Wednesday 30 November 2011

This House Runs Backwards

Listen to the irregular click, that out-breathing,
unwinding wind, that widdershinning,
teeth-catching snap.  Press your ear to the almost
inaudible tick.  Press your cheek to a cog; feel it dip,
chilly as brass.  See windows flap open, hinges unscrew,
curtains dishevel their hems, floorboards flip dolls
into trunks with unlockable lids, and patches of sunlight
run down the walls.  See in the fridge the cheese
re-curdling; knives and forks in the slow-turning
kitchen whipping to the Aga to smelt.  And this sucking
thing at the letterbox is the past's mouth.  It comes
with a tongue to lick oil off the mechanism.

***This poem, along with an earlier draft of the one that now appears in my Profile, first appeared in Agenda: Dwelling Places

Tuesday 29 November 2011

An Edit

I've recently subscribed to Gwen Bell's mailing list.  A few days ago Gwen asked of her own writing, 'Would it still be the work if nobody read it?'  Although I'm not sure I can answer Gwen's question, I'd like to explore some ideas I've had about blogging.  

Over the past weeks I've noticed a change in the way I relate to what I write here.  At first I worried myself into a tizz over what you, my reader, might think, and I felt that it would only take a clumsy sentence or an unoriginal thought (I have many of both) to destroy my career.  I still think that, some of the time.

However, I find that although I still press 'Publish' with my eyes screwed tight and my fingers crossed, I'm learning to think of this space as a part of my writing practice.  It may be public writing, but it's still practice.  Rebecca told me recently that she was blogging again partly in order to face her fear of being read.  I too am doing this to practice till I'm no longer so scared, to keep going until the words come out easily, as though you weren't there.

Today's picture comes from some notes I made a while ago for a book I'm no longer going to write.  I made it to try and understand the vision of Enoch.  An attempted map of heaven and hell seemed an appropriate illustration for today's post, which was originally meant to be about my weekend, but instead has turned out to to be an attempt to articulate thoughts that I have difficulty expressing, that is, to continue practicing. 

Monday 28 November 2011

We Call this Friday Good

The days seem to canter past at this time of the year.  The sun's barely up before it's setting again, and I feel as though I'm pushed for time to publish anything here.  I took many notes and photographs over the weekend and thought many thoughts; so rather than let all my pretty things go to waste, here's the first of three tales.

I spent Friday with Terri at the British Library.  We met to proof-read part of the latest draft of her thesis, and sat together on our bench (it isn't really ours, but we scowl at anyone who's got there before us), honing what Terri hopes will be the last edit before she submits.  When we finished for lunch I took a photo of the gorgeous central tower of books that rises through the middle of the building.  Terri pointed out our reflections in the glass: 

On our tea-break, I made Terri a card from my cup-holder (actually I felt very ashamed because I'd forgotten it would be Terri's birthday yesterday). It had a tree for the T, an owl perched on the E and, high above, a waxing moon:

Terri said she was pleased I'd included so many of her favourite things.  The card was only missing a book, she said, so I drew one on the back.

Outside in the streets, cars and lorries pressed the leaves of the London Plane trees so flat, they looked as though they'd been painted on the ground:

Tomorrow I'll talk about Saturday, which seems a bit back-to-front.  Perhaps with the approaching Saturnalia the days are swapping around; so that last week is becoming this, and this week is turning into last year; in which case tomorrow I'll talk about tomorrow, or today, or someday.

Thursday 24 November 2011

Slow-worm, the Rise and Totter of Cat Rock

This is Samuel.  He is eighteen months old and he was born at the Kit Wilson Trust shelter.

During the day Samuel enjoys sleeping; being kissed and stroked and snuggling as close as he can get.  He has a purr that you can hear from the next room, a salmon pink nose and a Cheshire Cat tail.  His fur is roughish on top and smooth on his undercarriage.  When he stretches he spreads his toes like fingers.

He loves hunting.  In summer he catches up to four mice a day.  He growls when he brings them home, where he eats them quickly, sometimes chewing their heads while their back legs are still kicking.  He is an expert surgeon, cutting deftly around the bits he doesn't like (the 'gutsies') and spitting them onto the floor.

At night when he leaves the house, despite our best efforts to keep him in, Samuel leads a very different life.  Almost every evening he joins his friend Ozzy from the white house up the road.  They go either to Ranna and Tony Hurst's field, or to the old shed at the bottom of our garden.  There they rehearse with their band, Slow-worm.  Ozzy is the front man and Samuel's on lead guitar.

In the band's early days, when the hens complained about the noise, Samuel, Ozzy and Smudge (on bass) played so quietly you could hear the sparrows sleeping.  Unfortunately Muffin, the drummer, wasn't so considerate: 'F**k the feathers!' he would shout, while scooping out another paw-full of Gourmet Gold, dribbling meaty chunks as he chewed, chucking the empty sachet into the pond and hammering out a gravy-stained solo.  When Samuel came in at dawn he was invariably exhausted and spent the rest of the day sleeping on his favourite chair in the bathroom.  His paws flexed as he dreamed of chord shapes.

