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My magic power would be to shrivel people in a temporary way. If someone did something that I believed offended society in some way, I would be able to reduce them to a wrinkly raisin thing for a short time. Spitters, litterers, swearers would all become targets for a shrivelling. People who abuse their children in public would, at one stare from me, shrink to something small, wrinkled and disgusting and everyone would see how undeserving they are. When they reformed they would have to smooth out the crease marks, straighten and tidy themselves back into decent members of society.
I'm exhausted and drained emotionally and physically and feeling very sorry for myself. Then I get news of my sister that puts things into perspective. They've been burgled again. This time there were guns involved and she was shot at. They managed to lock themselves upstairs while the bastards helped themselves downstairs. The police and security company said they cannot guarantee her safety so, in three days, my sister packed up the house and they moved into a rented place in a secure complex. They are heartbroken at having been forced from their dream home but thankful they are alive.
Butterflies in the stomach, this feeling of anxiety, anticipation. I'm trying to imagine how this works and what the physical explanation is. I assume this is part of the fight or flight response, when the body shuts down various parts so it can feed the parts that will need to get physical by fighting the threat or running away from it. If there are butterflies down there, you can understand how useful they would be for the flight part of the equation, providing there are enough of them. But how about the fighting? Would they flutter the enemy to death?
We talk into the wee hours about our bereavements; the loss of my mother and that of her husband. Bereavement bears unusual gifts in the form of reckless behaviour and belligerent thoughts. My friend engages in activities that are out of character and frightening for her, like learning to ride a motorbike and buying a sports car. I heap curses on my mother for her failure to look after me during her lifetime and for still not meeting my expectation that, in death, I will feel her watching over me. Suddenly, while we're talking, the candle we'd lit, goes out.
It is drizzling as our convoy heads out through the village. The Wye Crown is spectacularly lit up with buckets of fire. We used to be able to carry real lit torches now people have home-made paper lanterns. We deviate from the specified route and crowds and head through the fields and up the steep slope. At the top, we wait in the rain for the fireworks to begin. We share hotdogs and hot spiced juice - the flavours of bonfire night. When the fireworks begin, many of them erupt invisibly above the fog but we ooh and ahh anyhow.
The Saffron Cafe is almost empty when I go in. It takes a while for it to fill up so early on a Sunday morning. L is already there at a corner table. He has a coffee and is reading a paper. I feel happy to see him. This is my other life. I always feel important and good when I've given time like this to my other life. We talk about writing, about workshops, about people and events. We plot and plan. We get enthusiastic and excited about these. We know that many of them won't come to fruition.
I start to throw away books. They are no longer my friends. I look at them and try to remember the good times we've had, the intimate moments we've shared and the long nights we've had just each other as company. But they have become too demanding. They need me. They shout from the shelves, "come open me, read me, keep me company". And I haven't the time for them. There are too many of them. It's not like I can invite them all to a single event, spend a little time with each of them. They don't do crowds.
Now the anxiety dreams come in. They were absent during the last frantic two weeks but now they reveal themselves. I am travelling by foot on a motorway for people - people all moving in the same direction. The lane I am in comes to an end and there is a jam where people are trying to get through. My lane becomes a tunnel and the press of the crowd behind means I have no choice but to enter the tunnel on my stomach. I have to push myself forward, just going through the motions to get out the other side.
They've brought together poets, arts organisations and writers groups to discuss whether there is a place for performance poetry in the city. One old codger in the corner says he's been writing poetry for 50 years and that he's yet to find any outlet in the area. This elicits an indignant response from all fronts - there is so much going on locally, more than ever. He is shouting and pointing and arguing. I am secretly glad he's never found out what's been going on. If he came to any of my events, he would just have to have been killed.
In the marshmallow experiment, the kids are given a marshmallow and are told they can eat it but that if they manage to not eat it for 20 minutes, they will be given another. It turned out that the ones who held out were the ones who were successful in later life. The footage of the kids is excruciating. One keeps picking up her marshmallow and sniffing it and one eats the inside of hers but leaves a shell. Some manage it. I would be the kid who picks it right up and shoves it in my mouth. Instant gratification.
