Canaries

Don’t cure too many madmen,

You may need us yet.

How would you know where Hell was

If you didn’t hear us scream?

And where your Heaven was once,

Did we not wander wild and dream?

We are canaries singing in your soul,

Singing the nightmare so you can forget,

Singing until the darkness chokes us all.

Under Black Light

There are downsides to sharing your house with an inordinate number of cats. The first is that while cats give a pretty good impression of thinking like us, that’s all part and parcel of their Domestic Infiltration Strategy. I use a variant on that technique myself – it’s called the Human Race Infiltration Strategy.

The thing that really gets my goat is when they choose to pee on my diary. Yes, choose. This morning one or other of them peed on my fourth 2016 diary, and of course I didn’t spot it straight away. By the time I did spot it my diary, having acted like blotting paper, was soggy with it. Soggy!

I just can’t be bothered with yet again transferring a year’s worth of appointments and birthdays from one to another. Every time I do that somebody gets lost, and it’s awkward to admit to a friend or relative that their birthday isn’t in fact engraved on your memory in giant gothic letters – or maybe it was once but it isn’t now – and please could they remind you?

No doubt it’s grubby and old-ladyish, but today I am just going to dry out my diary in the sunniest place, which happens to be on top of the tumble dryer. Temporarily displacing the tumble-dryer’s cat-bed ‘hat’ shall be my ineffectual revenge. Afterwards I’ll insert the crinkly, dried-out remains of my fourth 2016 diary into a clear plastic sleeve, like they do recipe books.

‘Fluorescent’ seems to be haunting me at the moment. Yesterday I found myself writing about fluorescent sheep, cats and monkeys when I set out to write about my dreams. As it transpired, people seemed less interested in my dreams than in the fluorescent sheep.

Can’t imagine why.

And this morning, in one of my little in medias res compositional dives into the internet, I have discovered that cat pee glows in the dark. Apparently it doesn’t glow enough to be visible to the human eye – though perhaps to the cat eye – but it can be seen under black light. Black light is another name for invisible (ultraviolet/infrared) light – also known as Wood’s Light, after somebody not all that interesting called Wood.

Now I come to think about it, black light is what those super-slim, trouser-suited, wonderfully-coiffured and immaculately lip-glossed forensic ladies must be using in American detective dramas. They go all round the apartment where somebody may have been killed, shining this special light at things. All sorts of things show up: mysterious stains on mattresses; bloodstains on kitchen knives… Probably they’re not looking for cat pee. Not in all that lip-gloss.

Now it makes sense. If I really wanted to get miserable I could buy a Wood’s Light from Amazon and go all round my house looking for five years’ worth of undiscovered cat-whoopsies; except that I can’t justify the expense of a Wood’s Light any more than I can justify the expense of a fifth 2016 diary. Besides, I don’t want one. I really don’t want one. And there’s a certain pleasure in martyrdom.

A second downside of cats – they tend to act out their dreams. We humans can more or less totally disconnect our dreaming minds from our bodies – which is just as well, when you think about it. Cats can’t, or at least not to the same extent. George – poor little George – a disaster even when awake – has just awoken in the middle of a boggart-chasing nightmare of some kind and hurled himself semi-conscious out of his basket, on a teetering pile of boxes next to my computer, narrowly missing my right ear, to land in a confused, head-shaking heap on the floor.

How is a person supposed to compose? I ask myself. Whither goeth the Muse when a black and white cat hurls himself, claws fully extended, past a creative’s right ear in compositional medias res…?

 

103

George, himself

Do Androids Dream of Fluorescent Sheep?

I just thought I was being clever, messing about with the title of the Philip K Dick novel featuring a post-apocalyptic San Francisco human who aspires to possess a real animal since most of them are dead from radiation poisoning. I never thought there were real fluorescent sheep. Real life edges ever closer to the horror story. What are we doing? And cats as well? Sacred, wonderful cats injected with jellyfish DNA. So wrong.

If you don’t believe me, here is a cat, and a baby monkey and… so, so wrong.

flourescent

Why don’t they do that to humans, huh? There’s a prison near me. Why not inject the prisoners with this glow-in-the dark stuff in case they escape? No problem picking them out from the helicopter then. Why not infants? Just imagine, if baby happened to crawl out into the garden through a back door carelessly left ajar. No problem. The thing’s fluorescent. Here, baby baby…

Anyway… I was going to write about my dreams. I expect you always wanted to hear about my dreams. No? Ah well, I’ll keep it brief. Maybe.

Do you dream the same thing over and over? Perhaps I’m the only one. I have always dreamt about cats. Not so often now, since they had to do with the emotional segment of my life and that’s more or less over. It started just before I got married. I dreamt a black cat sat on my mother’s fridge. I had poisoned the black cat. The black cat didn’t know it yet. Any minute now it would start to die. I was filled with shame, and horror. I wished I could undo what I had done.

At intervals after that, more and more cats. And I was always terribly upset about them; they were never just curled up asleep wearing top hats and false moustaches or whatever.

Once I was in America. (I have never been to America.) Dream America was a big, empty place. There seemed to be no people in it, only mile after mile of prairie. It was so big, I could sense it stretching away for more millions of miles than I, as a tiny-island Brit, could ever contemplate. I was alone in this windswept place, in an empty room, with a cat, and the window was open. I saw the window but somehow I couldn’t get round to closing it. The cat jumped through, into that endless void, and was gone. Needle in a haystack.

