Wednesday, April 29, 2009

fresh from the words

A stunning early opening to the day: sky a deep, improbable, midsummer blue; trees and lawns lit up and light-reflecting, yet the spring wedding is still white blossoming on the fruit trees and my body registers that it is cold. The photo doesn't catch the luminescence, but I'm putting it up anyway.

There is a crystal clarity that sometimes comes in the early hours, even to such as me who wakes after feverish sleep with a sense of foreboding gathered in the limbs and around the heart. I am doing too much of one thing and not enough of another. I am needing to take stock, revise, begin again. Thank goodness that there is always this possibility, as mornings like this remind.

I’m putting up a Morning Has Broken youtube (it’s kitsch but its kindred and it’s Cat who is still good – or he was then), and I was having a bit of trouble because the only decent vids I found had subtitles that put “fresh from the world” when it should be “fresh from the word”. One letter, but a world of difference. But this one will do. Listen to the tremor (it's good, Cat) and the words - yes - by Eleanor Farjeon.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


It was at this time of year that the earth acupuncturist first came here. He is also a cranial osteopath and I went to see him on recommendation, as one does, in the hope that something or other might shift. He had two cats that worked with him. On my first visit the orange one jumped onto the bed where I lay waiting for treatment and sat on my stomach and the black one sat on the window sill close by my head and stared at me. On my second visit the orange cat sat by my head and the black one took up position on my stomach. I like cats, I said, on the point of asking him to move them. But he said they were his assistants and told him where he needed to focus. He had thin fingers that clasped my head and smelled of pepper and herbs. He had long magician’s hair and grew his own marijuana in earthenware pots. He liked to visit the houses of people with my condition, he said, to do a little work there, make sure that everything was healthy. He would charge a fee of fifty pounds.

When he came for the appointment he went first to the apple tree in the garden and stood underneath its blossoming branches where he took a tin out of his pocket and rolled a cigarette. He was having, he said, a sacramental smoke before beginning the work. He came with long metal rods which he stuck into the ground at various angles outside our house on the rough, unmade road. The neighbour’s children came to look and asked him what he was doing. He said he was making the road better but when he came inside he took me and my husband aside. There are black streams underneath the house, he said. The metal rods were to neutralise the negative effects and I would feel better soon. I told him about the underground rumblings in the other house in London. He nodded and said that he would have expected as much because that was what happened with people like me. You choose to live on the black streams, he said. You don’t know it, but you do.

It goes like this: we choose to live on the black streams in order to take the darkness and make it better. In doing this we use a great deal of strength and many of us become sick, unless we are cats. Cats, said the cranial osteopath, always sit on the black stream points in houses and if properly attuned will sit on a person’s weak meridian fault line so a healer will know where to work. His cats, for example, had properly located the line of my caesarean scar which might appear to have healed but appearances are deceptive. My cat always lay on my side of the bed which was directly over the black stream which ran underneath our house. The cranial osteopath couldn’t at that time (though he did subsequently) enlighten me as to what it was about a stream that made it black, or why people like me would choose to live above it, but I am artistic and I can work with metaphor. Do the black streams run in people too?

People keep telling me there is a reason for things that happen. I would like to be comfortable with this. Of course I understand that if you smoke two packets of cigarettes a day for thirty years you are more likely to get lung cancer than if you never smoked, that if you fall into a stream you get wet. If this, then that. Consequences. I know someone who puts her trust into something called the Universe. It knows why the lighting struck her house and shattered all the glass in the window frames and why her son fell from a tree and broke his leg on the first day of the morning of the holiday she had saved for a year to afford. She believes that the Universe knows what we need and that we are rewarded if we put our trust in it.

I don’t, but never mind. The streams are clear now. I picture them running like veins beneath the ground’s surface. Dark or light, I tap into them.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The mother of colds has gone – rather quickly, as it happens, considering how dramatic and volatile it was. In its wake, spectacularly aching muscles, but what does one expect? Things are as they are and I would perhaps say more were it not that Digi has said it all in her excellent post where she gives her take on what “recovery” might mean. We live as we are able and in this way it becomes possible to seize the day.

