evading

September 16, 2017 § 4 Comments

5

 

evading the argument –

feeling wet sand

between my toes

~

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cut off

September 11, 2017 § 8 Comments

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On the shortest day the rain came – flinging itself at the valley and blackening the earth. Water seeped up the brick path into her garden and last year’s grasses waved aimless as old paddy fields. Her breathing came too quick, too thin. Worms drifted, torpid and white, bees floated on their backs spinning dizzy like coracles. The violence quietened her spirit, and giving in, she turned in on herself and ceased to see.

Her energy stripped bare, her body slowed. She grew the thick fur of a dormouse. Taking blankets, she made a nest and surrounded herself with books and warming soup. Lighting a fire in the hearth, she began to dream. Taking a pen, she wrote of things that no longer mattered – remembering events that could not possibly have taken place. Her consciousness became continuous, day and night fusing seamless. Nothing stopped, and no thing remembered to begin.

There was no brightness to touch or gather on those short grey days. Clouds hung heavy and full pressing down on her like an unwanted lover. The river meadows became bogs that might swallow her, her trees poking out like sentinels, roots holding their breath for a sun almost forgotten. Rats swam mindless of the farmer’s gun, and swans gathered in loose. No streets, no paths to roam. Only silence.

There was no one to explain, so she used her ears. Climbing the stairs to open the long thin window that faced the river, she cocked her head, holding her breath tight in her chest. No birdsong to justify, no swish of wind to condone, no sense of coming or going. Sounds that had always been there – telling all yet demanding nothing – were gone.

And as the waters stirred, she became indifferent, and her being grew light.

Inspired by ‘The Being Of Nothing’. Samuel Beckett

first solo

September 10, 2017 § 5 Comments

5e395404ef259f552a9915252e30c388

 

 

 

A revised version of a piece published in a national flying magazine in 1992

The thesis was finished and handed in, and I had nothing to do. ‘So what’s it like then?’ I said, kicking a pebble into the long grass.

‘Brilliant,’ he replied. ‘But this bit’s making me want to throw up.’

‘How come?’

‘You pull the stick back until the whole thing rattles like an old tin can.’

‘Then what?’

‘A wing drops and you fall out of the sky.’

‘Christ. So why aren’t you dead?’

‘There’s a trick,’ he grinned. ‘Stick forward, full power. Pull back at seventy knots. Easy.’

‘Cool,’ I said. I was impressed.

He handed me a card with a photo of a plane on the front. ‘For you,’ he said. ‘A reward for getting the dissertation done.’ It was a trial flying lesson.

I loved aeroplanes. I was the person who rushed outside to see what was making that interesting roar as it flew over the farm. I was the anorak who apologised to lampposts as I watched the Pitts Special practice barrel rolls over the long straight road leading out of town. But flying them? In those days, it was men who did that.

My instructor, who had a comb over put a hand on my shoulder. ‘Women,’ he confided, ‘make better pilots than men.’

‘Why?’ I asked.

‘Because they listen, and don’t show off.’

He let me hold the stick while he took off, and showed me how to fiddle with the controls as we flew towards my house. I waved at husband and offspring as we circled the farm, and he talked me through a hands – on landing. I didn’t feel sick either.

My husband’s generosity had seriously backfired. Flying lessons were expensive. Particularly when both of us were doing it. Surely one trial lesson would be enough, wouldn’t it? Soon after the event, I was to be found locked in the loo drooling over a book full of wonderful creatures called Stearmans and Mooneys. Within the month, my family had chronic indigestion as I threw yet another supermarket pizza in the oven when I got back late from flying school. I was hooked.

It’s a prerequisite for anyone learning to fly to become a total bore – so that is what I did. Pretty soon my husband’s answers to my incessant questions became monosyllabic, and his face took on a glazed expression every time I uttered an innocent remark about flying. It made not one jot of difference to me: passion was passion.

I started noticing this thing called weather – funny I’d never noticed it before – and each morning I would gaze heavenwards to assess the possibility of increasing my (okay, our) overdraft. ‘Do you think the cloud base is above circuit height?’ I’d mutter. ‘Look. See that little hole in the clouds. Do you think I could slip through and do some stalling practice?’ If the weather was good, I was on the phone booking a flying slot; if it wasn’t, I’d mooch around all day wishing I lived in the south of France or Florida. It was rather like being in love.

I have a friend who went solo after nine hours – and I hate him. The question was always the same: ‘Have you gone solo yet?’ And so was my answer. But I was having a great time doing orbits in the circuit (where had the runway gone?), and bouncing like an inebriated kangaroo along the runway. But best of all was watching my instructor’s face as I nearly landed on the nose wheel – again. Did training aircraft have special twit proof suspension, I wondered.