Once I was sitting in an armchair close to a blazing fire. In the arm of the armchair, for some reason, was a cage, and in the cage, concealed, a cat. The cat was burning, frying, because my chair was too close to the fire. But I couldn’t seem to warn myself. Myself was oblivious.

At one point a cat was following me across a zebra crossing in single file – like the Beatles outside Abbey Road. The cat had followed me for miles, surviving city traffic. From home, wherever that was.

For a long time I didn’t know what the cats were. What did they symbolise? Being an over-complicated person I got books out of the library. Cats in a dream might mean… intuition. The health of the dream cat indicates whether you are heeding or ignoring your intuition. Rely less on intellect. That would certainly have applied. For twenty-two years I went on and on, stalwartly ignoring my intuition. But the book-explanation didn’t seem enough.

And then I had another dream. I dreamed that cats wearing parachutes were descending into a ploughed field. I ran to pick up one of the cats and found it had turned into a teddy bear. And in this way Mr Subconscious showed me absolutely directly, in his own picture-making way, what library books had failed to make clear. Cats, like teddy bears (and of course the children I had not been able to conceive) were something to cuddle. They were affection received and given. Something to love.

Mr Subconscious practices that Show, don’t tell thing they’re always going on about in How To Write books and writers’ groups. He sends a picture along with an emotion and then you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt. One of these days, I hope to speak subconscious with ease.

Last night, for a change, I dreamed of fluorescent sheep. I do not think sheep are Something to Cuddle. They are certainly woolly, but I have never been too fond of sheep, having helped to catch a runaway one in a country lane. Sheep are much larger than you think, and greasy. However… these sheep were invisible. They were being herded up an abandoned railway line and the only way the shepherd could tell where they were was because he had painted a fluorescent spot on each sheep. This morning I learned from my TV that British astronaut Tim Peake is going to be conducting an experiment up there in the space station. He is going to be remotely controlling a Mars explorer robot. He has to go into a dark ‘cave’ where round (sheep-shaped) boulders are littered around, and he will have to pick up the boulders and take photos of them. No easy task, so to help him they have daubed some of the boulders with fluorescent paint. Now, am I becoming a prescient in my old age? I mean, is this the first step? Not so much train-wrecks and plane crashes as Mars explorer vessels?  Not so much far into the future as… more or less straight away?

flourescent3

 

The Patience of Gryphons: part the fourth and final

The auctioneer’s assistant carried the missing gryphon out to Henry’s car. On Sybil’s instruction he placed it, very gingerly, on the driver’s seat. (She suspected that this was the same poor blighter who had been responsible for despatching a single gryphon to Surrey after the auction rather than a pair. He had probably had the Riot Act well and truly read to him by the auctioneer when his mistake had been discovered since Sybil and Henry were regular, and therefore much valued, customers.) The second little gryphon stood tall in a cardboard box, wrapped in an old army blanket; a stone ornament being treated with as much care as one of the young Princesses.

Gryphons are known for their patience but even they were becoming impatient now, Greyclaw on the back seat of this… conveyance… and Rainfeathers on the front beside their new mistress: a temporary mistress, as both of them sensed. Woman, yes, this Sybil, but not witch. They required witch.

And still they were not at the right angle and cannot lock eyes – but soon, surely. Even the auction-house man seemed to sense it. The atmosphere inside the motor-car seemed to sizzle, the moment the siblings were together. It was a bit like the Blitz, when the power cables started falling, explosions in a dark sky.

He withdrew his head rather quickly, and doffed his cap. ‘Safe journey, madam.’

The reverse seems to be happening to Sybil. As the man closed the door on the three of them; as she pressed the button on the dashboard and the yellow indicator arm bounced up, and even as she was drawing out from the kerb into the unfamiliar density of rush-hour traffic, she was starting to wonder what on earth had possessed her. Had she truly woken at the crack of dawn, crept out whilst mist still carpeted the lawn, driven for mile after mile down country lanes, scarcely knowing where she was going;  fingers crossed that no mischievous child had turned the signposts to send her off in the wrong direction. Had she really driven all the way to London without informing her husband either of where she was going or that she had learned how to drive during his absence on military duties?

What terrible complications and recriminations her actions were likely to cause – and all for the sake of two garden ornaments!

And on what mad impulse had she brought the other gryphon with her? Surely she wasn’t expecting them to have some sort of conversation on the way home?

The trip home was not even as much fun as the trip in. By the time Sybil regained Sussex and its narrow country lanes, it was getting late – much later than she had planned for. And now the car seemed to be mysteriously coughing and spluttering and slowing down. She pressed her foot down on the accelerator knowing, really, that that wasn’t going to make any difference. The car coasted into a layby beside a wood – not actually blocking the road, there was that much to be thankful for – and died.

Silence: but not before Sybil had caught sight of one of the many dials on Henry’s car’s elaborate dashboard. There was a petrol machine and a kind of gauge… even and as she watched the dial on this gauge was sliding from red to nothing at all. Why on earth had she assumed Henry’s motor-car would contain sufficient petrol for a journey of this length? For all she knew it might have been half-empty when she set off. It now dawned on her that even if she had thought to stop at a garage and ask for the tank to be refilled, she hadn’t brought enough money with her to pay for that. Henry had always been so good at dealing with that sort of…

‘Well, nothing for it, Sybil Old Girl,’ she murmured, unconsciously adopting Henry’s comforting voice. ‘You can’t stay here all night. You’ll just have to get out and start walking. There’s bound to be a farmhouse close by – or similar. Somewhere big enough to have a telephone. ‘Worse things happened in the Blitz, Old Girl, remember that. You’re still alive; it’s just that you’ve been very, very foolish.’ She could hear the ‘stiff upper lip’ voice trembling.

