The Fading

The bedroom window lets in
night drafts, the double bed is cold,
downstairs though, the room
is cosy and warm,
though no real fire now,
just radiators drying clothes.

The kitchen is full
of unused things.
You can see the garden from there.
The overgrown grass and
the dandelion heads nodding
amongst the rosehips.

Still the birds come
and find the insects and crusts.
Bathing in the puddles on the
cracked path,
they still sing,
oblivious to decay.

The woman who lives here
painted bright walls beside her love,
filled the nursery,
sewed the curtains,
kneaded bread.
Alone, she remembers

party balloons, Easter egg hunts and
trips to buy Christmas trees.
Collecting up the toys, then
getting tipsy and curling up
after the children went to sleep.

Moving from her old armchair
is difficult, but the carer lifts
her gently, and reminds her
that’s it’s time for bed.
She makes the cocoa
then closes the door behind her.

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It doesn’t have to be that complicated

Neatly, tidily tuck away the treasures
Fold and press out the creases
Polish those brass memories
as though they were gold

pick up the broken pieces
close the curtains, shut the doors
and turn the key in the rusty lock
trip down the fusty garden path

Move on to clear spaces
open roads and green fields
where soft breezes cleanse the air
to give an oxygen high

The cottage by the sea
barefoot on the sand
dancing in the dark, simple,
grow your own life

 

 

 

Learning to Breath – a short story

Meg was feeling slightly sick as the little dinghy bobbed about on the swell. She and six others were all crowded on to the little rubber boat, tanks between their knees, pressed up against each other, sleek in their wetsuits.

She had got most of her kit on on-shore, struggling into her skin-tight wetsuit, heaving the heavy weight belt on with fingers numb from the cold Atlantic breeze, and strapping the big bladed knife to her thigh in case of trouble. Then, pleased to be feeling like ‘one of the boys’, she’d helped carry the rubber dinghy from the car park, down the pebbled beach, to where they launched it on to the choppy grey ocean.

This was her first ever open water dive. A virgin diver, the lads called her. She was the only woman on the trip, although there were one or two others who came to the weekly meetings at the echoey old Victorian pool back in London. That was where she’d trained and suffered, and where she’d very nearly drowned on many occasions in the five months or so since she’d joined the club.

She remembered the first lesson, when she was told she would have to swim 10 lengths with the weight belt on before they’d even consider teaching her anything else. Grim determination got her there, her arms pulling the water out of the way and legs kicking frantically, just managing to keep her slight frame afloat. It had taken four attempts, but she finally succeeded and progressed on to the next stage.

Clearing your mask.

Doesn’t sound very difficult she had thought at the time, but it proved to be another stumbling block, that, in truth, she still struggled with a bit. The trick, they told her, was to grasp the bottom of the mask and lift it up at the same time as blowing through your nose. Theoretically that should empty any accumulated water from it. But usually Meg ended up with her eyes stinging and feeling more like a goldfish peering through its bowl at the world beyond.

Nevertheless, as the weeks passed, she became more confident and was eventually able to attempt the final hurdle, which was to put all the equipment on at the bottom of the pool. Again, it took several attempts. Just diving down there was difficult enough, and then to position the weights across her legs before gasping at the air was well, challenging. On several occasions she just didn’t have enough air left in her lungs to blow the water from the mouthpiece before taking a breath, and resurfaced gasping and floundering. In the pub afterwards, the men would tease her mercilessly, but she’d stuck at it, and eventually built up the strength to get through it.

She had seen the advert for the diving club in the local paper. She’d tried one or two other types of clubs in the past, even the WI, but found, as the ‘new girl’ the small talk and false camaraderie made her feel like a fish out of water so she hadn’t stayed for long. She had never even dreamt about doing such a potentially dangerous thing before, but now she was alone, she felt that she needed something, a distraction, just to feel alive – to do something extraordinary to get away from the daily grind of surviving. Sod the danger.

Working as a receptionist at the surgery she’d always felt like piggy in the middle, with both the patients and the Doctors harassing her. She tried to be professional, really she did, but recently she’d found herself not only making uncharacteristic silly mistakes, but snapping at patients and colleagues alike, and to make things worse, she’d been called in for ‘a chat’ with Di, the Practice Manager who had even suggested she might benefit from medication. Bloody cheek!

Although she was slowly coming to terms with being on her own, the split had left her feeling bewildered, lost, hurt and angry. She knew very well that she’d been prickly and often said things she regretted later. She suspected, that that was probably why Dan had decided to leave her and go and live with his dad instead. A 15 year old boy only has so much understanding to give his mum.

Anyway, he had been very interested in her new hobby, and she was hoping that he might even start to join her at the pool every week. At least it would be regular contact. Not like now, when he often seemed too busy to even talk to her on the phone. She’d tried texting too, but her texts were clearly not so urgent as the saucy ones from his fan club of girls.

Now, though, now was her time. The virgin diver. She sat on the edge of the dinghy confidently adjusting the straps of the tank, pulling on the big black flippers, and tightening the mask that she knew would leave those unattractive ridges on her face when she took it off. Someone turned on her air supply and she put the mouthpiece in and immediately blew out, as had become natural now.

She tipped backwards over the edge of the dinghy, and briefly glimpsed her flippers against the sky before sinking. The shock of the cold water made her entire body contract as though the pressure on the outside had purged everything inside. She heard the comforting, and now familiar, mechanical sound of her breathing, and smiled to herself, before sending a quick ok signal to her companion. Then feeling strong and free she headed off into unknown waters.

When you go

I’ll go to the shore to scream
at the belligerent sea
and the hostile white horses will gallop and rear,
starting at that curious sound.

