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October 19th 2017 

And as our son’s train leaves the platform and he heads off with his mates, I find myself.

I find my mind has drifted to this city and the first time I came down. I remember your tall friend who criticed the way you ate asparagus and we wandered down through West Gate and out towards the Cathedral. It was June or July, the afternoon was warm and the streets were full of entertainers, crowds shoving to get a better view. We must have stayed a while, chatting but your friend has blurred into a mist of that weekend and her flat at the top of town and her party games when we were brand new. 

Our son’s train has arrived now, I checked his progress on my phone and as he wanders off with his new friends, I see the light lift here and I go back. 

I bought you a book years ago ‘How to Read a Church,’ though you didn’t use it at the Cathedral. It’ll be on its side in the bookshelves somewhere, stuffed in amongst all the others. I keep thinking about the Cathedral, how its silent shape has been a backdrop in my life and tomorrow I’ll be sitting there, waiting my turn to go up but my mind falters. It bounces back to Millenium Eve, and how my feet ached from the walk down from the top of town. My New Year’s Eve shoes, shoved into my bag, my flat pumps easing out my soles and we stood. We’d sat inside with the hundreds of others, on the left at front, in the cold. And under the silence of stone, in the wisdoms of those who’d sat there before us, we wrote notes. The huge tree with open arms flooded the space with pine scent and ushers collected up our words with all the others and then hung them on the tree. We sat watching the century end, linked with the warmth of strangers wishes and sent love and health to our unborn son.

Afterwards, outside there was a quieting, a murmuring hush of the crowd waiting for something to happen. And in the dark we hung around in the mizzle with our umbrellas and our smiles. The century slipped out, gentle, graceful and as the Millennium sauntered in with little fanfare, with a distant fizzle and sparkle of lights, the crowd laughted. We were there, before the big doors, heavy coats and deep pockets in the first seconds of the new year. There was no sense of anything having changed, just continuation and my tummy swaddled inside my clothes, with a heartbeat we’d yet to hear.

And then I flip further back to the day before our wedding and your Mum, whisked away by my parents to wander around the Cathedral, to give me some time to prepare. And while I glued the last of the silk roses onto the name-cards, they walked over the slabs my feet will cross tomorrow. 

And now a text from our son, busy in town, having lunch and while they laugh and test out their wings, I see us at Christmas, at markets and our friend who will join me tomorrow, is there. She holds up our boy on the ice rink, it’s packed, it’s hot and cold at the same time and everyone smiles even the people who bruise your leg with their skates.

Inside the changing area we struggle to free him from the metal clasps, but our friend is an expert and she helps amongst the rucksacks and snow heavy socks and with damp ankles and wet trouser legs, we make our way to a cafe in town, under the twinkling and huddling, in the soothe of hot chocolate we sit around. And as I see our boy bookended by her sons, he wears a red and white top that wouldn’t fit him now – he texts me from the train, he’s heading home.

And home is where we’ll leave from tomorrow, like we did years ago. When I took our son’s hand and we marched down the high street, a few weeks before Christmas with the lanterns that we’d made. The delicate tissue paper tributes to a world, to a vivid place we couldn’t hold. And as the Cathedral loomed up nearer, I stood for the first time by the same railings, feeling the pull and tear of a parallel world. Someone took a photo of us for a tourism website, I can see it, me looking side on, almost a smile as some distant children’s creation bought a joyful moment in the pain. But I looked so drawn, so small and smaller than me then was our son, stood to my left, wearing a deep green wooly hat and a fluorescent snap circle around his neck. He’s almost hidden in the dark but I can see him, illuminated by the band of light around him. 

And tomorrow I have to go back there, I need to go back and I want to. But I’m so sodden like our snow caked socks, so heavy like the lantern pole to light our way, so full with the hidden times inside me. 

These moments that are lining up now, like I’ll line up tomorrow, each of them a story of how I came to be and as I sit in the silence of stone, as I wait my turn, I’ll feel the Cathedral fill up with us all – my children, my girls and the women they became. I have such a sense of being followed, of swathes of females on my path, tomorrow they will spread out, they will chatter, they will dance and there at the front of the Cathedral they will join me, invisible but vital, as I stand to shake a hand. 

Our son is on a detour now, sidetracked by other friends, off for a moment at his old school, to take time, see old teachers and look back as he looks ahead.
And I wonder about all the people who’ve ever sat in the Cathedral and their stories and tomorrow, amongst the narratives there is such joy. A sense of creating, of neurones firing and of an irresistible surge to force up, through the stone slabs – up, despite the granite all around.

I must go now, I need to try on my dress and stop and think of tea. Tomorrow will come and I’ll be there, flickering full of emotions like the candles we held at the beginning, when our baby was centimetres long. And we’ll all walk up together, all the moments playing out, dancing and darting behind the pillars, in between the guests they’ll shimmer unheard, unseen but present, all my women who belong.  

In our Cathedral with our son, with friends  and gratitude for the woman I’ve become.
October 20th 2017

It’s Friday morning, the sun is lost behind the clouds but the bluster seems to carry all the seconds of my life with me and in the fracturing light on the windscreen, in the dappling spots of bright, I’m on my way. 

Children walk to school, heads down, wet dogs on leads with mud caked paws and the chatter of girls as we wait in traffic. It’s the morning of October 20th – I feel like I’m coming home. 

Later

And I sat, I studied the ceiling, the intricacies of the build, the strength of the pillars and as I walked back from the stage with a quickened pulse, with a tremble as though I were made of miniature fireworks sparkling, the sunlight pooled in above us, casting diamonds up the wall. 

xxx

I graduated today – for my husband, in absentia, with love.

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My friend’s husband retired last year. She talked about it the last time we met and how she felt it would be strange, how odd to have him there all day, every day, getting under her feet and tripping up the routine that she’d made her own over years. I listened. He was always into trains and, without doubt, would take the time to wander down to the stations, to stand around and watch and note the numbers. He would tinker and mess about and finding himself with the hours, would reflect on his years, would adjust to a new way of life. And my friend would make adjustments too. Arguments would come and go, redrawing boundaries and negotiating space in the way you do when you spend your life with someone. I’ve been thinking about her recently, wondering about her world and how they relate now as their children grow up and they face old age together.