She glanced back into the car before locking it. ‘My poor little gryphons,’ she sighed, ‘reunited only to be abandoned in a nameless country lane! Here, let me turn you to face one another. At least you can have a chat while I’m away.’ The audible quiver was becoming more apparent. ‘But remember, my dears – Careless Talk Costs Lives.’

The siblings had locked eyes, entirely focussed on one another but waiting still; waiting for woman-not-witch to be far enough down the lane to be out of sight of the motor car.

‘Joy, sister!’

‘Joy, my brother!’

‘Three hundred years, and now…’

And then, the light.

Henry is not angry so much as puzzled. One minute he was pretending to read The Financial Times in the drawing room and trying not to worry about Sybil, whilst trying to decide whether to telephone to the police. The next minute he was overtaken – overwhelmed by a kind of longing, an irresistible compulsion to not call the police but instead scrunch down the gravel driveway and hammer on the front door of the gardener’s cottage. He didn’t even know what he was about to say when the door was opened, but it turned out to be:

‘Bert, could you give me a lift on your motorcycle? It’s Sybil – she’s in some kind of trouble.’

‘Yassir,’ said Bert, reaching for his goggles and leather coat. ‘Luckily the sidecar’s already attached so we can bring Missus back in style. But where to?’

Henry didn’t know, and felt extremely foolish. He only knew they had to go, this minute, and that somehow or other they would find her. He scanned the horizon. It seemed to him that he could see, with some alternative ‘eye’ that he had been totally unaware of until just now, a greenish glow spreading out along the horizon.

‘Do you see that, Bert?’ he said, pointing.

‘Nossir,’ said Bert. ‘But you just point the way.’

Sybil had come to hobbling a halt only a few miles down the lane. Her feet, in their town shoes, had developed blisters remarkably quickly. She bent down, wondering whether she might tear her pocket handkerchief in half and use the two pieces to pad out the back of the shoes, or take off the shoes altogether and head back to the car.

‘Chin up, Old Girl,’ she told herself, dabbing at her eyes with the handkerchief.

‘The Blitz, remember? Worse things happening?’

She turned to look back down the lane and caught sight of a greenish glow rising above the trees and blending with phantom clouds in the night sky. It seemed to be coming from where she had left the car. And now, to cap it all, she was hearing things…

The distant but unmistakeably familiar sound of a motorbike with sidecar attached.

The laughter and song of sibling gryffons as they performed an elegant pas-de-deux in the night air.

Beaks entwined, and tails. Paw seeking paw.

Three hundred years!

NaPoWriMo 29/4/16: Moths

All day they lie like corpses on sills, in corners

And masquerade as dust.

 

Night falls. I find them fluttering

Under my cats’ paws, describing perfect circles,

Their dance enticing

The very thing they fear,

Those longed-for claws.

 

Death cannot come too soon for them, it seems.

Rescued, they return. Consigned to darkness,

Cling to the window-glass,

Pink eyes afire with lust, the Undead, craving

That final, fatal light.

moth3

 

Blogging While Rome Burns

I’m not good at plans. I make any number of them. My computer’s littered with them. Mostly they are called Plan. Sometimes they are called Plan 2 or Plan 3. I found one the other day called Yet Another Plan. But not a single one of these Plans have I ever managed to put into action. Making them used to make me feel like I was doing something. Like I was in control. It doesn’t nowadays but I can’t seem to stop making them.

I don’t know whether my life is currently going to hell in a handcart, and my survival so far has just been a lucky accident. I don’t know the state of my life because another thing I’m not good at is assessing and coming to logical conclusions. I am very logical; drearily, pedantically logical in fact at times. I just can’t apply the dreary logic to my own circumstances. My mind goes off at tangents, and then tangents from the tangents. It slithers away from most things. Slithers back to the single thing it was designed for – scribbling stories; finessing poems few people will ever read – and of course to blogging, this endless tap-tap-tapping away and one damned machine or another. I am all input and no output. Consumed by what I am, and the way my brain is wired, I need another planet to be on.

Sorry, this sounds like some ancient Roman death-rattle and it didn’t start off like that. There’s nothing new in the situation – I’m just noticing it more at the moment, what with the pending house move and all the alien focussing-on-dull-stuff that that process entails. And Mum going into a home.

When Mum was around it was my role to be her child. I knew where I was with that. However old I got, having no children of my own, I remained her child. Now she’s left me, mentally – physically too, since she was carted off in an ambulance with an exhausted lady social worker. I was one of the principals in our family play. I played the eldest daughter, that gifted disappointment, the damp squib. I was the Sunday visitor staring into space; the one who did the tortoise shuffle up to the café with her; who manoeuvred her arms, with all those woolly layers, into the sleeves of her winter coat; who fumbled about for her walking-stick under the table. I was the one with the endless capacity for boredom (which was really a capacity to be thinking of many other things whilst appearing to listen). I was the incompetent, the unlucky one, an endless source of concern for a mother who ran on worry. ‘Oh Linda!’ her constant refrain. That was what I was for.

