Thicker than raindrops on November thorn

Frida Kahlo (1907 - 1954)  Self-portrait with Necklace 1933

Already November is here; mists, mellow fruitfulness, all that, but also Na-No-Wri-Mo and Movember.

I have always ignored the fuss made about Na-No-Wri-Mo.  Even while I was taking Creative Writing courses and could tentatively call myself a writer, the thought of tackling the n-word at all was inhibiting.  I can barely read one in a month, so the thought of attempting to write one in that time made me want to find a quiet corner and sob.  So I did what I do when something scares me, I ignored it and nestled in the smugness of its non-existance.

But a couple of weeks ago, I blew it.  I told someone I could never do Na-No-Wri-Mo.  Not only did I admit its existence – thereby making it undeniably real – but I also awakened my inner mule; tell me ‘you can’t do that’ and I will huff and puff and I will find a way.  My way can be flexible and non-linear, but it will have the essence of the original in the way that a poem will be the essence of a truth even if details must be changed to get there.  It is in this spirit, then, that I have reinvented Na-No-Wri-Mo for the word-challenged: Wri-Mo-Micro.  Instead of 50,000 words in 30 days, I will attempt to write at least 100 words every day throughout November.

As for Movember, that’s easy.  I’m with the guys.  Come November 30th I’ll be twiddling my handlebar as I read back over my month’s vast writings.


Roseraie de l’Hay

Roseraie de l'Hay

I feel bad that I don’t remember her name; she was a lovely old lady, white-haired and soap-scented.  We lived next-door to her for eight years, we couldn’t have called her Mrs Next-Door for all that time.  And besides, I seem to remember Christmas cards being exchanged, so her name must be in there somewhere.  But it won’t surface and I feel discourteous.

Merry Christmas to you all,


Mrs Next-Door and Jeanie.

See, I remember her daughter’s name, but then Jeanie is difficult to forget – a lean woman with pale ankles, long squirrel-coloured hair, a thick stripe of red across her thin lips and everything else green: emerald eyeshadow; lime clothes; olive sandals; even her bedroom glowed jade.  When things got too much for Jeanie, she would take her bongos and her glockenspiel into the garden.

– It’s her glands, Mrs N-D told me once.  I worry about what’s going to happen to her when I’m gone.

Mrs N-D died last year, and what is happening to Jeanie is that she’s selling up and moving to Penzance, to be closer to a creative community.

Roseraie de l'Hay

When you drive into this city – I guess this is probably true of most cities – you get a feel for the localities by their street signs. Or lack of street signs, such as when you pass through rural villages (think The Archers) on the outskirts, where rights and responsibilities are taken seriously and any reminder might be considered condescending and reported to the parish council.  The signs begin, then, further into the city, tentatively, tucked between the leaves of the suburban Stepford estates –

Streetlight not working? Call us…

They are in full swing by the time you reach the council estates –

Kill Your Speed, Not a Child

and by the inner city – the neighbourhood as near to a ghetto as this tiny city can muster – they have lost all sense of decency:

Prostitution is a Crime! 

This is where we live now.  Posh end, mind.

When we lived next-door to Mrs Next-Door, we were somewhere between speeding admonishment and lighting reassurance; a comfy place to be, and when I saw her house up for sale, I flitted with the possibility of returning; to take the kids back to the street they were born. The possibility was slight, but I had to explore it, decide whether to persue it.

I mentioned it first to my home-bird boy.

– But you’ve just decorated the front room, with the comfy settee, and had the stove fitted. It’s so cosy, I don’t really want to leave.

– The settee could come with us, and we could have a new stove fitted.

He looked at me doubtfully and returned to FIFA 13.

So I suggested the idea to my daughter.

– It’s alright here, why would we want to leave?

– Wouldn’t you like to be able to walk home at night without being hassled by cars full of men?

She shrugged.

– It’s character-building, Mum.  If I get to uni next year, nothing and nobody’s gonna scare me.