Life continued, as did the overdraft – and then I got suspicious. Why did my instructor not instruct all the time? Why did he always have the Daily Mail tucked under his arm? I decided he just didn’t like me. The silences grew, and I uncharacteristically ran out of things to say. As my hours slipped away onto page three of my logbook (the shame of it), I finally twigged that either my first solo was imminent (unlikely), or the flying school was mustering the courage to tell me there was no hope.

I decided to stop thinking about being let loose by myself – so I dreamt about it instead. I was on short finals that night when two small children materialised in the cockpit. I think they belonged to me. One threatened an accident if I didn’t produce a potty NOW, the other was contemplating when she would be in need of one of those brown paper bags they give you on airliners. I woke up. I don’t think I landed, so I suppose I must still be up there somewhere…

It was a soggy November morning, three days after I’d disgraced myself doing some wriggly yet interesting crosswind landings. I sloped off to the airport, only to find my instructor hadn’t arrived. Was this it? Had I finally broken his spirit? I pootled off to do my pre flight checks. He finally turned up but the little plane refused to start. This was surely a sign I should go home. But he, ever valiant and resourceful, toyed with the idea of having bits of himself amputated by hand swinging the prop. We were off.

‘No comment,’ said he, as I landed and bounced inelegantly towards the grass verge. Such is life. He got out his Daily Mail and pretended to ignore me. After three landings, he began breathing heavily. Then he spoke. ‘I have control,’ he said, pressing the radio button. ‘ Air Traffic Control. Permission request for first solo.’

‘Who, me?’ I croaked. ‘I can’t do that.’

He smiled and tucked the newspaper under his arm. My heart started behaving oddly: I could hear it. A period of prevarication followed, and while I privately dithered, he taxied us to the apron and got out. ‘Good luck,’ was all he said. He didn’t even say goodbye. I didn’t move. I wanted a fag. Then I remembered I’d stopped breathing. I was all by myself and it was exactly one o’clock. I shook myself and did my internal checks. Twice. Mustn’t forget to put the fuel pump on. What was the Emergency Landing After Take Off procedure? Should I say a prayer or something?

My mind went blank after that, and, as if by magic, I found myself on the end of the tarmac runway. Pre take off checks done. Deep breath. Full throttle, and the rattly old plane skipped into the air. I waved at the control tower. They waved back. I climbed to a thousand feet. Flew over the houses outside the perimeter fence. Turning onto the crosswind leg, I looked for other traffic. Then  I giggled. I turned downwind and giggled some more. I’d always wanted to waggle my wings, so I did. Pre landing checks done. Where was that block of flats I had to turn base on?

I turned onto base leg and began my descent. Five hundred feet – time to turn finals. The wind was good – ten knots straight off the runway. Perfect. Or was it? I was too low – a little throttle. I was losing speed – lower the nose. I reported finals. At two hundred feet I skimmed the fence and whizzed past the plane geeks with binoculars stuck to their faces. Fifty feet. Cut the power. Flare. I plopped delicately onto the tarmac, and remembered I’d stopped breathing again. I taxied off and flicked a few switches. I tried hard to wipe the grin off my face. I couldn’t.

I don’t remember anything after that until I got home. My husband’s remarks were brief and monosyllabic. ‘Oh,’ was all he could manage. I suppose he was thinking about the letter we’d had from the bank that morning…

~

doves at my window

September 8, 2017 § 3 Comments

doves.jpg

 

doves at my window

coo

and are gone

~

 

 

 

image courtesy margaret from ayearinredwood

The Green Elephant from Tanganyika – a bit of a story

September 2, 2017 § 13 Comments

girl

 

The beginning of a long abandoned novel, written in the voice of a child who might have second sight. But then again…

I was born twice. The first life wasn’t a long one. It was a slow time and a fast time, and sometimes the slow and the fast came together. It was a time of shininess and bright things, and a knowing it would always be summer even when it rained.

My best friend was a chicken. Her feathers were the colour of old snow, and she hid her eggs in the bike shed. If I didn’t find them first, they’d crack open and tiny, oily chicks squirmed out with sharp curly claws and wings too small to be any use at all. The thing I liked most, before I broke it, was a jade elephant with magic inside. Every morning I hung it round my neck on a string of silver.

But even during that first life when I was rather content, I had a sense I didn’t belong – I knew I should have been somewhere else. There was something missing and I couldn’t find it. A life like a book with the first chapter ripped out.

It could have been my mother’s doing. Although we shared the same words, we spoke a different language. Do this, don’t do that, I’ve told you before, you never listen. Those were her words. I couldn’t get it right. She was ice and I was fire. We spent our time colliding and running for cover, never quite knowing whether to attack or retreat. Sometimes her will, her cleverness, overpowered me, and it was then that I guessed the reason: I’d been swopped. I’d suckled the wrong breast in the maternity ward. A muddle with an identity band?  Or maybe I’d been exchanged on purpose. Had I been too big, too small, too noisy, too quiet – or just not quite right?