And suddenly here I am – one of a faceless crowd mumbling rhubarb-rhubarb to sound like I’m really talking; third from the left in the chorus; the soldier who walks on with a spear in the Second Act.

So, at the moment my own particular Rome may be burning. Or I may just be worrying too much. Usually it’s the worrying, but as usual I have no way of telling. But I can tell you this one thing, best beloveds: writing makes the world all right. Writing about disintegration pulls everything back together. Writing about chaos makes some temporary sense of it. Writing is threading a giant bowlful of beads into a necklace. Why or how that should be… I don’t know.

I did some cursory research about the Emperor Nero. He couldn’t actually have fiddled while Rome burned since violins – that whole class of instruments – hadn’t been invented yet. He might have played the cithara, which may or may not be the wooden instrument he is shown with, in the above illustration. Or his fiddle/cithara playing may be purely metaphorical. Sadistic, decadent, unpopular – he wasn’t nice at all, old Nero. He was an ineffectual leader, not bothered about the sufferings of his people, and that’s probably what the legends of his fiddle-playing were all about.

Therefore blog on, best beloveds. Like the orchestra on the Titanic, we shall keep on playing Nearer my God to Thee as sea-water dampens our trouser-bottoms. If Rome is indeed burning, such music shall we have.

The Patience of Gryphons: part the third

Sybil was not having a satisfactory day. The whole world seemed to be celebrating but she, at home in Surrey, was fretting about the view from the terrace windows. Grey English drizzle ruined the lovely sloping view down the garden, to the point where it met with a field of grazing sheep. The leaded panes still bore their crosswise brown-paper strips in case of bomb-blast – though that was unlikely, since the War was in the process of ending. Yesterday had been VE Day. Sailors and drunken girls had danced in the streets. Some had climbed lamp-posts to wave at the seething crowds below. The radio had been full of talk of “Good Old Winnie” leading us to victory. Sybil knew she should be happy. She was a well-kept woman of thirty-seven, with a wealthy husband. They and what remained of their pre-War staff had come safely through the six years of War and austerity. Curtyss Manor had suffered no damage, from bombs or shrapnel at any rate. One wing of the house had been taken over by soldiers, for a while, and that had sustained some damage – boot-marks on the skirting board, rips in the curtains, cigarette burns all over the place… why did soldiers have to make such a mess?

It was scarcely patriotic to feel, as she did today, both restless and miserable.

Why does everything conspire to obscure one’s view? She murmured to herself. Now a spring mist was starting to creep in. A moment more and she would no longer be able to see…

Why was it, she wondered, that the sight affected her so, the sight of that lonely little gryphon at the far edge of the terrace? Why was she still annoyed at the auction house for their oversight in delivering only one of the pair. The other was perfectly safe in their store room, they had assured her, and would be delivered next time one of their vehicles was in Surrey. Shortage of petrol, of course. She did understand. They could hardly just leap into their van and make a special trip, for the sake of one garden ornament. But that gryphon, out there in the drizzle, in its lonely singularity, annoyed her. It was designed to be in a pair, it was part of set. Its current singularity irritated her and… and she couldn’t help feeling, illogical though it was, that this gryphon was missing it’s mate, or twin, or whatever you called it. It was as if… as if it was calling to her. Every time she passed this window she felt somehow compelled to look out, and the feeling was getting stronger. It had got so that she couldn’t pass the drawing room door without going in, going to the terrace window, looking out. Just to check…

To check what? What was she expecting, that the solitary little gryphon would have moved since last time she checked up on it? That maybe it would have packed its little stone bags and set off for London in search of its missing twin? Fanciful, thought Sybil, ridiculous! She was normally such a sensible person. Might it be a case of nerves? Perhaps the stress of war had affected her more than she realised.

The rain continued, but Sybil had had an idea. Her little ‘creature’ couldn’t move, but she could. She could pack an overnight bag and take the motor-car to London, herself.  The idea both scared and excited her. There was the London traffic and unfamiliar roads, of course, but that wasn’t it. “It” was that Sybil had been taught to drive by one of the officers billeted at Curtyss. Her husband had been posted overseas for a while, and it had happened during his absence.  For some reason, she had never told him that she could drive.

Had it been to protect his masculine pride? Henry did have rather old fashioned views on women drivers. It was an extension of his conviction that machinery and the fair sex did not mix. Or had it been because that particular officer had been rather handsome? He’d been married, of course. Five years married. Two young boys and a girl, he’d told her. Nothing untoward had happened; no meaningful glances, no accidental brushing of hands. They had been friends, and that was all. And he had taught her to drive. A useful skill, but one Henry didn’t happen to know about.

“Well, I shall just set forth”, she told herself. Her husband was not an early riser. She could be gone before he awoke and deal with the explanations… afterwards.  No doubt it would put it down to her age: hormones and such.

The poor lost creature on the terrace seemed to be calling to her now. Its distress had become hers, and since she had had her Idea the volume of that distress seemed only to be increasing. She could not ignore it. Ridiculous it might be, but she absolutely must set forth and fetch the gryphon’s mate.

The Patience of Gryphons: part the second

And so they waited, meditating, as each had done so many times before, on the moment their Three Hundred Years began.

As history wore on, in books of stories it began to be told that Greyclaw and Rainfeathers, Grimalkin’s gryphon familiars, nested in her skirts.

