September 26, 2020 § 2 Comments
Christopher is my enemy today and his tadpoles are dying. ‘I’ve been thinking,’ he said, poking the tadpoles in the jam jar with a stick. ‘I think I’ll be a spy when I grow up’.
‘You said you were going to be an astronaut,’ I reminded him.
‘That was last week. I will be a spy. Hide round corners and shoot bad people. Be responsible. Honour my country. Could be bloody.’
I kicked him on the shin. ‘Copycat. In any case your tadpoles will die if you don’t feed them.’
‘They live on water, stupid. In any case girls can’t be spies. You’ll have babies and wash and scrub and cook all day long.
‘Oh yes they can. Who says I have to have babies?’
Christopher stuck out his bottom lip. ‘Do you really want to be a spy, then?’ He fished out a dead tadpole with his fingers and flicked it at me.
‘I hate you. I shall be an artist or a pilot and grow flowers and make perfume. In any case, tadpoles eat bacon. Shall we go and ask Mum for some?’
‘Cissy,’ he said.
‘Murderer,’ I replied.
June 1, 2018 § 6 Comments
I once had a cat who only visited at night. He was born on the farm so I thought of him as mine, but he knew and I knew he belonged only to himself. Gerald wore the history of his nightly wars on his skin. Half an ear was gone, the other tattered. At first I thought his battle cries in the oak meadow were the shriek of a fox, and I worried for my chickens who insisted on sleeping in the trees overhanging the pond. I soon learned that foxes are quiet when they’re hungry.
A good jumper even for a cat, he would visit by leaping onto the conservatory roof and shrinking himself thin he squeezed through the half open window onto my writing desk. He left paw prints of mud and blood on the blank page, then arched his back, waved his tail in the air like a sail pulled tight to catch the wind, and knead my chest until I got out of bed to feed him. I had been bloodied. Was now part of his gang. After he had eaten, he would sit by the kitchen door and clean every part of himself – his hawk-like talons splayed as he stretched a back leg into the air to be washed. He sat quietly and waited for the door to be opened – he never did get the hang of the cat flap.
With long, grey fur that made him look like an expensive lap cat, he collected burrs and twigs and bits of broken shell from the snails he liked to eat, but unlike his sister, he never had the temperament to sit still for long. But I was happy he didn’t spend much time in the house as he left his stink everywhere: on doorposts, on laundry straight off the line waiting to be folded, and on me. Even pots left to dry on the draining board could not escape the stench of his tomcat urine. Perhaps he didn’t know where he really belonged, so he marked everything anyway.
But the last time he visited he broke his night time rule. He came in the afternoon. I regarded it as a compliment. He walked in through the open door and stretched out on the sofa. Grown thin overnight, his fur had an odour I did not know. He shivered so I wrapped him in a towel. His body leaked fluids – yet he kept his dignity. He had come home to die.
I think he had been poisoned. I still think of him sometimes – particularly when I hear the night time yowl of the fox, or a tomcat from a neighbouring farm comes to mark out his territory on the vacant patch.
Things are different now. The chickens are gone, and I sleep with my window closed because these days I feel the cold. I miss the deep purring from his chest and the bloodiness on mine – and sometimes I wake and cannot be sure he’s not there. Perhaps he wants to be let in. I get out of bed, wrap myself in a blanket and open my window. I sit at my writing desk and listen. But now there are other noises – sounds that demand nothing of me. The wail of the curlew, the sharp cry of a rabbit being taken by a stoat – simple sounds of other lives not connected with me. So I close the window, and take up my pen.
January 30, 2014 § 14 Comments
‘I’ve been thinking about beginnings this week; beginnings and endings’.
The first line hooks me in, and I read to the end without stopping. Now I want more. Evocative, vibrant, raw expression.
Siobhan is new to writing, new to blogging. I want to encourage her, want you to read her stuff and let her know you like it. Please read on…
I’ve been thinking about beginnings this week; beginnings and endings. Autumn is always when the largest proportion of people die, I have discovered, but this autumn a lot of my friends got married or engaged. All in places far away… Canada, Australia, the United States. The deaths didn’t come this year. It unsettles me. I think I’m thinking about it because it’s getting close to February. I found out that my fiancé (now ex, obviously) had potentially terminal cancer in February a few years ago. Going back six years, it’s also the month that my grandfather died. I was heartbroken.
