Friday, 31 January 2014

The Greenwood Horse


In a western land far from China, the New Lunar Year starts with the cold element of water: it comes in the form of rain. A writer sits at her desk that is also the dining table and a sometimes home for itinerant objects. She favours the chair that faces the room's double windows; admires the view of clustered plant pots and washing draped for drying, the toys left out and a dog changing sleep positions on the leather shine of the sofa. Rain dots and stripes the outer panes, opaques the horizon.
Any new start provokes future thoughts; she thinks; and beyond the fascination of the weather her thoughts wander. Is there a perceivable energy of time patterns? This year represented by a horse, by the element of wood, a masculine force, the colour green: what comes next? Uncertainty is essential: it is the medium of faith. But what does come next? She thinks of horseshoes printed in mud: when they change direction it is done in a curve; where the head points the hooves follow, one step after another. The next step comes next: the direction seems correct. But if one cannot see beyond the rain, it is not important: perhaps it does not exist at all.
She imagines a creature, a green stallion, a steam of exertion rising from gleaming flanks; limbs of living wood; and lets it run free.


Cephalopod Coffeehouse Review


Every month I attempt to remember to join in with other bloggers posting up book reviews. It also helps me to remember to keep making time to read: if you want to write then reading is essential! 


The Island, Victoria Hislop, Headline Book Publishing

This book was given to me by a friend who had inadvertently ended up with two copies. It came with a shrug. I soon picked up why. The story is well researched, well intentioned, the writing isn't what I would identify as bad, exactly. I feel like a heel for pointing this out, actually, because a story with a kind heart is a good thing: but there is far too much tell and not enough show. I like to work things out for myself. Show me a scene, I'll know if people are happy or sad or complicated. I'd rather make up my own mind, it makes me more involved, and the further into the story I go the more this applies. For example, if on page 206 I need to be told that a key protagonist 'was a mistress of restraint… In this way she kept up the appearance of being contented' maybe the writer doesn't think I have bothered to notice this character trait? Is that a lack of confidence in the writer or the reader? One feels slighted! Still, it was a debut novel. I hope a stronger editor or some honest friends will help shake the annoyances out. I didn't regret reading it.

Go here for more January book reviews or to sign up to be a reviewer for February:

Thursday, 30 January 2014

The Book From Singapore



Post arrives from far away. A gift.
182 similes printed; thumbed, skim read, an embraceable greed: desirous to learn.
One page found marked by a folded corner. Opened, this page speaks of uncertainty. Uncertainty in all things: as the base nature of things.
A tree grows, it says; and how to tell which flowers will blow away and which will bloom to fruit?
Without uncertainty, the joy is less; the petals' value fixed.
Without uncertainty, no quest: it makes a futility of any bravery test.
Much to mull over as the sleep coffee balance is recalibrated.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Two Horses And A Punch Line


Three kilometres are wandered with a toddler shoulder perched.
The path rings half way on the hillside: a view of roots elbowing through soft rock and on the other side, tree tops.
She wants to see a horse, the child says, pulling up the earflap on a woollen hat to share a dream.
Like magic then two horses round the stony corner, the wind curls their tails as they pass.
Pin drops of rain press the walk on, on through the car park out to the café.
A pasty is the object sought, this time. There's none: there's a sausage roll. Hot in a paper bag?
Later she tells her Grandad: there was no pasty but there was sausage rolls!
Like a good punch line.
Crumbs down her jumper.
Her Grandma smiles and raids the fridge.

(Three horses passing on a sunnier day.)


Sunday, 26 January 2014

Further Adventures At Dead Tree Field



More boot under the mud than over it. The mud is possessive. A limb could easily pull loose from such a gripped piece of footwear. Mud also steals socks. Patience and years of experience are harnessed: a barely perceptible wiggle releases boot and foot together. This repeats over several steps. At ankle deep the effort is less. A grin appears.
Nearly stuck.
Nearly slipped.
Better to be mud slapped than the one who walks past the open gate uncurious.

Dog throws herself with the proper abandon and sometimes appears as a head sticking up from the hedge. The sky squeezes out more rain, and more. And what do badgers do for drainage? Gaping in the reddish earth these holes evoke cold versions of the Cu Chi tunnel entrances: are they for badgers, then, or do small people live here? Or something humanoid: trollish or faeriefied?
One should not assume to know, of course, lest the world become bereft of surprise.




