She…

SHE picked up a pair of sunglasses from the path. Mummy wouldn’t let go of her other hand so she had to pull them both down there. The sunglasses were red and made of plastic, reflecting the winter sun twice over. They were child’s sunglasses: just her size. She put them on. “Leave them, they’ll be filthy,” her mother said, but it was too late.

The world she walked through now was the colour of storms. The glasses were the most glamorous thing she had ever owned. Her brown coat itched and itched.

pink glasses SHE picked up the rolling milk-bottles. Her friends, or at least the group she walked in the wake of, turned and laughed at her. “Leave them!” But she couldn’t leave them. They were somebody’s milk-bottles that had been on somebody’s high doorstep, waiting for the milkman to collect. Without appearing to speed up, they left her behind. She heard their laughter in the distance. They were taking about her. The streetlight was orange, reflecting in the puddles.

SHE picked up the college prospectus, recalling that glorious smell of new ink and shiny paper. It had slid off the bed and onto the floor as her father railed at her. “I could cut the ground from underneath your feet,” he shouted. She went to college in the end, but that was immaterial. It was what he had said to her and the venom with which he had said it.

“I could cut… …the ground… from underneath… …your feet.”

SHE picked up her handbag from the consulting room floor. Why had she brought such a heavy one? How could she need all this stuff? “There’s always adoption,” the specialist said, but there wasn’t. It had already been discussed.

“I don’t want some other man’s brat,” he had said. “It might be a serial killer.”

SHE picked up her mother’s walking stick from the supermarket floor, wondering what germs might have come up with it. Her mother was jabbering, as usual, and standing right in front of the cereal display. “Sorry,” she said, to the man trying to reach round them for a packet of Weetabix, “She’s getting in your way.”

“You’re both getting in my way,” said the man.

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SHE felt around with her left hand for her spectacles, but met with grit and broken glass. “Oh, leave that, leave that dearie, you’ll cut yourself.” She was on a damp pavement, surrounded by very tall people. She tried to get up, but they pushed her down again. Gently, by the shoulders. “Try to keep still, dearie,” said the same woman’s voice, “Ambulance is on its way.”

How far down she was, from the voice, as if on the forest floor, and high trees, and no light getting through.

“Am I going to die?” she sobbed.

“Am I going to die?”

 

Featured Image (milk bottle Banksy)

There’s a hole in the sky

There’s a hole in the sky and it seems to be shaped like you.

Someone has punched you out or punched you through,

Or maybe, wielding special sky-cutting shears,

More carefully excised you.

  

There’s a hole in the sky and it seems to be shaped like you.

I spy you through your shape, dank midnight blue;

And scuttling there, the Thing you saw so clear

That was always at your back, always hurrying near.

 

Any day now the sun will snuff itself out,

All days will be dust

And the stars will come streaming through.

 

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Sunken Gusset Blues

Mum used to give me her sewing box to tidy, or her button tin to sort out. She was busy, and would never get round to all this important tidying and sorting by herself. I would sit quietly for hours to accomplish such tasks, never thinking I was being “occupied” or kept out from under the maternal feet. I suspect I was a clingy, whiney sort of infant – no wonder she needed to shake me off once in a while.

button tin

I never tired of lifting the little wooden lids that fitted on top of the sewing box, or opening the whole contraption out and folding it back again, concertina-fashion, or opening one side but not the other, which usually made it topple over. I regularly pinched my fingers in those lethal metal hinges. They’re probably banned nowadays.

Within the sewing box would be ‘all manner of things’ – cotton reels to be rewound and organised into a kind of colour spectrum (I must have thought this was necessary); cards of narrow elastic; cards of lace; tiny gold safety pins; tacking thread; cutting shears; cards of buttons in complete sets awaiting only a garment to sun themselves on; thimbles, several, one pink; tape measures, inches only; a sharp gadget for unpicking seams, like a miniature Bat’leth; ric-rac, always loads of that, guaranteed to make any dress or skirt look home-made; a pair of pinking scissors.

I was left-handed and the pinking shears – like all scissors unless you order them specially from a catalogue – were right-handed and virtually unusable. All the same, I managed to ‘pink’ a whole lot of things holding the scissors upside down – scraps of material, pieces of cardboard, the paper covers of my school exercise books.

