Friday, 18 July 2014

Tides, times, summer writing...

Last night I woke up with heat around me like a thick blanket and I thought, it's going to storm.  The air was too Florida-like to avoid lightning and sure enough, sometime around 3am I woke to a huge flash outside the window, the first of many, and then low tremble and growl for the next hour or more.  There is something so satisfying about sleeping through storm like this.  As a child I remember feeling so safe when I'd wake in the night and hear a thunderstorm.  And last night was the same. Not that I hadn't been feeling safe, but there's an extra layer of weather around the house, around the dark room, around my body as it lays beneath the sheet listening for the distance between flash and thunderclap.

It was a temporary break in the gathering heat.  And I woke up this morning thinking of the word 'gathering' and how I seem to be using it a lot lately when I write.  Yesterday was the first session of Tidemarks and Timelines, Fawzia Kane's Poetry School course and I'd signed up months in advance, looking forward to writing about water and sky.  On my way home on the train yesterday, just as the sky was gathering the day to a close, I thought about darkness and light, about how I wanted to write about darkness and the comfort in it, about night.  So it was apt timing to wake in the dark and hear storm last night.  Around 5am I even got up, or rather, took a moment to find my glasses, heave the cats off of me and crawl out of bed to the window, to see light paling the sky to a whitish-grey like chalk sometimes can look.  But the storm had gone and the sky was too full of cloud to get a good look at any thing.  So I went back to sleep briefly and when I woke up, and gathered the energy to get up, I came here to the screen, to put down words, to start thinking about the themes we will explore in the course, but also to continue thinking about other themes in my writing.  So, here's a step toward that...

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Power Ballads and Summertime

I've recently returned from a holiday in beautiful Snowdonia.  The landscape and days out got me revved up to get outside and play upon returning home.  And that has partially been true; even when I'm at home and working I've opened every window and the tree outside my study rustles in the breeze and every so often one of our robins comes to look in curiously...

The landscape in this photo is in such contrast to being back otherwise: no rugged mountains and changing mountain weather forecasts, no lazy Welsh mountain roads. The M25's fumy heat when stuck in yet another queue could not be less inspiring.  Yesterday though, when I found myself stuck in such a queue, I reached for my book of cds for some inspiration to keep me from a motorway-car-craze.  Recently, I dredged the very depths of my cd collection and had decided to put cds from which I couldn't remember the songs into my cd-car-carrier so I could listen and remember.  And yesterday's random motorway pick: Celine Dion, Let's Talk About Love.

What a throwback!  And this cd, I am somewhat ashamed to say, is one of only two albums I bought in multiple formats: first I owned the cd and then on one particularly long car trip through Florida somewhere back at the end of the 90's, I was bored out of my head so I stopped at a gas station and lo-and-behold, there was the album on tape, which I already owned and (at the time) loved, so I thought, 'what the hey' and got it on cassette.  Those were the days of driving through Tampa traffic in my awesome, unbeatable first car: a baby blue, HUGE 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera.  Oh yes, bench seats, a wobbly speedometer, a faux leather steering wheel cover and a bitchin' cassette deck.  I recall jamming my way through most of the state to that Celine tape...

...the same album I pulled out randomly yesterday and popped into my cd player in the midst of unmoving traffic somewhere between junctions on the M25. I didn't remember any of the songs, had even forgotten the gooey Titanic theme song was on the album, but I had a vague memory that there were two songs I was obsessed with long ago: one involving a violin solo that made me want to learn violin just to play it and another with deep and of course emotional connections to unrequited, or probably the more-likely, unknown nature of love in my late teens / early twenties.

Sure enough, by the time I got close to my destination yesterday, I was hitting 'repeat' on that violin solo song once again and belting out the tunes in perfect unison (of course) with the grand diva herself.  Nowadays I'm not so much a fan of Celine's English-speaking work but do still, admittedly, love her French albums: just bought one of the newer ones last month, and they always keep me hooked.  Love her, hate her or just feel annoyed by her, nevertheless, that album from the days of yore got me through yet another long and frustrating drive, though it wasn't quite the same without my lovely and enormous bombshell of a car, 'Babe'.

