Friday, April 30, 2010

Le Weekend

A period of insomnia, the kind that has me waking at three in the morning. Three o'clock, either end of the day, is always difficult, a friend calls it "crucifixion time", and it does seem to nail me to something or other. I try never to plan for anything at three in the afternoon, and when I worked night shifts in a hospital it was the time when all worst things happened. But last night, after another trip to IKEA that lasted until closing time (I won't explain, believe me you won't want to know), I was so overtired I couldn't actually get to sleep until nearly three. I then woke four hours later, and decided to seize the day: swim, writing session, food shop. I bought two large rainbow trout from the new local fishmonger who catches them locally and Mr. Signs cooked them Meuniere-style, while I slept, and we had them for supper. Being vegetarian now (apart from fish), this amount of concentrated protein left me feeling strangely breathless, as though I myself were a fish out of water gasping for my own element. I didn't like it - the feeling, I mean. The fish was actually delicious. And this evening I've been re-drafting a poem where trout came in the form of some creature's mottled skin.

A Lewes workshop day tomorrow, and much else to get done. Monday we spend our first night in the Brighton flat. Excited.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Reading some moon reflections over at Cusp's, I remembered a poem I wrote a long while back. The title refers to the pain that is sometimes felt by women in mid-cycle, at ovulation.

Old poems: some I feel no connection to any more but some still speak, give utterance to something or other that matters to me. I wouldn't write a moon poem like this now, and the cold eye of distance looks at things that want revision. But I'm still glad to see it again.


Yes, at this point I am all moon
and close to the earth I have gathered
thoughts from the multitude of sinners
night after night I am spinning

spinning straw into gold

gracious above dreams
I accept your wishes and your fears

you should know
this is not a reflection I am
a substance all my own
constant in the darkness

men call me fickle
men call me cold
beggars and kings

I accept your names
my heart is a crucible
hope is rejoicing
in the substance of things

(this was written sans punctuation, with spaces - but Blogger is not poetry-friendly and will not permit unorthodox spaces)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Where have you gone? Once you followed me everywhere, we ran in the park all day. I made a sitting room under trees, behind the bushes where we were not to go because strange men sometimes stood there with their flies undone - but not when we were there. We had an old metal biscuit tin and filled it with the things we found: a plastic Noddy attached to a broken key ring, pieces of shattered glass I told you were diamonds, grey and white bird feathers. When people asked where we came from I told them that our ancestors were Red Indians. We made jugs of lemon barley when it was hot and sold cups of it to passers by who were thirsty. When the landlord found out, he said we had to give the money to charity. I kept enough back to buy bubble gum and sherbet.

Where do we locate ourselves now if none of that happened; if we didn't exist? If we do not remember, where do the places go? They are dead as last year's papery beech leaves, soon they will be gone to nothing. If you have lost me entirely, how will you ever find your way back alone in the park under a darkening sky?

You never knew how hard I waited for you to be born.

When I first saw you I was disappointed, you looked like a bird, all mouth, and your hair was black down, a soft film of it on your head. The smell of you came into me, some strange familiar sweetness. I think you were my first child.

If this is true, then it follows that you had to leave me.

I would like to say that I gave you things: a fistful of buttercups, a doll in a polythene bag on a metal bracelet, flour and water chappati made with my own hands in the night kitchen, an angel with butterfly wings that flew by itself. I used invisible thread. You never knew.

I am drawn to people who remind me of you, or they have a smell of sister about them, but it doesn't work out, they are not kindred, under the skin.

Somebody told me always to look out for you and I never stopped. It is high time.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Something is on hold at the moment, but I am not sure what. Life does go on, but the getting and shopping involved in establishing the newborn Brighton flatlet is all-consuming because, basically, I want it over and done with so I don't have to look at another catalogue, compare the price of this to that, think about stuff, stuff and more stuff. Cups and saucers, dustpan and brush, chairs, bins, pillowcases. We are all out of money so the stuff has to be cheap - at least that's one thing we don't have to make a decision about: Regency rosewood or IKEA bog-standard? Easy. But if I was a reluctant shopper before this, I am now well on the way to becoming a shopaphobic and when this is done I never want to buy another Thing as long as I live. When we moved to Signs cottage the stuff from our London home came with us and we just added things as and when it became necessary. Nothing particularly went with anything else but over the years a place acquires a kind of look, an ambience, made of a whole number of things, including the life that's being lived in it. So the ugly grey lamp from Argos is still with us, casting a glow as I type (with a proper incandescent bulb, some things I really do insist on), and now that it has lived here a while and served us to the best of its ability the ugliness is to some extent redeemed. It has become better looking. Or at any rate, it doesn't announce itself, it is just part of the scene; just as the incongruous rose print curtains, quickly got and ready-made when the study was, for a short period, a little bedroom for my daughter when she was ten, are part of the scene. They have found their place. And that's the way I like to get things: as and when, allowing them to find their place, not giving them more than an occasional nod to say thanks for, you know, being ok curtains, a good enough lamp. I've never had to kit a place out from scratch. And the TV, there's a thing. We still have our old analogue one and I had no idea you couldn't get those in shops any more. All the new ones cost hundreds of pounds. Hurrah for Gumtree where one can pick them up for a song. Except that we will have to think about that again in a couple of years when they will become obsolete and unusable.

