Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Three Things About Me

This came in the form of an email from Daughter of Signs and one is supposed to send it on to people. Well it looks just like a “meme” to me, so:

Three jobs I have had in my life: Turkey Inseminator (I’ve written about this, key “turkey” into search box to read), audio typist, nursing auxilliary in psychiatric unit.

Three shows that I watch: (assuming this means telly). Doctor Who, Late Night Review and I really can’t think of anything else that I regularly watch. I used to love Black Books with Dylan Moran. Comedy things like that, Peep Show and The Office.

Three places I have lived: Village near Berlin (as a young child), Primrose Hill (older child), Bethnal Green (first flat post bedsit).

Three places I have been this week: Shrinky in Brighton, Tesco Express and Health Shop (both in my village).

Three people who email me regularly: presumably I’m not counting the nice people at Amazon, Ocado (I haven’t used but they don’t give up) and the tireless individual who emails me almost daily about village happenings. Well I’m not going to name names, am I? You know who you are.

Three of my favourite foods: Oysters, chicken roasted with lemon, herbs and garlic – steamed greens on the side, fish and chips with mushy peas and (a recent addition) curry sauce.

Three places I’d rather be:
walking on the north beach on the Isle of Iona,
in a high-ceilinged, bay-windowed room in Hackney in 1990, singing with my two little children:

“Mama says no play; this is a work day,
up with the bright sun, get all the work done,
if you will help me, climb up the tall tree,
shake the papaya down.”


“When I was one, I banged my drum
the day I went to sea,
I jumped aboard a pirate ship and the captain said to me,
“We’re goin’ this way, that way, forward and backwards,
over the Irish sea,
With a bottle of rum to warm me tum
and that’s the life for me.”

and in Dayville’s Icecream parlour in Finchley Road circa 1975, eating hazelnut icecream with hot chocolate fudge sauce.

(but here on the Edge is good too, just saying).

Three friends I think will respond to this message: Ms North, Icemaiden and TPE. Why do I think they will respond? Blind faith really, the best kind.

Three things I am looking forward to: winning the competition I just entered, meeting with writing companions in Feb and March, seeing the Daughter on Sunday.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Burns Night

What a terrific poet he was. Read some of his stuff today if you can.

"For a' that, an' a' that,
It's coming yet for a' that,
That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I still favour my trademark purple shellsuit trousers but have to say that pyjamas are coming a close second, and it is only a pity that one can’t go out in them. I was given a splendid pair of polka dot pyjamas for Christmas, but the ones I really feel connected to (it does take time, I find, to build a proper relationship with clothes) are my red and white flannel ones with tinsel threaded into the weave. I bought them at Peacocks in a post-Christmas sale, so they were reduced from £8 to £4, in other words cheap and fun, and I didn’t think (though I should perhaps have guessed) that one day they would occuply a significant place in the Signs sartorial repertoire.

I bought them in order to go on a cinema outing organised by a friend who was conducting an Artist’s Way group. We were to go dressed in pyjamas, preferably bringing a teddy bear with us. This was to give us connection with the inner child. Are you still here? So there I was in the car park at the back of the cinema somewhere in darkest east Sussex. I spotted one other person from the group looking miserable. He said he felt ridiculous and embarrassed, even though all he wore was loose jogging bottoms, and he had no teddy bear. I linked arms with him, which made it worse. He didn’t want to be seen with me in that get-up. We joined the others in a burger bar. They were dressed in their PJs and ordering chips and cola, but I sensed that nobody was feeling as comfortable in their clothes as I was. Years of practice I suppose, pyjama days having been a way of life for some years since getting M.E. It seemed a small step to go outside in them. The small teddy bear (a gift from my daughter) in my top pocket added a slightly delinquent touch and made me think of Courtney Love gone off the rails after the death of Kurt Cobain.