Or I’ll climb a grey mountain
and wail from the top of that mighty rock
which will tremble and threaten,
and cause distant crowds to run in fear.

Maybe I’ll crawl into the blackest cave
and the echoes of my howls
will wake the foul creatures there
and send them out to scare the innocents.

But most likely I’ll sob
soundless puddles into my pillow,
sending no ripples into the world,
alone and vexing no one.

A little bit of Green

The diggers have come and destroyed the daffodils on the green,
creating a vast hole in my childhood.
The rocket ships that looked like swings,
the slide to the bottom of the big blue sea,
the café and the benches where mums sipped their tea,
all gone.

That tiny park of recreation, a slice of nature nestling
between the buildings.
Football on Saturdays, cricket on Sundays,
and marigolds on a dismal day.
The place of get togethers and breaking hearts,
all gone.

Replaced with those tick tack wall to wall houses.
Their mean gardens room enough only for a
trampoline and barbeque.
Maybe the laughter from the past will reverberate
through the lives of the families living there.
Those that have stolen my space.

The artist in me

IMG_1738As you may have noticed from previous posts, I am a member of an art group. To be honest, I find it a bit of a paradox.  Generally it seems, that just from the fact I am a member of an art group, people assume I am some sort of artist.  I can assure you this is not the case.

I joined the group a couple of years ago, as a ‘something we could do together’ thing with my husband.  I’d never really painted before, but knew I could draw a bit, so thought I’d give it a go.  My husband had painted in the past but not for a while and was happy to take up his brushes again.  I was in for a bit of a shock.  Shocked at how talented my husband is, and shocked at how cack-handed I am.

Oh, I’ve always been cack-handed and clumsy.  Can’t throw or catch, and my hand writing is, frankly, an embarrassment, but somehow I thought even I could create something wonderful by slopping a bit of paint onto some paper. It might not be Rembrandt but it would be my own.

Since the very first session, I have been nothing other than frustrated with the whole caboodle.  I have ideas, loads and loads of ideas, and I pick up my brush enthusiastically, only to find those perfect, exciting, unique pictures in my head, come out as a muddy mish mash when applied to paper.  I’ve tried watercolours, acrylics, pastels… all with pretty much the same outcome, though my pencil work is marginally better, and I quite enjoy creating collages even though they’re messy and again, not quite what I intended.

Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the art group, the company is wonderful, and everyone has their own talents, and sometimes, mishaps.  However, despite their encouragement, I still feel embarrassingly bottom of the class, and wish to hell I could manage to just translate my imaginings on to paper successfully, just now and again while I’m there.

I try to be philosophical about it, honest I do, and am generally able to make a joke of it when I’m at the group, however, at home, I feel monstrously angry at myself and my ineptitude. It must be the paper/brushes/paint I think, and end up buying tons of equipment in the futile hope that it will miraculously make me better.  I watch endless youtube videos to learn about techniques, and pour over books that promise to give me new insights into where it’s all going wrong.   Not a single thing seems to help.

Is it worth throwing the towel in?  Giving it up as a bad job? Going off to sulk and sob in a corner to tell myself that I should have known better than to try?  Burn all that expensive equipment?   No.

NO!!!

You see, I’ve also been watching the painting challenge currently on the BBC.  The people taking part are amateur artists who clearly think they are good enough to enter the competition.  While I still think all of them, to a man/woman, are far more talented than I (those in glass houses etc..) they are having some real disasters and seem to make many of the same mistakes as I do.  Of course, the work they do, in private, at home, in their own style, looks far more interesting and accomplished than any they try to do whilst ‘on’t telly’ and under pressure. The styles they are expected to replicate for the judges are often decidedly outside of their comfort zone, so appreciably more.. um, duff.

It has led me to ask the question of whether or not you have to be able to paint anything, in any medium or style, to be considered an artist.  I think not.  This is as true for people on the X factor trying to sing in an alien genre, or a ballet dancer trying out ballroom.  We can all have a bash at something but we will always be better at doing the thing we naturally lean towards.  Although Picasso did some admirable work in other styles, we generally think of his cubist pieces when we think of him.  Turner and his seascapes, Constable and his green and pleasant lands, Manet and his dancers, most of the brilliant artists I can think of have a particular style or subject that they are particularly known for.   That’s not to say they were one trick ponies, but those are the paintings that we all know and love them for, and the ones they seem to have produced the most of (I may be wrong here, I’ve not done much (any) research on this – just thinking out loud).

So basically, I guess the trick is that I really should appreciate and keep working on the things I have slightly more of a flair for, whilst striving to improve without embarrassment or losing my temper those things which I find elusive.  It’s a hard ask.  But I won’t give up just yet. I’ll keep telling myself that I’ll never get better if I don’t keep trying. So, I’ll carry on slopping on the paint in between doodling and sketching, and one day I’ll create that damn masterpiece.

IMG_0067

What I consider to be one of my slightly more successful pieces, done in my own time and style, in watercolour.

Woman in the Waiting Room

Hands clasped tight in my lap
I watch the child crying in the corner
while the mother tuts and coos
and the old man coughs
that old man cough of
clogged lungs and
failing heart

The incongruous laughter
leaching from the back room
is an insult
as a scruffy teenager sniffs
on the too close chair beside me

I study the ebbing of life
in the clock face
I can smell disease
feel it spreading
seeping in through my skin
I dare not fidget
for fear of contamination

People leave clutching their
life lines
I hope for one too
A pain easer
A mood lifter
A miracle
but when they call my name
despair drips
onto those clasping hands