Turning over a new leaf; or, tales of the unexpected

January 1, 2018

This morning, New Year’s Day, I woke late – first time in ages. Extraordinarily, Bandit slept under my bed – his solution to the awful fear of fireworks. That left Sadie alone in the conservatory, though she must have come through to sit on her chair in the middle of the night. And have a couple of pees, as I found when I came to make the morning cup of tea. Tactful Sadie: she chose the bathroom floor (makes sense to me) and the kitchen floor. Mercifully easy to mop up.

Quick shower, dogs outside as usual. Bandit gives his discreet woof, to tell me he wants to come in. Damply, I let them in next, but only Bandit comes in from the garden, so I go out, wet, barefoot but decent in my towel. No sign of Sadie. Has she done a Morgan, and jumped out over the brick wall? I’ll have to get dressed and go in pursuit – and she’s collarless (Sadie sleeps in the altogether) so thank goodness she’s chipped. Thinking about reading dog chips, I go back upstairs, suddenly followed by two dogs. Where’s she come from? My ghost dog – who can appear and disappear at will. Must have slipped back in through the complexity of my multiple outside doors, which in normal circs are opened and closed in careful combinations to structure the dogs’ access to the house. I dry Bandit, who needs drying, and then Sadie, who doesn’t. Further evidence that she hasn’t been outside.

I realise I’ve just put my leggings on inside out. In the spirit of misrule, I choose to ignore this, and go with what fate has meted out to me. Jeans are ok, and bra, but the thermal vest arrives on me backwards. Something wants me to keep my chest warm (these vests are cut deeper at the front, which is now the back).

Another extraordinary moment – somewhere in all that shemozzle I looked at my emails. First time in days. As well as the usual Council business, arbitrary oneupmanship, and appeals for money, there’s one from my brother. He is telling me that our mother is in hospital, having lost her legs (?) on Xmas Eve, and lain on the floor for two days. I guess that’s why she didn’t pick up when I tried to phone her over Christmas. So I spent some time on the phone to her, listening to her fabulous stories (yes – we all know those) and her high opinion of hospital food. Next I phoned my brother, also at length.

An hour and a half of wall-to-wall televised waltzes later, I take the dogs out for their belated morning (now afternoon) walk. Blue smoke is pouring from my neighbour’s house. I’m used to a coaly smell from there, but this looks different and a bit worrying. So I knock on the door, hammer on the door, shout through the letter box and then dial 999 for the fire brigade. They come and climb a ladder, break in a back door, establishing that it’s all fine. Just Pete’s Aga, with the wind in an unusual direction. The dogs and I continue, wondering what we can do to make New Year’s Day special. We choose our canal walk, and stop off for coffee (how wonderful that Procaffeinate is even open!) where I make myself a slice of their free toast – first time I’ve tried that. So relaxed and free, and we are leaving just as the cafe is filling up. Time for thought and planning.

And that’s why I spent hours and hours of the afternoon, and into the early-darkening evening, making a booking to fly to Australia in just over two weeks’ time.


Some things I can do . . . .

June 27, 2017

Some things I can do and some I can’t

I’ve torn a muscle in my shoulder. It’s a ‘complete tear’ which means that I have no strength in my upper arm at all, while my forearm and hand are exactly as usual. This is really weird: when I need the hand, I pick up my arm with my right hand and put it where it’s needed, or else I can use my fingers to crawl it into position.

a selfie of my shoulder

So I thought it would be entertaining to make lists of what I can and can’t do. In fact, there’s not much I can’t do, one way or another.

