Sunday, December 23, 2012

set down this

I am speaking to you from the flip side of the Apocalypse.  You may think that it is all over bar the shouting and the fat lady singing on top of Mount Bugarach, but I have it on good authority that this is just the beginning of the end.  You may say that whatever point we are at, from there one can always say that it is the beginning of the end.  It may also, however, be the beginning of something completely different from the thing that the end was attached to.  What I can say with absolute certainty is that here on the edge there is much activity around celebrating the birth of a new era.  People are joining hands and celebrating the birth of a new consciousness which will, if I read my group emails aright (I am on a list that keeps me informed of such things) bring extraordinary transformation.  I am talking a new heaven and a new earth.  I have nothing to say to this or to those who hold fast to the idea that the Mayans simply ran out of calendar space or thought this would be a perfect way to wind us all up.  Meanwhile there is another Apocalypse date set approximately four years hence and I want to enjoy Christmas with my children, one of whom will be landing at Heathrow tomorrow just in time for the festivities.

Well I didn't keep to my plan of putting up a post a day between 24th September and Christmas Eve.  It was a bit of a long shot and I have been no'well.  Today I went to a friend's pre-Christmas party and had to leave the merry throng downstairs and sit quietly on a chair on the landing upstairs where the truth came and announced itself to me without fanfare - quietly.  Parties and attempting to make conversation in a room with many people talking are inflammatory to the neurologically compromised brain.  It is no longer possible to be involved in activities that include such things and might mean ruling out weddings, special birthday parties, book launches and eating in busy restaurants.  It is the beginning of the end, and a long journey it has been to get to this beginning.  There was a time when I would not have been able to contemplate it without tears.  But I can now.  I am grateful for what I still have.  It is, you may say, satisfactory.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Reader, I Ate Him

Happy Santa

Santa feels cold

- and another one bites the dust

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Funny thing about Christmas cards.  If you live at a distance from me you are more likely to get one during advent than if you live over the road or next door to me.  This is because when the weather is inclement, which it mostly has been this year - if not raining then perishing cold - it is often a step too far to deliver the cards by hand through the letterbox.  If you live in another country it is also touch and go whether the card will arrive in time because that means going into a post office and queueing.  For the rest, I can do everything from here: write, put in envelope, affix stamp - and then Mr. Signs posts them for me.  It isn't as though I never get out.  But when I do I have a kind of tunnel vision.  First I have to actually get to the car, which may be parked a short distance away because how things are in this road - it's everyone for themselves and you park wherever there is a space, which might not be near your house.  If the windows are iced up there is that to see to - back to the house for a bucket of hot water to chuck over the car or time spent scraping the ice off.  Then there is the car to heat up so as to make it bearable to sit in - if the car actually starts up, which is not always the case when it is cold.  If I go into the nearest town I have to find somewhere to park that won't leave me too far from shops or having to negotiate a steep incline.  The village is easy as long as you just aim to get to one place rather than attempt both chemist and health shop in one trip.  Bearing in mind that adventures of this kind have to be thought about when you are a few spoons* short of a cutlery set, you can imagine why I have finally succumbed and begun to do a bit of serious online grocery shopping.  It actually works quite well, though they didn't have the particular kind of celery and organic broccoli I ordered so substituted those for bog-standard kind which is fine but I was still charged for the more expensive items I asked for.  A quibble, perhaps, but something else to sort out.  Pleased to have got a fridge and vegetable rack stocked up without setting foot outside the house.  Not pleased that I forgot to cancel my Abel and Cole order so was completely vegetabled out yesterday until I managed to offload some potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, onions, turnips and green stuff onto my neighbour.

*spoonie = someone with a chronic, debilitating illness

Friday, December 7, 2012

Blue Light Show

One of my neighbours over the road has put up her blue Christmas lights.  We live on a narrow, uneven, unadopted country road and the lights are like a strong singer in a small, out-of-the-way nightclub where not many people come, but the singer has put on her blue dress made out of sequins that catch the spotlight, and you can't help but admire the singer but you also sometimes wish that this performance would stop, that she would go back into the dressing room or sit quietly drinking by the bar so you don't have to keep looking at her.

The blue light show will go on until the night of 5th January, breaking up the darkness of the holy nights.  There is something convivial about the lights.  They have heart.  You would miss them if they went, as you would miss the singer if she sloped off one night, never to return.

Monday, December 3, 2012

the day today

I don't know about you, but I can't wait to hear results of Rituximab trials for people with PBC and M.E.  If you don't know what I'm talking about that's probably a good thing.  There will be a time when people look back to this as a very dark age, before lovely Research blazed a trail that found methods of treating symptoms of those with delinquent immune systems.

Meanwhile, I am back in retreat-mode with post-exertional neuroimmune exhaustion.  The view from the window is good but my camera is out of battery and Mr. Signs and his iPhone are not here.  Beside me are several packets of Christmas cards and the latest issue of Mslexia magazine.  Downstairs are rooms full of mess and muddle and a chicken that is hoping to be roasted tonight, but right now standing up does not feel like a good idea.  I am not sure if anything other than lying flat is a good idea.
Actually, yes - eating chocolate-covered marzipan is a very good idea, even if only in the short-term.
Poetry workshop tomorrow is out.  Choir practice is a don't-know.  Family party for my niece's birthday on Saturday.  If I am to make that I will have to pay beforehand with sufficient non-activity.

No vegetables to go with the chicken but no way to get to the shops today.  Damnation.  But perhaps there is a stick of celery, one sweet potato and a few beetroot.

Advent now.  I do want to send those cards.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Lady Loves a Swine

There was a lady loved a swine,
Honey, quoth she;
Pig-hog, wilt though be mine?
Hoogh!, quoth he.

Just saying, because it's not all about food, even though these are destined to become that.  Being on a biodynamic farm means that life, while they have it, is good - particularly when Signs takes it upon herself to sing to them.  See how they love me?   I am in good voice because I have re-joined the local choral society in time for the Christmas concert.  I have always liked this song about the lady who fell romantically in love with a pig.  I delivered it to the best of my ability.

I will build thee a silver sty,
Honey, quoth she;
And in it thou shalt lie.
Hoogh!, quoth he.

I have a feeling that they caught the pathos embedded in the lines and the melody, though the element of humour will have passed them by.  Animals are capable of much more than we give them credit for, but they have no sense of humour.  So I delivered it straight.

Pinned with a silver pin,
Honey, quoth she;
That thou mayest go out and in.
Hoogh!, quoth he.

And why should the lady not love a swine?  Stranger things have happened and romantic love, as we know, is anarchic and rarely sensible.  It has laid low many a prince and princess, and one is lucky to emerge unscathed.

Wilt thou have me now,
Honey, quoth she;
Speak, or my heart will break.
Hooch!, quoth he.

There was no possibility of a happy ending for the lady, though she probably (one imagines) went on to make a good marriage and settle down, even if the ghost of a Hooch! sometimes echoed in her dreams.  My affection for the pigs is of a more robust kind.  After singing, I went on my way and had a steak and kidney pie with a side of cole slaw in the farm cafe (yes, still on the cafe trail).  Then I visited my sheep friends.

