Monday, 27 July 2015

Everything I love is on the table

It's not that life hasn't been going on as it always has done, just that it's been hard to focus on it for the spinning and noise of these months.

This weekend, there was a plan for me to take Goldie and Young Boy M to a camp-site on the coast, a little over an hour from here. That didn't happen because of very heavy rain that led to the friends that had gone on a day before being flooded out of the tent and heading home. It's still raining now. I'm very grateful that we had such wonderful weather last weekend for Latitude, that we have been able to change plans and be largely inside for this cold and blustery and extremely wet couple of days. On Saturday, in between running Goldie and the girl around and doing laundry and shopping on the market and in Aldi for food and cleaning the bathroom and cleaning the kitchen and thinking through the mental capacity act with a friend following a panicked phone call, I slept. I haven't been sleeping well at night for a while and this felt like catching up, stocking up.

I still managed to get enough sleep that night to dream, and I dreamt about an owl watching me from a tree. Because I've had a series of owl dreams I half heartedly googled their significance, to find all the usual stuff - wisdom being the one I'd like to adopt, although that's tempered with the knowledge from a Hindu friend that in parts of India an owl is a symbol of foolishness. But also death, change, intuition. I decided to go back to doing my own interpretations, based on the significance that any presence might have for me. Except I can't think of one thing that owls mean for me, except that they keep cropping up in my dreams.
                                                                                                                                                                    On Sunday morning I went into our small town to meet Ms K for coffee and to catch up with lives, or the bits we share. Another friend wandered in and joined us, and Snake turned up. After a while, we walked down to the cathedral to look at an art exhibition and, and came across person after person who we knew and who engaged us in conversation. Given my preference for anonymity and resistance to small talk, this could have been worse than it was. One person who I've known for a while but who doesn't know Ms K asked if we were sisters, which I loved for its insight - we look nothing alike, but she lived with my parents for part of her adolescence, and in some essential way that comes from the knowledge of that experience, we do have a familial link. We also got introduced to somebody who had just returned from a week long pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, which, weirdly, is something that Ms K and I have previously discussed doing and which we both reacted to in a "we must do this" way. I really do want to do it, and I don't fully understand why. Something about the pilgrimage appeals, the path trodden by thousands and thousands of people since the middle ages, although there is no religious driver for me. Anyway, we will look into it, and maybe next summer or the one after we will actually do this thing.

When we finally escaped from that mixed blessing a of small town living, with it's risk of repeated social interaction with people part known, we came home, ate some thrown together pasta, and I put some stewing steak and vegetables in the oven before we headed off to spend some time with my parents. My father is looking well, 9 weeks into a regime that sees him have chemotherapy 3 times a week. He is hopeful he is coming to the end of this stage of treatment, and there is a return of the optimism that got lost for a while. My mother was her usual vague, kind self, directing Snake to the brown teapot, at which he said, very sweetly, given that it was an indubitably blue teapot "now, I see that as blue". My mother acknowledged that it was indeed blue but said "I always think of it as brown because of its shape". And I know exactly what she means. Her blue teapot is the shape of a brown teapot.

We came home through a ridiculously cold and rainy July evening to the smells of a stew ready to be eaten, and spent the evening watching episodes of Twin Peaks, something that was originally on television in the year that Snake and I were first getting together, and which we're now introducing to our children.

There's all sorts of challenges and potential hidden in this week, and more rain forecast and already - at 6am on Monday morning - I can feel the protection of the weekend slipping away. But it's very good to have that grounding of family and ritual and plans and shared understanding as a basis for immersion in the wider world.

The National - Don't Swallow the Cap

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Life's a game

We went to Latitude. For the last 9 years I've spent a July weekend in Suffolk parkland watching music and poetry and dance, political and social debate, comedy and art, with a whole load of randomness scattered throughout. Every year I've loved it.