Not my exact car but close!

Friday, 23 May 2014

Jogging and Blogging (and Marking)

As Spring hesitantly turns toward a Summery-type of weather, I decided today that, rather than go to the gym as per usual on a Friday, I'd head out the door for a jog.  A good way to continue to acquaint myself with the local area.  There were glorious moments of sunshine though mostly very cold breeze, not as conducive to asthmatic breathing as the warm gym conditions, but today I wanted to listen to the birds, the traffic, and to get some fresh air after a particularly long two weeks with a very heavy work load.

Today was marking transition day, a fulcrum as it were, between handing in the first batch of marked poetry portfolios (51 in total) to receiving the next batch of 42 drama scripts, short stories, opening chapters of novels or poetry sequence submissions.  The transition means the handwritten, green-inked feedback for the first university is done and now on to the online forms and digital submissions for the online university.  But fear not: I finally have a new tablet and will travel to cafes across the county to give myself a change of scenery while marking.

The brain fog I have been in, correction, the brain thunderstorm I have been in (it gathers while marking, it grumbles and crashes and rages havoc) will have a moment to clear this weekend while I actually get to have two days off in a row.  Alas, not the third, bank holiday day, but oh well, bank holidays can't interrupt exam marking!  Then the new storm shall begin and by the end, exhausted, tormented, somewhat enlightened and hopefully a bit inspired, I shall turn my attention to my own writing again.   In the meantime, jogging has gotten me out of the house, tuned to vitamin D and breathing away the post-portfolio anvil head clouds...and as per usual it slicked up the writing wheels.

There's nothing for the writing quite like moving: driving, dancing, walking, running, moving around.  And as soon as I switch off my work brain and start to move, the words, phrases and lines start to float into my clear-sky head like a lovely soft breeze that brings petals or a few leaves sweeping in.

Perhaps this weekend will include some writing.  I'm certainly inspired to keep reading and doing some more writing from the images on

Remarkable Things
  • giant hail stones in the grass looking like lemony sweets
  • cat 2 sleeping through my skype call without having a go at me
  • a GIANT coffee to celebrate being halfway through the marking

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Biology 101...digging near the fence

'Walter', urtica dioica and rumex obtusifolius

I spent the majority of today out in the lovely sun weeding the garden.  It's the first opportunity I've had to get out and assess what's been happening out there since I bedded everything down for winter.  Over near one of our fences is a long plot of earth, excavated by me in baking hot sun last August.  I spent about four days in this two foot deep, ten foot long plot hacking back the enormous blackberry bush that had completely taken over the length of that end of the garden (all in total probably about 25 feet of bramble, over half of it still in existence).  During this strenuous and exhausting dig last summer, we unearthed the head of an enormous bone, a bone much larger than my fist and we dug it up from beneath that fence.  It had been tucked behind brambles and a rusty oil drum and I knew right away I would keep it.

I already have quite a collection of found bones: jaw bone from a seal, small bird bones, a collection of exoskeletons from crabs etc, and the memory of the one that got away--a fully intact sheep skull found when walking on the isle of Vatersay last year (I didn't have anything to carry it in and I needed both hands to steady myself along some precarious, high ground so I had to leave the skull behind).  But this bone, the one dug up beneath our fence, this bone...was Walter. I named him affectionately after my favourite scene from one of my favourite films of all times, 'The Burbs', all the while feeling slightly odd at the size of this bone and that it too, like the one in the film, came from underneath the fence shared with a neighbour... (I suspect that Walter is actually the remains of a dog bone bought for the German Shepherd that used to live in this house, but you never know...)

Anyway, today while digging along the same fence line where we found Walter, it struck me over and over how amazing it is that nettles and dock leaves grow alongside one another.  My recently weeded patch of earth was starting to reproduce just as many as I'd dug up last summer, although luckily for me these were still very small and easy to dislodge.  The dock leaves had grown quickly and the nettles much more slowly, so that each grouping of them appeared as if the dock leaves were actually sheltering the nettles.  A symbiotic relationship perhaps?  And today lots of things started appearing in pairs: my two cats playing with a bottle cap out in the grass, our pair of mating robins busy building an unseen nest, pairs of socks drying on the line in the sun, two buckets filled with weeds, two children playing next door at a game which involved one passing a secret note down from the upstairs window to the one on the ground, two earthworms desperate to get back in the ground, me and Walter out in the garden.

