Thursday, September 19, 2013

Nine Hundred Miles

Into autumn.  All summer I was drawn to the cold sea at Brighton.  I went into it, became accustomed and stopped flinching.  I began to understand how people did this all year round, and why.  It shocks the body into a kind of alertness – wakes it up.  On one of the colder days there was just me in the sea and a woman in a pink rubber bathing cap, the kind you don’t see any more.  There was a faint smear of matching pink on her lips.  I pictured her applying it earlier, preparing for her date with the sea.  She had English sea-blue eyes.  She said, I like to do this until December, but I don’t like it so much when the boys have gone.  She meant the lifeguard who sits in the small enclosure made of deckchair material, between the yellow and red flags.  Lifeguards are there from May until October.  The other person on the beach was an old man, very thin, a little bent but sprightly, and he hopped over the stones barefoot as though all of him was used to this and at home there.  Stones no longer cut his feet, his skin was tough enough to withstand the wind and the rough sea only made him stronger.  I was there with M.E. and my clutch of auto-immune diseases, pretending to be like them.  Later I would have to balance the benefits against the after-effects.

I seize the days any way I can - pretend to be strong.  It doesn’t make me strong but sometimes it lends me something I can put about me like a temporary cloak – a cloak made of thin, diaphanous material, not suitable for rough weather, but it’s something and it covers me for a while.  Same with sleep and insomnia.  Some nights I lie for hours knowing that I am not asleep but I keep lying there faking it, which is nothing like the real, deep sleep that renews you, but it is something.  And it can happen that if you pretend enough you fall into the real thing for a while – the wellness, the dream-time, and you gather something ( that dense, warm substance tinged with rose and gold) in the core of you.

How hard can I pretend?  I can take on the sea, I can sleep underneath insomnia, but I don’t know what to do about my mother’s husband, who has decided that I am to be an enemy.  A good old family friend (doctor/psychotherapist) tells me that mother’s husband suffers from paranoia.  He needs his enemies.  He has also nominated one of his own daughters and hasn’t spoken to her for years.  When she was three years old she screamed when he tried to lift her from a bus.  He has not forgiven her.  My supposed sins are many and there is less reason to forgive.  If I begin to look at myself through his eyes then each apparently innocent remark, or even the act of bringing a cake on a plate, can hold an unexploded bomb of malign intent.  If the evil is not in me then the danger (for him) might be that it runs riot in the rest of his world. 

So I know that I am in a sense serving a useful purpose.  But it doesn’t make anyone happy, and to be thus nominated has brought that other substance into the core of me.  It is a grey, cold substance made of fear – a strange sense of guilt also, as though the evil he perceives is becoming an entity in its own right.  It may not belong to me but it needs somewhere to call home.

I have been filling myself with chocolate, with sweet things and with the pierogi my Polish friend brought with her – she filled half a suitcase with them, enugh to stock the freezer and still give some to my children.  The chocolate and pierogi help but there are blood sugar issues to be considered and inner DJ has Sinead O’Connor’s 90s song on a wailing loop (but nothing – I said nothing can take away these blues), or Joni Mitchell (I wish I had a river I could skate away on).  My mother, who was not allowed to come to my recent birthday gathering, is only minutes away from me by car.  She wants to see me, loves outings, fish and chips in a cafĂ©, a walk on the forest, the yellow gorse flowers that are always in bloom.  We had a terrible relationship for years but things had come right between us – the possibility of gold and the substance of rose.  Her husband would prefer things to be as they were and is now her keeper.  Nothing can take away these blues.

If I can’t meet with my mother then it is easier to be closer to the sea than the forest, where she also lives.  I flit between one location and the other, give myself the illusion that my feet don’t properly touch the ground, pretend that I am always on the move or a seagull (how my mother could imitate their cries) – in flight.  I love sitting on aeroplanes and trains, being in transit, and wish I had the reasons and/or resources to do a lot of this. I'll get on the train at East Grinstead with a harmonica and pretend that I am going nine hundred miles ....


Sunday, September 1, 2013


Good morning from Brighton.  I say this because I had a good night, meaning that I slept, more or less, right through and got an actual very-much-needed nine hours.  I think there are ghosts here that help with this.  The ghosts are not of dead people but of the previous occupants - a lovely family with two small girls.  The children slept in the bedroom and the parents on a sofabed in the living room and despite the fact of lack of space surely driving the parents bonkers, they and the flat had a lovely vibe.  The mother was French, softly-spoken and the father wore a gold earring and had a voice that was both camp and masculine.  He told me how much they had loved the flat.  The children were quiet, but in a happy, absorbed way.  The little one was still a baby, carried around on her mother's hip.  I heard the mother sing a short phrase to her in French.  I imagine that she sang to her children at night when they were going to sleep and that the walls of the flat absorbed the songs and the mood.  After we had bought the flat someone emailed to ask me if the walls were happy.  Anyone with even a trace of poet in them knows that walls are never just walls (small nod to Freud who said that sometimes a cigar was just a cigar) so I got the question.  And yes, they are.  The walls of Signs Cottage also.  This is one of the reasons we decided to live there, even though there wouldn't be enough space to swing a cat.  Also, we are not people who would ever wish to swing a cat.  But the Signs Cottage walls have other moods also, they are more complicated, as you'd expect from walls that are covered with so many books and where much has to be fitted into small spaces.

From the small balcony of Brighton flat you can look down and see the sea, which rises up like a blue or grey wall, depending on the weather.  Sometimes it is possible to forget about perspective and imagine that it is a wall that dissolves the closer I get to it and becomes something I can immerse myself in, as I have been doing whenever possible.  I think I will go in again today as the water temperature is 16.9 (I can check this online), the warmest it has been so far.  For many people this is much too cold but my body has become accustomed to it - welcomes it, even.  I don't know if I am in my element, but it does in some measure restore me to myself.