Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Four-eyes Good

I have got real glasses now – varifocal ones that I will be wearing all the time. I wonder whether Dorothy Parker’s famous couplet men seldom make passes / at girls who wear glasses holds true. On the other hand, I am trying to remember the last time a man made a pass at me. Well, he may have done, but there is a chance I could have missed something on account of bad eyesight. I asked Mr. Signs to accompany me to the opticians as I was fairly sure I would not understand most of what was being said to me, vitality being what it is in late afternoon. Also, I suspected that there would be information to take in and process – you know what I mean by this: the kind of information you have to deal with when trying to buy a mobile phone. One plus one equals two does not necessarily mean what you think it means once you are inside a shop and someone is selling you something. I had to choose from a million frames and take in everything the nice young lady (from Poland, I think) was telling me about how Buy One Get One Free didn’t actually mean that. In answer to “what kind of look you actually are wanting?” I replied, as anyone would, that I wanted to look intelligent but shaggable – or words to that effect. She said titanium frames were best. Certainly they were the most expensive, and I have now spent hundreds of pounds on these and state of the art lenses. The world looks strange. In some respects it is clearer, but I feel unsteady and if I look in the wrong way I cannot see clearly and I am in Lilac Wine:

Listen to me, why is everything so hazy?
Isn’t that he, or am I just going crazy, dear?

But damn, I look hot. And very intelligent.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Narrow Track

One of the iron gateposts has rusted at the bottom and is almost ready to fall, but the gate is kept propped by lifting it onto the ledge of the other post. It is either that or keep the gate open, and then dogs go on the gravel outside the house.

There is only one way of reading it: mend the gatepost. Don’t wait for the house to be fixed just do it. Or, you are the gatepost, still standing, apparently, but broken at the stem, quite broken. There is nothing you can do about rust.

But the road beyond is story: the old lamp post where we sing Little Town of Bethlehem at Christmas, even though no-one looks out at us since M’s mother died. She had silverwhite hair cut short and neat, and little blue eyes that shone like candles. Three of us sing for her each year and I stand under the light of the lamp post that is sturdy and painted green to protect it from rust. It isn’t Narnia but I always think it might be; and there is never any snow, but I hope.

Last week I met a wise woman who knows about forests and the stories we live in them. She said, you can walk through, come out the other side. But I said I wasn’t sure I wanted to. I have always lived in the forest.

A sign says Beware Narrow Track. It leads straight up to the forest and holds no dangers for me, I know how to walk it. Big fast roads are what I fear, but they lead to other places and on them you can travel quickly. It is said that it’s better to travel than to arrive, but this is only true if you are on a train or a narrow track. Otherwise it is better to have arrived and be in the place.

If I had a carpet that would take me in an instant, I would go to all the continents I have never visited. If I had a wardrobe that opened onto strange terrain I would go into it.

The wind blows the dust of the road, the thin film of dust that lay on the wet ground, the compressed mud that is the unadopted road I live on. I am at the end of a row of cottages, or I am at the beginning, it depends which way you look.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Where I'm From

(after the George Ella Lyons poem , and others. Nice one to try.)

I’m from Marmite sandwiches, orange wedges, bratkartoffel,
sauerkraut, and eat up everything that’s on the plate.

I’m from one country to another,
Lederhosen and white organza dresses, pink and yellow is for girls,
why do you speak funny and where’s your dad.

I’m from skipping, if you miss a loop you’re out,
from dippi dippidation my operation, how many people at the station,
red is for danger and out goes you

I'm from laterne laterne, sonne, mond und sterne,
our Father which art in heaven.

I’m from ten du Maurier tipped in the flat red box,
lipstick on the stubs and burns on my fingers,
sixpence in my pocket to buy pink sherbet and a raspberry chew.

I’m from Bunty and Mandy, The Four Marys and The Silent Three,
Fifth Form at Mallory Towers and Alma,
who stole the sugar biscuits from a tuck box.

I’m from Grimm’s Fairy tales: Goldmary and Pitchmary, the apple tree calling
Shake me, oh shake me, my apples are all ready,
from Thousandfurs, three wishes and a cloth that’s covered with meat and drink
whenever you say the word.

I’m from waiting for my father to take me skating at Queen’s,
blisters on my ankles, a Wimpy and a strawberry milkshake after,
Battersea funfair, six shillings in my pocket to spend on rides.
I am from always missing him.

I’m from Petticoat and Panstick,
hiding in changing rooms on netball days
and losing your virginity to Tampax.