And when my parents retired I remembered a lounge full of boxes, of china birds and paperweights, of cards and the smell of orchids and as I type, a blackbird darts in front of my window, wings stretched wide so that I can see each feather and the sky is so heavy today, solid, thick grey as if it’s holding in so much and there is stillness.

Our son left for school an hour ago, knee deep in revision, challenge all around and I think of your mother pulsing out new life back then, creating lungs that filled with air, that bought me to here, that bought our son to the edge of the man he is now and I wonder.

I wonder about our other world, one where you left this morning, where we teased you about the day. And you’d feel strange, such a mix of emotions. All the years of dealing with their blue sky thinking and politics in their air conditioned rooms. And the names and faces that came and went like Colin with his manicured nails, easing you out to your next job and suave Bob Clarke, grateful for your endless knowledge. We used to drive near the building back then and you pointed it out as we drove past. And the ship builders that came before and the East of the County who came after that.

You had two cars in those days, a company one you didn’t use and then we met. I know where the card is that I sent you, when I still lived at home, your interview on the horizon and how the new job formed our world, the commuting and my trains trips down.  I wore a Santa hat and waved to the directors and their Christmas parties came and went, corporate games in a different town. And the work that came later, near to home and our new son with the hours, the frowning as they tightened budgets, the gravitas, the stress and the respect.  It feels like a favourite book now, a story covered in dust, on your bookshelf, tucked away though I know it’s all still there.

And how strange it would be to wave you off on this day to know the relief to come, the stories and gifts, bottles of wine and then what next? And we’d laugh and make plans like we used to do and after you’d caught up on sleep and reading you would drift in to charity work. I’d be a teaching assistant by now and our son would be marching to school (as he does,) but in a different world, with balloons on the door and alternative potential in our minds.

I wonder how my friend is getting on in her new world, when the routines laid in stone came to a stop. And we would have been similar I imagine, rearranging our priorities to fit our changing needs. I’d look forward to tea and a meal in the oven when I’d come home, the only one at work and you’d have humoured me…for a while.

But I’m not a teaching assistant and our son prepares for GCSEs in a parallel world where we keep on keeping on. And while I type and listen to the silence of the house, I see us all in that other Eden,  flat bottomed clouds, cropped to fit our view, nettles you could roll in, under our rainless painless sky.

There in another universe, with a different road ahead. There in your office, with your colleagues joking, they slapped you on the shoulder, they shook by the hand – in the other land, today, where you retired.

xxx

 

 

 

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It’s just over one day to the end of this year and I can’t help wonder which other celebrities will not see in 2017.

Bowie went on my birthday and the year started as it meant to go on, they kept on coming, or should I say going, thick and fast. Reaction seems to fall into a few categories – much younger people, mainly untainted by loss, referred to it as, (in the case of my son’s friend), The Year of the Dead Celebrity, while much older people note yet another death, having a tally chart on their bed ends, having outlived many family and friends. But it feels like it’s my contemporaries, us middle-agers, who are shaking our heads the most.

Some of it is inevitable, many of those familiar faces came from the baby boom era, becoming famous around the same time and hitting late middle age or early old age en masse. For those of us, menopausal women, midlife crisis-ed men of a certain age, it seems to have kicked away a cultural crutch. These were the faces and the voices we grew up with, the musicians that were always there, who put words and sounds onto the feelings we couldn’t express, the Bowies and the Cohens, the poets for our teenage dreams. All of us with our moments and fragments of how these lives intersected with our own.

For me, school uniforms were worn to the comfortable voice of Wogan and delight when he read out my poem, Saturday evenings with sausage and mash watching The Two Ronnies and ‘four candles’ learnt off by heart. Then leaving home, dancing on a table in a Liverpool club, watching Pete Burns spin through the fug of late night neons, before the taxi to my digs back out of town. And much later, the home town chattering with a mate obsessed with Prince, how I helped her to start up her band that came to nothing and their home, which smelt of great dane and cigarettes, in the years before my husband came along. And when he did, when we danced to George at our reception, when I swished and he smiled, when we watched Carrie in the multiplex with our best man, there seemed no sense of time. No thought that all these people, exaggerated in our minds through fame and internet would be so vulnerable, could be so human, as we were.

Of course, we were younger then, not scarred by loss and change, the world was still unpredictable but felt safer somehow and now and again a celebrity died, but not like now, now when it’s a weekly occurrence. Sometimes I read posts from people distraught that their idol has gone and I can say nothing. To them, in their world that’s not mine, it is overwhelming (at least for a while). In my own early grief their reaction would have outraged me but not now. Their reaction is their business, it’s their genuine view of the world, where they walk without my shoes. How shocked they are, that he or she was only 60 and yes, it’s young but then I think, they had 12 years on my husband…and then the older ones, the ones that made it to three score and ten, how it’s alright really as their innings were so good.

When you live with loss, when it’s carved out the person you’ve become, you learn many things but one thing stands out. All loss is felt at 100% whether it’s for an ancient movie legend or a pop star taken ‘too soon.’ It’s the impact of that life, the ripple effect of their talents, their stories, the real people they were to their families. And in addition to the fan’s devotion to their work, an immeasurable fact shines out, that they lived. They achieved, they failed, they fought their demons like we all do and made connections.

Grief is as unique as the relationships that created it, whether the loss is for the first crush of your youth, the poster on your wall, or the actor who’s films you never missed, or your husband – the person you planned to spend the rest of your life with. All life is precious. There’s no half way house with grief, it’s the whole relationship to be looked at, to be mourned along with layers of secondary losses. And these frequent deaths this year throw spotlights on our own pain with a reminding terror of the raw, illuminated in a stark white light by Debbie Reynolds running to catch up with her girl.

It was this time of year, another lifetime ago, that I found out I was pregnant. The joy of knowing new life beat and pulsed inside me was a feeling like no other, bringing another soul into this world, into this time based place where everything is temporary. And now as this turbulent year closes, as more people prepare to mourn, to dress for funerals at the opposite end of life, it seems to underline one thing. Famous or not, infamous or invisible we all have an impact on each other with the skills we bring, with the talents that we share. So share them well, find your bliss and know it, make a difference while you can. We’re not all posters on someone’s wall but we all matter, we’re all fragile in the storm.

