Friday, December 31, 2010
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
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
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
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.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
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
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
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
"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
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
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
Saturday, November 6, 2010
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
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
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
I do love this song.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
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
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
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
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
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 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.
Friday, September 24, 2010
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
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
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
Monday, September 6, 2010
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
Brighton tomorrow, with new notebooks and Papermate Flexigrip pens.
Friday, August 27, 2010
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
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!
(It's suddenly gone very quiet. St. Peter - are you there?)
Thursday, August 19, 2010
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
Monday, August 16, 2010
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
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
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
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
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.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
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
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
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
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
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.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
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
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
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
Friday, June 25, 2010
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
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.