Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ghost of Christmas

Finding the kindling - the wick - keeping the flame alight. Believing in it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

back to purple

This is more of a tweet than a post, and it is again after midnight. There are too many things to get done in the few hours where doing is possible. But it seemed important to let you know that I no longer want the Sarah Lund sweater. Call me fickle, but I am now properly in love with a pair of rainbow woollen slipper socks and fingerless gloves - handmade by a friend who lives (and this is the honest truth) in an igloo without any of the mod cons that we all take for granted. I received them yesterday in the post, since when I have not taken them off. And I have stopped thinking about the sweater. Someone sent me a tip-off that they were selling replicas in H & M but actually, on investigation it seems that the star and snowflake motif is in every shop one looks at. Everyone wants a piece of Sarah Lund's jumper. It would obviously be terrible for my reputation if I were to be seen following the common herd, so back I go to the trusty purples shell-suit trousers.

And the other thing I wanted to say is: how is it possible that every tumbler in the house has disappeared? I simply accept that this happens with ballpoint pens and socks. But this is too much. I am drinking water from a mug. Something very weird is going on.


Monday, December 12, 2011

want it

I can't sleep and have got it into my addled brain that all I really want for Christmas is this original Sarah Lund sweater. Actually, I have got it into my addled brain that if I could only have this sweater then everything might suddenly come right. I have felt this before - when I was about nine years old, I think. Then it was a talking doll that I wanted. It had a string that you pulled at the back and it said things like, my name is Little Poppet and it cost five pounds, nineteen shillings and sixpence - a fortune. Just as well I didn't get it, the let-down would have been dreadful and I would have been stuck with her. I want this sweater bad. Why? I enjoyed The Killing, but not nearly as much as most people seem to, and I don't really want to be the Sarah Lund character. I am not even sure that the sweater would be right for my shape. I still want it. I have trousers and a jacket that would go perfectly with it. I would wear it as it is supposed to be worn - all the time - because that comes naturally. When I have something I like I tend to bond with it (e.g. purple trousers) and see no reason to ring the changes. It is made of good, Faroese, breathable wool. It costs 280 euros - 320 with postage and packing - and is therefore out of the question. Knitting it myself is also out of the question.

But I keep looking at it. The wool is just right. The funny star pattern also. Right for what, though?

What ridiculous thing do you really want for Christmas?


Friday, December 9, 2011

Beyond the Dry White Whine

I was just about to share with you a fulsome complaint about the state of the Signs barnet (I am having a bad hair month) when I was struck by a profound thought. Bear with me, as they teach them to say at call centres, especially when it looks as though there may be trouble ahead and no possibility of resolution (our fridge light is not working, it has been kaput for several months, we have a British Gas kitchen appliance service agreement that should deal with this, they are apparently working 'night and day' to resolve etc etc). There is much that I could be complaining about. The state of my fake Ugg boots, fact of the heel being conspicuously worn when I hardly, I mean to say, really walk any length to brag about; I have put on weight and it isn't even Christmas yet; it is cold in the Signs bedroom because the loft has never been properly lagged and we just can't - etc; and so on, including the hair and the fridge light, as outlined above.

The profound thought that barged into my consciousness is this: complaining is really a luxury activity. Don't get me wrong - I am all for complaining often and loudly, especially about poorly-administered service agreements. My 'musn't grumble' stance is ironic, not from the heart or from any conviction that there is merit in keeping stumm about the variety of aggravation that life throws at you. But complaining, if you are going to do it properly, takes energy, life forces, sure ground beneath your feet of the sort that stems from a feeling that all is fundamentally well, were it not for the malfunctioning fridge light (the sound on my computer has gone mute btw, and there is a crack in our recently-acquired toilet seat, just so you know).

Consider this: when you are in your mid-thirties you complain about the fact of getting older. You crack on about how you are now, technically, middle-aged, you don't stay up all night drinking as you did in your teens and twenties and you can't so easily ignore the bronchial cough from all the cigarettes you smoke. In your mid-forties you are much less loud about all this. You paint over the grey bits and generally stop drawing attention to age-related matters especially as some of them might have become embarassing. In your mid-fifties you either kind of shut up about it or you say something properly interesting, or write poety. You understand in your soul that we are mortal and memento mori becomes a mantra worth considering. It is all too close to the bone for mere complaint.

When life becomes properly hard, with fear, pain, illness or hunger as constant presences, things go quiet, or something quite different happens.

The silver swan, who living had no note,
when death approached unlocked her silent throat.

I do not think you will easily find someone with M.E. complaining about what the disease has done, is doing, to their lives. You disagree, perhaps - think that there is an endless stream of complaint from the M.E/CFS community, enough to make you want to switch off, but what you see does not touch on the heart of the matter.

I have said this before and will say it again: there are people living the severe version of the condition you have heard referred to as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and what they endure is unspeakable and heroic. Some, with difficulty and extraordinary tenacity, manage to write about it, speak the truth. When they do, the words are song-like. They give utterance to something mysterious: how we can be in seemingly impossible conditions, maligned and forsaken, and yet bear witness. Lament is the purest form of song I know.

Greetings to y'all this newly starlit Advent - and to you, the singers: I listen, I hear, I lend my voice.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Cuckmere Haven

I like the sea in all its aspects. Yesterday the surface of it was wind-prickled, unsettled, a hard metallic shining in slow motion, a severity of grey along the curve of the horizon.

I have always thought: if you look at something for long enough you do, to some extent, become it for a space. I wanted not to be this human thing stranded on dry land with my two thin legs, the laces of my Doc Martens all unravelling on the rough stones by the mouth of the river that comes and comes to the father/lover rush of sea. I was jealous - landlocked in unsuitable footwear, I wanted to be seagull. There is something hidden in deep sea that even the sky can't read. It is said that the moon has power over sea, but I don't believe it.

I wrote: I could have been stone at the bottom of your bed, moved from this place to that, grey flint with a hole in my heart, a grain of sand - something, or almost nothing. This yearning on the shore by white cliffs is the farthest I can go - the closest I can get.


Monday, November 28, 2011

White whine alert: where have all the four-exing sixty-watt light bulbs gone? The proper, incandescent ones, I mean, I still can't abide the save-the-planet ones no matter how much better people say they are. This kind of thing can have me slithering helter skelter into a rant about things in general that I find difficult about the now, looking back with rose-tinted spectacles to the proper lightbulb days of yore. We didn't have computers then, much, or mobile phones. How did we live though? I can't remember. But I do know that it was generally ok to pick up the phone to make or break an arrangement whereas now it seems an indecently intrusive thing to do. This comes to mind because there is someone from the lightbulb days who has for some time - most of the year, actually - been trying to make an arrangement for us to meet up again. Considering where we both are, this should be fairly straightforward, but it hasn't been. Small difficulties that might easily be sorted by having a short conversation become something else when one is texting (her preferred method of communication) back and forth. Emails get lost or passed over. First one who picks up the phone is a mashed potato, and I don't want to be it.

Nanowrimo has passed me by, but I am back into my novel - in my fashion. Short bursts and a bit of plod plod. But is has ignited in me again and I have found a way forward after a lovely writing time with the daughter, who is working on another play. Sometimes one just needs a small shift to get unstuck. To keep going is the thing. I have no real sense of how achievable it is, the satisfactory completion of such a task as this, but the travelling (the carrying on, the writing), rather than the arrival is really the thing, and without it I feel strangely lost.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


This morning someone asked me by the by how I was. I said I was in 'mustn't grumble' mode and we both laughed. Only a nudnik* answers a question like that in a fulsome and truthful way. And anyway I do not properly know how I am, all I know is that I am on that Mickey Mouse precipice again. Or am I being disingenuous, even to myself? I am - or was, at any rate, for several years - a trained bereavement counsellor. I know how when someone dies weird things happen. But it is only today that I have articulated to myself that this present weirdness is the bereavement kind - a very particular bespoke kind, as it always is. Not helpful to speak in terms of generalities, and this person that is gone from me and the world is hard to put a label on. He was an erstwhile stepfather but that says very little - and very little is what I want to be saying. So here I am saying it. But sometimes it is best just to bow with a small flourish and go back behind the curtain.

Back anon - when I can lay my hands on the red nose that I seem to have mislaid and when I have dedided what the hell costume to wear. Not to mention remembered my lines.

*nudnik - someone who if you ask them how they are, they tell you. Yiddish, obviously.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Emergency Soup

This was never intended as a daily/weekly update on goings-on and goings-out. But inevitably things crop up and one talks about them - and inevitably a picture emerges of the person who wears the persona of Signs. We are not overly shy about the Personal, me and the persona who we can call the Supposed Self. We even, on occasion, embrace the Confessional. But everyone knows (blogging peeps, I mean) that though one may appear to be telling the whole truth (albeit slant), behind the scenes Things happen. In Life, I mean (I am using a lot of capital letters and brackets today, I know). Sometimes a thing comes up and for one reason or another you can't possibly blog about it, but the thing is so big and so wide and so tall that it is like a fully-grown elephant in a small room and you can't carry on sipping your tea and eating your crustless cucumber sandwiches.

