Monday, July 28, 2008

meanwhile, back at the ranch -

So now that Last Minute are out of the game, Son will be able to go to Edinburgh with jazz a cappella group and do his stuff there. Actually, he was determined to do this anyway, even if Last Minute had got through the next few rounds, but there would have been difficulties. I am worried about Daughter who fainted during rehearsals yesterday. She has taken on a demanding project, both directing and performing something she has written, and the dance element is very strenuous. She is ok now, but is clearly overdoing it and advice to take it easy and slow down just isn’t realistic. I say it anyway. The first performance is on Wednesday, after which things should ease up a little (yeah, right).

Here at Signs Cottage I am doing battle with my old friend M.E., engaged in mortal combat, clasped in its deadly embrace. I am trying to think of new, fresh ways to describe it. Passionate lover came to mind, but brought up the old Stalker image, and we have been there. Something from the Song of Solomon comes to me:

Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.

Yes, the strength and persistence of the fellow is overwhelming, he loves me ferociously, and grand passion, as we know, does have something of the religious about it. Even if the love is unrequited, one cannot help but stand back in awe, and there are moments when the inclination to submit is overwhelming. Submit in one’s soul, I mean, for one can’t help but give in at a physical level. I have more or less given up on the idea that one can think or Process one’s way out of this, but have to accept that occasionally this works well in the sense of giving the temporary illusion that things are “on track” and better, and these moments I do not despise. The problem with treading the path of Shrinkhood, the psyochoanalytic real deal, is that the aim is to come home to oneself – touch base. It has occurred to me that I must be mad to do this and really, between that and M.E. it does sometimes feel as though the rest of me might just go up in a puff of smoke. The pilgrim’s path was ever thus. I think I should have a medal for this, or at least a badge.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Last Minute

I had a phone call a couple of days ago from the bastard apartment agency in Edinburgh who gave us the wrong (77 steps up) apartment last year when we went to the Festival. Perhaps I was being stupid to think that it might be ok this time round: they did eventually, after some heated negotiation, offer compensation in the form of a reduction in price when we booked another apartment for this year. It was where I needed to be, in the centre of things so I could come and go with relative ease. They went one better this time round and, with two weeks to go, told us that some “corporate” people had decided they needed the apartment and we could have alternative accommodation somewhere at the other end of town, or almost out of it. We’ve taken our money back and, amazingly (through the Scottish Tourist Board), found somewhere else – nicer and half the price, without the sleazy “luxury” element that is supposed to be what we all want, in fact when we booked in January we couldn’t actually find anything that didn’t look as though it was hijacked from the set of Startrek, but with polished wooden floors. I used to like wooden floors, but I am beginning to associate them with “luxury” apartments. So all is well, except that we never did get our compensation from the agency, and they are carrying on their nasty business as usual because no-one has the time or energy to do anything about it.

Daughter of Signs is up there already with thirteen others, creating the space in which they are going to perform what I think will be an extraordinary show which she has written, is co-directing and performing in. I can’t wait to see it.

Son is in France on a small tour with a youth orchestra, playing cello. But he will be on the telly tomorrow in Last Choir Standing. His group is called Last Minute (he's the one accompanying the soloist on "If I ain't got you"), and they’ll be singing two songs. Son is the second soloist in “It’s My Life”. Can’t tell you if they got through or not because that would be telling. But I can reveal that spending a day in the BBC studio was – how can I describe it? After we had all (hundreds of us) been security checked, colour-coded with wristbands and herded into the foyer to wait, it felt like an airport lounge when the plane has been delayed. Then when we were finally got into the studio itself it felt like a kids party that went on and on but you weren’t allowed to go to the loo when you wanted and the only sustenance was a two-bar Kitkat and a small carton of orange juice. And there was some kind of all-purpose entertainer/comedian there to get us all in the mood for the hooting and clapping that we had to do. Not meaning to sound like a miserable git, but it was very hard work. On the other hand, it was lovely to see the boy do his stuff and lovely to see the singers who gave the whole thing their best shot. The studio looks very glitzy on the screen, but it’s all very sweetly makeshift and a bit wobbly.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Houseguest from Oz

I am saying this in a whisper while he is asleep: Ms Pants’s hybrid owly cat Creature, Barney, has arrived at my house and is causing mayhem. I thought she was joking when she said he’d be arriving at Gatwick today heading for my house, and even if she wasn’t he would surely be held in detention for flouting quarantine regulations. But it seems he got through by pretending to be someone’s stuffed toy. I had to pay the very irate minicab driver who complained that Barney had made a mess of the newly upholstered back seat as he polished off the remnants of a smoked salmon and crab terrine he had filched from the aeroplane while the steward’s back was turned. In the few hours he has been here he has managed to down the best part of a bottle of premium quality Polonaise vodka that Mr. Signs was saving for sex-on-the-beach cocktails and more than half a bag of frozen IKEA meatballs and the rest of the lingonberry preserves. When I asked how long he was thinking of staying here he just shrugged and said Pants had bought him a one-way ticket.

