Monday, January 28, 2013

"I will arise and go now" .... ?

Drove back from Brighton yesterday, listening to Sounds of the Seventies on Radio Two.  Almost anything from that decade, especially the earlier part, is good by me, especially when driving, but when I think seventies I tend to think Crosby Stills Nash and Young.  Back in the day I used to sing in a band - me and three guys, I wasn't great shakes on the guitar but I could play a bit and sing.  We had quite a repertoire, and whatever we did tended to sound like Crosby Stills. We mostly sang in my living room and kept the neighbours awake, but we did sometimes do actual gigs for which we were sometimes paid.  Fame with a small 'f' - yes, this was my decade and I would bask in the memories were it not for the fact of our name, which was Innisfree.  Do not ask why.  It is one of those things which pricks me into a small sweat of perplexed embarassment, especially on sleepless nights.  Of all the W.B. Yeats poems I knew, Innisfree was by no means my favourite, nor was there any likelihood of my going there (it doesn't exist by that name). And, in any case, nothing we sang had anything to do with Ireland.  I just liked the sound of the name and it seemed then to carry the right kind of resonance for the person I wanted to be which was a bit of a hippy.  The "bit of" is important here, because I wouldn't have been much use at being the real thing.  But I looked the part - a bit: hair falling over the breasts, tie-dyes, beads, and I smelled of patchouli.  The problem was that people used to ask why we were called that, and because I was the one who chose the name it was up to me to explain, which I couldn't.  We were hired by an Italian restaurant in Golders Green one new year's eve.  Along with our usual repertoire, we included Hava Nagila, which we were obliged to sing seven times over as the whole restaurant joined in and got up to dance.  At the end a man in a yarmulke asked who chose the name and looked baffled: nice Jewish girl like me singing Hava Nagila, choosing something like Innisfree. 

I sometimes tell the twenty-year-old me: don't choose that because in many years down the line it will niggle at you.  You will remember blissful nights singing, we are stardust, we are golden, and how it was possible at that time, in that place, to really believe this and the person who said you sounded just like Joni Mitchell.  But you will wince every time you remember Innisfree.

The twenty-year-old doesn't listen.  She wants to be airy, happy, free.  She chooses a name that sounds like those things.  I secretly love her for this. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013



Well, Sisters, this is what we have been waiting for: ballpoint pens made specially for the Ladies.  My attention was drawn to these on Facebook and I felt moved to share.  All these years we have been struggling to get our words down with ordinary Man-pens, like fish attempting to get about on bicycles.  In my opinion there hasn't been anything like it since they invented the side-saddle, and I feel that my brilliant career is now assured.

You might like to read some of the Amazon reviews.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

the other life

When going through the notebook, one often comes up against the self that wrote things one has no memory of writing.  It happens because I tend to use one notebook for everything, including journal-writing, the ongoing prose thing (I will not say the N word) and poems.  It works best for me that way.  When one notebook fills up I buy another of a different colour. 

Much of what I write in the notebook is not shared with anyone and there are good reasons for this.  But I have recently felt the impulse to communicate something more about the reality of life with M.E., not so much on my own behalf (I already do this) but because I know people who have it in a more severe form.  They live, you might say, in "another country."Very occasionally I touch its borders.  The fact that I set this down is testament to the fact that I am, at time of writing, in a stronger state:

The slats again.  I see the sky through those, and only if I have been awake enough to ask M to open them.  In the daytime I don't like to be shut away in the dark.  Sometimes I ring his mobile from the house phone, or I ring the house phone from my mobile, on days when he is working from home, downstairs or in the garden studio.  I say, please can you open the slats for me?  And if I know he is coming up I ask for a drink of mint tea.  If I get up too quickly I feel faint, dizzy and sick.  That is why M walks up two flights of stairs to open the slats so I can see the sky through them.  Often there is just white, and raindrops on the window pane.  My eyes are still hungry for the light.

If it is a bad day and I know I will be lying there for a long time, I ask him to lift the blinds completely.  Then I can see the branches of a tree across the road, and I can see the tops of tall evergreens further away.  The more I raise myself the more I see.  But if I carry on lying down there is mostly just sky.  That square of window has been witness to what no person has ever heard. 

What is the sound that comes in the silence from someone who has looked out of the same window at the changing sky for many years?  What is the sound of one hand clapping?  It is nothing.  It is nothing.  It is the sound of time that moves past in clouds, in blue sky, in moon-bright or moonless, it moves through seconds and minutes and days and weeks and years.   One time you looked at the sky with a child's warm head near you.  Then the child was gone.  Or you looked at the sky while hearing your daughter's voice as she talked on the telephone and you smelled the tobacco smoke from the cigarette she was smoking at the bottom of the house.  Then the voice was gone.

I cannot begin to express how the outline of bare branches against the sky consoles and grounds me - joins me to the earth where I live so precariously.  If someone were to come and cut down the tree it would leave me emptied into sky.  All of us, those people who are like me, fear death.  We fear it because it stalks our living, our lives.  And the truth that has no strength to speak its name is that twent-five per cent of two hundred and fifty thousand of us lie each day in almost complete darkness, and no-one knows what to do for them.  They are too sick to live, but still they live, and though some might choose to die - to have death pure and simple rather than life that is deathly - still many do choose to live the life they have, even so.  They greatly desire life, and they love it and grasp the nettle of it.

Sometimes when we lie there looking at sky, or at the slats or curtains that keep the light from hurting (if we are not strong enough for sky) we feel connected to the earth, we feel her bones, her ravaged body, we put our mouths to the breast of the earth.  Her milk is poisoned, her body violated, she is holding us to the best of her ability.  Look how the black branch puts out shoots.