In fact gryphons do not nest. Being mythical creatures they need no physical shelter or place of rest – neither nest nor lair. What they do require is invisibility, to be obscured from the prying eyes of men, and Grimalkin’s magical skirts had provided this. A bargain is always struck between a witch and her familiars: their assistance – their company – in exchange for… Well, it could be many things. It could be power – her power allied with theirs. It could be invisibility, as in the case of gryphons. It could be as simple as food.

A cat, for example, is made of flesh and blood. She needs food, and the witch provides it. Any ordinary cat may pay for her food in trophy mice dropped on the doorstep, or in real or faked affection. A witch’s cat does the same, but with this sole difference – that she may carry her mistress’s essence from one reincarnation to the next. Felix-the-Cat and Robin-the-Redbreast – these alone of the animal kingdom are entrusted with the soul of a dying witch.

Then came the dreadful day when Matthew Hopkins, the self-styled Witchfinder General, moved into the County. At the age of twenty-five Hopkins was coming close to his own death, though not as yet aware of it, only of an occasional fever and the spitting of blood. Failing health only made him more determined to add to his execution-list. Increasing weariness made him cast around for proxy means of catching witches, and he was inspired, one day, with the thought that he could conserve his own energy by pitting one witch against another.

And he had the witch Thomasine, said to be the most powerful magician in the East.  The woman had been languishing in a roach-infested cell in Chelmsford for some time, awaiting the coming of the Justice. Powerful, Hopkins estimated, but as scared of death on the bonfire as any other old woman might be. For the price of her life Thomasine proved ready enough to betray her sister witches, just as Judas betrayed Our Lord.  For every visit to every town a fee of £20 plus expenses would accrue to Matthew Hopkins and his crew: some towns had to raise a special tax to pay for them. Hopkins still imagined, at the age of twenty-five, that he would be living long enough to savour his riches.

Grimalkin sensed them coming, thin-coughing-man, he of the black hat and buckled shoes, alongside Thomasine, whose energy signature was strong enough to be picked up miles off. Grimalkin warned the little gryphons, who instantly blended themselves into her skirts and adding their power to hers. Grimalkin knew she was fighting for her life, and focussed all her energies on leading the hunters astray or blocking their path.

The soundless spell-battle between the great witch Thomasine and the lesser witch Grimalkin was to last for many days. Both knew it was a battle to the death. If Thomasine won, Grimalkin would die. If Grimalkin won, Thomasine would find herself back in the cell, awaiting the Justice of the Assize at His Majesty’s Pleasure.

Many times, Thomasine and the Witchfinder found themselves lost in scrub or woodland that had not existed a moment before. Darkness fell when darkness ought not to have fallen. Hideous music surrounded the pair, maddening them and confusing their senses. At various times both Thomasine and the Witchfinder woke from a dreamless sleep they were unaware of having fallen into. At times, plagues of frogs streamed across their path and bats curved down in daylight to tangle in their hair.

But Thomasine was the more powerful witch by far, and after many a delay was to lead the Witchfinder to Grimalkin’s cottage by the river. Matthew Hopkins men arrived on horseback and Grimalkin was dragged away to await the Justice of the Assize. And the gryphons…?

Huddled together, dangerously exposed, they prayed for the soul of the Good Witch Grimalkin. They asked for a robin to alight at her barred cell window, or that the jailhouse cat might prove to be no ordinary feline. Matthew Hopkins failed to see the sibling gryphons, even without the protection of Grimalkin’s skirts, but the Witch Thomasine did. She laughed.

Three Hundred Years, she sneered. Three Hundred Years, my lion-lings, before you shall set eyes on each other again. Greyclaw shall fly North and Rainfeathers shall fly South; and when you land, my baby-eagles, you shall each be turned to stone for Three Hundred Years.

Golden Apple Earrings

“Pretty,” he said, brushing the golden apples absently.

I kissed him – but not the way I did before –

Being pierced through the heart by the one who gave them to me.

Never play word-games with Christians, they’re superstitious,

Truly believing in Serpents and Souls and Apples,

In sunlight stippling Eden’s long-ago leaves

And Jehovah’s moon asleep in the fork of the Tree.

Between my husband’s heart and mine stretches a silver chain;

I left him easily enough, but it pulls and pulls sometimes.

The links that make our chain are dainty fine:

A break in any one and the pain may end me.

“I am the serpent in your Eden,” I said

– so much throw-away imagery –

But my lover stared at me and stepped away.

moon

earrings

The Patience of Gryphons: part the first

Gryphons are famed for their patience.

In the auction house store-room Greyclaw and Rainfeathers had been placed close together, but back to back when they needed to be face to face and eye to eye to break the curse. This would have been an unbearably frustrating situation for others but Greyclaw and Rainfeathers, stone siblings, had waited. They had waited, in isolation from one another, as wars raged about them, as buildings rose and fell, as the skies, at first empty, filled with metal birds and skyrockets. They had waited as clouds scurried above them, as rain blew against them, as snow fell made high, white hats on their heads. They had waited, Greyclaw and Rainfeathers, banished, he to the North Country and she to the South, as summer after summer passed them by, as children were born and old men crumbled into dust in churchyards. They had lived through silence and noise. They had existed so long as stone statues that they had forgotten how long they had lived.

They had waited in dusty sheds and in damp corners of stately homes. Weeds sometimes obscured them but always, eventually, gardeners would arrive with hook and sickle to hack the weeds away.

Moss grew on their beaks and blanketed their leonine flanks, but that too died, in its season. Snow formed high white hats on their proud heads, then melted.

