Tuesday, May 29, 2007

she said what?

We had just about decided to withdraw the old house from the market place for a while when up turns a woman with two children (about the same ages as ours were when we moved here) who seems to want to buy it. She wants to make sure first, however, that she can have an extension built onto the back. I know I should shrug at this but can’t push from my mind that it will be pretty rough on the neighbours, living cheek by jowl as we do, having new people and a temporary building site to get used to. On the other hand, it’s exactly what we might have done at some point if we’d had the money.

I have noticed that the new wave of incomers here don’t seem short of a bob or two, cluttering up the village centre with their 4 x 4s, opening up antique shops and children’s toyshops that only people like them can afford to patronise, employing the local girls (my daughter when she was here) and sacking them the week after for wearing the wrong kind of jeans, not realising that what goes around comes around and the one you sacked or bad-mouthed last week is very likely to be the barmaid you just ordered your vodka and cranberry from. Anyway, I ramble. I am feeling unsettled, have continuous headaches and cannot read the signs. I am dealing with this by eating too many biscuits, and they are not even the biscuits I really want because I would either have to make those or go and get them from a specialist baker which I can’t be bothered to do, so it’s just Maryland cookies, which is better than a poke in the eye, I suppose. One musn’t grumble – though why the hell not on one’s own blog I can’t think.

So what else is wrong? Well nothing, really. I have lost the plot again with writing focus and even my doppelganger seems to have gone quiet on me, but tomorrow – headache or not – I plan to inhabit the delectable garden studio that has been neglected of late and go back to the shocking pink notebook that has also been neglected and write my way into a better frame of mind with caffeine, pink pills and cookies, whatever it takes. And lest I should fall into miserable speculations along the lines of I am a talentless pretender with nothing to say, or if I have then I’ve forgotten, I will remind myself of the night out I had in Brighton on Sunday, and the bottle of wine I won on account of one of my verses (task being to compose a love “ode” to someone by the name of Nicola) which went something like :

You wouldn’t pickle ‘er,
but catch a glimpse of lovely Nicola
you’d wish that you could drink and bottle ‘er.
Now give me the wine or I’ll throttle yer!

- and has a kind of kick to it, I think. Even though I say it myself as shouldn’t.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Two Stones, One Song

I have been down with a cold that is not sure precisely in what form it wishes to manifest and is capricious. Should it settle in the head for a while? Yes, but then maybe no, it fancies the throat and chest, then gets bored goes back up for a bit, can’t settle and decides finally to home in on the larynx. It’s very odd when you open your mouth and nothing comes out – as though someone had turned the volume down to zero. Calling from the bedroom of Mount Everest to the kitchen of the valleys below for a peppermint tea produced not so much as a squeak, and in any case the Other Half is also down with it and had his head in a bowl of eucalyptus steam.

At a poetry conference yesterday my voice had recovered sufficiently to read a couple of poems and it was perhaps fitting that they should have been read in a voice that was broken and cracking because they were grief poems. Reading in public gives an opportunity to really “hear” one’s work. I don’t feel, as some do, that a poem only really comes alive when it is spoken; some poems work best within the intimate one-to-one connection of reader and page. But some poems do reveal themselves most substantially on being read aloud, so I usually welcome the opportunity. It was also the way for me to mark a kind of closure, or the beginning of such.

A few years ago I lost two fathers. I think it was Lady Bracknell who remarked that to lose one parent was unfortunate but losing two suggested carelessness. Call me careless then, especially as both were precious beyond reckoning. The first, my stepfather, was lost because he cut himself off, without warning, from everyone he knew, at the insistence of a much younger woman who had a form of paranoia and upon whom he had come to depend. The story is complicated, my grief also. He had only, in fact, been my stepfather for about five years, but so essential, so necessary was the bond between us (to me at any rate), that I continued to refer to him as stepfather and he to me as stepdaughter, and I compromised the already difficult relationship that existed between me and my mother.

The second, my natural father, was lost because, as I’ve written before, he died in hospital after a stroke. But I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye.
The poems that came after my father’s death poured out like song, the only one I really wanted to sing, something pure after the broken language that followed the iron curtain cut-off from my stepfather. I thought the “singing would never be done” – but realised, three years after his death, that I had probably written the last one; that there may be more poems, but this particular song had ended; I had, as they say, “moved on.” It took the fragments of Sappho to lend me a form in which to swansong the ending of a relationship to the other father, still living but dead to any that love him. I didn’t set out to do this. I don’t do poetry as therapy (if it happens to be so, it’s secondary). But when I’d written it I saw that it was good and it was the end. And yesterday I read the poem, it was received and something in and beyond it is completed

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Contours of Mull (the word is Sehnsucht, I'm not showing off, but if I am it's still cool and so am I)

single track roads

A fish and chip van in Tobermory with a routier award.
The best.