To cut a long story short, I got out the scissors and a knife and set to work surgically. I began with the beginning. Everyone knows you start a story with action, no need for a big build up. So one snip and we were already half way there. The middle was trickier. I took the knife and sliced out all the adverbs and the story started to breathe more easily. The ending was hardest. I could cut things off in a number of places but this changed the story completely. I am still struggling to get the ending right.
Listen to the sound of the ants in the grass. They sizzle with their mandibles, chiseling away in tiny little razor movements, shaving the tiniest of pieces off. They can only be heard because there are so many of them, working away in the heat of the African afternoon. And as the shavings fall, there is a line of ants waiting to pick them up to carry them back to the nest. You can follow the trail all the way; little black dots with little flags held high moving like a line in an army - wiggling all the way home.
"A spaceman came travelling on his ship from afar, twas light years of time since his mission did start..." I loved this song in my youth; I thought it was so profound and clever, playing on the birth of Jesus story. It was on the radio yesterday and I listened to the words properly. A spaceman lands his ship, finds a baby in a shed and he sings lalalalalala. Then some people come, guided by the light from his spaceship. He tells them he must depart but that in 2000 years he will return again. It's a load of nonsense.
The boy is in Cern for his 18th birthday. It's a strange thing being away from him on his birthday for the first time ever. He doesn't enjoy being away from home usually but he couldn't have imagined a better place to be on this special birthday - scientists, machines and physics heaven. I packed a small cake and some treats for him to open on the day. I text him in the morning wishing him happy birthday from us all. He texts back at lunchtime. His text says "having lunch in the cafe at Cern. There are hundreds of scientists".
I am excited by his return from the school trip. I wait in the car listening to the radio until the coach pulls up. I resist the urge to leap out and hug him. All the other parents do the same. He hunkers over and gets into the car and then I am allowed to embrace him. He is bursting to tell me about the scientists, the formulas scribbled on the walls (science graffiti), the machines, the experiments. I ask him about the food, the hotel, his room mate. He answers in monosyllables then reverts to enthusiastic babbles about science.
There's a report on the radio this morning about K2. I don't really understand what the fascination is with climbing mountains but I find some of the facts interesting. It is the second highest mountain in the world and has never been climbed in winter. The base camp is a week's walk away from civilisation. If you find a new ascent or descent, you are a mountaineering hero. 305 people have reached the summit but at least 76 have died from storms, avalanches, falling or altitude sickness. If you attempt K2 you have a 1 in 4 chance of dying.
Pigs are synonymous with the negative attributes: greed, gluttony, uncleanliness. In the 2006 Alfonso Cuarón film The Children of Men, a pig is anchored between the chimneys of Battersea Power Station in a recreation of Pink Floyd's album cover. Thrifty sausage-makers were said to use "everything but the squeal". The Three Little Pigs has appeared in many different versions since its first publication in the 1840s. Superstitious sailors consider pigs to be unlucky because they have cloven hooves like the Devil and are terrified of water. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig
Train surfing is an art for the young boys of Soweto, South Africa. They hold onto the metal rods underneath the trains and ride with their heads millimetres away from the wheels or they get on top of the trains and dance. They copy wrestling moves, they duck under cables. Sometimes they ride the trains backwards. There are 3000 volts running through the cables and if they touch them they die. They can't articulate the reasons they do this but when you start understanding their lives, you understand that in that dangerous instant they can block out the whole world.
Woke up. Sliced the chocolate squares I'd left in the fridge overnight. Bathed. Dressed. Packed the car. Drove to the school. Fired up the hot water urns and the coffee machines. Sliced and displayed the home-made cakes and biscuits. Served tea and coffees. Took a break. Came back and served cakes. Cleared tables. Ferried dirty crockery to the kitchen. Washed and dried dishes and brought them back again. Checked and replaced cakes. Washed more crockery. Packed it away in cupboards. Packaged up leftovers. Cleared the room. Mopped the floor. Switched off the power. Turned off the lights. Came home.
I tried my insomnia cure on him. He always wakes at 4am and cannot get back to sleep. By 8pm every night he is exhausted and ready for bed. Last night I waited until he was asleep and then I changed the clock back two hours. He woke at 2am to go to the loo but the clock said midnight and he fell asleep again. He woke at 4am as usual but thought it was 2am and he went back to sleep again. I rejoice in the fact that he finally got up at 5am which was in fact 7am.
