Friday, 17 February 2017

I Arrive In Norwich

I set out for Norwich thirty-eight years ago.  I was 14, and the night before I'd been helping Ian re-wire the church.  This had involved crawling under floorboards, which was pretty exciting for a Friday night in 1979 in Highbury.

I set out for Norwich to attend a confirmation service in the cathedral.  I set out with my mother and one, or maybe two, brothers.  Did my father come too?  He might have done.  Or he might have been preaching the next day.

I set out for Norwich, but I didn't arrive at the cathedral until last Monday.  I didn't take a direct route.  On the way, I completed my O levels, climbed Snowden, studied TS Eliot, learnt to ski badly, went to Durham, fell in love, ate street food in Malaysia, served baked potatoes out of the back of a garage, taught Scottish YTS joiners about safe sex, took an MA in Psychology, understood more,  moved house, had my wisdom teeth extracted, made brownies, sang some Handel, gave birth, understood less, planted grape hyacinths, gave birth, wrote some poems, had therapy, changed a washer, cleared the attic, squeezed two oranges, wrote one particular poem ...

I set off for Norwich, and before I arrived last Monday, I fitted in a lot more than expected on the way.  In particular, I fitted in acute appendicitis.  I don't know if it was the re-wiring, but by the time we reached Cambridge (it was still 1979) I was in a lot of pain.  I lay on my big brother's bed in his King's College room, moaning, whilst my family ate sandwiches and chatted.  After too long, my mother drove me to Addenbrokes.  I spent five days in hospital whilst my family, undaunted, went on to the confirmation, arriving 38 years before me.

I set off for Norwich from London, and I arrived there last Saturday via Durham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Shrewsbury, and then waited another two days, enjoying the comfort of The Butchery and some incredible, warm, delicious hospitality.  On Monday morning, I woke early and jogged the last leg of my journey to the cathedral.  When I arrived, I remembered that I'd set off 38 years ago.  For most of that time, I'd forgotten where I was meant to be going.  I was wearing shorts and a thin film of perspiration.  I was thirty-eight years late, badly dressed and out of breath.  I decided not to go in.

Later, in sight of the cathedral once more, I read at the Café Writers prize event, alongside Andrew McMillan and many other poets.  It was a fantastic experience - the warmth of welcome, the quality of the work, the camaraderie, the positive response to my poems - and at last, the feeling, the sense, that there, amongst the rag-tag wonderful bag of poets, that finally I had arrived.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

I Compose A Valentine

Ever since I saw the film version of Far From the Madding Crowd, I have been suspicious of Valentine's Day and its cards.  The trouble Bathsheba Everdene caused with hers was, well, fatal.

Perhaps that's why, in writing my first ever Valentine poem, I've written it for Franz Schubert.

I received a card of my own a couple of years ago.  It came in the post in a cream envelope, landing on the mat of my then home.  I experienced initial excitement (someone likes me!) followed by a creeping sense of unease (but who?).  Anonymous, the card began to feel like a threat - I had reason to be suspicious of anyone's attention since receiving harrassing emails and worse from someone I'd previously trusted. 

I'm not sure where to send my poem for Franz.  I friended his page on Facebook earlier this week in preparation, but when I went to find it this morning, it had disappeared.  There are other Franz Schuberts out there, but I can't be sure they're the ones that wrote the Impromptu in G Flat Major and all his other songs for piano that move me, that have led to my current crush.

I still don't know who sent me the Valentine card.  I came across it in a desk-tidying episode a couple of months ago.  I'm not sure, given the discomfort it caused, why I kept it.  I'm pretty sure the intention was good, but anonymity for whatever reason means a certain power is kept by the sender. The card evoked a milder response this time - a pleasant query about who'd taken the trouble to show affection, and a realisation that this far on, I want it to remain a mystery.

As for Franz, he remains unreachable. I'm sure I could have therapy for that, for falling for someone unattainable, but here's one of the many other reasons why I love him:

Saturday, 4 February 2017

I Justify My Position

Justified, I'm justified
it's just as if I'd never sinned ...

This was amongst the worst of the choruses I sang in church when I was a child. For those blissfully in the not know, justification refers to the Christian doctrine that we are all sinners who can only be saved by accepting the forgiveness won by Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. 

(Crazy, isn't it?)

