Thursday, 31 October 2019

That text message

On this day, thirteen years ago, I babysat my friends' twins. My friends came home late, jolly and keen to continue the party. What's a girl to do? Drink too much wine, is the answer. Except, although it definitely felt like too much wine the next morning, I now think it was exactly the right amount.

Stumbling home I realised I'd received a text from Thomas. Nothing unusual in that; we'd been friends for years and had been in regular contact since he'd moved to Wales to study a couple of months before. I was very pleased to receive this text. I was very pleased to receive every text from Thomas. In fact, I had been trying to conceal how very much I was missing his presence in my life.

I'm blaming/crediting the wine for what happened next. I sent this message:

'I think I'm in love with you.'

He replied:

'If you say that again I'll have to come home.'

'I am in love with you.'

Cut to me loitering by the bus stop, feeling slightly terrified and weirdly shy, waiting for this scruffy, leggedy, joy of a man to come home, where he had always belonged, by my side.

Samhain blessings, everyone.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019


It's been an intense week.

I can now drive round a roundabout, even a complex one with weird lane changes or traffic lights or an overturned trailer of hay or all of the above, without breaking a sweat. I mostly even take my intended exit. So now my driving lessons comprise two hours exploring the shortest, blindest, deadliest slip roads known to West Devon. And then, when I am so tired I can barely think, I drive through Chagford and run the gauntlet of horses and double-parked delivery lorries and roads created for tinners' sleds. Ah, the joys of rural life :).

The final year of my degree's up and running now. I am jogging alongside trying not to look winded yet, although the truth is I'm already developing a stitch and when I peeked ahead at the essay questions I almost fainted. But everyone and their dog's running now, it seems, so this is my version and I won't quit until I get to the finish line, whatever state I'm in by then.

My little job has begun, which has already meant I got to have coffee with Terri Windling and Ellen Sherman while they discussed writing. (Tilly was of course in attendance, but chose on this occasion not to join in the discussion.) At one point Terri mentioned the Jean Rhys quote:

'All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. And then there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don't matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake.'

and I realised that's part of why I'm loving this work. Jean Rhys is talking about one's own writing - and, next year, yes with a hallelujah on top to that - but it's how I think about assisting a writer and artist too. I may not be pouring my own words into the lake, but I am removing obstacles so other words and art can get there. It seems a very humble thing, but actually feels important and deeply satisfying.

I feel Rhys has set the bar uncomfortably high for 'trickle', so I'll say I've added a puddle-splash to the lake. It's just one poem, but it's my poem and I'm proud of it and it's (soon to be) published, so I'm very happy about it. 

Meanwhile, there are still those girls to raise. 3yo is having a dressing-up phase. Here she is on the way to collect her sister from school:

and I am feeling quite emotional about 9yo's decision to learn the fiddle. I've bought her a half-size one, but I still have Thomas's and it would be a wonderful thing if she could play it one day.

Last Friday was the ten year anniversary of our wedding.

I manage these powerful dates a little better each year. We were given some homemade mead as a wedding present, to be drunk in 2012. We had planned to celebrate our second wedding anniversary with it, but of course that didn't happen. It has just been standing miserably at the back of the teas cupboard all this time. So, as our women's group gathered so near my anniversary, I risked the possibility of explosion and/or poisoning and opened it. It didn't explode and it was surprisingly drinkable (in tiny quantities - it's definitely potent!). Even 9yo had a sip, and although she pronounced it 'disgusting' and went back to elderflower cordial, I'm glad she tried it because she was at the wedding too :).

I am definitely not a writer who can work whilst drinking alcohol, but I'm raising a virtual glass of this mead to love in all its forms and to the next ten years. Cheers!

Monday, 23 September 2019

Fast slow worm video

I'm not expecting this video to break the internet or even be of great interest to anyone. Really this is just me playing with tech and choosing a video which has the great advantage of not displaying my face. It does have a  very handsome young slow worm and 3yo cutely finding it a 'home' (it was a leaf), which was rudely spurned.

