Monday, 19 December 2011


Winter is here, dark nights, cold rain, the wind blows us along the seaside streets. We pull out the sofabed, hide under the duvet and watch black and white films as the Christmas tree lights flash, red, green, red, red. Winter, the low sun casts our shadows like zebra stripes on the mustard sand. We push ourselves to walk alongside the waves that roll as thick as lion's manes. Winter, our eyes are tired when we wake in the morning, fill our mouths with hot Chung Mee green tea, sumatra coffee and long to lie in bed. We eat homemade bread, that I bake weekly, dough rising in tune to the smell of pine needles scattering over the toy-ridden floor. Winter, our bedroom is filled with boxes, brown cardboard masking endless delights. Winter, soon we'll be crossing the Channel, sliding over great waters to England, to family and friends, to tuck ourselves into a red-brick cottage, eat, drink and make merry. Winter, you are a half-loved season, sucking the blood from our too tired bones, wrapping us in cheery darkness, lit by a twinkling star.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

June, July, August

Three months of summer have almost passed by, our worlds spinning, colliding, transforming. Nothing ever stays the same. Everything is moving. We've organised a funeral, grieved the loss of a close one and spent nights dreaming, quietly of death; long lost relatives and friends haunting sleeping hours, a kindly reminder of our ephemeral journey, our brief blink of time on this turning earth. Cruel nature. I listen to PJ Harvey let england shake on boats, London tube trains and in our van. I smile, shed a tear and sing along. At the side of the road is a chateau, with a For Rent sign à louer.

We escape the grief and drive down South, the little one gets freckles on her pale white nose, whilst the elder turns a sophisticated brown. We admire graffiti walls and flowers in Saintes.

We swim.

The water heals our bodies and minds. Wet, soothing, fingers and toes slice through turquoise matter; in structured swimming pools and free form lakes.

I work on the revisions to my manuscript - a little - I long to write on this blog, imagine posts and telling stories, things described in verbs and nouns, black and white attempts to capture an existence. I want to write about the thesaurus, old friends, death and healing; the utter unpredictability of life. Instead, I wash and fold clothes in the forest heat, wipe ice cream from noses and wander. I love this slowed down summer time, when tasks are unsqueezed from between writing, my hospital work, lecturing, school. Days breathe slowly, unhurried; in and out from the diaphram. Breathing deep from the belly. Folding clean clothes is a pretty life in clover.

We travel through the Spanish mountains in the Valle d'Aran, visit medieval villages with Roman walls built into Christian Churches (the stuff of ley lines and palimpsests), share food with old friends, sing songs about Eskimos and ask "Is that Brian Eno?". We eat menu del dia, with red wine served in pottery jugs, have garlic soup, catalan tomato bread and patatas bravas, café con leche and want churros with hot chocolate, but never quite find the time. Next year. Last night we watched a documentary made by Banksy about street art, ephemeral stuff, made in moonlight, guerilla-style, in your face, ART. The film also explores the trash/cash flip side of the art world, is Thierry really an artist or did Banksy make him up?

This from my collection of station graffiti. Pictures taken from trains in June. Little grubby urban hideouts were viewed through carriage windows at the start of these three moving months. June, July, August 2011; months of boats, vans and swims, the tumbling revolutions of life and death. But, that story is for another day...

Thursday, 26 May 2011

the old man with the green bag on the train

The French high speed train stops at the station. The door opens. An old man steps in with a groan, carrying a large, worn rectangular canvas green bag. He's wearing shorts and a fluorescent sleeveless jacket. His skin is burnt a cherry red brown. There's an ugly whiff of old sweat, unwashed skin. He barks his destination at me. I answer and when he replies - in English- "Excellent", we get talking. He has a strange dent in his forehead, the size of a bullet, bloodshot red eyes. We chat about Spain, where he lives part of each year and France, where I live for all of each year.
"It's a cruel world now", he says, "There's no empathy, no kindness".
"I like your bag", I say, "Did you make it?"
He explains that he's had the green canvas bag for over twenty years. It contains his bike, a sleeping bag, a small tent and a change of shoes. "I'm in my late seventies", he says, "Every year I cycle the 800 miles between my house in Spain and a French port, to get the boat back to England. I've been on the road since March, but it got too hot, so I took the train". He wheezes, wipes bloodshot eyes with a crumpled checked handkerchief.
He describes how he cycles through the mountains, uses the pass where the pilgrims walk, "los peligrinos", he says in Spanish. "Saint Jacques de Compostelle", I say in French. He's been riding along the same mountain pass for over twenty-five years,
"I've met so many strange folk on that road. Last time, there were two Dutch women from Holland. They were pulling a cart by hand. I told them it's sixteen miles up that mountain. They just laughed. Sturdy they were".
When we arrive at the station, we get off together. "I'll just wind my way up to a campsite"he says with a smile. In the hazy brilliant orange light, I drive home, thinking of the old man and his rectangular green canvas bag.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

the old lady in the waiting room

It is nearly ten o'clock at night. In the station waiting room an old lady sits next to a small red suitcase, eating blueberries from a plastic box. She places them, one by one, inside her mouth, nips off the stalk. Munches. Grabs another. Her jaw quivers. She holds the plastic box of blueberries on her lap on a plastic bag, that she's removed from inside another plastic bag. She folds the bags, with decisive yet trembling gestures, puts them in her suitcase for a later date. The bags look reused, as though they have travelled round the world, visited Peru and the African plains. She looks at me across the empty room. I am eating a salad from inside my own plastic bag, with a spare spoon that I carry for such occasions. I have a paper napkin spread over my lap, to catch the crumbs from a bread roll that I took from the hotel breakfast buffet. We bite, chew and swallow in two separate rhythms. A homeless man walks in, betrayed by worn shoes. When he leaves, she looks up at me, with watery blue eyes, "Has he gone?", "Yes", I reply. " No fear, god will protect us" she says, crocking an ear to catch my words. As she shows me her ticket, I discover she has missed her train, that the last one is leaving in only two minutes. I rush her down to the platform, through lifts and escalators, bundle her onto the high speed train. She suddenly asks me, "What is your name?", when I answer she replies, "I'll pray for you".