Lovers walked by on cobbled pathways, hand in hand, scarcely noticing that one or other of the small, stone beast was watching them. Stone eyes were sightless, but a gryphon had other, more powerful senses. Greyclaw and Rainfeathers sensed each other’s presence. The moment that second brown-coated attendant walked through the door carrying an age-worn, moss-covered Rainfeathers, waves of joy and silent greetings passed between them.

“It is I, Greyclaw.”

“And I, Rainfeathers. I have missed you so, my brother.”

“Three Hundred Years.”

Back to back they could effect nothing to break the spell. It was all in the eyes. Greyclaw and Rainfeathers had waited three hundred years to be together, and eye to gryphon eye. Now they were indeed together, but…

“Our time draws closer. Patience, sister.”

“Patience indeed, my brother. And rejoicing.”

“Patience and Rejoicing.”

Three hundred years had passed. Grimalkin’s curse had expired, and might be broken.

 

love potion2

‘Her familiars were two little griphons that nested in her skirts’

 

To Tweet, but what to Tweet – that is the question

I just opened a Twitter account. It was my intention, in fact, to join all three – Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook – in a single day. Then I could then have written a smug and witty post entitled:

I joined Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook in a single day (and now I need a little lie down)

Unfortunately I’m not going to be able to use that one because it’s taken me most of the morning to join Twitter and my nerves are already shot. I need the little lie down now. What if, in my experimentation, I accidentally tweeted some really foolish thing and everybody in the whole universe was splitting its sides laughing at me?

Pssst: why is the past tense of I text (absolutely counterintuitively) said to be I text rather than I texted, yet the past tense of I tweet remains I tweeted? Or is it in fact I tweet with a silent ‘ed’ and I just don’t know that yet?

And now of course I have no idea what to tweet. I googled What am I supposed to tweet, then? And Mr G replied: Think of it as small talk

I’m pretty bad at small talk. Also, I have no confidence that Kim Kardashian, say, or Olly Murs or The Queen would want to know that I just made myself a cup of coffee, or that the tumble dryer sounds as if it may be about to tell me it’s completed its cycle by piping the musical motif from Close Encounters of the First Kind. You know – the one where the hero builds a huge, fascinating mud-pie spaceship on the kitchen table and then hares off across the USA in search the real thing? Which no doubt is more than 140 characters.

How I hate that tumble-dryer noise, by the way. There must be a way to silence it, in the instruction manual. Which is lost.

There is nothing interesting about my life I realise now, too late.

Nothing at all.

Nothing.

Whereas I can’t seem to stop writing blog posts I can’t seem to think of anything at all to tweet or have tweeted. Or have tweet(ed). And what makes it worse is I have no Twitter followers. Understandable since this is my first day in the Nest, but… I’d be tweeting into thin air. Wouldn’t I?

Why am I putting myself through all this? There was a kind of logic behind it, I think. I had come to the conclusion that I ought to use the only two things I had – a computer and a compulsion to write – to make money. This sort of thinking has never worked in the past but I don’t seem to have access to any other sort.

So I asked Mr G how to make money through writing online and he sent me to one of those Wiki-whatsits with Janet and John-type illustrations. Wiki-whatsit listed a number of ways but warned me in Big Red Letters (no, it didn’t, I made that bit up) to establish a social media presence in advance. It didn’t tell me why, in any great detail, but I think the idea is you’re forming a kind of network – a bit like the network of links constantly forming and reforming inside La Tour Abolie, and between La Tour Abolie and other blogs/websites except that this is… outside my blog – like allying one complexifying

(cut out the red-wigglies, Spellcheck, there is such a word!)

network of links to another? Everything feeds back into, enhances and magnifies everything else? Everything hangs on the instant findability of information? Have I got the idea?

Please not that! I thought. I’ve managed to avoid it for so long.

I shall draw an analogy. Yes, I shall. Or maybe will.

As many of you know, I am a big fan of TV science fiction series but can only watch them in unevenly spaced, non-sequential gobbets on Freeview. At the moment I am watching not one but two ancient seasons of Stargate. One of the characters, Teal’c, has this thing inside his chest, like a worm with feelers, and there’s this big X in his chest where he’s been cut open at some point and, at moments of high drama and stress, he reaches into this X and pulls out the worm thing, which is actually called a symbiont, and he the host.

Well, how I feel about that symbiont is how I have tended to feel about Twitter, and social media generally. Something along the lines of: why would you ever want to?

It’s one of those schizoid things I expect – something to do with transparency and inadequate boundaries – ontological insecurity. It’s that instinct that other people could walk all through you if they wanted to, walk all over you…

On the other hand I sometimes do feel, when watching some TV debate, that I would like to say something pithy and devastating about Donald Trump, say, or… or Donald Trump. I have even sometimes mused If only I was on Twitter…

The other annoying thing is it means plastering my real and deadly dull name around the internet. Some of you already know because you asked, and I confessed, that I am not so much of a Rosie as a Linda. Rosie is the name of my favourite moggy. People came to address me as Rosie because rosiebooks2009 was the username WordPress concocted from an old email address when I joined. I would love to be a Rosie but sadly I’m a Linda. Every woman in the entire world is a Linda; there were at least four in my class at Junior School.

To add insult to injury I am, perforce, a Clark. I married an interesting man with the least interesting surname in the world. After we got divorced I had other things to worry about than fiddle-faddling about reverting to my maiden name. So, call me either. I’m both.

