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


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


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


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


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.