On the weekend I found out that someone died at the end of January this year. He came along when I was nine years old and the significance of him in my life cannot be overstated. For the last ten years or so - for reasons that are too complicated and strange to set down - he has been out of communication with everyone, apart from one person who took complete control over every aspect of his life. He was a respected, influential figure, well known, and there have been no obituaries because until a couple of days ago his death was kept secret (by the one person). News of his death came to me in the oddest way, the details around it would not be out of place in a Hardy novel, and it fell to me to pass the news on. It is like a firework that goes off and one spark creates uncountable others, each one an explosion that creates more sparks, more explosions. In the world generally there is much anger and grief, looking for a place to home in. I want and need to keep my head below the parapet, in this particular and a number of other situations. The parapet keeps tumbling down, leaving me exposed. Clear boundaries and protective structures never my strong point.

Mr. Signs and I went to the lovely Duke of Yorks cinema in Brighton yesterday to see the new Wuthering Heights, but after a while I began to shiver and it wasn't just the bleakness of the wet, windy moor and the fact that the cinema was (unusually) a bit cold. After the cut-off, I used to think I saw him, this man who promised he would not go without saying goodbye (he knew I couldn't stand it) from the car window or just turning a corner in the street where I walked - the grief/loss thing. After a while it stopped. Yesterday I thought I saw him slumped in the empty seat near me. But that wasn't why I was shivering. I don't mind apparitions, have often wished for them - not like Heathcliff wanted Cathy's ghost, but with my own kind of passion. I thought if he was dying or dead he would find a way of letting me know. I also thought my dead father would come and visit me in dreams. Neither have obliged.

I left Mr. Signs to watch the rest of the film and went back, caught a phone call from the man's son, who I have been close to, spoke about a memorial service, neither of us can face doing anything until next spring. He says he feels lighter, feels closure. I don't. We all process things differently. There was nothing in the house for supper. I found some red lentils in the cupboard and some old carrots and celery in the fridge. Put them into a pot with boiling water and Marigold bouillon, cooked until soft then pulverised with a potato masher. It did the trick. Emergency Soup. Sometimes you just have to go with what you have.

Monday, November 7, 2011


Back on the front line again - fearless on the battlefield. Meaning that I have been laid up and mostly in bed. This is when we (pwme) have to be brave and free ourselves from fear, become incredibly zen and dispassionate about the hours and days that slip into a continuum and there is no telling how long this will last - it might be a week or several months. I walked a short distance along the path by the golf course that leads into the forest. A small moment of overreaching craziness when I was tempted to keep walking, it would have been downhill for a stretch before the uphill climb into forest proper, and then on and on with the possibility of getting lost. Everyone here seems to have a story about getting lost in the forest. But I walked back the way I came, before the rain came down, before I landed myself in a spot where coming back would be an endless uphill slog, before a pointless unravelling.

I feel an analogy coming on - don't you?

I have wandered too far from my story again - the one I should have been working on had I not gone down with this. Story never cares about reasons and excuses for not writing, however justified they might be. Story fleshes out and becomes real when you give it energy and attention and becomes pale and ghostly when you leave it alone for too long. The plot unravels. Getting back is an uphill climb that requires real, physical effort. And today was just weird, hard to pin down: all day waiting for the vet to call back because Cat of Signs was hyperventilating last night; then today she wandered out for an unusually long time and I had thoughts of her perhaps losing her breath again, breathing her last, without the strength to get back. I wandered around and into the neighbour's garden bleating her name. She was fine, scratching her claws on a wooden post. A man came to look at a couple of things that need doing, one of them being to properly lag the loft so the bedrooms are warmer when the cold comes. But he gave me the strangest look as he came in, as though he knew me from some previous and deeply troubling incarnation. Mr. Signs ushered him upstairs and they spoke of this and that. On the way out he gave me the same look, though I smiled nicely and did a faultless hello/goodbye. Trying to think where on earth I might have met him. Perhaps he was once a student of mine and I said something about his work that he didn't like? No, I would remember. Then laptop began to malfunction and made everything look like hieroglyphics, and it was as though I stared at a wall and could not read the Signs. It went on like that for an hour or so, and then righted itself. Sometimes things just do, and leaving things alone to sort themselves out is the best way.

While tapping out this post, a whole chunk of it began to unravel and delete itself. I feel another analogy coming on.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


I was clearing out our tiny study space the other day and came across bits and pieces of notebook-writing from sessions with a friend about six years ago. One of the things we did was to have a pick-and-mix of words, and I think this piece probably came from the word 'Home'. We used to go back and underline bits afterwards, for whatever reason. I have kept those in.

The question of how to keep the fire burning is ongoing:

I still don't know where it is. Am only just beginning to feel that England may after all be it, because after all, where else? Germany - but we were nearly wiped out there, and home should never be in a place where they once tried to kill you off. And anyway, this is where I am - this England, this particular village which I may or may not move from. I have a restlessness inside that both looks for home and seeks to avoid it. I want roots, to feel connected to a place, yet I don't want to be tied and constrained, unable to leave in case a move kills me. You have to be careful with roots. P (friend) always talks of renewing the ancient hearth. He has a ready-made hearth, one that he also tends, at (place of work). My hearth is where I light my candle or, failing that, where I come alight in a group of people with something to share that is more than just a box of chocolates. Though, a box of chocolates can be a hearth too, for a few minutes, and perhaps in this time and place we can't expect more than a series of temporary homes and hearths. The I Ching has told me, The wanderer has no place to lay his head; and once I wrote, I lay my head on my lover's shoulder, it smells of grass and reminds me of home.

When you lose a lover, a marriage partner, a close friend, you feel a sense of exile. The lay of the land is suddenly different. I feel this all the time, the ground shifting beneath my feet; also, the fear of coming home to oneself and no fire in the hearth, no lamp lit, nothing to eat. I have my own hut, and a good one too, but the walls have gaps in them where the wind whistles through and I forget to bring in the wood so I have something to burn, to make fire with. Without fire, no home.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011


It's November, novel-immersion month - and guess what? I am clobbered with the mother and father of all colds and have a temperature. I am not overly superstitious but I have noticed that this kind of thing tends to happen immediately after I say anything to suggest that I might have been feeling a bit, you know, brighter. For most of this year I have been post-viral or post-dental anaesthetic. I know this is just a bastard cold, but everyone by now knows that PWME don't get colds like other people do. It isn't the cold itself but the aftermath that we fear. Ditto dental work and anaesthetic.

Ok, dizzy now. Be seeing you.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Bump in the Night

It's Hallowe'en and I'm unashamedly promoting this lovely vid made by the Zig Zag Birds. It's a band that Son is in, see if you can guess which one is him (clue: torn white T , hollow eyes and you don't see him very much but he looks distinctively intense). If you like it, pass it on.

There is a small but hopeful-looking pumpkin sitting outside in the rain waiting to be given a face. But Mr. Signs is clobbered with a cold, and pumpkin-carving isn't one of the things on my C.V. On the other hand, I have stocked up with a few goodies to give the Hallowe'en knockers - but the kids are polite here and if they don't see a lit pumpkin they won't knock. And if they don't knock, I will have to eat all the goodies myself, which I would love to do but it is bad for me.

Tomorrow is the beginning of NaNoWriMo, which I am signing up for, if only to be along in spirit. There is no way I can bash out fifty thousand words in a month, if I manage between five and ten thousand I will be pleased. But I like the idea of a novel-writing month. It's good to tell stories. It's good to feel one is in the flow and swim of things, and I intend to be. In my fashion.

Postscript: While I was putting up this post Mr. Signs did something to the pumpkin. Punk art, people - and expressive!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Beat, Broken and sometimes Mickey Mouse

This is a pyjama day - my red, white and tinsel ones that go on surviving, a bit like my Purples, or like me. I have been winging it for a couple of months, meaning that I have not been spending most of every day lying down and that I have been seen out and about (shops and stuff, a poetry reading), and with my new short hair people say, oh you look well, you look better, you look - well, whatever, clearly I look brighter. And if someone asks me how I am, I say good, even though there are substantial grammatical issues around this ('good' is actually more correct than 'well' but we won't go into this now) - because while I have ME/CFIDS it is not truthful to say that I am well, but there are days that are, for whatever reason, good. And therefore I am. In my 'winging it' times I can move through the day as long as I keep, in some way, moving. The moment I rest or sit down I feel something more akin to the true state of things. Gravity homes in, sucks at my limbs; electricity, and all the strange manifestations of the malfunctioning body that goes by the name of me, begin to buzz, twitter and growl.