A. Things I really can’t do.

– blowdry my hair
– swim (but I bet I could float about)
– drive the car
– open a bottle of fizzy wine
– put a clean duvet cover on the duvet
– use the garden clippers – the little box bush and the clematis montana are rampant
– carry out the recycling box
– get to the loo in time, while wearing jeans
– put on a normal T-shirt
– climb the loft ladder
– fix that bally curtain rail each time it comes out
– pick up my baby grandson Danny
– mow the grass
– chop an onion

B. Things I can do with difficulty and/or some ingenuity/patience

– pull up my pants evenly
– hang out the washing (in small amounts)
– read a heavier book for long (paperbacks are easier)
– groom the dog – he’s getting better at that: previously I had to hold him still with one hand
– do up my shoelaces
– put on a really loose T-shirt
– dress myself, in general
– peel a vegetable (in this case, a sweet potato)
– type on a keyboard
– clip on the dog lead
– sleep (except sitting up) – but that’s because of the pain, not the muscle weakness
– refill the bird feeder – actually, it’s hanging it back up on the tree that I can’t do
– refill the cold water dispenser in the fridge

C. Things I can still do pretty much as normal. It’s a really big category. It’s a category as big as life, as wide as being.  Beginning with:

– walk the dog
– vacuum clean the house
– wash up
– sew

read, think, talk, love, write, sing –

I can do everything, really.

ultrasound scan – I love it that they can look inside our bodies.

Shrink this for better resolution.

Lost things

February 1, 2017

Some things I have lost over the past year.
Or perhaps I should say, some things whose loss I have detected

my brand new mobile phone.  In its purple case.(stolen from my house on Thursday – my own fault for being trusting) I guess it is the prompt for this post.

my (I don’t know what you call them) togs was our term as kids. Maybe it’s a Queensland word; or New South Welsh. The clothes you wear to go swimming. Some people call them swimmers, or bathers, or a swimsuit. – Mine are not really lost: I just left them behind at Southam swimming pool on Thursday afternoon (not long before finding out about the stolen phone). So when I phoned the reception desk to ask if they (it?) had been picked up, I had no words that the man there could understand. He got it finally – ‘Ah!’ he said ‘costume.’ I had lost my costume, or cossie, I now remember hearing other children say.

two dog leads (maybe three?) – I begin to lose count. Now I’m using the least desirable one, a short one made of green webbing. Then I tied a piece of rope to the end to lengthen it, and it suddenly feels super special and satisfying to use. You can get a good grip on the rope.

the ice scraper for the car (maybe it fell out? I keep it in the door, so it’s quite vulnerable to falling out). Grey plastic, and a bit broken, but it worked ok.  I haven’t replaced it: I’m finding that a credit card or the edge of a CD box works pretty well. I’m looking forward to using other random objects that happen to be in the car when I need them.

three brand new books, bought at Browsers in Porthmadog, and still in their neat paper bag. (Two late collections by Terry Pratchett and one book whose name I have forgotten). Must have left the bag somewhere; or put it somewhere . . .


Had to buy another copy for Will


Browsers Bookshop, Porthmadog

Nicholson’s Guides to the canal system. I had several (two to the Grand Union, one to the Oxford Canal) – now I only have the Birmingham one.


endlessly useful and entertaining!

No idea where they went – but that leads me to . . .

a substantial list of objects damaged and stolen by burglars on my canal boat in August. I’m not going to re-visit that!!! Goddamn the scallies.

the manual for my lovely Volvo, not to mention the booklet with its service history stamps, all the way from 2005 – maybe it’s still at the garage??

the battle to stop Alumno from building a monstrous student residence on the canal path. They tore up the trees without a second thought.  They’re calling these big dormitories  ‘PBSAs’ now – Purpose Built Student Residences – not to be confused with the PDSA, the much more laudable People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, which treats poor people’s pets for free.


Under construction: from Court Street.  It is HUGE.  The photo doesn’t do it anything like justice.

my courage with locks. Not Yale-type locks, but canal locks. I was always wary, but now I’m terrified. You can die, falling into a lock.  I’m selling the boat, by the way.

a pair of brown leather gloves. They were lovely gloves: I had them for riding, back before I lost my courage for horses. I was mixing them up in my mind with a different pair of brown leather gloves, a bit too big for me, which I think I found in the first place. So I suppose it’s fair if they’ve gone back into the whirlpool of small items of clothing, sifting their way through the world from one owner to another. I did like them, though.


brown gloves just visible – Rhyd yr Eirin – Wales

the black woolly hat with NYC on the front. Another thing I didn’t buy – it was left behind in the house years ago by some schoolfriend of Will’s, but really soft and comfortable. Most of my woolly hats would seem to be temporary residents. (You don’t need a picture of that – everybody knows what they look like.)

two cheap plastic, but very effective, vegetable peelers (vanished really recently). One yellow and one white: now I just have the green one left. How can I have had three for years and years, and now suddenly only one?


green plastic peeler


less adequate peelers – the red handled one is all bendy; the wooden one is quite good at coring apples.