I’ve lost count of the number of deaths this year, the tweeted ones and the nameless ones but each life was a universe in itself, each an individual with such impact on others. This cultural hacking away, this chipping out of the pieces of my life reminds me of our vulnerability and our transience in this world.

Time will catch us all in the end.

Be good to each other. Be kind. We have such responsibility, such potential to enrich each other’s lives.

With love.

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And now Key Stage 4 scoops up the child we knew into the confident teenager he’s becoming. Armed with fresh hormones and a barber’s shop cut and he’s off again, polished up to take on the new timetable with a refuelled sense of what lies ahead. And in all the change I see that nothing changes, that the permanence sits below the shifting patterns, the threads that bind us tight. And we move and we grow and the deeper things remain.

New bags and a brushed up resolve. Our son, heading out on the next part of the journey. The keratin in his hair catching the early morning light.

Ps

July 1st
Long ago in a distant land when our son was first learning language, we started to name all the animals. His expanding repertoire included a selection from the farmyard:  Le Ma (sheep), Le Mei (cat), Da Woof (self-explanatory) and Le Moo (ditto). We never understood where the Frenchness came from but like all things it was a transitory phase. Wild animals were also covered with a particular favourite being an elephant or ‘A Twunk’ as he would say, swinging both arms as the two trunked creature stomped around the lounge and of course there was the lion. A-Wor, loud and fierce prowling the kitchen for the next biscuit or two.

Years and worlds later he has gone back to school tonight to see the evening production of The Lion King. His best friend is playing the young lion cub and I wonder how that will be. Watching James act out the rights of passage that our son has had to live through.

We had both wanted to go. In the old world I almost lived at school, helping out here and there, in class supporting, Governoring and Chairing, more assemblies than I can remember and any production going. At Primary I would not only have been there, I’d probably have run up a few lion costumes in the process.
But by last week there were no tickets left.

This afternoon he announced that Phoebe didn’t want to go and that she’d offered him her ticket… so with an earlier tea and tightly squeezed in home work, he decided to go by himself.

The temperature is cooling now, though I wonder how hot it is in the hall, I wonder where he’s sitting and if he’s buzzing with some friends.
We had a brief talk before he left and then he strode off wearing his new top looking older, with a swagger that comes from pushing boundaries and testing out his worlds and I’m sat here, quiet in the echoed scent of underarm spray with his discarded comb on the chair, wrestling with a foreshadowing of the empty nest to come. A lounge packed with the prowl of conflicting emotions.

I like to believe we’re ageing well, me with my deserting hormones, mellowing into my new roles and our son, sat there now, not here on the Pc but there, on the plastic chairs under lights with his mates. I hope he’s found some familiar faces to sit by, not just surrounded by whole families sat together. I hope his face is turned upwards towards the stage, glowing in the heat, projected colours reflected off his changing contours, eyes watching James as he roars.

Our son, striding forwards, his mane brushed back from his forehead, stretching out, growing strong towards the light.
In his best shirt, without me.
Finding new lands, our heir taking it all on – and he roars.

An end of hot-day-fly hums around the house. The trees brush rustle against the sky with the hope of a storm to break the heat.

I wander to the kitchen for some earl grey.
It’s quiet – I’m surrounded by lions.

Xxx

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Been Looking back over words written months ago when our son made a trip to Southampton and later when we passed through again, together, in a time machine and the images fragment and crackle with who we used to be and it’s all here, in these words from that town. The town that started my journey to here…

Last summer

I’m in our old places, in a new way and head down, tapping, full on avoidance. Can’t see the trees, hide from the ponies and moments. And I hear our son’s voice still with his young idiosyncracies that take me back to our Sundays before school. And the car park’s familiar but I have to do it, glance up quick, then head down from the roaming animals and I ignore the swerve of the roads, trying hard not to and think where we are, I can’t be in any of it at all.
I stay quietly tapping, hurting in silence, aiming but losing the moment, while I’m back at our first ever Sunday. Ice creams from the tiny shop, dressed in red, trying to find the bin, teeming river and the current cattle grid shakes my presence and I’m tired of memory. Sun crashes through, the suspension rattles me and I’m lost in the trees somewhere.

I feel blown by the day, sleepy and crushed. Can’t find the image for the thought but it’s close to a broken cobweb, holed and stretched, at the mercy of the weather, stale prey, cocooned limp hanging. And while I’m spinning in sticky thread, a flash of rain crackles the light and we crawl through under the bridge of colours, bringing hope by the dismal tower block.

Same morning – earlier

Back at the bench it’s cold and I feel strange. Just left him kitted out, off to Southampton for time in the world that he’ll grow into and I feel odd but ok. He’s as prepared as me and I can’t see much beyond the rooves, the sky hangs thick and low as I go back eighteen years to my own careful packing for the first trip south and our conversations move around me in the wind. The horizon blurs purple, the spring flowers pushing higher as I drift forwards and back to the forest, the first glimpse of ponies and the laughter of a townie running out of bounds.
I’m knitting it together, his presence of challenges unmet and a world we’re stepping into, with my tentative steps back then. This all belongs to someone else, someone I used to know. I need to unravel this carefully, think I’m too much in the present to look at the past but it will come, as the hall fills with suitcases and they wait for the coach.

I took the train south, was it really that long ago? And you showed me your town and the places I’d come to know.
Familiar haunts on Saturday mornings, crossing over the water for baguettes,
carefully filled bread, in the cafe that never had enough seats and we’d sit in the front, watching people, opposite the shop we bought the rocking chair from, a couple of years later, before the stool got stained by family and life.

And Waterstones after, ending up at the camera shop and evenings on the edge, at the Frog and Frigate and stories and tales of the land before. Before I crossed over into permanence and your friend came back from sea. And we felt the force around us and I can feel his excitement as the coach pulls up now, as I boarded the train back then and he’s going to test out the waters, near our country park. And as it starts for him I see us racing back up the long smooth road, cutting angles off the roundabouts as we hurried to make my connection on time.