It helps that it's set in the most beautiful parkland, sloping and wooded, with a wide long lake and lots of hidden corners where you can stumble across a band playing Balkanise wedding dances, or the worlds smallest museum of small things at any time of the day or night. It helps too that it's only about an hour from home and we know countless families who go from here, and so Goldie can join a tribe of teens and indulge his passions for high energy music and loud comedy while I spend hours drifting off in the poetry tent or discovering new bands. And this year it helped that the sun came out and stayed out and being outside for 18 hours a day before catching a few hours sleep under canvas (?not canvas - nylon?) was exactly where I wanted to be.

Highlights for me this year - James Blake being eery and intense as the sun went down. Ezra Furman and the Boyfriends on a small stage high up in the woods - 2 very different people, both of whom I respect enormously, had recommended I see him, and they were right. Simon Armitage reading an hour of his poetry. The Manic Street Preachers singing Design for Life, because it's a song that my good, dead friend Bal associated with me and him somehow, and I needed to dive away from friends and deep into the crowd to sing and cry along with it. Songhoy Blues, Seasick Steve, Tom Robinson. Owen Jones on the politics of hope. And our good friend Carrie became part of a choir put together by Gareth Malone and sang on the main stage as part of a hundred voices.

And I got to spend a lot of time with Snake, which made me realise that in fact that's not something we've done for a long time. And while it hasn't totally steadied the earth beneath my feet or restored my focus, it was lovely to mooch around with him, allow him to introduce me to new stuff (he's far more adventurous than me when it comes to music) laugh (he always makes me laugh), find a worn out sofa in the wood and curl up on it with him. I few weeks ago I was loudly protesting to a friend that there was nothing wrong with my marriage, that all elements were fine, and it felt over these few days that yes, that's true, but not much use if we never see each other. We need to find more time.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Put a little something in the lemonade

I absolutely understand the end of currently but I will miss that weekly prompt. Particularly at the moment when life is a little chaotic. Thank you to Ot and Et and Kale and Beans for the years of hosting. I came across some wonderful people through it, too.

So, self discipline, self motivation and just write - what's been going on?

I have completed 4 interviews for the research I'm doing, and each one was a revelation and a delight, I learnt stuff, I felt a huge fellow feeling as a worker with similar experiences, I felt extremely grateful for their time and willingness to explore difficult issues. Then I had to listen back to the tapes and realised that I am in the background murmuring "yeah, yes, yeah" at the rate of about once every 5 seconds and do I really do that and how annoying must that be?

At the weekend Romeo and Juliet was performed in the Abbey Gardens, our town park, and a big group of us went along with blankets and picnics. Some of my lovely friends had made the most delicious food - big, still warm calzone. Parmesan and anchovy biscuits. Pork pies. Salads and cheese and a Pimms and strawberry jelly. Lots of prosecco, Lots of red wine. Beer and cider and ginger beer.

I wasn't drinking, on the basis of still having a hang over from a night with the remarkable Ms B. But everyone else imbibed freely, which was good really, because the production was... well, it was an amateur production, and good on them for the huge effort that had gone into it, but really, it wasn't great. I did have a moment of thinking that maybe there should be some sort of Shakespeare Police who monitor performances to prevent harm to Shakespeare, because I was quite scared that this could put people off for life. My girl was with me, and I was so glad that she'd seen the play before and loved it.

Anyway, the not great performances added to the general hilarity, and I wonder if our behaviour - eating, drinking, stifling giggles, throwing food at each other, and one perfectly timed comedy fart - was not more Shakespearian than what was going on on stage. But really, we were (with the exception of the girl) in our 40's and up, and should really have behaved better. But I'm glad we didn't. I needed the thoughtless stupidity of it.

On Sunday evening I cooked for Peel and her girl. Pork ribs in a marinade I threw together from what we had and it worked infeasibly well - lemon juice, olive oil, soy sauce, garlic, a little tobasco and a tin of anchovies. We ate it with rice and peas, and kale steamed then stir fired with onion, garlic and ginger, and lots of butter. I relished everyone hoovering up food, nibbling bones and soaking rice in the cooked juices, and I will try to recreate it all at some point.

