Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Speak Your Love

This is how I survive. In the evenings I work. Depending on my mood, I have a background of the Alan Yentob series 'Imagine', some wonderment or merriment from Radio 4 or, ahem, 'The X Factor' and I hunch (decorously, of course) over my knees (because my desk is too overburdened with my 'to do' pile of... I really don't know what's in it) and make tiny shapes with my pens over and over again until an image has resolved itself, or words, or, best, the name of some child who will get their very own original artwork for Christmas. I am truly grateful for such happy-making work.

This, above, is quite a different thing. I painted it years ago, but only very recently have I been happy to let it find a new home. Here's the story of its being:

I'd spent the afternoon in the blazing sun, digging my own grave. There were about twenty of us and I was surprised to be the slowest digger, but I got my grave good and deep and anxiously waited for sunset so I could get in it.

I lay (snuggled in a sleeping bag) and watched as the planks, then the tarp, were placed over me. As the spades of earth landed and blocked out the light, my heart was hammering and it took some focused breathing not to scramble back to the surface.

And then, against all my expectations, I got very calm. Instead of feeling like a corpse, I felt held, comforted, by the Earth, like I was in her womb. I have rarely felt so safe in all my life.

And another thing: an odd experience I could only later explain as like being a Russian doll. I was in the womb of the Earth and in my womb was a... oh! So that explains why I had no energy to dig and the sun made me feel nauseous.

I had wanted a baby for a while and not conceived, so this was definitely a welcome surprise. All that night I lay in Gaia's embrace, sending and receiving love and happiness with this boy (I was sure) in my belly.

Once I was home, I painted this. It is an honouring of the Cosmic Mother who holds us all, our beautiful planet mother Gaia and of us human mothers who bring life into the world. Sacred all.

This is one of those lovely name signs - in fact, the most popular design on Etsy. (Obviously I don't mean in the whole of Etsy. I mean in my teensy-tiny little Etsy shop.)

Some tree studies I wasn't even sure about putting up for sale because they were too much fun to be 'proper'. (I know, I know, but I have these crazy thoughts. And at least I didn't listen.) They barely landed in my shop before two of them sold - one in a breathtaking six hours! The one above is the only one left, but I'm enjoying it in my home, so that's okay.

Wave, below, is just so pleasing to me that I haven't tried to sell it before now, but I need wall-space for new paintings. The ink is crawling across the canvasses each night and before long the oils will make a comeback.

 And last, the thing I would say if I had one second to address the world:

After my husband died, I was so desperately grateful that we had always spoken our love; even when we were angry; even when it was obvious, so there could be no doubt on either side, or in the mind of our daughter.
So when people asked me how they could make things better, I would ask them to speak their love with their special people.
Now I'm asking you.

Friday, 30 November 2012


In these rooms of strangled noise and hobbled steps,
she is free like no other.

I came here as a boy,
untamed by mother,
unknown by father,
understanding only lightning and darkness.
Now I am a man, of sorts, who has earned,
with a million nights of quiet walking to nowhere,
the privilege of the garden.
High-walled and strong-barred,
but only light between sky and skin.
Most never make it to the garden.
Most pace ceaselessly
and hopelessly.
Some, like her,
are too tied and bound
to pace.

Her howling sent shivers through the deepest middle of me.
Cough and Stoop and Spectacles and Laugh
were taken away by nurses
to be calmed with soothing sharps.
Shout-shout started
and was cuffed where he stood,
still calling twice his trouble.
The pacers picked it up
but were bullied back to slow
by the big bad nurse.
He likes the dangerous days.
So do I.
But I do not tell.

If I told,
I would not be trusted to stand
in this garden,
at this window,
watching her flayed wrists in their iron pads
twist and twist and twist;
her face telling all to me
despite clamp and gag.

She must not excite the others
says the doctor.
Too late.
I have watched them try needle after needle.
The clear stuff;
the yellow stuff;
the misty stuff which holds your soul
forever out of your grasp.
She collapses for moments-
how I hate those moments-
then she is bulging her eyes at them,
filling the room, the garden, me,
with her freedom.

They cannot allow this to continue.
They must believe they are free.
One day she will not be in her bed.
Then I,
not to mad to bury a pill or two,
will follow her to freedom.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Peace is coming.

Friends, it has been so long. I am here, still, singing and longing, swallowing curses with honey, doing myself differently daily and following that thread which has always been me and can lead only to me. I am here, still.

These months of ferocious learning are bringing a kind of peace. It becomes obscured by the stress of grief and responsibility and the details of life, but it hums darkly inside me and I cocoon it willingly, bracing myself for the first cracks which will surely bring cataclysmic dismemberment and then the remembering. To journey this far into the underworld; to refuse all helping hands out; to march down and down, winding this silken thread of me tightly around my embryonic peace: there can no longer be an easy exit. People ask me if it's getting easier to be without Thomas. Sometimes, when I am feeling more compassionate than truthful, I tell them yes. Or glamour them with a tale of Pickle's adventures. But I'm telling you (and if you don't like it you're following the wrong blog) that it's going to get harder before it gets easier. And I'm not even going to try to stop it. 