This is a discouraging post – I’m going to stop and write something better.

a poem from 2016

January 2, 2017

In the wall

The quiet house has its small sounds –
the dog rolls over, sighs, softly
rests a paw on the skirting board;
light rain echo-tap taps on the conservatory roof;
my typing, tapping on the computer.
But mostly it’s silence.
Something scuffles in the wall.

– What was that again?
The dog’s tail shuffles in the hall.
– Oh. I see.
Yet – something scuffles in the wall.

Footsteps, stairsteps muffle-clump next door;
Tamil voices outside – the child laughs briefly.
Ducking under clouds, the autumn sun,
westering, strikes sideways through my room –
and something scuffles in the wall.

Inside the chimney breast, long bricked up
something is constricted. Some creature
is turning, scrabbling.
Pay attention.
It stops. Quiet as the grave.
Escaped? – – – – – the smallest of shuffles. – Rat! Rat!

A scary creature is trapped in my wall:
something that will flap, scuttle, rush in my face.

A quiet day passes – gone. Found its way out.

Evening sun rests light on my cream room
And something scuffles in the wall.
Something horrible that can’t get out
is stuck, dying and alone in the dark.

Mike comes over to unscrew the brass air vent,
opens an exit.
The creature is lying doggo.

Another day passes. Mice can live in walls
scuttle in skirting boards. Still the gentle
shuffling, on and off, fluttering, rolling.

We go by the book – chip off plaster
neatly knock out a brick or two, leave a torch
shining, go to the pub to give it some peace –
and return to see soot on the carpet.
Not a sound. Success!

And yet, come the sideways light of afternoon,
So close, next to my work table,
My creature scuffles in the wall.
Four days now, or five. How long does it take to die?
Does a pigeon die faster than a blackbird?

Take the big crowbar to it myself, and the
terrifying lump hammer.
In quiet she may find the courage to leave.
Repeat the torch, pub routine.
Return tipsy to more soot. Proper success.

Morning sun shines in the front window.
Further up and over to the side –
My creature shuffles in the wall. Poor choice!
Silly simple bird!
Crowbar. Hammer. Don’t crush her.
More debris, and now a breeze block to come out,
widen the way into that shallow concrete coffin.
Internet advice says: leave the room.
I only have one room. The phone rings.

And while I’m loudly on the phone, a soft flop –
Pigeon is sitting ruffled on the rubble, hops
up onto a chair.
Perches – long seconds. Launches a brief
battering flight around the conservatory.
Pauses again. She crouches, reassessing –

Then out, out, up, up
into the neighbour’s laburnum and then on –
in her shallow arc of rising flight, up and out,
my beautiful pigeon
skims the roof tiles, bending southwards and away.

make a bigger hole

make a bigger hole


brutal lump hammer and crowbar

brutal lump hammer and crowbar


consider the light

consider the light


dark cream walls and morning light

dark cream walls and morning light


assess the situation

assess the situation


conservatory door

conservatory door


September 21, 2016


Staying at the White House

Stylish, confident: through a mizzling Melbourne rain

cool Footscray edges sideways into spring.

Sticks of the backyard grapevine show infant shoots

near a hopeful carnival of party lights.

Trees still bare stake out this rain-shiny street,

except for a petticoat froth of leaf green on the desert ash

vibrant outside Christine’s bedroom window.

Fraxinus angustifolia.

Where are the dockland gangs now? The sweaty thugs

with their seedy whiff of booze and death?