Guess which one most took my fancy.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

sunday stir fry

Sufficient unto the day the stir fry thereof.  Tofu and veg.  And what comes to mind is some lines from a poem by Noosa Lee a.k.a. That's So Pants:

           ......  "I never thought
that love was waiting somewhere.
I always thought you made it
out of what was there, like
stir fry."

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Soup and Substance

The leaves are nearly all blown from my next-neighbour-but-one's giant ash tree.  How did that happen?  I looked up from my notebook and there they were, the bare branches.  Last time I looked they were full of green and red.  A couple of writing buddies came over.  Candles were lit, coffee and fruit tea made, buckwheat crackers (yes) on the table.  But recent events and yesterday's activities (workshopping and choir practice) have sucked the marrow from my bones.  No inner substance, no writing, not even dishwater writing - the kind you pull the plug on when it's done.  I left buddies to their notebooks and mugs of fruit tea and went upstairs to the living room and looked at the sky, which was grey and unforgiving, but still, looking at the sky, and tree tops is something I need to do to replenish substance.  Rooftops are also good.  I have made more soup, sweet potato and lentil this time, some of which will soon be going to mater and co where it will either be eaten or left in the fridge until it has gone past its eat-by and thrown away.  You will be wondering how it is that I had the wherewithal to make soup, in the light of what I have said about substance.  But soup is like that - you can make it, literally, with almost nothing, a few bones, an old carrot, a handful of beans - and you can make it when you feel innerly without substance.  The mater knows this, or used to.  Her own grandmother made soup, she said, by singing into a pot.  Sometimes I don't even sing.  But the pot fills anyway.

Monday, November 19, 2012


Look, it is autumn here on the edge, and look, it did not rain yesterday.  So Mr. Signs took this photograph as evidence, and because he has an iPhone and I don't.  The only reason I want an iPhone is for the photograph-taking.  This path is near a biodynamic farm with a hut that serves up pies, pastries, coffee and soup, even on a Sunday.  We had onion soup with hunks of bread and bought greens and salad from the vegetable stall.  I had an apple from one of the crates harvested from the orchards.  The rest will be pressed and made into juice which we will be able to buy (at some cost) from the farm shop.  We spent time communing with the pigs.  A particularly good-looking one came and eyeballed me.  One day he might be in a sausage I cook in my frying pan.  It is for this kind of reason that I tried to be a vegetarian and would have continued if it hadn't become obvious that doing so was making my precarious health worse.

We have been talking about the difficulties involved in continuing to live in Signs Cottage, and where we should live when the time comes to sell it.  To find the right place it would be easiest to move somewhere else.  I carry the forest as part of my inner landscape.  I don't need to be near it to do that.  But I would still be homesick.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Flat White

Still on the cafe crawl, I had my first Stumpy yesterday, this being something similar to a Flat White, or at any rate a double espresso with same quantity of steamed milk.  It came with a neater white froth heart than the one in the image (nicked) above and it was more or less perfect.  The flat white has spoiled me for the latte which I now find insipid.  To the obvious fact that caffeine is bad for me, I throw my hands in the air - let god and the angels sort that one out, and cigarettes and chocolate too while they are at it.  Someone (where has he got to?) once tried to convince me that cigarettes were so good for you, Jesus Christ himself used to smoke them, though I don't think there is any actual biblical evidence for this.  Still, it is a nice thought.  Now if we can add to this the image of Jesus Christ with something approximating to a flat white then I will be happy.

I am off to deliver watercress soup to the mater, the last batch of soup not having been given the thumbprint of approval by her spousian companion.  Such is life.  Pass the Nicorette.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Cafe Culture

I am aware that it begins to seem as though I spend my life swanning from one cafe to another.  Good, because what I am actually doing most of the time is negotiating paralysingly difficult circumstances surrounding the mater's recent operation and the aftermath thereof.  I would rather live in what seems, and this out-to-lunch moment with the daughter in a local cafe so cool it would not be out of place in trendy Broadway Market fits the bill nicely.  Yes, life is a bowl of perfectly-sizzled hand-cut chips, and a bacon burger with "onion marmalade" on a wooden block.  If burger-on-the-block conjures up unsavoury resonances let us push them aside.

Well, that was yesterday.  And today I went to another place - the community centre cafe which operates three days a week from the old village school.  The people that go there are mainly old, infirm or with small child, the cooks and waiters are volunteers and the food is best of 1950s and cheap.  The cafe is held in what used to be the school assembly hall - all they have done is put a kitchen at one end and get tables and chairs.  On the wall facing the large windows there is a mural, a collective effort by many children, called Our Village.  There are bookcases full of paperbacks to buy for 10p and small glass vases with little fresh flowers on each table. It is one of my favourite places and if I get to heaven any time soon I will organise a welcome party for the volunteers, when their time comes.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Hackney Hoppering

Up the Smoke last night to see the son gigging with The Blondettes (a band he started up pre Ed Fest, now going strong) and also playing cello alongside The Massive Violins.  Fabulous. Sheer uplift. They were playing in a cellar underneath a Hackney pub. Before the show we looked for somewhere to eat in Hackney Road and found a cafe that did a passable shepherd's pie.  Smother something like this in Bisto gravy and you can't go far wrong.  Anyway, we chose it over the place across the road as Mr. Signs reckoned that anywhere serving both pizza and doner kebabs should be avoided, and I didn't care as long as I ate soon and avoided a blood sugar crash.  

If you click you might see the ghost of me in the window.

They had a list of Baverages (yes I know, but that is how they spelled it so no point in arguing).  I had tea.

As we left I had a notion that there was something Hopperesque about this.  The light isn't quite right, but the lone man there is - and the shadow.

I've actually added a couple of new labels.  Ever the optimist, I want more of both.

Friday, November 9, 2012


So there we were, it being Friday, eating our fish and chips. From the photo, it looks as though there are not many people about, but the tiny place was packed, not just with people sitting but queues of folk waiting for their takeaways and I would lay a bet that not many of those were practising Roman Catholics.  But fish on Fridays is somewhere to go, isn't it - somewhere to locate ourselves in these Godless and, some might say, God-forsaken times.  Like pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, chocolate eggs at Easter, Turkey at Christmas, it gives a kind of rhythm to the weeks and months and the ancient hearth is, if not exactly renewed, then at least not entirely lost.  We feel it somewhere in the body of us.  The fish bar is not anywhere near a harbour, but that doesn't matter.  There is a drawing of fishing boats on the menu, we know that fish come from the sea and we can imagine ourselves near it, salt spray in the air and the mew of a seagull.

The mater and her new half-hip are back at home with zimmer frame, walking sticks and codeine for pain relief.  Old age, rather like M.E., isn't for wimps, and until now the mater has been sprightly with weekly Pilates, acqua aerobics and constantly moving about.  Unsurprisingly, she doesn't like this state of affairs.  In the fish bar Mr. Signs and I got to talking about how it would be when we are nearly ninety.  He reckoned that by then he would be long dead as his parents didn't make it beyond eighty.  I reckoned that I ought to be dead before him because M.E. does do that to a life - shorten it, I mean.  But because it has taken so much of the living I would like to have done, I feel I am owed something in the way of payback time so don't accept that I won't make ninety and beyond, whatever the statistics.  When the great big ship with the black sails comes in, will we be standing at the harbour meekly waiting to be taken?  I suppose that is the best way to go - gently into that good night.  But right now I can't see it.