Moon hills

Beach at Calgary




Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Hitchhiker's Guide to Iona (or Look at My Snaps)

Across Mull to get the Iona ferry. The only place en route to get petrol.

ok, I just want to make it absolutely clear that I am posting these up because certain people (naming no names) are homesick for Scotland and at least one of them has never even been there. Can you be homesick for places you have never been to? Discuss. Then click on the pictures to get the full effect - almost, but not really, like being there.
And posting up pictures of my holiday is cool. As long as that's understood.

Next instalment:
Mull - the director's cut.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Remembering Aphrodite

On Friday I went to London to see a play written and directed by my daughter as part of a festival she has been involved with. The high of this made me think I could, at 11.30, trawl with daughter and others over to Charing Cross, mingle with the bright, the gifted and the energetic in a smoke-fogged corner of a bar and drink champagne, lending my voice to the swell that was chorussing along with the pianist singing Bohemian Rhapsody (thunderbolt and light’ning, very very fright’ning), not remembering that I don’t do the Fandango or this kind of thing any more. Sometimes I am like Mickey Mouse running off the edge of a cliff and, in a cartoon, you can keep going for quite a while before you stop and look down into the abyss. I used to think that if only Mickey could stop himself from looking down everything would be ok and he would get over to the other side without going into free fall. Next day, after not much sleep, it was poetry workshop day. In the middle of the workshop I felt the ground go from under me. I am getting a cold, or the M.E. equivalent. I have too many things lined up for next week. Life, even in the slow lane, has to be managed. Begin to speed up a little and soon you expect to be able to do more. I am not looking down yet. I know what’s there.

I am still catching up with the landscape and images from the Hebrides. On the long drive home what occupied me was not so much the week just spent but a time from the past – a writing week - spent with a group of women on one of the islands. There was one woman who joined us at the last minute. She wore a thin, low cut T shirt and was badly prepared for the conditions of a place where the weather is changeable and often cold. All her luggage was in a small overnight bag. She made up for this in emotional baggage. In the first five minutes of meeting her you knew that her marriage was in crisis, she and her husband had six children between them, she was into Wicca and nature goddess worship and she had changed her name six times, the latest name being, let us say, Aphrodite. Any opportunity and she would talk without taking breath about her life situation, concerns and philosophy. So set was I on avoiding her that I didn’t discover what that was. She borrowed clothes and wellingtons and took energy. I would have drawn lots not to sit near her at supper and when landed with her next to me on the coach back to get the ferry I made it clear I didn’t want to talk and looked out of the window.

On the train back to Glasgow from Oban, she texted her husband to say she was coming home. He replied telling her not to bother. She telephoned a B & B number she had written down on a scrap of paper, a place en route where the owner said he’d fetch her from the station. A group of us looked at each other, relieved. Less of her company. One useful item she had brought with her was a thin red pac-a-mac rain jacket with a hood which she had on when she stepped off the train. There was no-one to meet her and she stood on the platform grinning at us through the window, rain dripping from her eyelashes and nose and running in streams off her red hood. As the train began to pull out she held her palms out, shrugged her shoulders and pulled a silly face before waving goodbye. I don’t know what happened to her. But I do know that as the train moved away not a girl or woman of us wouldn’t have pulled her back inside the carriage, shared a bit of time, something warm, set her up for the journey ahead, embraced her. And when she’d gone we missed her.

I remembered her as we passed by that back-of-beyond station, in the car, looking for somewhere to stop. A rusty sign said tearoom, but there wasn’t any. I went up to the platform to see if there might be one there. The platform was deserted and there was nothing. Just the ghost of Aphrodite, waving.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

you win some -

So apart from being met by the sun wherever I set foot on the islands of the Inner Hebrides, I return to find I’ve come second in a story competition run by the Man in the Moon. First prize has gone to talented new writer, Stray, who was my personal favourite – so it’s all good news. And a number of tasty contributions. Here's mine, if you want to have a look.

