Friday, December 31, 2010

"it furthers one to have somewhere to go"

From the tail end of the year, from the middle of the holy nights that probably no shepherd or wise man is watching, from the most pure and pristine exhaustion whereby mortal coil is all but shuffled off, from the Edge, the razor edge, the margin, from no-man's-land - greetings to y'all, dear peeps, and may the new year find you as it leaves me: hopeful and trusting that great goodness in all its extraordinary manifestations will find us open-hearted and ready, but please god not so stupid in the hereafter as in the heretofore and with clout enough to kick the enemy a good one up the tucchus should need arise.

Getting ready to consult the I Ching oracle now - and if the Signs are not manifestly and exceedingly auspicious then I'll be calling on the ghost of Richard Wilhelm to tell me the reason why.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

bread sauce

Jack Frost has been painting the rooftops and bare branches - he has covered each blade of grass on the lawn. The air, even in centrally-heated Signs Cottage has that hard, white feeling that says King Winter is back for a space. Mr. Signs got back in the small hours from a work stint in Romania, his connecting plane in Munich having been delayed a couple of hours. Even though it was one in the morning, he had some hot soup and I ate half a loaf of the sweet Romanian Christmas bread he brought back. I have barely slept, and this is what regularly happens after I have had a short run of nights when I have had proper, substantial amounts of sleep.

Hovering on the edge of waking and sleeping it is strange how the really stupid, small things crowd round as though wanting to mock me with their petty but persistent claims on my attention. Bread sauce niggles about whether or not to make it ahead of time and will there be room in the oven for goosefat roast potatoes as well as vegetable oil. A notch up from this is the Boxing Day lunch where we join with the sister and her family and with the mater and her spouse. There will not be the possibility of getting drunk because a) I can hardly drink a glassful these days, and shouldn't and b) someone will need to drive mater and spouse to and from the gastro-pub lunch venue. On the other hand, there is the distinct possibility that mater and spouse will take umbrage and absent themselves from the occasion. Every way you look at it you lose, Mrs. Robinson. Christmas itself, though, (whether I sleep or not) is going to be good. The Signs children will be with us, is the main thing, and plus they are doing all the cooking. Even so, monkey mind will not be diverted from fretting about bread sauce and potatoes.

Coming up to the end of another year, and it will have been my fourth year of blogging. Whether to continue with this or stop, is a question that has been moving in and out of consciousness. But in my present unslept state it is probably not one I should think about now. And I have to get out of PJs, have a writing morning, collect Son from station - do stuff.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Midwinter - the Festival

I don't know how one can do the Christmas thing in the southern hemisphere. I hear about opening presents and pulling crackers on the beach, Santas and reindeer flashing through hot and steamy nights. Or it is somewhat adapted to suit a midsummer festival, which Christmas is simply not. It is a midwinter festival and, as such, necessary to us. I realise this is making a pronouncement on behalf of absolutely everyone but I'm not talking about the Christian festival, which Christmas really isn't, not for most peeps at any rate. Or the Christian element does its thing somewhere on the margins, or vibrating inconspicuously as metaphor: extraordinary light and possibility in the darkest and most inauspicious of times and circumstances. We need the darkness, you could say, for this to be doing its work, for us to carry it into the realm of the human condition. You could say that all the tat surrounding the season is part of the darkness, but we're only human and what, in any case are we meant to do, those of us who are not ascetic contemplatives living in some remote or hidden place? We have to live as we find, and I find a certain gleeful hallelujah moment in the truly dreadful blue flashing lights that beam annually into the bedroom from the house opposite, come advent. God with us, prepare and make straight his paths. Actually, this last really belongs to the feast of St. John (remember that one?) which is a midsummer thing. Some might argue (and actually some do) that southern hemisphere should have their Christmas in June and do something else in December, but it would make life complicated and the card and flashing light industries probably wouldn't stand for it.

Meanwhile, on we go with our difficult lives and circumstances, and this time I feel confident about pronouncing for everyone because I can't think of anyone who is treading an easy path or going fishing "with the sail set fair and an understanding crew," and if they say they are then they are either on drugs or have gone completely wrong and we should be praying for their souls. Ever since we were thrown out of the garden (and thank you, Blake, for taking issue with this), we earn our bread with difficulty, are hurt, violated, misunderstood and at war with each other. (Digression: I am sitting at the window of Brighton flat looking at a parking official who is nosing around trying to find someone to nick, very easy here if you don't have resident's permits, and we are still waiting for ours. I have a temporary voucher perched on the inside of my windscreen but am running out of those. So anyway, he has nicked some other poor sod and is writing out a ticket.) Yes, at war with each other, e'en within our own families, communities and friendship groups - e'en in our relationships with goddam Shrinks! The betrayal of trust and innocence (I am not talking about the parking official, he just doing his job) goes on everywhere and is hardest to bear when closest to home, to the heart. It is enough to extinguish even the most persistent flame, if one did not take care to strike the match and keep it lit, or to notice that - actually - it does not really go out and is there, even by virtue of our need and wish for it. I need this midwinter festival.

On a more mundane note: I am nowhere near making a dent in my Christmas "preparations." I have ordered a goose. I am leafing through vegetarian alternatives for me and the daughter's boyf who is veggie but prefers not to have nut roast. I will probably have a bit of the goose anyway. In terms of available energy, there are very few hours in the day available to me and weather news has it that the intense cold cometh back again. Mr. Signs is in Romania and returns late tomorrow night. Son is planning to look in on Friday and play cello in his old childhood orchestra for their annual carol concert. Daughter is thinking of writing a blog next year, and her friend is doing (for the love of it) a Christmas blog. It's all good.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Broken Banana

Yesterday a small boy in the vegetable section of the health food shop was having a tantrum. His mother was young, sweet-faced and doing her best, struggling to get him into the back part of the double buggy, the front being occupied by baby sibling. I held the door open for her, made sympathetic noises. The boy was holding half a peeled banana, waving it in the air. He is upset, said the mother, because the banana is in two pieces. Broken, screamed the boy, you broke it! I said something like oh dear and then he kicked me - not hard, but the mother was mortified. You shouldn't kick the lady, she said. He rushed at me and kicked again. It's ok, I said, I know what it's like. Meaning not just the situation of trying to manage with two little children, a double buggy in a shop, tantrums and such, but also the broken banana and how hard it might be to explain why that mattered. His vision, I am guessing, was to have eaten it all of a piece with one half peeled, holding the other half in his fist as he ate. I used to give them to my children as snacks and sing (an old TV advert) "when you feel like having a snack - unzip a banana!" A small flourish as I handed the half unzipped fruit over for eating. Or I would cut it up into pieces with orange, apple and grapes, set the plate on the living room floor and call it a fruit pic-nic. I think I was lucky in that my kids were really quite easy to please, not particularly faddy or fussy about food. But sometimes one didn't get it right. My daughter coveted the packed lunches she saw her friends bring to school and my worthy wholemeal sandwiches with lettuce and tomato falling out were not the thing. She wrote me a note saying, plese can i hav a packlunsh wit wite bred a bisgit and a jingk in a bottel. You have to try and get what you want in life.

There isn't any way, said the mother of the small boy, that I can put the banana together again. If she could have she undoubtedly would.

I've been looking at the story of Goldilocks for the purposes of a poem I have been trying to develop. An earlier version of the story had an ugly, dirty, foul-mouthed old vagrant woman as the intruder, rather than a golden-haired little girl. Who knew? Not Bruno Bettelheim, who didn't like the Goldilocks story, believing it to be an escapist one that thwarts the child reading it from gaining emotional maturity. The story of the girl trying one bowl of porridge/chair/bed after another until she gets the one that is "just right" has a certain something satisfying about it. There is a small thrill to be had from the idea of the ugly crone doing the same thing, but on the other hand one has to face the fact that what is sauce for the chick is not necessarily sauce for the older bird.

So you won't find me going around wild-eyed and shrieking, brandishing the naked half of a broken banana - though sometimes, quite honestly, I might feel tempted to do just that.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Essentials

There is nothing like a call from one's mater to say that she had run out of smoked salmon and double cream to focus the mind on what is really important. Mr. Signs and I trudged to the end of our road where his car was parked to make the perilous journey into the village for provisions. If no smoked salmon, she said, then Parma ham would do. There was basically nothing fresh to be had - no veg apart from spinach and certainly nothing like bread or milk. But lo! There was one solitary tub of double cream and there was, inexplicably, Parma ham. There is a Sign here somewhere - a clue to the kind of things one should look for in perilous times: luxuries, clearly. If I need to go to the chemist while this weather lasts it will be for Chanel No. 5. For ourselves we stocked up on biscuits, Supernoodles, peanuts, Monster Munch - plus a few sensible things, and I mean to say, who ever starved while there were lentils and rice in the cupboard.

The snow carries on falling and when I look out at the front I can only see a tiny bit of the middle of the Signsmobile as most of it is buried in white. Tomorrow, by hook or by crook, we have to get ourselves to London to meet up with Daughter and others to see Son performing the romantic lead in West Side Story at the Greenwood Theatre in London Bridge. Today all the trains are cancelled, so it has simply got to stop snowing in time to allow us clear passage. We will leave the cat alone, the central heating on. All will be well.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Narnia again

I seem to have walked through the wardrobe and found myself here again. The trees are becoming heavy with snow which is predicted to continue. The BBC weather forecast says the temperature here in deepest east sussex will plummet to minus ten by Friday, which is when we are due to go to London to see son play the romantic lead in West Side Story. The launch of a poetry anthology I was to have attended today has been cancelled because of weather. Leaving aside other considerations I would not, in any case, have been able to get my car out of the road.