The cat is upstairs underneath our bed and refuses to come out until we give her assurance that Barney is off the premises. If all else fails we will have to coax him into the garden studio and lock him in while we think of what to do. I’m considering reporting him to the authorities as an illegal asylum seeker, but I don’t think they would buy it as Pants actually got him out of the UK illegally, and he speaks perfect English – when he wants to, that is. He is something of a poseur and slips into this faux gangsta-style drawl at the drop of a hat, but clearly he doesn’t have the vocabulary. Seeing a packet of blue Rizla on the kitchen table (from when my daughter was here, she smokes roll-ups), he asked if he could score a couple of “straights.” Who has been teaching him this stuff? Obviously I have my suspicions.

Meanwhile, Daughter of Signs is heading north to Edinburgh, where she will be until end of August a-putting on and performing in her show. I got a text from her today saying that the bad news was she had missed the train (which meant shelling out £40 more to catch a later one), and she managed to do this in spite of having been at the station an hour early. But the good news was that she had bought some notebooks and had begun writing a novel. There is something so quintessentially Daughter of Signs about this that I cannot help but smile – even though this is bound to leave her rather short of money.

I think I can hear Barney waking up, or perhaps he is talking in his sleep. It sounded like “Budweiser.” I don’t know what I’m going to tell Mr. Signs when he gets home.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Bonding and Restoration

He was so close I could feel his breath on my face. He looked deep into my eyes and said, trust me – I know what I’m doing. His hands were gentle and skillful as he moved with purposeful intent. I lay back, closed my eyes, inhaled deeply and did not think of England. Oh! I said, and ah!

I am talking dentistry. I am talking restoration of chipped front teeth, and the new method of slapping on some bonding material over the originals to make them look even again. I am talking a lot of money but not as much as if I’d gone all the way and had proper “porcelains” done in the laboratory. To be honest, I did not care overly about the appearance of my front teeth, they were wonky but had been like that for so long that it was just one of those things – how I looked, and I’m English, for goodness sake, everyone knows about our teeth and orthodontics, or lack of. But my dentist maintained that this was not merely a cosmetic exercise for I was grinding them down (when? In my sleep?) to the point where my Bite (he has a thing about this) would be affected, and if your Bite is affected then all hell is let loose in the form of migraines, mandibular dysfunction, postural misalignments and I don’t know what, and my dentist is one of those who doesn’t let an idea drop. And I am dependent on him because of the precarious state of my back teeth, those that are left and have not gone the way of tooth fairy, and no other dentist will touch me with a barge pole, and those that do wear cowboy hats and do terrible things with ghastly consequences. So this one is my Main Man and in the end I do what he says, or at least enough of what he says to keep his good will. We need a few Sessions, he says, to get it right. Relax - you’ll thank me for it in the end, they all do. It’s as close to a Mills and Boon romance as I will ever get, so I should try to enjoy it, and even as I say this, my face is covered with a delicate dusting of grainy powder from the fine polishing after another Bonding session.

Tomorrow Mr. Signs and I go to the BBC Centre in White City to watch some of the finals of Last Choir Standing, in which Son of Signs will be singing with Last Minute, the group that was formed for this purpose. It won’t be shown until Saturday 26th July when there will also be some footage of him and the other lads in Oxford, acting Naturally. There will be five groups and we will apparently be in the studio for six hours. I can’t quite get my head around how I will cope with this, but Mr. Signs will be driving us, and I will be bringing my friend, co-proxamol.

Daughter of Signs has got an upper second for her degree in Performance Arts and is off to Edinburgh next week to prepare for the putting on of her show (of which more anon) for her fringe festival show.

Life, being what it is, nothing is ever as straightforwardly easy as it looks but with both kids working flat out at several projects, I cannot help but ask myself again: where did we go right?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Not a lot to say. Or, perhaps, too much of the unsayable. One’s beloved offspring are busy, busy with creative projects (good), dealing with the slings and arrows that life inevitably throws (necessary) and fielding the rogue bastard elements that snake their way into the garden that is the sphere in which they live and have their being (ouch). Not to mention that one particular offspring’s group has got through to the next stage of a certain televised competition but the powers that be did not feature them at all, probably on account of their not providing enough televisual material in the way of weeping and hand-wringing (just as well, all considered, but disappointing for them).

I have M.E. Did I mention this? Yes, well I’ve had to mention it a couple of times recently in the context of Shrink sessions on account of him being a bit, shall we say, ignorant about it all, and following a conversation that went something like:
Signs: Do you actually believe in M.E. – you don’t do you?
Shrink: I don’t know.
Signs: Fuck.
But to his credit, he has been prepared to read stuff downloaded from the wonderful Hummingbirds site (on my sidebar) and taken it on board.
"I want to know what it means to you," says Shrink. I have given the short and the long answer. I could, I suppose, say – as some reality TV contestants are fond of doing – that it Means Everything. But strike me down with a sledgehammer if I do.