There happens to be a Sandy Denny retrospective on the box as I speak, so it seems right and fitting to echo the lady:

And I know you won't believe me though it is the truth to tell
that the living it is hard, oh but it suits me well.

Though truth to tell (mine) I want for the living to be easy sometimes, the years to keep on turning, with pancakes in their season, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, a bit of singing and dancing - fish and chips on a Friday.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


I have been spending the day recovering from activity the day before.  This is one of the boring facts about life with moderate M.E.  If you do something one day then you have to leave a space the day before and after or risk relapse.  I occupied myself with fretting about Mater-related issues and trying to get hold of someone at the hospital who could give me an idea of when she might be expected to go leave.  This, after Mater telling me on the phone that things were awful and she was desperate to to home.  No-one was answering the phone on her ward though I tried at intervals throughout the day.  Eventually the hospital receptionist, fed up of hearing my voice, put me through to another department "so you can make a complaint."  A diplomat to the core, I always make myself sound as grateful and stupid as possible so as not to be though a trouble-maker.  The complaints department arranged for someone on the ward to call me back - she was super-friendly, didn't have a clue what was going on and then neglected to press the 'end call' button so my phone was out of use for a good hour while I used my mobile to try and find the person who made the call so I could at least go back to square one.  Plan for tomorrow: go to hospital, get low-down on the situation and connect with hospital social worker.  Also, get organic vegetables and take vegetable soup in a thermos to Mater, who is not eating the hospital food.

I feel as though I am going down with flu.  This would be worrying in the circumstances, were it not for the fact that this does not necessarily mean it will manifest as such.  It's an M.E. thing.  But on the other hand, flu has been known to happen and the last thing needed is for Mater to be infected with a virus.

Mr. Signs came back from London feeling low and things were a bit bleak at Signs Cottage, so we ate the best part of half a barm brack, toasted, with butter  And then my friend Cake Lady came round with a tub containing a huge quantity orange and walnut crumb cake.  I've just had a piece, with a glass of milk.  I know it's generally thought that love is all you need.  But sometimes you just need cake as well.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

how (not) to be a perfect blogger

I don't know how or why I ended up reading something about how to write the perfect blog post, it isn't as though I even aspire to writing the perfect post.  I only ever began it for the craic and the curiosity when I was having (what I though would be) a gap year out from teaching.  I knew I could only do this thing if I allowed myself free rein to speak about whatever happened to come up at any given moment, and that often the whatever would very likely be about writing or M.E.  I had never heard the word Monetise.  I didn't consider that blogging might be a useful way of promoting oneself if one had something to promote - though I quickly saw that this was what some people did.  As I had nothing to declare but my genius, or lack of it, it seemed ok to just carry on as per.  But anyway, it seems that what you have to do if you want to be a Successful blogger is first think of a topic.  You should make it a large enough topic to justify several posts.  You should also write lists, set targets, write a post a day, do an introduction, interlink your posts - and many other things it gives me a headache to think about.

My topic for the day or rather, for this very moment that I find myself in, is that sometimes there is no topic, or at any rate none that one would care to identify.  The mater has just had a partial hip replacement, but this is not a topic, nor are the circumstances around it up for discussion.  Things are difficult.

On account of the above (list ahoy!), I have missed my Lewes poetry workshop, not written as much of the things I planned to write as I would have liked, eaten quantities of sweets, had insomnia, tried to suppress the onset of old but familiar neuro-symptoms with drugs, decided that I can't go on living like this, remembered that I often decide this and life goes on.

Targets.  You will remember that on 24th September the plan was to put up a post a day until Christmas.  If you are a frequent visitor you will not be surprised that the plan has slipped a little.  Targets and me don't sit well together, and if there is fault to be found then it is with the notion of Targets, not with me because I do my best and then make adjustments whereas Targets just sit there looking cold and reproachful.  So bugger targets.  I know the author of the how to write perfect blog posts was not speaking about this kind of target.  Just saying.

I am sure I had something else to say.  But what is emerging at this very moment is that I am too tired to set it down or even remember what it is.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Spirit of NaNo

I have just eaten a packet of Monster Munch and am suddenly thinking about the woman with selective eating disorder who eats nothing else, and the six-year-old girl whose mother left her alone in the house for five days with nothing to eat but packets of those.  Both survived and survive, though obviously it isn't food.  The young girl's case was clearly one of child-neglect, but the other is a grown woman who seems to suffer no major ill-effects.  We do not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of god, so it is written.  Perhaps the woman's faith is very strong or she has another source from which to draw the vital forces one needs in order to live.  I have a healthy diet with organic vegetables, fruit, meat, whole grains and pulses.  But the woman who only eats Monster Munch is stronger and possibly healthier than I am.  All she suffers is brittle nails.  Some things are just mysterious and one accepts this.

Last night was the first Halloween for many years that we did not put a carved pumpkin on the hedge to show itinerant vampires, ghouls and witches that they could come and knock for sweets.  I know this is one of the winter shine-your-light-in-the-darkness festivals, but actually, I should have medals for doing this for, well - much of my life, really.  Last night the wick had burned down to almost nothing.  It revived a bit after the good words of a friend (we do not live by bread alone), chocolate and prescription drugs - good things all three, and I do not despise them.

And now it is that time of year again and I am back in the frolick and fun that is NaNoWriMo.  In my fashion.  One year I nearly killed myself with word-count frenzy, another I came down with swine flu and really, a diet of a thousand words a day is respectable enough in my yet-to-be-written book.  So I will be embracing the spirit of NaNo without the caffeine overload or sleepless nights which, actually, I already have.

It is also the Daughter's birthday.  This, and the fact of her existence, makes me very happy.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Life has a way of pulling the rug - the mater has had a fall and is now in hospital with a hip fracture, about to have surgery, a half-hip replacement.  It happened the day before she was due to go off on a mini-cruise.  She went out to call on a neighbour, the path was wet and she slipped.  As she is very fit and in good health, things will probably turn out ok, but still, it is not nothing for someone of 89 and three quarters to go through this.  So one has an undercurrent of anxiety, and one is beetling around with hospital trips and trying to sort out a number of practical things.  And as one particularly needs a proper measure of sleep at a time like this, one has of course not slept - and one's wretched neuro-symptoms are sabre-rattling.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

These Boots ...

