Tuesday, June 30, 2009

all points north

On Sunday there was a family party chez Signs, given exclusively for the family members of Mr. Signs, as many as could be gathered on that particular day, some of whom I had never met and he barely knew. There were about eighteen of us in all, Mr. S being disappointed that more were not able to come, and me relieved. While they looked at old photograph albums and generally caught up with each other on the patio, I put finishing touches to the buffet, drank spritzers, rolled a couple of Golden Virginias and lectured the daughter about the evils of alcohol and cigarettes.

The day before, I had discovered that some of the attendees were extreme vegans, so no chance of cocktail sausages and tinned pineapple chunks with Gouda cheese cubes on sticks, or a vat of Coronation chicken. Googling vegan fingerfoods was useless, it all required making from scratch. But still, I am now in love with Discovery fajita powder and wholemeal wraps. You just sautee a large quantity of veg, add powder - and wrap. Tinned chick peas and assorted beans are also, as everyone knows, a good vegan thing – I uncanned and mixed with with “oriental” tahini dressing (made up on the hoof). There was also bulghur wheat tabbouleh, sushi and guacamole dip with crudités plus other things for carnivores and fish-eating, gluten-avoiding vegetarians. In the end there was far too much food and I offloaded a quantity onto my lovely vegan neighbour. I used to do this sort of thing a lot but am out of practice, not just with the catering side of things but gatherings in general, unless they have some clearly defined focus such as choral singing or poetry. It has to be said that I am no longer (was I ever?) a party animal – unless it is a party where I can sing Bohemian Rhapsody on karaoke. Just saying this in case a couple of people look in and wonder if I was just pretending to enjoy myself at the garden party the other week. No, look, I am contradictory. I am not a party animal but sometimes go to parties and have a lovely time, especially if someone else is doing the food.

I could complain about the heat but won’t as the weather is due to change soon and then I will be complaining about the rain. In any case, Mr S and I are going to Caithness the day after tomorrow to stay with Ms North and partner in their lovely house on the beach where you can sit in bed and look out at the sea. Ms North and I will be doing The Writing while Mr. S explores the terrain, reads and relaxes. We also plan to eat, drink and talk to seals. There is one who has recently taken to hanging out on that bit of beach and I am hoping s/he will stay around and let me come close enough for some eye contact.

Whenever I go to my hairdresser she asks me where and when I am going on holiday. She and her husband have about seven a year so no sooner has one holiday been taken than the next is within sight. You must like Scotland a lot, she said last time. Because you keep going there, don’t you? Yes, I do. And I do.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Midsummer Invocation

Today was the Feast of St. John and midsummer’s day. In days of yore, and even more recently, if you happened to go to a Steiner school, there would be bonfires lit and people would jump over them for luck and courage, and to frighten off the evil spirits. I have no lit bonfire but want my measure of luck and courage, and to give the message that any spirits whose intentions are questionable have no place in the house and being of Signs. One can but try. So I have lit a candle. It is just a humble IKEA tea light as I am out of beeswax candles (on which I tend to stock up in the autumn), but a flame is a flame and the village Wise Woman once assured me that wherever a flame burns the forces of the will are strengthened. I suppose this could work for good or ill, depending on whose will forces are uniting with flame. The salamanders (fire elementals) are neutral in the sense that they will go to work, whatever. So I resist the urge to call on them and the angels to smite my enemies with a great smite and such a thing would not in any case be seemly.

There was a yoga teacher I once knew briefly. I forget what kind of yoga – I was very keen at the time but I didn’t keep it up. What I still remember, though, are the words with with he began each session:

may all beings who live on the earth be free from fear.

Just that. It feels to be as much of the essence now as it did then.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I interrupt this show to tell you that

I hired a couple of detectives and now have conclusive proof that our dear friend Anna FomP has been abducted by alien nuns and is living in seclusion somewhere on a remote island, but which remote island I am not at liberty to reveal. My informants did, however, go undercover and take this photograph - there's Anna on the left, just after being forced to take her vows by the mother superior. She is now known as Sister Boffinata of the Journals. And below is the cave that she sleeps in, it's actually one of the more luxurious ones. The thing about this particular order is that they are very big on Lent. So big, in fact, that it's always Lent and never Easter, which means that they are always doing penance of one sort or another.

Anyway, I'm sure you'll be grateful that I've kept you up to date with the situation - well someone had to. Do her a favour and pay a visit to her house. Word has it that if you make a big enough noise the sound will reach her, even in the murky depths of the cave.

Monday, June 22, 2009

I Capture the Sweetshop

Every so often I try to get myself organised so as to be a little more productive than I am. This doesn’t usually work out very well because Malignant Entity hears about it and sabotages, but still: I have sometimes managed to do certain things that I wouldn’t have done if there hadn’t been some kind of plan or readjustment made. The plans and readjustments are not always the active kind, often they involve cutting out something else and usually the something else is given up unwillingly.