I met with two of my local writing friends today, to unblank the pages with our words. We have done this every week for many years now and it has become an extraordinarily precious (in the good sense) activity. I have lifted out poems from what I have written in these sessions. But quite often the words are shared only between the three of us, and it is good – intensely so. In honour of the birthday of one, I made rock cakes. The name does not do them justice as they melt in the mouth. Alongside, a pot of very strong coffee (half real, half decaf). I take my pleasures seriously.

A flurry of phonecalls from Daughter of Signs, as she has been flat-searching and found a place in Dalston going (relatively) cheap because, according to the agent, “no-one has any money now” – though it still costs a tidy sum. The upshot is that she will be moving there in May. It will be her first time living alone, but she will be near friends and she will have her piano, which is her constant companion these days as she is writing a musical.

I have just sneezed again. Time for a bath in Weleda pine bath milk, and some collected poems by Marina Tsvetayeva. Mr. Signs is watching The Apprentice. I think Sir Alan will have to do without my company tonight.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


I have got the mother of all colds. Well at any rate, I have got a cold. For me this is a Good Sign as my bonkers immune system usually overrides such things, but not in a good way. I am glad it is there in all its manifestations today rather than yesterday.

Yesterday my first ever writing friend came for the day. We used to live around the corner from each other in Hackney and laugh about how one day we would look back and talk about how we used to live around the corner from each other. It didn’t seem quite real that time would shoot on in the way it has done and we would no longer be wheeling our babies around on Chatsworth Road, sitting in the Three Sons fish and chip shop, spending mornings drinking very strong coffee and reading out the latest of what we had been working on. Her novel is coming out in August and she is busy working on her second. I am working on how to keep my writerly head above water at all, or how to dive deep without drowning, or how to carry on driving without lights. Friend likes to draw her ideas out on very large pieces of paper and began showing me how it could be done (even though I only had A4). While I talked, she drew, scribbled and jotted, then she stuck the pieces of paper together with sellotape. It is a strange thing to see what is going round in your head set down as a visual thing, like a map with arrows pointing to where you might travel.

The daughter is beavering away at creative projects, writing a musical, son is beavering away at working towards finals (getting up at the crack of dawn), Mr. Signs is beavering away at his second career, training to be a psychotherapist, while continuing to work full time and going to art classes. Everyone who is doing anything of anything that amounts to real work is beavering, apart from Mrs. Beaver here who is trying to keep one foot in front of the other. To work creatively you have to be more than a bit obsessed with what you are doing and let the Daemon in. The Daemon is elemental, it is what it is and cares nothing about whether you have a cold, your general state of health, your domestic issues or anything other than the work at hand. If you are not able or willing to accommodate, it will bugger off and find someone else who will.

I can feel it roaring around the house, seeking entrance. Excuse me while I go and hide under the bedcovers.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

and counting

I went to my first book group last night. I never thought I would join one of those – as far as I’m aware they came into being after I got M.E., I had enough on my plate to attend to and anywhere one heard such funny stories about what happens in book groups. I loved watching The Book Group on Channel 4, but that was for watching, not being part of. But anyway, it was great and so was the book we discussed, The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. Reading a book as good as this and then getting together to talk about it with other reading people who have things to say and enjoy tossing ideas about makes a lot of sense. The So What? factor didn’t come up for me with this book at all, but if it had then I might have been motivated to go through that barrier because of the group.