New boot-friends, identical to my old pair.  When you find something that works, stay with it, especially if you have M.E. and have never liked shopping.  New boots are like a blank page or a new pen, no?  They represent possibility.  They also come with a challenge.  Where shall we go, what shall we do?  We'll keep you warm and take you places - let's go!  I haven't the heart to tell them that the walk to the Brighton shopping mall and back to get them is pushing the boat out because usually I get a taxi for the return journey, which is uphill.  The taxis don't like it because the journey is so short, hardly worth their while, and I don't like it because it puts me in mind of roads not-travelled - we must be very Zen and not think about them too much and remember, also, that the short-distance walk may be full of substance and things just waiting for you to notice them.  Aside from walking, these boots are going to be on my feet for the next two years or so, until the heel and the fleece inside are all worn down.   They will be the substance around and beneath my feet.  If there is a boot-blessing, then now is the time to utter it.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Prepare to (possibly) Meet Thy Doom

I am thinking, not for the first time, that the End may well be nigh.  It has rained and drizzled for more weeks than I can count and the builder who was scheduled to do some work to the outside of Signs Cottage has given up sending funny texts about Noah's Ark and probably decided that as we are living in the last days fixing the peeling paint situation on our well-rotted window frames should not be high on his list of priorities.  The cat has arthritis and the fur on her back is in a shocking state because she is unable to wash herself there.  We give her medicine but the vet says she also needs to have her fur clipped.  The late roses that appeared so exuberantly have wilted and hung their heads before their prime.  I bought a pair of Emu boots 'gainst the spectre of another snowed-up winter and had to take them back because they were too small, but the next size up was too big.  It all begins to add up, doesn't it?  And further, there is nothing at time of posting - apart from the cat's fur, but this will be remedied - that I need to be properly anxious about.  My children are both well and prospering, as much as anyone in rented accommodation in the Smoke in this god-forsaken recession (which Cameron now says isn't a recession any more but we know better) can prosper.  The almost-ninety-year-old mater carries on with her twice weekly pilates classes and is going with her spouse on a late autumn cruise.  Our boiler, despite its great age, shows no sign of packing up.  And yet, and yet - "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved" (Jeremiah 8:20).  You get my drift. 

I have said as much before and it bears repeating: I have long suspected that it is only my anxiety that prevents the world from falling into imminent destruction; in which case, dear reader, you should be worried, or at least doing everything possible to be saved a.s.a.p.  I have spoken.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

mellow fruitfulness

It's pretty - beautiful even, but after so many days of rain one longs for blue - an autumn day spiked with gold.  Still, the trees keep giving according to their natures.  There are chestnuts lying on the ground waiting to be found.  Mr. Signs fills his pockets with them and eats them raw.  I buy mine ready-cooked and vacuum packed, to eat with sweetheart cabbage dressed with olive oil and black pepper.  Even so, it is in the spirit of the season.  When autumn comes, so does the desire for chestnuts and shiny conkers lined along the windowsill. The leaves have not quite turned, but when they do I will gather some to press between the pages of heavy books (I used to have an ancient bible for this but now use old recipe books and a history of Anglo Saxon England which I bought as an English undergraduate but never read, it was expensive so good to feel it is being put to use).  When the leaves are dry I will fix them to the edges of the windowpane with dots of glue. 

When my children were young I made a space for a nature corner, as parents of Steiner school children often do.  In autumn there might be acorns, berries and leaves.  There would also be a knitted gnome or two, crystals and a beeswax candle in a wooden holder.  I might create such a space again this year.  First I must go out and gather something.  When the rain lets up I will.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Being Mrs. Pepperpot

I am in Brighton getting the flat prepared for people coming to stay.  After driving here I knew I could go to the nearest Co-op and back because the walk would be flat, but no more.  They had no lettuce or any vegetable other than Savoy cabbage and the bread was Warburtons thick sliced - perfect for bacon.  So, a supper of bacon sandwiches with decaf tea, two cherry tomatoes.  This morning, fruit and coffee plus more of the same, or I may get a takeaway from the Moroccan salad bar. Then back to the forest for my book group.

I have been thinking about Mrs. Pepperpot who is Pepperpot by name and also shrinks to the size of one, conveniently or inconveniently depending on one's perspective, when her husband is out at work.  By hook or by crook she has to negotiate the tasks of the day, e.g. housework and the making of pancakes against seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  Fortunately she has this gift, that she is able to converse with animals and seems generally in harmonious relationship with the natural world, and even inanimate objects respond to her energetic commands.  Her predicament may have some resonance for someone with moderate M.E. who might appear to the world as a normally-functioning person and might well choose Mrs. Pepperpot's affliction over her own, for Mrs. P is in robust good health, whatever her size.  She also brings a cheerful acceptance to her predicament and this helps her to be creative and inventive.  Well one does what one can, and I enjoyed the bacon sandwiches.  But it is half past nine in the morning and I can already feel myself about to shrink.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Purity of the Road

The title is of course from Kerouac, and this is by no stretch of the imagination a Kerouacian road.  It leads from the nearby golf course into the forest.  At some point it becomes a path trodden on the forest floor, and even that peters out and then you have to find your own way.  People get lost in it.

We went to see On The Road at the cinema last night.  Though it had bad reviews and clearly they chose the wrong actor to play JK, it captures something of the beat buzz and that drive to be constantly on the move.  I wouldn't want to go time-travelling back there (or anywhere before Germaine Greer wrote The Female Eunuch) as a female - I just know I would have ended up barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen while the men went off and had adventures.

There is something about a road, and a white line arrowed to anywhere that is not whatever one knows as Here.  It is sometimes said that a real traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.  I should perhaps adopt this approach because my fixed plans often unravel, however intent I may be on reaching my goal.  To go the distance you need fuel in your tank.  I am not speaking of my Nissan Micra, the trusty Signsmobile, but the vehicle that is my body.  I am a PWME and therefore compromised.  I can't do roads.  I can do short-distance flights.  I make promises I can't keep* and commit to projects I can't complete, but hell, so did Dean Moriarty who was mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time and just like him, I burn, burn, burn - in my fashion.  

* so if I don't do a post a day don't shoot me.       

p.s.  Spam-merchants have invaded my house, so comment Word Verification is back, sorry.                                    

Friday, October 12, 2012

If you have not yet looked at the beautiful blog that is Spitalfields Life, then please do yourself a favour and have a look.  It is a work of love and dedication by someone called "The Gentle Author" who has promised to put up a post each day about life in Spitalfields, at the heart of London, until 2037.

Blessed is the one who feels able to say "This is both my task and my delight".

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Heimat (2)

It is one of those untranslatable German words.  The closest English approximation is Homeland, and though it has to do with, amongst other things, the land - fields, forests and mountains - it cannot now be uttered without the contamination of National Socialism.  In this sense, it shares something with Patriotism which is now riddled with uncomfortable resonances.  Heimat carries in its essence an element of homesickness, which is something I often experience.  But for what place?  Where are my people?  Where is the ground that I would stoop to kiss?  I am suddenly and inappropriately reminded of that terrible joke by Tommy Cooper:

Man:  I'm homesick.
Wife:  What you on about?  You're at home now.
Man:  I know, and I'm sick of it.

"The Wanderer has no place to lay his head" (I Ching, see previous post) sounds grandiose, but this one (and the sagging Ridgepole) does come up for me year after year.  Grandiose or not, clearly Jesus Christ and I have something in common, for the Son of Man also had nowhere to lay his head.

