Tuesday, December 30, 2008

All Clawed Out (or begin as you mean to go on)

I have just had a rather hideous experience with a lobster. The only good thing about it is that it has given me the way in to putting up another post for to tell the truth I was sitting here facing the blank screen, as one does, and wondering what to tell you. That I have pigged out on chocolate, turkey, stuffing (home-made) and more chocolate, and acquired a brand new spare tyre, isn’t exactly cutting edge is it, dear reader? And cutting edge you deserve to have and shall have when I tell you about the lobster. Mr. Signs, may the grace of heaven shine upon his head, took it upon himself to venture into a branch of Lidl’s and, upon seeing frozen lobster going at a fiver a beast, purchased three of them for us and Son to get our teeth into post Christmas – just in case we got bored or something (I’m assuming here, for the workings of Mr. Signs’s mind and his not inconsiderable intelligence is a mystery to me when married with supermarket shopping). It took all day to defrost the poor bastards and we were pretty hungry by the time they had been boiled in the fish kettle. This only took five minutes as they were already cooked. I made my special pretend home-made mayonnaise (Hellmans, English mustard and loads of olive oil) and then we got to work with kitchen scissors, nut crackers and corn-on-the-cob holders. It was heavy work and lobster juice sprayed all over our clothes. The lobster kept staring at me while I tried to chew on the tough white insides I had prized from its shell and at the sight of all the coloured stuff and grey mush inside its head I gave up. Cat of Signs became completely feral and wouldn’t be shooed away from climbing on the table and getting stuck in. It was all so visceral and I feel like becoming a vegetarian. I’m just glad we didn’t save it up as a special treat for our Visitor who is due to arrive the day after tomorrow.

But now that I’ve begun with food I may as well continue. Here is a pome what I wrote a few Christmasses ago. Bear in mind that the narrator is a “supposed self”, so not me, though give me time and it may be. And it’s a bloke (don’t know why, it just is).

The twelve days

On the first day I’ll kill the bird,
wring its neck, pluck the feathers,
take the gizzards out and boil them up,
chop the liver, give it to the cats,
and the lucky heart – I’ll eat that
just in case.

On the second day I’ll stuff the bird
with sausage and mashed up chestnuts,
shove it under the skin of the breast.

On the third day I’ll cook the bird
with all the trimmings – bacon strips
and baby sausages, roast potatoes,
Brussels, peas and carrots, giblet gravy,
pull a cracker, wear the hat
to please myself.

On the fourth day I’ll have it cold
in slices with ham, tomato, salad cream.
Like it or lump it.

On the fifth day I’ll have it chopped
and thrown into a sauce of curry powder,
flour, tomato paste and water. I like it
the English way.

On the sixth day I’ll have it frittered
with the resurrected greens, fetch the
old spuds, pepper and salt, watch it
bubble and squeak.

On the seventh day I’ll give the old bird a rest.

On the eighth day I’ll have it sandwiched,
wrapped in foil, by the banks of a canal,
watch the boats and barges, see if I
can spot a water rat, I like
my own company.

On the ninth day I’ll boil the carcass,
let it simmer till the old house reeks of it,
a tribute to the bird who gave it up for me,
whose life I took if we’re to call a spade a spade,
which I like to do.

On the tenth day I’ll make the soup,
trim the leeks, cut them lengthways,
wash out all the grit, scrape the carrots,
peel the parsnips, finely shave the strings
from sticks of celery, chop the lot and
boil it in bird broth, eat it with hunks of
bread and salty butter.

On the eleventh day, the bird gone,
I’ll get the pudding, slice it up
and fry it with a scrap of bacon, feel it
stick to my sides, a bit of insulation
against the cold.

On the twelfth day I’ll get my gun.
Begin as you
mean to go on.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Comes

I still believe in him.
and the star proves it.
Happy Christmas to everyone.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Icemaiden Cometh

I would like to say that I am looking forward to Christmas and not planning to top myself. Just thought that needed spelling out in case anyone got the wrong end of the stick after my last post. Desolation angel is only one of my personas. Personae. I don’t know who I am most of the time so no reason why you should.