And I did and I came back again, became a local girl, a platform regular, until the habit became away of life. And he’s bundled up with all he needs for now, all shiny and new with extra chocolatey bits on top but sepia stained for me, dog eared and torn with love.
And as he burbles from the coach, I go back to all our moments, visits and integration, the things to tolerate, the things I came to own and we’re freezing on Western shore, standing guard in the playground, in the dark, waiting for the ship to come in, peeled back layers of a time before it was our turn and they stood and waved at us.

And forest teas with the Midwich cuckoos, when he wasn’t allowed to touch toys, to buying essential nonsense from the tinkling hippy shop, magpie-ing my way around ephemera, through the incensed air, in the chromed up glossy mall, the one we revisited that last Christmas, when the Apple store hummed helpfully as your watch repair went wrong.
And I flip back and round like the waltzer our son hated, memories blurring as the colours of our years bleed into each other and I’m sick with the intensity and my head spins till I heave it out.

And it keeps coming at me, Portsmouth road on the bus, passed the Cod Plaice, while you worked, around the complex island, enjoying my freedom of feeling new and the eagerness of the short lived perfumed job and I can smell their shallowness and see me by the busy road, flat shoes, achy feet with discarded heels banging in a plastic bag. And I was so young, so improbably young, and I hear our quotes at Dad’s party, the day we mapped out the future.

And I remember Buffalo Bills, with our friend and his friends, meals with Nelson and his funny little ways, shining talk and us, full of stories from New York and the walls were plastered with film memorabilia and the toilet was a jungle. And I wore my favourite t-shirt, rushing past the Mayflower on the right, when I wore the black shoes with jeans and we parked round the back somewhere. And I was driven passed it recently, think it’s a coffee bar now or was it the place next door, boarded up, out of time?

And it continues, all the places from when we drove around, you showing us where you used to live, when you first moved down and how you’d gone to find digs, walking for miles, coping with a broken arm to accidental biking by the QE2.

And on and up to the Cowherds, stuffed with roasts, by the park up the avenue, where we watched the balloon festival, chasing the Desiderata song.

And sometime later driving by containers and freight, just like we did back then. That first trip, when the car was full of us and the gardener’s children and he told us the trip was ‘pregnant with possibilities’ to wind us up, like he always did.
And I see the shiny buildings, chromed up high to the air, where I got a job that I didn’t take because we moved and chuffed up the motorway.

And some time after, I saw our journey north, into the sun, leaving there for the new home. And as we skirted it’s edge I looked carefully right, past the cut through that you showed me, by the car park where I crunched gears and the bus stop that released me on the road to Hamble.

It was all there, like a film set, soft focussed and it happened and it didn’t. And I stared through it all, at the sun beating off the leaves, in a courtyard garden, near to where we used to live, in a world away, in times gone by, in a distance place, in another land before.
Beyond the now and up the hill, like your pick ups from St Marys with the red and white eyes lighting up out of the greyness and it’s all still there just around,
just beneath,
just existing, in it’s own plane, safe and untroubled from this reality.

And I need to leave this for a while and come back to the present and see how it jigsaws together, me then, him now, knotting the images, tying them tightly, harnessed securely in past and present. Someone I used to know, someone I used to be and her ways and their words, feeding into who I am.

Now.

Right now,
in this moment,
in this world, with these challenges, with this love, with these layers, with this knowledge, with this truth.

In this reality.

Now.

xxx

Ps

Sun setting over my merlot, ruby light pierced raspberry. Blood rich shards dance out, splintering pink into my room. I’ve travelled today, through years and space, pain and growth and memory. I’m disengaged now, displaced, confused. Carrying heavy, vivid luggage with me, till I can place it down again somewhere, somewhere safe and protected. For now I’m in it, wrapped up totally and lost, feeling who I used to be with love from who I’ve become.

x

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Sat waiting for some new furniture in my oddly tidy lounge. Yesterday made a few changes with the help of our son and cries of ‘oh I love this’ and ‘so that’s where it went’. And we  moved and cleaned and sorted around and about the coffee table with it’s scratches and stains of our life, the faded deep pink from the coaster that bled, the one we got in the fossil museum on the way back from our last trip west. And the stickers collected from the Sticker Lady, degraded by time, from all those years ago when she’d come to the door with her smile and her parcels and a sticker made it a good day for our growing toddler. And the table has been around forever, bought home to a different home, hundreds of years ago by my Dad in the the life before the life before this one. I can’t remember the tale that came with it, some old crafted story that was polished through childhood until it took root in their lounge before my slow transition and I remember it in the early morning light when you stayed before some meeting, some nonsense you’d travelled to, to put up with when the put up bed was in the lounge and the chiming clock disturbed you. 

And later the table migrated with me to our tiny home of beginnings and I nested and dusted around it, crawling on the carpet, preparing and arranging as our son turned cartwheels in my tummy, when the fruit bowl was the basket from your Mum and the coasters came from Africa by way of Boscham where we fed the ducks in the cold. And it sat pushed to the stairs with plastic protection, cornering it’s points as the crawling became clambered and finally stood and was filled with assorted animals and breadsticks, finger foods and sticky mits. Often trying to simplify but never getting very far. And it moved to the centre in the new home, baskets of stuff underneath, the Thomas flash cards from the model railway and the books, books from earlier Christmasses, Christmas lists from when it was a big event and the post it notes, forgotten then remembered that stopped me in my tracks. 

And yesterday I moved around, and worked through the mess of memories, found dried out, brittle places, shifted things from the days when the week was full of visits and visitors and elbows of vicars. And afterwards when the the table was cleared, for a moment before the doorbell, to be covered in things that weren’t real, that couldn’t be happening, that filled our lounge with colour and smell, that filled our senses with horror, that stayed for a while and then went. And our new world filled it with books of What now? Of How to and Why? And lendings from friends travelling similar but different paths by my lantern, bought for me from me in the final Christmas when I loved the market and amber glass warmed my complexion in the months before I bought candles.