In the artfully-named corner cafe,

the Footscray Milking Station, casually trendy,

helmeted Sunday morning cyclists pause for coffee;

waitresses busy in bright green and white;

the coffee grinder whooshes white noise –

the exhilarated morning fills

with a familiar settling into relief and calm.

Outside, wide streets and old iron lace –

all coming back up in the world.

Some Things I Forgot to Bring on Holiday

August 3, 2016

– at the Barn in Central France

  • a hairbrush
  • antihistamine tablets
  • my Epi-pen
  • insect repellent
  • moisturiser and hand cream
  • stickers for the car headlights
  • my little French dictionary
  • those two DVDs from the rental company, left at home on top of the telly

Some of these matter more than others.  There was a wasp in the kitchen just now, for example, which did make me think of the epipen.  Then again, I’ve bought some remarkably expensive antihistamines at the Pharmacie – so expensive, and so strong, I hardly care to use them.  Which proves I never needed them in the first place.

Gary, my kind NHS counsellor, says I put myself down too much, so here are:

Some Things I’m Glad I Remembered to Bring

  • binoculars
  • swimsuits
  • cash
  • courage
  • better command of spoken French than in previous years
  • chargers for the laptop and the mobile (yes – sometimes people forget those!)
  • enough pairs of shoes – in my case four, not counting flipflops which are already here.
  • last week’s Saturday Guardian (23rd July).  (Unbeatable articles by Hadley Freeman and Tim Thingummy)
  • my dog, Bandit (never at risk, actually, as he knows when I’m packing)

Now I’ve thought of Another Category

Things I’m Glad that Others Brought

  • last week’s New Statesman (brought by Michael).  I think I’ll start taking the NS regularly.
  • themselves – Mike, Anna, Holly and Raf
  • the game of Botticelli – haven’t played it in years, and never so well as the other evening


Poetry Chain 4

April 17, 2016

I thought I had seen all the poems that were coming my way – obviously most people opted out of the process – but that didn’t matter, as you can see.

– and now, just when I thought it was well and truly finished – came this wonderfully apposite poem from a complete stranger.


If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze
that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house
and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,
a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies
seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking
a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,
releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage
so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting
into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.



Norway in November – Nordkapp

April 5, 2016

Day 6 of my voyage on the Lofoten

The English seafarers of the sixteenth century were amazing people of great courage. Even so, how surprising that they reached so far into the Arctic Circle.  So Nordkapp has been known for centuries.  Surveyed in 1553 by the captain of the Edward Bonaventure, North Cape is the northernmost point in Europe – or so they thought at the time.  In fact the real northernmost point is close by: the neighbouring Knivskjellodden point, a little to the west, actually extends 1,457 metres (4,780 feet) further to the north.  From Nordkapp, one can look out over the Barents Sea, a name remembered from that childhood fascination with names and facts, and a part of the Arctic Ocean: a name to conjure with.

Nordkapp – a snowy, bleakly beautiful headland that the sea and the winds and storms have roughed out of solid rock -marked with a globe.

2015-11-16 11.18.02

Volcanic cliffs jutting into the sea – with an image of the world standing proud.


2015-11-16 11.18.11

To the West, the slightly more northerly point.

At last we have found good snow in this remarkably mild winter of 2015.

But who would want to quibble, after all. Between the two points there are scary crevasses – don’t worry: there was a good fence between me and those cliffs. The sunset light you see here, gently altering, lasted from well before midday onwards through the short afternoon. Pinks and apricots are the light palette of the sky, above this harsh rock and snow.

2015-11-16 11.20.30

The cliff has jagged inlets – mini-fjords, I guess – dramatic in their abruptness.


2015-11-16 11.22.34

2015-11-16 11.24.52

We all took one another’s photos by the globe.  It seemed like the right thing to do.


2015-11-16 11.23.40

On the steps of the North Cape globe: a pair of sandals and a message.

The sandals speak to me directly – I can’t help listening to them – they ask me to take them further on their journey around the world – I wonder whether anyone else will feel that responsibility. . . .  and I leave them there.   For now.