One small child, a house, a big garden, a creative business and an orchard allotment... too much. Too stretched, particularly in the head. Which hurts. So, the allotment has gone to an enthusiastic, organic tender who will safeguard the bees who live at the top. I promised them that. Thomas spent hours with this piece of land and they would have come to resemble one another in time. Another goodbye. We ate apples from our trees for the last time, Pickle ceremonially stripped the loganberry bushes and I transplanted the double-petaled feverfew we always plucked a flower from for Pickle's hair when she was tiny. It died immediately.

We went on retreat to stay with a crazy canine friend, chickens and a couple of geese. If only the geese were this relaxed. After a smooth and quiet few days, we were ready to go home when a fever took me which I feel has not quite released its last tendril yet. More burning; signs of getting nearer to the core.

I took these photos to celebrate the startling beauty of my garden after I had shown you its rough and raggedy underbelly. Sweet wonders have been appearing and disappearing while I do little more than stand and stare.

And then it was my wedding anniversary.

For weeks before I had been refusing this day - silently insisting the world denounce it with me. I wanted, desperately, to avoid living through this day - to fall asleep the evening before and wake the morning after. But, of course, no.

'Mama, Mama.'
I can't do this.
'Mama, Mama.'
I am lifting her from her cot, feeling her warmth against my face as I carry her back to my bed. His bed. She latches on and snuggles down, arms around me.
My face is wet as I look across at him, see that smile.
I can do this.
Sometimes there is such a shortage of alternatives it gets really simple.
Sometimes that is a good thing.

And then, as we left the house for playgroup, pretending this was just a Thursday; a gift. A huge rainbow, like the ones we had for days and days after Thomas died; the moon above and a raven flying below. Face wet again, I trundled the trike down the street, at last remembering that gratitude is what brings me back every time.

That afternoon Pickle was off playing with her Gappy and I was all set for an afternoon of wailing and gnashing of teeth. But only the day before I had learned of a singing workshop and before I could intervene I had my shoes on and was walking down the road, not really knowing what I was going to.

The Naked Voice is what I have been feeling for. For me, it is freeing and strengthening and challenging. Moments of exquisite grace soar over the powerful drone of charmless and perfect truth. We are tribe, for a time, and as much ourselves as we dare. That thread again. Always leading to the burning. And the peace.

After this induction into the song of my soul, I sat on the top of the hill which holds the body of my husband, and I sang and I sang and I sang. And the more I sang, the more beautiful the world became. Gratitude, bringing me home again.

Not many of these Firsts to survive now. Christmas, of course, then the big one. Gappy had her first birthday without Thomas. To help get her through we went to the Food Festival at Powderham Castle. I was spun out by a strange, bullying man quizzing me about Thomas's jewellery which I wear, but Pickle had an excellent time, which made it okay. Here she is waiting for the return ride on a land train (pulled by a tractor), under an ancient oak in the sunshine, eating a cookie the size of her head. What could improve such a moment?

The hilariously unexpected emergence of a Gappy!

Much else has happened, but that can wait. What I want to say here is that it's not getting easier but it is getting better. I am still making my best amateur attempts at reaching out for help and I can't tell you the gratitude I feel when your hand closes over mine and I know I am not on this journey alone.

Peace is coming. Peace is coming. Brace yourselves; peace is coming.

Friday, 17 August 2012


A call to caper craftily and getting totally folked up on Dartymoor.

Brushing aside yesterday's tangly bramble of thoughts (this may take some time and require protective clothing), Pickle and I have been off adventuring again since I last wrote and more is afoot.

We've visited my parents again. We're seeing more of them lately because Pickle is such good medicine for her Granny as she goes through chemotherapy, and the upcoming surgery. They're off to medical appointments almost daily, so Pickle and I get the run of the place. We give their fat cat Smoky a bit of exercise as Pickle trots after him, oblivious to his disinclination to be stroked by a small person and, at every break in the rain, we explore their lovely garden, trying not to compare it to ours.

When Mum's feeling relatively energetic, she likes to use it all up immediately on something fun. This is very similar to Pickle's policy, although Pickle gets up a lot earlier the next day. This time we had a scenic drive and a little walk to a boating lake. We entirely failed to interest Pickle in the boats (tractor obsessed, that girl), but she had a fine time leaping over a gulley with Granny.

Here we are, taking shelter under a huge tree on our way back. Only Pickle knows what the joke is, but it was definitely funny.

On our last day we just wandered along the road so Mum's friends could meet Pickle and I. We walked back in the gloaming and admired some beautiful skies.