I am from the Christmas crib, an angel
suspended by elastic from the stable top,
Joseph and Mary looking down,
Jesus on a manger, naked,
a golden ring around his head,
and a donkey who stands and waits
and sees everything.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Inner Space

I am not speaking interior design. Or perhaps I am. I am trying to rearrange things a little, beginning from within. Hopefully this will manifest on the outside in due course. I love those words: in due course. They are business words that allow you to slither out of any real commitment to something actually happening. It may happen that things change if I keep practising The Process. I am practising. At the moment I cannot tell, nor do I want to say anything that isn’t neutral in case I am misleading, either way, to anyone who may be looking in, hopeful. There is reason to hope. There is reason to be cautious. These two are not in opposition.

I am thinking about last year and how things went quite off course after I got Shingles less than half way through. I think it took me the rest of the year to recover, and still I feel a vague tingling every so often, down one side of my head, a shadowy reminder. Without this, I may well have been back teaching classes again, according to my original plan. Much as I liked the work, this would not have been the right thing to do so maybe I have Shingles to thank for that. But I do not thank it for interfering with my writing projects and I need a period of re-dedication and, simply, a bit of basic structure in place. I sometimes think that it will take me the whole of my life to organise my life so as to live it properly.

I see that Ms Melancholy is back after apparently spending three months tidying her room. I can quite understand how this can happen and can only congratulate someone who is able to stand back after however long a period and say, yes: now it’s done and I can get on with other things. Tidiness and I have never been close friends. Oh, I have courted her but she will not take up residence with me. If she had, I would be like my sister who, when asked how she kept things so neat, looked surprised and said that she just found a place for everything and then kept it there. It is true that there is a beauty in order, but without it one can also find other ways. Keeping things simple is one and cutting down on possessions is another. I do not have many things and intend to keep it that way. The old house, my small cottage, is happy with this as it allows her to reveal herself most substantially. It is perhaps good we did not sell her last year, as planned (though St. Joseph is still buried upside down at the front of the house and I really should attend to this). The time was not auspicious and it feels right to be here rather than elsewhere, for now.

I have had my second pretend latte of the day – sometimes I like this more than the real thing. For breakfast I have had a packet of Twiglets. There are things to be seen to. As son is at university, I am sitting in his room (which has the best view) at my laptop because the computer in the study (which has the second best view) has “sticky” keys. Someone, not me, must sort this out and meanwhile laptop will do, even though most of my stuff is on the computer. A clear day ahead: write; read; rest; friend coming later for tea; braised lamb shanks for supper.

Oh happy day.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Words in Limbo

I have composed a number of blog posts in the last few days. You will never see them, though, because they were not written down. What happens to unwritten blog posts is the same as what happens to unwritten poems and stories: they hang around and you breathe in the essence of them and then they evaporate, dissipate, do whatever it is that smoke does when it goes. And then they go to a place that we will call Limbo. I like Jack Kerouac's notion that only first drafts are preserved in heaven. But words that do not make it to first draft must also surely go somewhere, and Limbo is the very place for them, for they have been conceived but are not yet born. I will come face to face with them, I have no doubt, when I have shuffled of this mortal coil and am on my way to meet Saint Peter face to face at the gates of heaven. It pains me to have to say this to you Signs, he will say, but there are a few matters outstanding for you to attend to before we can even begin to consider your application. I will know at once that he is referring to the unwritten stories, poems, blog posts, words that are waiting for me to give them form and substance.
But Saint Peter, I will say with outstretched palms, I have done my best, I just got tired.
That's as may be, he'll reply, but rules is rules, and it's more than my job's worth etc. etc. (you can imagine the rest).

Dear Reader, pray for my immortal soul, now and at the hour of the blog post's conception, that I do not lay up a pile of trouble for myself in the hereafter.

(and Saint Peter, if you are listening: two poems in one week - and I mean words on paper - has got to be worth a few gold stars).

Monday, January 14, 2008

another blue day

There was a poem by Thomas Carlyle that was forever being trotted out when I was at primary school. Actually, it was only the first two lines of the poem that were trotted out, usually in assembly while we were sitting cross-legged on the floor that served as hall, dining room and gym, by the headmaster, as part of a speech exhorting us to be good and useful citizens.

“So here hath been dawning another blue day;
Think, wilt thou let it slip useless away?”