It will be just me and the cat here for four days because Mr. Signs is off to a psychotherapy conference. I have plans, but they are so often sabotaged by the Malignant Entity (I just came up with that, not bad) that I dare not even say what my plans might involve in case it hears. I think I must either be an incredibly positive and motivated person or unbelievably stupid because every day, well almost every day, I wake up at whatever time it happens to be, depending on the state of me and sleep disorder, and I think: today is the day I will do whatever it is that I am wanting to get on and do. And I really believe this. It’s as though some clown has programmed my default setting to think that in spite of all evidence to the contrary, this new day brings untold possibilities, all of them good, even when I wake up feeling properly horrible. On better days there will be an hour or two when I carry on believing this, but then the invisible egg timer appears and I see the energy sand running out. Last week I managed to write two poems in the time between becoming egg timer-conscious and flaking out. This week (well, it’s only half way through the week and Monday was bank holiday) I haven’t been doing so well. Yesterday I cleaned the kitchen and today I went shopping. On the other hand, I also went to a book group – that counts. Actually, it all counts, as I have said more often than I care to remember. But if the writing isn’t happening then the inner core of me feels diminished. I have ways of getting around that, but daren’t look over my shoulder too often on account of time’s winged chariot etc.

But everything is going to be ok, it can’t miss, it’s in the bag. Because tomorrow is another day.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Good Friday

Here are the particulars: a hot cross bun from the Good Friday breakfast gathering that our lovely neighbour gives every year. You will never find anything like these buns in a shop, or anywhere. Only she can make them like this and only her tiny and beautiful kitchen can expand to hold such a convivial gathering as we always have at this time. The candle in a pot of wheatgrass is an Easter gift from her, and the beeswax candel in front of it another gift from a neighbour across the road. The twigs in the strange and suggestive vase (made by my mother-in-law who was a fine potter) come from the cherry tree that was recently cut down. A small yellow chicklet is perching on the rim, it came with the beeswax candle, an early hatching.

Later on, I made Matapa. Well that is what my friend, the Cake Lady (who is not the same person as the Bun Woman) calls it, and I ate it at her house first. But it is a recipe that seems to change every time it is handed on, it is quite accommodating, always delicious and takes hardly any time to make. Spinach, tomatoes, onions, garlic, chilli, garam masala, coconut milk, peanut butter. You have it with rice. Afterwards Son went back to revision and his parents went over the road to an impromptu wine-tasting event set up by neighbours and their kids who are home from college. There were about ten bottles opened and the only one I liked was an Australian Merlot (Burra Brook, 2007). There was an expensive one that smelled of cat's piss. Not that I drank very much more than a sip of anything. Mr. Signs got a bit plastered.

More strange and suggestive mother-in-law vases (one has nobs on, the other indents, and they fit together when pushed close), both filled with daffodils from our garden. We had them in the kitchen for a while but the daffodils came with rather a lot of black creepy crawlies so we took them out. They have gone now, but the daffodils and vases look fine where they are on the patio, welcoming in the spring. And I think of the words that I saw pinned up on the walls of my daughter's school one spring when she was five years old:

For I, the Lent Lily, the Daffy-down-dilly,

Have heard through the country the call to arouse.

Happy Easter, Peeps.

(you can enlarge the first photo but not the other two, don't know why, and it seems to have baffled greater techie minds than mine)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

something dodgy

I need to go back to basics. There are times when I seem to have got the measure of it all – how it is to have a chronic and disabling condition like M.E. and the reality of living one’s life to a different drumbeat, or no drumbeat at all. There are days when one watches the branches of the trees in the distance, the ones just beyond the house with the grey slate roof opposite mine (I know this view so well, I see it from my bed) and one simply is in the moment, the day, the week, the year of the life that must be lived according to how things are. Then something comes along and clobbers you. Well it’s still real life, so why not? There is nothing like the promise of a cure or the suggestion that you could actually cure yourself if you really wanted to by doing this course, that programme, consulting this practitioner, guru, quack, all-purpose wondertreatment. We have been there so many times, have we not? And still it comes atcha and pulls the rug from under your feet. Even though you are quite certain that those who come touting the latest “cure” and bestowing their saccharine blessings on your unconverted head did not have M.E. in the first place.