What could one not accomplish, with such a sewing box? It was as if the box itself possessed the sewing magic. Thus royally equipped, how could you fail to turn out some little couture number or a shirt with a collar that lay perfectly flat or a babygrow with the gusset in the right place rather than half way down the leg?

Which brings me neatly to where I intended to be all along – The Great British Sewing Bee. It’s on again at the moment – next one tomorrow evening, yay! Oh, the pleasures of making garments from scratch; the joy of cutting out those shapes from crisp, virgin fabric; the artistic buzz of getting the thing to actually fit on the dummy at the end of the process without the dummy’s head falling off.

You wouldn’t think a show about a group of amateur needle-men and women competing against one another to whip up something complex, usually involving overlocking, zip insertion or bagging out, from organza, velvet or corduroy within a strict time limit with Claudia Winkelman bellowing at them all the time would be so… nail-biting. But it is.

Though last week’s babygrow was an exceptionally entertaining disaster.

The baby grow seemed both ill-fitting and badly put together, with the gusset appear at an angel near the middle of the leg. Patrick tried to console the obviously disappointed Ghislaine by suggesting she put that challenge to the back of her mind and the garment to the back of the closet.

BBC website

I just love the bit about the gusset appearing at an angel.

Poor Ghislaine – we’ve all done stuff like that. Nobody, unless they had no life at all, would waste their time making babygrows anyway. Why spend three hours torturing yourself over sunken gussets and back-to-front cuffs when you can buy the things ready-made? And how long is a baby going to fit in a babygrow?

Last year I was so inspired by the programme that I went out and bought myself a sewing machine. I suspect many other ladies did exactly the same foolish thing. And men, of course. I don’t know why the number of needle-working men should be surprising. After all, what are you doing when you design or follow a pattern? Fitting together an intricate set of components and thinking in three dimensions. It’s soft engineering – no different to designing a mould for a tractor tyre or building a whopping great bridge – just in cotton, chiffon or – in poor Ghislaine’s case – stretchy jersey stuff. If only she hadn’t plumped for contrasting navy-blue for the gusset they might not have noticed it appearing at an angel. As they said, it did rather leap up and hit you in the eye.

I made a bunch of stuff on the new sewing machine, and not bad stuff either. I was compelled to “do” needlework at school and found it infinitely preferable to cookery, though that’s not saying much.  At least needlework was clean; you could sit down for it and it didn’t involve getting dough stuck between your fingers or pleading with members of the giant hockey-playing class mafia for a tiny share of oven space.

As that particular series of Sewing Bee came to an end so, predictably, did I run out of steam with my new sewing-machine. In fact I temporarily lost it. But now in the process of packing for the house move I have found my sewing machine. It’s all boxed up in readiness and who knows, once I’m moved…

Maybe not a babygrow, but….

The young wife and mediocre dancer

Epitome… aww, can’t I have apotheosis instead?

Epitome calls to mind the legal office I used to work in, and spending afternoon after afternoon attempting to gather big bundles of dusty deeds and documents into something called an Epitome of Title.

Epitome, which most people think of as being the perfect example of a person, quality or whatever, also actually means:

summary, abstract, synopsis, précis, résumé, outline, digest, recapitulation, summation, compendium…

An Epitome of Title, that big bundle of sepia documents of various ages, some typed, many hand-written in some cramped legal hand is an abstract of all the documents there are, or can be found, on a particular subject – a careful selection, in other words, proving somebody’s right or title to something.

I have to admit, I found the process tedious and stressful. My chief memory is of dusty sunlight streaming in through street-level windows in my boss’s office, and the shadowy backs of loiterers in the street who had chosen to perch their bottoms on the wide window-ledge and watch the world go by for a few minutes, unaware that they could be seen from within. I did like the handwriting though. And I liked the smell and feel of that old, expensive paper, the waxiness, the sepia-ness, the undisturbed-ness. The past rose from it in motes of dust and fell from it in centuries old spider-corpses.

But apotheosis, now there’s a word. It tends to get used as a synonym for epitome, but it isn’t, not really. In its everyday, non-legal sense the Epitome is the perfect example of something, but the Apotheosis of something is more rarefied, more wonderful still. Technically apotheosis means:

the elevation or exaltation of a person to the rank of a god

whereas, epitome means:

a person or thing that is typical of or possesses to a high degree the features of a whole class.

Epitome is one of something, apotheosis is the absolute something.