The film we saw was called Confetti. We ate popcorn, we laughed in the right places, it was good to have something other than ourselves to focus on. At the end we bustled out of the cinema looking like a group of people who had come dressed in pyjamas. The embarrassed one needn’t have been, no-one paid us any attention. I am not sure that anything changed in terms of the relationship with my inner child (it is actually my inner adult who is elusive), but the pyjamas became my preferred leisurewear. When I grow old I will not necessarily always be wearing purple.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

here and now

Inspired to take to my bed in style today. All this really means is that I have my laptop perched on a pillow and a mug of green tea on my bedside locker, brought to me by Mr. Signs who is working at home today. And the view from my window of neighbours’ rooftops and black branches against a white and curiously bright sky satisfies me in ways I find hard to describe; the here-and-nowness of this forest place that I love and feel connected to, yet could also quite easily leave, move away from, and perhaps will, but not yet. The dressing table mirror partially blocks the view, but reflects the face of a large-eyed sun that has centre place on a wallhanging from Mexico. Outside and inside the room there is nothing my eyes want to shy away from. I can hear that downstairs the television has been switched on, Barack Obama is about to be inaugurated. A good day.

I missed a shrink appointment, not strong enough to go. He sounded sad. As my dear father said when he was on his way out (but we didn’t know), all things have an end, except for the sausage, which has two ends. So wise, so true. This is the beginning of one end, and the sausage was never really properly realised, let alone eaten. Such is life and so it goes, and just as well for we live, believe it or not, modestly. Shrink, though new to the problems that face PWME, has been a witness to issues that brought me to look for help. For this was not simply a life-enhancing journey I embarked on. I will need to find other ways of dealing with people and situations that are malignant and harmful to me and things are, perhaps, a little clearer, even if not resolved. I am thankful for true friends and those of my family who know me.

And later:

I watched the Inauguration with Mr,.Signs. The almost businesslike tone of Barack Obama, the fact that he did not come out with a string of memorable slogans, felt just right and satisfying. And I loved the address by Joseph Lowery and hope God did too because he was the one being spoken to, and he has quite an earful to take in, not all of it as good as what came out today. But if you are God I imagine you just, like, deal with all that.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Via Negativa

I’m not going to try and analyse why this should cheer me as much as it does, and it has to be said that I was already dosed up with cheer from last night: for we went to see the daughter play piano and sing, youngest brother on guitar with his songs, and various other young, gifted and energetic on a barge in Battersea; and for uplift and cheer it doesn’t get much better than that.

Perhaps there is a connection to be made, and I am not about to make it intelligently, for which no apologies. And I have also to refer to recent dialogue with my sister who, seeking to do me some good, sent me a list of Ten Steps to Happiness. Me, a veteran of Lightning and other Processes that seek to change your life by reprogramming the way you think about things! Me, who gets up each morning (circumstances allowing, and lets not be too literal anyway) and says ok world, what shall we play today! Me of the two-fingered salute that delivers equal amounts of fuckyous, peacebabys and hey kids, lets get creative and party! "Have you been practising the Ten Steps," she asks. Have I been practising! Sister, not only have I done the advanced course, I have re-written the whole programme. And to cut a swathe through volumes of verbiage (which might have made me a bloody fortune), much of it can be summed up in the above image and by the old adage of Do Your Own Thing as long as it doesn’t involve giving me Good Advice and telling me like it is.

Lets get radical and practice a bit of negative thinking along the lines of Life is Shit And Then You Die, actually quite liberating when you think about it because from that point, everything else that isn’t a complete slap in the face is a bonus, and it’s more rock an roll which by anyone’s standards is a good thing. Not to mention that one of the best friends I ever had was a miserable, pessimistic sonofagun who had a poster of a naked woman all tied up in barbed wire stuck on the wall by his bed (whereon the sheets were never washed) and he still grizzled about it looking too much like Ideal Home. But he had a mind that sparked and sparkled and gave money to every beggar who ever begged for whatever reason on the grounds that if he were ever in that position it would be the least someone could do. Nice is not necessarily Good, and vice versa. And Positive Thinking does not necessarily amount to a creative life well-lived.

I reserve the right to change my mind about all or any part of this tomorrow.

