Rituals, Repetitions – a year ago – January 2018

January 21, 2019

I wake up gradually, lying in bed with a huge mug of tea, and looking across the neighbours’ rooves opposite to the bare trees. Actually, it’s nothing quite as active as ‘looking’: my sight-hound, Sadie, does proper looking – purposeful, focussed – teaching me what that word really means. I, on the other hand, sip cooling tea with an inward eye, while my mind wanders through familiar sequences of memory: how I came to be here; the stories of mistakes now long gone; how I failed to see the consequences. The usual stuff.

Sadie is my ‘new dog’, my lurcher. I love that possessive, the way it feels itchy in my mind, like a lie or a stolen thing. She doesn’t seem like a creature anybody could own yet she is my responsibility, so there’s some level of ownership there. It’s up to me to keep her in good fettle. I thought that would be easy.

‘New’ – well, let’s be honest – not that new. I brought her home in October, nearly four months ago. She still feels new to me. Maybe she sees me with the same slightly edgy surprise.

A bit before Christmas she was licking at a sore patch on her pad but those very thorough attempts to heal it weren’t doing too well, so I took her to the vet. Checkup. Antibiotics. Cone of shame. Keep an eye on it – all that. It got better. Only, lately she’s been licking another place raw. Online, I find that what was going on was just the tip of some iceberg. Sadie is an obsessive licker. She has a couple of skin ulcers – lesions – that she has created by licking, and which she tends carefully with long smooth loving licks. They will get worse and worse, and some dogs lick their way down into deep tissue. Needless to say, there are some pretty repulsive photos of these conditions online, and some gloomy prognoses. Telling a dog off for licking doesn’t work: they just become secretive with it. Well, wouldn’t you?

It turns out that the act of licking and the sensation of being licked release endorphins – a boost of happiness, feeding a habit that’s hard to break. That, of course, suggests that Sadie is unhappy (guilt, guilt – I am failing my dog) or maybe that the habit was laid down during her previous hard life. She was, after all, a starving stray who had had numerous litters. She must have been a wonderful mum, with all those puppies to lick into life, and then to lick clean. Now the licking has become self-harming, and possibly unstoppable.

I’ve decided that my way forward with Sadie is to keep her happy, and distracted from the sore spots: I’m love-bombing her with petting and conversation; I ponder letting her sleep on my bed at night, (Later: in fact I did, but just for two nights before finding it wasn’t necessary. She doesn’t lick at night.) It’s a slight difficulty that she doesn’t seem to know how to play, but that may come. She’s quick on the uptake – has learned to jump into the car. I saw her pick up a toy yesterday and flick it up in the air. Also, Bandit hasn’t entirely taken to her yet, nor she to him. She prefers other greyhound-types, he prefers chasing a stick.As I go over and over it down the years, it seems worse and worse in my mind, as hindsight reveals the misunderstandings and follies I couldn’t see back then, and I am amazed at my younger self. This is not a useful, still less a healthy thing to be doing. What can possibly be its purpose? I wonder now if there is a kind of soothing in these repetitions of old narratives, this puzzled search for meanings.

I wasn’t thinking all that this morning. In fact, the tea, the warm dog’s body, the bare trees with their little flickering birds, the music on the radio were scarcely present to me. Instead my mind set off incorrigibly to one of those long-gone turning points. The hopes, stupidities and blindnesses that brought me so effortfully to here. Here is not such a bad place to be, speaking objectively, but in my repetitious mind it is an error. All unplanned, this morning I find myself rerunning our move from Cambridge to Leamington in 1978. There’s a palimpsest of muddled memory, like a photo taken with camera-shake, that I return to. Very little of it is in words. A picture, first, of two little boys looking out the front window, waiting for mummy to come, and with that picture comes, re-experienced, a feeling of irritation and pity, mingled, because I wouldn’t do, they wanted her so much, and she probably wasn’t coming. We never knew till the last minute, through those months. It would be up to me to pick up the pieces. Overlaid, and usurping that image is a holiday photo taken about the same time or a maybe a year earlier, of the same little boys, one in a yellow and white stripey T-shirt, looking out a window, their expressions very focussed, almost anxious. There’s no indication in the picture but I believe that they were going for a ride on a little steam train possibly in Wales. That single photo stands forever in my mind as an image of the other, same yet different, repeated event. Overlaid on all this is a fragment of information, dropped casually at some point in the intervening years – more than five years ago, less than twenty – “I told them they would be closer to mummy when we moved house, and see more of her.” It’s a turn of the screw, for at an adult level it was true, but children can be very literal and tenacious of the words we give them. So now I suppose that’s what they were doing, believing that remark, holding to it, and looking, looking to see more of her. The palimpsest now includes anger, recognition, understanding. A wish to go back in time and place, to solve the ‘if only’s and make it all more bearable in the now. Memory can’t even achieve the first of those wishes, but each repetition of that time travel to the much revised and revisited past lodges it more firmly. Down to the bone.