When I write, I can also (sometimes) feel as though I am winging it, as long as I keep going, like Mickey Mouse walking off the edge of the cliff - as long as I don't look down. I have used this image before, probably several times. But it does so perfectly represent how things are when one is like this. It isn't as though the ground (abyss) is not there, just that while in the air it is better not to look down and see it. If I believe I can keep going, the chances are I will get to the other side.

My Dad once wrote a play with a character who had the ability to walk on the ceiling and did so, going against logic and the law of gravity, until someone insisted that what he did was impossible. It only took a split second - the realisation that this was, in fact, impossible - for him to fall to the ground. He lived his life ever after according to the laws of gravity, with only footprints on the ceiling bearing witness to what he had been able to do. Perhaps I should stop before I stray into the murky territory of the positive-thinking self-help manual - when all I really wanted to say is that sometimes I am Mickey Mouse. Ok?

I have been enjoying the Twitter thing, unexpectedly, considering initial misgivings before I understood how it worked and thought it would feel like being trapped in a room with hundreds of people all talking at the same time. It is somehow easier than Facebook, not so much in your face, and one can dip in and out more smoothly. I came across the Railroad Poetry Project there - as far as I can gather, they are a couple of Kerouac-loving, Beat poetry true-hearts who have started an online magazine for people and poets who are "beat, broken and beautiful" and they asked for submissions. Well how could I resist? So a couple of my poems will be there at the end of the month, and I'm listed now as one of the contributors. It's pretty obvious which one is me - and I seem to be the only one who wrote the bio in first person.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Soap and Philosophy

I've been trying to buy a bar of soap. Anyone else noticed that these are becoming increasingly difficult to find? Apparently what we all now want is liquid soap that can be pumped out of a spout. And if we must have bar soap then what we want is twenty different varieties of Dove. Pootling around the streets of Brighton, I ended up in the enormous Boots chemist on North Street where a shop assistant pointed at the rows of Dove, shook her head and reminisced about the good old days of Palmolive, Lux, Knight's Castile and Camay - especially Camay, with the rich lather and the sillouhette of a gracious lady on the packet. They all want the liquid stuff now, she said, handing me a double-pack from a newly-arrived consignment of Cusson's Imperial Leather as though it were contraband. We reminisced about the old TV adverts for that: the rich couple in their private jet up to their necks in suds as they sat in their marble baths, soaping themselves luxuriously while the rabbling hordes shouted and agitated outside. They want the Imperial Leather, said she; clearly, said he, before giving the pilot instructions to bugger off to Bermuda (best place for them, probably).

But anyway, I'd like to know what the world is coming to when you go into a chemist for a bar of soap and come face to face with a pamphlet called Philosophy, which is all about skin care products on the one hand - but on the other hand seems to be peddling a serious nouveau new-age take on every aspect of your life. Under bath and shower products, for example:
remember to dance in your nightgown, sing in the shower, ride a bike, fly a kite and take an occasional "wind bath" in your bare skin, give those you love big kisses, huge hugs and the words "i love you" often and always.
Under antioxidant moisturising is offered the insight that
where there is hope there can be faith - where there is faith miracles can occur.
Would you expect anything less from a manufacturer ("a skin care entrepreneur and visionary") that produces a shampoo called Unconditional Love?

Just take me to Bermuda. Though actually, Brighton pied-à-terre does very nicely for me just now - clear, fresh and bright, as I would like to be, but sans Philosophy. Mr. Signs joining me tomorrow. Another poetry reading on Sunday. Then back to the forest edge.

Friday, October 14, 2011


Fabulous day here on edge, pristine blue/gold autumn with a touch of sting in the air. What to do with it? Or, more specifically, how to use the time available before energy meter times out? (Esp as this is in part borrowed from cup of coffee). I could: go for a walk on the beautiful forest; do last night's washing up; write another three A4 sides of novel, which has clocked up a surprising number of words considering I have not been able to give it much of me; write a poem; pre-prepare the evening meal; or I could sit here and do a blog post. You catch me, so to speak, in medius res, doing just that - PWME in action. Of a kind.

There is no right way with this. You make your choice and feel bad about the other things you have opted not to do. Or you make your choice and decide not to feel bad about anything because you are doing your best. I no longer understand how everyone else (without M.E.) lives. This is strange, because when I was in Monaco looking at all the super-rich peeps on their yachts I could quite easily begin to imagine how it might be if one had unimagineable amounts of money so that you could, for example, spend a quarter of a million just on getting the right kind of fridge/freezer for your floating monstrosity. Monstrous perhaps, but I could imagine it. Money is just another kind of energy. So why can't I get my head around the idea of an ordinary day in the life of someone who does not have to negotiate with the bastard disease? How do you work, shop, clean, go to the gym, see a film/play, get on a train, do admin, cook a meal, talk on the phone - all in one day? How do you even do two of those things and feel ok? Energy aside, I do not know how anyone can process everything without becoming overwhelmed. I belong to the one-a-day club, whose members can really only do one thing a day. Even so, I break club-membership rules. I push myself, do more, pay for it - can't do the pacing thing, stupid me, but on the other hand, the moments, each splinter and fragment - I want them so much.

Cat of Signs is now taking a daily pill (cunningly hid in sliver of tuna fish) for her hyperthyroid condition. We discovered also that her increasingly wretched state was due to fleas, picked up from the cattery in August. Dealt with. But she won't leave the kitchen and basically lives in an empty Abel and Cole vegetable box. The vet says that this is because she associates the rest of the house with fleas. Also, that we need to vacuum the house every day paying particular attention to corners and edges (yeah, right) so as to avoid a nasty infestation situation once central heating is switched on. And that we should be spraying something (toxic) around the skirting boards - just to make sure. Strategies.

If I say fuck off enough times, will the fleas get the message?

If I bring C of S's daily saucer of cat milk up to the living room will she leave her Cinderella abode and come back to us?

Because otherwise, I don't know what.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

- just because

I happened to come across it today (beautiful world and universe) and confess that from time to time this is the sort of thing I pure and simple need, for restoration, and I am not talking dentistry, though I have been there today for restoration, and it is national poetry day and although poetry will not confine itself to solace, restoration and beauty, it often seems that people come to poetry for these things or for a breath of air from 'yon far country', which is paradise never-quite-lost - and because I love the animals and the birds much more now, as I have said, probably too many times, but it bears repeating and anyway I want to, and because there seems to be no evidence at all that the meek will inherit the earth, and the creatures may teach us how to become more human, it may be so

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Word has got through to Headquarters at M.E. Central, and the powers that be have been alerted: I have been Doing Too Much. This comes with penalties, as any M.E. fule kno. But it was festival time on the Edge and much to see and be involved with. I didn't sleep much. Why would I? It's in the small print (Headquarters again) - if you go ahead and do things don't expect to sleep. Sleep comes after, the long, heavy kind.

But I am still better than I was heretofore, the betterness having begun several weeks ago for no discernible reason and it is not a particularly trustworthy state, relying to some extent on being a little excarnated or in the air, like Mickey Mouse strutting off the edge of a cliff, and it's ok to keep on walking as long as you don't look down. I probably shouldn't say the B word at all. Headquarters doesn't like it.

And there are Things on my mind. Does it get longer, I wonder, as one clocks up the years, the litany of Things? Probably not, but one is less easily distracted. One of the Things is Cat of Signs, whose over-active thyroid is becoming increasingly manifest. Her once beautiful coat is thin and scraggy, as she herself is. Having been a dainty picker before, she now eats like a horse but grows leaner by the day. Sometimes she goes outside and lies stretched on the wooden patio table, but mostly she has taken up residence on the kitchen table and won't go upstairs any more. We are treating her homeopathically (as per Vet's prescriptions) in the hope that her condition can be, if not cured, managed. Other options are: feeding her pills twice a day (impossible, she won't), surgery (too old) or radioactive iodine. This last offers the chance of a good outcome but is hideously expensive and, disorganised hippies that we are, we never did organise pet insurance.

So what to do? Though not exactly loaded, we could raise the money. But spending nearly two grand on our sixteen-year-old cat seems inappropriate.
We love her, though, and in her animal heart there is love for us too. I have never loved an animal before and it is a significant love because it has opened my eyes and changed me and my relationship to all animals.

She stands four-legged by the window
looking at the moon. Her heart is full
and empty, she cries like a human

Monday, September 26, 2011

Writing from Source

The phrase/title has been echoing in my head: What Lies Beneath - because of London smoke-friend and her recent blog post, and yes I know it is also the title of a horror film that I never saw. The blog post speaks about an art exhibition beneath Waterloo station that I would love to see, but it ends today and getting to London is for me in any case, you know, a big deal so I don’t do it much. It is a literal underground place - but also speaks some larger message “about the dank, dirty, unexplored places where art comes from, under ground, under consciousness...”