Thank you.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Puffing and Pootling

Awake before mid-day but afraid to move a muscle in case it set off symptom alert. It made me think of a story I was once told by someone whose mother decided to gate her for an extended period: after school she was confined to her bedroom and the rest of the house was wired to set off an alarm if she so much as put a foot anywhere downstairs. So she learned how to slide down banisters, climb on the furniture and sneak out of windows without being detected. The eye of the ever watchful M.E. guard goes deeper than that and won’t be so easily outwitted.

I crept around a bit, squeezed some juice from an orange and half a lemon, drank it, lit a candle for Son of Signs who had exams today, had two puffs of a hand-rolled cig before putting it out and then had a bath.
It’s ok, I said to M.E. guard, I’m not going anywhere.
Too right you’re not, he leered.
I pootled around the place (Signs Cottage is not big and the stairs are steep so pootling is best confined to one room, usually kitchen) and heated up a bit of veggie couscous. Look, healthy. See? Lit up another cig and put it out; pretended I was going back to bed; checked emails and blogstuff; planned to go for a walk just as darling daughter rang en route to a teaching assignment so talked to her instead, and just as well because it began to drizzle in a most grey and depressing fashion and talking to daughter was better for the spirits; casually picked up my A4 notebook and pootled back down to the kitchen where I covered one page, then another, then another.
I’m watching you, said the guard.
Don’t worry, I said, I’m just scribbling.
Covered another page.

Went for a Chinese in the village with Mr. Signs. We had: sweet and sour pork, Cantonese duck, prawns with ginger and spring onion, vegetable curry and some Chinese beers. Neighbour over the road invited us over for a Burns celebration next weekend – poetry, songs and haggis.

I say this in a whisper: I am planning to go to the Smoke on Sunday to see daughter playing the piano and singing on a barge somewhere on the Thames.
And I am planning to cover more paper with words.
And my name is Sister Nicotine of the Two Fingers. Two Fingers for short (thank you, Cusp).

And here’s tae us, sweet sister North.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Body Electric (2)

It’s getting bad again. I know why, I think – it’s the frequent trips to Brighton, especially at a time of day when I should be lying down. Why do I always think I can get away with things? I had a reasonably good spell over the Christmas hols, but driving distances on a regular basis is not good. I have asked Shrink to give me an earlier time to see if this makes a difference. If not, I may have to stop going altogether, and how will he afford his citybreak holidays then? And damn his eyes anyway for still speaking about this as metaphor.

So what I am doing about all this is:
a) taking drugs (Co-prox never lets me down)
b) drinking
c) smoking
d) swearing
e) eating mince pies (found some leftover spelt pastry in the fridge).

In other words I’m being positive. But The Writing suffers and therefore so do I. Shrink is very sanguine about this because I have been writing down dreams and reading them out to him, and the last one had us both in bed together watching a performance involving a group of people doing strange things in a gymnasium, it was a bit avant garde for me but he seemed to enjoy it, both in the dream and in the consulting room.

I know I have had this thing for twenty two odd years, and I know that I am actually one of the luckier ones (for which believe me I am every day grateful). But there is this creature who every day wakes up with me and says that today is the first day of the rest of your life and everything might suddenly, inexplicably, be fine.
I am making ridiculous plans for things that I know I am unlikely to do. But I make them anyway, and perhaps some of them will bear fruit.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ice Witchery

The electricity hums in my limbs. Today it has even reached my fingertips, and everything looks askew, as it must have done to Kay in the story of the Snow Queen, after a fragment of glass from the devil’s mirror had lodged itself in his eye.

It was cold this morning, but not cold enough for my liking. I don’t want things to get warm and soft, it’s even worse then. Cold, white and bright, and very hard, is what suits me in winter, or even just cold and hard. Here everything turns to mud in the warm wet, and the wet comes into your body and weighs you down. It is a seasonal thing: a warm late spring day in January is an abomination; and last year we had midwinter at Easter and everyone was saying Merry Christmas, that was bad too, but not as bad as summer in January. I become like the White Witch who sees her perfect Narnian winter melting. They are ruining your winter, Madam, says the dwarf. I want the winter to come into my muscles and limbs, my organs too – my heart: freeze everything up and make it hard and impenetrable, allow nothing to swim around. I want to be glacier, hard as rock.