I am uneasy in my soul - for other reasons than those listed above, and also for no clear reason, but the wintry landscape does serve as metaphor. It is Narnia in the grip of the White Witch, and Aslan is not in evidence. Of course, this is the real advent experience, everything getting darker and more difficult. It is just at this time (at these times) that you have to light the candle, that substance inside you, the wax and wick of it. I have lost my box of household matches, and here - conveniently - is another metaphor. I do not have the werewithal to light the candle. Well, ok, I lit it from the gas stove, but you get my drift.

There is food in the house, enough for today at any rate, and it is warm here. If I could just get myself out of the cold forest. But on the other hand, I have been there before and know the terrain.

Go deep and you are on hard ground.
You know the way the air grows cold,
it’s always winter and the light burns low
in a single lantern on a post, and you are
lost again. Flame won’t flicker, heart won’t beat.

The wardrobe is dreaming you out, pushing you
from the nest of your familiars to wander in the
dark wood. You have no compass. It is good.
Your breath is white, the ghost of owl calls
from the forest. Who walks in the night?

Friday, November 26, 2010

only human

London writerfriend came for a Brighton sleepover. We had a delicious time - meaning, of course, nice food, including the oyster late breakfast (creme caramel for desert) followed by a beach walk - the sun always shines on these oyster breakfasts and I am thinking there must be some correlation here. Meaning also that we had a delicious time talking about life and stuff - and The Writing. I have given up on Nano in the sense that I am no longer adding up the word count and realising for the second time of trying that pushing myself in that way is incompatible with having ME/CFIDS and is therefore unlikely to work But on the other hand, having a month where one focusses on the novel, or any creative project, is a good thing and potentially sets something up for (slowly) working on - in bed, eating lots of toast (I listen to you, Ms Pants).

I am reading my first Kindle book. I have had the Kindle (birthday present from Mr. Signs) since September but have struggled to find what I wanted and find it extraordinary and frustrating that I couldn't get books by Tim Winton, Marilynne Robinson, Lorrie Moore and various other good, well-known writers. The book I am reading is not a novel but a kind of buddhist self-help book called How To Be Sick by Toni Bernhard. No surprises, it basically peddles the route of acceptance and positive thinking and it is perhaps a measure of how recently clobbered I have been with Symptoms that I pressed the order button for it, having seen it recommended on various sites. But the writer does herself have M.E. and it is strangely reassuring to be reminded of what we are up against and the importance of being kind and forgiving to oneself. I do not accept, though, the notion that when bad things happen there is inevitably some kind of silver lining or higher purpose. Sometimes shit just happens and it is just shit. And sometimes it is right and fitting to give utterance to this in ways that might not seem immediately compatible with Upekkha (equanimity; a mind that is at peace in all circumstances). And I do have a sneaking suspicion that those who continually harp about the benefits of the Ten Steps and things of that kind do perhaps protest too much and that Metta (loving-kindness, wishing well to others and to ourselves) can manifest in mysterious and apparently contradictory ways because, peeps, we are human and therefore complex, innit. I was at a poetry reading the other day, reading some of my own stuff as well as listening to others. One of the readers announced that she used to write miserable poetry until she discovered - well I won't say what, but you know the kind of thing - and now she just writes happy poetry. Nuff said. And another thing. My current Shrink (whose days are definitely numbered), on learning my interest in the teachings of a certain Jeepers of Nazareth drew my attention to the time he threw over the tables of the money-lenders in the Temple, not the first time my attention has been drawn to this when someone wants to make some point about the Son of God being angry and therefore human, just like us. But I prefer the story about when he blasted the fig tree to damnation for not giving him fruit when he wanted it. Now there's a Son of Man for you.

What was the point I was about to make? I have forgotten. And I have a script to read - something devilishly good written by the daughter. Oh yes.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Birdie

Well, so this is how it is, Peeps - yesterday, intending to put up a small post, I wrote:

"Brighton in winter is lovely. Did I know this? Apparently not, or I would not find myself so surprised by unpeopled beaches, the pristine quality of the cold clear air, a kind of hush over everything that allows the natural world to reveal itself more completely.

I reached the afternoon threshold beyond which new creative work is exceedingly difficult and unlikely. But I did really want those oysters, feel something or other that's in them does me good - and I did really want to get out with the sky so suddenly clear."

And then a pigeon flew into the fireplace - a live, beady-eyed beauty of a bird, Father Christmas in pre-festive disguise perhaps, a winged messenger from the gods, or perhaps even the holy spirit him/her/itself (though it was not white so unlikely). But whatever, a bird. And thank goodness for the fire guard in its place, though we have not yet lit a fire in the grate and had e'en the night before the bird's appearance spoken of getting a chimney sweep in preparation.

Bird and I stared at each other, I in my human fashion, straight on, and bird in its fashion, turning its head from side to side. After a short while it got fed up and hopped from the grate, pushing at the fire surround with its beak and pecking at the ground at some ancient bits of grit. Not being a natural bird-grabber, in spite of having done night shifts on a kibbutz turkey farm years back, I went looking for helpful neighbours and found one in the flat immediate above. He was half way to the shower and late for the dentist but promised he would look in. Meanwhile bird and I communed. I dropped some pieces of bread down, which it snaffled up. The eye that beheld me kept filming over as the head tilted in that suggestive way pigeons have. It was a good-looking bird, but still, I wouldn't have wanted to touch it with a barge pole, I had promised the flat to friends for the weekend and had visions of it flying around the room, bashing into the floor to ceiling windows and crapping on the IKEA furniture. Sweet upstairs neighbour turned up, tried to grab the creature through carrier bags but in the end we trapped it under a waste paper basket and shoved a baking tray underneath before setting it free on the balcony.

Now the thing is, I really do have to Read the Signs in this. My paternal grandmother, a Jungian Analyst, died when I was six and foretold her own death by means of a bird (I don't know what kind) falling down her chimney. In her case, though, the bird was dead on arrival whereas my bird was alive-alive-oh! It's a case of 'physician heal thyself' when a Sign-reader can't read a Sign that literally stares her in the face.

So it's up for grabs. Any thoughts?

(M.E. is being a complete bastard at the moment, btw, and is hating any sniff of sustained creative endeavour. Had intended to bang on about that before bird interrupted).

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cheers

The writing is going well. I say this based on a good session yesterday when I felt I hit the seam again after much seemingly pointless hacking about. And I reminded myself that meandering digressions, inconsistencies, abrupt changes in tone are all fine while one is at the stage of discovering the story. I have almost completely abandoned the word count thing and my aim is now to simply keep on with this particular idea for the month of November. If I decide to continue with it after that then I will be prepared for it to take a long time. Still working within constraints of M.E. so bursts of energy, if at all, are short and if I don't catch time in the morning then I am unlikely to do it (composition, I mean), later in the day. Evenings may be ok for poetry revision, though, and I have recently done a little of that too. The result - a short poem I am pleased with.

In other, completely different news, I have another little project on the go: briefly, to disengage more effectively with certain people in certain situations; to get myself a set of shiny feathers, the better for allowing negative projections to be water that runs off a duck's back. Small measures, small steps. Any blame knocking around looking for a place to go? We are no longer open for business.

Friends, familiars and gentlefolk - I carouse to your fortune.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cap'n's Log (2)

Things would be easier if Real Life, in the form of hospital appointment, eye infections, empty fridge syndrome etc. did not get in the way of artistic endeavour. To anyone who has recently tried finding a place in a hospital car park - respect, I know what you have endured and wonder if, like me, you have gone through the barrier of one car park, been unable to find a space and then been unable to leave through the exit barrier because you have not paid. But why should you have paid if you haven't been able to park and need to look elsewhere? Not their problem. Not anyone's problem except yours. At reception you have to fill in a four-page form but pootling around in the freezing rain trying to negotiate your way back to the right department (they sent you a letter explaining how to do that but the letter never arrived - not their problem, yours), feeling like Tess of the D'Urbervilles on a particularly inclement day when Angel is nowhere and has in any case dumped you, takes its toll, makes you late and your varifocals keep steaming up. Everyone in the waiting room looks miserable, in spite of the water dispenser (which has in any case run out of plastic cups), and the copy of Literary Review lying next to the Daily Mail. And it does not make the situation any better, here in deepest mid-Sussex, to know that things are immeasurably worse in London. Just saying, because the receptionist told me that, meaning that I should be grateful and count my blessings. I do, actually. Count my blessings. But no reason to tell her that, especially as there was no toilet paper in the loo.