I have been thinking about this recently in connection to my own writing project (see how I shy away from the word ‘novel’). It draws deeply from my own, early life which was, as I experienced it, full of magic but also full of danger and darkness. In her book, Writing as a Way of Healing, Louise de Salvo cautions against being too casual about dipping your pen into the vein of troubled experience. I picture a manhole, the cover of which is lifted - and out come the monsters and creatures that you never expect to see above ground, and you are suddenly defenceless, disarmed, made small and weak again by their potent presences. I think one of the reasons I loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer was that it covered this terrain and drew on powerful archetypes. At some point you probably, if you are going to Make Art, have lift the cover or go down there because the underground life will undoubtedly find a way of making its presence felt, will emerge from the Beneath and challenge you to engage with it or go dry and wordless - and if you write, you can’t have that. How to do that, and have the right defences in place so that you are not overwhelmed, is a challenge and not for the faint-hearted.

The creativity coach, Eric Maisel says that an artist is someone who must learn to manage her/his emotions and if there is any truth in the notion that artists tend to be several skins short of a a sausage then it is particularly important that they learn to do this sooner rather than later. I am doing it later, but never mind. You have to begin where you are, and I am here, at the tail end of my fifties, raw and undisciplined (still), and I never learned how to kick-box. What I did learn, by hook or by crook, and by deep immersion in fairy tale, was to trust the story - that it would take you to the place where you needed to go, and that it would, if you allowed, stay with you and be your sword; and how, if you undertook to make a journey, you would find helpers en route. And how if you found yourself out in the dark forest completely naked, the stars would see you and throw down their gold.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Only Connect

Reading Ms Baroque’s latest post this morning; one of the things she speaks about is how difficult it is to keep up with everything in the poetry world and having a finger on the pulse as to who is doing what, let alone getting anything written. Sometimes I wonder how I would be living if I hadn’t needed to negotiate with M.E./CFIDS for the past quarter of a century or so. It can baffle me, in any case, to think of how anyone gets anything done, and with the virtual world making it so easy to be instantly in touch with what is happening, it is easy to lose that shut-away state of being that you need in order to dive deep into the well of your own creative source.

There are times I long to be one of those who can flit from one point of focus to another with a kind of perpetually adjustable tunnel vision: now I am chopping the parsley and coriander for a kedgeree; now I am working on my novel-in-progress; now I am moving into the substance of a poem or arranging the contents of my sock drawer. This last is for illustration - I do not have a sock drawer, but if I were such a person then perhaps I would have one.

I know a writer who describes herself as having ADHD and believes that it is a blessing in her case because it gives her the ability to do many things. She brings tunnel-vision to whatever it is that she is working on and can achieve much more than most in twenty minutes. How useful this would be. But I am not one of those and require a substantial amound of dream-time, which you might think I have in abundance, but I separate good-quality dream-time from laid-up ill-time where thinking is scrambled and one is too much in the body, with its delinquent demands and malfunctions.

And where, in all this, does social networking fit in? Earlier in the year I joined Facebook and now it is Twitter. Last night I watched snippets from Old Grey Whistle Test on BBC4 and began tweeting about it! Why? Because it was fun, is the obvious answer. With the hash tag thing, I saw who else was tweeting, made a sparky connection with someone I don’t know and most likely won’t see again - we shared a moment that brought a smile to each of us, is all - is enough. But there is another impulse: I want to feel connected - whatever that might mean - to the world as it is now. I don’t think social networking is necessary for this but it is something that offers itself easily. I can’t physically zip about to poetry and other cultural events, but I can to some extent keep up with what is happening in a way that would not otherwise be possible. Yes, sometimes I very much love the internet. And sometimes I am very much aware that I have to be careful not to lose myself in it, remember that Notebook is my best friend, steady and true, always giving my proper reflection back to me, waiting and listening with a golden ear for the words that come into its pages.

“We are in it for the long haul,” says London smoke-friend. And the loneliness of the long-distance writer, especially when there is no end yet in sight, and no guarantee at all that persistence will bring what the world calls success, is something to be nourished and embraced.

I am still learning about the Mac. Had my first lesson at the Apple store yesterday with a courteous but slightly bored young geek and there was something about him slightly at odds with the cult-like upbeatness of the Apple environment. I have retained a fraction of what he taught me. We will no doubt cross paths again.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Cat o' Nine Signs. Arrrrr!

Blisterin' barnacles, me buckos! It be Talk Like A Pirate Day and not one o' ye scurvy varmints seen fit to remind me? Time was when I'd have sent y'all to dance wi' Jack Ketch, but let it pass, for Cap'n Hooker is of a mind to be lenient. Now where's me grog? I'd be hoistin' the Jolly Roger, but truth to tell, Cat o' Signs has got a pox-ridden mange or some peculiar baldy thing on one of her ears, and as it ill befits a Cap'n o' my stature and standin' to have a creature that's half bald I went to have a parley with the vet hereabouts, no matter that it be the third time in as many weeks and costin' a heap o' doubloons on account of her scurvy thyroid gland. She be gettin' on in years, but not yet old enough to be feedin' the fish, and what with the cost o' homeopathic pills an' potions the vet will be kissin' the gunner's daughter if we don't get a result sharpish, arrr!

Sail-ho, me hearties, that's all ye be gettin' out o' this sea-dog now, but I'll be back ere the mold on me mizzen falls off, firin' a cannon through yer porthole before ye can say yo ho ho an' a bottle o' rum.

So watch it.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

member of the wedding

All day at a wedding yesterday - in Bethnal Green, where I lived in my twenties. The town hall is now a hotel and one can do the whole wedding bash there. We filed into the old magistrates court/town hall chamber where the wedding took place and waited for the show to begin. Every part of the ceremony had been rehearsed. My daughter and the other bridesmaids, all decked out in shades of Peacock, stepped in to the sound of Regina Spektor singing Fidelity, and then it began, the weeping. It was us, the wedding guests, unprepared for the power of ceremony and the thing that happens sometimes in a church or a theatre, when a production is perfectly choreographed, directed and orchestrated and we are lifted out of the mundane world. The groom's voice broke as he made his vows, the bride stated that she had loved him in her heart from the outset, the registrar presided like a midwife or a ministering angel. Afterwards, over fizzy champagne and small talk across a white linen-covered table competing with a cacophony of echoing voices, where we conversed with people whose only real connection to us was the experience we had just shared, we reduced it: beautiful wedding, bride looked lovely, the flowers - oh - the dress, and isn't it strange, we said, how it is back in fashion again, the wedding, and someone talked about how she ran out of tissues because of the crying. I smirked, or tried to smile (the wedding breakfast was not until 3pm, crucifixion-time for the adrenally-challenged chronically-fatigued). I didn't say about the residual ache located just beneath my breastbone, as though someone very much loved from miles of separating years had appeared and then disappeared, or a snatch of conversation had been heard in a language one had almost forgotten. It felt like homesickness. I can't think what else. I think at times like this we are in Babylon and remember Zion. This is not fitting for small talk, or perhaps even any kind of talk at all. And in any case, what words would we use to express such a thing? I ate vichyssoise with truffle, fillet steak, panna cotta, cake. It receded, the homesickness.

Home again, I was up till the small hours, limbs and muscles refusing to settle, then awake again early. I was beyond tired today, but kept afloat in a small frenzy, attending to this and that, admin things and making a vegetable and barley soup to make up for yesterday's cream, sugar and caffeine.

Autumn, its urgency, begins to move in and around me. Body hurts but I whisper it to buoyancy and don't let myself lie down. The year has been too long, too hard. I want to keep going.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

five reasons why you should follow me on Twitter

- Because I might be famous one day. If for some reason that is not immediately apparent this should happen, then you will really wish you had followed sooner rather than later. It just looks better and nicer.

- Because it's nice to be nice. True - nice is back in fashion, and this is not just me getting old or even a bit less rock an roll. Nice is like Christmas and birthday cards, and exquisite cakes with your coffee, it puts a small glow in the middle of you, where a glow should be, but sometimes one struggles (does one not, now and then) to keep it there. Re cards and cakes, anyone want to tell me about paper wastage and blood sugar levels - don't. Be nice.

- Because I have had a radical new hair cut. Yes, on Twitter you can see the beaming, new-look Signs, cropped and salt and pepper grey. You can also see a small gap at the side where a tooth is missing. It adds to the character, trust me.

- Because if you follow me then I might follow you back. That is actually almost a certainty. I was about to say that beggars can't be choosers, but what I really mean is that I am in the first flush of enthusiasm, not to mention New Kid on the Block, and will therefore say yes to anyone, unless it seems obvious that you are going to be a seriously unpleasant person or dangerous psychopath. And right now I am actually interested in all this and - potentially - you. Which may not be the case if I become famous like, say, Stephen Fry who everyone seems to follow. For he has over three million followers, and how could he possible be interested in all of them?