I am missing the services of the person who usually comes each week to vacuum the carpets, clean the kitchen/bathroom floors and change bed linen. She has gone away until September and it felt like too much hassle to try and find someone temporary to take her place. Lugging a vacuum cleaner up and down the steep and narrow stairs of Signs Cottage is out of the question, changing bed linen and cleaning kitchen floor are both difficult but possible if I choose the right moment. So Mr. Signs does the first and of course there is the option of allowing standards to slip a little, or a lot, here and there. It would make me happy for the house to be clean, but happier still to have written a new poem or story.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Field of My Own

Rose Flint recently won first prize in the Academi Cardiff International Poetry Competition for her poem The Field. It is a big £5,000 whopper of a prize, and good luck to her, for poets get little enough in the way of money for the work they do; nor would most poets say they do it for financial gain, and if they did they would, let’s face it, need their heads examined. And of course, what stands behind the one poem is years and years of practice and application to the art and craft of poetry-making. I have to say, though, that I am astonished that a poem like this was the outright winner – and delighted; because I never imagined that what is, on the face of it, a simple “List” poem, would be picked as a competition winner. I say it is a simple List poem but it works, of course, on many levels, is beautifully made, powerful in its simplicity. I met her once and we had lunch together when she came to give a reading here, and I had the unusual (for me) experience of feeling the hairs on my neck stand up as she read. Not all poets are able to deliver their work in such a way as to make the hearer feel that they stand in and by their words, or that the poem is, in a sense, in the process of being created afresh as it is uttered, but she was such a one.

So anyway – fields:

Me, with my ambivalent relationship to the natural world, I’d want the field to grow anything at all that isn’t ugly or toxic. But poisonous Nightshade will do, the birds know it for what it is and stay clear of it, and the red is pretty. Or just weeds will do, those sticky, spiky, tangled things that no-one wants in the garden, I don’t mind. Just anything at all that has the push of life in it, a dandelion or two, and grass. Yes, I want the field to have green grass and some of the feathered varieties of wild grasses; wild flowers, tame flowers, yellow flowers that grow on the gorse bush all year long and smell of sweet marzipan, the reeking white dandruff petals of cow parsley, the bastard Spanish bluebell that isn’t really blue and is to the English bluebell what the grey squirrel is to the red, but I’ll have it anyway.

So the field will be a bit on the wild side and people will say it needs weeding or ask what I’m planning to do with it. I’ll shrug and say it is as it is, my field, so long as things grow and it’s not just dry, cracked earth or a swamp of mud where people come and tip their waste and dump the old sofa with the rip down one side of it or the bed with the broken spring. I want the field to be private and by invitation only, with a small sign just visible on a post that says Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted. I do not want the field to be a free-for-all with scavengers raiding the fruit trees and breaking the heads off buttercups and celandines. I want the field to be left in peace until people have learned how to behave themselves.

I want robins and a tree where they can nest and feel safe from anything that might come in and creep on the ground because I want a fox as well, and fox cubs catching the light in their extraordinary tails, and I want a half-wild tabby cat to come, but not often enough to disturb the robins, and if there is a field mouse or shrew in the field then the cat can eat them because that is the way of things and I want the field to be a place where the way of things has place, to some extent, but what I say goes, obviously. So it won’t be entirely natural or red in tooth and claw, but it will have its own vitality.

I want the field to be a good place for me to sit with a rough woollen blanket in the grass, eating a picnic of watercress sandwiches and drinking from a bottle of fresh lemonade, or reading from a book of poems – old Scottish border ballads (O whaur hae ye been, Lord Randal my son?) or Robert Frost (for I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep).

And I beg your pardon: I never promised you a rose garden.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Time Will Tell

The truth of the matter is that I am not a Tardis-flying, sonic screwdriver-wielding, Dalek-conquering Time Lordesse. I am a mother who worries about her son being in Israel (having extended his ticket) without mobile phone connection. I am many other things also, but at the moment I am primarily that. And please do not tell me that everything will be all right. I know this, but the primitive being that is my Core Belief system will have none of it.

The funny thing is I’ll be seeing him on the telly tomorrow night, just after we and the rest of the universe finds out whether The Doctor is really dying and regenerating into Robert Carlyle or whether it has all been a cynical ruse to bump up the ratings. Well the latter we should, perhaps, take as read though I don’t like to dwell on such things. Anyway, it is all over the news, for goodness sake. But as I said, Son of Signs will be on the telly* – singing with one of the (pre-recorded) groups that got through into the next round of Last Choir Standing. Not allowed to tell you which one though.

* - though as it's the first one, there's a chance that his group won't be in it yet.