I would also like to say that Mr. Signs and I have spent a ghastly day at the Croydon IKEA. Of course they never have the exact (or even approximate) thing that you really want: settee covers no longer available because settee in question is no longer made; lamps are still from the planet Zob, in fact I think that they are all extra terrestrials cleverly disguised as lamps and I fully expected The Doctor (Christmas Day, oh yesss!) to come charging through the IKEAn maze hotly pursued by an office chair. That was on the list too, but we couldn’t find one that felt comfortable and they were expensive. Mr. Signs lost his mobile phone while trying out various mattresses (this was the main purpose of the expedition, to replace the broken one on son’s bed). We found it handed in at customer services, but not before we had scurried around the place like headless chickens looking for it. We had our usual consolation prize meal of meatballs and chips with lingonberries and beige gravy and I stocked up on more of the same to put in the freezer so we can play IKEA back in Signs Cottage. The gravy comes in packets, one mixes it with water and cream and it is weirdly delicious if one doesn’t look at the small print and find out what is in it.

And I would also like to say that I am looking forward to a visit from The Icemaiden herself who is due to arrive chez Signs on the first day of next year – not long to wait now, yippee! We will of course have a very interesting time of it when trying to communicate because, as everyone should know by now she actually speaks by making strange, unintelligible (to the uninitiated) seal sounds, and she uses a special instant translation facility when coming to talk to us on Blogger, but we have an empathetic connection and can always wave our arms around so all will be well. I will be asking her to bring some proper Finnish snow and a real, live penguin – hoping this won’t cause problems at customs.

But first we have Christmas and a steady trickle of relatives, half-relatives, ex-step siblings and sundry others to cater for in the postage stamp of a kitchen with two tables pushed together and the collapsible garden chairs brought in so we can all sit and get stuffed. Stuffing I have not yet made, nor the bread pudding, nor anything else other than a few sorry-looking spelt (sugar-free) mince pies and some gingerbread mixture that went wrong (but I got some nice ready-made heart-shaped things at IKEA to hang on the tree). No, everything has to be got ready tomorrow – tree, marathon shop at supermarket, getting crib set, lights and other paraphernalia down from the loft. Not to mention taking son’s friend to the airport so he can get back to the States for Christmas Eve. And the bed linen must be changed so daughter can sleep on fresh sheets (also new from IKEA). And the place is a mess. But Son of Signs has asked if he can cook the dinner on Christmas day and I have said yes please. And the angels and elemental beings will (have to) come and sort everything else out.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


A friend brought the image to me after a trip to the British Museum. It is early Bronze Age, from the Cyclades, about 26,000–24,000 BC, used (perhaps) as part of a ritual, before accompanying the owner to the grave.

I have been considering her. The arms are folded across the abdomen. There is a triangular space to mark where the genitals should be. Her feet point down but her breasts are neat and pert. Her facial features are blank, apart from a prominent and straight nose.

It is as though she has been stripped of the faculty of sight and speech, but the nose tells us that this is the representation of a human face. Human and yet not. It is everywoman and no woman. I come back to the breasts, which seem to be the most alive things on her, and one is different from the other, they are not in symmetrical relationship, and they have nipples – soft, pert, significant nipples that a baby might close its mouth on, or a lover might kiss or cover with his hand. The arms cover what one might call the heart chakra.

Apart from the breasts, everything has been laid to rest, stripped of its distinctiveness. It is of course distinctive. It is what I might have expected to hold in my hand after death, a magical spirit doll that would speak for me with her blank, unperishable marble-pristine silence.

In the absence of us, there is rock, stone and crystal, what we cut from the earth when all else falls into it, becomes ashes and dust.

I have nothing but a crystal heart to hold for my father’s once-living presence. I have a grey heart made of stone, a circle cut to make a candle-holder, a Christmas gift for my mother. We are all lost.

We live in a condition of perpetual lostness – features and distinguishing marks fall away or change so as to make us unrecognisable, our names also worn away, made undecipherable.

I have recently thought (a fleeting moment of illumination) that the life in me is more important than I am, more substantially me than the outer husk of body, or even personality and character; that the life in me is perpetually found, evolving, in process.

When I die I would prefer to go empty-handed.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

No, Honestly

Son of Signs is home again, and so it feels as though Christmas is coming soon. I have not set foot inside a shopping mall and barely dipped my toe inside a supermarket, being lucky to live in a village that has proper shops, a butcher, a baker, a candlestick-maker, not to mention a Tesco Express and a Co-op. Blessed.