Enjoy :).

Thursday, 5 September 2019

One good thing

The ticker tape streeling through my mind in various shades of urgency does not stop. I need to just accept that it has not and will not ever stop. Except, of course, it might. But for now, while there's just me and the girls and the meals to prepare and the house and the garden and the study deadlines and the driving lessons and and and and See? Endless streeling which can quickly become strangling if I don't keep snipping at it like it's some enchanted forest of briars with something worth having in the centre. There is nothing in the centre. All this effort to snip off this task and that task, get as much done as I humanly can...if I could magically make it all done; then for one shining, bleak moment I would have nothing. And I've never liked nothing. I've done a lot of workshops but they've never won me round. (It's the hen thing again.)

So I am left with the doing, but a deep need to be doing less frantically and more gracefully. Maybe I could go at my ticker tape thicket with a scimitar instead of shears. Maybe I could stop sometimes and look back at all I have actually done. I get so determinedly focussed on what I have yet to do that I forget I have achieved at all.

I have raised an exceptionally lovely human all the way to nine and a half. Here, she is industriously making granola balls for everyone at the outdoor skills camp the following day, wearing her Dada's T-shirt which has been her nightie for seven and a half of her years. I have just confiscated the maths workbook she was doing in bed by torchlight. Kids these days...

And another wild and wonderful human all the way to three and a half. Here she is on her daily forage for breakfast, still in her onesie :).

I have, through both luck and judgement, come to this spectacular place to raise myself and my children:

So far so loved-up and homely, but what gnaws at my bones is the writing I have not done. And I don't know why, when it's the one thing which brings me OUT into the world with a ferocious courage I can barely believe when I am unwriting. Yes, the time lost feels like time unwriting work which now will never be. It is a tragic loss, if only to myself. Every circumstance I could stutter in mitigation matches that of someone who just wrote anyway.

'Tis as 'tis. No more unwriting. Poems have been coming, which is new and surprising. I have sent some of them out with sturdy boots and knapsacks to see what they can make of themselves. The final year of my degree starts very soon. It mercilessly chomps at my time, but also makes me read good writing deeply and so fills the wordwell. And a tiny but perfectly formed job has been placed in my hands. I keep looking down at it like it's a bird's egg. It feels fragile; it has not yet begun; it may only last a short while. Terri Windling has asked me to be her assistant. We will discover the exact shape of the role as we go, but basically I'll do some of the non-creative work which is intrinsic to the business of writing and editing. I'll learn a lot and get to spend time in the happy company of Terri and the famous Tilly.

Sometimes you just need to achieve one good thing:

In the spirit of which, I have cut my own hair. Again. So here I am looking very pleased with myself despite 3yo quite painfully getting her foot caught in my earring. And, yes, I do know filters exist.

Friday, 16 August 2019

On hens and enlightenment

Terri Windling recently wrote a blog post which included Parker J. Palmer's thoughts on 'the admonition to 'keep death before one's eyes daily''. I started to write a comment but it became too much and so I returned, the prodigal blogger, to share with you my thoughts on death and enlightenment, through the medium of hens. (Did you miss me?)

There was a time when death was 'before my eyes daily'; I couldn't escape it. Perhaps it is a lack of courage in me, but when I lived with a moment-to-moment consciousness of my mortality and that of all the people I love; looking to the future became impossible. I literally couldn't plan, even a daytrip, even a meal. Life was difficult. And terrifying. 

I think of that time when people talk of 'being in the moment': I just couldn't make it work in my actual practical life. I was like the chooks I cared for when I lived in a commune. One would suddenly flutter over the gate. She'd peck about for a bit, then notice how far she was from the others. Bocking in alarm, she'd hotfoot it to the gate and flap and fluster there indefinitely, living quite perfectly in the moment, having forgotten that with just a short run-up she could easily fly back over the gate, and not possessing the imagination to plan that in her future. Eventually I would walk pass and scoop her up, mutter some insulting words of endearment and chuck her back over. By the time she'd landed she'd have forgotten there even was a gate. 