Anyway, back to the endeavour. Eye infection probably not helped by staring at a screen. The writing not helped by it either, so back I go to the notebook and see how the words begin to flow again, probably helped by the company of my two very trusted writing companions, one of whom is also doing Nano. We have decided to do the thing at our pace. Sufficient unto the month the dedication thereof. I will not be aiming to produce fifty thousand words. Today's output was around nine hundred, which is quite respectable.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Update

Nothing is static and I am changeable as the wind, and probably less predictable. Artist's Temperament, as before, meaning it is a smokescreen and of course I know that what Artists actually do is get down to work, and I have been and will. A little more sanguine about the project today, having had a small pause as Son has been here collecting things for his new flat. One needs the pauses as much as the wordage. The characters need them, as we need sleep in order to process almost everything. Nanowrimo does not really allow for pauses, but that's ok. It's about getting a certain habit of working into your system, and it's about naming an objective and overcoming fear. So it's all good, and I say this because it is almost certain that there will be trouble ahead, and I won't want to face the music and dance. But I probably will.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Cap'n's Log

I have been clocking up the words so all is, one could say, going to plan. But I am not exactly enjoying the process. Truth to tell, other than the grim satisfaction of updating my word count each time I have bashed out the required number, I am feeling quite miserable about it, and the deeper into story I go, the more something or other (I really don't know what) presses on me and in me. It feels strange and personal, like grief - a big word, I know, but I can't think of another that fits. I have not plotted out my story at all but am writing from scratch, working with an idea and allowing it to unfold as it goes along. But it is not a natural, organic unfolding. If nothing emerges, then I make something happen or find something or other to bring to utterance because otherwise I would fall behind, and I have committed to the game, am playing it seriously. There is a sense, though, that in pushing on in the direction it is going I am leaving something else behind, and that something else may be the real, the actual heart of the thing that first suggested itself to me. I am making myself believe that it (the story behind the story) will hold fast.

And I am very tired. It is tiring to do this every day. No strength to spare and the cupboard is perilously bare.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Viewing the Situation

And the leaves on the ash tree are a deeper shade of red and the forests is aflame with autumn. Here I sit looking over tree tops, and last night I was in the middle of London for lovely daughter's birthday bash in the Soho theatre bar. London was my place too when I was her age and I didn't envisage a time when I would no longer live there. Each time I go I am astonished, not just by the number of people out there but how life is lived on the streets in a way it never used to be. I am no longer from there, yet still feel the knowledge of it intimately.

Short and sweet - not me, but this post because there are things I need to do before tomorrow:

1. Get rid of this virus thing that comes in waves and makes me feel queasy and uneasy. Life is, you know, quite challenging enough and it probably goes without saying that today is another pyjama day.

2. Watch the Halloween special of Psychoville, which I imagine everyone who watched the original Psychoville series will be doing.

3. Watch the five remaining episodes of Mad Men series three (unlikely).

4. Open the door to give sweets to Halloweening children. Mr. Signs on duty this year, he has bought two packets of Haribo and some Cadbury's Heroes which won't be nearly enough but neither have we put out the usual carved pumpkin, so we might not have as many visitors.

5. Change the bed linen. Or perhaps not.

Much viewing to be done, and tomorrow is the start of NaNo. Fingers crossed etc.

If I go a bit quiet then it is either a very Good Sign or complete disaster. I do, as you know, live on the Edge.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Testing

In preparation for next month's writing blast, I thought I should conduct this experiment: to see what happens on one of my particularly bad and rag-doll days if I just put finger to keyboard. Well I know what happens. Sometimes you override and sometimes you don't. This morning I wrote one line in my notebook and went straight back to bed, returning to my dream about interminable train journeys with a mobile phone that didn't work, no-one around to tell me where the hell I was supposed to be heading and the ghastly realisation that wherever it was, I was travelling in the wrong direction. Kind of neat, the images that dreams throw up. After that kind of journey, no wonder I woke up exhausted and sick.

Yesterday I Herbatinted my hair (a mixture of red and mahogany) and today I am feeling the after-effects. Despite the claims that it has far less crap in it than other products I always feel after-effects. But Saturday is a big day - my daughter's twenty fifth birthday bash in London - so I am planning ahead, fingers crossed I will be over the worst by then, if I put in enough time on the rickety sleep-train. I have bought myself an outfit - a silk velvet jacket and long black skirt from Hampstead Bazaar in Brighton, cost a fortune but poetry prize money covered it nicely and I will be wearing it for the next hundred or so years. But at time of writing (we are heading towards the melancholy candles of late afternoon) I am still in my night-wear of black leggings and blue flannel pyjama top with sleeping cat-on-a-star motif (the trousers lost their elastic a couple of years back).

I am still feeling sick and scratched out, and thinking that the Herbatint was probably a bad idea, especially as I used a fair quantity of it. I have just noticed, though, that the leaves on the ash tree outside my window speak to the shades of red in my hair and velvet jacket. This is a good sign and will have to do me. Later on is book group, tomorrow a friend's birthday, and I have promises to keep - "and miles to go before I sleep."

Monday, October 25, 2010

Wide-eyed and Plotless

Back to the dark forest, and it's minus one tonight, damn cold. Less than twelve hours ago I was sitting by the sea front breakfasting on oysters and black coffee, squinting in sunlight under clear blue sky. These shifts from one to another - sea to forest, light to dark, warm to cold - perfectly reflect the the inner condition (mine), which is changeable as the wind. I have sometimes likened it to swimming in a sea where you never know when you are going to hit a cold spot. But that is a gentler image than the actual experience. No doubt about it, the physical condition affects mood, or can render what seems manageable one moment to something quite intolerable in another. The shining moment, when all seems (for a space) well between heaven and earth, can bring a most perilous euphoria in its wake: perilous because the descent may be as sharp and violent as a rollercoaster ride, but without the fun element. We may attribute this to the Artistic Temperament - a useful smokescreen when the truth is something one would prefer not to identify. But actually, I like a good smokescreen, it has all manner of uses. So Artistic Temperament it is. A spell in the army would obviously do me a lot of good, but as this is out of the question (I have flat feet) I have decided to go back to NaNoWriMo bootcamp in November. Last year's attempt nearly killed me and was in any case scuppered by Swine Flu. This year I will come at it totally unprepared - think David and Goliath, Daniel in the Lion's Den. Whatever, it is unquestionably heroic and the angels will therefore be on my side as I enter the ring, wide-eyed and plotless - legless too, if only I were allowed to drink alcohol.



I do love this song.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

We drove to Brighton from Forest-on-Edge last night and I had a renewed sense of the otherness of place: in the village, on forest terrain, there is a sense of going inward, lighting the candles, literally and metaphorically, to keep the inside bright while everything on the outside grows darker. The village itself is lively with many goings-on of an artistic or community-building nature, a film society that is second to none, pubs and restaurants, a proper village hall that is bang in the centre and a church that is actually attended. But forest is all around, breathing its presence, claiming the terrain. The nights are dark – you can go out at night and properly see the stars.

In Brighton everything feels lit up in comparison and people do not draw their curtains against the dark. You can walk along the streets looking into rooms with no sense of being intrusive. We walked from our flat down to the seafront, the windows into Saturday nights of so many others open to view, one couple languorously couch-potatoing on a wide sofa with crisps and rugs, gawping at the TV so they never noticed us gawping at them, not that they would have minded. There is not such a clear division between inside and out. Down we went until we reached the Melrose fish restaurant. I give the name because if you ever go to Brighton and want fresh seafood cheap as chips, with linen on the table and a dash of 1960s retro, you will thank me for having mentioned it, as we thank Simon Hoggart who mentioned it in the Guardian as being a reason he was pissed off not to be in Brighton for party conferences. After our meal (mussels in wine, plaice on the bone, crème caramel) I had a double espresso. And here's another tip you might one day thank me for: if you have an espresso after a large evening meal it will act as a digestif and not keep you awake. It has to be espresso, the real thing, and preferably a single one. I had a double because I wanted a caffeine blast to get me back up the hill.

And up the hill I went, thinking: if anyone saw me now they wouldn't believe I had M.E., they would think I was an impostor. Good – the misapprehensions notwithstanding. I need the good moments, drain every last bit of them to the dregs. Something to set against the darkness.

Monday, October 18, 2010

wedded

I miss the swimming. This is a good sign because it means that I must have short periods (moments) of feeling up for doing it. But if I actually did I would be back in the crawling pits again. It wasn't only the warm chlorine - regular, sustained exercise is not something that PWME can do. I already knew this but made myself believe I could find a way. Does anybody, in any case, get it all right? Life, I mean, and how to live it. My aunt, nearing her death and not yet particularly old, confessed that she had never been particularly "wedded to life", and I felt surprised by this, and to some degree shocked, as thought it were a disavowal of something that we all come with, this bond that weds us unbreakably to life, until life itself is gone from us. But my aunt was, I only realised this later, probably depressed for much of her life - the signs were there but not obvious to anyone who didn't know her intimately. She was passionate about the arts and particularly about getting to know people who were something or other, who had made a name for themselves. She was a fine cook and courted them with boef a la ficelle and Grand Marnier souffle. She collected famous names and even had affairs with some of them. This, and Fortnum and Masons, made her feel much better about life. We all need things that are better-making.

I'm sure this post was going somewhere, but a couple of phone calls, my neighbour's knock on the door with coffee and walnut cake and a pressing need to have something to eat (boiled eggs and soldiers) interrupted the flow. Never mind, because what I was going to talk about was the particulars, and how they above all can wed one to life, particularly when life is constrained by chronic illness or any ongoing situation that is difficult to bear or robs one of life-force. But then, I am not depressed. I am many things that one might (and please don't!) give a clinical name to - but not that. And I know this, because there were two short periods when I almost certainly was, and anyone who has been there knows about the difference between that dark beast and all the other mind-creatures one has to battle or negotiate with. I am wedded to life, the better and the worse of it, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, especially to the particulars of coffee and walnut cake, pleasant interruptions, the magpie who has found temporary lodging on our apple tree, and even, or perhaps particularly, an almost redundant yellow HB pencil, its india rubber worn to the metal rung that holds it, the lead almost blunt - I must remember to sharpen it later, restore it to some kind of usefulness. And an old leather cricket ball that has sat on the desk this many a year, the tough stitching around its red middle still good. No use for it at all in our lives, but there it sits, placing itself in the list of particulars that we may or may not find in heaven but can only properly relish here on earth, to which I am wedded.