- Because you are very curious to see what a 'fatigue-artiste and martyr*' actually does with herself, and this will give you a hotline to the Life of Signs, not to mention the odd line of verse and piece of poetic prose.

*Quentin Crisp described himself as "exhibitionist and martyr". If you have never watched the film The Naked Civil Servant, then you must. Having M.E./CFIDS does not carry the same danger as being a homosexual in the earlier part of the twentieth century did. But it carries its own stigma, is widely misunderstood - and it is an artistic work-in-progress to be living with it, in creative relationship.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


I met with a couple of local poets today to talk about readings coming up at the village literary festival. Over barm brack and tea, we tossed some poems about to see what we might read. I continue to feel ambivalent about poetry readings. On the one hand there is something about speaking the words, putting them into the realm of sound, and the listening ear. But not all poets are good speakers of their work, and some poems ask rather for the intimacy of one-on-one relationship to words on the page. It is often said that the poem only comes properly to life when spoken aloud. I don't necessarily agree. There is another kind of voice that sounds in the ear when one is alone with a poem on the page. It is an aspect of the unique relationship we build with a writer, so that the words, if we make a connection to them, sound in us as though we ourselves are the very source of them.

As a child, I would sometimes copy out poems - verses that I liked - and feel as though it was written by me - that I owned the words as much as the one who composed them. If words are bread of a kind, then in a sense I did own them for I had ingested them and they were now a part of me (one benefit, had I known, of learning by heart). Some of A Child's Garden of Verses did sustain the soul-life of me in ways I could not have articulated.

The Dog, and the Plough, and the Hunter, and all,
And the star of the sailor, and Mars,
These shown in the sky, and the pail by the wall
Would be half full of water and stars.

This was probably not the first of such experiences, but the pail that was "half full of water and stars" was an initiation into the power of metaphor. It was a poetry-shock: something could be itself on a mundane level, and yet be a doorway to magic and otherworld. Luckily I did not hear it read out loud at school. When teachers read verse they put on a 'poetry voice' and deadened it.

I remember the poet George Szirtes at a reading, saying that he did not do "cabaret." I think I understood what he meant. He was there to read his poems, not to deliver entertainment or do Performance poetry. I squirmed a bit, though, because the truth is that I find poetry readings with an element of performance much easier to take in. This is partly because poetry is often dense with meaning and also because (having M.E.) I am cognitively challenged and brain can get quite suddenly overloaded. But mainly I think it is because not all poets are able to stand fully in their words and deliver them. Well, and why should they? The words we write are sometimes better than we are, and when written they are (and really should be) gone from us.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

free flame

I would like to tell you that I am writing this post from my sweet and slender new Mac Air book. I have one, it is up and running, lying with the cat on my bed, as it happens. But I don't yet properly know how to use it. I have to go to classes at the Apple place, not joking. For a not entirely modest amount you can get a year's worth of unlimited tuition, which is what I have got. But in the joy of the purchase (esp as not with my money but in return for certain services rendered - don't ask), and in an atmosphere of almost cult-like upbeat positivity (the shop assistants, if one can call them that, really believe in all things Mac and are radiant with the faith) it just seemed as though I would beam myself there and back, Tardis-like, whenever. Ha ha, I hear you say. Yes, and so I have not actually learned how to do the Mac word-processing thing yet. So this comes to you from my trusty Dell P C.

Well, so I am back, with a radical hair cut, short and spiky, all the old colour gone and the grey is - though I say it myself - pleasing. I was actually only away for a week, cavorting in Monaco harbour, the yachting playground of the disgustingly rich. The yacht that we were on was a mere dinghy in comparison with some of the floating hotels I saw. It was horribly hot and humid, but sailing out into the bay, swimming in the sea, was very good, and I slept well on the boat. But enough of that, I don't want to be telling you about what I did in my summer holidays. No, I have more pressing things on my mind.

Autumn is upon us, says the wind that has been tearing about in these parts, bending the boughs of the oak and ash. It is early, and summer didn't have much of a look-in, but never mind, it is here; and so it is time to review, re-dedicate and focus on what next because that is what I do in autumn, whether or not it seems practical because of the restrictions imposed by M.E. My plan is always, in any case, to be feeling, by whatever degree, better. If that is scuppered it won't be by me, but by M.E. So:

Out comes the new notebook and the intention of doing the Morning Pages again, because doing them is a good thing as long as one does not fall into a pit of writing only about illness and despair, and I do not intend to. My focus will be on process (creative) and the lovely incidentals of life in ordinary, which is good for the soul and for poetry.

The novel is progressing - so slowly that you can hardly see it move, and I've been so hammered with one thing and another that it hasn't been given much time, but still - the evidence is there in black and white word count that it is progressing, and it is still alive in me, the characters have not wasted away, as can sometimes happen when you don't give a story enough attention. A sizeable chunk is waiting to be transferred from notebook to computer. I still find composition best to do with pen and paper and even the beautiful Mac is unlikely to change this.

Not writing much new poetry. Can't be helped, I have promised the novel that it will get the best of my sustained attention. But there are readings coming up - one at the end of this month and another in October, and there is enough to be working on and revising.

Courtesy of lovely Kindle, I have been reading Titus Groan, the first part of the Gormenghast trilogy by Mervyn Peake, a wonderful, fantastical, poetic creation. From time to time the narrator makes an observation that I take to be Mervyn Peake, writer and artist, speaking about how it is when mind is fully present and engaged in the creative act. Here, one of the characters, a young girl called Fuchsia, entering her secret attic place:

As Fuschia climbed into the winding darkness her body was impregnated and made faint by a qualm as of green April. Her heart beat painfully.

This is a love that equals in its power the love of man for woman and reaches inwards as deeply. It is the love of a man or of a woman for their world. For the world of their centre where their lives burn genuinely and with a free flame.

It is always a work in progress for most of us, I think, to reclaim or inhabit that world more fully. To this, with the strong breath of autumn, I re-dedicate myself.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Quand Meme

What has happened to the Meme? You know - those things that people used to tag you with and you had to list anything from three to a hundred random things about yourself that could include anything from your favourite colour to embarassingly personal revelations about underwear and sexual preferences. Well you can forget about any of that. Apart from my fidelity to the purple chav trousers (they have never let me down) the preferences of Signs are nothing if not fluid and changeable. But I do like a good List. If nothing else, they do away with the need to think about having anything of import to say in a post. Put something in the context of a List and it becomes strangely eloquent. You can also get away with making pronouncements about things you might otherwise be wiser to shut up about. With no Meme, it all begins to sound humdrum, but there is so much I could have told you:

Wearing a bra with wire underneath might make your breasts look glad and uplifted, but at the end of the day you will have a red rim underneath them.

Eating a lot of vegetables for several months is almost certainly a very good thing but it is unlikely to be a cure for M.E.

Solitude is a fine thing, but when you find yourself having many serious conversations with a stuffed bear it is time to review the situation.

Giving up cigarettes doesn't necessarily mean that you will ever stop wanting them. Giving up sugar, though, probably does.

I seem to use the words 'probably' and 'perhaps' a lot.

My Dell laptop has suffered a clutch of Blue Wall attacks and is probably dying.

I want a Mac Airbook.

I am going on holiday to France.

Meanwhile I wish you the serenity of the season. We need serenity, without it we get into deep trouble. That's So Pants says something about this. It is the fifth birthday of her lovely blog today.

Be seeing you.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Riots in Hackney

Just a few of the photos that Son took last night. Both my kids live in Hackney.

Monday, August 8, 2011

doth make my soul to thrive

Came back from Brighton yesterday evening to find that our apple tree had fallen down. It was a good friend. The children used to climb it, fruit made lovely jelly. With us for nearly twenty years, it was always precariously connected to the earth as its other half had fallen, years back, in a storm. Something had been eating away at it - the honey fungus, perhaps, that has been stalking our garden for a few years.

There are riots in London, and lootings and burnings, everyone talking about it on Facebook. I am uneasy. Daughter says there is a siren a minute. Another shop burned down. Someone said that the youth of the Middle East riot for freedom, the youth of the UK riot for 42 inch HD TV. But the sickness goes deeper than that, I think. Certainly it is opportunistic. What is it saying to us, though - that they are disconnected, alienated and don't care? It goes further back than the Cuts. Kids on barren housing estates with what kind of culture?

Mercury is in retrograde, someone said. This means little to me, but apparently it is significant. In the words of the I Ching, it does not further one to cross the great water. Stay at home and put the kettle on, keep an eye on the news.