I have been bestowed this
and been tagged by dear Kahless to write “ten honest things” about myself. My first thought was that I could pass it straight on to Cat of Signs, but she is a little preoccupied what with Son coming home, and the business of jumping in and out of his red suitcase with the air of a creature who is testing out a hypothesis of some kind. I never enquire too closely, it’s best that way. So ten honest things, and I’m assuming you don’t want to know about my favourite colour or what brand of washing powder I use. You want the nitty gritty:

I used to steal things at school just to see if I could.
I have never had casual sex.
My first best friend was called Jane and she was a bad girl - I wanted to be like her but the closest I got was stealing things.
I used to want to be a social worker, but no college would have me.
Just as well.
I recently spotted an ex-lover in a short film on someone’s blog.
John Osborne said that cold-heartedness disarmed him. I feel the same.
I appreciate nice people. I think nice is underrated.
Last year I did the Lightning Process because of M.E. It didn’t work.
I can’t think of anything else that I would like to identify - oh yes: my middle name is Susan.

But lovely Cusp has sent me a gift. It is a pouch full of magic, talismanic things, a Happiness Kit, and I will have a use for all of them.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Cat of Signs

I think she is also me, a me/she, but she has no fur and I never see her lick herself to wash. When she eats I feel it in my stomach as a purr, particularly if it is a dish of vanilla ice cream, of which we are particularly fond. To witness small lumps of it move from the china dish to her mouth by means of a silver spoon is exquisite delight. And sometimes it is then I think I love her without reserve; and sometimes I think we are simply the same creature. She leaves the dish for me to lick clean.

She spends even more time lying on the bed than I do. I have noticed. The other one gets up while it is still dark and leaves the house but she stays sleeping, sometimes lifting her head to say something to me. She says, hello baby or hey, and sometimes she says oh or no. I come close to her face and sniff. It is almost my own body but a little sweeter if she has had a bath and covered herself with lavender oil. Sometimes she gets up in the middle of the night (the other one never does). She walks from room to room, restless for water, or I feel a need to pee and so she goes to have a pee and I put my head around the door which she always leaves open, and I watch her. And sometimes we don’t sleep. I keep her company on the night watch for a while, but I would rather be sleeping so mostly I carry on doing that while she goes on being awake and rummaging in the shoe box where she keeps all her white pills.

I help her with her work. The work I like best is when she stands by her wooden board with a knife in her hand and begins to chop carrots to put in a stew, or when she rubs yellow oil all over the smooth skin of a chicken before it roasts golden in the oven and fills our house with its rich body perfume that makes me think of birds. And I like the work where she writes words into a big book with a metal spiral down the spine. I jump onto the table and walk across the page, bring my bottom close to her face so she knows I am with her. But mostly she has been lying in the bed, which I like, but just sometimes it makes me lonely and then it is the same as when I am all by myself in the house for a very long time with her and him gone from me and just the feeling of some part of me missing. I like it when she opens her eyes.

One of my best times is when he points the black thing with buttons at the moving picture box and we sit watching men running around a field while someone kicks a ball, and she sits in the little room across the landing by the word box, tapping her fingers on letter buttons saying, can you turn the volume down when there is too much cheering from the crowd of people in the picture box.

I like it when they plant a tree in the sitting room and put candles and small shiny things on it, and underneath the tree there is a tiny house with just one room that is filled with animals, a woman dressed in blue, a man in brown and a baby lying in some straw. On top of the house, at the front, there is someone with wings blowing a trumpet and she is fixed to it with an elastic band.

Elastic bands are one of my favourite things. I also like pieces of wire, pom poms and balls of wool but you can’t chase them as much as elastic bands.

I can’t think of anything else to say, so she can stop tapping now. There is a piece of fish lying in the kitchen and I am thinking about it. Interested.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


I am lagging behind a bit – with everything really. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, reader, so I know where I’m heading. If intentions had been converted into effective action I could have (in random order):

spruced up the old house and had everything ship-shape in time for the “festive season” – but who needs a clean and tidy house to eat cake and Lebkuchen is what you are saying to yourselves, right?

written the first draft of a novel. Is it my fault that the characters started to behave like teenagers who had been press-ganged into having Sunday tea at auntie Mildred’s and then buggered off the moment I turned my head?

ordered all my Christmas presents online and wrapped them. Bah humbug. No-one apart from the immediate Signs family members is getting anything this year – well perhaps a beeswax candle or a jar of bramble jelly. But the Signs children (aged 23 and 21) still believe in Father Christmas and expect filled stockings.

severed any remaining dangerous or toxic liaisons. Life is complicated. Life goes on.

dealt with at least one of the issues that caused me to commit a considerable amount of time and money to seeing Shrink. See above.

carried on writing my dream journal (Shrink would like this) – but by the time I wake up I’ve mostly forgotten them.

gone to the dentist. Don’t even want to think about that.

persuaded the mater to accept my Babette’s Feast of a Christmas dinner, thereby resolving all our difficulties past and present. As if.

cut my toe nails.