This being so, why am I smoking again? Must stop before it takes hold. There is always that.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Rubbish

All day spent working on a poem, and it's rubbish. A few more drafts and it might be something, but the good ones (mine) do tend to fall out more or less all of a piece. Sitting at the computer means that my lower back is a bit rubbish, though I have been trying to follow the osteopath's advice to get up and walk about every so often. I am taking even less, if that were possible, interest in the sartorial element of my life and I therefore look like rubbish, or at any rate like someone who has clothed herself with random cast-offs from 1979 (thick-weave floral top) and 1989 (Puma polyester trousers). I haven't yet donned the Purples and think the moths have feasted on my cashmere top, which is very rubbish but I have never worked out what to do about things like that. The state of my soul is surprisingly rubbish, considering that things are not half bad, relatively speaking, and my VIPs (Mr. S and grown-up children) are well and generally thriving, and we have even sorted out our Christmas arrangements. But I have allowed certain elements from the dysfunctional wing, and a glass of toxic vintage from the cellars of bygone days to permeate my thin (and therefore rubbish) skin and sometimes I wish I could just wake up one day and not be me. Though, actually, me is pretty damn wonderful, when I come to think of it: generous to a fault, endlessly forgiving, insightful and, having been born on the Sabbath day, bonny, blithe and gay (in the old-fashioned sense of the word). It's just everyone else (not you, dear reader, obviously) who is rubbish. Which is, if you think about it, a pretty rubbish state of mind. And you would think, wouldn't you, that all those sessions with Shrink would have sorted me. But he was rubbish. And in my present state of mind (I'm seeing a new one and if she isn't rubbish now, you can bet your life she will be by the time I've finished with her) I'm not really prepared to entertain the thought that I will ever really get shot of all the rubbish.

But other than that, it's all sweet. And we're deep into the second series (boxed set) of Mad Men here, so there's a place to disappear to every evening: New York circa 1960, Madison Avenue, when to be almost any kind of woman was just beyond the shadow of a doubt - rubbish.

Post Script: forgot to put the bin out for collection today.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

you win some

Just found out today that the poem I was banging on about here has won first prize in a competition. Details anon, once it has been published (in November), but just to say, hot on the heels of the previous post's whinge, that I am feeling rather happy about it, as you'd expect.

A burning blue day in Brighton, walking along the sea front with a cone of triple chocolate ice cream, smelling the fish and chips. Et in arcadia ego - de temps en temps. Or to quote Jeanette Winterson: You play. You win. You play. You lose. You play.

The Signs are perilously close to being Auspicious.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

stuffed

I seem to have spent an immoderate amount of time getting together three poems to send off to a poetry magazine that has already rejected me twice and will probably do the same again. Why do I do this? There is absolutely no money in it, no fame to speak of and, actually, if I were chasing fame I can think of much better ways of going about it. But it is an unusual writer who, having written, does not want to put their work out, to let it make its way in the world. Almost like having a child and then keeping it shut away. Well perhaps not quite that, but one does not want to simply bury one's talents in the ground. Jesus would understand.

One of my stories has been long/shortlisted by Bridport, meaning that it is in the top hundred - not a winner but a kind of thumbs up. So that's good. But not, if I'm honest, quite good enough, and it is a story I wrote some years back, a conventionally-narrated tale - nothing wrong with that, but I write differently now - more, um, experimentally. Well I can turn my hand to one or the other, but would like more of a clear Sign that pointed me in the direction I should go, especially with time's winged chariot prodding at the base of my spine.

Speaking of which, my back is better and I managed to do two out of three of the things I was down for at the village Lit Fest, both being good and well-attended. But osteopathy is still needed (yes yes, I am having it) and doesn't come cheap, nor will the private Pilates sessions I plan to book for myself to try and prevent this kind of thing happening again. Yesterday, on the back of extraordinary claims made for its magical properties, and on the basis that at nearly £30 a jar it simply has to be doing you good, I invested in a jar of Manuka Honey for Mr. Signs as he has come back from a work trip to Romania with another virusy thing.

Carrying on in the same vein, for which no apologies (sometimes it's just How Things Are), Signs Cottage is in a filthy state. By anyone's standards, it is the devil of a place to keep clean on account of its shape, the narrow, steep stairs and the unmade road from which blow quantities of fine dust. But, but - and this is really heroic - I decided yesterday that in spite of all evidence to the contrary, life is actually not too short to stuff a mushroom, and I made this - vegetarian cuisine of the highest order, took me ages but that's only because it was the first time.

Something more reflective anon, perhaps.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

back story

I swear by the hairs on the chinny chin chin of the howling wolf that prowls on Edge, the gods have got it in for me again. There is a literary fest hereabouts on the weekend, and I'm involved, and guess what? I've done, I mean really done, my back in. This has never happened to me before. I have had verucas, ingrowing toenail, toothache, conjunctivitis, measles, mumps, chicken pox, allergies, not to mention an impressive little collection of autoimmune diseases - but never a bad back! So not having much experience of it, when something goes ping slightly to the left of the base of my spine as I bend down to pick something up I think ouch, that feels weird, and when it carries on feeling weird and hurting a bit I think, oh what a nuisance, and carry on sweeping the kitchen floor. Spine grumbles and moans at me over the weekend and I notice I'm holding myself strangely because it's hard to bend and by Monday night (my birthday, dammit) there is no ignoring it.

Back I go to ice packs, aspirin, codeine, lying flat, fretting about whether I'll be sufficiently upright by the weekend. Or I don't know what.

Fuck-a-doodle-doo.

Friday, September 24, 2010

equinox

Equinox winds and the first sighting of a proper turning - my next-but-one neighbour's giant ash tree going red. This tree has been the cause of some dispute between neighbours on either side of him because it blocks light from their gardens. Ash tree neighbour is a not man of many words but has made it clear that he won't cut it down. I am not affected but have sympathy for all parties. Last year we took down a fruiting cherry tree because it took light from neighbour's vegetable patch, and that was hard enough. To take down an ash tree of that size when you have lived with it for most of your life would be hard indeed, especially if you are a man of few words whose wife has left you and you are trying to hang on to the rhythm of life as you have always known it. From my window I see gnome-like creatures standing underneath the branches by a clump of bracken. They are actually Bill and Ben (the Flowerpot Men), with a representation of Little Weed in the middle. There is an absence of colour to them and their faces have a ghostly pallor.

A day of shivering, scooting out in the rain to get duvets from the launderette and so back to bed with Breath by Tim Winton, recommended by Ms Pants ages ago, it's as good as she said it would be and I am getting heady fixes of vicarious thrills. Joining a reading group turned out to be one of my better try-outs (unlike swimming, which flopped). Brain is getting the message that it can keep doing this. One has to keep testing the boundaries of what is possible.

Even so, I shiver, I ache. I sleep for an hour and feel worse. I get into the bath, which some people describe as Japanese because of its dimensions, being more of a tub that you can sit in with water coming up to your neck. It's there because the bathroom at Signs Cottage is so small but I like it more than conventional baths. Immersed in hot water, I still can't get warm. Equinox winds and the season's turning: I love autumn, but always forget how changing from one season to another takes it out of me. And last night I went to a poetry reading in Lewes which was good, but as soon as I arrived I knew I would need propping up with coffee, which I had plentifully with apple cake, but still I came home and slept like a stone.

A supper of fish and chips in town, followed by a trip to a strangely gutted Sainsbury's for coffee, cleaning materials and bin bags for the weekend ahead when the Signs children are coming to help excavate the loft and celebrate my birthday. Two episodes of Mad Men - our new boxed set thing, which I'm sure I wouldn't be enjoying as much as I do if I hadn't partly reacquired the novel-reading faculty. And then toast and marmite and two tubes of Mentos, fruit and mint. I am eating strangely at the moment, sometimes having Rich Tea biscuits in place of proper food, but seem none the worse for it and have unaccountably lost the pounds I put on in Berlin.

Daughter has promised a sea-food risotto tomorrow. I think Son is making sticky toffee pudding. Lovely.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ultrasound

Your liver looks lovely, she said, and smiled at the screen as though looking at a picture that gave her real pleasure. It's all smooth, no sign at all of cirrhosis.
I said, oh good, so do you think that means I don't need to have a biopsy? Her face at once became serious. Oh, I really wouldn't like to say that, she said, if the specialist has recommended a biopsy then you should have it. The biopsy is the gold standard. I pictured a tiny golden medal, like the one I was given when I passed a ski-ing test.

Strange that this relatively small procedure should worry me. I don't like to think of the needle going in, taking a piece of my liver, however tiny. Most people just feel a bit of pain for a few days after, but some feel as though they have been kicked in the stomach by a horse - someone told me that once and it is one of those things one stores away for future reference.

And then I came home to my notebook lying on the kitchen table and wrote:

The trees want sea change:
leaves on the apple tree, the fruit,
bruised and useless on the lawn,
something shrivelled and wasted

I can't identify. The season
wants turning, this much is clear.
Once fallen, we thirst for winter.

By the sea, gulls have disappeared,
the silence shifts and forms
into a listening ear, a question mark.