The death of my grandfather is something that I’ve never talked about that much, mainly because the last time I saw him I was seven years old. He looks like me. I look like him… I had bright white hair when I was a child. (There’s a photo of me somewhere…
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December 1, 2013 § 2 Comments
November 30, 2013 § 12 Comments
Earth was in deep trouble. Food mountains were shrinking to the size of molehills, deserts appeared where none had been before, and everyone was suffering from S.A.D. I tossed and turned and grew bags under my eyes. It was all my fault: if only I’d kept a closer eye on Bert. I avoided the spy holes – I couldn’t bear to look. There was nothing to be done.
I kept busy. I enrolled on courses, studied hard, passed exams. As I climbed higher up the slippery pole of responsibility towards enlightenment, I began to hear rumours God was having trouble bringing the sun and all the clouds back to Earth.
I was attending a seminar on The Morals of Interference, and as I listened I was reminded of Bert’s mischief. ‘Excuse me,’ I said to my tutor. ‘May I unburden myself ?’
‘Please do,’ she smiled.
‘I once had a friend who interfered.’
‘And what happened?’ So I told her. ‘I wish you’d said earlier,’ she gasped. She sprang into the air, spread her wings and disappeared.
A few hours later I heard a distant crash. Holding my breath, I peered through a spy hole. Planet Earth was being soaked by a giant thunderstorm. Flashes of lightning shot through the darkness, and thousands of rain clouds were emptying their contents over the world. The seas became full, snow fell on the Himalayas, and the monsoon flooded the Bay of Bengal and turned it green. I even saw one or two smaller thunderclouds sitting over East Anglia. As the clouds cleared, a watery sun appeared over the horizon.
It was my turn on duty by the back door. Heaven was getting a lot of drowned people coming in that way, and they got confused if no one was there to meet them. I heard the familiar knock: it was the third request since I’d started my shift half an hour ago. ‘Welcome,’ I said, holding my palms together in supplication. ‘Do come in.’
‘Didn’t know angels wore trousers,’ said the man with a face the colour of someone with heart disease. ‘Well, you’ll learn something new every day here,’ I said, adjusting my halo. ‘Hang on a mo…,’ said the man. ‘Don’t I know you?’
I stared a bit too long, and blinked. ‘Bert. Is it you?’
He nodded. ‘Never asked to come back. Was having a brilliant time.’
The words escaped from my lips before I could stop them. ‘Damn and blast and seven Hail Mary’s!’ I crossed myself quickly, and curled my mouth into a smile. ‘And to what do we owe the pleasure of this visit?’
‘Too much booze,’ said Bert. ‘Ticker gave out. Not my fault. The new wife – thirty years younger than me, she was – wore me out. And then there were those blue pills…’
I tried not to flutter my wings in irritation, but they fluttered anyway. ‘Hmm,’ I said, remembering I was wearing a halo. ‘I suppose you’d better come in.’
November 29, 2013 § 13 Comments
‘You don’t think she noticed, do you?’
‘The clouds, stupid.’
‘Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t,’ Bert replied. ‘Anyway, I don’t care. Not my problem. Don’t live there anymore.’ He scratched the shiny skin on top of his head. ‘Still, I am beginning to wonder where the sun’s gone. Maybe it’s an eclipse or something…’
Bert got down on his hands and knees and peered through one of the spy holes in heaven’s crust. ‘Looks a bit bleak down there. Still, Norfolk will have nice clear skies now. Shame about the dark.’ He struggled to his feet and stopped breathing. ‘Got it! It’s a side effect. Sun went ‘cos the clouds did.’
‘Ahh…’ I replied, not sure I was getting it at all. ‘You mean like when you take medicines and they make you even sicker?’
‘Exactly,’ said Bert.
‘That’s why you’re here, remember? The side effects of those pills you took for your little problem down below.’
‘What are you on about?’
‘They finished you off. Those Viagra things. Did you forget?’
‘I had rather.’ Bert started breathing again. ‘Oh dear. I feel quite peculiar.’
‘What kind of peculiar?’
‘Hot around the gills.’
‘You do look a bit weird,’ I said. ‘You’ve gone all rosy cheeked like you did before the ambulance came.’
‘I feel weird. Got pins and needles all over – like I’m not quite dead any more.’
The dust stirred underfoot and the trapdoor creaked open – all by itself. With a whoosh like a rather large tornado, a silvery wind coiled itself round Bert’s body and sucked him through the door. Then, it clicked silently shut.
November 28, 2013 § 9 Comments
This is dedicated to mikesteeden who writes in the satirical genre much better than I ever could. Check out his site.
Parts Two and Three will be blogged Friday and Saturday. Any comments gratefully received…
‘Dear me,’ I said, pursing my lips. ‘Now you’ve done it. How many clouds can you see then?’