What a wonderful day to be outside, breathing fresh fresh air in the sun, digging, planting seeds, getting close up to look at the buds on the trees. 

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Peut-être que l'hiver ne l'aurait pas brisée / Maybe the winter would not have broken

Today my teaching day seemed very very long indeed: two poetry seminars separated by a much-needed two-hour break in which to feed and nourish myself--cottage pie in the postgrad / staff cafe and a blissful read of my current detective novel. But each side of lunch was a whopper of a class--roughly twenty students in each group and three-quarters of these staunchly 'not poets', or so they declared last week at the start of lessons.  I won't go into details but let's just say that by 4pm I was exhausted and ready for home...and then I remembered that I'd promised myself I'd go to the gym after work.  

I drove back toward home longing to put my feet up and have a nap but decided to go anyway as the gym is right on my way home and it was getting difficult to ignore the nagging feeling that I hadn't been in over a week due to last week's back-to-term workload.

And thankfully I did go.  Given my exhaustion I decided not to do my regular jogging / weights routine but to swim. And I realised as I took my first huge breath and pushed off the side, head under, that I hadn't swum properly in...well, years I think!  I had been a regular at my previous gym for a number of years, only using the pool there, but I know it has been, at best guess, 3-4 years since I last swam in a way that was more deliberate than doggy paddling or treading water or soaking in a hot tub.

Lap after lap I looked at my hands under water, remembering how, in the early years of my writing group, I'd brought a poem about swimming and how my hands looked beneath the surface as they came together and separated, came together again and again, propelling me forward. It felt good, it felt great to move through water, to breathe in rhythm to my own strokes and to focus on nothing but this...

and the day just fell away.  All of the stress of new classes, their worries about poetry and my own worries about this.  My exhaustion fell away, the heaviness that this winter has brought with the flooding and blowing down of our fence (twice) of the decisions on whether to insulate the loft and how and when, of redecorating the house and always being busy busy busy.  In the pool there was stillness, there was peace: an abstraction we talked about today in class: peace.  But I found it and it didn't feel abstract.  It felt full and as warm as the water in the pool.  It felt as if, as suddenly as I've begun to recognise that the days are getting longer and the light lighter, as if winter had broken...all because I took some time out to breathe and look at my hands.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Sleepy lizards and live birth

This photo thanks to Craig's blog:
As I veer into another consecutive day of marking academic essays, I have been thinking about what it means to stick to one task for a long time, longer than I need to.  Commitment.  Well, of sorts.  And I'm struck by last night's quality viewing.  We are halfway through watching Life in Cold Blood, the wonderful David Attenborough series from 2008.  As a lover of animals of almost every variety, I sat down fully prepared to be engaged and interested in the lives of lizards and amphibians and I was grateful for the fact that we'd finished Life in the Undergrowth as I was a bit squeamish about some of the nefarious ant-tactics and wasp relationships of insects.  Big sigh, on to animals with backbones...and I do love lizards.

But I was not at all prepared to be awestruck by these scaly creatures...most of all the sleepy lizard of Australia. I knew absolutely nothing about this creature until yesterday, least of all that it is one of the few cold-blooded creatures to give birth to live offspring instead of laying eggs.  (The episode we watched included a chameleon giving birth to live tiny ones high up in a tree too).

When it comes to commitment the sleepy lizards win all prizes.  Not only are they romantic creatures, they pair for life and stick together through lots of harsh reality.  A scene I found really distressing was one of a long term pair mourning the loss of its recently dead partner.  As these lizards love to lie in the road and sun themselves, death is a reality all too often.  The mourning lizard stayed by his dead partner for days, in the road, head butting it and checking it over.  Now this, I thought, is true commitment. Commitment of a type far beyond my commitment to sticking with marking difficult essays for another day when I could easily set it aside for now and come back to it next week.