Everything turns to bone.

Indeed? Because there I was adding small and steady pieces to the prose thing I have been attending to, then I open the door a fraction to a bit of verse and this is what happens. Nothing to do with me, obviously. Ha.

I am bone-tired today, as though a piece of me had already gone.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

yo ho ho, an' it's that time o' year again!

Ahoy there, ye rum-swillin' rapscallions! No need fer this brave beauty to tell ye that it be International Talk Like A Pirate Day - time fer all landlocked lubbers to shiver the timbers o' the ol' poxy lingo an get on down to Cap'n Hooker's party. 'Cept there en't no liquor on account o' me new grog-free existence. Time was when I could've drunk any one o' ye under the table, arrr, many's the time I've Amstelled, Beujolaised and caroused into the night, crushed ten men's skulls between me thighs while singin' yo ho ho an' a bottle o' rum. Those were the days, me hearties! But what I always says is as there's more ‘n one way o' havin' a good time, and be assured that if a good time's to be had, I'll be havin' it, one way or t'other, with a hogshead o’ peppermint tea.

Drivelswiggers an’ landlubbers all be feelin’ a chill in the air an’ it be that time o’ year when I be goin’ to the binnacle and takin’ out me old purple shell suit trousers which be shipshape as the day I first got ‘em from Barnardo’s charity shop, arrr, an’ served me well this many a year. I stuck me prow in Primark t’other day thinkin’ to snaffle meself somethin’ cheap an’ cheerful for the season. Saved me doubloons an’ shipped out again smartish on seein’ nothin’ that could hold a candle to me purples.

Shiver me timbers, it’s gettin’ late, if I don’t get some shut-eye I’ll be nothin’ but shark-bait - an’ anyways I’m almost out o’ pirattical words. Peckers up, me ol’ salts, an’ a yo ho ho from Cap’n Signs’ Jollyboat to y’all!



an' a massive P.S. - if you want to read the best Pirate poem ever go here - ah gwaaan, I insist - 'tis Katy Evans Bush's (aka Baroque in Hackney) Pirate Prufrock. Fabulous.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Mach's Gut

The final wedding party was in a place that was once a farm collective in the old GDR and is now occupied by artists, writers, musicians and biodynamic gardeners. We had a couple of nights in the East Side Hotel, hard by the old wall that separated east Berlin from west, you could see it from a porthole beneath the window in our room.


There was a pre-nuptial party, a coach ride to the registry office in Köpenick followed by a two-hour river journey with champagne and canapes. It was the wedding of my ex-stepbrother, there were people I had not met for many years. The elephant in the proceedings was ex-stepfather who has for many years, King Lear-like, cut himself off from everyone he ever knew. His absence was a palpable presence. He had many children, many liaisons, some also connected to my mother's early life in the Free German Youth. It is complicated, but when you are in the middle of proceedings it somehow isn't. My e-s-b wanted a celebration that brought the disparate pieces of his life together. We were, for the duration, a patchwork community, brought together by this event to be (for a space) all of a piece. This is what celebrations can be very good for.

I also had an appointment with anthroposophical doctor who knows about PBC. He has basically endorsed what the specialist over here said, so off I go on the new regime with medications - sans alcohol or anything with paracetamol, so obvious that it's barely worth mentioning; except that doctors over here tended to equivocate and shrug when I asked about these. Will need to find other, possibly more fun things to give me a break from muscle pains.

The appointment was in Kladow, where I lived for nearly three years as a child. I experienced a kind of symmetry to this. The language and sense of place live strongly in me, though the actual and imaginary sometimes merge, and who is to say that the imaginary is less true. I always pictured a pine forest at the back of my house where the small window of my bedroom was and where, for a time, I used to fear that witches might fly through. In reality there are just a few trees, similar to the kind found here on English Edge. In fact the whole area is not dissimilar and it is as though in coming here I found an English version of the German village, though I was not consciously looking for that. I learned to read in both languages, I read early and intensely so the stories became a part of the environment. The years were not happy or easy ones. My father was an actor with a distinguished theatre company in east Berlin but things were not turning out the way he had hoped and though the wall was not yet in place, the east/west division loomed. Each day he would go from the west, where we lived, to work in the east. My sister was born in the British military hospital. My mother went to parties in town but was, I think, depressed. She had not (nor would she ever) come to terms with her father's death in Buchenwald.

By the shores of the lake, where the steamer takes tourists on excursions, Mr. Signs and I stopped by a kiosk for coffee and streuselkuchen. In Germany, wherever you go there is sure to be food of some kind. A customer who was clearly a regular said goodbye to the melancholy kiosk man: Tchus, Jurgen - mach's gut! Go well; literally, make it good. In the Berliner accent it sounded like mach's yut. I remember this, the softening of the letter g. I can still speak like a Berliner if I need to, my accent almost perfect. But anyone who knows can hear that there is something not quite right, I don't have the words, the language is broken, I am not from there. But in a sense I also am. We are such stuff as memories are made of.

Monday, September 6, 2010

From Brighton notebook:

Woke with lines from Canticle of Francis of Assissi:

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sisters Moon and Stars;
In the heavens you have made them bright
And precious and fair.

Awake with gratitude for particulars. I put my hand on the fabric of the brown sofa, it holds me in the best possible way; birch wood table and chairs, clean white walls, a slow wind moving the curtains: the coloured leaves, someone's design and conception, printed on the linen. People have given their work for these things. Some may have given it with satisfaction, others are just putting in the hours because they need to make a living and this is what they do - assemble the sofa, the bed, pack the curtains, mix the paint to the correct colour of cloud-white. All praise. I am grateful for all of it. There are people alive at this moment who have no idea how much their work has given to me and to the people who come and stay.

And mother-in-law is here, the ceramic things she made, the chair and table she chose. The flat she lived in at the end of her life, before she went into residential care, did not have the grace of this one, I was never happy about it. You could just about see the sea, obliquely, from the balcony, but the inside had a strange, flat personality. One didn't feel one was anywhere. Somewhere to live before you die. But it had no soul. An angel of some kind or another took up residence there, an invisible lodger, a young man, who talked to her about God and Jesus, and she an atheist all her adult life. But she seemed to like him, and she was concerned and insulted on his behalf because he was in chains. They put the chains on him. We never discovered who They were. The Authorities. She wondered openly why it was necessary for him to be kept like that. She seemed, though, to like having him around.

Back on Edge, and going to Germany today - a wedding, a medical appointment, staying in a hotel hard by the old wall, and in an artist's colony.

Monday, August 30, 2010

shedstuff

Damnation and all, but it is Bank Holiday Monday and we have been cleaning out the shed - meaning, of course, the garden studio out back, but I always liked the word shed. It used to be my space and I still have all my old files in there relating to classes I taught, all my spiral notebooks, ancient files full of writings and copies of Mslexia Magazine. I have not used shed as a work space for a while because it just proved simpler to stay in the main body of Signs Cottage, especially when weather was inclement. Then it became the perfect place for Mr. Signs when he began working from home three days a week. Now it has revealed itself as the perfect place for him to begin his therapy practice. All in all it has been, and will continue to be, a good shed. But throwing out old papers of various kinds is unsettling. There is no more room in the loft, though, and at the end of the month we and the young Signses will be tackling this as well. Apart from some of their childhood art works and soft toys, I have no idea what is up there and I am sure it is full of ghosts.

Brighton tomorrow, with new notebooks and Papermate Flexigrip pens.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Grr-attitudes

Awake again in the small hours, on a whim I reached into the cupboard of my bedside cabinet and found my journal from 2005. I have been in the habit for a number of years of keeping a fairly perfunctory daily record, but on the Christmas before this particular year I had been given a hefty slab of a thing called The Sacred Journey - subtitle: Daily Journal For Your Soul. It was given as a thank you gift by a student and I appreciated the gesture. But the journal begins and ends with the assumption that lists of gratitudes and affirmations are the order of the day. I entered into the spirit of the thing somewhat half-heartedly - I don't really need reminding of what I'm grateful for and what with one thing and another, the fact that I have kept on keeping on is enough of an affirmation of some kind of faith in life's essential goodness. On re-reading, what stares back at me is the sheer determination of the person who wrote the journal entries. I was teaching classes then and was involved in a number of projects that asked for focus, engagement and creative input, intensely grieving my dad who had died the year before, running the home and fretting about the daughter who had not long left it. I was, by anyone's standards, desperately ill and pretending not to be. There was sabre-rattling fall-out from the dysfunctional wing of extended family. In place of affirmations I began to jot down supper menus for the week to come (dear old spag bol and sausages with coleslaw and baked pots, I kind of miss you). Under monthly/weekly resolutions I put things like "write three poems" and recorded the titles of poems that got writ. I had teeth pulled. I got flu just in time to scupper plans for a writing retreat on a Scottish island. Just ordinary stuff but I don't know - truly I don't - how I managed it. Life now seems stupidly serene in comparison. But some things don't change. Under Gratitudes at the beginning of that year I mentioned Mr. Signs - his constancy, tenderness and brown eyes; my children - for everything they are, have been, will be; true friends; my beloved father.

I would put those same things again now. And life is easier - though I have had to give up things I would rather not, I am grateful. But I would like to sleep through the night on a regular basis. Thanking you, Universe, in anticipation, and lying awake counting one's enemies is often much more effective than counting sheep or blessings. Just saying.