I lay on the trunk of my apple tree, palms against its skin. My first tree hug - my last, perhaps.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Life Goes On - Bra (2)

It is that time again – why? It is writ in black and white that I bought enough bras in December 2009 to last me several years, but now they are all – how can I put it? – unsatisfactory, and they make my bosoms look sad. You may think that I have more pressing issues than sad bosoms at this moment, especially if you have been reading my blog this year; for it has been something of an annus horribilis in the health and vitality department, and no mistake. But sometimes attention to the small (38 double D, if you want to know) details in one’s life can bring uplift of several kinds, and Mr. Signs and I have a short holiday planned. Unlikely as it seems, we have been invited to stay on someone’s boat in the south of France, and I need a few glad-rags. Even my knickers have holes in them and look miserable.

So back I go to M and S, this time in Brighton, which is convenient. I get white linen trousers, summery tops, cotton nightshirt, multipacks of knickers. I have to be focussed and not get diverted into Primark or any of the more interesting Brighton boutiques because after an hour or two I will turn into a pumpkin. The woman in the bra department says she is run off her feet and has no time to do a fitting. I say, that’s ok because I know my size. She asks to see what bra I’m wearing and when I take my top off she says the strap is riding up my back, which is a very bad thing. I have chosen to try on something called a T shirt bra, not the kind of thing I would usually get as it is padded and has wire underneath but I have been reliably informed (by someone whose bosoms looked glad and uplifted) that they were just the thing for wearing under summer tops, and they are only £16 for a pack of two. But the wire rides up and presses unkindly, the padded bit perches above the bosom and I can’t see how anyone manages to wear something like this. Moreover, between the time it took to get the bra and try it on, I have turned pumpkin and have to sit down. From the other side of the cubicle door, the bra department woman asks how it’s going, I say I’m not sure and she says ok and not meaning to rush me but there’s people waiting to get in and would I like to make an appointment for a fitting later on or tomorrow?

Never mind. I did not get all the things in one day. I have taken the best part of the week to do the shopping thing because I know how it goes – and the sandals I bought (not M and S but Birkenstock) needed to be taken back and exchanged because the leather cut into my ankle (and yes I know about Birkenstocks and how you need to wear them in).

But the sun has properly shown its full-on, beautiful face; I have done a bit of writing; second root-canal treatment seems to have done the trick and it almost seems as though, for a short space at any rate, I will not have to visit the dentist again; two good writing friends visited today. Apart from that, I have been on my own since Monday, and will be until the weekend. Twilight. A great canopy of lilac sky. The mew of seagulls.

Tomorrow – Bravissimo!

Monday, July 25, 2011


A glorious Brighton morning and I should really be out in it, somehow. But last night there was very little sleep, and now I am preparing for another week of dentist, trying every few minutes to get through to the surgery on the phone, because clearly things are not right.

Even so, I see possibilities for getting it righter with M.E.-related life and stuff. I have lost the plot a little, allowed myself to become innerly unravelled by the past year’s relapse, the on-goingness of it and the vague state-of-emergency feeling about health issues generally. I have not brought the necessary acceptance that allows one to live the situation with a measure of serenity and grace. Because there are times when I do manage this, I know the difference. In saying this, I am not blaming myself for the unravelling, and I am doing the best I can. But inner Zen master needs to come and sound the bell, light the candle, remind me not to be afraid or discouraged.

I have had a nice response from a poetry editor. Whether it will lead to anything substantial I can’t say, especially as it depends on the quality of energy and focus I can bring to new work. But it is not nothing – actually, it is something, especially in today’s difficult climate – when an editor takes enough interest to really engage with one’s work. I still can’t bring myself to decide on whether to focus primarily on poetry or prose project. I am unwilling to give up either, but at some point I need to decide because I can’t do both. At the moment it is rather academic because I can scarcely attend to anything very much. I have moments, but not enough for sustained work or focus. This too, I can probably get righter.

Out in the world of the working well, things also go pear-shaped, as we know. I have been following the extraordinary business at the Poetry Society who, if they don’t get their house in order, seem to be in danger of losing the funding that keeps them in operation. Some of these funds have (needlessly, it seems) been spent on employing the same lawyers that Rupert Murdoch has been using. Anyone interested can get a pretty clear picture over at Jane Holland’s. This has not been brilliant P.R. for poets generally, and the Guardian, as George Szirtes says, has been having a right good snigger at them all, even though many of those involved are not actually poets themselves.

I do recall, though, Ros Barber (poet and now also novelist) saying something to the effect that being in the company of novelists was lovely after the poetry scene, which resembled a knife fight in a phone box. Another good reason, if one had a choice, to stay on the edge?


Friday, July 22, 2011

Whine and Roses

I have just had: a mug of sweet tea with milk, a portion of chips from the kebab van in the village and three Co-op Truly Irresistible stem ginger cookies. And you know what? I feel wonderful. Too wonderful, I'm very well aware, I am having what is known as a sugar high. It is particularly high, in the context of my sugar-free, hardcore health regime. But today was a post-dental anaesthetic very bad day coupled with over an hour at the vet's trying to take in what he was saying about our beloved cat's hyperthyroid condition and her forty per cent weight loss. It was a homeopathic consultation, hence the length of time. Mr. S was there too so at one point I asked to go into the waiting room to lie down, but a noisy wolfy dog kept barking. I went outside and breathed in the scent of roses, I remembered them from another summer, fragrant and comforting. Back at the ranch there were other things to fix: a broken loo seat, unravelling holiday arrangements, my root-filled tooth feeling as though the nerve is still in there, jumping, and no-one at the surgery able to put hand on heart to swear that every bit of nerve has been removed - so it may be I have to go through this again next week. And I have spent, you know, many hundreds on this tooth. So, as you can imagine, I was ready to go outside and shoot myself in the head - but chips, cookies and sweet tea (plus co-proxamol, yes, that too) suddenly seemed like the better option. The body screamed for sweetness.

Just as soon as seems decently possible, I would like to have a really chilled white whine. Only recently heard about this particularly first world activity where, in the words of my informant, "we complain of things such as the internet connection on my phone breaking up if I get a phone call into it while I'm online, or that my iPad weighs so much in my back pocket that it tends to pull my tracksuit bottoms down in an unsightly fashion." Love it. Can't wait to indulge. Need to clear the decks a bit first though.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

the less travelled

Just had a phone call from Son - somewhere in the middle of a rain forest (Trinidad) - on low battery. Bless the boy, but it's lovely to hear from him, and at least his companion has battery. Ridiculous that I should be thinking this way (in India he was in the desert on low battery), but now that they are with us, the mobiles, even a day trip to Bognor would probably feel risky on low battery. Because what if -

I am not well-travelled, and twenty-five plus years of chronic illness has made me cautious about any kind of journey. I am trying to remember what I dreamed of doing when I was little. I don't think that travelling was a motif. In my teens I wanted to be somewhere wild and remote, and self-sufficient, but with a red enamel kettle and wooden kitchen utensils. Well, I have partially achieved that - hardly anyone has heard of or knows where Edge-on-the-Weald is, and it is (after a fashion) pretty wild. I have the wooden utensils. The red enamel kettle, though, is missing. I have a serviceable electric one.

When Son was little he said to me that he wished Mr. Signs were an explorer: because then I could go with him on his journeys. We talked about what he wanted to be when he grew up: an astronaut, a train driver, a farmer; and he wanted to travel - to Australia, Greenland, Canada and Scotland.
He wondered: what had I, as a child, wanted to be when I grew up? One of my answers would most certainly have been a ballerina - why, I can't think because when my aunt took me to see Swan Lake (Rudolf Nureyev, Margot Fonteyn), I was bored. It was probably the standing on points, and the illusion of weightlessness; the fact that I had always wanted to be able to fly.

When Daddy was little, did he want to be a person who worked in a office?

I remember the question, but not what I answered. I told Mr. Signs about it. How we laughed!


Sunday, July 17, 2011

In the Teeth (2)

In Brighton for the first time in weeks, laid up - in particular, because of recovering from dental anaesthetic. Tooth trouble, and more to come - root canal etc. which may or may not work.

In the dentist's room I try to have the conversation (he being new to me and my Condition) about M.E. and after-effects of things like anaesthetic and antibiotics. He picks up that something, at any rate is amiss (I had seemed so nice, grateful, amenable), and fears that I might be about to make some kind of scene. He doesn't begin to have a clue what I am on about. Never mind, for something has to be done, whatever.

I am bruised and super-myalgic from injections, and the rogue nerve is still in me causing toothache. More treatment and injections next week - a two-hour appointment, but at times like this toothache is king.

The food regime continues, after a fashion, though it scarcely seems possible to be eating vegetables plus prescribed amounts of protein and carbs every two hours (to calm the blood sugar situation, to alkalinise the environment that is me). So I cheat, with spelt crackers and oat cakes. What? Those plus hummus and a carrot stick equal carb, protein and veg. Today's fish and chips at lunch do not, but give me a break. The cup of decaf tea with milk and a knife-end of honey is also not kosher, but I am in dire need of the small comfort it gives me - and it washes down the Anadin I have just swallowed.