I can still smell the cabbage that the dinner ladies were cooking up with dead man’s leg and frog spawn. That’s beef stew and tapioca, for those unfamiliar with school dinners of the 1960s. Yes, those were the days when cabbage had to be cooked until it was thoroughly denatured before it was deemed fit to serve up. I didn’t like cabbage, and I didn’t like that poem. My soul’s answer to the question, if I could have formulated one, would have been: yes, I might well let it slip away, and what’s it to you? The lines come back every so often to mock me, but I am a grown-up now and can do what I want. Not strictly true (see profile), but I can at least stick two fingers up at the Blue Day brigade, if there were any around, who want to tell me how useless I am being unless I am living life their way. They also serve who lie and stare at ceiling cracks. I mean to say.

I thank my lucky stars that I have never been one of those who suffer in the dark months because of lack of daylight. I meet many who do, in varying degrees; it must be horrible and thank goodness for light boxes. Quite often, in winter, on bad days when it takes a very long time for me to incarnate into the day, I don’t really see more than a couple of hours of real day light, which for me is ok. I like daylight, but electric light and candles are fine by me too. But this is the thing: I think the dark months, for me, are actually easier than summer because they seem to ask less of me. It is all very well slipping back under the quilt in the afternoon when it is already twilight, but the hours and hours of perfect daylight do, if I’m to be honest, screech the lines of Thomas Carlyle at me, and then I’m back with the cabbage and a vague, uneasy sense of having been guilty of waste and negligence.

It’s the same with weather. Though I do love a clear and sparkling day, I would rather it were a cold one that I can wrap up against, and I love the feeling in the air that real cold brings – the clean, pure sense of possibility and grace. When others are drinking in the heat and sun, I am sheltering from it, feeling myself to be the only one in the whole world who is not out partying on the beach.

Er – today I have been up for only a few hours, but the day was not blue. It has slipped rather, though. And Mr. Signs has been up with the light, battling it out, feeling knackered and post-viral. Not good. But he’ll be working from home for the rest of the week, and I’ll be seeing my LP person again tomorrow – having another stab at it.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Seeing Green

I am having a few problems with The Signs. We have finally got round to doing the new year I Ching. His was quite upbeat and seems to indicate good times just around the corner, whereas mine placed me – again – on the edge of things. Retreat, it indicates, and not for the first time, seems to be the only course of action possible. We’ll see about that. At the moment, though, I can’t really challenge that one too much as I am riddled from head to toe with Symptoms. And also, to boot, someone went into the back of my car last night and has broken one of the rear lights - this on the very same day I got it serviced and the front lights fixed.

Fortunately I have another card up my sleeve:

I say fortunate, but actually it took a sign-reading friend to point out the colour of the sky, the not unattractive place in the distance and the green that is even now sprouting from the wands that appear to be blocking the path ahead.

And also, to boot: I have written a poem and have another one brewing; and this, whichever way you read it, is a very good sign.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

How Things are in January

The Christmas tree is lying on its side by the bins. It has a gold ribbon still tied to one of the branches and it waits for me. Do something good with me, it says, don’t let me go this way. I say it must wait. Everything must, I am sorry, but there it is again. And January, of course, which brings renewal or things breaking down, depending on how you look at it. The car lights need fixing, the computer is malfunctioning, the boiler needs replacing, someone has tried to access my online bank account, I have been overcharged on my mobile phone. And all around the little house is stuff – piles of it, or so it seems when one is able only to lie on the sofa or bed and look at it.

Oh wash me, say the sheets that appeared as though by magic from an overlooked laundry bag – son’s laundry bag – yesterday, just prior to his going back to Oxford. Oh recycle me says the army of empty bottles, ditto and gather me, say the newspapers that are everywhere in grumbling piles. Attend to me, says the rusted gate fallen from its hinges, and the room that needs a damp course is quite beside itself, neglected as it has been.

Be quiet, I say, I am doing my best which, at this particular moment, may be nothing at all, but it is my best.

Oh write me, says the novel, compose me, cry the poems, give voice to us, the words all shout, falling over one another in the attempt to be heard. And Live me, says the life that is pressing against the window; an astonishment of blue, a clear , cold winter’s day. Let me bite you, it says.

Yes yes, my darlings. Soon. I promise.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Bugs and Gratitudes

Yesterday I drove through sleet and snow to the supermarket for chicken wings and tiger prawns, lemon grass, coriander, limes and what-all else in order to make the best hot sour soup ever. I made stock with the chicken wings while Mr. Signs inhaled essence of thyme and eucalyptus and I didn’t get further than that. We both have bad colds (his with sore throat and cough,) and the situation is unusual in that he does not as a rule get ill and I do not get proper colds. You might think that this is not part of the vanilla picture I forsaw in the previous post, but we were ill then too, and so is almost everyone in my village, if reports are to be believed, with sickness and/or cold viruses that do not shift. For people who are not used to lingering malaise, it can be scary when things like this go on for more than ten days or so. For me it is more of the same: waiting for the chink of possibility. It has not been realistic to hope to apply the Process in any meaningful way but I hope to get back on track with a couple of follow-up sessions once the bugs have gone.