There was also this:

I keep falling in love with him over and over and over and over again,
I keep falling in love with him over and over and over and over again,
I keep falling in love with him over and over and over and over again:
over and over and over and over and over and over again.

You don't believe me but it's true.  We - father, mother, three brothers, me - were on holiday in Yorkshire.  We'd found (no respite) a church to go to on Sunday.  Even I, indoctrinated as I was, could recognise this doggerel as a exceptionally poor example of the expression of ecstatic religious fervour, and struggled to stifle my sniggers.

The Just As If I'd chorus followed by the Over and Over chorus came to mind in quick succession when I received an email from Waitrose this morning telling me I've saved £ the past three months.  I was very pleased.  About the savings - not the earworms.

I know that I don't need justification for anything these days, but still, the tug towards providing an explanation to some unknown Watcher In The Sky (WITS) for all my actions, even grocery shopping in not the cheapest shop available, remains.

But never mind.  The feeling's so much weaker these days. Most of the time it's imperceptible.  And I'll keep queuing in Waitrose (maybe meeting my love from time to time) over and over and over and over and over again.


Saturday, 21 January 2017

I Come 358th

I am awaiting the results for my 9th parkrun.  It's due to land in my inbox in about half an hour.  I suspect my time will be slower than my last run, a fortnight ago, because there were at least three minutes today when I was running without thinking about it.  I was thinking about hunting dragons instead.

A fortnight ago, I came 358th out of 437 runners, and I was the 126th female.  But I couldn't care less.  I mean, I could a bit - I'm glad for my sons' sake that I wasn't last.

The not minding about coming in quite far back is not bravado.  When I see people running ahead of me, way ahead, lapping me, I think, "It's okay. I can write poetry!" I guess that could be a form of defensiveness, but what this phrase seems to do is to help me to stay with myself, going steady, and starting to enjoy, yes enjoy, the feeling of running.

And, you see, I have a new perspective since I came 1st in a poetry competition, and that mattered to me very much.  It mattered to me so much I danced around my living room when I heard.  I said things like, "I've won!" and "I'm so happy."  My eldest son looked on, bemused.

The winning of the Café Writers Competition 2016 doesn't prove anything in particular (how can poems be judged against each other, as Ian McMillan said at the TS Eliot readings last Sunday evening in the Royal Festival Hall.  "It's like," he said, "comparing a Grapefruit with a Trombone.").  Coming 1st is more to do with the affirmation of having written something that speaks to someone I trust and whose writing I admire deeply for its courage, beauty and truthfulness.

Coming first in something that matters to me has made this new year start in the best way possible.  Since receiving the news, I've had a buzzing energy coursing around my creative zones.  These zones have spread beyond my mind, heart and notebook to include my bedroom floor on which books, pencils, scraps of paper and, of course, clothes, are scattered.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

I Discover Happiness

I found happiness two weeks ago, and it was on the inside of my birthday card.  In response to my list - One Hundred Words for Sad - (I Bare My Psyche), my longest-serving friend had written:

Have another
  1. fun
  2. fantastic
  3. creative
  4. fulfilling
  5. happy
  6. loved
  7. loving
  8. lovable
  9. joyous
  10. amazing
  11. carefree
  12. triumphant
  13. beatific
  14. felicitous
  15. propitious
  16. blessed
  17. euphoric
  18. ecstatic
  19. exultant
  20. rapturous
  21. jocund
  22. gladsome
  23. merry
  24. bright
  25. auspicious
  26. elated
  27. laugh-inducing
  28. cheerful
  29. blissful
  30. cheery
  31. thrillful
  32. congenial
  33. delightful
  34. convivial
  35. enchanted
  36. wonderful
  37. gleeful
  38. chocolatey
  39. fizzing
  40. vivifying
  41. affirming
  42. wanton
  43. brave
  44. empowered
  45. empowering
  46. fruitful
  47. vibrant
  48. poetic
  49. lyrical
  50. confident
  51. convivial
  52. uninhibited
  53. hang-up-free
  54. rhapsodic
  55. inspiring
  56. inspirational
  57. sparkling
  58. wondrous
  59. magnificent
  60. awe-filled
  61. tremendous
  62. terrific
  63. heavenly
  64. divine
  65. guilt-free
  66. unparalleled
  67. rewarding
  68. enriching
  69. visionary
  70. dynamic
  71. beamish
  72. radiant
  73. starry
  74. exuberant
  75. gay
  76. jocular
  77. buoyant
  78. bonny
  79. blithe
  80. light-hearted
  81. exhilarating
  82. exuberant
  83. energised
  84. intoxicated
  85. playful
  86. upbeat
  87. mirthful
  88. tickled pink-ful
  89. celebratory
  90. unshackled
  91. untrammelled
  92. free
  93. champion
  94. top
  95. great
  96. emboldened
  97. powerful
  98. jubilant
  99. sorted
  100. perfect

There have been many hard things about the past year and I don't need to, won't, spell them out; enough to say that at times, one hundred words for sad didn't seem enough.