Son of Signs is in Trinidad right now, where the warm rains come down monsoon-like for a short space most days. Brighton monsoon rain is a more dreary affair, but still, it caught my attention this afternoon. A lone pigeon was sheltering on the railing outside the bedroom window and giving me the eye. We kept each other company for a good half hour until I asked Mr. Signs to take a photograph, and then it turned its back.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Soapstone Vase

For these few minutes, pretend
I am your daughter, you my good mother,
rough and grainy against my palm.
I could be small enough
to climb inside.

Though you are whole and perfect
and I am only human,
adopt me. Feel how you grow
warm in my hands.
We are made for each other.


Monday, July 11, 2011


Remembering another summer, much hotter than this. Outside it was nearly a hundred degrees in the shade. I was an office Temp, in the coolness of a dark office, with filing cabinets and electric typewriters that went clackety clack. The office was near Hyde Park. In my lunch hour I ate salmon and cucumber sandwiches there. My dress was blue with white polka dots and there was a bow at the front, by the breast. It was short and showed off my tanned legs. I had a husband I was soon to be separated from. We were twenty-two and decided to go our own ways, live apart for a while. People said, if you do that you'll never get back together again, but still we decided to do it. We'll go on seeing each other, we said.

Heat wave nights, lying under a polyester sheet, talking about who would have the coffee cups, the tea set, the Joni Mitchell records, and what to do with the wedding presents left on ice for the house that we would never buy. We still reached for each other and I woke in the night with a shock, felt him next to me and was relieved: not apart yet. What do you know at twenty-two about the bonds between people who love, have loved each other?

July was our last month living together. We went to parties, danced until three in the morning, joked that we would have a splitting up party and drink champagne. At one party, a group of gatecrashers stormed through the house. The girls who lived there asked my husband to help get the gatecrashers out. They were drunk and belligerent, one of them punched him and he folded up onto a floor-cushion, winded. I fell to my knees beside him and screamed. Stop screaming, said someone, they've gone now, but I had to put my hand over my mouth to stop.

I don't remember how we said goodbye or when it became autumn and winter. We were together in the first days of August, dividing up the things we had, watching Old Grey Whistle Test at night, eating chocolate biscuits in bed in the morning - then we were in different places and everything became cold and quiet. I went to his rented room in south London, we made love on his single bed; in the morning he said, I feel fragmented.

I got a chest infection, then asthma, went away to recuperate, wrote him a letter saying, I love you and I think of you, please come. The letter never arrived. he had no telephone. I waited for him. He waited for me. The moments came and passed and were gone.

Now I think that you can't marry someone and still love them and then split apart, and I can't remember how we did that. When you are twenty-two you think you can do everything. We waited for each other but he didn't get a letter, and he didn't come to me.

Then we met other people.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

swan song

Life - the further I move from it the fiercer my longing. I narrow my eyes to slits. I am on a ship, sailing into unfathomable blue, the shoreline receding, I have no idea where I am travelling - to what country - and it seems unlikely (they have told me it is unlikely) that I will ever return. I watch the shoreline, the houses where people live. Everything is becoming smaller.

I am afraid that the country we are sailing to is called Death. I ask the question, but no answer comes back. Soon there will be nothing but blue, as far as the eye can see, just a line between sky and water to remind me that I am still alive, and we have not yet arrived at the place that might be Death. But perhaps this voyage is all I will ever know from now on: the receding land, the line between blue and blue, the changing colour of the water.

Life, even at this distance, I love you.

I went to see the wise woman who follows the ley lines in the body and listens with her hands to what is living there. She said that I was not properly there in the body, not sufficiently incarnated.
If I am not here, I said, where am I?
The question to ask, she said darkly, is: if you are not here, who is? And what - if there is no-one at the gate to see them off? The door is open for all kinds of trouble.
I have, I said, all kinds of trouble.
I can see that, she said. I can see that very clearly.
I have a picture in my head, I said, of a dusty room, a basement where there is very little light, and the furniture in the room is broken.
That is, she said, the situation.
I said, sometimes everything is so dark. I don't know how to make it lighter.
She said, you must light a candle. Wherever there is flame, the forces of the will are strong. You must build a fire in the grate and keep it burning.

But there is nothing in the room to burn, and I have no kindling.

Some people live in basement rooms and make their own light, build fires, light candles, find their existence in the circle of light cast by an anglepoise lamp on a wooden desk, the soft grain of it visible, or they find a door through a computer screen and set up home there. But I have no kindling; there are no switches for me to flick; there is no way out of this room that I can discover. Through the bars of a small window I see the shadows of legs and feet moving above me in the street where people live and go from one place to the next, conducting their busy lives.

I am so grateful for my illness, says the born-again nutritional therapist . It taught me how to appreciate the moments. You must learn to appreciate the moments.
I have taken, I said, the advanced course.

I have a white handkerchief and I wave at the shoreline, calling one after another to see if my voice carries, if anyone can still hear me. But we are too far out, my voice won't travel the distance.

In that country, people go about their lives. They imagine I will be back some time, any time soon, and that they will hear my knock on the door.

The silver swan who living had no note,
when death approached unlocked her silent throat.

But I have been singing for a very long time now. The sound is no longer beautiful, and it engenders trouble in the soul.

There is no conclusion.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

vegetable wars

I like my new Health Practitioner. This is good because I feel committed to this road I have unexpectedly taken, and may be with her for some time. I have nothing to lose except money, and she is better value than Shrink, whatever the outcome. M.E. god is offended and fighting me with every means at its disposal. I am fighting back with vegetables and a conviction that things have got to be better than this, and will be. I am not sure where the conviction comes from. It rather goes against what one knows about M.E. But I am nothing if not open-minded (just don't remind me about the Lightning Process). I am changing the environment of me, the inside of me I mean, you know - guts, tubes, intestines and whatnot - working from the inside out. I'll keep you informed.
So this is the project right now. Mr. Signs is away in the States on business and I have given myself body and soul to my own business, which is food preparation and trying to get the eating of it (timing, quantities) right. The cat is happy because I spend more time in the kitchen, which she likes, or in bed. She never did like me staring at a screen and tapping keys.

I met a woman in the village today who I haven't seen for some years. She said, you used to write all those - things, didn't you? I don't know if she had actually read or heard any of my things, but I suppose one has a reputation. She wanted to know if I was still doing that. I said yes. Because it's still what I'm for, the Writing, and will be - when I get stronger.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Finding Susan

So - I promised I would shout if there was any improvement. Reader, I can't even give you a squeak. I was in a bad way before the new Regime and I am still in a bad way, just differently. No electricity - good, very good; more fatigue, fog-in-the-head and general M.E.malaise - not brilliant.. It is of course early days. With the exception of some lovely time spent with Daughter on the weekend, most of my waking time and available energy is given to the getting and preparing of the food concoctions I'm supposed to be having. I can safely say that vegetables and I seem to get on ok but I don't know about anything else. I'm not really thinking about sugar any more, haven't touched it in a while - craving is all directed at getting better. I feel as though I have gone backwards into the earlier years of M.E. This is perhaps to be expected, but I was scared then because I was frantic about what had happened to me and desperate to be well enough to look after my baby and toddler; I have spent this year mostly housebound and do not want any further deterioration. On I go - hope is my middle name. Actually, Susan is my middle name, as I revealed here before. It means 'joy of life'. Yes.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


If my tone has been brash of late, it is because there has been no real possibility of touching base, coming down to earth, to home ground. We who live with chronic illness find different ways of managing to live with it. Mine has often been to fly above it, at some level. There are benefits to this - one connects to another winged, or at any rate less encumbered, self. But in doing this one also leaves the suffering and disabled self lonely. For if we who suffer (I use the word to mean 'put up with') chronic illness cannot be alongside ourselves, then we become bereft. It is hard enough to be so long in the world, substantially cut off from life and living, without bereaving ourselves of ourselves to boot. I picture myself at the foot of my bed looking down on the person lying there in her red and white, tinsel-threaded pyjamas (June but still cold in Blighty), saying:
look, I'm sorry but I can't come here any more - ok? I really like and respect you but it drags me down and, to be quite honest, it's boring. You only get up to do essential things like washing and preparing your increasingly dull meals - we don't do enough fun things together. I've got stuff to do. I'll send a postcard - bye.
Before you go, I say, what actually are you planning to do?
She scratches her head, distracted. She is wearing my Purple Trousers, Weird Fish hoodie and Adidas trainers.
Long walks on the South Downs - I want to get a dog, did I tell you? Staying with a friend in her caravan in Scotland. Signs Cottage needs attention, plan to sort that out. Theatre, poetry gigs, concerts - and swimming again, in the sea this time.
Sounds good. What else? Anything you missed out?
Writing, she says. Lots and lots of writing - my novel, and poems.