So I had orphan genes, and that would have explained why our house never felt like home. I never told her. Never told anyone. Some years later she told me I hadn’t been born in the hospital, but upstairs on the big bed with the midwife and the doctor and a lot of blood – but knowing that didn’t make me feel I belonged.

When I did things she didn’t like, she’d remind me about that place where bad girls were sent. It was one of the houses across the road. It was her default threat, a desperate bluff to groom me into her invisible child, a silent apparition that never made unreasonable demands or tramped across the clean kitchen floor with muddy boots. The line of terraced cottages was small and neat with gardens of garish roses and green, shaved lawns – except one. The Bad Girls House was neglected and dirty. Ragged curtains hung from the broken window frames, and I was sure something nasty was hidden inside. Paint peeled off the grey front door like curls of dirty wallpaper; and a car, weeping red with rust, sank slowly into the driveway. She never sent me there, but I thought she might.

My mother had long, black mermaid hair in those days, and Dad called her a ‘bit of a spitfire’. Her hair and her temper were what I knew best, the other things she kept secret. She was a wild woman then, and when Dad was at work she flung her shoes across the kitchen floor and danced. It was the only time I heard her laugh. The sound frightened me. She wore lipstick the colour of Sunday roast beef blood, and danced the flamenco with a flower between her teeth. In the winter she used the butter knife. She had a liking for pills and collected them in a Peek Frean’s biscuit tin. Some were to make her sleep when she couldn’t or make her happy when she wasn’t, and some she swallowed when life simply got too much. She kept the tin on top of the dresser next to the brandy used for ’emergencies’.

She came from a long line of Baptist preachers on her mother’s side, which may have accounted for her hatred of religion, but she did believe in the stars. She cut her horoscope carefully out of the paper each week, propping it up on the mantelpiece to remind her that life had already been decided and there was nothing she could do about it.  Every so often she tried to interest me in astrology saying it would make me feel safe, a bit like believing in God she insisted, but making more sense. She told me I was a Cancerian, which meant my sign was the Crab. Hers was Scorpio. She said we were the same because we were both ruled by water, had hard shells around our bodies, and got moody when the moon was full. But I knew we were different.

The full moon was the time the devil got into her, and the reason my father sat in the snug of The Hunter’s Moon until closing time nursing a warm pint of Guinness. I would stand at the kitchen door ready to run, waiting for her to stop as the dinner plates hit the floor. Plates were her favourite – they smashed loudest on the stone tiles and left razor sharp splinters in my feet as reminders. An angry red halo wobbled in the air around her, and her tantrum filled my head and burned as if I was too close to the fire. Then suddenly she would be fine, and Dad and I knew we were safe until the moon grew full again.

The beginning of my second life came suddenly – it was on the day the accident happened. I closed my eyes and found I could see things. Pictures that moved like dreams. Almost in colour but not quite. Faded and soft at the edges like the sepia photographs of long dead relatives my mother kept in the shoe box under her bed. They pressed hard against my skull trying to get out, and made the inside of my head feel too small for its bones.

At first I thought they were the daydreams my mother was always complaining I had too many of, but I knew they were real because they wouldn’t go away. I asked them nicely, I told them with words my mother said were bad, I even tried keeping my eyes open all the time – but all I got was itchy eyes and a headache. It felt like something was in there that wasn’t me. I found the spot on the top of my head, the one where the bones hadn’t joined up I wasn’t supposed to touch – and pressed my finger hard into the soft hollow. I could feel the beating heart of something small – like something was breathing and trying to get out.

I was five when the first picture appeared in my head. It made me want to crawl up like a caterpillar and hide. A man was standing at the front door of our house looking upset. My mother stood there holding the new baby in her arms, gasping like a fish and looking pale around the gills. ‘Bloody hell!’ she said.

‘Terribly sorry,’ said the man in a voice much too small for him. Mum had one of her flowery aprons on I liked to hide under, and the blood on the man was mine: bright red five year old smears of my life juice on his hands and all down the front of his black leather bomber jacket. That was the time I got confused, because I knew where I was, and it wasn’t at the front door of our house. I was lying curled up crooked, eyes tight shut, next to a fallen over motor bike and two curvy black skid marks on the white Give Way sign next to our house. I was seeping red slowly onto the tarmac…

 

*

 

 

her dead brother’s shadow

August 31, 2017 § 3 Comments

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her dead brother’s shadow

slips out

of the folded napkin

~

he’s gone

August 24, 2017 § 2 Comments

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he’s gone

the scent of him

staying

~

 

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