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The path through the woods is furrowed with foot and hoof steps. Springs bubble up directly from under the snowdrops, the grass, the roots of this tree. Waterfalls are abundant, in the old stream beds, through the fields, tumbling down the sides of the valley with abandon. Tarmac is getting washed away on the country lanes, and stained with the red of the soil. Soggy land. We leap through most of the puddles but sometimes there is nowhere to leap to, and the trainers get saturated with rich brown water that stains right through to the socks.
So much time spent looking underfoot while above the sky is burning down into the purest embers. When we make it to the top of the clough the city is tinted, then just the two white towers to the east, then it's just the clouds blushing. I steal little glances as I work hard to keep up the pace. Finally the descent, and I lean back a little and look to the right at the blue-green fields, the lonely trees, the wandering mist, the rich sky. Picture perfect, I say in two breaths, and he says, gorgeous, isn't it.
'The oppressed majority' is making headlines (albeit in feminist blogs). When I showed it to Skinnytoes, he was not that impressed. I wondered later if that had to do with the difference between male and female attitudes to harassment. For men violence is always an option; once a situation gets beyond a certain level of discomfort, men go straight to physical threats, or even blows. For women this is generally not an option. Maybe that's why the movie rather unbelievable for him. As a result maybe he could not relate to the main character, while I related to him strongly.
As I was coming back from the shop last evening I saw a young man walking uphill on the other side of the road. He had short cropped hair, and was wearing a hoodie, shorts, sneakers and high socks, like he was just going to, or returning from, some sports practice. He had a strong, purposeful gait. One of his legs was a prosthesis. One of those modern-looking ones, all chrome, clearly with a proper foot, not a blade, as he was wearing two shoes. I looked at him quite openly, watching as he turned the corner, normal, manly.
Last night I found a mystery on the stairs. Possibly an alien spacecraft, or maybe a bomb. It has a moulded black plastic casing with letters "CEG" embossed on one side. After much trying it opened with a satisfying click, and uncovered two smooth pieces of metal-like material inside, with each half rounded, with a smooth groove in the middle, and two more to keep it in place with plastic hooks at either end. Peeling the metal bits out gave us no further clues as to its purpose. It's the size of my thumb fingernail. And it's bugging me.
A colleague asked me to talk about this town to a prospective research candidate, a nice Dutch girl, and her Japanese partner, and their cute baby girl, four months old. My first thought was - why would you ever want to move here? To this land of cold and leaky houses, of roaring privatisation, of grey everydayness, of petty people? Have you gotten bored of cycling infrastructure, great food, social support, and tulips? ARE YOU MAD? So of course I spoke of the national park, the cafes, the friendliness, but all the time thinking, if I were you, I'd choose Sweden.
He arrived bang on time, and did not leave till late. Listening to his droning voice, I was kicking myself for being such a good conversationalist: maintaining eye contact at all times, seemingly drinking in every word, asking relevant questions. Inside, I was seriously contemplating biting through my wrist veins just to get out of this hell. Please, Guest, more detail. Please, more information, what was the weather like, what were you wearing, did you have an itchy toe?
I really must stop hanging out with people just because they are 'nice'; life is too short to be that bored!!!
'I'm going to town with Lucy Chelsea on Saturday.'
'With Lucy? Oh my God. I so wouldn't do that. Total social suicide.'
'What? Why is it a social suicide?'
'She peed herself in P.E. And I don't mean a little, I mean, like, pshhhhhhh!'
Overheard on a bus full of sixth-formers. As if I needed more reasons not to have children. Perhaps if I could get one that is permanently 6, like that android from that movie; old enough not to poo in their pants and sleep through the night, young enough not to be a total arsehole.
So I finally, after 4 years of thinking about it, cracked why you can't know how to prune a vine by just looking at it. To prune a vine you have to know how it is going to grow, what the capacity of the vine is to produce both branches and fruit. If you don't know this vine, if you've not seen it grow, you don't know how it's going to behave. And you can't just experiment and see what happens, you may kill it! So you've got to observe vines others have pruned for at least a full year.
Overheard. ‘Human life really is pathetic. I mean, there are lots of pathetic aspects to life. The bits when we’re not being heroic. Which is most of the time.’