And the reason I have apotheosis stuck in my head is the last line of a poem by Peter Porter. [Sorry, Daisy… my friend Daisy groans whenever I start banging on about poems – she prefers my childhood memories. Sorry, Daisy – but you might like the legal stuff since we worked together for many in that anonymous,  building – the one with the spiders and the shadows of shoppers perched on the windowsills behind thick, frosted glass.]

It is a poem called Made In Heaven, and is about a young woman who marries for money and then realises she has the rest of her life to regret it:

The apotheosis of the young wife and mediocre dancer.

It obviously meant something to me, that line – a message that year after year I was failing to heed!

bank street

(Daisy and I sometimes feel very, very old – but not, as you might be tempted to assume from the knickerbockers, starched collars, caps and horse-drawn carts, quite that old.)

Fork Goodness Sake

Fork?

WordPress, you are scraping the barrel. Presumably soon it will be Knife or even… wait for it… Spoon.

How about Potato-Masher, Ceramic Hob or Whisk? All equally depressing. Maybe they’ve been done already. Honestly, fork – a word that reminds me of nothing – apart from the obvious rude word of similar pronunciation (which everyone else will no doubt seize upon) and late tiny comedian Ronnie Corbett and his sketch about the four candles/fork-handles. Yes, large man goes into hardware shop and demands fork-handles. Little man behind the counter goes away and comes back with… four candles. Ha ha.

Ha… ?

So I’ll just ramble on all Virginia Woolf and stream-of-consciousness whilst pretending to write about forks.

Today I forced myself to leave the house. I’ve always been somewhat reclusive but since moving here, to the End of the Earth (or England, anyway) where there is nothing and no one to tempt me from my portals, I have been turning into a veritable hermit. I even read some books about becoming a hermit at one stage. One was called A Pelican of the Wilderness. A good deal more interesting, as a title, than Fork.

Going out always involves Anxiety with a capital A. The more items going out involves, the greater the degree of uncertainty/variability to the enterprise and the longer the list of Bad Things That Might Possibly Happen. I don’t have that ability normal people seem to have, to have a long list of To Dos in front of them, but only worry about one at a time. If I have three To Dos I am forced to fear all three simultaneously and in precisely equal measure. But – sometimes it can’t be helped.

Today – number one – I had to go to the dentist. My worry-scape for that involved:

  • Timing – when to set off so as not to be too early or too late;
  • 5p pieces – have huge numbers of – tiny coins, size of washers – need to get rid of in that parking ticket machine – but how long will it take to feed £2 worth of 5p pieces (40?) into that parking ticket machine, and what if there’s some evil Man behind me, tapping his feet and sighing – what if my hands start shaking and I drop all the 5p pieces on the floor and have to do some sort of extended bunny dip in order to pick them up, and all the while he’s huffing and puffing?
  • What if there’s not a space in that car park at all? Sometimes there isn’t.
  • Dentist – is it the dentist or the hygienist this time? I can’t remember. Am I to be breathed-on and lectured, or spiked, polished and lectured?
  • Will it be Upstairs or Downstairs?
  • Should I take anything to read? Will I be able to concentrate to read, with the TV blaring in the corner showing endless Close Calls and Lucky Escapes on some channel I don’t usually watch?

Number two – oh God, another thing – I have to go to the tip, as it’s in the same Godawful town and I have to combine Things to save Petrol. Worry-scape:

  • What if I zoom straight past the entrance to the Household Recycling Centre, which is somewhat unexpected and disguised by the entrance to the station and a line of unfriendly-looking taxis?
  • What if there are too many cars in the tip and I have to do sort of manoeuvring, and I hit another car because I’ve reversed kind of crooked and then the man will get out and he’s bound to be a really horrid old man with a sort of tweedy cap and he’ll be so sarcastic and his wife, snooty-nosed cow, will be sitting in the passenger seat regarding me disapprovingly in the rear-view mirror and…
  • What if that bearded operative with the high-vis jacket comes over and wants to help me with the mountain of smelly black sacks I’ve just stacked in the back of the car? He doesn’t speak he just sort of leers at you and…
  • What if he doesn’t come over and I have to hike all these smelly black sacks up all those steps to that hellish skip-thing and heave them over the edge using all the strength in my ancient arms and… and then I’m bound to fall down the steps and then I’ll end up in hospital with a broken leg, maybe two broken legs and then who’s going to feed the cats?

Thirdly, to the vets.