And then the truth strikes. She needs me for that. Wherever she flits in the astrality, if she wants to write, she has to come home to the ground of her being, which is the person lying there in the pyjamas.

I am seeing a nutritional therapist and am on a really impressive hardcore regime, almost everything you can think of cut out, morning smoothie includes linseeds, quinoa flakes, rice milk - you get the picture. The therapist is a medical doctor who was herself chronically ill for ten years. She comes recommended. Any substantial improvement, I'll be shouting about it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

more sugar

Lawks! This is one of those untranslateable words - a bit like the Anglo-Saxon Hwaet! that you might find at the beginning of a narrative poem. The literal meaning of Hwaet is 'what' but what it really means is right then, folks, listen up! Wiktionary says that Lawks is an expression of surprise, a stereotypical utterance of a cockney house-servant in literature, particularly 19th and early 20th century. Whatever. I use it to mean something like, oof - well here I am again!

Or, perhaps - here I am, still, having absolutely nothing to declare but my genius! This is perhaps stretching the Lawks a bit, especially if one hasn't actually done anything in particular to prove one's genius. Never mind, I am testing the boundaries of sugar addiction. I am alone in Brighton with a packet of sweets - mint crumbles - that a friend left lying in the cupboard after her stay here as a gesture of appreciation. Actually, she left walnut whips and booze as well. Alcohol gives me such a headache these days it is easy to leave that alone. Mr. Signs ate the walnut whips as I sat and shivered. He is not here right now and I have eaten a mint crumble - just the one. Instant bliss, and a kind of shine hovering around. There is elevation. It will not last for more than half an hour and is very interesting to observe. I used to work in a drugs crisis centre where people were withdrawn from whatever they were on before going on to long-term rehab. Withdrawing someone physically from a drug is actually the easy part. If an addiction is established, the deep, visceral longing for a drug is written into the body and won't be so easily erased. For a sugar-sensitive person, sugar affects brain function the same way that heroin does. First the sugar high - the feel-good rush that addicts crave, then the withdrawal. I am learning all about it, remembering how, over twenty years ago, I told a homeopath I was seeing that I was concerned about the amount of sugar I seemed to need. She said it was ok - if you need sugar, then have it. But the feel-good rushes grow less over time, you need more of the stuff, a steady supply that increases. Then the insulin receptors become deranged and mere anarchy is loosed upon the system. The centre will not hold, the falcon will not hear the falconer - etc. My guess is that W.B. Yeats probably knew something about blood sugar disorder.

This is all so rockanroll, isn't it? Makes a change from boring old M.E., at any rate. Not that boring old M.E. has moved out, but looking on the bright side, I have something else to bang on about now - the pain and ecstasy of it all. More pain than ecstasy, but - Peeps, I can feel a Youtube coming on.

But laptop - or something - won't allow me to embed. Bugger.

"I'm waiting for my man ....."

Friday, June 3, 2011

sugar me

It's been all go here at M.E. Central. Picture it like this: I've been assigned to a particularly long and arduous project that takes most of my time and energy. There is no remuneration or job satisfaction, it's boring and unpleasant, but - well - I've been chosen, and my employer has made me an offer I can't refuse. It's not much of an offer really: either knuckle under or risk feeling even worse. Still, one grabs a moment here and there to look at the sky which, at time of speaking to you, is as blue as sky can be, and I am in Brighton by the heavenly windows.

My London Smoke-and-Writer friend came for a visit and we talked about The Writing, which for my part has mainly been going on in my pea-souper, pillow-pressed head. I have not put finger to keyboard for a month or two but had some pages scrawled in an orange A4 Silvine notepad (I like Silvine, we go back a long way), so I read that out, and in spite of the clear first-draftiness of it, the place of story is there, waiting for me. It is as though M.E. Headquarters got wind of this and has hit back hard. It is, as I have said before, a jealous God. Ah well, I have been here before, though not quite this bad for some time, and have lifted up again. The worst symptom is the feeling of electricity in head and limbs. Well, it is not just a feeling, there really is electricity: I have seen it go into the dials on a wristwatch which went whizzing round. One of those weird things - don''t ask. I'm not the only one. Walking barefoot in the summer is good, helps it to discharge.

The new food regime is going slowly. I am making myself have proper breakfast every day. First steps. And the sugar does, of course, have to go - though I do, of course, love it so, being addicted to the White Lady. Letting her go now. It will be better so.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Rose Garden

Greetings, y'all. Have you missed me? No, well, er - I have missed me. I've been gone into the illest illirium of Illsville. Of course I exaggerate, but if one can't get mileage out of a bit of self-pity in extremis then what's the point of anything, so cut me a bit of slack - thank you. Extremis is not a good place to be, don't go there. I am still in it really, but am snatching a moment between sufferings (even in the depths of hell they allow you that much) to speak to you, so that I don't lose the habit entirely, for if left too long I think the not-blogging can become like the not-phoning-a-friend and in the end one leaves it so long that the very idea becomes an impossibility.

I am going to quote my old grandma again. Sorry, but it is just so worth repeating, I really think it should be everyone's mantra: Be heppy! Things can only get vorse. Ach Mutti (we used to call her Mutti, don't know why, and she wasn't really the maternal type), if I never really heard you then, I hear you now.

M.E. is probably one of the least kinds of fun you can have on earth and the deeper into it you are, the truer this becomes; and then you think of all the other times when, relative to this time, you were still in the land of the functioning moderates and didn't appreciate all the privileges; and then you think of how far it may still be possible to fall, and you see from the corner of your eye M.E. God smirking, as only He can smirk, and hear him singing in your ear: I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden, and you feel yourself falling onto the first level of the pit of despair which, Gawd knows, is the place of mortal sin itself. What to do, Peeps - que faire? Begin a new regime, of course.

I have begun a new regime. It has to do with seemingly boring things like sugar and food intolerances as well as slightly more interesting (though strange) things concerning the potato. Yes, naturally I have been down the road of food intolerance before now, but this time I am doing it differently, and I believe (am telling myself) that by following this new path I am creating a new possibility. It's good to hope. It's essential. And yes, things can always get vorse. But they can get better too, innit.

Say yes for me, please.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

late bluebells

A season of intemperate brain squall, of which all one can say is that it will pass, like weather. The late bluebells are nice.

The bluebell remark is really to indicate a disinclination to communicate anything of substance right now. I could speculate on the reasons for this, but then I would be communicating something of substance. Heigh ho. My inner (is there an outer?) introvert seems to be in the ascendant, pressing me, perhaps, to husband my resources for various tasks I have laid on myself. I have made this sound a little heavy, but they are tasks that I wish to engage with wholeheartedly and with as much strength as I can bring to them.

When a theatre is between one production and the next, I think it is described as being "dark", and this is one of those times in the Theatre of Signs.

Be seeing you sooner or later.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

breathing the spring

Not meaning to be a wilting tulip here but blogger is still in anti-poetry mode, and the Moment has now passed. I discovered that the squashed version of the poem thing I meant to put up and then deleted is still on Googlereader. Wha'evah!

So where was I? I am on the edge of this amazing, ancient forest that becomes intense at this time of year, breathing the spring at you like some fine and fragrant lover so you could almost lose yourself in it and if you didn't have M.E. then you really might just do that. Even with M.E., even from the window or walking a short distance - it's good. The postvirals keep piling up in one though, and Mr. Signs has been under the weather. So it still feels as though one is waiting for the winter to go, for the year to begin. But I have, so to speak, been preparing the ground and adding to my new opus, bit by bit, keeping it alive-alive-oh - much easier this time, as the roots are autobiographical. I have ordered a long out-of-print German children's story from Abebooks (Deutschland) and am excited about this for the substance of it is in what I am writing and I haven't seen it since I was about seven years old. The book must have got lost in one of our many moves but I carried it in my consciousness along with the other important stories, the fairy tales.

De-cluttering is still on the agenda, and probably should be hereafter, as a matter of routine, because I feel the difference. Objects have a forcefield of energy around them and take up psychic space. Plans are in place for the (modest, perforce) re-organisation of Signs Cottage. For the time being I am perching myself with notebooks (no computer) in Son's room, he only using it occasionally as he lives in London now. I am near to the sky and look over treetops. It is not only outer space that must be organised and claimed - inner space too needs this attention.

I saw the liver specialist this morning, following the most auspicious of blood test results - the meds are working, PBC under control, no liver transplant on the horizon. But we can't, he shrugs, do anything about the fatigue. Some people have transplants for that reason alone, but of course in your case - . Need we say more? Not that he knows much about M.E., looks baffled at the idea that autoimmune disease may be connected and, really, I cannot be arsed to enlighten him, nor would he be interested. There is a coffee machine in the waiting area, I press the button that says Mocha, help myself to a biscuit, make an appointment at the desk to come back next year. Done and dusted, like one's shelves.