Monday, August 23, 2010

not the last days

I barely had three hours sleep last night so am probably not to be held responsible for whatever might incontinently pour out of my fingers - as the actress said to the bishop. Or as the demented bishop might have said to the actress.

We went to IKEA again the other day - not saying that this accounts for lack of sleep, but just saying. It almost smelled like home though, so clearly something (apart from delinquent immune system) must be malfunctioning. We pushed the leaky boat out and bought the most expensive version of the Poang chair and footstool - with sheepskin cover - which is a clear statement, on my part at any rate, of a plan to couch-potato in extreme comfort when in the Brighton flat. To work, to work, autumn is rushing towards us like an ardent lover. Oh, Autumn! (as daughter, who prefers the summer, poignantly said on her Facebook page last year). Ask of me what you will, and I promise to deliver, but if I don't never blame me. This is one of the reasons why I need the new furniture - so I can Poang-potato after sustained endeavour in the field of words. In the last couple of days I have bashed out over five thousand words - well, copied them out from notebook, so they took longer than that to write. I am not sure where it is going and (almost) don't care any more what becomes of the writing, so long as the writing is happening and just one of the stories that press on me to be written are set down, for if it is not then I don't know how I will account for myself at the everlasting gates when St. Peter, with his great black ledger book, comes to do the reckoning. Not that I plan to be meeting St. Peter any time soon. I feel sure that life has more flotsam to chuck in my direction before that happens.

I am writing a story with a protagonist who is as little like me as it is possible to be, and whenever I write it I feel I am playing truant from the story I was writing last year in NaNo before I was clobbered with Swine flu. This probably helps me to keep writing it because I can trick myself into thinking that it's nothing very important, just something I'm doing for now. I need tricks like this because the thought of beginning another big thing and leaving it unfinished might make me lose heart, and if I do that then it really is all over and you may as well tell St. Peter to open the book.

What did you do in your last days on earth?

I reclined on my Poang chair and watched the boxed set of In Treatment.

And did this enrich the lives of any one of your fellow brethren?

It certainly passed the time agreeably for me - and that's not nothing!

Clang.

(It's suddenly gone very quiet. St. Peter - are you there?)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I blew a thousand pounds in just over half an hour yesterday. Eight hundred went on blood tests and the rest on consultation with specialist. Thank you BUPA health insurance, but there wasn't enough over for ultrasound so thanking you in anticipation, National Health Service . Even though I haven't got the results of anything yet, I am feeling cheerful about it all. The PBC wants attention - ursodeoxycholic acid - and specialist wants me to have a liver biopsy. We'll see about that. I'm going to Berlin next month to the wedding of an ex-stepbrother (it's complicated) and will take the opportunity to see a specialist with an alternative approach. As everybody knows, Germany is the place for all things Liver, and I look forward to going back to my old stomping ground and getting the low down. I have a sense that all manner of things will be well, manageable and to some extent treatable.

And also, it's nearly autumn - my time, my season, I can feel its breath in the air though we are still in summer.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

S*P*A*M

So the Word Verification Leprechauns will be happy because I've reinstated it on account of Mr. and Mrs. Sp*m coming back (posing as "anonymous" but they can't fool me).

There's no accounting for tastes, though. Perhaps you actually like the stuff.

Monday, August 16, 2010

"aflame upon the wall"

You may, if you have felt so inclined, have noticed that from time to time a meandering comment thread evolves that has almost nothing to do with the post and everything to do with digression. One day when archivists and scholars minutely study this blog (oh yes they will!) in order to illuminate the esoteric and exoteric meanings that lie behind and within the words here writ they will find these threads and the co-wizards and partners in sublime bollocks who helped to spin them.

On one such thread - we had gone past the magical number of one hundred, when good things have inexplicably come my way - I felt moved to spread the goodness around and give a poetic/literary task. I have done this before with astonishingly good results (you can find the 'e' fairy tale here). The task was to write a ghazal, with the repeating word of 'signs'. I have published the result below. It is the clear winner - for firstly it was the only one submitted and secondly it is rather fabulous. I can't help that much of it sounds like a hommage to moi - it belongs to the form and you'll just have to take it as part and parcel of the artistic endeavour.

The tradition in a ghazal is for the poet to add a kind of signature at the end, giving a clue as to the authorship. So obviously you won't need me to tell you who it is.



Night after night, we long for you, we Read the Signs
Though darkness gather round, yet still, we Read the Signs

In life’s dread passage, cripples we, and lonely
Where’s comfort, company, love, hope? We need the Signs

The comments flowed like hundred years of solitude
You were forewarned! Now poets be! Decreed the Signs

The words aflame upon the wall, yet we were blind
We never realised these were indeed the signs

Now, eyes burnt out, we grope our way, we fall, we cry
our warning-call – too late! – Take heed - the Signs!

Nothing for it – to love’s great work we set, forlorn
Pray, just be auspicious, in your name! We plead the Signs

Deaf, blind and mute, we flail, inconsolable, we wail
The sought-for word escapes us – don’t recede, the signs!

We longed to be your first and best, oh pray, forgive us
This most unsightly pride, this selfish greed, The Signs

Where there is ever poetry, there you are.
No publisher will in his life impede The Signs.

We’ll stand in the sidelines and we’ll coo and clap,
As after Carol Ann, you shall succeed, The Signs.

Ah, ploughman, to be a field, ripe, nourishing and fruitful,
In our blank mind, you have thus sown The Seed, The Signs

And in our nightly prayers, the rosary falls from our hands
For in our minds, we hold but you: The Bead, The Signs

As Clarissa P, the Abbess, A*** *R, and Legion,
We thank you for the nourishment, the mead, the signs.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

- and he is walking

I am in the classroom, writing with my fountain pen in the grey London County Council notebooks. I dip the pen in the ink well that nestles in the hole in my desk. When it runs dry Miss Routledge fills it again. You have to be good at writing to be given a fountain pen, some people still use pencils because their handwriting is not neat enough or their spelling is bad. Writing and spelling are my best things and arithmetic is my worst. Chandra sits beside me, she is my desk partner and she hasn't yet been given a fountain pen.

We made friends when I told her that I liked curry and rice. Shyly she told me that she and her sister ate curry and rice at home every day because her family was from Pakistan. She invited me to her house for tea. We ate rice with dall and a sauce with chicken wings that was so hot it made my tongue feel bitter and burned but I ate it anyway and said it was nice. Then her sister gave me a piece of something hard and white that tasted of old boiled milk, Chandra said it was a sweet. She lived in a basement flat where the electric lights were always on because there was hardly any light from the outside, and the electric heater was on, three bars of it, even in summer because it was cold in the basement and Chandra said her mother and older sisters felt cold all the time in England.

Chandra is writing in her notebook with a pencil, her fingers pressing on the stub as she concentrates. The paper has flecks of brown and shiny yellow. Miss Routledge says that paper is made of trees. I can see pieces of the tree in Chandra's notebook. I can see the words she has written: Humpty Dumpty is walking and he is going to see the wite rabit and he is walking and he is going to the play grond and he is walking.When Chandra came to my house I read her some of Alice in Wonderland, the part where the White Rabbit makes a flustered appearance, saying oh my paws and whiskers.
Rabbits don't wear gloves, said Chandra.
It's just a story, I said.
But rabbits can't wear gloves, said Chandra, because they haven't got fingers.
So I stopped reading and we went to the playground.

Humpty Dumpty is going to the swing and he is going to the bech and he is going to the party and he is walking.

In the summer holidays Chandra and her sisters went to Southend for a day and that was their summer holiday.
It isn't a holiday if you only go for a day, I said.
It was a holiday, she said, we went on the beach and we had ice cream.
I decide to copy everything that Chandra writes. I want to know what it is like being Chandra.

Humpty Dumpty is walking and he is going to the shop and he is walking and he is going to the play grond and he is walking.
I whisper, you already wrote that he is going to the playground. Chandra looks at me and smiles. Then she shrugs and carries on writing.
Humpty Dumpty is going to the bech and he is walking.
Chandra furrows her brow when she writes, she gives it all her concentration. Humpty Dumpty is walking, she writes. I begin to notice a pattern - an activity, or a particular destination, followed by the repetition of Humpty Dumpty walking. He doesn't seem ever to arrive at the beach, the playground, the rendezvous with the white rabbit, he is in a state of perpetual motion, walking always intending somewhere or other. The walking, though, is the thing, and we come back to it, Chandra and I, as I faithfully copy her words, mesmerised by the seeming purposelessness of Humpty Dumpty's walk, stirred to some extent by his persistence in always finding some new destination. I picture his large egg shape, eyes open and hopeful, his short legs with tartan trousers moving quickly, arms out at his sides.
Miss Routlege is standing behind me, looking over my shoulder.

What is this rubbish you are writing, she says? What do you think you are doing?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Harmonics




My dad was in a barbershop quartet called The Harmonics in the 1950s. I think they were probably inspired by The Ink Spots. My dad usually sang the bass line and all four members took turns in arranging the songs and sometimes wrote their own.

It makes me happy that his grandson took the name for the band he is playing with in Edinburgh this year. And his grandfather-in-heaven must surely be looking in with pride and pleasure, listening in to the lovely arrangements, the voices, the sheer talent.

We won't make Edinburgh this year, but there is to be an informal performance in Oxford on Friday and we'll be going to that.

Would you like to hear them? Go here and you will be able to. Son did the arrangement for Moon Dance and sings the tune on it.