Aunt Daisy's a farmer but today she delivered a baby in the back seat of a car in the petrol station off junction 9. She dropped by to get diesel for her tractor and was paying at the kiosk when the man came in in a panic. They were on their way to the hospital and he decided to fill up but the baby was on its way. He didn't think he'd make it to the hospital. Daisy scrubbed up and got down to business. The little boy was born by the time the ambulance arrived. They've called him Texaco.
In four days this will all be over. I have battled against the odds with this and am so, so, so tired. But when I am done, you are all invited to the party. Every single one of you. We will celebrate the endness of things, the completeness of completed things, and the wonderfulness of being wonderful. There will be food and drink and music and dance. Wear your best clothes, put on bright colours and celebrate with me, but only if you think I have earned it. If not, for God's sake, be a good friend, and tell me.
She's hiding in the wheat field where no one else can see. The crickets are singing, like wishes in her head - the sweetest scratching sound, which bends and dips. She knows the wishes are back and she keeps her eyes shut tight and stops scratching and digging and gouging at her face. And her breathing is getting slower and the noise is getting quieter, and she's listening hard to the thrub, thrub, thrub that is beating in her head like really big rain on the roof of the shed. With her eyes shut tight she's trying to catch her wishes.
You are not all you make yourself out to be. You are thin on the outside but fat on the inside. You seem dour but secretly you are loving your life and think it's funny to pretend otherwise. You thrive on chaos and enjoy the thrill of risk-taking. You fly by the seat of your pants and sail close to the wind. You are an idiot. And no one wants to be like you and no one thinks you are big or clever of funny. So when all the chips are down you are the world's biggest clown. Loser.
Everyone is wishing for a white Christmas. People want it to snow but I don't. Snow is so inconvenient. It's cold and wet and it stops me from getting on with the ordinary things that are important to me. Like getting to work, to the shops, just getting out. Last year the snow ruined our lives for days on end. We didn't know whether we were coming or going. It was a disaster. It made us cry because it was making things so difficult. So I'm thinking that everyone wishing for a white Christmas should just shut the hell up.
I'm in trouble. You wouldn't know it to look at me, but I am slowly taking in water. I have been holed below deck for some time and water has been steadily trickling in. When you are not looking, I frantically try to bail it out; I have buckets and I scoop and hurl the water overboard but it just seeps back in. The weight of this unwanted ballast is pulling me under and I know that it is only a matter of time before I tilt, upend and then sink in one giant gulp. Only a matter of time.
You are sitting in your lovely home. It is quiet and tidy. Everything is in order and you have time to write and a place. It is a great little corner, the sun streams in and the cat is asleep on the armchair beside you. Here, you are able to compose your wonderful poems about love and hate and war and rivers. I have no special armchair. I write propped up in my bed. The chaos of my life is everywhere dropped, discarded and draped on every surface. If I write it means the washing, cleaning, cooking doesn't get done.
The woman was pushing the boy in the special buggy around the supermarket. It was obvious he had special needs - maybe cerebral palsy - and it was difficult to say how old he was. He was having difficulty with his hand and leg control but he had managed to get a piece of gold tinsel into his mouth and he was sucking merrily. I looked around to see where he got it from, then I noticed that the wheels of his buggy were wrapped in the tinsel which he was happily plucking and eating. He was having such a wonderful time.
The box on my bookshelf contains blank notebooks that I propose to fill up one day with exciting things - when I have the time. What is intriguing, is the name on the box - G Priestley. I cannot think why a box of notebooks bought by me and delivered to me should have that name on it ... unless I am G Priestley in a parallel universe and somehow this box has leaked through in a parallel universe kind of osmosis. And if so, is there a box missing from the other life or does it have someone else's name on it?
We have insomniacs in the house - Big R and Little E. The former gets to sleep okay but wakes in the wee hours and stays awake. The latter cannot get to sleep at all. It's been happening for years. Middle T sleeps like a log. For a couple of nights this week, he didn't sleep well. He announced gloomily that he was an insomniac now too. On the third day after the onset of his insomnia, I asked him how he'd slept. He said he'd slept well and that he thought he was now healing. He does make us laugh.
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