‘You know sometimes in the galleries people make a model of their head, on a plinth. So I’m thinking I do that, but just stand there, stand inside there.’ ‘Oh yeah. Maybe you could have some sort of form, and plaster your head in there. You’d have to do it there and then, but, it would look good.’
‘I have lots of ideas stashed away on this phone.’
I am always apprehensive about going away, I hate the thought of being apart. But once we are done good-bying and I'm on my way, alone and travelling, two things happen. First, my senses awaken. I take everything in, I gulp the world down. Jointly, creativity rears up. The sensations have to be reproduced and shared, and if there are no sensations, or they are unsatisfactory, they must be created. Ideas start to bubble up, words write themselves, the need to share grows, because my joy of being alive is overflowing and it needs to spill over into others.
This is a poem by Wendy Cope to her husband, printed on the front page of the Guardian this Valentines'.
To my husband
If we were never going to die, I might
Not hug you quite as often or as tight
Or say goodbye to you as carefully
If I were certain you’d come back to me.
Perhaps I wouldn’t value every day,
Every act of kindness, every laugh
As much, if I knew you and I could stay
For ever as each other’s other half.
We may not have too many years before
One disappears to the eternal yonder
And I can’t hug or touch you any more.
Yes, of course that knowledge makes us fonder.
Would I want to change things, if I could,
And make us both immortal?
Love, I would
I am reposting it here for when I was speaking with Skinnytoes today on the phone he told me it had made him cry on his train trip back from Venice. And I love him because it did, and because he told me.
I wonder how one knows if one has SAD. I could google it, of course, but I'd rather muse (Google killed the pub conversation, and, as I doscovered last night, the dinner conversation, having spent an hour with friends sharing favourite youtube cat videos instead of actually talking to one another). My eyes struggle to stay open, my muscles are aching. I've not seen any sunshine for quite a few weeks now. I'm permanently cold, getting out of bed is a bitch. Could it be...?
Please note this message didn't mention Valentines Day, and was not sponsored by Hallmark.
It took me, I reckon, three quarters of an hour, kneeling on the floor, looking down pensively, one lip bitten. I kept rearranging the combination, taking pictures of the interim stages in case I stumbled across the perfection and then lose it. Nine different sized picture frames... I though back to the book AustinMan had sent, and started to create subtle grids of meaning - cross-angled correspondances - to hold the composition together, using the other frames to disturb and elaborate on the fragile order. It was tougher then I thought, but in the end I nailed them .... to the wall.
‘What are you flying?’
‘Oh no, that’s terrible. They have the fattest, oldest, ugliest stewardesses, they used to be beautiful and now they’re old and…’
‘They never even used to be pretty,..!’
‘Yeah and they’re o old and ugly, and they have no sense of humour.’
‘Yeah don’t even try to joke, it’s all business with them.’
I can’t stop thinking about their breathtakingly ageist, sexist remarks as I smile at Deborah (that’s what is says on her apron). Deborah, like all the other stewardesses on the flight, is well over fifty. Flat shoes, stretchy pants. Business like.
Deborah looks like she could be refilling coffee in a diner, with an accent to match. She's chewing gum, and brusque, no-nonsense. Suddenly I want to know everything about Deborah. I want to know what her house looks like, I want to know if she has a dog whose fur she likes to ruffle. Each time she hands me a glass of water, a tray, or a napkin, I smile my best smile and say ‘thank you’. She starts to smile back, and I feel I’ve won against those two, that I’ve made a space for humanity.
I’ve stopped noticing the monotonous blue and white hours ago. And then, something catches the corner of my eye. A subtle change. I open the blind up, and look down, searchingly, into the blue and white. The contours, they seem … more solid somehow, more… skin-like than feather-like… and the white is suddenly so pure, unbroken…. And then it all snaps into perspective and I gasp, looking at the tundra, looking at the enormous lake, spotted with island, all frozen, all still. As far as the eye can see, lakes and forests, locked in the snow and ice.
It’s Canada. We’re over Goose Bay somewhere. A new pattern emerges, the lake unnaturally wide and long, and then pinched, I look closely – yes, a reservoir, and a dam, and at the bottom, a town. There is the first straight line, too, a road. And another. But so easily lost in the white-and-black of the landscape. It must be a gorgeous day down there, crisp and clear, with crunchy snow underfoot, with pines so green. To be there, on the bank of this mighty river, when the thaw sets in, when the land roars and trembles.