The next morning we drove home and I performed my unpacking/packing trick in under an hour, then off we set again for the wonders awaiting us at Dartmoor Folk Festival in South Zeal. 

The dancing started at the pub at the top of the hill. At this stage there was plenty of humour, but also serious discussion around the importance of holding traditional dances whilst allowing evolution and creativity.

Then, in a trail of stovepipe hats and feathers, tankards clanking at the hip, the dancers led us down the hill to the next pub. Pickle was delighted to get a prime seat, but what I assumed to be absorption turned out to be the beginnings of heatstroke. Scary, but all better now.

The thing about the second pub is that the hill really is quite steep and a fair glug of ale has been consumed by now. It's the same every year.

Giggling breaks out among the performers at the slightest stagger and knuckles are rapped by sticks. Pickle and I had a hilariously clueless go, having claimed a stick just after the dance had been explained to the other children. Below are Molly dancers. A close kin of Morris dancers (his sister?), but accompanied not by accordion, fiddle, guitar and whatever else someone in their local can play, but by a lone singer - a woman in this case. Beautiful and surreal amongst the chaos of sticks and kicks.

Down at the main field there was the same but more so, plus men in very silly (by these standards!) trousers making happy fools of us all and some great Appalachian music and the champion broom dancers gave a joint performance.

In South Zeal's sibling village, Sticklepath, the annual Fireshow is holding its Crafty Capers Summer Workshops from August 20th. Info here if you can get there. It's a great way for kids to explore puppetry, costume creation, clay modeling and whatever else takes their fancy, and for adults to do the same. At Thomas's funeral we gathered coins instead of flowers and split them between GUCH (Grown Up Congenital Heart Patient's Association, which supported Thomas towards the end) and the Sticklepath Fireshow which represents the kind of creative community spirit which Thomas loved to be part of - and which had the fire element so important Thomas. He was part of the build for several productions, his puppets often taking a front stage role, even this last year when he was feeling awful. They have used his money for the Crafty Capers Workshops, so Gappy, Pickle and I will be checking it out and getting messy.

And while I've been gallivanting about, there's been a bumper crop of babies delivered. So, welcome and much love to

These are on their way to you :o).

Thursday, 16 August 2012

On Gardening

So, we know I'm trying to become a gardener (says so just up there), but now we also know my garden looks like this. Clearly I am a bit resistant to actual gardening. I could spin you a web of time and non-childproof garden features and weather and unfurl at your feet my well-rehearsed Things To Do scroll, but I find time to make name signs (look right), so why not be out in the garden I want to learn from and grow with? Why not be physical and earthy in the way I wish to be? Too much death, that's why.

If you've been with me a little while, you'll know that my husband, Thomas, died six months ago. And six months, in a soul-deep bereavement, is just a wink of Kali's long-lashed eye. For half a year I have been creating a good home for my girl, making art for people I know and people I will never meet, writing stories and poems and blog posts, growing in many directions and watching Pickle grow with stellar speed. I have been gathering beautiful things for our house. I have been acquiring some first-shoot skill on the harmonica and taking us on adventures near and far.

I have been doing. I have not been undoing.

I have managed some sorting of Thomas's things, but mostly when they can go to someone who loved him to use. (Pickle now wears his favourite T-shirts as nighties, which breaks and gladdens my heart.) I have made changes around the house, but mostly in ways Thomas would have appreciated. I have been bold and brave and bloody amazing in my acceptance of his death, and yet, from the corner of my dream eye, I glimpse a waiting place... waiting for my husband to come home, to heal my heart as I could not heal his, and witness the capering wonder that is our girl. And perhaps the garden has become that waiting place.

How can I, then, when I have lost so much and leaned with such abandon on the nature around me, take a blade to Thomas's garden? I have loved the wild chaos of it; rested in its presence. I have been reassured by its unequivocal assertion of life. And I have only just started to believe that this could really be my garden and not me hacking ignorantly at a bounty which also waits for Thomas's care.

But. And it's a big butt. He is not coming home. The garden is now mine. Or, to borrow wisdom from Australian Aboriginal people, it is now I who belongs to this garden. Pickle makes her own explorations of it and celebrates every flat surface with chalk, but if this land will be anything other than an unweeded wilderness, it is me who must make the change. It is me who must kill and clear and pull and slice and manipulate. I'm finding it a challenge to summon the ruthless confidence in my decisions necessary for gardening. I am loving the soil on my hands, but not the blood. Dandelion blood sticks a long time. I'm just not a Conquistador at heart. I'd be a rubbish Crusader. I have no missionary zeal to persuade the fern which almost blocks passage up the steps that, on balance, it is better for it to die, or at least be very much maimed and constrained. Who am I to make such judgements of this land which I hold to be older, richer, wiser and stronger than this person-self can ever hope to be? Who am I?

