. We stared at each other across a great divide.

I am going to Norfolk with three writing buddies. I am taking spiral notebooks, a laptop, a new book about fiction-writing suggested by a friend, my down-at-heel Birkenstocks, black suede shoes I got in the men’s section at Pricerite for about a fiver seven years ago, Percol Americano coffee, two packets of Betty Crocker brownie mix and some fruit cake. The aim is to unblank the page and have a Good Time. As long as the former happens (and it will, we are wordsmiths innit), the rest will follow.

See you at the end of the month.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Poetry Cafe

To have a poetry café you need a poet, a room with chairs and a tin. The poet is for bringing poetry, the room with chairs is for people who come and listen to the poetry and perhaps share some of their own and the tin is for collecting money from the people that come in order to pay for the poet and the room with the chairs. You do not need to have coffee. The word café is to suggest the idea of a congenial gathering of artistically inclined people. If you want to add flourishes you have a person with musical instrument making melodious sound, tables with flowers in jam jars and lit candles, incense, fruit cordial (hot apple and ginger in cold weather), biscuits and a couple of bottles of wine for you and your mates or anyone who looks as though they might fancy some. And if people want something more rock and roll there are plenty of inner city venues. You won’t be getting the smoke-filled atmosphere these days but there will still be black walls and bleakness. I’m not being snooty here, believe me I like all that and will go in search of it myself one way or another, but it’s no good being a black walls and bleakness merchant when you live on the Edge. We do things differently here and the punters like it. Well, I like it and I’m number one punter, having begun this so as to keep the poetry buzzing on my doorstep, or as good as.

What you hope is that people turn up – and they do, usually. Visiting poets, used to an audience of Sid and Doris Bonkers plus one or two more on a good night are surprised to see the room quite full. So Ros Barber wasn’t in the least put out by the relatively low numbers the other night, reminiscing about one gig where the only audience was the other poet and his spouse and how they’d basically spent the evening reading back and forth to each other. I was disappointed that more people hadn’t turned up. Something about this time of year, I think - peoples’ kids going back to school, choirs starting up, end of season cheaper holidays, and perhaps it might have been better to have it at the end of the month. And it was such a fine, powerful reading, on the edge of (but not quite) performance poetry. Only four people put their names down to read in the open mic session, so I padded it out with three of mine and kicked another poet who would have preferred to nurse his cold into doing something. The Signs family was there, daughter visiting from London and son not yet back at university, Mr. S. taking money at the door. Not much money, on account of low numbers and we didn’t cover costs, and it would have been good to give the poet a bit more for travel (she hired a car to get there). But no-one complained. My experience is that poets tend to be like that. They do their work, they come, are happy with little, are gracious. But perhaps I’ve just been lucky.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Sauce and Substance

I am trying to decide on the right word for what I want to do – but there is a nick on the little finger of my left hand that bleeps a small hurt every time it hits the keyboard. How to bring random things like that into the picture is, of course, what it’s all about, just as it’s all about coming to the virgin (increasingly keyboard) page without a clear, or any, idea of what one wants to say. The nick on my finger is getting in the way of writing. Life itself gets in the way of writing but on the other hand, “the grave’s a fine and private place, but none, I think, do there embrace” or bash out their novels (sorry, Marvell). So I’m paring down or reducing (which word, which word?) so as to be able to do it now while I’m still, in my fashion, tickety boo. Ideally my day would begin early with a cup of mint tea or glass of fruit juice followed by a brisk walk on one of the many lovely parts of the forest I live right next to, a few hundred words bashed out before a nice breakfast of, say, boiled egg and marmite soldiers (it’s all in the details folks) or just fruit and perfect americano coffee with hot milk. After this I’d bash out another thousand or so words before a light lunch of yellow pepper and courgette soup (it’s a new recipe I was recently given) or Caesar salad (and don’t ask me who prepares these bonne bouches, it’s a fantasy, ok?) and the afternoon would be given over to catching up on reading, correspondence, small household tasks (if I must) editing and, the occasional taking of tea with a similarly-engaged acquaintance, more writing plus cultural pursuits and an exquisitely prepared dinner (Moroccan lamb and couscous?) and wine in the evening.

I think a new paragraph is in order so as to bring myself back. I think I’ve said this before: it takes me most of the morning to incarnate into the day at all or, if I get up early, consequences will make themselves felt later. I am trying to remember how on earth I managed to do all the writing I did when the children were small and I was so ill. Certainly there were times when I simply took pills and managed to override, something I wouldn’t manage now, and I wasn’t able to keep it up. Now I have let go of almost everything that might get in the way. Someone else, a writing friend, is taking over the classes I was to have taught this year which is good for her and for me, though it does feel strange to let go so completely of something that I gave myself to for many years.