But hey. I am sitting in bed using the laptop tray thingy again and the toxicity seems to have mostly evaporated, so perhaps this will be my new friend after all. Son of Signs is home and I am shortly off to see him in concert, playing cello with the youth orchestra. Daughter has been accepted onto a prestigious young writers’scheme by a London theatre, on the strength of something she has written. Mr. Signs is happy, the cat is responding to homoeopathic remedies.

But by the pricking of my thumbs, something dodgy this way comes. It’s just me that is not quite the ticket.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

light diet

I recently received an email from a writer friend saying that she is on a diet of 1,000 words a day. This is a very respectable diet for any writer to be on and in her case I am quite certain it will be a rich and nutritious one. My own diet doesn’t bear much scrutinty. It is unpredictable and barely enough to keep the writerly body and soul alive. There are binges of notebook writing which we could compare to the pie and chips one might unwisely scoff at 2am after a night out on the tiles; there are snippets of densely poetic utterance – the petits fours that no-one really needs, they are exquisite, delicious and quite forgettable; there are worthy attempts at putting in some solid substance towards ongoing project/s (as I actually don’t know which one I want to go on with it’s a bit random), and this is the brown rice and steamed veg option – you know it’s good for you but without the right condiments and a bit of something extra it just kind of sits there, you put the leftovers in the fridge for the next day and then can’t face eating it all over again so it gets thrown out.

Then there is the meat. I was going to say that vegetarians could substitute this with a protein of their choice (I am partial to tofu, have never quite got my head around quorn), but if I am going to extend the metaphor in a way that has any meaning it really needs to be meat. It is solid, organic, with blood and bones that you can boil up to make a rich stock for soup. Well the truth is I am off meat, literally and metaphorically and if I have to eat it then I don’t want too much of the dark stuff. I lean towards the white and the sweet. But in me, and in the writing, the dark stuff is there and keeps coming. It keeps coming and it isn’t what I want on my plate.

The mater and her spouse are coming for supper tonight and I am making fish pie followed by honey and ginger poached pears with meringue.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Fool

I was standing in the village herbal apothecary ordering a homoeopathic remedy for my cat when the text from Son of Signs came, saying:
Hi. Feeling like it's all got a bit much now. Don't think I'm up to another 11 weeks of this stress. I've talked to the college, and they've agreed to let me defer for a year. x
I rushed out into the bright, late morning sun and tried ringing him from my mobile, wondering how I could have mis-read the signs so badly. Revising for finals at Oxford is stressful and intense, certain high places are out of bounds to make it harder for young people on the edge to go and throw themselves off. When I last spoke to my son he sounded fine. But isn't that often the way? I rang his mobile. It rang twice and went to voicemail - oh, my poor boy! Then another text from him came:
April Fool!
I think I'll put shaving foam inside his easter egg.
I have always believed everything. Gullible, c'est moi. How can a sharp-thinking, talented woman of the world be like this, is what you are probably wondering, and believe me, if someone were to rush in shouting that the Martians had just landed on the village green I would be the first one on the scene to have a look, while the other gullibles were making a quick get-away in their four-wheel drives (I will say this for me - curiosity would be a stronger impulse than paranoia).
There is something good about being gullible though, or at least open to the idea that anything might be possible. Look at me in my star motif tunic with the batwing sleeves and orange lining, see how light I travel with my small leather bag on the end of a stick that is really my magic wand, but hey. The white flower is appropriate for I am innocent, (though cynics might call me almost too stupid to live), and yes, I really am about to walk right off the edge of that precipice. I believe in god and the angels, the star over Bethlehem, father christmas, easter bunny*, flying saucers, the lucky coins my grandma kept in a box, the thing that happened on the third day.
* I saw it with my own eyes running under an apple tree when I was five, leaving a trail of tiny chocolate eggs wrapped in shiny paper.