Too exhausted to say much, after a long journey back from the north, but just in case you think there has been nothing but good news and sunshine in my life, let me whisper in your ear: Travel Lodge. Ever tempted to stay in one, don’t. Choose Bates’ Motel if you have to (just don’t use the shower), but steer clear of the Lodge. Signs has done it so you don’t have to. And you’ll save yourself £59 by not doing it.

Back soon with a tale, a tail and perhaps another pic or two (as you asked, Mr. Englishman).

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


A shadow on the hillside. Much of the island is uninhabited. No sound but from the lambs.

The beach at Calgary where, this morning, I saw the footprints of deer who come down from the hills in the night to feed on the rich pasture of the machair. My footprints too, walking into the clear water.

Is this an oxymoron? Moving on again tomorrow, back to the mainland, to Ardnamurchan, then home. There are places you pass through that live inside you forever. You don't know until you have left them.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


The sign says "To The Abbey," and the pilgrims follow it to get to the place where Saint Columba built a church in 563 ad. It is supposed to be raining and squalling here, but look at the sky. Seeing is believing - though the pilgrims might argue differently.

and looking from Iona to the moon hills of Mull, the water is turqoise. Lying in bed, I look out to sea at the coming and going of the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry. Two days ago, while I waited for it to bring me over, a seal put its head out of the water and looked at me. The birds speak differently here and the sheep go where they please. All manner of things are well.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Good, The Bad and the Usual

The Good: Mr. Moon Topples’ competition, (now closed to entries and voting begins). Points win prizes but prizes aren’t the point and it’s nice to be in good company. I have also sent off one short story and done some work on another that has been lying around gathering dust.

I am going on a Scottish island adventure holiday the day after tomorrow. Adventure in the sense that, apart from the first couple of nights, we haven’t yet decided where to go or where we’ll stay. It will feel like being in Easy Rider, but in the relative comfort of the Signsmobile. I have bought myself some new waterproof trousers, anticipating long flat stretches of remote beach where I will be able to walk.

The Bad: My cat is unwell and is on a course of painkillers. She will like being in a cattery even less than usual. The bank holiday emergency vet was wonderful – kind and efficient – but the one today called her behaviour “aggressive” (poor, frightened animal) and didn’t seem to know how to hold or examine a cat, even with a nurse to help her.

My son has had his bike stolen.

My hair is going pink.

The Usual: Milady House is still without a sniff of a buyer and I am wondering, not for the first time, if everything they say about St. Joseph (who is still front of house, underground) is true. A friend brought me a statue from Ireland and by my reckoning we ought to have the business sewn up by now. I am beginning to shrug my shoulders about it all (it’s nice here) – but can’t ignore the fact that M.E. muscles do not like all the steep stairs. We may have to sell the house for a song, cut our losses and run. But sometimes I forget to care or think about it. Bof!


I will be taking my Doppelganger and my laptop with me to Scotland and may practice posting up some photos. Not of the Doppelganger, but of places. I will of course be reading the signs.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

See Her Run

Yesterday I went to Brighton to catch a whiff of the Festival spirit. Everything is a-buzz with beautiful people. Brighton has, for some time now, been a very cool place to be, and not just as a playground for tired Londoners who want the life they had hoped for in London but easier, better, cheaper and with clean sea air. There is lots of good fringe activity all year round in the poetry, comedy and music scene, good cheap places to eat, and, if like me you live within reasonable driving distance, you can almost get everything you want (shops too, for those that like that sort of thing) without setting foot in London at all. Everyone was looking particularly exquisite last night in an out-to-party sort of way. There is a kind of Brighton chic that is hard to pin down – a way of standing in your black, sequinned vest with your slicked back hair as you drag on your cigarette outside heavenly cafĂ©. A dusty glamour. Me? I wore my purple “crushed silk” (a.k.a. acetate shell-suit trousers found many years ago in charity shop) with cashmere jumper, red socks and black suede slip-ons. There is, must always be, a place for grunge. My hair, I think, did me proud. But more of this anon.

We went to the Dome to see a showing of the film Run Lola Run accompanied by a live soundtrack from The Bays. A couple of years ago it was The Battle of Algiers with music by the Asian Dub Foundation. Both brilliant. Anyone who has seen Run Lola Run will picture the running sequences which make up the bulk of the film – and Lola in her pale green jeans and sky-blue vest, her punk-red and orange hair flying back as her feet slap the ground and she tears through the city. The music, by anyone’s standards, was loud, with enough bass for it to feel as though it has come right into the body. I had come prepared with water bottle and drugs should my body wimp out on me, but it was ok. Sometimes, in spite of M.E. and all the attendant things, there are moments when it just is o.k. I had, I knew, not just to let the music and images come into me, I had to move out and go into them, lose myself.