Mulling on this as I winced my way along the hedge with loppers, one eye out for nests to arrest my anti-progress, it occurred to me that I have none of this angst when sculpting. I take a piece of stone, older than the earth from which the hedge grows, and I scrape and bore and riffle away untroubled by the dust to dust falling all around me. I feel creative, as if I am transmuting a stone created by a thousand influences into one created by a singular, more intentional, influence. That feels fine. That feels good, an honouring of the stone itself.

The difference is that I can experience, with a little imagination and a little opening of my soul, how it is to have one's branches cut or to be pulled up at the roots, but my empathy with my sculpting stone is more cerebral; less felt. So, the difference is that it hurts me  more to cut green than to cut stone. Ah. And I thought this was about my great heartfulness. Ha ha.

Still I am left with the question of how manage this piece of land without feeling like (or being) a little copy of the imperialist patriarchy I am, unavoidably, a product of. I answer myself with semantics:

I will not 'manage' this land. I am not the boss of it. I come as a student; as an apprentice and as a child.
I will nurture this land as a parent nurtures a child by discouraging damage and encouraging nutrition.
I will tend this land as a nurse tends a patient by removing bacteria and offering love.
I will place all my senses at the service of this land so I can understand when I am getting it wrong and see the path to getting it right.

I hope these words will take root as I progress. And I hope it will be progress in the old-fashioned sense of making-things-better.

As an antidote to my blundering blather I leave you with Pickle in my parents' well-tended garden, happily watering the plants moments after rain. She watered the puddles, too, to watch the circles. Sometimes the wonder really is in the doing and there is a joy I could never think my way to.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Green and blue

Our house has always been a little otherworldly. It is built into a hill, like a hobbit hole, (the same hill which holds the body of Thomas) and has water flowing underneath - great for moving energy along and encouraging an open-palmed, open-minded flow in our lives, but not so good structurally speaking. Returning from a hot, bright holiday (thank you, thank you sun), Pickle and I found this house has become more fairytale than ever. The top garden is almost impassable for me and impenetrable for Pickle and brambles have crept in at the windows to fasten round the first thing they touch. We were only away ten days! 

I wonder, if we left for a year (and a day, perhaps), whether the house would disappear from this world altogether - either by passing into some other realm or, more likely, being subsumed by greenery.

Nature abounds and bounds and slithers and buzzes and creeps and flits and oozes. Nature rules here. I love it. It feels safe, like I'm being reclaimed by my true family - by blood. 

But I have neighbours. Lovely neighbours, who have been kind and patient with the wildness on our land. They have regularly-mown lawns and small children who do not want to encounter our bastard triffid-nettle army, our orcish dandelions and ragwort. They want grass. 

So. I will begin the eternal dance that is gardening, even though I don't quite know the steps of ruthless reduction, removal and replacement, while nature surges all around me in a storm of vitality. And every now and again, I will down tools and, getting very close to the earth, whisper encouragement.

The world has been encouraging me too, as ever. Pickle and I have been adventuring far and near. Bill and Anne have visited to chase the elements with Pickle.

We gathered a couple more friends (as happens) and visited Thomas's grave in unexpected sunshine, sharing snacks and the work of barrowing the kids around or holding them by arms and legs, face down and 'flying' them through the long grass.

Thomas's hawthorn is growing well and his oak is exploding out of its tube.

The next time the sun deigned to shine on this soggy corner of the moor, we went to our first festival without Thomas. Chagstock is just on our doorstep and gets better every year. I had to listen to the headliners from the tent as Pickle announced 'the sun come up' before 5 each morning and would not accept my story that it was still the night. The Fun Lovin' Criminals sounded so good I danced in my sleeping bag. Pickle had a great time on all the rides and swings and the bouncy castle

and exploring all the weird and wonderful arty things about the place. She very courageously shook hands with a 7 foot dragon, but not the big blue puppet lady. 'Too close' she said and the lady hurried off to terrify another small person.

With just one hour to unpack and pack, we set off for Jersey to spend another week camping with Gappy, my beautiful sister-friend Bonnie (Pickle's goddessmother) and her daughter. So good to be close to the land again.

Pickle learned new skills

 and celebrated climbing a 20 foot mole hill with her new friend.

 We found unexpected marvels

 'Can I climb?' asked Pickle.

 The blue was a dream. It's been ages since I've swum in the sea and I miss it. Giving my body to that expanse. Being so held and so vulnerable (years ago a Jersey riptide tried to take me under). Divine.

 We found a little cliff walk which reminded us of home

and led to a rocky cove where we could dabble in bath-warm pools and find a dozen different coloured pebbles.

 Our way home was just as beautiful

and we left with plans to return next year.

I am not at all robust lately, but cleansed a little by sun and sea and time spent on the earth. And I am listening, repeatedly, to this:

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