Last night I threw off the covers, hot. Not right in January, and everyone saying how lovely it is, now that the terrible cold has stopped, even though some also said that a cold snap was good for the earth, killed the bad things off and the potatoes would grow better this year. But mostly there was bitter complaint, oh isn’t it awful, this ghastly cold, can’t wait for it to stop, just horrible, can’t get warm. And outside the hoarfrost so radiant, the arms of the trees thick-feathered and brilliant. Let it be like this always, I said, and let the summer not come, or if it does let it be a short blip that we endure and let the rivers and lakes freeze so we can walk on them without falling into water.

The days become longer and ask for so much life. In my body, the bad weeds grow and multiply, all the small blooms choked before they have a chance. This year I am in the service of the White Witch and the Snow Queen. Will you harden your heart, they say, in return for what we bring? Ladies, I will, with great pleasure. Give me a pair of strong walking boots and a sledge, a coat made of bearskin, a bow and arrows. Put ice in my limbs. Turn my enemies to stone.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Writing

I am back on the prose project again (I won’t say the N word in case it comes and smacks me on the head for leaving it so long). Still keeping an eye on doing something with poems but last year was not hugely encouraging. I need to keep sending out, and will.

The project I’m working on has a first person narrator and draws from autobiographical experience but the narrator is not me. This is something of a relief as I wasn’t sure at the outset because she and I share so many details, including some years at an inner London primary school in the 1960s, which is where I am now with it. I wish I’d known how childhood stays with you forever, I would have eaten even more sweets, my teeth couldn’t have been any worse than they were. Whatever difficulties had to be negotiated in the classroom, the playground or at dinner time (slugs hiding under the salad cream, gristle in the stew and fearsome dinner ladies) you knew that sweets would always be there for you – cheap, reliable, plentiful. Even the poorest kids seemed able to afford those. You could get four chews for a penny and a generous bag of fluorescent sherbet for tuppence. Actually, I am not writing about the sweets at the moment, but it’s good to know that they are there in the background and the writing, I feel sure, will want to go there at some point. Sweet cigarettes, though (remember those?), have made an appearance. They were basically the same as what are now sold as “candy sticks”, but with a red tip at the end so you could pretend you were smoking them, and they used to have cards with pictures of footballers that you could swap with the boys for a bit of liquorice shoelace. Bazooka bubblegum could last a whole day if you stuck it under the desk in between sessions.

It seems hardly believable now that the girls and boys playgrounds were separated by a brick wall, but that is how it was, and we had our own entrances too. If a girl tried to play in the boys playground she was called a Tomboy and if a boy came into the girls playground he was a Cissy. You wouldn’t want to be called either of those things, but being a Tomboy was fractionally easier than being a Cissy as it carried with it a smidgeon of respect borne out of fear.

The narrator has an easier time of it than I did, not having lived in Germany and come back to England with an accent (not to mention the weird haircut and Lederhosen), but there will obviously be other complications in her life because, as Frank McCourt (Angela’s Ashes) says, “the happy childhood is hardly worth your while.” She is, though, optimistic and resourceful and it is another child’s predicament that becomes the catalyst for events that unfold.

But why am I talking about it when I could be writing it? Well one reason is that I am bog-tired after driving through a pea-souper of fog in the small hours to collect Son from somewhere or other in the middle of blasted heath after his return from Dublin. And then I couldn’t sleep. And when I did I woke again after only a few hours. And today I have a trip to Lewes. And – most interestingly – whenever I sit down to write the Project I kind of gear up for it because it counts as Work, but whenever I sit down to put words onto blog, I just do it.