I wonder how far they have come.  Remember the gnomes in Amélie? who sent all those postcards?  It felt like that.

travelling gnome

Given that I’m inclined to address inanimate objects anyway (and emphatically not in a twee way) I knew that it was me they were speaking to.  But, for Pete’s sake, I’m on holiday: fresh responsibility is the last thing I want.  Maybe someone else will adopt them, and I’ll be off their hook.

It’s getting colder, and a low inviting building might offer coffee.

2015-11-16 11.31.40

Sunrise. Or is it sunset?

In fact, inside there is a sophisticated visitor centre, with good coffee and a café; displays about Arctic bird life;  a kind of son et lumière response to the changing seasons of the Arctic Circle;  a film of the Northern Lights (which last I missed – ran out of time).  Perhaps I’m not going to see any Northern Lights at all – but I don’t mind that.  I know better than to set up great big goals for myself.

2015-11-16 11.35.55

Inside the visitor centre: someone has a sense of humour.

I ran out of time then because I was transfixed by simplicity: a narrative series of posters on a wall – the story of the naval Battle of Murmansk.  They call them the Arctic Convoys here, but for some reason I know them as the Murmansk Convoys. The Arctic Convoys and the sea battle when the Scharnhorst was sunk with nearly all hands.  I was moved to tears, reading it, and thought of my father.  How he cared about it all so much and tried to tell us the detail, even in the sixties.  How little I grasped then, or bothered to grasp, back in the day.  But now the terrible story, the awful courage and the dark, cold deaths – I weep for them all, long gone.   Here, at Nordkapp on a clear calm day, it was suddenly poignantly easy to imagine those big fierce vessels in the black dark in a force ten gale, violently and blindly beating towards one another through huge waves, with their appalling firepower and blazing hellish explosions.  When the Scharnhorst went down into those terrifying December seas, only 36 men were saved out of her entire crew of nearly 2,000.

Shaken by maps and facts, I heard the call go out for the bus, so I seized the last moments, as I always will.  This time I lumbered out, crunching the snow, and salvaged those sandals from the steps of the globe: the image of a unified and generous world.

Day six held much, much more – I’ll continue it next time.


Poetry Chain 3

April 2, 2016

Next came a poem from my lovely daughter, and after that, one from her friend who lives in France.  Kate reads this one to her little boy, but it is really for all ages.


Made a boat
from sticks and cloth –
put it on the water
to see it float.
Go boat, go boat
sail across that sea.
Go boat
and sail on back to me.
It’s sea and sky all the way over
my boat flies out across the water
but always comes on back to me.
It’s a good boat
go boat.
She’s a sail boat
my boat.
Go boat, go boat
sail across that sea.
Go boat
and sail on back to me.

Michael Rosen.

It reminds me of – it answers, perhaps – the Alexandria poem, with a loss that is recovered.  The boat is let go willingly, and comes back again in that satisfying, enclosing circle  – the embrace – of the last line.  Might that be because it was released with pleasure and grace?  Perhaps because the poem came from my daughter, and my grandson, I begin to think about the ways in which one’s children go out, go free, and then somehow return, changed and yet the same.


The next poem was in French, and, kindly, my daughter’s friend didn’t translate it for me.

Vert, orange, rouge
les feux sont des fruits,
des coeurs qui scintillent,
des yeux qui s’allument
au coin de ma rue.
dans les soirs de brume,
les feux sont des songes
au bout des trottoirs.

Pierre Gamarra, “Les feux”, La ville en poésie.

Coincidentally, another French poem came in that same day – this time I was glad of the translation, as then I could retro-fit the English back onto the French and find unusual ideas.