And now I lie here waiting for the van, listening to our son’s breathing as the sun warms up a frosty start. The light in the room has changed, from winter grey, heavy lids, hanging onto the bed to get up, to a slow thawing deep blue, angling soft shapes on my wall. Downstairs the tidyness waits for a new shape, somehow both necessary and contingent, like your favourite concepts and it will take quite a while to own it, to make it ours but we will. And it’s similar but different with a deep dark place to hide things away, to cover over when it’s not time or safe to show, to fill it’s heart with the things that matter and only certain people will see inside, will know what lies within it’s old carved wooden sides, it’s secret places of pain and beauty, cleverly constructed to serve it’s purpose, to continue the role. Bought from a faraway land where you travelled to in the world before this one and the trees grew around you in the days before the cutting, before the shaping and forming of our special place, our new symbol, to look after and use.

A white glare of sun sits on the high glaze of my vase, it splinters out creating more light, reflecting the otherness outside my window. 

I’m tired. I wait for the bell.
x

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I’m struggling with autumn, think it passed me by last year but I see it this time now with all it’s misty dankness, its inviting skies, teasing and flirting. Showing off the colours, how much more blue can it go and the colours scream out like they used to. For how long, before they lose their moments, turning crushed and flat, slippy patterns on those boots and too many times to slip back home with scuffed knees and you had to rush off to work but put the kettle on for me first. And the constant Sunday inevitability, the desire to walk in the forest, our incompetence doing it, the battered maps and tired feet. Confused expressions in the corner of a field and we weren’t cut out for the county, we did it and loved it for twenty minutes but paths always merged and gates looked the same and I’m not sure we ever ended up where we thought we would, ironic really. And we’d rarely get out before two, one pm, if we were focussed and you two would laugh at my rucksack, stuffed with eventualities and triangular bandages for the fall that didn’t happen. But I didn’t have anything for that unseen moment, well you wouldn’t, would you? And we’d do the rounds of familiar places, the villages you knew from before with bits of stories we didn’t tell anymore and round again with our son, new tales and teashops, grateful for hot mugs on burning, aching fingers. And I’d always forget my gloves despite how many pairs I had. The practical ones your Mum bought for us both, the nice but too thin from my 40th and the two pairs I’d adored from the last Christmas, quite similar and two for one, thats why you bought them. And despite bigger gifts, I loved their fluffy nonsense most but I never got to wear them because I forgot them on the last coldness to Portsmouth and then February came.

And you always drove and I directed and we tried to find somewhere new but it was often somewhere similar or same and we laughed at the animals when our son was younger. High entertainment from ponies and cows, shrieking at it’s head through the window and the seemingly endless fun of following a wild boars bottom down our winding road home.
And the late afternoon air gets up your nose, the huddle of deep pockets, the negotiation over who’s turn for tea and our son, rustling ahead, leaves in hood, bound to be hungry in the car.

And pushing back time brings on these moments and they’re all around me now like the scattered crunch we threw and tried to capture year after year, occasionally timing it right in the umbers and ambers, the old gold leaves of our days.
Seems odd, is this the fourth time we’ve shifted the hands? A pointless exercise in manipulating numbers.
Not driving to the forest today, not getting up passed your books with the Problem of God et al and now I look at the problem of language though I’m not getting very far. And I only do the clocks that matter, my phone corrects itself, wish I could. My appliances are static, the oven beeps absent mindedly with random alarms, from the days when they stayed and Mum cancelled standby. And I haven’t got round to finding the instructions so it protests and flashes irrelevance while our son sorts and checks the things he needs. Clocks and faces that tick despite evidence to the contrary. Sitting here in their out of synchness.

I should get up, not run through our
Sunday scripts trying to spend the day, to not do any of it. And you, not ringing Tim, sponsered by Accurist and your best watch got scratched on that last trip to town.

My problem with time.

I struggle with autumn.
X

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The church yard was in full bloom and I chose lilies because I always liked them.

Stargazers, flamboyant, delicately confident, pink red and white. With their swirling energy masking vulnerability. The delicate tissue velvet petals that would dance out there for a while then cry in your vase, losing their structure, the stamens bold, heavy drenched with pollen, drooping, giving in later to let go and stain the table.

And Lily was Mum’s sister who I knew for seven years and she was good and she was kind and she was smiley. And I like my cycles and symbolism so I chose lilies because it tied up the threads of my life before. And the florist thought ahead and cut the stamens out because they knew with the bustle of the day that they’d wilt and stain the dress and I didn’t notice at all until it was pointed out as they poured over the photos much later. And on that buzzing, tingling morning with me half dressed in silk, I wafted about waiting for my friend to arrive. My old school friend who I’d known forever making the long drive south with her children safely packed off by the seaside, so she and her husband could help. Him, ushering and placing and her supporting and easing as I assembled myself into the realms of ivory. And she strapped me in carefully, tightly closing velvet before the doorbell rang and he carried in the flowers for me and lay them all boxed on the kitchen floor. And I rustled in, pushed my way through the scent, the home dense with perfume, swollen with potential and the colours were ripe and verdant, plump and ready to sing out as we passed by.

And we passed by and up into the dimmed, musty, hushed waiting air and I held them resting on me as I looked at him. And after when my heartbeat slowed down we turned left and out into the calling light and I held them up high, one handed for the crowd, like a glistening trophy after ninety minutes slogging it out and a weary climb up the back slapping steps. Then in the car with the laughing slapstick of manoeuvring and sitting down and I still held on through the poses and clicking, face aching smiles, high up on the bank with the daffodils out in front of the cathedral. Someone must have collected them when we went inside, whisked them away like I was later, to be kept cool, to retain their beauty, to be looked after and carefully arranged. And we had chosen the design beforehand, weeks earlier on the industrial estate in the back of beyond. And they would freeze my moment and hold it forever and the owners kitten tightroped gingerly across the mantlepiece which seemed out of place in the sparse unit. So we signed and we paid and entrusted and they removed confetti and picked it all apart before the wilting took over, while we found the high air too thin but climbed anyway and looked out over whiteness, away and above it all, in the cold brightness of all that lay ahead.