No really, there are plenty of other thoughts, things going on in the mind of Signs. But there is neither the space nor the desire to go into them at the moment for they ask much of me, or they press on the heart. I am swimming, becoming stronger. Did a stretch of fifteen minutes without stopping today. I still feel ill most of the time, but differently ill and probably no worse. The experiment, therefore, is worth continuing. The next step is to get myself organised and learn how to exercise better judgements in the minefield of human relationships. It is surely never too late to recreate oneself.

But the shopping really has to stop. And soon.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Winged Life

I could have died last week. A thing came through the bedroom window, I still don't know if it was a bee, a wasp or a hornet, only that it was the biggest thing of its kind that I have ever set eyes on. I was alone with the cat here, it was midnight and I was just about to get into bed. The cat was staring at something, tail gone stiff and prickly. The insect beast was perched on the edge of the dressing table. As I moved towards it with a rolled up copy of Mslexia magazine it flew around the room, buzzing like an outboard motor. The cat scarpered, frightened. The wasp went into the paper lampshade hanging from the ceiling and hurled itself from one side to the other, knocking layers of ancient dust off it in clumps that fell onto the bed. It was like a fist going back and forth. Then it came out of the lampshade and began to target me, zooming around and over my head like a low-flying aeroplane, buzzing malevolently.

Listen, you bastard, I said, I was going to kill you, but I'll just catch you and chuck you out - ok - so be nice. I fetched a small bucket, trapped the beast with a feather duster and took it down to the kitchen. The cat stared as I opened the back door and shook it out. The beast was not pleased. It hurled itself against the window, bang bang, buzz, trying to get inside.

The next day there was a smaller version of it on the dressing table and I killed it. I heard a buzzing outside and the by now familiar sound of something batting itself against the pane and knew that the beast was back, looking for revenge.

That's no wasp, said my neighbour when I told her about it, that's a queen bee, and the one you killed was one of her workers. If you see her again, kill her too or she'll set herself up in the eaves of your house.
That night, in the bedroom, I saw the queen once more. She was perched on the arm of the wicker chair and she and the cat were motionless, looking at each other. I picked up Mslexia. The cat fled. The queen did nothing.
I'm going to kill you, I said. I felt she deserved that much ceremony, to be told of her imminent demise. Perhaps it was because she read my pure intent and wanted to spare herself the anguish of the chase, or she had run out of strength, or she thought this was the best way of saving herself: she did not move at all, and I swatted her easily with one blow, where she perched. There was a snotty-looking mess to clean up afterwards, and her squashed and broken body, crushed wings and spindle legs.

She didn't look like a bee, she looked like a queen hornet. But my connection to the natural world is precarious. I have only, in recent years, learned what a fox's bark sounds like, properly identified the mating call of starlings.

I have never in my life been stung by a bee. wasp or hornet so for all I know I might be allergic. Like I said, I could have died.

Life is never humdrum, here on the Edge.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Life is disconcertingly beautiful right now, primarily because of spring and all its attendant glories of bud, leaf and clear sky after such a long and unforgiving winter that it seemed the White Witch had gotten dominion and even I (one of its greatest erstwhile fans) turned my back on it. This being so, and me being in a reasonably sanguine state of mind, it was a curious juxtaposition to hear Shrink (yes, we're back together) say that life is a sexually transmitted disease with a bad prognosis. I can't actually remember what the actual context was, and obviously it was a joke, not an original one either, it was R.D. Laing who first said it, I think. And it's a weird thing for a Shrink to be saying, whatever the context, but he is weird and I must be bonkers to keep seeing him. So obviously I need a Shrink, and one way or another it all works itself out.

Mr. Signs and I have finished watching the boxed set for In Treatment (season one) with the lovely Gabriel Byrne playing the Shrink. Feeling somewhat bereft now, especially as season two isn't available on dvd yet. Almost unbelievably, it seems that Gabriel Byrne has never actually had therapy himself.