One more day of work and then a week off, with a wonderful festival over the weekend. I have had less time to think about it than in previous years, but this morning, looking at the website, I am feeling it again, that annual "we're on our way to Latititude!" feeling. Summer and family and friends, music, poetry, constant surprise.

The National - Fake Empire

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Forest Fire

June was insane. It just was. I spun through it with no sleep, little nutrition, and a complete inability to focus. June ended abruptly first thing on a Monday morning, meaning I went through the first meeting of the week with red eyes and only about a 5th of a brain. I went home after that, via the car park of a country park, where I sat and cried and drank coffee and got a whole load of work done via blackberry, in between sobs.

Reaching home I rang Ms M and we went for a walk, talked a little about bodies and forgiveness and choices. I took off my shoes and waded in the shallow river and splashed water on my face and thought about things that move on and things that stay.

It was Ms M's boys birthday and Goldie went over after school to be part of the celebration, going out for pizza. Goldie and young girl M started talking about an experience they'd had that day, with a vicar and his wife who came into school to talk about their sex life. In recalling this, Goldie announced to the whole of Pizza Express that it had been 6 months into their marriage before this couple first had anal sex, at which young girl M said "Goldie! Not anal. ORAL". Everything about this makes me laugh and I wish I'd been there. I am however, still trying to work out what's going on with a vicar and his wife, or anyone else, coming in to school to talk to 14 year olds about sex in such detail. I mean, I guess it's helpful. And, well, thank you to them, I suppose. But what on earth motivates them?

We rescued a bee. On our way to an early morning weekend coffee in Ms M's garden, we saw what looked like a dead bee, but it responded when we touched it so Snake balanced it on a scrap of paper he had in his pocket and we carried it with us. At one point it fell off, and Snake bent down and presented the bit of paper and it crawled back on. Why? How? Once at Ms M's we fed it honey from a silver spoon and it sat in the sun drinking and resting and coming back to life in the most remarkable way.

A day was spent by another river, a whole bunch of boys and girls swimming and throwing themselves down a shallow weir and setting up crayfish nets to see what they could catch. We cooked sausages and lay in the sun and I slept for a while. My best sleep at the moment is in outdoor spaces on sunny afternoons. We went back to Ms M's afterwards and I know I drank a little too much because on the way home I stopped for a kebab..

Work has been busy,hard, interesting. I am looking at ways to extend the project I'm leading, to try out more new and risky and innovative stuff, because it works and because I don't want to go back to a systems led way of being, and because I keep being told I'm good at this and I want to believe it.

This seems miraculous to me, but I put out an email asking for participants for my MA research, and people responded! I have enough people, and 3 interviews already booked for this week. I didn't expect people to come back to me - I thought I'd have to work harder, and I'm starting to think that maybe my subject matter has a relevance outside my head and that of my supervisor.

Next week - NEXT WEEK ALREADY - is Latitude, which in every year I've been (I think 9 so far?) has been a balm to the spirit. And we have just paid the balance to a man called Eric to borrow his flat in Lisbon for a week in August.

I am filled with pride and hope and fear for Greece. We lived there for a couple of years, Snake and I, and have been back as many times as we possibly can, and it is the place I most often feel homesick for. As a nation and as a political system they have chosen people over banks and I love love love that.  

The sun has been shining and there was the most spectacular storm and people are thawing out and using the world, and late yesterday evening I was walking through a place I love and saw across the shallow valley that all the trees were coloured in, fully fledged, and I remembered the winter of my depression and waiting for that colour to return and not believing it would.

I am acutely aware that my life is good, that I am supremely lucky. I am coming back down to earth from a ridiculous and fantastic interlude, back to a full and warm, perpetually interesting life. The life I want to inhabit. At risk of hubris, touching wood, it still feels right to say I am lucky I am lucky I am lucky.

Forest Fire - Lloyd Cole and the Commotions 

Thursday, 25 June 2015


Currently is a weekly link up hosted by Ot and Et and Kale and Beans. The words they have provided for inspiration this week are visiting, planning, cooking, longing, growing.