My LSF's list offers hope, and it offers a specific insight in its repetition of the word convivial (34   51) and in word number 85.  I have found much happiness this year in the convivial company of those, like her, who want to live life with clarity and courage; to live without pretence; to live with hope despite everything that's been going on around and in us; to live to grow; to live to play with words, with paint, with dancing, with fire, with food, with music, with motorbikes, with running, with trying out different hats.

Thank you, all of you.  I wish you my LSF's hundred words, well 99, for happiness for Christmas and the New Year.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

I Don My (Christmas) Onesie

Getting  back from work yesterday, I made the miscalculation of thinking I'd have a quick bath before going out to the pub with the badminton club.  Quick Bath is an oxymoron.  Like Cool Polyester, or (if not in Switzerland or some other exotic place) Reliable Public Transport.  Or Exotic Switzerland.

So, my bath wasn't quick and just as I got out, Jonathan phoned to say that they'd nearly finished drinking.  This surprised me, as by that time I was planning to be only an hour or two late, and the club has something of a reputation for stamina.  But as we chatted, I confessed to extreme end-of-term tiredness and opted out, stayed in.

It made perfect sense to get straight into my Christmas onesie for the first time this year. 

People have different markers for when the Christmas season begins.  For some it seems to be August, and the start of Christmas shopping.  For others, it's the January sales, when reduced Christmas cards encourage preparation for the following year.  I suppose for these people, Christmas is never really over but exists as a background to everything else.  For me for a while, it was my sons' primary school nativity plays - those afternoons snatched from work to sit on tiny chairs in a hot and crowded hall watching hundreds of children have their individual moments of glory and disappointment. Even longer ago, it was Christmas Eve afternoon, stopping for a moment to listen to Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge.  Once, when I was gloriously 13 for a moment, and in awe of adulthood, it was being in King's Chapel for the advent service.  It was absolutely possible to believe in a virgin birth under that fan-vaulting, resonant with the sounds of angels.

Nowadays, my Christmas begins when the autumn term properly ends for me, as it did yesterday.  The term which is the best and worst of everything in teaching: the one which starts with high expectations and goes on forever, and which descends from the vigour of a fresh autumn into the overwork of  'getting everything done by Christmas'. 

Putting on my onesie yesterday evening meant succumbing, at last, to rest. To not getting everything done.  To lack of any attempt at dignity or style.  To lying on the sofa, enjoying that reckless and blissful thing - an evening snooze in the hopeful light of my Christmas tree, and then getting up, heedless of the time, to make marzipan.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

I Do It Again

You wait a long time to see Malvolio when you're watching The Tempest.  I discovered this a week ago when the tormented, cross-gartered antagonist failed to appear in the wrong play.  And he did not appear because he could not.

Discussing my confusion (I Muddle My Shakespeares) whilst pulling crackers over blueberry and banana pancakes at a friend's house last Sunday, I saw that what fell out of my cracker, in addition to a joke and a paper crown, was a packet containing the three nails of the crucifixion:

This incident, coming so soon after my Twelth Night / Tempest confusion, set me thinking again about how we see what we think we are going to see and how, even after years of excellent therapy and an ever-increasing experience of freedom, I still carry some hard-wired expectation that what might fall out of a cracker is a punishment.

After thinking and thinking about both these happenings, I've begun to realise that my muddle-up over plays is a gift of a metaphor for understanding life.  For so long, you see, I was trying to act in the wrong play (though I hope never as Malvolio), and now I've ditched the old scripts, I can get on with being the character I really am.

To say I'm rather pleased about this is an understatement, and I'm pretty certain that my finally making it into the right script (an improvised one) does not include me deciding, on the basis of owning three golf tees, to take up golf.