So, my Twitter ‘handle’ (handle?) is @lindaclark944. Quite what good that will be to you at the moment I don’t know.

Perhaps I ought to tweet that I have just posted a post about tweeting?

Yes, that might be a start.

Purple smells…

Purple smells

Like the kind of musk

A courtesan would wear, or

A woman spy

On some grim mindwinter train.

 

Yellow feels

Like the ears of an old cat

As if my very touch

Would raise a purr, or

Like the roses

On my grandma’s lawn.

 

Green tastes

Like the sap of an unknown tree

Something raw and magickal

The blood of a snake

And

 

Red sounds

Like a saxophone played soft

By an old man in some

Smoky city den

Like the dying din of an audience

When the act’s set to begin.

purple

Eighty Words A Minute

It was February and the wind was bitter, the municipal park

Empty apart from us, who’d come to honour

Cynthia’s redundancy. I’ve got my skills, was all she had to say,

Eighty words a minute, girls, they can’t take those away.

 

It’s not the end of the world, she said.

So we slopped the wine into the paper cups

And drank to the world not having ended, quite,

And the cold wind blew away

 

The perfume she always called Anay Anay.

Those long nails curled around her cigarette,

Those narrowed eyes, that mouth made smaller still

To drag the smoke inside.

 

She clattered up and down on spiked heels

And every now and then she’d pause to stare

Hard down into the patent leather,

As if to read her future clearer there.

 

She’s got her skills, they can’t take those away.

They take your face and your fertility,

The bloom of youth, your sexuality,

Your hope, your laughter and your dignity,

But eighty words a minute – no, they won’t take those away.

Dead People Who Would Have Been Bloggers

I’m not suggesting that to paint a bison on a wall, or blow coloured powder through your fingers to make your hand-print on a cave wall is the equivalent of blogging – communication, yes; symbolism, yes but for blogging you do need words. However, words have been around for a long time, and as long as they have been around there have been people who wanted to… just update you on their Daily Doings, on their Thoughts, people who just had a weird idea or two and found some sort of pleasure in putting it out there… see if there was any reaction.

These individuals were not necessarily novelists. Writing a novel is a specialised, long-term project and requires a lot of sterling qualities that bloggers may or may not be somewhat deficient in – gritty determination; staying power; that passionate, obsessive attention to detail; that ability to remember who in God’s name Catherine Earnshaw is and why there need to be two Catherine’s in one book; that ability to keep going day after day, pushing that knot towards the invisible end of that invisible piece of string, building that wall whilst standing two inches away from it, telling the joke for which there may well turn out never to have been a punchline; wading on through that dark, dark treacle when one’s novel sinks into its inevitable Soggy Bottom – or rather it’s Soggy Middle.

I’m not like that, fellow bloggers. Maybe you are – in which case why are you wasting your time on this frippery? Wamble off somewhere and pen that novel. Get thee to a nunnery, why woulds’t thou be a breeder of sinners?

All through history there have been people who have something to say – sometimes frivolous but equally often unique, subtle, interesting, humorous; people who wanted to gossip rather than lecture; people who just wanted to say, hey, what do you think about this? In the past those people did blog, they just didn’t call it that, and they used whatever medium came to hand. In Ancient Rome Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist, tutor and advisor to the truly horrible Emperor Nero, wrote letters.

seneca.jpg

Except that they weren’t really letters. His one hundred and twenty-four were formally addressed to a friend, a distant student, but whether or not such student actually existed – is unimportant. The Letters were Seneca’s way of talking to the world. Give him a computer, he would have blogged.

Diarist Samuel Pepys would probably have blogged. He eventually had to give up diarising because of his eyesight. He was afraid that having to write, with an inkpot and quill pen, by candlelight, was damaging it further. However, he might well have blogged in his own private code, based on the well-known (in those days) Shelton’s Shorthand, plus Spanish, Italian and French, since the grown-up stuff was interspersed with quite a lot of saucy stuff about maids and mistresses that he that wouldn’t have wanted his wife to read, also a lot of stuff about his wife that she probably wouldn’t have wanted other people to know.

pepys

For example (skip this bit, children):

“… and did tocar mi cosa con su mano [ touch my thing with her hand] through my chemise but yet so as to hazer me hazer la grande cosa ” [make me make the great thing (orgasm)]

Jane Austen would have blogged, you betcha. She would probably have called herself Johan Austen for more gravitas, or Herbert Finke and had one of those little round pictures where you can almost but not quite see someone’s face, and it might not be them anyway (not that I can speak, hiding behind a picture of a stuffed witch puppet). Can you imagine her observations, this quiet, mob-capped auntie in the corner? I think I would almost rather have been able to read Aunt Jane’s blog than Pride and Prejudice. Almost.  Better still, Cassandra might not have been able to get her censoring little hands on it after her sister’s death.

Charles Dickens would have blogged. He published those enormous and rather wonderful novels of his in weekly instalments – respect to him; it’s no easy feat to write a novel on the hoof, no safety net – the possibility of tossing the whole thing in the wastepaper basket half way through or drastically rewriting it. But he was also a businessman and wrote and published several magazines. I can imagine his blog as being more of a zine, but a wonderful zine. A wonderful new(ish) word zine is, too – so useful for Scrabble.