I'm moved by the sleepy lizard as well as some of the deeply intriguing behaviours of others in the lizard suborder. And most of all I'm glad that yesterday contained surprise and awe, if even at a nature documentary.  Can't wait to see what Attenborough has in store for the next episode.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Over a giant mug of coffee...

After a morning of note taking I'm having a quick flex of the writing muscles before launching into a first draft of my next PhD chapter on 'Voice'. 

In the past few weeks I've been immersed in theory that really excites me. Particularly relevant to my chapter are the concepts of narratology, the science behind narrative.  A brilliant introductory book I found includes many intriguing charts, diagrams and circle graphs from multiple theorists on the subject.  In this one book it's as if science, or at least math, has merged with literary theory for awhile and this pleases my organised approach to unpicking my argument. 

Here is my favourite figure from the book--F.K. Stanzel's typology of 'all narrative situations conceivable' (!!!!)

It reminds me of a giant colour wheel I once worked with in a watercolour painting class except without the colour!

No time to work out whether he really does cover all conceivable narrative situations but there certainly are many to muse over this afternoon...


Thursday, 30 January 2014


In a bid to finally upgrade my car stereo from cassette to cd / mp3, I thought I would give myself the (surely) manageable task of listening to every single cassette tape I owned and to get rid of (recycle) most of them.  During this process I've come across a six-part series of tapes by the poet David Whyte called 'Clear Mind, Wild Heart'.  At one point I had listened to this series so many times I had sections of it memorised, but at best count, it's probably been about 6 years since I last listened to it.

And listening in the past two weeks it has been like the first time all over again.  The poems that struck me on the many other listens had me again.  But the main thought I was left with as I finished the final section, on a dusky drive up the M25, was the 'here-ness' Whyte talks about.  The last words before the final Rumi poem are:

'Wherever we are is Here. And this here-ness is the taste, the essence, the very marrow of life.'  

Over the weeks I'd been listening to the tapes I'd found myself deeper in thought about my own writing, my poetry.  I've been so immersed in the world of PhD academic writing that my own poetry has taken a back seat in the past few months.  Suddenly I found myself writing regularly again in the early mornings and regularly thinking about what it means to be 'here', where I am right now in the world, in my writing, in my life.  And I don't mean for this to sound like a thought about just 'me' really.  It felt more like a thought about attention and what type of attention I give to the world.  How I choose to be a part of the global community in this 21st century world.

To make a long story short, I felt the need to start my blog again, to take up writing about what interests me and what matters: sustainable living, wildlife, poetry, wellness.  And so many other things we share as human beings--love, grief, joy, sorrow...but above all, life.  What goes on around us.

Looking forward to sharing with others and making new observations about this 'marrow of life'.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Is it spring or is it summer?

It is pouring rain out today, absolutely pouring it down and my favourite two seagulls, affectionately named Bernadette and Harold, are over on the neighbour's roof as usual having a total bask in the shower.  First they hopped around and drank from puddles, then then groomed and plucked at their feathers and now, as you can see here, they have settled down.  Shame you can't see the heavy rain in the photo cause it makes it all so much more surreal.  Drove home this morning through torrential rain too but with lots of good tunes playing loud in the car.

Remarkable Things

1). No matter how hard I try I just can't seem to impersonate a seagull cry.  Too tricky.
2). My cats watching Harold and Bern out the window like hawks.
3). Just finished work early today and now have time to write.
4). Tons of tiny green baubles on the bush, soon they will be purple black currants, ready to eat.
5). Collecting wild flowers from a lawn before mowing.  I've always loved doing this.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Cause something comes over me when the beat goes

After an evening meeting in London and a slow train ride home through the sunset I got back and felt a bit as if I wanted to 'do' something, but I wasn't sure what...and then I remembered...I've been meaning to get back to my blog.  Viola, so.