Reducing is the right word, I think. It’s what you do to a sauce when you want to intensify the flavour and make it more substantial. I need shoes - my old Birkenstocks have needed replacing for two years. I need underwear – my bras have lost their elasticity. I’ll see to these and other essentials, but clothes will do for another few years, I’ve worn the same two pairs of thin trousers for most of the summer, alternating, and my purple shell suit trousers await the colder weather. I have a poetry café to attend to on Friday, Ros Barber (of Shallowlands) being the invited poet but this kind of activity is of the essence and essential to me.

I am boiling off the excess and am already, though I say it myself, very tasty. And I've stuck a plaster on the finger.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Good Life

On Friday I went to a funeral and yesterday I went to a three-year-old’s birthday party. Both were good. The funeral was for the husband of a friend who lives close by and is one of my long-time writing companions and I wished with all my heart that he would not die, he was not old. He wasn’t someone I knew well, but sometimes it doesn’t take much for a person to reveal what is essential about them. The goodness and simplicity of the funeral felt in accordance with the character of the man. I wept, as I have done at each funeral I have been to (there have been four) since my father’s death. As my friend’s husband was a Buddhist, there was a monk dressed in saffron robes who chanted by the coffin which was made of some kind of raffia type of material and reminded me of the Moses baskets that new babies are held in and is the most beautiful coffin I have seen and, I think, most perfect for carrying a newly-dead body from this life. I have no sense of where the dead go to, no conviction that tells me they are still alive in the spirit. Much as I would wish to believe that my father were somehow “there,” it is his absence rather than his presence that I experience most forcefully. But where belief and conviction fail, faith leaps (sorry, could not resist) in most extraordinary or ridiculous fashion – I can’t and won’t decide which it is and feel that perhaps it is both. I have this faith that the substance of a person, the soul, is there, wherever there is, perhaps returned to the place it came from before incarnating into the physical body at birth. I have also this intuition that tells me it is important, and not only for those who are still alive, how we conduct ourselves and rituals at the time, and in the days after, the death of a person.

The birthday party was for my nephew, the son of my half-brother, one of the many half-siblings from my father’s second marriage. Born shortly after the death of my father and with a Portuguese mother, he has the Portuguese version of my father’s name: Michael. The party was held in the grounds of a youth club/sports pavilion. There was a bouncy castle, balloons, a cake with Noddy and Big Ears in a car with the birthday boy’s name on the number plate, a party conductress (can’t think what else to call her) and a clown that shouldn’t have been there. The clown had been booked and then cancelled in favour of the party conductress, but the clown’s wife hadn’t passed the message on, so there he was all painted up and ready with his box of tricks. He said as he was there that he would like to do the gig anyway, paid or not, and in the event he was given half the fee he would have had. He was a nice person, but his tricks consisted mainly of twisting balloons into different shapes and giving out lollipops. I couldn’t quite see the point of the Conductress who got everyone singing Happy Birthday with the unnecessary aid of something pre-recorded and followed this up with pass-the-parcel and Mr. S and I couldn’t help reminiscing how we used to do the singing, games and puppet show of Mrs. Rabbit’s Cottage, all by ourselves. But still, it was good to be there with small children who (now that I no longer have them) I sometimes miss, and with the open-hearted loving kindness of the fully-functioning side of my family.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Just Life Really,

It’s just that sometimes it feels like Boot Camp. But it’s ok because I have a Technique. Back to the old CBT method of reframing. Is that the term? If a picture is crap then it stays crap no matter how you frame it, but there I go being unhelpful, let’s just say there is one way of thinking about something – and then there’s another. So, for example, the world is not a dangerous place for me and those I hold dear: that’s just anxiety, and if you say something to yourself enough times you can make it feel sort of true. I really ought to have become a confirmed Positive Affirmationer, I could have Healed my Life ten times over by now. But anyway, I like the word “just” and think I will use it more often.

It is just M.E.
It is just my dysfunctional family.
It is just someone’s clinical psychosis.
It is just subsidence.
It is just a burst water pipe.
It is just weirdness.
It is just someone dying.

So basically it’s all fine and I have taken some Co-proxamol. In the old days it would have been whisky, cigarettes and possibly a spliff or two, but musn’t grumble.