There is a real wisdom in letting go of the constant planning and organising and controlling the minutiae of our lives. I get that. And a lot of the past is best forgotten just to free up a bit of brain space for poetry and PINumbers.

But the years I spent at the gate, so close to death I saw it every time I blinked, they remind me to keep life, too, 'before my eyes daily'. I like to plan good meals for my girls, and it is a blessed relief to be able to imagine them older than they are now so we can plan many happy days together.


Sunday, 4 February 2018

Working for Love

The third essay's been handed in and the house isn't a total hazard to the senses, so I've snuck in a bit of actual earns-me-money work! Specifically, four new cards:

'Moon and Roses' (bring your own Becherovka); forever shining in full bloom:

('The Rising Moon' card to the right is taken from Danielle Barlow's wise and wonderful 

Finally an 'I'm Loving You' Valentine's card. Apologies to those who have been asking for this for ages:

and a couple of Thomas's prints which have also been requested as cards:

the ever-popular Bagpiping Angel:

and 'The Last Human', which is my favourite because it is full of such faith in humanity:

See, I don't just muse about Victorian gothic texts and desperately try to keep up with all the new ways to do maths homework and help small people blow the noses of inanimate creatures. Sometimes everyone else goes to sleep and I do some actual work! I love those times :).

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Storms are Forecast

Christmas was good! We sang carols in a big barn. We hosted friends at our house. We had a very good time with all my family and I enjoyed the sense of holiday I always get when I'm at my parents' house. We gave and received lots of presents and ate lots of good things. I even did a bit of studying in quiet moments, not that there were many of them.

Manna and my dad reading 'Press Here' for the tenth time:

Ember ice skating for the very first time (my dad on the left, about to crash into the barrier and my nephew and sister on the right helping not at all):

About halfway through present-opening, the girls hit a lull and got engrossed in one new thing. Ember drew an intricate tesselating design for a tree in her notebook ("It's like your art, Mama") and Manna made colour-sorted cog towers. I had a cup of tea :).

One of our loveliest gifts has been Manna's very own quilt, made my her great grandmother. It's toddler-bed-size, but so lovely I couldn't wait and she's using it in her cot already. Everyone in the family has one of these. They are all different and represent hundreds of hours of work. We are very lucky.

And we have been doing some 'normal' things too, things which we know make us very happy. We have been to our lovely mum-run forest school and marauded about with sticks.

Ember has done more rushwork with Linda Lemieux, who worked a lot with Thomas and taught him all he knew about weaving and basketry. It is special to both of us to see Ember showing such enthusiasm and aptitude for this. Here she is, happily engrossed in a basket, with splendidly muddy trousers :).

My mum showed me some 'lovely' photos of myself. I was appalled and cut my hair at once!
So instead of this:

I now look like this:

Well, actually right now I'm in my pyjamas, but I won't inflict that on you.

We have enjoyed the bracing Dartmoor weather (read: sideways rain) and taken advantage of milder days to scramble about outside and, of course, splash in all available water.

More storms are forecast; internally too. I have made it through the sixth anniversary of Thomas dying. Usually I hide in my house behind the biggest bag of crisps I can find, but this year I experimented with going out. A friend had organised a clothes swap (very hard to resist on any day), so I got a babysitter (another thing I 'don't do') and had a good evening seeing how I look in clothes I might never actually buy. Fatter than expected, is the first answer (those damn steroids!), but also pretty good. So I have a selection of the kind of clothes I love...and a bright yellow miniskirt which hasn't been out yet, but definitely will.

On Monday 29th, Manna will be exactly the age Ember was when Thomas died. I cannot hug either of them enough at the moment. I cannot look at them enough or say enough prayers of thanks that they are mine and they are here and that, thanks to my mum, I will be here for them for a very long time.

Storms are forecast, but if you're dressed right, you can cope with anything.

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