My road is an unadopted road, it is rough and uneven so not many cars pass by.  People walk their dogs or parents come with children.  These are the voices I might hear.  I miss the cockerel.  When I first came to this house, this room, a cockerel sounded each morning many times over:  cock-a-de-doo!  He annoyed the neighbours but never me.  I loved him from a distance for his voice which came into my consciousness like the sound of someone beloved, I could sleep through it or when I was awake it put life into the morning.  He has been gone for a long time.

Saturday, January 12, 2013


I am having dizzy spells.  Apparently this is because I (may) have some kind of inner ear infection, but the GP might just have said this for something to say.  He did the thing of holding a pencil in front of my eyes and moving it from left to right and diagnosed on the basis of how my eyes swivelled in response to this.  Dizzy is also something that people with M.E. have a lot on account of Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, which I already have but so far without the dizziness.  I would much rather it was an inner ear thing and hope it buggers off soon.  It reminds me of being drunk as a teenager, that swimmy feeling that came just before one passed out or was sick.  The first time I had that was when I was sixteen, so you could say I was a late starter.  It was at a party thrown by the mater and my erstwhile stepfather to signify their reunion after he had left her and then come back.  I resolved that I would try every drink on the table.  No-one had told me about what happens when you mix vodka, gin, whisky, rum and wine.  I think I tried to take my dress off while dancing in front of a room full of my mother's friends and asked if anyone wanted a French kiss.  The next morning my mother and stepfather were nowhere to be seen and I thought I was going to die.  I have had hangovers since, but never one like that.  The party had in any case been a grim affair because my mother knew that my stepfather was planning to leave her again.  When I tried to stand up the room began to spin around.  Actually, remembering this has cheered me up.  Things are not as bad as that now.  There is always a positive way of looking at things.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Frayed Knot

You have to picture it for yourself.  A string walks into a bar.  If it is capable of so much thought and will as to conceive of going into a bar then it will find a way of walking, even if it means splitting itself at one end. Before it can ask for a drink, the bartender says that they don’t serve strings.  But suppose the string, either at this point or before the bartender has a chance to speak, opens its mouth (if it can split in order to walk, it can split in order to talk) says in a clear voice: I thirst – or perhaps, more colloquially, I am thirsty.  There is a silence in the bar as people take in the string’s words.  For some there will be a deep resonance.  And when the bartender says, as he must for the story to be fulfilled, I’m sorry, we don’t serve strings here, there will be a sense of disquiet, of something having occurred that is wrong.  For where there is thirst there is a moral duty to do what one can to alleviate it.

The string does not argue but walks back outside where it begins to contort and twist itself many times.  Why?  In an attempt to make itself into something other, more acceptable to the bartender so its thirst may be quenched.  Perhaps this, yes; or to give expression to the emotion that passed through it at the blanket rejection – for a piece of string cannot hide emotion, inner and outer are visible and tangible.  Or perhaps it seeks a way of coming to some deeper utterance.  When it goes back inside and the bartender says, hey, aren’t you the string that just left? It is able to reply quite truthfully that it is a frayed knot.  It is both frayed and afraid, and it is twisted into another shape from the one it originally presented.

There is nothing that comes after this.  We don’t hear what the bartender’s response might have been: well in that case, what will you have?  Or perhaps some kind of an apology for mistaken identity.  No, because the rules are the rules and it is still, whatever shape it has felt obliged to assume, a piece of string.  The bartender knows this, the clientele who watch open-mouthed from their stools or benches where they drink their pints of lager or sip at their glasses or wine or tumblers of whisky know this.  And the string – particularly the string – knows this. 

What if the story ends unexpectedly and the bartender serves the piece of string a drink?  Will everything change, as it does in the tale of the Frog Prince who is thrown against the wall (or given a kiss, depending on the version you read)?  The frog becomes what it in truth really is – a prince.  The string reaches a hempen finger to grasp the pint of beer, draws the glass to its lips and before our eyes a human creature appears, one that we recognise and welcome. 

I thank you.

Monday, January 7, 2013


With a new year impulse to clear the decks, I gathered all my spiral notebooks yesterday and put them into an empty Able & Cole cardboard vegetable box which Mr. Signs then put into the loft with the Christmas decorations. There is something both freeing and awful about this. They won't be taking up drawer and shelf space, wailing and whining at me every time I go near them because yes, they are full of unfinished business, work that is unlikely ever to see the light of day. But in the loft no-one can hear them scream, so that's ok.

They are also (just saying) home to the birth of things that did go on to become visible creatures, poems and such - two of which are e'en now in the current edition (16) of Scintilla magazine.  I have not yet discovered how one actually goes about ordering a copy but you can take my word for it that a couple of my poems are there.

Well I thought I had them all safely locked in the loft, but I missed a few.  They leered at me today from a crammed shelf - do you spot them on the right there?  I took one at random, opened it up and saw something about a piece of string that walked into a bar and asked for a drink.  I can't remember writing this or why I did, but that also was the purpose of the notebooks: to catch the random thoughts and nonsense that flitted in and out.  It's called writing practice and it is what some of us do - must do, as singers sing and runners run whether or not there is a performance scheduled or a race to be run. 

The piece of string, refused a drink by the bartender, goes outside and ties itself into a knot.  When it goes back inside the bartender says, hey, aren't you the string that just left?  The string replies, I'm afraid not.  A frayed knot.  Why should this joke (not mine) have given rise to three pages of scrawl?  Looking over old notebooks one discovers oneself, for better or worse, in the act of something.  But what? 

Watch this space.

Thursday, January 3, 2013