I sometimes read the blogs of writers from the land of focussed productivity and it is like pressing my nose against the window of a richly-stocked sweet shop. I want very much to taste the sweets I see, can almost feel the buttery slide of a striped peppermint humbug or the fizz of a strawberry sherbet in my mouth. But twixt them and me is fixed an impenetrable glass wall through which I can only look, and my pockets have only small change. The looking, though, is better than nothing and I still want to know there is a world out there and in there.

I wrote those two paragraphs last night and suddenly realised I needed to sleep. Now I see I have been rambling about sweets and clearly I was having another blood sugar swing and jars of sweets are in any case not the best image to stand for the actual doing of things, but let it be. So, I have a sequence of poems I would like to complete and a number of writing-and-process sessions scheduled. I have completed bits and pieces that I plan to put inside envelopes and send somewhere. I am waving a protracted goodbye to Shrink just as we were in danger of actually getting somewhere, but the driving was killing me and the writing, so that’s that. Back to the square on the board that isn’t quite square one or Go To Jail but isn’t much further on the road to capturing the castle either – and look, I am coming up with crappy images again, I could never stand Monopoly, probably because there never were any castles there to capture, and I have never been much of an entrepreneur.

I should go. Because otherwise I might begin to list the various things that are cluttering up the fragile soul space of Signs and then this would become a confessional blog, which is not necessarily a bad thing, just as confessional poetry is not necessarily a bad thing (and if you are Anne Sexton it is a very good thing indeed – for us, I mean – it didn’t save her). But I think if one is going to do the confessional then there’s no merit in being coy, it needs to be done properly, hammer and tongs and hell for leather, so to speak, and if done in the right way it is not (as everyone always fears) self-indulgence but something big and generous, and one takes one’s hat off to the blogger who does this.

No really, I should go.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


You no longer exist, Wild Man of the Woods. But every time I go into the forest I expect you and am startled by your absence. How can it be only me here – me and my kind, in recycled rubber shoes, padding across the forest floor where nothing runs, hides and seeks but a few grey squirrels?

There are deer also, they venture out at night and get killed on the road. But what would you do here? The forest is not as large or wild as it once was and you too might wander onto the road, get caught in the headlights, your face for a brief moment illuminated, before the crunch. We read signs that tell us to go slow, there are deer and sheep. Another sign might say Caution: Wild Men of the Woods.

You have made yourself a garment out of bracken, deerskin and black bin-liners, something to protect you from the cold, perhaps. Around your neck there is a bone attached to a piece of string, bird feathers in your matted hair. Where is the mother that raised you – or were you suckled by the wolves? We do not see those either, and their absence is as loud as yours.

Alone in the deepest part of the forest where even the forest rangers seldom go, you squat on the thickest branch of an oak and open your mouth. From your throat comes the call of a woodpecker, and sometimes the long howl of a wolf.

One day some children find you – a brother and sister out with their parents for a Sunday walk, an autumn adventure with flasks of apple juice, peanut butter and marmite sandwiches. The parents are a little way behind and do not see what the children see: a wild and hairy man squatting on a branch, his genitals exposed, grey feathers stuck into hair the colour of rusted leaves, eyes like the big round letter O in their alphabet book, and inside the two Os it is black and shiny with staring. They stop and look, you stop and look.
Mum! Dad! shouts the boy.
You’re a funny man, says the girl. Are you a troll?
Dad! says the boy, Dad!

And then your nostrils flare, you growl and you are gone, disappeared.
He was here, say the children when the parents arrive. He wasn’t wearing proper clothes, I saw his willy, says the girl. The father pretends to have a look: well now, I wonder where he could have got to. The mother lays down a blanket for a picnic.
I’m not pretending - he was real, says the boy, and he will keep saying it, even when he grows up. There will be the story of a wild man in the forest. His parents are pleased he has a vivid imagination.

When they have gone, you come back and sniff the ground where they were sitting, pick up a half-eaten sandwich, put it into your mouth and spit it out. You go to your secret place under the Yew where there is a stash of berries.

Later you will kill and pluck a bird.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

bohemian rhapsody

Back into the forest on the weekend, a friend from London staying with me. We visited my tree, I think it is a Yew but am not absolutely sure. It is huge and ancient, with roots that spread out like gnarled but elegant fingers. I am not ashamed to adopt a tree companion. We have a proper regard for each other. With each meeting I become more tree-like and the tree looks increasingly human, so there is some essential exchange of energy going on.

I think the apple tree is going to survive as only a few branches have the burnt-to-a-crisp leaves, the rest are ok, and I can see little newborn apples dotted around that look as though they have a good future ahead of them. Some of them will eventually become apple jelly.

I had another occasion to perform, at my friend’s garden party on Saturday – spot of karaoke in the marquee. Bohemian Rhapsody, it was. I have always wanted to belt out scaramouche, scaramouche, will you do the fandango - thunderbolt and lightning, very very frightning - Galileo! etc. Obviously I wasn't doing it completely on my own, but it still took guts.

And yesterday, as if the heavens opened in reply, there was thunderbolt and lightning, and a clattering of hail, followed by hot sunshine, which has continued into today. It being the birthday of Mr. Signs I should expect nothing less, as he has decreed that the sun always shines on the day of his birth. Sceptics might say that it is fortunate his birthday falls in mid-June, but he maintains that it is all to do with having the right attitude. I am, as ever, reading the signs.