There are moments when you meet a poem, an image, a piece of music, a film, when you stop in your tracks and say, yes, I am that. The girl running the fine line between destiny and her own will was me, was everyman and everywoman, but at that particular moment was me – my heart and soul out there, or where I wanted to put them both, with nothing but passion to bring down the rules, regulations and everything else that comes against her. There is a scene where she stops for a space to stake everything she has at a roulette table in a casino and begins to scream. She has twenty minutes to come up with 100,000 marks. As she clenched her fists and screamed the intensity of her desire and intention, half the audience in the dome began to clap and cheer and the music (which they do not rehearse) was with us. Of course she wins, must win, if the story is to be true, in the sense that fairy tales are always and forever true. The prince (for she was that) will capture the castle.

And my hair? A few days ago, contrary to my recent stated decision, I coloured it red by mistake. They didn’t have my usual colour and the packet said “Light Mahogany Chestnut.” Obviously a practical joke, as it is in fact a bold, rusty and robust red. At the moment only the top of my head really shows it (yes, it’s a beacon). I have decided to go with the flow and bring the rest up to scratch – at least it will match my socks. And if I’m not mistaken, there’s a sign to be read here. After all, the hair colour wasn’t planned. Lola, c’est moi!

Thursday, May 3, 2007


The Thinking Blogger’s award has come round again - and I've been tagged by goodthomas. If there were a Soulful Blogger’s award, his is a name that would come to mind (consider yourself nominated, goodthomas). So anyway, I’m entering into the spirit of the thing. It doesn’t matter that the process allows for almost everyone in the blogging universe to be nominated at some point. It’s a way of giving and receiving appreciation and touching in on new places. For this reason I thought I’d nominate some of the blogs on my list that I don't have so much contact with. In fact a couple of them, unless they have carefully studied their stats, probably don’t even know of the existence of Signs. Hello, if you’re looking in. goodthomas says that I have “the most amazing sensitivity to the nuances in the poetry of life”. Just saying, so you know the kind of person who has nominated you – and so you don’t feel you are wasting your time here. He said it, not me, so I’m not bragging. But let’s talk about you:

Collin Kelley is a poet from Atlanta, Georgia, who not only writes good poetry but speaks them beautifully too (from recordings I’ve listened to). He writes rants, raves, reviews, personal anecdotes and anything that happens to interest him, including American Idol, which I overlook because I appreciate his blog.

Future of my Past is Anna Mr from Finland, whose blog I periodically lurked on, until the great orgasm post which I tuned into when it had well over 100 comments (I take my time, but I get there) for which she kindly, at my request, wrote a resume so I could join in the discussion. She is interesting and takes lovely photographs.

George Szirtes is a poet, translator and intellectual who came to England as a refugee from Budapest in 1958. He is a fine poet and engages my interest in everything he gives his attention to, even football, which I am not interested in.

Shallowlands, “the place where only poets can hear you scream,” is the blog of Ros Barber whose work I love and whose poems live on the page as powerfully as when she speaks them. She writes about her life, work and process and is the real thing: a working poet. She is also doing a PhD on Christopher Marlowe.

Silversprite is the blog of John Kirriemuir who lives on the isle of Berneray in the Outer Hebrides. If you love these islands, or want to get the feel of what life might be like there, this is a find. Some wonderful photographs too.

If you would like to carry this on (no pressure!) the rules are:

1. If you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,

2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,

3. Optional: Proudly display the "Thinking Blogger Award" with a link to the post that you wrote.

And to the other bloggers, the ones I’ve come to know and appreciate since beginning this in January (you know who you all are): Respect!

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

A Short Post

I am going to do a short post today. I have noticed that other people sometimes put up short posts and I never do. I don’t know why. I seem to have got the idea that it’s 500-600 words or nothing. I won’t even do a youtube link or a photograph. In fact I won’t do anything at all to distract from the subject matter at hand – which is the shortness of this post. You think I am copping out, doing the easy run? Not at all, my fingers are greyhounds in the slips, eager to run the whole length on the subject of short posts. But this is a short post, so they can’t. I want to see if I can do it. I am doing it. It’s marvellous what you can achieve when you put your mind to it. Sheer bloody willpower. Short power. The finishing line. Champion.