Ok, the last is achievable. In fact I think I’ll deal with that one right now. I’m a pro-active son-of-a-gun when I have a mind to be.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


It was my niece’s birthday today and I ate cake. It was a Fullers walnut cake (original recipe) and looked like this.

The inside is subtle and substantial, familiar and surprising. The icing is crisp and melts in the mouth. One slice was not enough. And then I came home and ate some of the butter stollen someone had given me. Cake is like that – once you have it you want more.

I have been cutting out sugar, wheat and refined carbohydrates recently because it is in the long run much better for me. But tell that to the packets of chocolate lebkuchen stacking up in the kitchen.

Tomorrow there are people coming for tea and I made an orange an almond cake which looks like this.

It is wheat-free and low on sugar (if you cheat by using half sucralose).

I think about cake more than most people realise.

Friday, December 5, 2008

le Shabbat

Friday night is the beginning of le weekend. As I no longer go out to do Proper Work le weekend shouldn’t really feel different to any other time, especially as there are no school-age children at home now. But for some reason it does feel different, and it isn’t just that Mr. Signs usually comes home half an hour early on a Friday and it has nothing to do with what is on telly. I think I must be feeling the out-breath of millions of people relaxing into the idea of a free space, time to put the feet up or to dance, paint pictures, go to the flicks, bingo, pub. I light the candles, and it feels different to lighting the candles on other week days – but I never grew up observing Shabbat so it can’t be that (unless it is my ancient ancestors pulling at some hitherto unacknowledged part of me). Whatever it is, though, that creates the Friday night feeling, I like it.

I also like winter nights. Meeting with some workshopping folks today, a couple of people were talking about wonderful benefits of having a light box for those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. I have always felt that I am much more likely to have S.A.D. in the summer months. It is as though an inner light that is switched on in the dark months is flicked off again when the days are lighter. Particular bad are the summer months when the sky is overcast, for then one has neither light nor darkness.

Er – I seem to have begun talking about the weather. Goodness, is that the time? I have a pressing appointment with – oh yes, Newsnight Review! I knew there was something or other particular to a Friday night.

Shabbat Shalom, peeps.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


So where is home? Because wherever I am I want to get back there. An awful joke comes to mind:

I’m homesick.
What do you mean? This is your home!
I know, and I’m sick of it.
(boom boom)

And Osip Mandelstam, of whom Marina Tsvetayeva once wrote that wherever he was, from that place he always wanted to go home.

I carry the word itself like a talisman but I do not think it can be geographically located. Earlier this year when visiting Berlin, I went back to the village where I lived as a young child for nearly three years. I had not been there since I was six but I remembered it well enough to find my way to the house, the lake, the places where sweetshop and kindergarten once were. Of course there were changes, but not as many as one might have supposed given the length of time that has passed. This was the place, here was the ground beneath my feet, the dusty overlay of sand-like substance that I had almost forgotten. But the place itself was not what I carried, what lived in me for all the years since I left, and the reason it lived in me was not because it was happy and secure, for it was neither of those things: my mother was, I think, very depressed, unreconciled to events from her own childhood, her acting career on hold, probably missing the quasi-bohemian life in London and childcare really was not her thing, so local girls were employed to do the job.

After the German kindergarten I went to a school for children of the British military that lived in the area (my dad was actually an actor with the Berliner Ensemble but that didn’t matter). I can’t quite remember how I learned to read, but I know I was doing it before I properly learned at school and I read in both languages. The real substance of my life was in the imagination. This doesn’t mean that I was always dreaming up some story or other as an alternative to real life. I developed a kind of double vision: there was the mundane world with its catalogue of daily trials, seasonal festivals and occasional treats and there was the magical world of the life that lay just beneath the surface, and in this dimension the natural world was powerfully present. What breathed in midwinter from the snow, the evergreen, the candle-lit procession of us children singing lantern songs at Martinmas was the same presence that hovered over the star-money child in the Grimm’s fairy tale and there was a perpetual unfolding of untold riches which I can identify retrospectively – for the child who was me was too deeply occupied with living inside the story to construct a narrative. So my return to the village revealed no more than the outer husk. It was like dropping a stone into what one thinks is a deep well, but all that comes back is an unresonating clunk because the well is elsewhere – here, actually.