Friday, June 12, 2009

bashing on (because sorry, I really can't think of a title today)

Well, that was good. One of the benefits of building up to doing a reading is that it makes you polish things up a bit and think about the various themes you are working with. It may sound a bit fey, but that isn’t always clear – at least not to me – when one is writing the poems. It is the work itself that tells you. I had the pleasure of reading with Sarah Salway and Julie Corbin, I was nicely sandwiched between the two, and I see that Salt writer Vanessa Gebbie (whose short stories I’m coincidentally about to read and who I briefly talked with last night) has written about the evening on her blog. Chuffed. And lovely that Daughter and a couple of dear friends were able to come, despite difficulties thrown up by the London tube strike.

Thanks to those who commented in the previous post, and – wouldn’t you know – as it turned out I didn’t have time to read the poem. But your efforts were not wasted! It was one that was almost headed for the virtual bin, but I have decided that Version Two will stay, and in the fullness of time (how I love that phrase, so adaptable) it will find its place.

Yesterday was also the day that Son did the last of his finals exams which, because of the R.S.I. (which became Tennis Elbow and then something else) he wrote entirely on a keyboard in a room with (his words) “all the other cripples” – may the angels bless their endeavours. So now it’s party-time for him, and a space with nothing scheduled but whatever it is he fancies doing.

And today is the Signs wedding anniversary, which we almost forgot (though Mr. S swears he didn’t). No chance at all of my cooking anything, we’re going for a curry. I am almost excarnated with sleeplessness but in that Mickey Mouse kind of state where you can keep walking on air and not fall into the ravine as long as you don’t look down. Tomorrow a friend is coming to stay, there is a big bash of a party we have been invited to, not usually my thing but it’s hosted by one of my lovely weekly writing people, there will be beautiful music and ambience and I will enjoy.

Have a good weekend yourselves, Peeps.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Nation Decides

Oh this is ridiculous. Poetry reading coming up on Thursday and I’ve decided I need to rewrite most of the poems I planned to read, which obviously isn’t going to be possible. Also, I haven’t got any funny ones. Well, I have got one, but it’s about how to turn yourself into a poisonous snake so won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. And I have decided I want to take the opportunity to get in a few M.E. poems – two of them are ok, but there is one where I can’t decide which version works best.

So, dear Reader Peeps, this is where you come in: I’ll put up both and you decide which one gets your vote. I could also do with a decent title, if one suggests itself to you. Thanking you in advance for doing a beleaguered Sign-reader a good turn, and – who knows – I might do the same for you one day.

Version One

I am your litmus paper, if you like;
watch my colour turn from live to nothing
and that should tell you something.

I am your singing canary, let’s say,
that goes before you into darkness,
and when the music stops, you know.

I am closer than you think.
You may have sensed me:
a coldness in the limbs;
the odourless lips of a still-born rose.

I am trying to tell you things,
but I only have this language:
a bloodless complexion;
this deathly silence.

Version Two

I am your litmus paper, if you like;
watch my live colour turn to nothingness.

I am your singing canary, let’s say,
that goes before you into darkness.

I am closer than you think.
You may have sensed me.

I am trying to tell you things
but have only this language –
a coldness in the limbs,
this deathly silence.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

rolled purples

There is something about being cold in summer that is much more chilling than being cold in winter. Another day of the claustrophobic and cold white sky weather. Sun seems well and truly blocked out, rain is on the way, I have just switched on the central heating. I grow old, I grow old, I will wear the bottom of my purples rolled – which reminds me, there is more T.S. Eliot on the box tonight. It clashes with a film called Signs, but what do I need to watch a spooky film about crop circles for? The Signs are spooky enough in my own front garden: there is something wrong with our beautiful apple tree. Some of the leaves have shrivelled and look burnt to a crisp. The tree doctor says if it is caused by insect infestation it will survive, if it is our deadly enemy Honey Fungus the tree will most likely have to be cut down. We lost a silver birch last year to that. This comes hard after the loss of our cherry tree,

two weeks it flowered in my kitchen, the scent of it painful,
like losing a sister,
like taking a bride from the altar, husbandless

– a snippet from work in progress. I observe that when I write about beauty it usually comes with pain and I also observe that I don’t write many funny poems, or if they are funny then it’s not obvious to anyone but me (someone did once say I had a kind of sly humour but neither of us were sure if that was a compliment).

And back to the trees: our next neighbour but one has cut down an ash tree. I’m sure there was a good reason for it but it has quite changed the view when one looks out of the window at the back of the house. There is always a tree issue in these parts, the forest is all around us and everything that is not forest wants to be. What with that and keeping the elementals happy one has one’s work cut out.

It has been a difficult week, I’ve been myaligicmusclebound and mainly housebound – without the former the latter would be fine in my little house, albeit with compromised view, but my neighbour (not the hot cross bun one) has had scaffolding put up by the side of his house which is hard by the side of our house. There have been days of banging, scraping and raucous banter, and I am spoiled with so much silence and birdsong, not used to the noise.

Certainly it is time for the rolled purples.