There are moments - groups of people, anyone from anywhere - times of companionship (original meaning of companion: someone with whom you share bread), sitting around a table sharing food, words, the flame of a candle; times of blending one's voice with another's - my sister and I singing the songs our mother taught us and still remembers, though she has Alzheimer's now and has forgotten so much.  What remains when memories fall away?  Songs, quite often.  As a child, my mother was taught songs of the Hitler German Youth.  She lived with her Aryan grandparents and passed for one of them. Later she learned other songs - a Hebrew one we used to chant to make the rain come.  I am homesick for my Grandmother picking green beans in her garden, singing the love song of Katrinchen (Ich werde  dich lieben in ewigkeit).  Ich habe Heimweh.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


This is a broken knife - a French Opinel I have had for about thirty years.  I have probably used it most days, usually to peel and chop vegetables but also for other things, like piercing a metal lid to help open a jar.  I could do this sort of thing because the knife was seemingly indestructible and had this magical quality, that not only did it never need sharpening but it actually grew sharper with use, the blade is still keen though broken from its handle.  Several years ago, on holiday in the Dordogne and thinking it might not last much longer, I bought another, slightly larger version.  I never used it because it wasn't a patch on this knife.  No knife is - Kitchen Devil, Sabatier, I have tried them all.  We were a team and worked together beautifully.  I began to believe it would last forever - I was wrong.

What to make of this?  Don't tell me that a knife is a knife - I am a sign-reader and the granddaughter of a Jungian analyst who, on seeing a bird fall into her grate stone-dead, foretold her own death.  I am a thrower of coins each new year, for the I Ching that repeatedly warns of a ridgepole that sags to breaking point and tells me that the wanderer has no place to lay his head.  However you read it, this is just not auspicious.  But it is also not the end.  I will carry on chopping carrots, celery, leeks and butternut squash though I will never again do it with such unthinking flair or feel so in my element.  Time to get out of the kitchen?  The wanderer has no place etc......

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sick Mac

My laptop keeps overheating and puffing out air.  When I searched online to see what might be causing this, I read that one should think of it like a person that is overworking and sweating.  It made me feel bad, as though I was pushing it into overdrive, though I'm not doing anything that should make this happen.  I am wondering if it is mirroring something.  I do not want a laptop with M.E. or chronic fatigue.  I want it to carry on being Mac Airy and yes-can-do, not a sick thing that keeps having to put its lid down to take a nap, and even then it keeps puffing and sweating.  it has a temperature.  I can feel it's hot underside.

small hours

If it is already tomorrow, but it is the small hours and you have not yet slept, does putting up a post count as tomorrow's post or yesterday's?  And does it in any case count as a post to say that it is already tomorrow and you have not yet slept? I would say yes.  Especially as I did not post yesterday, which is still today as it does not really become tomorrow until there has been a period of sleep between now and then.  So what I have come here to say is that although it is tomorrow it is actually still yesterday, or it is neither and I am therefore sitting inside the Tardis otherwise known as Signs Cottage wondering if I still exist or whether I slipped into a black hole between the stroke of midnight and the second that followed.  That is not actually what I have come here to say.  But let it stand, because the fact of my saying anything at all is a) proof that I do in fact exist and b) counts as yesterday's post.  So I am still on track.  And anyone who wants to argue with that is, in fact, a mashed potato.  Thank you.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


A full-on dish of Parmigiana is not for wimps or the faint-hearted - neither the cooking nor the eating of it, if you make it the pukka way (not meaning to sound like Jamie Oliver).  Yes, I wimped out and ended up frying each 5mm disc of aubergine.  Or rather, Mr. Signs did, not wanting the smallest risk of undercooked aubergine, and on discovering that the grilled version was taking just as long and looked grey.  So there was olive oil, buffalo mozzarella and parmesan cheese plus a tomato sauce with more oil  A side of steamed broccoli and focaccia bread (oil in that too).  And me with my high cholesterol.  If I drop dead in the next five minutes then at least I will have had a fabulous lunch with the people I love most.

Talking about cheese (you can't skimp on a Parmigiana), son and I got talking about music, in particular modern Disney songs like this:

which son very much loves and reckons is equal to, say one of Elgar's overtures but which, though I have always been partial to cheese and openly loved Abba before it became ok to admit that, he reckoned I would not like, and he is right, though I am prepared to have another look and reconsider in the light of what he said about its opulence.  My preferred kind of cheese is Fievel's song in American Tail - which is less about opulence than schmalz.  But I always did like a bit of that.  And Heimat is in there somewhere, I reckon.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

the day today



Friday, October 5, 2012


Two things on my mind today: M.E.-related stuff and Aubergine Parmigiana.

M.E. politics is so big and so deep and so messy that it's difficult to even begin talking about it.  M.E. is a neuroimmune disease - not a mental illness, not psychosomatic, not the same as generalised chronic fatigue.  This is known, recognised, understood, despite the clear necessity for continuing research.  There are those who find it very important to distort or suppress the truth.  Meanwhile thousands continue to suffer without medical or social support - some in almost unimagineable conditions.  Worth remembering the next time you read about M.E. Militants. Yes, they have sent journalists death threats.  Not good.  How is it that they have become so enraged?  And why?

Ok, food.  Family (including one vegetarian) coming for lunch on Sunday and I'd like to find a way of making the above, but without all the faff of frying each piece of aubergine because this is a long process and I can't stand for long periods (orthostatic intolerance, as any PWME fule kno).  I am thinking of cheating and baking the aubergine first but am open to advice - and suspect there may be one or two looking in here who can give it. 

Thanking you in advance (I'm lookin' atcha, Madonna!).

Thursday, October 4, 2012

hurry up please it's time

It's National Poetry Day, and I have made a tiny, six-line poem out of all the moon writing I did yesterday and ditched any reference to the moon.  So it goes. 

There used to be a game I played: write a line of something you would call poetry.  People would usually come up with something lyrical, and quite often there would be moon in the line, or a rose.  The next task was to write a line of something that was not poetry, more difficult than it sounds because anything can be poetry, and poetry can be prosaic.  A line such as, I go to Tesco's to buy my petrol does not announce itself as poetry, especially with the inclusion of a well-known supermarket chain.  Substituting one word (I go to Tesco's to buy my dreams) changes everything.  Makes it sound as though it might be poetry, even if it isn't.

"Everyone's on Twitter cos Facebook's shitter" (one I spotted today) gets points because it rhymes.

Hurry up please it's time - from T.S. Eliot's Wasteland.  Even standing alone it's good.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

This Li'l Light

We find ourselves in birthday territory again.  I say 'we' because sometimes I find I think of myself as a plural, almost as though there is the 'I' that carries on with the business of daily life and another 'I' that observes it.  A morning of writing with two writerly friends with whom I have met for many years.  We meet, if we can, once a week and write without workshopping.  We do this for about an hour and fifteen minutes and then share what we have written.  We honour each others' birthdays - so the lit candle in the scone is for me.  There is my hand holding the knife, my hard-backed turquoise notebook in which I will soon (after eating the scone) write three pages of words, mostly inspired by thoughts about the moon because of the birthday cards (here is one).