Yes, I know.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


I came the closest I’ve been in recent years to getting nicked by the police yesterday. Thinking to take my Visitor from the North to have a look at the school where my children went when we first came to the Edge, we drove into the grounds (once the estate of the Lord of the Manor in these parts) and up to the Kindergarten where we were graciously welcomed in by one of the current teachers there who also happens to live in my road. It looked very much as it did when my son of four and daughter of six first went there – aesthetically pleasing with all the things made from natural and beautiful materials, it being a Waldorf school. I wanted also to show her the upper school building where the older children went, and where I myself had once been for two years as a child. The grounds seemed empty of children, the term not yet begun. An angry-eyed woman with metallic hair and a steely expression had been watching me as I drove slowly to and from the Kindergarten. She jumped into action as she saw us drive (very slowly) along the tarmac road within the grounds that led to the main building. She sprinted towards us and began shouting. Driving rather than walking up the path was never encouraged (I used to give myself license when muscles were bad) but now it was clearly forbidden. I indicated that I was leaving, but she ran in front of the car and blocked our exit. I’m not entirely sure what took hold of me, but instead of stopping and engaging with her I decided to reverse the car and drive off (slowly) the way we had come. She banged on the window, shouting that I was a health and safety menace and I saw her following me with a baleful stare from the rear-view mirror.

Back in the village centre, I felt uncomfortably that I ought to go back and find a way of apologising, partly for the sake of expedience – it doesn’t do to make enemies in a village on the Edge where you never know where or in what circumstances you will bump into a person – and partly because of (I am telling myself now) my naturally good disposition. And, I supposed, I had behaved like a bit of a plonker. I didn’t know if I would find her there, but clearly it was karmically ordained and she came over and began her tirade. It took a fair amount of time for her to hear my apology, let alone accept it. She made stabbing movements with her finger and anger rolled from her like big waves looking for somewhere to crash, but they washed over me and I kept surfacing, still able to keep afloat. I am not a bad person, all said and done, had just been a bit thoughtless about current health and safety regulations and the anger that kept coming was hers and did not belong to me. When she had done ranting there was a flicker of something else that crossed her face; helplessness, perhaps. What does she do when she is not angry? She might be the perfect person to have on one’s side when fighting for some cause, but on this occasion all she had was me in my Nissan Micra, an insubstantial demon who was trying to apologise but would not be diminished by her, however long she kept stabbing the air. Less than an hour later the police were at my house investigating, thinking to find a couple of drug-fuelled teenagers out on a speed-crazy joy-ride.

But all’s well that ends well, and we had a merry Epiphany evening chez Signs with some Edge-dwelling friends who came to meet the Forriner and melt the pewter horseshoes she had brought with her. Extraordinary stuff, you hold it in a large, flat metal spoon over a gas flame and when it is molten pour it into a bowl of cold water where it forms into a new shape, which you hold in candlelight to see what the silhouette might reveal about the year to come. Mine was in the shape of a Madonna, with a mermaid’s tail: Stella Maris, Star of the Sea – one hundred percent auspicious, by anyone’s reckoning.

And today the Icemaiden flew north to stay with NMJ and become Scottish for a while. The snow, it seems, has flown with her.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Cold and Frosty Morning

I would put up a photo but a word picture will have to do. There is a dusting of white over the spindly branches of the apple tree and on the roof of the garden shed, a thin but properly visible amount of snow under the grass, a powder-blue sky and everything lit up by sun. New-year-resolution morning writing regime will begin soon but my visitor goes to Scotland tomorrow and hasn’t yet properly seen the village (as I live on the edge of it).

The Christmas tree is still up, with all the lights and decorations and I’m not taking it down yet because today is epiphany and we are having a small gathering in order to melt the pewter horseshoes that Icemaiden has brought from Finland, so as to get a sense of what might be coming to us in the year ahead; and we will be drinking the champagne she brought with her.

January is feeling quite auspicious so far, so much so that I had a peek at the previous Januaries recorded in my last three MsLexia diaries (“for Women who write”) and they had a grim, hard feeling to them. It helps, of course, that no-one is down with flu and that I am not gearing up to the imminent beginning of a term’s teaching which, though I did love it, took most of my strength to do.

I love the cold weather. It feels, strangely, healthy. Not so strange, perhaps, for the ground seems to need a proper cold snap in order for things to grow properly later on, and we are here too on the same ground, growing, unfolding, putting out new shoots.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Belle Dreemeth

So everyone is somewhere else today apart from me and the cat. Mr. Signs has gone back to work, Son has flown to Dublin with friends (having discovered yesterday his passport was lost and only finding out at eleventh minute that he could use his provisional driver’s license instead) and Icemaiden has gone to Wales for the day on mysterious business, muttering something about Bara Brith under her breath as she left.