This morning the weather had that first-day-of-holidays feeling, in spite of all the poor bleeders going back to school. I went out onto the forest. People think it’s just trees, but there is open heath land too, miles of it, and I can walk on any day of the year and find wide expanses of unpeopled places. So I walked and walked and walked to see if I could push through the barrier and slough off (slough? shrug?) the weirdness that is Other People’s Stuff, the better to focus on my own wonderful and winged stuff, but the barrier accompanied me and so did the Stuff.

And now I feel very weird and full of stuff, but my son is watching a video of old Fry and Laurie sketches and there is an apple crumble on the kitchen table. For the moment, these are the particulars that I choose to let be the ground beneath my feet. And prescription drugs.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Pants for Breakfast

While you are patiently waiting (are you not?) for me to complete the first draft of what I ironically (but only just) refer to as my Magnum Opus – why not do yourselves a favour and go over to That’s So Pants and have a butcher’s* at the first chapter of her recently-finished book? And if you like it, pass the word along, innit? It’s The Full English, and tasty.

*Cockney rhyming slang (butcher's hook = look)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

What If? (or how I might be saving the world and no-one even thanks me for it)

It often surprises me to hear what people think I’m like. Obviously they don’t tell me the uncomplimentary things, nor would I encourage this. The word “calm” is something I frequently hear, and “unflappable.” While these are pretty neutral in terms of how one assesses a person’s character, they seem to be qualities much coveted by people who lead lives that are increasingly rushed and stressful. I wish I possessed them too, to the degree that I appear to. In reality, I am a prey to every flying thought and a mere change in the wind’s direction is enough to increase the pulse rate. My daughter travelling across London during an underground strike is a minefield of what ifs, and don’t even begin to talk about night busses at three in the morning. I shut up about it most of the time or I would drive everyone and myself bonkers. There is no-one better in a crisis than me because I am always primed for it – I never need to read any of those Worst Case Scenario books, my undisciplined but vivid imagination has pictured it all. The single useful thing a cognitive behavioural therapist identified was that one of my Core Beliefs seemed to be that anxiety was in some way helpful: that by worrying one perhaps prevented the worst from happening. Obviously it isn’t helpful. “I” know that, even if my core believer doesn’t. It takes energy. It is not a good thing. On the other hand, but this will remain forever unverifiable, perhaps it is only my anxiety that is preventing the world from falling into imminent destruction – in which case, dear reader, you should really be thanking me. I’ve been doing it too long, though. Someone else want to take over?

Friday, August 31, 2007

New Leaf

You know that feeling when there is an itch and you would scratch it if you could only locate it; nothing serious, you just can’t concentrate on anything else until you’ve found it. Or, as one of Charles Dickens’ ladies of a certain age (but I can’t remember which one) remarked: there is a pain somewhere in the room, if only I could find where it is – or words to that effect. There is something skewed, and it surely isn’t to do with the apples that have passed their prime and are dropping to the ground in disconsolate fashion and then just lying there waiting for the worms, or me to gather them into harvest home. And it surely isn’t to do with the the season’s turning and the nights coming on us, it seems to me, unseasonably early. Go to, in any case, and read your Manley Hopkins, or at least Spring and Fall – no, no, I am autumn’s child and do not suffer from seasonal affective disorder – unless – but no, this isn’t that. I am, though, it has to be said, uneasy. I make a mental checklist:

Kids’medical and dental things being sorted.
Cat – ditto.
My health as usual and certainly not the worst for which one is always thankful.
Him Outdoors’ work situation ditto.
Finances – obviously overspending but ostrich mode ok for now.
House – might have another stab at selling the old girl.
Extended family – nothing particularly nasty brewing (or at least nothing new) in the dysfunctional quarter, though one musn’t get complacent.
Writing – ouch, oh.

I haven’t done any since before Edinburgh and it is like playing a musical instrument or dancing or anything that requires you to turn up and do the thing regularly; the days, hours and minutes begin to stack up and turn against you. I offer no coy excuses about not being able to get down to it – there are, as always, practical reasons why not and these have to do, as usual, with available energy. I have also, since my return, been experimenting with walks, seeing what happens if I take myself on a more demanding than usual stretch. I know from experience that this is a complicated negotiation with no clear victory and damned if I do or if I don’t – but I am driven to try following a period where I have walked more than usual with no long-term (for the moment at least) bad effects. Trouble is if I do that, the energy ration is used up. Added to this, I have been doing some proper cooking again. This kind of thing really falls away when I am at all focussed on writing. I could never quite bring myself to kill the angel in the house, though that is, as Virginia Woolf said, one of the tasks of a woman writer. But I’ve never been much of a domestic angel. Cooking, though, is something I do that belongs to me in a way that other domestic tasks do not. It’s something I do well that I can offer and enjoy at the same time. Yesterday I made ratatouille, the slow-cook way. Today I will make lamb curry and tarka dhall with cucumber and onion raita. The apples that “ben ripe in my gardayne” are asking me to make a crumble or a pie tomorrow, perhaps.