Saturday, 25 January 2014

Second Helping



Wind sings and anything loose in the cut hedges keeps time. Ferns dance at the edge of the quarry pool. Wind fingers trail water, fuzzle reflected trees. Over the river the shelter in the cow field slams a loose roof panel. In the lane a young fox watches; stolid, legs planted, fur thickly smooth, eyes bright: remembers itself, flees sheepish through stubby thorns. Dog runs, returns, sparkling, dripping mud.
The fat trunked ash lets the wind loosen dead wood to drop later, unexpected.
After the walk the interruptions parcel up:
Mum, I need a- it's okay I got one!
Where's the internet gone?
Can we have a lift? Not yet- oh, never mind.
This pasta is delicious!
Yay, internet!
Parcel: each one takes space and time, is neither entirely unexpected nor a surprise.
Simultaneous: tap type check add tweak.
Soup By Volume Two pours out.
Not dissimilar to the first, of course. But every day has its own flavour.
Today is basil, garlic, red wine. Perhaps a hint of coffee.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Exciting Times Lie Ahead


Little Granddaughter steps out of the bank queue, confidently presses code buttons on the cash point loading door. Eyebrows raise, concerned. I'm not sure what she expected but she tells me it's broken.
'Wass a gonna do?' She shrugs off the problem to the staff.
Grab a shiny red wrapped fortune cookie from a counter display is wass a Nam-ma is gonna do: distract.
Here, I say, hold this. She decides it will be best if clipped safe in my bag; plays with the satchel clasps and forgets the infant bank heisting.
'Ahh,' say the staff, quite smitten.
(Maybe we should try a few more number combinations next time…)
Back at the car she sighs in her seat and says she's not tired. She rubs her eyes, makes grumbly noises.
'Hey, I know what we forgot!'
I open the cookie wrapper, crack the honey coloured crescent: read.
-Ah. I knew that.



Thursday, 23 January 2014

Open Gate At Dead Tree Field


Shy spears of snowdrop have been unhidden by the hedge cutting. Halfway through its tenure, winter is wished away. A blue sky is a portentous sky. A gate that always stands shut; to the field where the dead trees have held long fascination; is open. An open gate is an auguring gate.
Here the hoof prints of the jostling bullocks are left, pressed in the soft ground.
Here is the rubbed wood of their comfortable scratching: above the knotted roots of the larger trunk, serpentine, vascular.
Outlines stark and precise, colours patched, reptilian, like shedding skin, the two trunks stand, faintly lean in: communicative, embracing.
Under tender earth the roots are settled, connecting without need.
These trees have outgrown leaf bearing.
Pared branches unshielded in all the changes of days.
Around them the hoof prints are trod and trod, the cud chewed up and forgotten.





Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Salvage Yard


Other people's rubbish is made of clues. Like at the shops, when you judge a person by the things that are piled on the counter or (best for spying) rolling down a conveyor belt towards bored check out personnel.
(This natural nosiness once prompted what became known as the Rude Shopping Game. Simply fill your basket with bizarre items; for example, plastic handcuffs, a toy mouse, a tube of squeezy cheese and a bobble hat. The idea being to make the check out more fun, give a dull day a talking point.)
Today's recycling mission is old leaflets, cardboard and a ripped bean bag that the rabbit once soiled. Other people drop garden waste, some bagged up landfill. How dull. Perhaps the bags contain nefarious items?
In the wood skip a garden bench nests in splintered plank ends.
Who throws a bench away?
The garden waste people? Are they outdoor redecorators?
The land fillers? They are smiling and it's horribly cold.


Monday, 20 January 2014

Night Road Home


The night and the road are the same shade.
There's no demarcation but the car tyres keep to earth.
An ice mist breathes on anything stationary.
The car tyres roll steady to the door of the warmed cottage.
Coals orange as a low sun behind the door of the little Rayburn stove.
Boys on the sofa, slouchy, watching a laptop because the television broke.
But when they demonstrate the screen goes on and the volume works this time.
-Pah!
In a pan on the electric hob, leftovers fuse with added chilli.
A sip of cold coffee waits in a cup and a dog dreams in her basket.
Good news pings on a phone: a boy baby, they haven't settled on a name.


Sunday, 19 January 2014

Lucky Plastic Cat


The blinds had not been dropped last night, in the living room. The morning was free to enter in, stripe the room in light.