We collected it on our return and hung it in the bedroom, flattened but saved as it looked on the day. And the light reflective glass would hide the petals from the sun and it would freeze time for a while and look back at me. And it still hangs there now but over the years the photons have beaten the glass and time peeled away the colours although the dress fabric beneath looks the same. The vulnerability of ageing, its irrepressible force of nature, its inability to stand still, to aim for permanence where all is transitory, even the mountains change shape, back there where we stood while petals were glued into place. Long after I’ve gone from this body there will be movement there also, a shifting of matter at a rate we can’t see, motion, of all that we understand in our time based turning world. Everything changing imperceptibly, necessarily with nature.

And even last January not long before the lights went out, when everything was still in place in the old world, I noticed my bouquet had altered. Peering out at me through the wave lengths, the colours softened, the fragile tissued papered skin of an old alpine villager, sun-baked from working the fields her whole life, tending crops because it feeds the children, turning the soil when your back breaks because nature drives you to do it and go hungry when the rains come because that’s just how it is. Living in harmony with a force you dance to, following its path, its rhythms, its music over eons, deeper truths than we can reach but hanging on and moving with it because it’s pure, it’s Good, it’s Tao.

And so my old women behind the glass crinkles a knowing smile back at me.

Time beat us both in the end but through the brittle veins, the stripped out hues, this new subtle palette has a different beauty, it still pulses and dances deep inside on a level we can’t understand. And she’s still there swishing and spinning, twirling through her moment, our moment, this crazy whirling girl of brightly coloured petals, vibrant, showy, knowing, laughing, joyful and free, bunched into a shape to be held for while, for a purpose until the purpose changed and the rhythms changed and the music altered,

but the girl and flowers still dance,

then and now

for him

for our son

for herself

For always

x

This morning: Preparation

I watch him from by the tree as the pidgeon borders him from above. It’s earlier than normal but I need it. I need the pouring rain but it’s not quite hard enough yet. The leaves have pushed themselves out since I was last here, the rain drips down the back of my neck and off their sap rich glossiness and as the wheels brush by with a soft familiarity it all looks subtly different. The fortnights break from routine, the spring warmth and eager rain has lifted my landscape. But just as I turn for the bridge I’m reminded of a much earlier walk and I freeze for a moment, wrapped in layers of grief with acres of loss swirling round my ankles and I step out and towards the other side, back in time as water drops absent mindedly to the road beneath.

I won’t stay long, a mellowed corner of rape has sneaked into the picture, full of promise for the months ahead. I sit on this sodden wood, not quite ready to go, not really wanting to stay. I’m abstracted from it all, the smokey washed layers of cloud, not quite bothering to clear, the rain in the distance over someone else’s life. And Bailey passes by me but the ground holds more interest than my knees today. He’s wrapped up in his red coat, protecting the fur but he should be running free, soaked to the skin, beaming with joy, careless to the pain like I wish to be. But he snuffles and patters off as I sit bunched up in my parka.

Hoping the gentle rain picks up speed. Another wash of grey, heavier now slowing blowing a steady procession over the trees to my left. In my memory the doorbell is due to ring, they’re here to help.

I need to go back now, to be consumed.

I glance at the table on turning,

today even the bird muck is a Tao symbol.

x

Boxing Day last year and we had a stupid ‘disagreement’. I flounced off, pony tail swishing to stomp and sniff in the bedroom whilst he relocated his trusty cave to the bathroom for a two hour sulk. But our plans got in the way so instead of us both simmering quietly until a resolution, we had to haul ourselves out to a jolly family social event. Eye contact and normal service had resumed by the time we’d done Twister and ate cheesy things. But my memory of that time is not about the silly arguments that I miss as much as the joy, it’s about the large tissue papered lantern in the shape of Sponge Bob that grinned inanely at us from the conservatory.

The Christmas lantern parade was a local tradition, a beautiful heralding in of the Christmas market, the ice rink, the lights switching on and that lovely warm feeling of love and togetherness. We were impressed with the Bikini-Bottomed wonder and promised we’d join them next year for the lantern workshops and the procession itself.

At some point in November my friend reminded me of the workshops and was I still interested? I said I’d check in with our son and though part of me wanted to hibernate indefinitely and absolutely not go near anything remotely sparkly, I knew if he was up for it then we would ‘join in’ and I would wear extra armour.

And so it came to pass that by the time of the workshops he had planned to make a Borg space ship from their beloved Star Trek series. I appreciated the blackness of the symbolism. Borg are the ultimate alien, all things in their path will be assimilated and even ‘Death is irrelevant’ …ah, if only. I loved the fact that he was making a dark cube with very little that would light up amongst the twinkly illuminating glowing stars around us. The helper on the workshop was concerned he was using too much black tissue paper and the light wouldn’t show through. Without breaking down and sobbing I assured her, it was ok, and it was important that it was a faithful (to us) replica of doom.

Somewhere during the process I decided to make my own lantern and there was only one thing that it could be. My Tao symbol would be perfect. Our son found it funny that mine would be ‘all about love’ whist his was all about destruction and through the torture I saw the beauty of what we were embarking upon. I was increasingly concerned that it would be upsetting for him to hold up something that represented Daddy but through gentle questioning I found he didn’t appear to see what I did.

Mine was all about the Rite itself, down to working with the willow to gradually bend it to shape, and the forming and smoothing to build it into what it needed to be, and the papering over the cracks and damage, which were, in the end, irrelevant as the light would still shine through despite its imperfections.

I was fearful of how or if I’d get through the procession itself. How could I stand there and watch this symbol of my life be lit up? I couldn’t imagine….but I knew it would happen somehow.

The evening dawned and the car was full of excited children and a large ‘Hello Kitty’ head courtesy of our friends who had gone for a pink and white look rather than last years yellow. I cradled my lantern on my lap and returned to my trance like February service state of mind.

We started from the top of town, the Great Hall a heaving mass of anticipation and one upmanship. The lanterns and their creators paraded around each other like size zeros on the catwalk and objectively some, actually, many were amazing and elaborate but my relatively small and delicate Tao symbol was my only focus and I stood solemnly holding it aloft with a painful pride.

I encouraged my friend to stand near the door as even in the old world I wasn’t over keen on crowds, and with my fragility at an all time high, feeling highly strung and wanting to bolt, I prefered to be at the front of the throng. Plus in my head and heart the whole thing was for us anyway, for a celebration, a marking , a journey and me and my agony deserved to be in the vanguard.