Meanwhile, after reading Ms Baroque's new year post, I have been considering writing a list of things I am grateful for. Time was I couldn’t bear doing things like that but have to grudgingly admit that there are benefits, because look at it this way: things are only as crap as you think they are. Well, we don’t need to go into that one too deeply, but what I always say is - when in doubt there is always chocolate, and I will begin with this.

I am grateful for Chocolat Noir by Pierre Marcolini. I was given a slab of this by my youngest brother for Christmas. He said that eating it was “like having sex”, but I say it’s the only dark chocolate I have eaten in any quantity that has not given me migrainey headache. It is exquisite and reassuringly expensive. And I am grateful for my brother

I am grateful for my new peppermint-green iPod Nano – well at any rate I love the idea of it, even though I tried walking around the supermarket yesterday, with Badly Drawn Boy crooning into my ears, but only lasted a few minutes as I became disorientated when contemplating Sainsbury’s Basic chicken wings (yes, I prefer free range but they were the only ones to be had). The thing is it comes with two sets of speakers and may well be significant in bringing music back into my life. And I am grateful for Him Outdoors who gave it to me.

I am grateful for the installation of iTunes on my computer and the music that has been put there (and on iPod) by Son of Signs, as part of Christmas present. And I am grateful for Son.

I am grateful for the twisty metal necklace and blue gifts I received from Daughter of Signs – a marble egg, opium incense cones and a feather quill (Cusp? It’s like Poesie’s quill). And I am grateful for Daughter.

I am grateful for my cat. She is, it must be said, becoming more eccentric with the passing years, preferring to drink directly from the water filter tap than from her bowl, and nesting on the plastic draining board by the sink at inconvenient times. But we favour each other with constant regard and she is my familiar, as I am hers.

I am grateful for my old style lightbulbs (see recent Guardian article by Lionel Shriver) the quality of light that comes from them, and the reassuring circle of light cast by my old anglepoise lamp. I have mentioned dear anglepoise before and will again no doubt, because there are no such lamps to be bought now. When everything else is bleak and riddled with doubt, the circle of light is good and large enough for me to be alive in.

I am grateful that 2007 is over and the new year has begun. No particulars, but it was too hard and I am not Polyanna.

With or without the lightning or the lightening, I want to spread wings; freewheel a little.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

To Boldly Go

I am not yet able to divulge the signs for Signs because I haven’t got round to doing the new year I-Ching. I sense, however, that they will be auspicious. Intuition tells me so and this, it seems, is down to my having a predominantly “feminine” brain. Him Outdoors has got a book called something like “why men don’t listen and women can’t read maps”and the multiple-choice quiz thing has revealed this piece of wisdom. What it can’t tell me, thank goodness, is why I feel as I do at new year – that I can pick up in the ether, as it were, something about what might be coming to me in the year ahead. It isn’t so much about good or bad; more a kind of flavour that I can (imaginatively) taste. So I say that the year ahead is auspicious, but quietly so. A vanilla custard rather than a spiced beef in red wine followed by death- by- chocolate. Please do not have issues about the word vanilla, it is a taste I like very much and a vanilla year will be quite acceptable. It is wonderful, this faculty – an inner alethiometer that reveals the truth about things. You will have to see The Golden Compass to know what an alethiometer is. Better still, read Philip Pullman's Northern Lights (the film was predictably an edited highlights version of the story). Even so, I have begun the year with a fast-developing head-cold, but nothing bad enough to dampen the vanilla-scented flame of optimism that burns exquisite mellow in my sentient soul. If I sound a little unhinged, put it down to that, I won’t mind.

I began this blog a year ago exactly. One of the reasons for beginning it was for regular writing practice and another was because there were blogs I was enjoying and I felt like joining in. On reflection, I think that blogging is good for blogging rather than anything else and I did ask myself at one point whether it might be better to stop. But I like it so I won’t. Most people I meet (unless they are bloggers) are very sniffy about this activity of ours, and it seems, dear blogfriends, that we have been getting rather a lot of bad press. But we don’t care, do we? I should coco!

On we go, best feet forward. Our Mission: to boldly go where no sniffy blogsnob has been or is likely to venture. Be seeing you.