And then there are the women’s magazine journalists, the newspaper columnists, the poets, the publishers of scandalous broadsheets and lofty sermons. Do you think they would have been able to resist the lure of that lit-up screen? Two more, and then I’ll shut up.

Nella Last (or Housewife, 49 so brilliantly played by the so recently late Victoria Wood) who wrote page after unpunctuated page, in pencil on scraps of paper, and submitted them to Mass Observation movement during the Second World War. What she writes about is so dull, so every-day and yet, running beneath it all, the sorrows of a real-life mismatched but stuck-to marriage, the loved but not entirely comprehended son, the struggles, the clever ‘dodges’, the pride in being able to manage, the pleasure in making her ‘dollies’ for the hospital, the achievement of running a wartime charity shop; the emergence of a downtrodden middle-aged woman, partly through her writings and partly through war, into a circumscribed individuality. She’d have blogged – if her husband had allowed her on the computer.

George Mackay Brown, eccentric poet and dramatist from Stromness, Orkney, Scotland, and regular columnist in The Orcadian. He died in 1996. Apart from one or two sorties to university and so forth, he spent his whole life in this one, beloved place and he wrote about the small things, the daily things that were important to his readers. He said he wrote for an imaginary Orcadian, someone exiled to America maybe, or Canada. He wrote to give them a taste of home, to keep them in touch with what was important to all. After breakfast each day he would push aside the marmalade pot and the breadcrumbs and start writing. He often had a bit of a struggle to get his handwritten column to the post-box on time, when it was blowing a gale or the up-hill-and-down-dale streets were a sheet of ice. Often he was cold, in his own little house. Sometimes he was ill, sometimes depressed. Sometimes – pretty often, in fact – he turned to whiskey for solace and when he did he drank too much of it, but always he wrote. He brought Orkney to life. He knew so much about its history and geography, and was constantly referring to his overloaded bookshelves for the meaning of some tantalising word or phrase in the Orkney Norn – the old Norse language.

He was a nerd, before there was such a thing. He would have been a blogger, although he might have had to use the computer in the Public Library, since he had little money and only the most basic possessions. His newspaper columns were eventually collected into two books:  Under Brinkie’s Brae and Letters from Hamnavoe. He wrote about what he ate for his supper, his bachelor experiments with cooking; about the challenging Orcadian weather; about taking friends and visitors round the island and showing them the sights; about long walks and seabirds; about problems with heating, postal strikes; ballpoint pens; a sagging couch a friend had bought on his behalf in a sale; nature, football matches and television programmes… anything.

And that’s the thing about blogging, isn’t it? You don’t have to have a theme, or a purpose, or a noble aim. You don’t have to be coherent, you don’t need to be propagandising or sending some sort of message. You can write about anything. Just because.

Shrink Me!

This is what I hope it won’t feel like, moving into a flat. My first flat – apart from the four year ‘first marital home’ – after all these years.

I never actually thought I would get a flat, what with the thirteen Furry Friends, but luckily I stumbled across some fellow cat-friends and they don’t mind. And it’s got high ceilings, which is good, since I’m a tallish lady (or, as my sister once less flatteringly put it, a giantess). No bumping the old head on the ceiling.

At first I wondered how the cats would take to it – after a having glorious three bedrooms to roam around in, now to be confined to two and no upstairs. But in fact they don’t tend to roam around. Cats stake out their own spaces – huge, dominant gingers mostly downstairs, close to the food – old, feeble tabbies upstairs – young, mostly female cats choosing between levels, depending on who’s asleep and who’s roaming about. Kitten – the most ancient one – never leaves her dusty corner of the front bedroom, though the door is always open. She has her own basket, next to the radiator, her own food tray, her own personal dirt box and there she sits – or mostly sleeps – unless accidentally invaded, in which case a lot of fearsome hissing and sideways skittering breaks out.

I have observed that whereas humans seek out plenty of horizontal space – floors, rooms – what cats like is vertical space. They like shelves, stacks of stuff at different levels. They have this competition going to be top cat – on top of the kitchen cabinet trumps on top of the fridge, which trumps on top of the tumble drier, though that’s warmer. Aloft is good, carpet is draughty and worse – low status.

Therefore when I move into my new flat (fingers tightly crossed) I shall make sure to pile stuff up for the Furry Ones to scale. This is likely to happen of its own accord, it seems to me, in that receding removal men leave behind a tidal wave of stacked cardboard boxes. There’ll be plenty for the first five to use for mountaineering and by the time I have collected the remaining eight from the cattery (possibly two separate catteries) next day I will have  had time to do some more ‘spatial engineering’. That’s the plan anyway. But we all know what happens to best laid plans.

And then there’s just me. Me adapting to living in close proximity with other people again. Me re-joining the human race, perhaps. Me returning to the small town I inhabited for most of my marriage and – I realised recently – the very last place I can remember feeling ‘at home’. I am looking forward to rediscovering familiar territory, old walks, old shops, new shops. I am looking forward to actually being able to walk without being observed with a stone-faced, slack-jawed stare from every doorway. Honestly, it’s like Deliverance round here.

Ex and My Replacement, however, have long since moved away so meeting them walking hand and hand in the street (as I did, once) is a vanishingly small possibility. They probably don’t hold hands any more anyway – or if they do, I don’t wish to know that. In my experience hand-holding tends to be a short-lived phenomenon, all too swiftly replaced by bickering, and then silence. But perhaps I’m wrong on that. Just a sour old cynic!

drink me