The writing did not come easy, the inner flame, compromised by my unwelcome but faithful companion Fatigue, was low and it is easy to lose the plot.  Poetry is sometimes forgiving about this because the plot of a poem is always just whatever is happening in the poem and one doesn't even need to know what that is.  Sometimes, even with the meanest measure of vitality, it is possible to find oneself carried along with the flow of words.  And then there is this magic, that where there was nothing, now there is something.

It is that small candle, though, that has stayed with me.  A flame is a flame.  I have been thinking about the many extraordinary people I have come to know - those who live with the more severe kind of M.E. Whether they have been made extraordinary by the fact of having endured conditions that most people would find unthinkable, with little support, scant respect and an uncertain future, or whether they were already extraordinary I don't feel the need to speculate.  I just feel lucky to know them - see how they shine.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Another trip to the dentist in Darkest Kent, held up by a meandering sheep en route who stood in the middle of the road sniffing the air and looking about in a delicate and very unsheeplike way as though unable to decide on the best course of action.  We eyeballed each other (sympathetically, I felt) for a few minutes while a few of its friends joined and waited for some kind of instruction or inner prompting as to what the next move should be.  They moseyed off thoughtfully onto the open heathland of the forest.  I went to get my tooth fixed.

A long drive like that (three-hour round trip, counting time spent in chair with mouth open) is not a good thing but this time was unaccountably better than last week - plus, I was not charged for the work, as I feared I might be.  And on the journey back I listened to The Best of Kirsty McColl and sang along.  So many good songs on that album, mostly love songs, a couple of the most quotable lines being, I fell out of favour with heaven somewhere, and I'm here for the hell of it now.

And then this (see above, by artist Yoshitomo Nara) waited for me on the doormat when I got home - a birthday postcard from a friend in Berlin, with lovely and funny words that uplifted me - just when I might have toppled into an afternoon's trough of miserableness.  Well, we have pain and fatigue but the spirits are badassly high.  And the title of the picture is Too Young To Die, which is spot on.  Sheep, friends, good words - what else is there?  (A cigarette, obviously - sshhh).

Monday, October 1, 2012


The question of where I belong and where I come from has been at me again. Here I am in an English village with its own Steiner school, health shop and film society. I have a few friends and connections in this place, am on nodding terms with shopkeepers, and the woman behind the counter at the chemist knows my name and automatically ticks the medical exemption box for me. There is a cafe where the coffee is just right and people go with their laptops, it might almost be trendy Shoreditch. I love the terrain here, the forest, the combination of wildness and gentleness. But I don't feel as though I belong here or that this is where I'm from.

As a child I was never in a place long enough to feel that this is where my roots are. Germany perhaps, but that was partly fairy tale and something about Christmas that lodged itself in my imagination. And Germany is where my parents had to run from as refugees, so how can I come from there?

When I speak about the English I know I am not speaking about myself, and especially not when I speak about the English middle classes, though I am middle class. After the Olympics opening ceremony I said, yes, there was something quintessentially English about it: the disparate elements hit the moveable spot, the particular something that might almost miss the mark with its blurred boundaries between the ridiculous and the elegiac. You would only really get it if you were English, and I got it. But still.

I want my tribe, is that it? Some ongoing predicament of the diaspora Jew? I am not properly Jewish, even if the Nazis would have given me full marks. When my mother, on entering her twilight years, wanted to become a member of a local synagogue she was told she would have to convert - even though her father perished in Buchenwald - even though her mother (who was not born Jewish) did convert. But she converted in old age, and so it did not count, as far as my mother's eligibility was concerned. Blut und Boden, und was noch? And yet, when my son went on an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel, the organisation responsible welcomed anyone who had at least one Jewish (full-blooded) grandparent. He had two and a half. For the duration of that holiday, he belonged, and though he was not tempted to up sticks and make his life in Israel, he did for a short space feel a sense of belonging to a community where you acknowledge in your being that yes, you have this essential and unbreakable thing in common.

                                                                                            t-b-c ....

Sunday, September 30, 2012

small wonder

Today I will be going with my book group to see this event, which is part of the Small Wonder festival at Charleston.  I have just looked at the site and seen that one of the contributors, M. J. Hyland, will not after all be there.  I am disappointed.  This morning I read her very good piece in Granta magazine where she talks about her experience of M.S.  - of how she felt impelled to keep the illness a secret and how, until now, she has not written anything about M.S.  I was struck by the relationship she has with her very wretched and dysfunctional family, for whom she feels a profound sadness.  She says,

"I can't be near them, can't belong to them.  I worry for them, dream about them, but I can't talk to them.  They frighten me."

She says that "having MS felt tantamount to losing, and felt too close to being like them; a failure and a victim."

Hence her response, which was to keep it a secret.

What she says resonates; not because it echoes my particular way of coping with a chronic disease (though there have been periods I attempted to keep the fact of my M.E. a secret) but because I have known for a long time that people are frightened by illness and disease and feel much the same way about people with ME as M.J. Hyland feels about her family.  The fact that most of us are not (yet - the time may come, given enough research) able to Win The War against it, that it just goes on and is something to be negotiated and endured, does not help.

What a catastrophe, then, it must have been to join the ranks of the 'failures' and 'victims'.  How I would like to have heard her speak about it.  But I am pleased to be going.  A.L. Kennedy will be one of the contributors.  A friend will be driving.  I like visiting Charleston, even though it is rarely a comfortable experience (today we will be in a barn, must wrap up warm).

Saturday, September 29, 2012


                                                You reach for me first thing,
                                                warm my body and wait.
                                                I hold the heat and watch you
                                                watching me. Give me two,
                                                give me three of your fragrant
                                                Ethiopian or Macchu Piccu
                                                fed by the rain-washed forest.
                                                Give me water from the boil
                                                and wait.

                                                You fill me up,
                                                I give it to you straight,
                                                you drink my hot black nectar,
                                                bittersweet, it moves into your blood,
                                                it makes heart beat and beat.
                                                One hour later you come back..
                                                Repeat, repeat, repeat.

I take no responsibility for this - it's the Cafetiere speaking, I was just the scribe.  Obviously it's speaking to me and we have, as you can see, something of a dark relationship, on account of the coffee which I shouldn't go near.  It behaves like all the demon lovers your mother should have warned you about - lifts you up high and then dumps you, but you keep coming back for more.  Here, you see the pot is almost empty and there is a whole shiny day ahead of me when anything might be possible.  

At this point, though, we are heading close to the less exuberant time of 3pm, which a friend has aptly named Crucifixion Time.  The coffee elevation has all gone and it is just me, running on pure water and perhaps a cup of herbal tea.  And Mr. Signs is at the pub sending me text messages saying that Arsenal are losing the match and could I do something about this?  

Friday, September 28, 2012

In The Teeth (3)

Well, one knew at the outset that when committing to the post-a-day task there would be days when it might feel better to say nothing at all.  This is one of those.  Let the facts speak for me:

I have been to darkest Kent to visit the dentist, an hour's journey each way, plus half an hour in gridlocked traffic.