– Well, that’s a positive way of looking at it.

– Yeah.  Besides, I like when I tell people where I live and they look all shocked.

I didn’t think our address was enough to provoke shock, but if it makes her happy… and sonny-boy is content with his creature comforts, wherever they’re located: just me to convince.

This here is an interesting place to live, but sometimes the enmity threatens to take over.  Especially when driving; a sport that has few rewards for fair play around these narrow streets, where civility is viewed as a weakness.  People seem overwhelmed by their own problems; struggles arouse hostility, drives out humanity.  Look closer and you will find integrity and grace, but they are harder to come by.

Roseraie de l'Hay

I spent this afternoon in the late-summer sunshine, tidying the front.  I trimmed the yew that I’m trying to turn into a hedge, pruning it back to leave room for the daffodils to poke through in the new year.  (Last February they were just about to open when I found all the buds snapped off and strewn on the pavement: we’ll try again next spring.)  When I had done what I could with the yew, I moved on to clip the lavender edging.  (A few weeks ago, I found that someone had dumped a dirty carpet on top: once I’d lugged the big muddy square into the bin, the lavender soon sprang back to life.)  My final job was to hack at the Roseraie de l’Hay, my beautiful rugosa rose.  Rough and tough and thorny, the deep rich crimson of its carefree flowers in the summer is matched by the exuberance of its perfume, but this late in the season it is past its best, so I chop back, save its energies for next year.  I was nearly done when I noticed Mrs Atwal standing beside me (the two Mrs Atwals were introduced here: this was the sedate one).

– Are you throwing the sticks away?

– Well, I was going to…

– Please can I take one? I’d like to put it in the soil of our garden to see if it will grow.

– Of course.

– I walk past here every day.

– Yes, I see you sometimes.  (I don’t tell her I used to buy 10p mixes off her in her shop, but I wonder if she remembers me.)

– In the summer, this rose smells beautiful. I asked my sister and she smells it too. We would love that in our garden, thank you.

 – You’re welcome. I hope it works for you.

Roseraie de l'Hay

Once outside was spick and span, I came inside and checked the estate agent’s website.  Mrs N-D’s house is sold: Jeanie will get her dream, get to live where she wants to.

I will keep on living here, keeping searching out the grace.  After all, this here is an honest place to live, and my kids have lived here longer than anywhere else.  After all, it’s our home.

Roseraie de l'Hay

I have a dream

I don’t remember what I’d said, but it had made him laugh, briefly, before the seriousness we both recognised, settled.  His eyes focussed too long on mine, then scanned my mouth.  He took a deep breath, exhaling slowly and unsteadily as he moved closer, as he bowed his head down to reach me.  I felt the roughness of his thumbpad on my cheeks and our lips brushed; the lightest of touches…

Not likely – boomed my unconsciousness, and gave a good poke in the ribs to ensure I was woken fully.  For the hour that remained before my alarm set The Today Programme upon me, I pondered my unconscious and its increasingly unkind behaviour.

Until a few months ago, we’d got along fine.  Then one day, the good ladies of the office had a discussion about recurring dreams:

I dream that my hair falls out – said the bold one at the front.

I dream that I’m sitting on the bus and I realise that I’m naked – said the timid one at the back.

I dream – I added from the corner – or rather I used to dream, that something horrible happened, but when I tried to shout out, I had no voice.

That night, I dreamt that I had a hard swelling, right in the hollow where my neck and chest meet.  It was leather-brown and ribbed, like the pupa of a large grub, and my fingers worried it and worried it until it fell off into my hand, leaving a gaping hole at the base of my throat.

Bugger, I’ve self-tracheotomised – I thought.  I can’t breathe, I’m done for.