At the weekend I was visiting my dad in hospital, where he's spending a fair bit of time at the moment, while a battle is fought between the cancer in his bone marrow and the drugs that are being pumped into him. He is relatively cheerful and stoic, making friends with the nurses and moaning about the food, but there is also a hint of the question about how much of your life you sacrifice in order to maybe get a bit more life. He is starting to question the restrictions the treatment imposes.

It's time to start planning for Latitude festival. We've been going for years, so we're pretty well practised in what we need to pack and what really isn't worth hauling on the long walk from the car to the campsite. The main focus of the planning is in researching the music and art and poetry that's going to be on offer, and working out what's unmissable, what's worth a try and where there are gaps for just aimless wandering and stumbling across marvels.

On Sunday I was cooking a big roast meal for Peel and her girl. They are still reeling from the accident that killed their loved one, and cooking them a meal that I know they will eat is the one thing I feel qualified to do for them.

I am doing a lot of longing, and what a fantastic word it is. I am spending a lot of my time in a strange, disengaged state, while carrying on life and work.The word longing also makes me think of the incredible smells that the girl and I came across on a recent walk - honeysuckle and linden blossom, at it's strongest in the evening. It was a wonderfully unexpected sensual assault.

Most of what I am growing (apart from a huge human person - Goldie is now 6ft 2 (at least - he may have added an inch over night) and able to pick me up) is weeds. Which I choose to see as a small kindness to the birds and insects which love a unkempt garden, rather than a sign of my disorganisation and lack of ability to prioritise gardening.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Living for the weekend.

I thought we had a fairly quiet day planned for Sunday - no football, no big social plans. There were a few small jobs to do, but nothing that would take too long.

In the end, this was what needed to be done on Sunday.

Pick up Ms M to take her to pick up her car, abandoned at the village fair the night before after a few too many ciders. 

Take my dog and Ms M's dog for a walk (Ms M's dog needed me to walk it because Ms M had a mysterious heel injury following wild dancing after a few too many ciders the night before). Return dog and drink tea with Ms M while hearing about various middle age romances that are going awry. 

Buy a birthday present for 8 year old niece; deliver birthday present for 8 year old niece. (Bump into acquaintance - really nice woman, great admirer of Snake's art but incredibly posh and dithery and so all conversations with her very slow. Meanwhile, her barrister husband pretends we don't exist and ushers their children away, which is a little awkward, although I have some sympathy, not particularly enjoying conversations with comparative strangers either. During the conversation this woman tries to wrangle an invite to a book launch/ solstice ceremony that we are aware of but not invited to, and which, frankly, I would run a mile from).

Pick up Goldie from his friends house and all four of us head off to visit my dad in hospital. Lovely as it is to see him, the sight of a bed and a couple of weeks of minimal sleep make it really difficult for me to keep my eyes open and I go on a mission to find caffeine. On the way I bump into the brother of a friend, who I know is in hospital because of a relapse into drinking and a subsequent haemorrhage, but who probably doesn't know that I know, and definitely doesn't want me to know. Luckily he has a phone in his hand that he can put to his ear, and I am able to smile a greeting without the need for further engagement. 

Deliver snake skins to La's house for an art work that is in progress. We have a constant supply of snake skins from a friend who saves them for Snake who uses them as art material too. During the conversation, La's partner turns to my 20 year old girl and says something appallingly inappropriate, entirely by accident (although some might see a Freudian element). Basically, he mixed up the words testicles and tentacles, in relation to a very innocent encounter the girl had had the night before.  The girl, with great composure, smiles broadly and says " I wasn't expecting you to say that". La's partner looks truly horrified - possibly the first time I've seen him lose his carefully composed cool. The rest of us are yet to stop laughing. 

Buy food to feed Peel who has been invited for an evening meal. Cook meal. Eat meal. Drink wine. Retire to bed to lie awake, thinking of all the things I meant to achieve over the weekend and that will now have to wait another week.