I made this journey because the dentist has the virtues of being good at what he does and sensitive to one's condition.

I have paid £120 for him to fix something on a tooth restoration.

The thing he fixed has just broken off.

It is probably my fault for biting my nail too vigorously.

I will have to do it all again next week.

But I may not have the wherewithal.

Post-exertional exhaustion does not necessarily give one a good perspective on this kind of thing.

Be seeing you.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

singing each to each

I had cards today.  This one arrived early so was the first that I opened.  Inside, the message that wished me a happy birthday said, "may the seals sing to you", which I read as auspicious.  Somewhere in the far North of Scotland, a seal once put its head out of the water and looked at me.  If there had been more time, I believe I may have caught its song.  I am not like the narrator in the The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock who has "heard the mermaids singing each to each" and does not believe they will sing to him.  I have written stories about silkes and mermaids and it is only a matter of time.  But if you look closely at the picture, it becomes clear that the seals here are the audience.  St. Cuthbert is singing to them and the title of the picture (artist Colin Smithson) is 'St. Cuthbert Sings to the Seals'.  The question is whether the seals came close to the saint, drawn by his singing, or whether he began to sing in response to their presence.  Either seems good, but I suspect it is probably the former because he has brought his banjo with him.  The Sign is clear: the seals want my song just as much as I want theirs.  I don't have a banjo, but I have a voice. It is true that I live on the edge of a forest (and sometimes by the sea, but not one where seals come very often, if at all) but this should not be a problem.  If you sing with true intention they hear you, the creaturely familiars, wherever they be on land or in the sea.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


One of those days when it did not seem possible to move from a lying-down position for a couple of hours after waking, and the view through wooden slats much the same as it was a couple of posts back.  Just to keep you fully in the picture.  After this, the only possible thing to do was to make vegetable soup.  In fact, I will go out on a limb here and say that When In Doubt Make Soup is probably good for almost any situation - as long as you are fit enough and able to remain in an upright, preferably standing, position for as long as it takes to make it which, as you can see, I was.  

There is some small fame attached to the pot, which dates back to the years of my first marriage and about which I once wrote a poem.

Steel Pot

This was my first wedding gift,
a steel pot with black plastic handle,
nothing showy, nothing to show
but empty space and a dull shine.

We made Russian toffee which
blackened and burned, I battered it with knives
and wire wool, I made my mark,
three days I left it in the rain,

It was gentle with eggs,
imaginative with lentils, kind to milk,
rice it loved best, it kept a little back,
a nutty crust we peeled and ate like bread,
the grains were patterned on its metal skin.

Steel is hard and true, people
come and go, my young husband
went north with a broken heart,
three days I waited, but
you can’t scratch marks from hearts
once you have burned them.

I walked into the wilderness,
a knife in my pocket and a wooden spoon.
The steel pot was my hearth,
I sang into its empty space

like my grandmother’s mother
who could (as they say) make soup
by singing into a pot,
and just as well.

I lean and look inside and still
it gives my reflection back to me.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


This is the bird that hangs on a thread from the study window and looks out over the back garden. If not the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, then its close familiar; crude, perhaps, if compared to a living bird, but expressive of something. It has been put together from flotsam and jetsam scraps of material, wire, twigs and feathers from the natural world. On its breast is a red flower (plastic) and a sequin, which catches the light. It is ready for something. Look at those antennae, the blush of pink at the base of the tail feather, the raised wings and the splayed feet. From day to day, no-one sees it but me. If I don't project some measure of hope and joy onto its brittle frame, how can it live at all? And doesn't it deserve to? Perhaps not (perhaps nothing does?) but I won't be the one to put it in black bin bag hell with all the unredeemed clutter. If I say it is alive, then it is. And I do say it.

Monday, September 24, 2012



It is three months until Christmas. This is not about shopping. You know about me and shopping and how the word has always conjured up an image of a basket with bread, milk, potatoes and eggs. These days one should probably add a tub of blueberries, a head of broccoli and a bag of carrots and take away the bread, the point being that this is all shopping means to me. Getting a basketful of the daily stuff. So when I say it is three months until Christmas, what I am doing is looking across the divide separating that time from this and wondering how, in the unsteady vessel that is the body of Signs, I will navigate the distance from now to then.

The same kind of thought sometimes comes at the very beginning of the day, as I open my eyes to the bands of light that filter through my trusty wooden slats (I call them trusty because they cost so little, being from IKEA, they have fulfilled their task so remarkably well and I have looked at them and through them with more intense engagement than is usual in a relationship between a human being and a set of window blinds). My first question is: what is the weather doing? This may or may not be significant in what I am able to do that day, but to know about it gives one some kind of connection to the world outside. What would our lives be without windows? It doesn't bear thinking about.

The next question, directed not so much at the window as to the day itself, is: what can I do today? Sometimes the answer that comes back is simply a list of boxes that need, by hook or by crook, to be ticked off. Get cat food, meds from chemist, post letter, ring dentist, do a washload, make evening meal. Choose from one or some of the above, or pick up the notebook.

Today (which is no longer newborn but not yet old) I have been to buy organic vegetables and I have come here to say that it is ninety-one days until Christmas Eve. And I am thinking that to come here every day and post something on blog until the day of the Eve itself would be something, wouldn't it? Not just a falling away - a journey to Advent. Parousia.  Or at any rate - something.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

An' Don't Be Callin' Me Chicken!

Blisterin' barnacles, me hearties, it be that day again!  An' me so addlepated wi' vinnie rouge, bein' holed up in France (no shortage o' grog though the place do be full o' forriners) - the notion clean went out o' my head.  Now between ye an' me, the question that's firing' a cannon through every scurvy scallywag's noggin is this: ye can walk the plank but can ye talk the talk?  There's the rub, me hearties.  Arrr, ye lily-livered landlubbers - be bold!  For 'tis this that gladdens the cockles o' any self-respectin' pirate.  Swish an' swash, an' show the world you're not afraid to shiver the timbers of any proud beauty.

Be that a yardarm in yer doubloons or are ye just pleased to see me?

C'mon, ye malingerin' knaves - sing along wi' me!

Friday, September 7, 2012

First Writes

There were eighteen of us around a long arrangement of formica-topped tables. It was October, the sky darkening outside the tall, school-room windows. The teacher was reluctant to have the lights switched on. She said we should buy a small notebook, keep it by us and jot down images, as though we were taking snapshots. Jotting in the notebook was a good thing to do and we should make a habit of it. She asked us to think back to a place from childhood, capture an image and then write about it.

I wrote about a knitted lion. It had an orange and brown woollen mane, two red circles made of felt sewn onto its cheeks and black embroidered eyes. I wrote that the lion appeared to be smiling, that the eyes followed me around the bedroom and that its face shone in the moonlight that streamed through the narrow window above a forest of fir trees. The moon made the lion turn its head and look at me. It's face was also moon-like and looked a little pale behind the red cheeks. It took me in and knew my thoughts, and though it smiled, because this was the expression that had been stitched onto its face, the smile carried menace.