this evening

August 7, 2018

I find it peculiar that we have so much consciousness, and yet so little memory of any of it.
This evening a hot dry wind is blowing high cloud in from the west. A strange, thunderous light, grey-yellow, makes the evening feel unusual. I won’t remember this. I don’t remember any particular previous occasion when it happened, and yet it has a familiar quality. Of course I have experienced it before, but there’s no record of where or when, neither in my mind nor in writing. A posher writer – a less honest writer – might call it sulphurous, but I’ve seen sulphur and to be frank, sulphur looks like cheese, not like light at all.
This evening light is ubiquitous, flat. The breeze is not fresh. And so the diffused light settles over all, while the birches hiss dryly on the breeze.

Returning to the unfinished sequence: Day 6 (continued)

July 27, 2018

I had a wonderful cruise on the ‘MS Lofoten’ more than two years ago now. Somehow, the blog posts petered out when I reached Nordkapp, but I still have my notes and I might be able to find my photos. I still have a strong sense that it needs to be finished.  We left my journey with the travelling sandals at Nordkapp –

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the travelling sandals on board MS Lofoten

Day Six – Monday 16th November 2015 – was overloaded with experiences, and I can’t easily reconstruct their sequence.  You will have to accept the patchwork, and the jumble of times and events.  A little inflatable charged towards us in the dark – orange men in bright orange overalls – and I thought: how strange and wonderful to be one of the people for whom everything is laid on.  In this staged event, a local fisherman came aboard with a bucket of King Crabs (Kamchatka crabs).  “I bring them here for you; for your entertainment” said the fisherman.  Big boots.  He swung on board up a rope ladder – no faking it.  I felt like Elizabeth I on a progress.  What drama would next emerge? These invader crabs are wonderful to eat – but not nice to see them alive and maybe unhappy.  Surely unhappy – crawling around, or lying doggo, on that big plastic bin.  Was I about to see them killed?  I turned tail, revolted.  Didn’t take the photo (forgetting that I’m a sometime blogger and would need it later) – go on the trip yourself if you want to see the show of their struggle.  (This picture was taken in the fish market at Bergen.)

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Kamchatka crab

Before Nordkapp, what?

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A quick walk on the icy wharf at Harvoysund, when a smart black car swept up suddenly – a couple jumped out, embraced, and the woman stepped quickly on board.  A flash car, a sophisticated moment, were unexpected and somehow incongruous in this tiny place.  I gaped like a yokel.

These are puzzling places.  Some seem big: they’re not hick towns at all, for all their wintry inaccessibility.  So very far north, such an extreme climate, yet people still drive smart cars, embrace, express irony.  The houses around the wharf display lights in their windows – an old custom, symbolising lighting the seafarer home.

Our ship takes on cargo – Christmas trees at the next town – around ten am.

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It’s twenty to six, and there’s still dinner, and two more stops to make before today is over.  The boat is gently pitching now, instead of the rolling she more usually does. I suppose it’s to do with turning the top corner.

That was not all on this wonderful day.  Illuminated cliffs as the ship went near to a fjord, and shone its lights onto the steep rocks.  Earlier, I was standing on the deck in the icy cold, enjoying solitude in the growing dark when I realised that I was watching a blue-green light gradually extending itself across the sky.  The Northern lights, displaying themselves in cold abstraction across the heavens.  Behind them, the Plough (the Great Bear – the Ice Bear – the Isbjorn); Cassiopeia winding the lights as her hair.  Somewhere, the Pole Star.  And next to me, sharing them: an exhilarated, deaf, Irish-Australian  woman – Pauline – .  My heart, already softened at Nordkapp, rejoiced, delighted.  It will do feelings, after all, careless of rationality.  Hope and joy: “See, see, where Christ’s blood streams in the firmament – “.  I can’t help thinking it, though the blood bit is all wrong.  The chill green, pale as a drift of cloud, is there whether we are here with our amazement and wonder, or not.  Our primitive awe that takes no notice of scientific explanation, but just looks most deeply at the strangeness of it all.

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 . . .

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Had to buy another copy for Will

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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.

aaa-nicholson

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.

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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.

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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?

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green plastic peeler

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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

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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.

Today
BY BILLY COLLINS

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.

 

 


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