We were ushered out to the waiting darkness and streamed into sections for the candles to be lit. By chance I was directed to the one that was flanked by the TV crew and though I would never see the footage, my sparkly tearyness at the moment of lighting was captured somewhere in time.

I had survived the start, put on a public face and now stood with our son and the Borg ready to weave our way to the Cathedral.

And through the winters air the wrapped up band played carols and the streets were lined on either side with children on shoulders, character spotting and ooing and ahhing, and we followed a crack squad of lantern makers who had pieced together a wide selection of Star Wars inhabitants. So I followed the tissued papered Yoda, quite fittingly with my Eastern promise to ‘feel the force around’ me and the crowd cheered, whooped and clapped and were amazed at our creations. Although I knew they weren’t clapping us specifically or probably had not even noticed us but our pain shone out over and above it all, and in my heart our lights were the brightest. And my wet eyes were not for the warmth of the spectacle or exciting Christmas spirit but for the landmarks of our life that I ticked off as I strode proudly but weakly past the statue near his workplace and abandonedly unravelled the memories as I made my pilgrimage with dignity to the bottom of town.

At the Cathedral all lanterns were parked against the railings for the waiting paparazzi to shove and consume. I held it together though inside the wailing was building. I felt numb, relieved, respectful, broken, exhausted, defeated and done. All I needed was a moment to gather myself and I’d be more than ready to pile back in the car, to crumble home and sob while he watched Star Trek downstairs.

But it wasn’t going to be, as the children wanted to see the fireworks. So just to ignite a little more pain we waited for the crowd to thin with a quick moment or two in the cathedral where my friend talked about buying the tour as a present for her husband and I spun and swooned on the inside remembering millenium Eve and the messages we wrote for our unborn baby. That Eve at the cathedral with the messages for the tree and the chimes we didn’t hear but we knew. And I could hardly look the building in the windows for the anguish it unleashed in me. so I just added it to the pile for later. Our son was enjoying himself and I was paying tribute to our life.

We edged round to the market where I looked down as much as possible. I didn’t want to see the ice rink with him drinking coffee or the twinkly German chalets replete with stuff I wanted but didn’t need and had so loved last year. It couldn’t be me who was here last year trying to decide on the wrought iron robin or cockerel. It was someone else’s life, but if it wasn’t real while did the panic grasp and bind itself round my throat again?

My window of strength had long since closed and I was close to stopping the pretence but if I let the mask fall I feared I would spiral out of control completely and that wouldn’t be a good end to the evening, it would have distressed our son and perplexed passers by (not that they mattered at all). It was a familiar management exercise but this one took every ounce of my last reserves. Every moment came with a ribbon and bow, all brightly coloured and garish, screaming out to me ‘here is your life, look closely at it, remember it well, because it won’t happen again’ and every exploding firework shattered through me and we were way too close so it hurt to listen. Whilst all around me winced and shielded themselves with mittened ears, I stood there bare hands with knuckles clenched feeling the pain of every flare as it drilled itself into me. And every flash reminding me of the years our son struggled with the loud bangs. Now he looks upwards without a flinch as I pray for the panic to subside whilst wishing I could be shot away on one of the rockets to burst and splinter into the sky, to shed my colours over the earth and leave the crowd gasping. So I let the wretched fantasy play out till the acrid smoke descends all around us and for a second I let go of the tension in my hands.

We began the return trip through the disapating throngs, everyone tired and drifting with that ‘after the concert’ sort of listlessness. but for me it wasn’t over. I still had the final part to walk in silence without the crowds to revisit, to hurt and to thank.

All those around me, including our friends, carried the lanterns under arm or over shoulder, their job done for another year. But mine was not about Christmas, it was about a life and a love. While our son swung his Borg cube to terrorize ‘Kitty’ I persisted in holding up both my head and the lantern and quietly noticed our moments as I passed by them. Held high past the pillars where we walked with me in my grey stilettos, Millennium meal on that magical night. And the call to his mum but we couldn’t say what we wanted to, by the same shop for my last birthday where we stood but we didn’t know what was approaching. And Waterstones as usual, with our son’s new book, still making my arm ache as I looked up to the glowing light. And every other walk and second till the final piercing past the statue at his workplace with all the times we met him, tired and stressed, walking ahead, heels clicking to the car park after some story spinning in his big black chair. A glance left and was torn hollow by the darkness till the final shot at the jewellers where we chose my wedding day locket.

And through all the twinkly comforting warmth, the glistening merriment, the joy of happy fizzing people, the beautiful glimmering of days without pain – walks my newly shaped family. My new world. The crisp, aching, undecorated reality of a torn existence, gutted, gouged and discarded amongst the other world of Christmas Loveliness. A beautiful middle class Hampshire way, coupled up, linked arms, rosy cheeks and wooly hats…. and us

never closer to death.

I lowered my lantern as we got to car park and the children chattered on my reflective journey home. Past A & E in silence and my friend hoping it had been ‘ok’ for us. Thank god I’d left the lights on as we bundled back through the door to carefully place the lanterns before I took my pounding grief upstairs as our son boldly went on his usual way.

Our assimilated anguish

My wounded soundless solemn walk

A broken pilgrimage

Our lanterns lit for love

My walk through the hours

My endless tears

Our cradled pain

And the blown out candle of our life

xx

Someone has moved my Grieving Bench.

Its been replaced by a large picnic table – probably courtesy of the Parish Council (bless ’em). I’m not sure I like it, I glanced at it disdainfully today and kept walking. I will try it out later in the week but may move my place to the next bench down the hill. This new interruption creates a different feel, less enfolded, more outward looking. it’s not about contemplation, it’s about spreading out, so it may not be such a good fit. I liked my old battered bench for my old battered life.

I have a good view from up here and have carved it into my morning routine. sometimes this walk and the space are the process itself, sat overlooking our town with a perspective I can’t get from my cold settee in a dark dank lounge. But sometimes its only a moment, a pausing, then home to a private pain and welcomed isolation. I go with it, either way its good and necessary.