And the words and stories, dear reader, press on me with purposeful intent. Quia amore langueo. Begin again, as always, a new leaf.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Fringe and the Steps

Have I been dreaming? it is as though I have spent the last week or so at a non-stop surreal party. The Edinburgh fringe scene can’t really be described. Or it can, but rather as one might describe a dream. I still feel as though I’m half in the dream and a bit out of the body so won’t try (and can't work out how to download the video footage we took, and Him Outdoors is watching football) - but it was full of people and sound and extraordinary exuberance. I have come home to this:



and walked on the forest today to try and bring myself back. But I still have Festival in my ears and eyes.

We had an apartment right bang in the middle of the Royal Mile where much of the action is, in one of the tall old tenement buildings where Robert Burns apparently hung out during his time in Edinburgh, from where we could watch the tail end of the military tattoo pass by at night, and yet the bedroom at the back was quiet. Daughter stayed out partying until the small hours and slept on a futon in the huge front room and it might all have been perfect but for one little detail: we had booked a first floor apartment but they put us at the top of the building. There were seventy seven stone steps to climb up the circular staircase. Something to do with “overflow”, or the fact that the agency had fucked up and/or didn’t know or care about the reality of dealing with this when you have M.E. – which I had told them about. I am hounding them for compensation. And that’s all I will say about this except to vow to you, my brothers and sisters, that when I have finished hounding they will know and care a great deal more.

On Wednesday I met up with lovely NMJ and we had supper together. I said I’d be wearing something purple, but spotted her at once, sitting at the back of the restaurant scanning the menu. We slipped into conversation as easily as if we’d already known each other a while – which we have, in a way. We talked about life and blogging, and then we talked about blogging and life (and I could not resist asking about the vittun cooker hood), over a very nice starter of haggis, neeps and mash with a whisky gravy followed by some leathery steak, coffee and chocolate. Then we noticed everyone else had gone. We were hustled out too soon for my liking, would have liked more time. But I’ll probably be back again next year – by which time NMJ’s book will be out and I may have completed chapter one of mine.

We were near the café where JK Rowling began writing Harry Potter and it struck me that the locality was just how I pictured the settings for the daily life and business of the wizards and witches. The world of the non-magical muggles is the privet-hedged estate of dormitory/commuter middle-england and the magical world is Edinburgh old town, I’m sure of it.

I saw eleven shows. The four highlights were (in the order I saw them):
- A play my daughter directed.
- A jazz a cappella group my son was part of.
- “Woody Sez” – the story of folksinger Woody Guthrie, including his own words and songs.
- Jerry Sadowitz – superb (“world’s most offensive”) comedian.

The two real bummers were:
- A ghastly play about William Wordsworth, his sister, wife and opium addicted mate Sam Coleridge, inexplicably given four stars and it makes the one-woman Dorothy Wordsworth show satirised in the film “Festival” (showing tomorrow 11.40 C4) look like sheer genius.
- An hour of Scottish folk of the kind that endlessly, and with nauseating coyness, prods at the imagined sensibilities of the Sassenachs and whose idea of humour is a cheeky little ditty about Nessie the monster.

And there I was wanting Hamish Imlach. But he’s deid.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

70 Things - Untagged.

1. I have a triceratops in my bath.

2. He once had 3 brothers.

3. I can make Tarka Dall like you get in restaurants.

4. I don’t like buying new clothes

5. I used to love The Monkees.

6. I believed that smoking menthol cigarettes made you sterile.

7. I went to 11 different schools.

8. I was expelled for missing a biology exam.

9. I lost my virginity at 16.

10. The background music was Break on Through by The Doors.

11. I had a grandmother called Eva.

12. I have three different kinds of reading glasses.

13. When I was 10 I wanted to be a ballerina.

14. My father sang in South Pacific.

15. My first word was “picture”.

16. One of my fictional characters was a carpenter called Emily.

17. I once had a best friend called Shakela.

18. When I was 13 I wanted to be an air stewardess.

19. The Female Eunuch is why I love Germaine Greer.

20. My husband makes perfect bramble jelly.

21. The first film I saw was a cartoon of Tweetie Pie.

22. I have a stuffed donkey in the attic.

23. I didn’t have breasts till I was 15.

24. I am a late developer.

25. I read all the Enid Blyton Mallory Towers and St. Clare books.

26. I have my own rock concert.

27. I never liked Brussel Sprouts.

28. I don't tell you the half of it.

29. I won 2nd prize for a daffodil when I was 9.

30. I can only drive an automatic car.

31. I miss my father.

32. I used to fiddle the electric meter in my bedsit.

33. I haven’t been out of Europe.

34. Unless you count a kibbutz in Israel.

35. I know how to pick oranges and lemons.

36. My Lewis chess queen says Oi Veh.

37. I don’t have a favourite colour.

38. My son once found a four-leafed clover

39. I have a necklace made of moonstones.

40. I like IKEA meatballs with lingonberries.

41. I thought I would never ever use a mobile phone.

42. I have a Samsung D600.

43. My mother is 84 and very fit.

44. She does Pilates and acqua aerobics.

45. I was scared by a mountain once.

46. I want to go ski-ing again.

47. I have a favourite Sappho fragment.

48. I kept my daughter’s milk teeth in a box.

49. I can never find my nail scissors.

50. I want a cigarette.

51. I play the recorder and the penny whistle.

52. If I moved from here I would miss the trees.

53. Sometimes I want unbroken horizons.

54. My grandmother has visited me in dreams.

55. I have kept all my old Spare Rib diaries.

56. I wish I could be tidy.

57. My father’s ancestors were Sephardic.

58. People still ask me where I originally come from.

59. I taught myself how to cook on a Baby Belling.

60. I am not entirely sure why I am doing this.

61. I am an alto.

62. My favourite choral work is Mozart’s Mass in C Minor.

63. I like the circle of light from anglepoise lamps..

64. I have a picture of a lion king.

65. My mother-in-law was a potter.

66. My other favourite choral work is Bach’s St. John’s Passion.

67. I am going to Edinburgh tomorrow.

68. My kids are doing things in the Festival.

69. I am proud of them.

70. I thought I’d do 100 but changed my mind.


See you in a week or so.












Thursday, August 16, 2007

Welcome to the House of Fun

Time to put up a fun post, I suppose – not that I make any apology for the previous one or, indeed, any post that tells how it is with regard to M.E., ingrowing toenails or the state of my herbaceous border. For the record, I do not have ingrowing toenails or even, strictly speaking (for I have just looked it up on Wikipedia) a proper herbaceous border. But if I did and they were causing me grief, I would talk about it when the spirit moved. The word “fun” is jangling around as I was today reminded of the late Andrea Dworkin’s remark: “I am a radical feminist, not the fun kind,” and what a loss it would have been to us if she had been that kind instead of the ardent and fearless campaigner that she was. And then I considered that I don’t much like the “fun kind” of anything much, really. The word itself conjures up a weekend in some dreary hotel with organised games for tired business people to try and get them bonded and generally perked up so they can go back to whatever deadly thing they were doing and carry on making money for the company they work for. Or it conjures up a karaoke night out with people who don’t like singing and have nothing in common other than the desire to get out of their skins for a space (nothing wrong with that in itself, obviously) – and in case anyone is tempted to let me know what a supercilious snob I’m sounding: yes, I agree, each to his own – no blame, no judgement, this is just my take on things and if you give me a convincing story about a knockout and uplifting Murder in the Dark weekend or a Karaoke Night Out I’ll read and enjoy.

I’m not a miserable effer though, far from it, (she says, putting on her red nose and cracking open the party poppers). Ok, maybe I am, then. But if so, then I promise you I know how to enjoy myself because while I despise Fun, I love play – real, intense, lose-yourself-in-the-moment play. It’s why I started making up stories, I reckon. It’s something I have in common with my daughter who, in the playground at school, lamented the loss of her best friend who really understood how to “make it up as you go along” rather than decide in advance to play Ghostbusters or Hero Turtles (though admittedly these would have possibilities, but only if you diverged from the script). I like play because play has soul and Fun (the way I see it) doesn’t. It conforms to the idea one has of how something should be rather than creating out of the moment something new. I appreciate funny, playful posts and those that give an uplift to the spirits. Grief, anger and melancholy also have soul and when I find those set down truthfully in a blog post I appreciate those too, and yet so often people apologise for having expressed them, feeling that they have been indulging in self-pity (not the same thing at all). Or there is the sense that the expression of something lower than uplift is tantamount to a request for sympathy. For me, at any rate, this is not the case – though it is of course a gift to know that one’s words have been heard, received or appreciated.

So anyway – but if you want to do yourselves a favour, go and visit a place of horseplay and foolery (the Real Deal), in the house of The Periodic Englishman. Say I sent you – and beware: he’s a bit of a charmer. (But don’t tell him I said that).