Never a dull moment at Signs Cottage. Is this as bad as saying “you don’t have to be mad to work here but it helps” and “I’m funny like that,” or worse? For you can be sure that when someone says one of the above it is usually connected to something of such quintessential prosaicness that one is hard pressed to find an appropriate response. But give me a bit of slack here, I mean to say, for we are Entertaining the seal-barking Igloo-Dweller so it is perhaps unsurprising that there is weirdness and wonder, and I thought you might be interested to get a glimpse of what goes on inside her head while she sleeps. I had to nick her camera for a bit last night to get these images because mine doesn’t do dreams.
I don't know what this is supposed to be but it looks rude to me

and this is without a shadow of a doubt rude. What can she be holding in her hand and what does the deep (one might almost say labial) red signify?
Something is gestating here, clearly. But what?

Any Freudians, periodic or otherwise, out there who would care to lend an interpretation? Don't be shy, folks, it's the least we can do and she will thank us for it one day when she realises how much money we have saved her in psychoanalytic therapy fees (and believe me, I know of which I speak in this department, I keep my Shrink in city breaks).
Just received a message on the ether that she is even now lunching in Cardiff (Bara Brith?) and then another to say that at the very same time, Son of Signs is tucking into Irish Stew and Guiness. Spooky.
And I am left here to entertain myself. Is that fair?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Only When It Blooms

So the Icemaiden arrived on new year’s day. Mr. Signs and I were there at the gate with a nicely crayonned sign – totally unnecessary as we recognised each other at once and I was in any case wearing my signature purple trousers. “I am dying for a ciggie,” she said, so we went outside and she lit up. She’s wicked. Since being in her company I have been almost constantly smoking and eating salmiakki - I reckon that while she is here anything of this nature can be safely blamed on her and therefore my conscience is clear.

Looking at this Dr. Zhivagoeseque image of her (taken on our trip to the Smoke earlier in the day) makes her look fabulously innocent (in a sophisticated kind of way)

but don’t be fooled. She’s wicked I tell you and she takes things in: well you’ll see for yourself at some point, I have no doubt (keep checking her blog).

She has put away a fair quantity of mince pies. It's wonderful what you can cobble together with a bit of good quality cardboard and pvc glue -

I told her the pastry was wholemeal spelt (same thing really) and she had them with brandy sauce, washed down with Irish coffee, which was not Irish at all as it was made with brandy instead of whisky. It's fine, for everything pleases her: the sign of a true artist, I reckon. I just knew we would be kindred spirits.

Yesterday we went to the place on the Ashdown Forest where the spirits of Winnie the Pooh, Piglet and Eyore still roam, Pooh Bear being something of a personal spiritual guru. Here is the Enchanted Place

where the Morris dancers come at dawn on the first of May to dance and stamp about, for they have to do this in order to make sure the sun still rises every day. Not many people thank them for this, but I always do. The plaque commemorates A.A. Milne and the artist E.H. Shepard who captured the likeness of Pooh and his friends. The bunch of flowers on the side was probably left by someone in memory of a person no longer alive who once loved coming there. People quite often go there to scatter ashes and one has to be careful not to stand too close when that happens or one is liable to breathe in the dusty remains of someone's dearly departed. Such is life.

And speaking of the dearly departed, my father-in-law used to like repeating a saying to the effect that one should only ever make love when the gorseflower is in bloom

the point being that there is never a season when it is not in bloom, and I can vouch for this because it grows everywhere on the Ashdown Forest, and this is how it looked when we walked there. But I say that one could add to this any other activity - writing, singing, taking pictures, eating mince pies or turning cartwheels. Only do these things, or anything at all that makes you happy, when the gorseflower blooms. The time will always be now.

Photos courtesy of The Icemaiden, apart from the one of her which I took.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Lion Thing

So whaddya want at the dawn of a new year - irony?