My parents both left their country of birth as refugees – my father came with his family but my mother never saw her father again because he died in a concentration camp. So there could never be a home-coming for her. And neither would England, or anywhere be home either. She still speaks about the English as though we are not that, and it’s true that we are not. But we are not anything else either. The word homeless has resonance for me and is in itself a kind of home My father said that home was wherever he hung his hat.

Enough for today I think.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Up the Smoke

Tired after London and it was a slog getting back with a cold half hour wait at East Croydon for the train home. I bought something resembling a pasty from a kiosk – the first white flour product I have eaten for months and months. Then when I got home I polished off the remains of a pizza Mr. Signs had eaten for his supper. No apparent ill effects, but I don’t intend making a habit of it as I have given up white flour products and sugar for the rest of my life. Apart from when I am in the desert of an East Croydon station platform and hungry. And Christmas, perhaps, but I have bought some sugar-free mince to make pies with (spelt, wholemeal).

Lovely and uplifting as it was to see the daughter and co performing (in a cavernous space underneath London Bridge station), and to catch up with my good writing friend whose book is to be published next year, going to the Smoke is always a bit of a shock to the system. I keep forgetting that this is now, and expecting to step off the train into a London that existed when I was (for some reason) in my twenties. It was my city then, I knew it better than the back of my hand and couldn’t have imagined that I would ever have wanted to live anywhere else. Now it feels alien, there are too many people everywhere and, quite simply, it is no longer my home.

I could go on and say something about roots and belonging and the diaspora condition of never really feeling oneself to be properly at home anywhere – but it is nearly midnight and if I go beyond that this post will turn into a pumpkin and it will be tomorrow with me stuck in yesterday. Not that it matters, but I'm inspired to have a bash at putting up a daily post. So, with minutes to spare, this is it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

seeing the lights

It’s advent and so Christmas is beginning. Unlike almost everyone else I know (I’m different, I am), I really like Christmas. It was the one time when things felt properly convivial and harmonious chez nous when I was a child and, like many other diaspora refugee folk, we did the whole thing with tree, baby Jesus in the manger close by and recordings of German carols sent by my grandma from Hannover. And we had the double celebration of traditional German Christmas Eve followed by the English one the next day – double the presents and conviviality, all good as far as I was concerned, and I still feel the same even though one is obviously energy-challenged and yes, the commercialisation etc. But there’s something at the heart of this winter festival that feels necessary and restorative. My mother’s partner is virulently anti-Christmas and she has finally capitulated and pretends she never really liked it, but she was the one who gave me my early Christmasses and I know the truth of it.

So anyway, I try not to moan overmuch when people put the flashing lights and galloping reindeer in their front windows, though it’s getting bad when even an unmade country road like mine is livid with one vulgar display after another and each year it gets worse. It’s a festival of light in darkness after all and each to their own. But yesterday Mr. Signs came in and asked if I’d seen the house over the road. “It looks like a police station,” he said. Today I saw what he meant. There are nasty blue lights all across one side of the house - you feel as though a siren might go off at any moment and it won’t be proclaiming peace and goodwill. If the darkness is banished too efficiently how can the candle properly shine?

I’m going to London tomorrow to see the daughter in a dress rehearsal of this. She will be a-singing and performing, being decently paid to do it, and I am delighted. She is one of those who works hard for every single break that comes her way.

Monday, December 1, 2008


A fellow blogger of my acquaintance has set herself the task of putting up a post a day. It is day two and she is already cursing – this is good, shows the zen is kicking in because hey, when the resistance manifests you know what you’re up against. I should be so lucky. Wait, what am I saying? Well first off I have never been much bothered by having nothing to say and could fill up screens and screens of words all about the saying of it – the nothing, I mean. But my courage fails me. Here, I think, my blog friend has the edge. For before you can even say John Cage I have taken the nothing by the scruff of the neck and turned it into something – in other words, reader, I chicken out: I wriggle, I contort, I think about what’s for breakfast tomorrow and there is no zen master to come and tap my spine, or whatever it is that they do, to bring me back to the nothing that my monkey mind is busy trying not to address.

But on the other hand there is always Shrink. My words fall into his cavernous etheric space and as far as I’m concerned this is as good as a hefty dose of zen for we are brought back to the nothing more times than I would care to count. And in the nothing there is always the something which is deeply and unutterably mysterious, or it is deeply and mysteriously unutterable, or it is the dog’s bollocks, but we have to go on because we are committed to the Process.

And sometimes one lacks a little in the Commitment department.

I thank you.