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


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.