I held onto the air in my lungs; the few extra seconds it gave allowed me to acknowledge and accept the finality of death.  When my lungs could hold it no longer, I released my breath and instinctively I gasped for air.  The air did not seep from the stoma in my throat as I had expected, but instead refilled my lungs: and again, and again. I breathed and I lived on.  I cried out in joy.  Or at least, I tried to; my cry wheezed silently from the grub-shaped gap.

It was only when I recounted this dream to my ladies that I realised I’d been set up.  It can’t have been chance that a random dream just happened to end in a way I’d described hours before.  My subconscious must have planned it: planted it.  This is contrary to how I thought my brain in general – dreams in particular – work.  I had visions of a democratic process – id, ego and super-ego working together in harmony to organise my mindspace and its contents:

Ego: so guys, here’s what I’ve experienced today.  Make of it what you will…

(video plays)

Super-ego: OK, that right there.  See what you did there?  You learnt from a mistake.  That’s a great learning strategy, well done.

ID: blah blah strategy blah.

Ego: no, I think Super is right.  It might come in useful, we should keep that in the Long Term pile.  So, let’s see what’s up next, guys…


ID: oh my! Oh, that’s good, can we keep that?  Can we, can we, can we?  Oh, can we? Please say we can!

Super-ego: certainly not.  You shouldn’t have been looking at that angle – C for chickenshit.  File it.  Now.

Ego: I’m not sure, Super.  It wouldn’t hurt just to poke a bit of that into a dream?  Huh?

Super-ego: well…

ID: gwarn Super!

Ego: oh Super, you’re just the best.


Turns out it’s not a democracy but a dictatorship.

I had a dream.  I think he may have been Ifan from Information – sweet guy, not normally considered fantasy material (he’s Welsh for a starter) but dreamers can’t be pickers, especially when they’re being bullied by their super-ego.


I wanted to go with this:

But Super, she insisted on this:

I got blisters on my fingers

Imagine, if you will, me as zulu warrior dancer.  I hold up my rake as a spear while my feet stomp along in lines, around in circles.


Friday was a furious walk to work.  When I get home, decisions will be made.  A phone will be called… emails sent even. 

But they weren’t.  Instead, this being bank holiday weekend, I spend my frustrations and energies in what we laughingly call the garden but is more of a wasteland.  I want a seating area, so I choose a small sloping section in front of the bedroom windows to transform.  I dig it over, move a ton of soil, and what is left I level, ready for decorative aggregate.

Which explains my dance.  Rake, stomp, check, rake, stomp, check… I pass a happy Sunday morning.

The mud I tread into the house is soon mingling with Yorkshire mud that my daughter brings home from the Leeds festival.

Every other word is fuck, she says.

Needn’t bring that northern muck here, I say.

Was so funny tho, Ma.  K had so much E Saturday that he woke up Sunday with blisters all in his mouth and throat, so D was trying to spoonfeed him cold cream of chicken soup.

Sounds hilarious.

But that was all claggy so we cracked open the cream of tomato instead.

Wise choice, I say.

She tells me that raving in the rain was probably the best experience of her life, and that the most depressing thing in the world is the end of a great festival; walking alone through muddy fields of mostly-empty tents, the odd person you pass is either sobering up or hungover and you have seven hours before the coach home.


Summer in the city


This morning’s tour of duty; boy’s room first, open the blinds.  Nearly a teen and he’s still my baby boy, my puppy dog.  Two weeks today since I last saw him.  He’s off round Europe in a motorhome, playing Max to his dad’s Paddy. Not long till the weekend is my mantra.

But for now, I’m alone.  Girl in Africa, boy in Europe.  Sister on some island in the Med, friend in Scandinavia.  Utterly alone.  Even Les next door has escaped to Blackpool for a few nights.  In general, I think I do quite fine with alone, but these are testing times and I’m feeling kinda forlornely.

I consider taking Regina’s advice and finding a protest, to rub up against strangers; but this is a tiny city and its best offering is a rerun of Macbeth at the independent cinema. I settle, it’s ok.  Reminds me of when my boy nudges and says come watch the rugby with me, Mum; I get the gist but not the finer points and when I tire of concentrating, the scenery is easy on the eye.