Sunday, 3 April 2011


Etymologically the word free has it's roots in beloved, friend, to love. Today, a close friend revealed that one month ago he gave up his twenty year old office job and stopped, just like that. He'd been running, thinking and driving his time, living in the future and the past. I wanted to hug him for the courage in his action, for following his instinct, for his dream of being free, for choosing to measure his days in the growth of his fruit trees and to live with much less, not more. I share with this friend : a taste for the monastic eating of leftovers, an over zealous work ethic and a life that I try to shape to fit my bones. Today, he inspired me, made me remember, we only have one time round this clock, in this body, spin it to the rhythm of your heart.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011


Wednesday has been a day for roasting vegetables; scarlet red tomatoes, courgettes green as christmas trees and pale yellow onions coated in olive oil, burnt to an umber brown. I added orange lentils, bouillon, let it all simmer, bubble at a gentle, almost not there heat. Wednesday has been a day for afternoon naps that sent me swimming into soupy slumber from which I have not yet emerged. We've painted, made fairy cakes and stayed in our pyjamas. Wednesday is ten days since I've finished my manuscript, sent my book off. Ten days in which I've worked, ate, slept and trudged through fatigue; tiredness, heavy as mud, carried with joy at the gift of my left life. Wednesday has held me, focused on the body; food, sleep and the presence of two little girls. I don't plan, but soothe, pamper my brain which has been focused non-stop for over eight months. I am trying to come down slowly from the top of the mountain, sit and smell the flowers, rather than fall with a bump. My mind constantly strays to the inner world of my book, hankering for more, planning the next story. I itch to write, scrape more words onto the page, imagine, conceive, put down. Instead, I cook, walk, read books sat on red velvet cafe cushions, buy expensive cheese and drink champagne.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

right now

Right now : feeling tiredness travelling to the bottom of my spine, curves levering into curves. Bones ache. Near the end of my writing marathon, drinking green tea, eating brewers yeast; taking slow steps to the finishing line. Focus. Breath in, breath out. Last night, we sneaked off in our VW van, watched a mackerel sky turn Barbie pink and mustard yellow; felt like I was falling into newborn stars. We slept by a bush, overlooked by the sea and were rocked to sleep by the the sshh of waves. Sleep as deep as cobatt blue. I dream of vacations where I don't take work and my three year old sleeps; the holiday joys of doing nothing, floating on the mist of morning tea.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Preparing for the forest

I like to prepare for the forest. To prepare is to make ready beforehead for a specific purpose. I like to prepare for the forest. I enjoy the beforehead as much as the journey and the holiday; it is the leading-up to, the equiping and the planning, the composing and constructing of an expedition. I have always enjoyed packing. Transitions; the pieces inbetween. The packing is the warm-up, the laying of the table, the awakening of a dream. I fold small trousers, bend tiny socks and roll tights into balls. I place clothes in suitcase corners as I dream of trees. I put together the ingredients for miso soup and special breakfast porridge. As I drink green tea, I pack Chinese Heaven dollars to surprise my girls, envisage secrets and paints for idle moments. For writing, I select sharp pencils and tie the knots around the folder that contains my manuscript. Words will be stitched into pixeled screens, characters and plots determined. The book is almost finished now. I think of birds cries at dawn, black coffee drunk on frost and wearing wellies kissed by icy grass. I think of a horizon of trees, infinite green and the freedom of a running child. I gear up, arrange the outside and the inside of my world for life lived at the pace of trees.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011


The house is finally quiet, after an evening of yelled songs, trombones and shared Cantonese rice. The children are sleeping in velvet almost black blue. I can hear the sudden space of this time; it is a slow yellow light in a darkened room, the last red embers of a midnight fire, the taste of a hot drink, sipped lying in bed, the sound of paper pages gently turning. The night brings blanket comfort and my muscles unknot, my brain slows to the pace of a purring cat. I go to join my daughters in the ebb and flow of an ultramarine dream.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

trying to ride the wave

In January I have written and redrafted these words, tried to find the black letters of the Roman alphabet, the verbs and the nouns to describe and to relate my cold winter days. This month is about perspective and focus; walking through the forest and smiling at the bears. Ignoring. Accepting. Bearing Up. We've had three phonecalls to announce three losses, three sets of mourning for three January weeks. In between there has been flu, travelling to Paris and - in a room reflected to infinity inside gilded mirror frames - eating long slices of baguette draped in apricot jam and coffee served in stout silver pots. In this first month I have wept, giggled and sweated with a fever as I lay in bed. In January, I have finished the first complete draft of my book. I put a full stop at the end of a page, where the story had, unexpectedly, reached it's end. Today, I printed up the pages, felt the ache of legs curl into my lower back. Tonight I am exhausted, holding on tight to this wild moving mass of our lives, trying to ride the wave.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

when the year turned

When the year turned, I awoke to a marble white sky, streaked with ashen grey. In the blanket softness of early morning children sleeping, I listened to the answerphone and knew that she had gone. She had held on until another decade began and fallen to another world at 5 o'clock in the morning, after nearly 90 years of spheres revolving. When the year turned we caught ferries, crossed the water and held each other. Red earth became intimate with our smartly polished shoes. We said prayers, ate egg rolls and squeezed familiar flesh; we recognised the living blood running through our veins. When the year turned, we said goodbye to her. We fell and we stood tall and we walked on. Turning, when the year turned.