***

In honour of this, I've banished the Word Verification Leprechauns as they have been a pain recently. This may need to be temporary if Mr. and Mrs. s p a m come calling. We'll see.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

into white

I seem to have gone down with a touch of blog-stiffness recently. You know the thing - when you come to the screen to do the usual and the fingers, the psyche, the mechanism that kicks in and gets the words down puts up resistance and won't move. I might hazard a few guesses about why this is, but nothing conclusive offers itself. A similar resistance is also showing itself in comments sections, so I haven't been saying much of late even though I have been looking in on y'all. Normal service will doubtless resume. A degree of doubt, though, is probably a good thing.

Today is rain and snow-white sky, a wind moving the very top of the hazelnut tree, and I say it is lovely. Blue sky and sun generally lift the spirits of those living in Blighty, but they ask so much of one. They ask that you don't let any of it slip away useless and they ask you to be exuberantly joyful. A white sky and rain you can lose yourself in - or perhaps it is the other way round. You lose yourself in blue sky and find yourself again under the modest cloak of the white, which does not mind if you do nothing in particular with it or beneath it.

Dear reader, how are you today? A question for you to wander into, or around. Under what kind of sky do you find yourself?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

view from the balcony


It is like being on holiday but without any of the stress that Hadley Freeman experienced this year. Reassuring to read this because I just thought it was me getting old, but she is a chit of a girl and now knows something it takes others a lifetime to learn: going on holiday is a bad idea. Lucy Mangan, another Guardian chit, found this out even earlier. I have becoming almost phobic about airports - not flying, just the airport experience. With our Brighton place we'll never have to go anywhere ever again. All we need to do is pack a small case, climb into the car and drive for about three quarters of an hour. Hey presto - holiday. The gulls ullulate our arrival and call intermittently, possibly for others' delight also and not just ours.

I pushed the boat out, so to speak, taking this photograph from our bit of balcony. What I mean is I have come to terms with the idea that photography will probably never be something I do well, temporarily given up trying to understand how to use my digital camera and snapped this with the mobile. That lovely blue wall at the end there is the sea, obviously. It gives me great pleasure just to know it is there at the end of the road - several roads, actually. I would also have liked to take a photograph of the high windows, how it is to look out of them, capture the feeling of space here. But the essence of the place won't easily be captured, at least not by me. This photo does not begin to give a real impression.


Tomorrow is Brighton Pride. I will be here, but not there.



Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sunlight

I've seen a new dentist because my usual one is away. Your x-rays are very interesting, she says to me. She is not like my other dentist. She is attentive and grounded. She attends to the most pressing problem and asks if I have any medical situation of which she should be aware. I tell her about my situation; why do dentists always ask questions when you have your mouth open with an instrument poking about inside it? But anyway, she hears me. Auto-immune disorder, she says. I nod. Before I leave she tells me that she would like me to have a thorough examination, more x-rays and a special kind of procedure involving (I am guessing) much prodding about before considering any crowns, bridge work etc. I tell her I don't want bridge work, that I want only what is absolutely necessary. A look passes between us. It is potent. Good. Afterwards I wonder what it was made of, the look. Compassion (her to me) and truth (I spoke, she acknowledged). Something else I can't quite name but it brings to mind the "passionless love, impartial but intense" of Thom Gunn's poem, Sunlight. Not bad for a quick once-over with an unfamiliar dentist, but such encounters are often found in unexpected places. There is something restorative about the kindness of strangers.

The summer is opening up - much heat, which I find difficult. But I was longing for an end to the cold. This year we will not be spending our usual week at the Edinburgh Festival because of Brighton and the fact that we haven't yet spent a decent chunk of time in the new flat. Son is going to be performing in the Festival again so if you are there look out for The Harmonics because they are going to be brilliant.



I might astrally project myself there to see them.


It has taken me several days to put these sentences together. I think I need a break and a couple of Kit-Kats.



Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sleepless in Brighton

I want you to know that I'm still on duty: keeping the night watch so you can all rest easy in your beds. You probably were already doing that (unless you are one of my transatlantic friends, in which case hello, I hope you are having a nice day), but I'm just saying. It reminds me of working night shifts when I was an auxilliary nurse in a psychiatric unit. We had to do a month of nights every so often and by the end of one of those I felt like one of the undead, a lone, prowling creature of the night (though when I was working shifts there were usually others prowling on the ward and we would play drafts together). By the time I got used to ordinary life it was time for night shifts again.

It is an hour later than it says on blogger, by the way - just so you don't think I'm bleating about being up a few minutes after midnight. Even the seagulls have stopped their ullulations, and the barbequeuing revellers a few gardens away have gone inside. Mr. Signs has been asleep for over two hours, a good thing too as he is off to Shrink school again tomorrow. They are doing Personality Disorders this weekend and he has brought home one of those at-a-glance print-outs. I've been studying it trying to work out whether I'm Borderline, Narcissistic or Schizoid and have decided I'm none of them, especially not Schizoid, but everyone else I know is somewhere on the spectrum.

On the other hand, just looking at the column View of Self: Borderline people are helpless victim/caretaker/unloveable, Narcissists are special/inferior and worthless, Schizoids are outsider, "alien"/independent and self-sufficient/little needy baby.

No question about it, tonight I am definitely Schizoid. And suddenly blissfully tired. It is 1.43, whatever Blogger says.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Sleepless-on-Edge

I am talking to you from the middle of the middle of the night - the small hours when it is no longer today but not yet tomorrow and there is absolutely no-one awake in the whole of the universe except for you. But in this case it's me. I am doing the insomnia shuffle, so you don't have to. Well somebody has to, that is understood. Here is an interesting fact: whenever there is something I particularly want or need to do the next day the odds are that I will have insomnia the night before, either the kind where I can't get to sleep or where I fall asleep only to wake up an hour or two later feeling as though I've just had a couple of double espressos - wired. Today - or last night, if we're going to be precise about this - it was the former. I was tired enough when head went down but once it met pillow - bang: wired. I have a number of remedies up my sleeve for this kind of thing, all manner of things both natural and unnatural, and sometimes the remedies do the trick, especially if I act quickly before insomnia demon has properly grabbed me.

Tomorrow, or later today, in about nine hours time to be exact, I am supposed to meet Mr. Signs, who will be coming straight from Shrink school, at a venue on Brighton sea front where there is to be a university (his) reunion lunch party. I will know some of the people from when we lived in London. It will be jolly, or might be if I were now sleeping instead of talking to you.
Off I go to kick Morpheus's backside.

Sweet dreams, peeps.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

the day today

I have just eaten a bacon sandwich. This isn't meant as a confession - I don't feel virtuous about being a vegetarian, I just fell into being one because I stopped wanting to eat meat. Why it should feel more ok to have the occasional bit of cured pork rather than, say, a fillet steak (which I used to adore), I don't know; one of the reasons I stopped wanting to have meat was because I began to shudder at the notion of eating living, sentient creatures. And I once had an intense eye-to-eye encounter with a pig on an organic farm that I can only describe as a meeting of souls. Ah, go ahead, tell me I've got the soul of a pig! But the pig in question was a very intelligent one and quite clearly had a soul that was finer and infinitely more sympathetic than many human creatures one encounters (or perhaps I'm just turning into a veggie/misanthrope type). We had a connection.

It's a symptom of how things are. My already-delinquent immune system is misbehaving. I'll skip the dreary facts, but one of the side-effects is that I don't actually seem to be properly absorbing nutrients. I eat plenty fish, pulses, tofu and what-have-you but nothing ever seems to hit the spot. No wonder I'm thinking about cake and chocolate all the time. Or is that just greed? No, shut up, inner malicious voice, the malabsorption thing is an established fact - and greed also perhaps, but shut up anyway. I need to be kind to myself, and that means schokolade, kaffee und kuchen mit the odd roll-up cigarette (how the devil did that creep in?) and glass of prosecco. Actually, boringly, it means none of those things, it means regular, small, bland, low-fat, nutrient-dense snacklets, it means calming everything down, not doing the regular swimming thing, immune system clearly sees this as a call to arms.

I went into the sea twice with Daughter on the weekend. There is simply nothing like it and how many days in the year can one do that in Blighty anyway? Today, back on the Edge, the wind is gusting about, bending the top of our remaining cherry tree, reminding me that we must get it cut back this year. Everything wants to become forest here. The gravel path that leads to the lawn and apple tree is covered with bracken and something else that I don't know the name of.

It's too early for autumn.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

in and out the water

I went to the leisure centre pool again today, swam up and down while at one end of the pool an intensely toned woman was calling instructions to the aqua-aerobic people. There was some kind of disco-bop music in the background but my inner DJ was singing something about swimming, swimming for my life, same tune as the (we are singing, singing for our lives) Greenham Common women once sang. The pool is longer than I've been used to, too deep to stop in the middle and rest. I did my fifteen minutes, with breaks. Afterwards I went to the sports shop in town and got myself a new Speedo swimsuit, blue and neat, compared to my disintegrating black one from BHS which has served its time. The chlorine gets them in the end - gets me too. But there is much less of it in the leisure centre than in the country club pool. Afterwards, in the intense heat, I thought the Signsmobile looked particularly tired and dusty so took it for an auto-wash at the garage nearby and sat eating my tuna salad sandwich while water jets and brushes went to work on the outside.