You have a good eye for detail, said the teacher. This is well-remembered and really evokes the inner world of a child.

The lion was not, in fact, from childhood. It sat on a pillow in my bedsit. Someone I knew had made it and generously given it to me as a present because I liked it so much. And it carried no menace in its being, I made that up to lend a sense of drama to the scene. The teacher said she enjoyed the disturbing vision of the apparently innocuous knitted lion as threatening and able to read thoughts. I sensed that the other students were less impressed but they were, in any case, waiting for their turn to read. If each of us took five minutes that would amount to one and a half hours, and several people took much longer than that.

Eventually lights were switched on. They were fluorescent, made our complexions look green and gave me a headache. I understood why the teacher had waited so long. One person after another gripped their notebooks or pieces of lined paper torn from some old school book, and read their piece: the teapot that had belonged to a grandmother, how mother had always used it for special occasions and one day a bit of spout was chipped off; an actual photograph - portrait of the artist as a young Scout, ready to dib dib dib and dob dob dob, and all about the different knots he learned to tie. I didn't mean you to think of an actual photograph, said the teacher - but that's good, that's very good.
I know, said the student, looking crushed, but that was the image that came to mind. He thought she thought he was being stupid.
Yes, she said, and it's very good - I just thought I'd point that out in case others had misunderstood.
 I didn't misunderstand, he said.

He was not the only one to refer to an actual photograph. There was a family holiday snapshot of a beach and another of a woman's father. The father was smiling in the photograph and a young child (the writer of the piece) sat on his knee.
He came into my bedroom most nights and touched me, and told me not to tell my mother. When I was fourteen he used to come and inspect my breasts, he -
You don't have to read it if it's upsetting for you, said the teacher
- tried to have intercourse with me. I will never forget the smell.

Sometimes, said the teacher, an image can hold all kinds of disturbing things. She looked at her watch and noticed that we had run overtime by almost an hour. Could the others perhaps wait until next time?

It was a mistake I would sometimes also make when I began to teach creative writing - holding work that students had written in class until next time. Already I was storing all this up for future use, taking stock of the situation: time-management was important; eighteen in a class was too many; everyone has something to say.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Hearing Voices

They used to come the minute I set pen to paper, flowing into me, running down the length of my arm. Or sometimes they came in medias res, when I was putting the baby in the buggy or standing outside Mrs. Patel's shop on the corner of Chatsworth Road, while my daughter had a turn on the giant duck that moved and said quack for three minutes or so after you put a coin in its slot. The voices whispered, literally, above my head.

They were not mad voices, like the ones that tell you bad things about yourself or instruct you to hire a helicopter and kidnap the queen. They were an effusion of words that wanted to arrange themselves into lines on a page. They wanted to be earthed, to be made incarnate, and they hovered and whispered about and above me, like chattering children gathered by a door before it opens to a birthday party. I had no time to let them in and I was very ill with a condition I had just been told was Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. When people saw me pushing the buggy or standing by the quacking duck they would not have guessed that for much of the day I was lying as though nailed to my bed, with a fatigue I had no vocabulary to describe and symptoms in my body and head that frightened and appalled me. A kind childminder looked after my children for some hours each day. I told myself this would pass. My throat burned. People began to wonder if I might be malingering or reacting to the stress of child-care and its demands, trying to find a way out. I wanted to be with my children. My daughter said, I want to be with youwhy should you be here all alone? I hated handing them over, my two babies.

Perhaps, said a doctor - not the one who diagnosed M.E. but an earlier one who was baffled by the intensity of my apparent malaise - perhaps you feel ambivalent about this pregnancy, this second child
No, I said, we planned it, we want it.
Perhaps, said the health centre nurse, you are more tired this time round because you have a small child to look after.
No, I said, this isn't tiredness. And so it continued.

The voices took no notice of this or any other state of affairs. They whispered and wanted to come in. They were seeking entrance. I began to write in a notebook, one of those narrow, flip-over ones with a ring-binder at the top. When you came to the end you just turned it around and began again so as not to waste paper. The words I wrote surprised and interested me, but they did not come from the ones that sounded above my head. They came from somewhere lower down. I kept the notebook by my bed for a while, wrote down whatever I could as soon as I woke up, if I could do it before the baby had begun to cry, or after one of my afternoon deeper-than-death sleeps. I dreamed that I swam in a turquoise sea, holding my daughter beside me with one arm. We looked down and saw that the sea bed was flat and sheer, like the floor of a swimming pool. As I swam I realised I was leaving the shore far behind and the sea ahead appeared to have no end. I wrote about my early childhood, remembered people I had almost forgotten. I saw into the past like a crystal-scryer, illuminated moments, like the time I dug into the earth by a beech tree expecting to find gold and found three coins, enough to buy sweets with and still some left over. I understood that I had set foot on the terrain that lies close to dream-time but is not quite in it, nor in the mundane world of the completely awake. Sometimes I wrote stories and poems that connected to this terrain. But they were not connected to the voices that carried on, sporadically, whispering. They wanted more of my time and they wanted my complete attention. Sometimes they came so close to me, so near to my head, that I found myself muttering, echoing their phrases, promising to write them down (which is what they wanted me to do) later, or as soon as I could.
What are you talking about? asked my daughter. What are you saying?
Words, my darling. I pressed on, pushing my son's buggy through the rain.
Hurry up, I said to my daughter who was trying to keep up with me.
I am only three years old, she said. We took shelter in the awning of a fish and chip shop. I bought a bag of chips, shook salt and vinegar on them and we shared them, walking back in the downpour as though it was a stroll through the park.
Chip, said the little one, putting his hand out from under the polythene canopy. Chip!

The words above my head mumbled away. After a while they came less frequently, and then they went somewhere else - found someone, perhaps, who could offer the accommodation they needed. I carried on writing words in the notebook, typing them out on my portable Olivetti. We got our first computer. It was a monster that took up most of the space in our basement room. When I tapped the keys a ghoulish green light shone from the screen and swallowed my sentences whole. That was a long time ago. My children grew up. I am much older and have a laptop now and a printer, and I live by a forest, not in the east end of London.

The voices, though, have recently come back. Now they choose the moments between waking and falling asleep to press together and begin their whispering - just above my head, as before. I make promises it will be difficult for me to keep. I tell them I will give them attention and a room of their own, but not there, not then when I am at the point of falling asleep.

I still have Myalgic Encephalomyelitis.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Choose Me

(to the Muse, who may take any gender it chooses, but I think this one is male)

Choose Me

I am as ready as I’ll ever be,
my door unlocks and opens easily
to any visitor, my walls are thin
and breakable, you may as well come in.

Take me - I’m not particular or proud,
(refined by nature, but you can be loud),
I’d love a swineherd better than a fine
thin-blooded prince who wouldn’t throw a line

to save me. Feel how cold I am, I’ve lit
a fire but lack the stuff to throw on it:
something good to burn, if you’ll be so kind,
a high conceit or bawdy joke – don’t mind.

Come now. My sheets are white and I am free.
I am a poet lost for words. Choose me.