Back at the car park pay-station, I find my plastic park-card and hold it out ready to slot it in, but there is no slot.  I wave it around in hope.

Just hold it up there, duck, where them three lights are.  A head peeks out from under the paymachine and a grimy finger points up to guide me.  Right up there – look, says the crosslegged imp, patiently.

Right, thanks I say.  I show the card to the buttons and like a jackpot in reverse, they flash rainbows and tell me how much to pay.  I feed a note into the machine and it spews out a few paltry coins, which I press into the grubby hands below.  Spend it wisely, I counsel, I hear wet wipe washes are the way forward.

Walking to the car, my phone rings.  My boy tells me he will be home in about an hour.

But you’re not coming home till the weekend.

Change of plan.

Well, that’s great, but couldn’t you have let me know?

I told you Monday didn’t I?

No, you said the weekend.

Hmmm… oh yeah, I wrote it on the postcard.

I see.  And when did you send the postcard?

Well, I couldn’t find anywhere to post it.

So, you’re bringing me the postcard that you wrote to tell me you’re coming home?

I could hear his grin, the sweetheart.



Missing my daughter

I close the curtains and breathe the air.

I sit on my daughter’s empty bed and close my eyes.  I see a tiny girl in a high chair.  She wears a tangerine playsuit, her dark hair is split into short, mischievous bunches, and she is play-frowning as she sits waiting for me to make her peanut butter sandwiches.  As a toddler, she had beautifully expressive feet: oh, how indignant they could be, and again so joyful.  She smiles at me as she theatrically furrows her brow, but the angle of those feet; the tension in them, let me know that a real tantrum is not far behind if I don’t hasten.  Just in time, the sandwiches are served and the feet relax; a first bite and her toes wiggle happily along with her jaw.

Always so independent, she developed her own individual smell from an early age.  Now older, stronger-willed and even more contrary, the perfume of her in this room seems to grow more powerful the longer she is away.  Or maybe I just breathe deeper.

It was two weeks ago that she sent her last, nervous, text before flying off to spend three weeks on the plains and deserts of southern Africa with a group of people she’d not met before; it is another nine days before I see her again.  In the meantime, we glean what we can from the weekly group-blog.  The first was heartening; we’re here safely, evenings are spent singing round the campfire and stargazing (generally speaking, the only stargazing my daughter does is watching TOWIE, but first for everything and all that).  The second was slightly more unsettling; we’re off trekking in search of elephants, it’s up to 40º most days and there are no showers – wet wipe washes are the way forward.  And while someone’s son is living on Tabasco sauce, someone’s daughter is a natural breadmaker and someone else’s snores, my daughter – after a week – spoke.

Next update is due tomorrow.

Where the feck…


Just back from a few days in Ireland.   Won’t bore you with all the photos, but this is a special secret place we discovered whilst looking for somewhere to squat (in the bladder sense).

County Cork, Ireland

An abandoned house.  Abandoned not too long ago, by the look of things; the building was structurally fine and in the garden, brambles were still just building up strength for the rampage.

County Cork coastline

I scrambled through the gateway, followed the overgrown path to the porch and turned around. I expected a decent view, but this…

garden to coast, County Cork, Ireland

can you imagine opening your curtains to this of a morning?

Abandoned house, County Cork, Ireland

I couldn’t get close enough to look in the windows, see what state the inside was in.  I love abandoned houses: their potential; the latent promises.  When we reached the next village, I bought a lottery ticket.  I didn’t win.

County Cork, Ireland

This was round the corner from the cottage.  We happened to be there when Cork hedgerows were at their finest.  There were three main staples – red fuchsia, orange montbretia and a lipstick-pink rambling rose.   Sometimes all three tussled for the sunlight and attention; here the roses absolutely won.