‘Don’t get shirty,’ wheezed Bert under his breath. ‘Saw fifteen cumuli hanging over Norfolk this morning, and a few lenticulars loitering over the Himalayas. Can’t see any now though – it’s gone all dark.’
‘Did you mean to get rid of the clouds?’
‘Course. That was the whole idea. Part of my plan to improve the weather for East Anglia.’
‘But you didn’t reckon on the sun disappearing as well?’
‘What do you think?’ Bert replied. He knew he’d been rumbled. ‘If I did do it, didn’t mean to!’
‘Keep your hair on,’ I smiled, patting his shiny bald patch. Bert took a lazy swing at me and missed. ‘Got to watch the old blood pressure. Anyway, can’t say I didn’t warn you. You shouldn’t muck about with the weather until you’ve practiced on other things that don’t matter quite as much.’
‘Well,’ I replied, stroking my new beard. ‘You could have a go at turning zebras spotty or making rivers go uphill. That sort of thing.’
We were in trouble – at least Bert was – and as usual, I knew I’d have to pick up the pieces and do all the apologizing. But this time was different. Bert was in up to his neck, and I didn’t have a clue how he was going to wriggle out of it.
We’d only been in heaven a week or two, and we’d both read the rulebook. Bert had flicked through his in five minutes, but I’d taken the whole day and read it twice – cover to cover – so I could recite it word for word in case anyone asked. Top of the list in big red letters was the bit about playing God. Not allowed. Ever. Rule Number One said it was strictly illegal to change the course of history until you’d passed all your exams and been given a special certificate.
‘What we going to do then?’ said Bert in his best wheedling voice.
‘Not doing anything,’ I replied. ‘Had enough. You’re on your own, mate. Use your common sense.’
Bert stamped his foot. ‘What was that?’ he exclaimed, staring at an old trapdoor hidden under a thick layer of dust. A gust of wind came out of nowhere, sparkled a bit, then settled as if nothing had happened. But it had: an angel had appeared – and was wagging a finger at us.
‘Rule number thirty two,’ she said with a sweet kind of smile that I didn’t quite like the look of. ‘Don’t bang on any of heaven’s doors! Not ever. That trapdoor hasn’t been used in years. We’re obliged to come and check to see if anyone wants to come in. We don’t like practical jokes.’
‘Sorry,’ I said, bending myself double in a respectful bow. ‘Won’t happen again.’
The angel nodded, turning her lips into a thin smile. ‘Enjoy your time here,’ she said. ‘And don’t forget that everything that happens is for your own good.’ She winked, waved prettily, and flew off.
October 28, 2013 § 2 Comments
The garden in June is best expressed in watercolour. It reminds me of Monet’s paintings – particularly his much maligned, semi-abstract works crafted towards the end of his life when he was nearly blind.
I sit with half closed eyes. The shapes become indistinct, the colours overlap and fuse. The flowers are fragile yet eloquent – they know their life is brief.
This garden is not for vigorous digging now, but for gentle pruning, dead-heading and musing. Nor is it for the bright prime colours that will grow later in the year. I will use graded washes and modified hues: thin, raw umber and zinc white, with a dash of dioxazine purple for an old blousy rose, diluted cadmium red and white with a hint of black for a graceful hollyhock.
I paint horizontally on wet, stretched paper, with sponge, a rag, and a voluptuous sable brush dripping with wash. The paint spreads and granulates, and I allow the wash freedom to express itself, occasionally directing by mopping or tilting the painting from side to side to help the paint flow. There is no detail in this painting: just a trace, a promise, an intimation of what is.
Time slows, and I see the garden through an ephemeral mist. I try and evoke a sense of spiritual place and emotional peace; a reminder that my inner life can be like this, too.
But my garden in August demands to be painted in oils.Time is speeding up now, and the plants that flourish in these dry conditions own the colours of the North African and Mediterranean garden. The sun does not compromise: it’s sharp, bright light mirrors the flamboyant blooms. The flowers are vibrant, provocative, vivacious – I think of Rousseau or Pollock – the shapes grandiose and architectural. The plants shoot aggressively out of the ground overnight: their vigour and hurried growth expressing the final push before the plants die down and rest.
The colours are primary and bold. Pure undiluted cadmiums now: red for the spikes of gladioli, deep yellow for the canna lilies that hold water in their leaf hearts, and then ultramarine for the deadly yet handsome aconite. I mix a vibrant palette beforehand for I will need to paint quickly and vigorously in one sitting – the plant energy demands it. I use thick oils with palette knives: vigorously spreading, smoothing, cutting and flicking the paint to capture the bold energy of the August garden.