  • What if it turns out really expensive and crashes my already severely stressed credit card and then I have to stand in the vets being embarrassed and trying to find another credit card in my wallet that won’t crash? How kind they’ll be to me. How silently-yet-audibly impatient all those waiting large-dog, gerbil and parakeet owners…
  • What if I cry, even though I don’t feel like I’m going to, when I see Rufus’s empty basket?
  • What if I start talking nineteen-to-the-dozen about Auntie Gladys or visiting Mum in the Home or the relative merits of different makes of saucepan? It could go either way.
  • What if it’s really hot in there and I have to wait and wait and wait, and I’ll be too self-conscious to take my cardigan off or maybe the vet will come out – the one who Did the Deed, and I’ll be forced to say Yes, Fine Thanks or talk about saucepans until she goes away again?

I have to worry about all those things before I set out, whilst I am driving along and all the time I am at each of those stops along the way. That’s what anxiety is like. Someone once described it as Fear Spread Thin. I prefer to think of it, in related terms, like Marmite: a little goes a very long way.

marmite.jpg

(Swarovski crystal embossed Marmite Jar, £2000 apparently. Why?)

But I went, and I accomplished all those tasks in four long hours of out-of-the-house-ness, and nothing very terrible went wrong. The only thing was that bus-driver gesticulating at me and doing those stupid-old-woman grimaces and shrugs through his giant windscreen because rather than confidently zooming out of the gap he had left for me into a fast-moving stream of traffic, I edged nervously out into the fast-moving stream of traffic.

So, on one side of the scales all three tasks completed without injury, humiliation or descent into madness: on the other side, baboon-faced and no doubt baboon-bottomed bus driver who deserves to get home tonight and find his wife has gone to Bingo and left him a tin of that slimy macaroni cheese (the even worse cheap version that is vaguely grey when it emerges from the tin, not even synthetic yellow) and a half-stale loaf of bread to make himself some toast to put it on.

Aha! – one side – the other side – therefore – a fork.

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The Heaven of Animals

Young Rufus had to be put to sleep today. The vet thought he had pancreatitis, which is nasty but a cat will usually recover, with treatment. But he wasn’t recovering, and today an x-ray showed it was something much more serious and far advanced. ‘He’s fading before my eyes,’ the vet said over the phone. I’m glad that at least I managed to take a few photos of him recently, before I knew he was ill. We are twelve again.

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Rufus was Henry’s brother. Charlie (simple Charlie, over the road) tells me he used to watch them as kittens, playing together at the end of our road. Then their owner moved away and passed Henry and Rufus on to an acquaintance, who swiftly threw them out again. Henry was straying for a long time. One day he turned up on my doorstep bleeding from a huge bite on the side of his face, and I redoubled my efforts. I have sat outside on a plastic garden chair talking to Henry for half an hour at a time, in rain, wind and snow – often in slippers and a cardigan because there he was – no time to get my coat.

Rufus, in the meantime, had found a new protector, but a year or so later turned up on the hillside’s stray circuit yet again, thin and dirty. I started feeding him as he passed through the garden; he would sit on the outside of the patio doors communing with Henry through the double-glazing. I caught him quickly enough. He was, I think, hoping to be caught.

A regularly fractured heart: one of the hazards of being a cat lady. One long, long – tediously long – life, many far shorter lives: temporary travelling companions; far too many losses.

This is the poem I read to myself at times like this:

THE HEAVEN OF ANIMALS: James L. Dickey

 Here they are. The soft eyes open.

If they have lived in a wood

It is a wood.

If they have lived on plains

It is grass rolling

Under their feet forever.

Having no souls, they have come,

Anyway, beyond their knowing.

Their instincts wholly bloom

And they rise.

The soft eyes open.

To match them, the landscape flowers,

Outdoing, desperately

Outdoing what is required:

The richest wood,

The deepest field.

For some of these,

It could not be the place

It is, without blood.

These hunt, as they have done,

But with claws and teeth grown perfect,

More deadly than they can believe.

They stalk more silently,

And crouch on the limbs of trees,

And their descent

Upon the bright backs of their prey

May take years

In a sovereign floating of joy

And those that are hunted

Know this as their life,

Their reward: to walk

Under such trees in full knowledge

Of what is in glory above them,

And to feel no fear,

But acceptance, compliance.

Fulfilling themselves without pain

At the cycle’s center,

They tremble, they walk

Under the tree,

They fall, they are torn,

They rise, they walk again.