L’huître, de la grosseur d’un galet moyen, est d’une apparence plus rugueuse, d’une couleur moins unie, brillamment blanchâtre. C’est un monde opiniâtrement clos. Pourtant on peut l’ouvrir : il faut alors la tenir au creux d’un torchon, se servir d’un couteau ébréché et peu franc, s’y reprendre à plusieurs fois. Les doigts curieux s’y coupent, s’y cassent les ongles : c’est un travail grossier. Les coups qu’on lui porte marquent son enveloppe de ronds blancs, d’une sorte de halos.
A l’intérieur l’on trouve tout un monde, à boire et à manger : sous un firmament (à proprement parler) de nacre, les cieux d’en dessus s’affaissent sur les cieux d’en dessous, pour ne plus former qu’une mare, un sachet visqueux et verdâtre, qui flue et reflue à l’odeur et à la vue, frangé d’une dentelle noirâtre sur les bords.
Parfois très rare une formule perle à leur gosier de nacre, d’où l’on trouve aussitôt à s’orner.

Francis Ponge – Le parti pris des choses (1942)

The Oyster
The oyster, the size of an average rock, is rougher in appearance, less uniform in colour, brilliantly pale. It’s a world obstinately closed-off. However, you can open it: to do so, you have to cup it in a rag, and employ a dull, perforated blade, and go at it several times. In doing so, curious fingers get cut, nails broken: it’s a dirty job. The blows you rain down upon it mark the casing with white rings, like halos.
Inside you find a whole world, to eat and drink: under a firmament (to be precise) of nacre, heavens above give way to heavens below, to create no more than a puddle, an oily olive-tinged squelch, that ebbs and flows, the smell and the sight, fringed along the edges in black lace.
On very rare occasions, scree collects in its lustrous throat. Those who find this immediately decorate themselves with it.

I suppose it’s the crustacean theme, but I find myself thinking of that film ‘The Lobster’ which I saw recently.  Human beings displaying aspects of an animal nature – a specific animal’s nature.  That intersection of the human, the stereotypical view of a creature (our projection, if you like) and the reality of the creature’s existence – seems to me to illuminate all three.

So far, no further poems.  Perhaps that’s my lot?  And what a marvellous lot they are. Thank you, world, for these gifts.

Poetry Chain 2

March 29, 2016

A feature of this chain is that you don’t get poems from friends, but from the friends of friends.  (Given that you – and they – have had to find twenty people to BCC, they won’t necessarily be really close friends-of-friends.)
Last night I received a clutch from Italy – someone has kindly chosen poems in English for me.  Or can it be that Europeans now use English so readily that this just feels normal?  She sent me one in Italian, as well, which will be a useful exercise.  Reading it aloud is wonderful, even if you don’t speak Italian.

Dear Jill,
I could not make my mind up so I am sending you a few of my favourite poems instead of just one!
All the best,
W. Shakespeare Sonnet 23
As an unperfect actor on the stage,
Who with his fear is put besides his part,
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
Whose strength’s abundance weakens his own heart,
So I, for fear of trust, forget to say
The perfect ceremony of love’s rite,
And in mine own love’s strength seem to decay,
O’ercharg’d with burden of mine own love’s might.
O, let my books be then the eloquence
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast,
Who plead for love, and look for recompense,
More than that tongue that more hath more express’d.
O, learn to read what silent love hath writ:
To hear with eyes belongs to love’s fine wit.
Sonnet 15
When I consider every thing that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment;
That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheered and check’d even by the self-same sky,
Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
And wear their brave state out of memory:
Then the conceit of this inconstant stay
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,
Where wasteful Time debateth with Decay
To change your day of youth to sullied night,
And all in war with Time for love of you,
As he takes from you, I ingraft you new.



Dall’immagine tesa
vigilo l’istante
con imminenza di attesa –
e non aspetto nessuno:
nell’ombra accesa
spio il campanello
che impercettibile spande
un polline di suono –
e non aspetto nessuno:
fra quattro mura
stupefatte di spazio
più che un deserto
non aspetto nessuno.
Ma deve venire,
verrà, se resisto
a sbocciare non visto,
verrà d’improvviso,
quando meno l’avverto.
Verrà quasi perdono
di quanto fa morire,
verrà a farmi certo
del suo e mio tesoro,
verrà come ristoro
delle mie e sue pene,
verrà, forse già viene
il suo bisbiglio.
C. Rebora  Dall’immagine tesa (1920)

%d bloggers like this: