Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Diadem




2014, a midwinter’s morning.
Winter courts spring with a bridal gown.
Laid on earth’s bare skin, the perfection of each crystalline stitch, divine.
It is melting, under shallow pools of sun.
A gem would not melt in this meagre heat: but we are temporary, we should understand.
A diamond is a thing of beauty, yet the pursuit of it, too costly. Laden with servitude, it shines sadly.
In the embroidered earth a moment holds, a proposal, a sign of hope sturdier than the materials that spark it.

A memory: a memory arrives -

1977, an early summer’s afternoon.
There was then a smaller version of me; I can observe her, as though she exists, independent of her adult self.
She had brought her necklace to school, a trinket from her Grandma, it dangled a bright jewel, like something from the Raj. She liked to wear it on her head, in the style of a warrior princess. Light fell and caught the dust as she led the class to the cloakroom and all the parents said how sweet she was.
Pantaloons to them! Her teeth were sharp and she was terribly fierce!
She slid the diadem from her head, put it in her pocket.
Should she feel foolish?
No, she decided, this is who I am.

2014, a midwinter’s morning
Marching over marvellous crunch, observing delight; toes turning blue inside thin boots: it can only be a cheerful colour in this landscape.
And Dog finds it not too cold to swim. 




Saturday, 27 December 2014

The '77 Port Moment








‘This is for our Christmas Day.’ The Chap rolls a bottle of port before our boggled eyes.
1977, vintage.
The price tag says what?
‘It’s my new tradition.’ He says, perhaps because he’s eighteen years old. Time will let us know.

Christmas Day gathers just the three of us this year.
The port is opened; the old cork crumbles, we utilise a tea strainer, two decanters, hide them in the pantry, next to the oats.
Breakfast is a slab of hot brioche with extra butter.
Clear dry cold sky, a platinum light: we wrestle old bicycles into it, dust them, plump up tyres. Dog runs and somehow avoids an accident. We stop at the house of Grandchild 2, swap gifts, legs gently steaming.
Dog commando-crawl sneaks onto the front room carpet from the kitchen tiles. Everyone smirks.
Wrapping paper makes a comforting debris.

We take the long road back, because of the sky, because of fun.
‘Our mission today,’ I shout, with vibrato over potholes, ‘is not to get too trolled before we start the port!’

So while the turkey spits, the gravy potion simmers, we play cards, pour little heavenly glasses.
Mindful consumption, shared.
‘I like your new tradition,’ I say. Light through the glass is honeyed, antiqued.
‘It’s not as good as the ’63-’ He places a card, he is almost laughing.
‘You didn’t have to tell us, we wouldn’t have known!’ My eyes are wide: a mock-horror face he is not unfamiliar with.
He is laughing. Dog thumps her tail.

We decide to keep the old bottle. Maybe stick a candle in it, there’s some old school recycling. Keep it on a memory shelf. Laugh whenever it’s lit.







Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Hello Girls And Boys!



Firstly, a quick reorganisation of the grandchildren. They number only four thus far (‘only’ as in ‘not an unmanageable number,’ not only as in, ‘ that it?’) so it may seem-

random interruption- forthy- is that a word anyone else knows?- ‘forthy’ means here ‘to be precocious’-
short form of ‘forwards’ -

-forthy to be having this tidy up.

Explanation:
It is easy when surrounded by these outpourings of future grown ups, to be thinking forwards, it is the time of year for clear-ups. So henceforth shall Little Grandson be Grandchild 1, Little Granddaughter be Grandchild 2 : and so on.They are ordered by age not popularity.

We do like to organise them.
Not to classify but to direct.
Take this Christmas lark, for example.

Nothing is begrudged , yet just as a surfeit of food can cause bloating, a surfeit of stuff can clog the soul.
What gift can be brought without fear of clog, without loss of fun?
Memories. We aim to give a whole set.
Memories are made from formative experiences.
This year, for the older two grandchildren and the godson, we have selected the experience of pantomime.

What will they remember, I wonder?

[Here are some notes for their later reference:
Godson did not much like the 3D monsters. He loved the singing.
Grandchild 1 loved the 3D monsters, especially the bogies that flew out. He tried to catch one.
Grandchild 2 loved everything except feeling hungry and the thought of harm coming to the Pantomime Cow.
Together they invented the Gate Game. The rules were never explained to me.]



The Gate Game



Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Christmas Story 2014

This year's Yuletide story offering is a little early- I was planning a Solstice post for Sunday. Last Winter Solstice I got lost on Dartmoor just as it was falling dark... but this year the grandchildren are taking me to watch a pantomime. It will be safer but easily as busy, so I'm posting now instead. Happy Holidays to all!

How The Snowdrops Bloomed



Ice crusted over every surface, like the world was an ice pie.
A fire in the wide hearth had been lit for days, slowly warming the stone walls of the cottage. Sat close, two people unlaced their damp boots and wiggled their toes at the flames.
They formed a small family.
A child, a girl of six.
A widower, her father.

Their cottage edged woodland; from this wood they fed their fire and their bellies.
Over the fire was an iron pot; in this they cooked good winter soup.
Next to the fire was a jug.

The widower, now and then, found work at a farm. As payment, the farmer and his family sent over a jug of milk once a week, and a pat of butter. The farmer’s wife would add a pot of jam, sometimes, or a slice of fruit cake, or whatever she could find. She not once asked them how they liked it, lest they feel offended by her charity. She liked to picture the little girl smiling, for her children were grown up and she missed them being in the house. If she had asked she would have known the thing that made them smile the best. It was a tin of sweet chocolate powder.
The jug of milk sat warming was for mugs of hot chocolate.
‘I’ll get a few more logs in,’ Father said, ‘and then the milk should be ready.’

As he stooped in the wood shed he heard a crunch, like footsteps on frozen grass. He paused to listen. Several more slow crunches came.
‘Is there someone there?’ he called.
‘Just an old woman passing; no need to be alarmed, good stranger.’
‘You are far from the village. Are you lost? Do you need help?’ he walked towards the footsteps. It was too cold for anyone to survive a night out, he thought. The paths were hard to follow by starlight and the moon was just a sliver, at the base of her waning.
The woman did not answer. She was stood, barefoot, on the iced path. Her clothes looked thin and so did she.
‘Please come in,’ he said. ‘My daughter and I are about to have some hot chocolate. We should be glad of the company: please, do come in.’
‘You are kind.’ The woman looked at him. ‘I will come in,’ she said.
The widower smiled. He had almost been holding his breath, he realised, the air was so cold. He hefted up the log basket and led the way.
‘We have a guest,’ he called to his daughter. ‘Find the spare mug, little one.’
The child frowned. ‘A guest?’ she said. She eyed the jug and the waiting tin.
The old woman walked in, so cold she was covered in a fine frost. 
‘You’re all icy!’ The child pulled a chair closer to the fire. ‘Sit here, please, I shall fetch a mug and a blanket for you!’

She could not imagine how the old lady had gotten so cold. Her clothes were not good for winter and she wore no shoes, and she looked so tiny, for a grown up. The girl fetched a blanket from her own bed for the old lady to wrap herself in, and brought in three mugs.
Her father patted her head. He spooned the precious sweet powder into each mug, poured on the frothed milk, stirred them each in turn. The fire crackled. Drips of meltwater ran down the old woman’s face. She took the warm mug and wrapped her fingers around it, sighing.
‘You are so cold and tiny!’ The child stared.
‘Oh,’ the old lady paused to shiver, ‘do you know, everything in winter gets smaller? The cold makes it so. Everything tightens up.’
‘Oh.’ The child sat on the hearth rug, smelling her delicious drink. She looked at the milk froth. ‘But,’ she noted, ‘not snow, because that takes up room, doesn’t it? More than rain does, but it’s colder. So is that different?’
‘Well,’ the lady paused to sip. ‘Thank you,’ she said, ‘for sharing your hot chocolate with me. Snow is different. But you have to be especially tiny to see how. There are miracles like that happening all the time.’
The little girl did not understand. She thought about snow, sipped her chocolate, felt the fire’s glow. The rug was so warm and comfortable.
Her mother had sat here, she knew. A long, long time ago. She had been gone a long, long time. Her hair was dark, that was nearly all she could remember.
She tried to picture her mother, to picture her being here with them, drinking by the fire. She would have loved the chocolate. The child rested her back against her father’s legs. He was sat in his chair, watching the flames dance.
‘I met a man, once,’ Father said, ‘he had travelled far north where it snows everyday. He said that snow was made of tiny crystals. Like jewellery made of ice, he said.’
‘Yes, a good description.’ The old lady smiled.
Everyone was quiet, sipping hot chocolate. They watched the fire dance. Sparks flew up, glowing hot, the opposite of snow.
‘I can do magic,’ the old woman whispered: or at least they thought she said that. Their eyes were dropping shut.

The child twitched, aware of the chill that had snuck in, but she was not cold.
She was not indoors anymore either.
Her father was with her still, and the old lady. She didn’t know where they were; under foot was rough, solid, sloped…
This is the roof, she thought: the roof! Only it seems so much bigger- no- we are smaller! We have come out in the cold and shrunk! But I do not feel cold. How strange this is!

Perplexingly wonderful patterns; starlike, spiky arcs of fine lace; wheeled about them. They were the whitest most sparkling creations the child had ever seen. She thought of snowdrops catching the morning sun, frozen dew like diamonds dropped across the grass She thought of fairy princesses, enchanted towers, angels’ wings, snowflakes.
Snowflakes: they were snowflakes!

The old woman reached her hands into one of the flakes and pulled herself into it. The child and her father followed suit.
They each had a carriage that pulled up into the dark sky.
How big the sky is, the child thought, and how beautiful. I will never be afraid of the dark, if this is what dark is. It is only what the night sky is made of. I love it.

Above them the stars shone, and were reflected in all the surfaces of ice. Rainbows arced and bounced, strung between snowflakes.
The sky brightened, glittered, became a canopy of unique light.

Basking in the glow of this light, the white haired lady leant back and sang. She sang absentmindedly, as though the words blew in and out of her mouth, as though they came from the stars themselves.

Sky dark earth deep
shining cold so sharp
cut, ice, cauterise
warm soft mother earth
dense, deep, as a diamond press
seeds awake, unseen, beneath…
the warmth of a lost mother
is never lost…
the warmth of a lost mother
is never lost…
winter simple winter sparse
winter deep as sky
all the promise of all our years
held inside that ice
in each season seek to grow for
what you seek you find…’

The little girl felt a warmth around her shoulders. She knew it was her mother’s arm. She remembered her face, without looking, the lines of her smile, the way her eyes half shut when she blew the goodnight kiss, then blew out the candle.
The colour of her dress, soft-grey like old cobweb.
How the hem was ragged.
Her bare feet in the summer grass.
Her boots kicking autumn leaves.
Her hands, snarled with work, plump with grease.
How her skin shone, before the hot fever burnt her out.
Her whisper. 'I’ll be there, my lovely, in the morning breeze, in the afternoon sun, in every drop of rain or sun or breath of wind or spit of fire. I won’t be all gone. You won’t be without me, nor I without you.’

A log cracked on the fire. It woke the girl up. She yawned and rubbed her eyes.
‘I had such a lovely dream!’
She looked to her father but he was fast asleep, and smiling. He had a smudge of chocolate on his lip. She chuckled quietly. She turned her eyes to the other chair, to see if the old lady was still there, to check that she was not simply part of the dream.

The old lady was there, wide awake. She looked bigger. The fire had bloomed her cheeks, they looked plumper. And her old legs reached closer to the fire, the little girl was sure of it.
‘Did you grow?’ she asked.
‘Just warming up,’ the old lady winked, ‘so I don’t forget how.’
She stood up and stretched: she was taller, the little girl saw. Her old hands reached to the ceiling.
‘Thank you.’ The lady picked up her cloak. It too had changed. It was thick and warm, spun from a material like woven bark. She pulled it on and the little girl noticed with a start that her old hair was made of evergreen leaves. The lady smiled. The little girl was wide eyed, she forgot to speak. She watched the lady walk out of the house. She ran to the door to watch the old lady walk down the path, back to the woods. Her way was lit by tiny snow-sparks. In her footsteps, from the frozen earth, snowdrops bloomed.




Sunday, 14 December 2014

Where The Weekend Went




Friday night, a jug of rum.
Lawhitton.
We creep to our garden and spy on the frost.
It feels like dreams can find you better, if you go out into the dark.

Saturday morning, sat on the porch step, numbing buttocks, drinking coffee. Morning sun makes steam plumes along grassed edges. Sky wakes up all tumbled, bits of cloud, blue, mist, squints of sun.
Mr sleeps in, wrapped in dream and quilt.
When he wakes up, just as tumbled as the sky, he calls to come and see: a robin has snuck into our kitchen, to spy on us.
So tiny, that bird, we see: the world so big and wintry. With boldness he thrives. We admire.

It stays warm, the sun, we sit out, drink more coffee.
And one more coffee.

Saturday afternoon, all of a sudden. We forgot about time.
Launceston.
In the carpark, stuck in a queue, making alternative plans: a space, all of a sudden. Free parking, the sign says. This is encouraging.
In the town hall doting families gather. Children can be heard through the closed doors, practising their dances.
In we shuffle: three lots of grandparents, two aunties, one mum-and-dad combo. We spot her, the Little Granddaughter, waiting at the stage steps, red tinsel in her hair.
She waves. She waves all the way to the stage where she also shouts hello to her personal crowd.
Halfway through the number her tinsel falls out. She is not trained in what to do when your costume fails. Instinct guides her to pick up the tinsel and shove it up her t-shirt, for which she steals applause.
Her family are convinced: performance genius.

Saturday evening smells of charcoal and chicken.
Winscombe.
Words fold maps into story-boats. A river is poured from bottles.
Impromptu naps gather until they reach full dimensions of sleep.
Saturday drifts away. Lights blink in trees. Fleet brown trout are in the stream. Stars in the cold sky.

Sunday morning comes with generous breakfast, with coffee of notable strength.
A friendly brown cat wanders over the tabletop, seeking attention.
But Mr is learning to owl-call and I am copying how to origami a dragon.

Time nudges us out of the door.
Sunday afternoon.
We drive to Granma Grace’s house, we drink tea.
Exeter.
We tell her she’s impossible- what could she want for a Christmas gift? She wants nothing but love and perhaps a modest pot of jam. Rosehips are mentioned. Could we deliver some presents for her? Yes, of course. And there’s a problem with the new phone, but she shouldn’t bother us. We are strict. We say everyone loves to help you. We will fix your phone, deliver your presents, make you jam and all of it is love.
She giggles.

Exmouth.
We take the presents, put them out of reach of Fat Beagle. The Littlest Grandson toddles, step after confident step. The Littlest Granddaughter marches, she holds out her hands, open, saying her favoured word: ‘Share.’ 
She will eat her tea, she gestures, if she can be in charge of the spoon.
He disdains the confines of a chair. He accepts the post of Granma’s lap.
Each makes good work of eating.
They have hair like haloes.

Little Grandson sneaks in. He wears his rugby top. He does not like broccoli, even if it does give you rugby muscles. His favourite food is pasta. Grandad guessed right.

Sunday evening.
Lawhitton.
The house, of course, a mess. A fabulous mess.
Low on coal and cheese.
We eat fish-fingers.
I write about it.




Friday, 12 December 2014

Queen Mab




This is not the work of winter alone: Queen Mab has been loose in the night.
The horses’ manes will be atrocious!
Slender branches strew the lanes: the old ash tree must be suspected of complicity, for it has lost but twigs.
One unbroken piece of moon is left wedged in morning sky; behind dull cloud stripes of blue and pink fuzz like flannelette.
Is she sleeping now?

Our ribs hold anxious beats.

Of what does she dream?

The more we stare at the sky, the more the cirrostratus thickens.
In the thin fall of rain a whisper: of what do you dream? 





Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Winter The Eccentric




Winter, for all her stark chic, is a secret hoarder. 
She has a thing for extremities.
We ward her away with gloves, warming socks, impervious boots, snug hats.
She is horribly curious and will crawl inside your chest to look around, sliding cold through your damp lungs.
It is best to keep skin under thermal surveillance.

She makes water-glass, for looking in, in spite of the fish gaping below; yet for all her thievery, her stealth of trespass, her vanity, she marvels us.
She is her own kind of beautiful, as is all true beauty.

Without her, the grate has no fire, the hats and gloves are dropped, unappreciated.

Spring’s bulbs push slow roots through her iced ground. Perhaps she nips at fingertips to feed them. Winter, like a mother bird, raising her cuckoo.

Pity is superfluous.
She is made of universal stuff: present in all seasons.





Sunday, 7 December 2014

The Plan Revealed



It is our belief that a crazy plan will do more good than harm. This is why we are often to be found drawing plans for hillbilly hot tubs and underground gardens. Heat regulation is the main staller with the former, the latter is preparation for when we own land. And this is beginner level crazy (intermediate elsewhere, perhaps, but we live in rural Cornwall) not far from simply dreaming. One giant shed, one polytunnel, one almost finished bath-pond testify that we can make ideas tangible. Based on this, and other little things, like compassion, like stories shared, we have been forming a bigger plan.
Here’s the rough outline:
we acquire land
we build and/or develop a self sustaining community
this community is part made up of isolated folks (ex-offenders, initially, of a non-violent type) trying to get a foothold in general society
we run a business or two from the land (farming, crafts, camping site, etc)
How on earth do we make this happen? How will it work?
Slowly, with much head scratching, ingenuity, internet trawling, form reading, and such like.
It may not work.
It may not happen.
We may be fools! But we have declared ourselves now!
The Plan has elevated to ‘talk about it amongst yourselves’ to ‘get out there, do research.’
So far I have had one meeting with a local charity about what funding might be available and what other similar projects exist, to look at and learn from.
A list, in pencil, on the back of an envelope: can anything grow from that?
The paperwork will be mountainous. It will be glutinous.
Problems that stick like mud and weight your boots.
But what harm can it do to try?
(Don’t answer that!)
The happy-crazy plan has us fully engaged with life.
Embarrassed at our naivety, insecure, out of the comfort zone.
It’s something we can see in the distance but aren’t yet sure of our route.
Which is why I decided to write this down. Fear of failure hobbles life. Better to fail than hobble. Faith in dreams is faith in life.
Small case history 1:
I fell off a tree branch yesterday and have minor whiplash, a good bruise purpling my hip. Yes, feeling silly. But feeling like I wish I hadn’t climbed that slippery branch? That I’d stuck to the easy path?
Never!



Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Frosting



The number six turns into a frying pan. The number eight splits into two circles. Number six becomes a spoon, it dollops icing on both circles of eight, which are now cakes.
At this point, dreaming is suspected.
Awake, the interpretation takes no effort.
Yesterday marked the 68th year since my father was born into this world, and since he isn’t here any more a dream-cake is offered.

Outside, the world is enriched. Pale gold, the winter sun. From the car, from blades of grass, in swathes across the fields, verglas glints. Starlings, jet dark, bloom up with a noise like sails catching a headwind. One memento mori crow watches from the ash tree.

On the way to her nursery Little Granddaughter sits in the car, kicking up her welly boots and lying about breakfast.
‘I had chocolate,’ she says, ‘and butter and frogs and a sheep.’
‘No toast?’
‘Yes and a tree and marmite and sprinkles. Sprinkles are pretty.’
She looks out of the window. In the town, the ice has melted.

There is something about the cake dream, something more than was recovered by daytime recollection.
Sprinkles, it could have been that.
Frogs and a sheep?
The candles, the cherry on top.
Points in time that shine.



Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Winter's First Calendar Day




Nothing much is scheduled. The same drift of cloud loops over a low hill.
Everything else is mist.
Just over the line, just out of physical sight, a future crouches.
Out of the corner of a whimsical eye: palm trees, pineapples, postcard colours.
On a salt breeze comes laughter, comes glass to glass chinking.
Perhaps we’ll walk over there.
Perhaps is a word of possibility.
Mud shines, mist lifts, sun, emergent.
Tips of fingers bare and chill, toes in boots warm as crumpets.
We walk just the usual paths with nothing much scheduled; hum a little something.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…