This evening I've been thinking about mix tapes.  All the cassette tapes I've made friends and family and lovers over the years.  The whole lovely process of the thing, from choosing the right songs, which of course you have to be in the right mood to do, to then selecting the length of tape required (60 min, 90 min, or the biggie: 120 min) and then getting the order of the songs just right.  At least a few of you will know what I mean by this process.  It is a creative endeavour not to be taken lightly.  A type of energy and focus much like writing a poem. 

So I was thinking about the last time I made a mix tape, back when my tape deck actually still worked and I was taping songs from cds onto tape because I didn't have a way to make a mix cd.  Yes, back in the dinosaur age.  And then I thought about mix cds and I realised that I have recently made one for my mother from lots of songs on my laptop.  And then I thought about all the emails I've sent to friends with links to songs and then of course this blog, which for me is a lot like making a mix with a collage of song and word and image.  This blog almost always begins with a song lyric in my head, then the rest follows.

All those mix tapes somewhere out there with good intent from me to the recipient, most of them probably in the bin or fallen by the wayside without a cassette player to hear them on or worn out from repeat playing.  I'm getting ready to make a new mix, errrr, tape? No!  A mix digital compilation.  It doesn't quite have the zing to it that phrase.  In the same way it is somehow cool for shops to sell iPod holders that look like 'old skool' tape players.  Well listen up, y'all, I still have my neon yellow and blue sports cassette walkman.  Boo-yah.  So I can officially ride the train listening to real tapes and not just digital mixes with great quality looking like I've got a real deck. Ha.  Hmm.  So I'm already trying to work out when this week I'll have the time for making the mix tape I want to collate.  I've already done step 1: make a list of the potential songs on a scrap of paper in my handbag and I'm working on step 2: find an evening with nothing happening to immerse myself in the experience of mix tape making. 

My final verdict:  It can never have the same zing to it if the process is called making a digital compilation so I'm gonna go ahead and still call it: making a mix tape.  And I'm sure the sound quality will be better and it will be more shuffle-able (thus ignoring the perfect sequencing that took me days to get right) but it can be transferred from me to the next lucky owner of a Zee mix tape in a nano second.  At least that beats the smudged ink-on-tape-insert effect that usually sealed the deal.

And this can be compilation 1 of many.  No time limit on the reel or cd.  Maybe I'll come up with a new structuring principle to give shape to this emerging new form.  We'll see.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

like a slow fire burn

Been flying below the radar lately, not wanting to write much until lately. The sense of stillness and quiet I am finding in my life is helping me to look at what I need with boundaries, with breath and wide open spaces.

How nice it is just to be in that stillness sometimes and rest there. Not think too much, just feel things.

The Remarkable this week

A long long lie in this morning, hours to be with my thoughts.

Sitting on a cold station platform at night watching the announcement board lights flicker across a new friend's face.

Giant salad for lunch with beetroot and cheese (yum)!

Hours of film watching on a rainy Saturday, a reclining chair that's just the right fit.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Within the sound of silence

I've decided to try out something new today: being absolutely silent for 24 hours. For the past three weeks I've struggled with losing my voice. The two new classes I'm teaching this term have meant 6-8 extra hours of communication each week. Alongside of this there have been friends here to stay and chat with, many skype conversations with family about important events, debriefing on creative events, a new class for my PhD... and all of this leaves me with a very sore throat and very little voice. It needs some healing, some silence, some no-talk time.

And this has got me thinking about how I communicate with people, how I prefer to communicate versus how I do. For a long long time now I've been in the closet about my dislike of phones. Yes they are useful and sometimes the intimacy of talking with someone whose voice is in your ear even though you can't seem them, can be just the thing at the end of the day, but overall, I don't like talking on the phone! Maybe I over dosed on phone time as a teen. But rarely does a day go by now when I am not on the phone for at least an hour: as usual the landline rings, the mobile rings, skype boo-boo-dee-boos at me if I'm logged in and it all has begun to feel like I just spent my day reaching out of myself to communicate with others. Well...