Slowly the man enters, there are growing fields, and houses are human scribble, musical notes on the white parchment, the roads the lines.
Between Charlotte and Lexington I trace the Appalacchians. It's like looking at the bottom of an ocean. Small sand-drifts/hills, and sandy ridges/mountains, just like the tiny sand dunes the waves paint in the sea bed's sand. The scale completes the illusion, as the pattern is repeated as far as the eye can see, in a space that could easily accommodate a couple of small European countries. I watch, and day dream of ancient oceans.
Unmistakably America. The street called 'Terminal Road' criss crosses with 'Versailles Road' and no-oe raises and eyebrow. The endless suburbias seen from the plane now gobble me and the taxi up into their manicured sameness. The houses are huge. As we pass their lit windows I feel an overwhelming urge to knock on their doors, invite myself over for dinner, find out what they watch on TV. All these lives, all these unknown, American lives! How do they live? How do they think? Why do they act? I want to get in their heads, I want to know them.
The hotel is huge, and bizzare, endless corridors of psychedelic carpeting and bad horse pictures, like an equestrian version of 'the shining'. At the hotel bar I'm the only woman, all the guys are wearing their caps as they gulp and chew and watch the hockey. The accent makes me feel like they're not real people at all, like they're all acting out the script of a particularly mundane sitcom for my benefit. I mean, who wears a hat indoors with such lack of embarrassment? I keep imagining the baseball cap without the shade, and wondering - would that catch on?
I've been observing the Americans closely. Clothing is loose, and slightly oversized. It's also very informal, and crumpled. Secondly all, particularly men, walk with a real swagger. Walking or sitting, they occupy a lot of space, and they occupy it with authority. Their gestures are purposeful, relaxed, and confident, and they look like they belong to no-one but themselves; but there is also something defensive about them, as if this confident self-possession was somehow just for show and so vulnerable, as if it could not stand on its own merit but had to be defended with preventive aggression.
So I’m lying in the hot bath, skin prickling and reddening. I’m reading the short stories you’d sent me, and listening to the wind. I can feel it through the closed window, forcing itself in the gaps. I feel it on my face, a welcome release from the heat; a more sentimental soul would say – a light kiss on my forehead, but I know that wind is a bully, not a lover, and that it’s touch always carries a threat of violence. The droplet travelling down my forehead like warm blood seeping from a busted temple.
The harsh LED light is refracted in the waves and ripples on the side of the tub, the normal bulb is too dull to read by so I invite the Chinese into this intimate scene. The walls are sweating, and I look through the window with its stupid decorative led grates and think of Rapunzel. She too must have listened to the wind howl.
I’ve had some wine you know.
So here I am sharing a bathtub with your drinking buddy. Until you’ve told me recently, casually, I never knew about your ‘drinking problem’. Took me by surprise.
My dad was an alcoholic, you know, but of a different sort I’m sure. There was no flair or poetry, however cheap, to his drinking, which I imagine you must have possessed, with your women dancing in the rain, sharing the booth with a book of poems, getting comfy in your own head. No my dad’s drinking was cold, purposeful, and utterly unromantic. It had a slow inevitability of death. It had a rhythm which enacted itself through him, starting with that first beer on the way from work, the relief in him as he opened that can.
It had been S of all the people to try and actively oppose it. Her first husband had been an alcoholic too. She nagged, though, and so inevitably in siding with dad we also sided with his death wish. Our protest were never more then feeble guilt-trips or tokenistic clucks of the tongue anyway. We'd structure holidays around his drinking needs. We'd try to scavenge a bit of quality time over a pint. Skinnytoes would comment on dad and mine’s ‘heart-to-heart’ which happened every time I came to visit, on the second night, with much booze.
Anyway. Got an email from the lawyer yesterday. The 13th, as my sister was quick to point out. She’s taking us to court again. How can I be surprised? I’d have done the same if I were her. What else can she do, hung out to dry the way that dad left her? I have been waiting for the other shoe to drop since December. I half allowed myself to hope that was it. When I saw her name in that email my heart rate shot through the roof. I’ve never hated anyone. But I hate her.
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