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.