With my intent on a silent 24 hours I mean to only communicate what I need to. Written communication, my sustenance in life, I will keep an eye on. I was once on a silent retreat where the people attending were wildly gesturing around and mumbling sounds to indicate their thoughts. The woman leading the group reminded us that silence is also stillness and that taking a vow not to talk for however long does not mean we then use every other communication tool necessary to get our message across. And here I am blogging about not talking! This is what has got me thinking, about the over-stretch of communication in my life. I need to find a balance for it, I need to let my vocal cords heal, I need to give my head some silent space too. So I'll see how it goes...

Remarkable Things Today

1. The unmelted snow in my garden
2. My new mint plant on the kitchen windowsill and how delicate its leaves are, how they all reach for sunlight.
3. Lemon and honey, warm and soothing
4. Cats stir-crazy in the house

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Moods that take me and erase me...

I just finished watching an Irish film called 'Once' and it really moved me with its music and the relationship between the main characters... something subtle and so human in how we connect. Love that doesn't fit into any category really, just love. Beautiful music.

Two of my close friends have provided me with amazing information about their lives today: One friend is in labour and is giving birth to her daughter right about now, the other has just had a job offer that will change the shape of the next few years of her life (at least). I feel so moved by the journey I am on and the journey of my friends. There are moments in my life where I just feel amazed and awestruck by the really human things: the joy I feel for both friends and how I know their lives will be different from now on. The compassion I feel for my own journey right now, even and especially when things are tough. There is so much more to learn and experience here. My eyes are continually opened more and more to the real pleasure in life, in knowing others, in getting to know myself.

And today I accomplished all of my goals: got all the work I needed to done, went for a walk (as per new year's resolution 1) and meditated (resolution 2). Now I just need to sleep well and with cat snuggles.

A bit better today, thanks x

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Journey into the new year

Kidney Vetch: anthyllis vulneraria. This one found when I was in the Hebrides in August. Just thinking about wild flowers again and how much I miss seeing them in winter. Woke up this morning feeling utterly exhausted and the first thing I thought of was my time in the Hebrides. It was so unbelievably tiring to get up there, a 24 hour journey each way by land (and sea) and yet being there was one of the most rejuvenating things I've ever done for myself. So I decided to drag myself out for a walk or really just a wander around the local wild area. As I walked I realised that there were very few green things let alone things with bright colours. Green things: nettles, grass, more nettles... So I looked at trees instead of the usual looking at flowers. Close examination of bark and twigs. Then I wandered home again.

I had such an exhausting day yesterday I feel like something huge came along and knocked me right off track and today I'm still trying to recover from that. One thing I'm learning...though very how much energy it takes for me to do any kind of deep emotional work. I think the underlayer of energy that I usually have to keep me going when I'm tired is just eroded lately. Even though xmas contained some very lovely sleep. So trying to nurture myself and find out what that even really means. Today it has meant a tough choice, a saying no to something I really wanted to do this evening, an event with friends and poets. But I just don't have the energy in me to get out of bed or walk to the station. All I want to do is wrap up warm and fall asleep. Maybe dream of wild flowers or islands rising from the sea like a mirage.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

With tuppence for paper and strings, you can have your own set of wings

Taking a few days out in a New Year visit to a dear friend and I'm catching up with myself and chilling out properly. Not only am I getting work done for my PhD, I'm also watching some telly (Mary Poppins) and continuing to eat luscious food. And I am keeping up with my two resolutions: meditation every day and a good walk.

Today I finished reading Alice Oswald's stunning collection, Dart. Years ago I heard her read from it and over these years I've dipped in many times but I'd never read it through until this week, start to finish. There are pretty much no words to describe how sorrowful, how celebratory, how moving and wild the voices of the river are, but here is a very brief quote from my favourite bit...

o I wish I was slammicking home
in wet clothes, shrammed with cold and bivvering but

this is my voice
under the spickety leaves,
under the knee-nappered trees
rustling in its cubby-holes

and rolling me round, like a container
upturned and sounded through

Today's Remarkable Things
1). Watching the rain pool and eddy in squared shapes on the neighbour's patio

2). How late I can sleep in the morning, left to my own devices

3). reading about a drowned canoeist in 'Dart' and then an hour later seeing a headline on the news about a drowned canoeist

4). Toast with honey and goat cheese

Yummy day