Slept for three hours in the afternoon and dreamed of Shrink. Funny thing - his practice is just around the corner from Brighton flat. Perhaps not so strange, seeing as there is a nice cafe nearby where I used to go and I found it wandering into a nearby estate agents, post-latte, after one of our sessions. I dreamed that I saw him walking along the road. He wore his black-rimmed spectacles and stooped forwards as though leaning against the wind. He took some time to remember who I was and I sensed he was losing the plot, a bit down at heel, his Shrink practice not doing so well. He remembered that I wrote poems and asked if I had found a publisher.

Actually, that was the last thing he said to me: goodbye, I hope you find a publisher. In the end, that was what mattered to him, what he always came back to: writing is your life-blood. The wordsmith in me cringed. It isn't something I would ever say about myself - that writing was my life-blood, certainly not out loud. Ah, he only loved me for my talent. You only love me for my talent, you don't love me for my problems and disorders. I don't remember what the dream-Shrink said - probably nothing.

You are a ball of courage, he said to me. Why did that sit uneasily? Because I know that I am courageous. But I am not a ball of it. I am made of pliable stuff.

I am again reconfiguring, re-imagining, feeling my way into what is really important, and actually it isn't particularly the writing (which I'll always be doing) or the achieving of anything in particular. Just the living, the seasons and how they turn, the pizza we had for supper in the village tonight, capers, anchovies, olives, us eavesdropping on the next table. Life and stuff.

Tomorrow I am going to Brighton to spend time with the Daughter. I hope very much to go into the sea. I have a special pair of sea-shoes. I may be gone some time.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Comments (and possible end of world as we know it)

Something is malfunctioning, and for once I'm not talking about myself - all Blogger's fault.

Some people's comments (mine included so I can't reply) are not appearing. I've tried several times to put a comment under my last post but it gets disappeared. All a bit Nineteen Eighty Four, if you ask me, and reading the signs, as I cannot help but do, it probably means the end of the world as we know it is nigh. You can argue with me on this if you like, but odds are nothing will appear in the comment box (though it may in my inbox).

First the business with the aerial, then the dentist muttering darkly to me about "a very difficult situation" and hinting at worse to come but he couldn't say for sure until we see What Lies Beneath - and now this.

Pass the tranquillisers, someone.

Monday, July 5, 2010

dish-head

Signs Cottage roof now has a dish on it. I never thought to say this because Mr. Signs has strongly-held prejudices against dishes and when our aerial packed up we were simply going to replace it with another aerial and make do until everything goes digital in a couple of years. We are apparently so deep in the sticks here we have only ever been able to get four channels and were quite prepared to carry on like that. But the new aerial didn't work, picture was fuzzy - something to do with "all the new technology" - so Dish it is, and very nice it looks, like a small art installation, black, elegant and suggestive (of what I am not yet sure), and we can get a hundred and forty channels if we want. I don't imagine it will make a jot of difference to the rhythm of life in Signs Cottage, just that when I feel like watching TV I might find something I actually want to watch. On the other hand I might find myself faced with a hundred and forty different kinds of unsatisfactoriness and become someone who compulsively channel-hops, effing and blinding about how crap it all is, in which case it would have been better just to have stayed as we are. I will keep you informed, but don't be expecting very much in the way of reviews. It's as much as I can do to keep up with reading the juicy bits of the weekend newspapers, fave blogs and the books that lie for much too long by the side of my bed.

Still no swimming. And tomorrow I see the dentist. But a couple of new poems. Doing what I can - and how can that be a bad thing - If it's the most I can do?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Up betimes for another blood test and the usual prodding about to find a suitable vein. I could never have had a career as a mainlining junkie, is what I keep telling myself. The health centre nurse is always slightly reproachful about what she calls my lady-like veins. I would like a good result. Wouldn't we all.

Nice one, though, in the form of a letter telling me that one of my poems is to be included in an anthology (of which more anon). Unexpected and welcome. I would like to feel that this is an auspicious sign but can barely muster the strength because truth is that I am feeling - what is the right euphemism? A little under the weather. I have decided to go with the spirit of it and leave the kitchen floor to carry on crunching underfoot, the small piles of clutter and newspaper all over the house carry on gathering the dust that blows in from the bumpy, unmade road that is good for nothing but forcing cars to crawl and making a safe place for children to play.

I haven't swum since Friday and am not sure where to go with this. Aerobicness is making my situation measurably worse - so obvious (M.E. - duh!) it is hardly worth noting. But I am not quite ready to give up on the experiment yet. Choosing exactly the right time seems to be crucial. I will wait for the next window of opportunity and have another stab. When in Brighton there is, of course, the sea. But realistically this will probably live as a delicious possibility rather than something I do very much of.

I have fallen into a new piece of writing that has nothing to do with last year's aborted NaNo novel attempt. It lends itself to being written in short bursts and when I am writing it I do not feel as if I am hauling sacks of coal up a hill (though I do of course have to go to the coal face). So I am going with it, plotless and clueless, seeing what it might become. I will be writing poems at the end of the week when Ms North comes to stay for a couple of nights because when we meet that's what we do.

But tomorrow I have to go and prepare Brighton flat for friends of friends who will be staying there for a week. And today I have to carry on reading Herta Mueller's Land of Green Plums, which I am loving, and make spinach dall with some of the spices that Son sent me from India.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Oh Blighty

It isn't often (or ever, really) that you will find me thinking about football, either on blog or anywhere else. But I'm sitting here with a can of Carling getting mildly sloshed - this is one of the big plusses of not drinking much, one can of grog and you are anybody's - and thinking about England's defeat, how completely miserable so many people are going to be, especially as it is their "worst ever defeat in the world cup finals," they are not even going down with any kind of honour. Mr. Signs is over the road with a football friend, also drinking Carling. Somehow I don't think it will be as bad for him as Arsenal losing an important match. But I am thinking about the hopeful "Come On, England" flags in our local Tesco Express, and the young boy I saw after England won the match against Slovenia, with his home-made England flag, dancing and capering all by himself on the sidewalk, fists in the air saying yesss!

Friday, June 25, 2010

in the swim (3)

I've cancelled my membership to the exclusive country club swimming pool place. I couldn't rely on the pool temperature to be cool enough - swimming in warm chlorine soup was doing me no good at all and no amount of fluffy towels and Molton Brown body lotion was going to make that better. So today I went swimming in my local leisure centre and it was lovely - big and light with a sprinkling of children (most being at school), a few up-and-downers putting in the lengths, parents with toddlers or babies in the little pool on the side and a big boy with the face of an angel who wanted to show me how he could throw his locker key to the bottom of the pool and then retrieve it. No two-for-one pamper ladies and gents exchanging confidences in the jacuzzi or reading Marie Claire and Bella in the loungers between massage and exfoliation.

Thinking about the whole pamper-package and what it is that draws people, I have decided that it's a baby thing - about being treated like one, I mean. You offer yourself up to hands that minister to the more hidden parts of your body, your skin is creamed and pummelled and afterwards you are swaddled in big white towels and dressing gowns, all relaxed and ready for sleep. The only thing missing is a bottle or dummy and favourite teddy. Nothing wrong with that - or, as Miss Jean Brodie might have said: for those that like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like. I'm sounding snooty, aren't I? Sour grapes because I couldn't hack it in the amniotic waters. I'd have been happy to carry on, all the difficulties because of M.E. notwithstanding, it was easy and convenient - expensive, but when you add it up not so very much more expensive than going regularly to the leisure centre, if one goes three times a week.
I'm glad to be back with the riff-raff though. Never quite comfortable with privilege, especially the pretend kind. It was as much as I could do to stop myself singing

I want to swim with common people,
I want to swim with common people - like you


On my way out I saw angel-face sitting by himself in the cafeteria eating a packet of crisps.
Bring on the revolution, Peeps.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Second Life

No, I'm not about to launch myself into a virtual existence courtesy of an avatar. Though actually, I'm not about to diss people who do that. Easy, I suppose, to dismiss it all as a hiding place for saddoes who don't have the courage or wherewithal to get a real life. I came out with something glib about it at the weekend and was brought up short by some rather more considered thoughts. For clearly it (Second Life) does give a huge number of people extraordinary pleasure and a place wherein to realise all manner of creative possibilities. True, it is potentially addictive, but many things are that. People who spend a lot of time in SL are not living in the Real World, but neither are people who write novels. And one has relationships with people who are not seen, as it were, in the flesh in blogworld also - and who is to say that these relationships are less real than, say, the friendships that people used to sustain through letter-writing? I was gob-smacked to learn that there is a whole M.E. community in Second Life. Not that I know anything about the more subtle workings of this world (I had this idea that SL was inhabited by superpeople) but if I had an avatar I'd want one without M.E.

I feel I have the possibility of a second life, though, because of our place by the sea. This is either an incredible stroke of good fortune or something that will fragment my already compromised energy even more. At the moment I love the new place so much that I will not consider any negatives, whatever the (include in this financial) cost. I still love Signs Cottage. She is the faithful wife/good mother of the two residences, with an inner beauty that transcends age and the undeniable fact that she is flaky and grows increasingly so. Sea place is the intoxicating new love interest with the perfect proportions, always on my mind - I have never loved a place in this way before. I find myself whispering endearances to the walls. This may, of course, be the first sign of imminent mental disintegration, but what a way to go, enveloped by light.

I and my vitality, though, more closely resemble the flaky cottage. We patch ourselves up and keep going. We make plans, find strategies: most will come to nought but a few may flourish; the writing, in Brighton, is different. I see possibilities.

Going to hear Gillian Clarke reading at Sussex Uni later today.