Last week while crawling through the early morning ritual of breakfast- lunchbox-bookbag-are your shoes on yet- have you got tissues routine? I acknowledged just how dark it was outside and revelled in the fact I’d be out in its blustery misery soon. I am a winter baby, I appreciate the stripping back to nothingness, i feel calm amongst bare branches. The season reflects the starkness of my life. I am a grey stormy day.

I observe, I sit above and outside of it all, it passes around me.

We swirled and buffeted our way to school and when he blew across the playground with the debris of autumn I turned to unfurl my emotions on the hill. I shuffle-huddled defiantly across the bridge till a gust of wind carried me, disheveled and bleak to my usual location. I dropped down into the morning like a Bergman version of Mary Poppins, humming ‘a bottle of Merlot makes the grief go down….’

and from my black vista I surveyed the scene.

Stormy, three layers of grey clouds over noisily protesting trees. I can see the painted horizon, solid heavy gun metal, it needs more white in it. The thick heavy wash of grey moving in from the right, fast clouds today, starkness with a purpose. Startled by floppy damp dogs who trundle after their quilted owners, both carefree and abandoned in the bluster.

A buzz of traffic tries to compete with the wilderness but I am focussed. I’m back in Howarth with both of them, cold Christmases and the obligatory protesting at yet another visit. Linked arms on the slippy cobbles and her slow unsteady gait through the graveyard to the oppressively brooding church, before we’re pulled back to reality round the corner for tourist teashops. It’s always autumn there, even in summer. The hills make her knees ache and we have to get back for the in-laws ordeal meal in the evening. Getting lost was inevitable yet fun and we never did get to the treacle mines.

What can I see in the distance now? Can’t quite make it out? Flat and white could be a frosty field and in the brown suburban-ness a late street lamp hangs onto orange. One tiny pinpoint of warmth in this appealing desolation. The rain clouds bring mist over the fields and I’m back in my long black velvet dress, the hem tatty and unravelling, wet and muddy round my bare feet as I stumble desperately across the barrenness.

Same bench – different day

and the landscape both inside and out paints an alternative story…

In the beginning was the word and the word was Nothing.

I took breath in and breathed out, that was all.

The panic and fear came from thinking, thinking ahead and dazzled by the void in front of me.

We liked the wisdom of the East – no, not Great Yarmouth, slightly further- China. He especially tried his best to be true to its nature. But as we understood from Yoda “Do, there is no try” There was something Good about it, in the truest sense of the word, least resistance was The Way. Years ago when first introduced to the concept I didn’t think ‘The Way’ would play this role in my life. I joined that particular social group because it had to be right for me, it was yet another sign. I had to follow – though ‘Widowed and Young’ was not the spiritual path of my choosing.

Some days in, those ahead of me advised ‘baby steps’. Despite the catastrophic debris of my mind I still remember my reaction. Is that all I have to do? Can I really stop trying to do and think and just creep teeny tiny little fragments of movement along? It was such a relief and release to just let go. But to simply ‘be’ turned out to be harder than it sounded and it took a while to adjust, to leave behind the practised engrained approach of many years of being busy, keeping the plates spinning and sniffing around for the next idea.

I had stopped.

Imperceptibly I slipped into this new pattern. It is my salvation.

I have learned. When the blackness arrives around me I can only surrender and regardless of whatever action I feel compelled towards, I know enough to sit it out.

It will pass.

When I stare out of myself, the carcass of who he knew, I know it’s not permanent. When the wailing makes my ribs ache and the panic crawls and ravages me from within, I breathe. I hurt – but I still breathe and after a while it shifts. And this is how it is.

There is wisdom in this process. I am learning to observe, to sit outside of as well as be the pain. Non attachment does not come easily, there is something dynamic going on.

And so I look back to the East, and am guided by a deeper truth. I am reinventing myself from the feet up and from my uncarved block comes a continued existence. I can’t say it’s a life yet, but it is an existence. Leave the block untouched, let it be, follow its natural lines.

I spend a lot of the mornings on the hill, the changeable weather and scenery reflect my grief. I am reassured by the barrenness that has replaced my earlier companions. The colours around my summer bench have decayed. I study the ground, the splinters of broken glass from the late night giddiness of youth and grubby discarded stubs.

The detritus of a life: but in the quiet of the freshly opened day the dew sits in perfect spheres on the tiny sharp blades of grass. In the sunlight each fires a rainbow at me and somewhere deep inside on some quantum level the particles push and shove for speed and position. In the surface tension on each dewdrop I am perched in a miniature reflection of myself, peering both inside and out.

Being and becoming. Uncertain duality.

In the wavelengths of light in between everything.

All in motion, giving and taking, beginning and ending, hurting and healing. Spinning atoms in tiny spheres on a whirling lump of molten rock in a swirling expanding universe.

In these moments of clarity I see it all. Simultaneously.

The wood is warm to the touch from the sun rays that connect us. The third generation star made from bits of the start of the universe heats up the carved bark that I sit on.

I feel it’s warmth, it is Good.

Everything has its place

Everything is wonderful

Even my agony.

x

I remember writing that and the wholeness I experienced. But today, right now – my legs are cold. I’ve sat here too long. Wet, hollow, alone, bedraggled.

The spheres on the leaves are raindrops now, not dew.

Incomplete – harshness – wandering

Black, Bleak, Brutal

P.S

Went back this morning stumbled over tyre tracks. The winter visitors had been and mowed back nature. Muddied crevices to freeze and trip over. It must happen every year but I didn’t come up here that often in the old world, didn’t noticed the change before. Now I notice everything. Now it’s a daily necessity.

It seems merciless. Where’s it gone? My sap heavy grief spring, the aching summer fullness, becoming dried out brittle pain, vulnerable, fragile, to crack and seep back into the earth.

To follow the natural lines of loss.

And now it’s been raped, torn, ripped from its place.

A forced change

on my nature, something was in motion, moving, growing, feeling with energy, being.

Suddenly out of time, against its curves, imposed,

Savaged, ravaged, abused,

Razed to the ground

Taken

Gone

My bench, my field, my life

Winter has descended

I stand and survey the damage,

then and now

The icy wind and pain bite into me

My gloveless hands ache from the bitterness.

The world still spins

Days tick by

Seasons come and go

Life in motion

Everything moves

Except me

x