At the window Maneki Neko sits, sunrise facing, beckoning in, her plastic-cat eyes slinky and unblinking.
Maybe like my camera she sees the distance as a bloom of searing white.
Maybe like me she sees unleafed trees; heavy trunks, intricate twigs; against silvery river mist; clouds painterly pink, fiery orange, over a hill; a midnight green hill; a landscape in monochrome and colour.
Maybe her sight is no more than the work of the solar powered sensor: maybe even that is imaginary, merely fancy.
But I like the way her arm clicks, her purposeful composure.
And in view of this, sat at the table where coffee steams from a regal mug, I grant her perfect vision.




Saturday, 18 January 2014

Cinnamon Smoke


Sat on the mismatched dark wood dining chair: look to an unseen distance: stare, calm, wait for words that are looking for somewhere, for what is a word that is never spoken?
An absence, a nothing, unplaced.

A scented candle in a tumbler on the mantelpiece: a thing specific.
Waxy sputter, the last dance of a fat low flame, catches the reflective curve of glass, softer and softer as it shrinks; blue glimmer, red bud, glowing memento, dark wick, captured soot. Like any candle might, recognisable. This one leaves cinnamon smoke.






Friday, 17 January 2014

Friday Night


Heavy eyed, work done. Pages of the novel stack up. The washing up, ignored. Gold plates cake crumbed. Coffee cups everywhere. Clothes are washed, their colours part of the changing design scape we have here. Darkish colours today. A rack of socks in variant textures. The fireplace houses burnt out tea lights. One day we'll take out the pillow that blocks the chimney draft. Toast marshmallows on modest flames. We'll use the barbeque forks or improvise with twigs. Listen to vinyl, to old record hiss. Admire the shadows of the avocado leaves, the poke of ginger shoot, the spiking aloe, the umbrella geranium. We're not sure if the pineapple will survive, but it's always worth a try. Arms on the wooden artist's model are open wide, embracing. It has a shadow that does the same.



Thursday, 16 January 2014

A Breakfast Vignette


It was Thursday so I had breakfast with a lion.
'MMM. Nuh one nee'bix please,' the lion said, examining a smudge on its polka dot tights.
'Do lions eat Weetabix?' By which I meant- are you sure you're a lion?
This prompted head scratching and a rumpled brow: whereupon the lion became a wolf, a howling wolf, who taught us all to howl.
(With a full moon scheduled this made so much more sense.)
A wolf does like a Weetabix, it seems; and making spiders from shadows and baking cakes.

We made the first cake out of a magnetic construction kit.
Delicious!


Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Fiction From Fact


Above the lights of city roads, the moon is close to full. Artifice draws the eye first: the impersonal, the alienation; city clichés: things expected. A view from a car, too, a further segregation. Other traffic is little more than white noise, a concentrated, constant background. Tableaux of reality flit by: outside a bar a man gestures come in, another man raises his hand, nods his head. They wear similar coats. In the chip shop a girl leans over the counter to hand a child some greasy food. Little hands reach up, fingers splayed wide.
Cashiers in the supermarket uncover a misdemeanour. It makes one of them cross, and one of them shrugs off the care, and the others say it is wrong but they can see how it happened. The song of their voices is recognisably human over the drone of air conditioning.
Strips of light overhead, like a surgical theatre, like a laboratory. The numb dread that no one observing will care for a stray from elsewhere. Though what will happen?
Look at the mass of stuff, the patterns, the colours, the possibilities. Coconut water in a can. Want a sack of Madras powder? The regular lines of shelves. The dirt people tread in, that someone is always tasked to sweep up. Over the roof, the moon still shows. People smile, even at strangers. The lit up sign has one uncooperative letter, gapes reminiscent of a missing tooth.
Look how tall the building is, under the moon that reflects in car park puddles, that makes pale islands in a dark tarmac sea.
Create your own reality, live as though it's true?


Tuesday, 14 January 2014

View From The Dung Heap

This morning's view from the dung heap

It is not about the gold rush,
the future glimmer, the when or the if.
That's a dream only.
Sometimes you might go chasing after a lure
when all you love and need isn't perceived
exactly where you are.
Oh my honeyed sweets!
You chase and chase that mirage till you get close,
And it's not what you thought
Or you get too tired.
I get tired to watch it, but the rest of my view
from this fecund dung heap
Is clear.
Funny isn't it? Easier to be didactic
In this erratic form of verse.
I would like to build a house
Bursting with viriditas
Flame heated
It's fine to have an intention
But not to be distracted: so here we are
Learning how to propagate
And cooking on bonfires
And opening our palms to the heat of the
Prosperous fire.


Angry Birds, early version
Shadow tortoise eats shadow leaf.