A shadow looms over the beautiful life (afternoon tea and Pimms on the patio) in the form of new neighbours' plans to build a two-storey extension which would have a significant impact on the amount of light we get. We would, in fact, be drinking Pimms in the shadow.

There is always something.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

perfect fits

I came across this gem on son's facebook and can't think how I missed it when it first came out. There was much controversy about the black-face element, so it was cleaned up, but this is the original and it's beautiful - because it works in every possible way. Stick with it - the dance sequences in the middle - oh - Taco's understated vampric aura and the ghostly chorus - the teeth! And, obviously, the music. It wears its irony lightly.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Alone on the Edge for a few days, Mr. Signs having driven north to the annual Shrink conference. Even the cat seems to have disappeared, it being a proper spring-like day, the kind that draws her away on mysterious business. I have much to do, like Mrs. Pepperpot, thus called because she often shrank to the size of a Pepperpot and ordinary everyday tasks became a huge challenge. She knew how to talk to animals and inanimate objects, and they helped her. By the time Mr. Signs returns on Sunday, if all went according to story, there would be thirty pancakes ready for him on the table, though as things stand he would probably prefer a leg of lamb or a whole roast chicken.

I have lost the nimble and airy biodynamic gardening person who used to come and clean Signs Cottage once a week, did all the hard bits like vacuuming (including steep, narrow stairs), floor-cleaning, changing the bed linen, appeared to flit around the place as though she were not doing anything at all and always left a gleam behind her. There is a kind of genius to this. She has gone to work on a biodynamic farm and I will miss her. Time to cut back on all the spending so will try and do without help. Where is the cat? It's time she pulled her weight around here, did a bit of housework.

Someone asked me how it was going with the "vegetarian project." I told them I didn't miss meat.
But what about sausages and burgers?
Especially not them.
So what do you have instead?
Ice cream.
What? You're joking!

Swimming back and forth in the lit blue pool, I pretend to be an ancient mermaid stranded in the realm of humans, finding my element again. But the chlorine gets right under my skin. Afterwards I stand under the shower and wash with Weleda Calendula body soap, rub lotion into my arms, legs and face before I dress. But still, the chlorine that got under my skin seeps out. A sign next to the jacuzzi says that if you have high or low blood pressure, or a medical condition, you should not use the jacuzzi. I sit in it for short periods, the water is hot and swirls around me, it eases the muscles temporarily. But it fixes the chlorine, gets it right into the system. There's always something, isn't there?

My Smokefriend (London-based, erstwhile smoking buddy) is coming tomorrow for the sharing of writing, of which I have disappointingly little. But she says, we're in it for the long haul, meaning the nothings and setbacks are part of the journey. You know it's a real friend when they put a shine on you, and to this also, there is a kind of genius.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


A low-key easter sunday, hence no capitals. We did eat chocolate, watch a particularly crappy Jonathan Creek show, had daffodils, candles and a painted egg, the only one that survived from days when I used to do that with the kids. Daughter has gone north to meet the boyf's family and son is now somewhere between Jodhpur and Bombay (we call it Mumbai, but they don't, is what he tells me) and I was glad to hear his voice yesterday because the last time I'd spoken to him he said he was in the desert, and what happened in the match between Arsenal and Barcelona? It was a draw, I said, where will you be sleeping? On the sand, he said, on a rug, I've got low battery, bye. I like to hear the voices of my children, thank god for mobile phones and Skype.

A friend came over to have walk on the forest with me. We'd gone but a short distance when we spotted an orange and white cat sitting on the branch of an oak tree, looking at us. It's the Cheshire Cat, said my friend, look it's grinning at us. Miaow, said the cat, miaaaaooow. It got up, ran the length of the branch and back again. It's got itself stuck up the tree, I said. Friend climbed up a little way trying to reach it but the cat was too high up. We walked to the rushing stream, turning back when it began to rain and saw that the cat was still there, stuck and singing out for help. Back at Signs Cottage we pulled Mr. S from newspaper heaven to bring a ladder in the car, he was not best pleased, (cat's are intelligent, it will find its way down) but did the job, got cat by the scruff of the neck and down it came, singing. Off it went, and I hope it found its way home, but in the right kind of story it would have turned into a handsome prince or princess and given us three wishes.

Perhaps it is because I have been spending too much time at IKEA (all day friday - Good Friday - looking for sofa, 'struth!) , that I woke today remembering Dennis O'Driscoll's poem Missing God and how I tore it out of the newspaper when I first read it during Advent in 2002 and kept it in my bedside locker for years. Can you miss something you never had in the first place? Probably, and maybe particularly.