For a while it looked as though Slow-worm was going places.  First the boys won Battle of the Bands at the Chiddingly Festival. After that came gigs in Brighton, Dalston and finally, at Barfly in Camden, where they were spotted by Colin Meloy, who'd come over from the US to look for a cat band to support The Decemberists on their UK tour.  Samuel was beside himself with excitement at the thought of touring with The Decemberists: when he came home the next morning he shredded the carpet at the bottom of the stairs till the underlay showed.

The first two gigs in Glasgow and Birmingham went well.  The many hours spent rehearsing paid off and the band sounded great.  Even Muffin managed to keep his temper under control.  At Bristol Academy, however, it all went wrong.  During the after-show party, a young Siamese caught Muffin's eye.  He had got through a lot of catnip that night and, when the girl spurned his advances, he lost control and stabbed her in the eye with a Webbox Cat's Delight.  He was immediately arrested and The Decemberists had no choice but to sack Slow-worm.

With Muffin in rehab, Slow-worm needs a new drummer.  The boys have auditioned a few local cats and although Hellebore, Samuel's step-sister, can hold a rhythm, she says she'd rather stay in at night, playing Thing-on-the-String and climbing the bookshelves.  They've even tried working with Eddie, Ranna and Tony's Norfolk Terrier, but he gets carried away and chews the drumsticks; so auditions continue.

If you know of any talented young feline drummers in East Sussex or West Kent, Samuel and Ozzy would love to hear from you.

Tuesday 22 November 2011


I can't think of anything to say to you.  The trouble is that every idea I have and every sentence I write, however banal, becomes indelible as soon as I press the 'Publish Post' button on my screen. My decision to add something almost daily means there's not much time to edit what I write: if I'm assembling a poem it takes months, even years to reach a point where I'd want the world to see it, but here I have to make sure that what I've written is vaguely presentable, then it's out.  I'm no journalist, that much is certain.  As soon as I've posted a piece I want to add a note saying, 'I'm sorry.  I'll try harder tomorrow.'  What's more I can't work on a post for more than two days before I chicken out of posting it.  I wrote a draft piece on Friday, continued it on Saturday and by Sunday I'd decided it was so self-indulgent that I would bring shame upon my house, my family and my ancestors by publishing the thing. 

Here's today's piffle.  You should leave while there's still time.  Forget what I said last week about feeling fabulous and full of creative zeal.  It's horrible.

Thursday 17 November 2011

Ace of Wands

This new habit of blogging whenever I can has brought with it a burst of energy.  It's a side-effect I didn't expect.  I've been tearing from blog posts, to poems, to the book I'm writing with Sinead, to preparation for the class I'll be teaching on Monday.  

I asked for a tarot card for today's post and picked the Ace of Wands, which according to Rachel Pollack represents a 'gift of strength, of power, [...] of the love of living.'  A E Waite lists some of the card's qualities as 'Creation, invention, enterprise.'  I certainly feel full of energy: alight with life, like the hand holding the wand in the Rider Waite deck.

Sandy says there's always a price to pay for these bursts of energy and in my quieter moments I wonder what this one will cost.  Last night I was too tired to do anthing more than lie on the sofa with Hellebore Cat and leave my copy of The Idiot unopened on the floor, so perhaps I'm paying the price as I go.  Pollack adds that the Ace of Wands 'teaches humility, for it reminds us that that ultimately we have done nothing morally to deserve [this] optimism and greater energy.'  Perhaps if I can accept that I've done nothing special to deserve my new-found vigour I'll be happy, or at least okay, to let it go again.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

What I put in my pocket on my way to the village

A poppy without a stem;

a torn fragment from a note someone had written on the back of a dental hygiene report;

one of fifty or so flowers that had fallen from a fuchsia bush;

a brass screw that I found near a house which was sold in January, whose owners have yet to move in and that's filled every week day with workmen;

an unravelling cord;

and a leaf with a hole in the shape of itself.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

My people humble people

This photograph hangs on the wall in my parents' dining room. The man on the left is Charles Stevens, my maternal grandfather.  He died of pneumonia at Christmas when my mother was sixteen (my mother has hated Christmas ever since).  I know that he was a skilled carpenter: I have a table that he made, which is carved, polished and delicately jointed.  I know that he worked as some sort of clerk, somewhere in London, and whenever I read 'The Waste Land' I think of him.  My mother has told me he was intelligent; my grandmother used to say he was kind and that they 'never went to bed on a row.'   

I don't know who his friends were.  I don't know his regiment, or in what year, or even what decade the photo was taken.  It's probably the early twenties: my grandmother was born in 1903, so I don't suppose my grandfather was old enough to fight in the First World War. 

Of course I could ask my mother to tell me more about him. I could have asked her last week while I was staying with her.   I wonder now why I didn't, especially as I avoided the subject quite consciously and asked her instead about other mysterious relatives in other photos.  Perhaps I'm scared that if she were to tell me time would run out for her too; and of course I'm terrified that I too will one day be just a photograph, if that.

Monday 14 November 2011

This Well Holds a House

Wind the handle for the bucket that knocks at the side,
dislodging moss and brick flakes.  See the steam rise
from the chimney.  See, in the garden the ducks sploshing
for their sops; willows thriving in the mush; cool water
for washing and drinking, or warmed in the dark like a geyser.
See the beds and chairs and tables and windows, soft
as sponges.  See the laundry, never drying, where the web-footed,
wrinkle-palmed husband and the web-footed, wrinkle-palmed
wife are ringing out their babies to hang them in the shade. 

***This poem, one in a series of pieces inspired by Bachelard, first appeared in the online supplement to Agenda: Dwelling Places.  Time is short today and I haven't enough of it to write anything significant, but I've been meaning to post some of my published work here for a while.  Besides, I like this poem and feel sad that it'll probably be buried in Agenda's online archive.

Monday 7 November 2011

Round Mid-November-o

This grey autumn day reminds me of my favourite Robyn Hitchcock song.  All of the colours are indeed running out: the ashes have already lost their leaves and in my garden the rugosa roses and apple trees have turned yellow.  Soon the only bright shapes will be holly berries, rose hips and Sylvia, the white hen you can see here on the lawn with her step-sisters, Ag and Hilda:

I took this photograph from my desk less than an hour ago.  Even as I look out of the window now, the colour and light are fading and the difference between the picture and my view is stark: it's growing dark faster than I can type, or at least faster than I can type anything half-way decent.   

Tomorrow I am going down to Dorset to visit my parents for a few days.  I'm running out of time: I have to pack, and to perform all the small but essential tasks I've been putting off for weeks.  The trees may well be completely bare before I write again.

Friday 4 November 2011

Worthy is the... Butter, Sugar and Crystalised Ginger

I've been making Christmas cake, using a combination of recipes from my 1960 edition of Mrs Beeton.  Year to year I forget exactly what I've combined before from each recipe, so the cake is never the same, a little more spice one year, a little more treacle another, a different blend of fruit the next.  You can see from the copy above how spattered the page is with cake mix, flour and sugar.  I had to blow the bits off my scanner after I'd copied it.  This year, Hellebore also walked across the page and you can just about see her dirty paw prints about half-way down.

While I stirred the ingredients I listened to Handel's Messiah.  I am trying to find the ultimate recording of it. My old, battered tape of just the highlights, which I listen to in my old, battered car (with tape deck, radio and nothing else), I have had since I was a child.  In addition I now own three full recordings, including the lovely crystalline one made in 2006 by the Dunedin Consort that I listened to this morning.  The trouble is I lost my heart to that first tape and, though most of the Dunedin recording is infinitely preferable, no other 'Worthy is the lamb' and 'Amen' come up to the old one's standard: they have a huge, cathedral sound, though I probably think so because the tape's in such terrible condition that I have to play it full blast to hear it above the engine.  Of the other two recordings, both on vinyl, one is so hideous I won't speak its name, and the other, with Elizabeth Harwood and Janet Baker, conducted many moons ago by Sir Charles Mackerras, promises much in 'Worthy is the lamb,' but the 'Amen' goes so fast it leaves me feeling like I've had a awkward encounter with an inexperienced lover.

This afternoon's task is to make mince meat and, come to think of it, I do have a tape player in the kitchen....

Thursday 3 November 2011

NaNoBlogMo & Bellini


For some months I've been as quiet as a stalking cat, though in truth my life has been less stalkish, more... I can't imagine what a cat suffering existential angst might do: develop mange perhaps.  My soul certainly feels a bit itchy: I've been worrying lots and achieving little, with nary a trace of feline grace.

Terri told me yesterday that she's cross with me for neglecting my blog; so I've decided to follow NaNoWriMo, up to a point, and publish something as often as I can over the course of November.

To kick off then, I'll tell you what Terri & I did yesterday.  First, we went to the Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids exhibition at the Horniman Museum, which featured gorgeous, elemental photographs of face-painted, season-honouring lovelies from across England.  I was happy to see so many photographs of Sussex events, including the Lewes bonfire, Eastbourne's Lammas Festival and Hastings' Jack in the Green.  There were also many pictures of osses, horn dances and straw men from other parts of the land, plus some particularly beautiful shots of  snowy Yorkshire, and I felt every inch a British topophile.

In the evening we went to the first night of La Sonnambula at the ROH.  Actually, it was a triple first: Terri popped her opera cherry and it was my first Bellini.  We sat in the gods, in the very cheapest seats, where the view was terrible but the sound wonderful.  Around us people coughed like nanny goats and someone's mobile phone rang, but we didn't care (well, we did a bit): we sighed and cooed (silently) and were bathed in the exquisite singing of Eglise Gutierrez. We were only sorry we had to dash for my train as soon as the curtain fell and couldn't join in the 'Brava!'s and uproarious applause.