Monday, 13 January 2014

Banana Mondae


Rain drops like tiny pats of encouragement. Hard work walking when the ground gives way. Sodden earth sucks at boots, slurps at paws. It all is as it is to Dog, happily, unless a thorn wedges in a pad, but only as long as the thorn wedges. Released, straight back to the brambles she goes, bearing no grudge.
A fine line perhaps, between stupid and optimist? The determination to be dour can't be any smarter. Quality of life is the deciding factor.
In a roundabout way this is why we have ice cream for supper. Homemade chocolate sauce is upstaged by the hotplate heated banana: thrown on the Rayburn hob it twitches till we laugh tears.
(Next time there'll be a camera on standby: this time we were struck incapable.)


Sunday, 12 January 2014

Reacquiant



Finding some minutes to spare, a stop in a coffee shop occurs: the first in how long? Unknown. A sense of disjointedly familiar, like a friend you reconnect with and you don't know much of their recent history. You weren't with them when they bought those shoes, for example, but you would still pick that pair off any shelf as representative of their style.
A seat is taken by a long window. The glass is portioned out in thick-rimmed plastic rectangles. Light shades overhead, circles within circles, echo the placing of cup on saucer. Retro modernity.

A man is asking the manager how to access the wi-fi connection, is answered something about a password. There's a dash of urgency on this request. Whatever he has been typing must be ready to be sent somewhere. Staff talk, over by the till, say something about 2am; no, yes, 2am, it was.

There's no door at this coffeehouse, it's designed to be an integral part of a revamped supermarket. On the other side of the glass shopping trolleys line up and cars arrive with a sense of reluctance. Sugar glossed pastries, jewelled in cherries, wink at passers by from the counter. They sigh, remembering their diets.

Meanwhile, one espresso sinks, a few notes are scribbled.
Years have flowed, a river of coffee… from jars of instant, from freezer-kept fresh in foil packs, from cafés, hobs, beach fires, the Rayburn hotplate; from anything on reasonable offer, from the Trung Nguyen tin.


"Ever-newer waters flow on those who step into the same rivers."
Heroclitus 535 BCE- 475 BCE

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Perhaps A Sandwich



Let's have an adventure we said, since the sun is shining.
Just a small afternoon adventure, and then perhaps a sandwich.
New territory will do us good.
We squeeze a car through dark moss lanes, find a wooded valley with lingering mist: exactly the sort of place.
The boys take pictures of it, for reference and for the way the light plays. We talk of these scenes, leisurely, as we pass; the path is wide and almost level.
The different sorts of green; in depth and texture; how our hands feel the shade.
How the firs seemed to march, down to the water, out of the backlit blaze, like out of a spaceship. This is how it looks, to us, as we stretch up hands to catch some warm rays. They come in peace. Ease of progress on this pale gravel trail.
Bikes go by and toddlers on trikes tow parents. Shadow goes by, and pattern and bright sky, filtering. Dogs on leads and muddied, free: all tails wag. A pony makes a fuss, crossing the stream; we turn to watch and see our own shadows, elongated, falling behind.
Travel home, under a blue-sky moon, half dreaming.
Let's have a sandwich we say, and maybe later brew coffee.





Friday, 10 January 2014

Lunch


A sky as grey as a neglected net curtain, no wind to stir it.
Sat on the front steps, a bone coloured bowl balanced on a knee: yesterday's stew. Pewter spoon and extra pepper.
Bird shapes on branches gather, clatter. Up on the lawn, the old wood cart is mis-parked, and chairs askew, and teapots full of rainwater line up on the pallet table.
Dew beads linger on grass.
Cat, rapt by this proximity of stew, creaks over, sits on the drive. Sparkle in her age-cloudy eyes.
The spoon makes a pretty sound in the round bowl, chasing the last burst of tomato. One aromatic pepper dot decorates licked teeth.



Thursday, 9 January 2014

Helpfulish


Nam-ma brushes the dirt out of the living room. Little Granddaughter has also a broom and guess which way she brushes? A fluffed line of dust and Dog hair gathers in front of the bookshelf. Little Granddaughter helps also direct the walking of Dog, from the vantage of Nam-ma's shoulders. And from the washing trug is the best place, she informs, to assist the emptying of the washing machine, though she laughs and laughs to say it.
It is hard work, all that laughing.



Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Centred

Walk with Dog in a sort of?
Rain dome?
When we look up 
rain falls from opaqueness
The horizon made of?
More of the same.
Somehow this enclosure-
this repetition-
is no constraint.