A Gentle Unspooling

Today I woke to birdsong, the sunlight filtering through the curtains, feeling alive and awake for the first time in weeks.

Seems as if I’ve been living in the shadow for some time, like the newly undead . Light patches of happiness and awareness creep in periodically – time with my children, a trip to the beach, coffee with a friend, a night of hedonism, music and banter with my boyfriend. However, these moments never really outlast the creeping dread of anxiety. Anxiety fuelled by the sale of my house, the search for somewhere to live, lockdown et al.

Today the sunlight, the early sharp light before full morning seems to have activated a happy place. And I’m sitting on the deck, in a faded plastic chair, a mug of tea within reach … and I’m writing. Without angst or preconception, nothing essential. Not a story, rhyme, or extra chapter for one of my many unfinished works of dubious literary content. Just an acknowledgement of my existence at this present time.

And anyway, aren’t all words essential? More valid when they jump onto the page, eagerly dropped , a seamless stream of consciousness as each word eases the weight of the unwritten hoard in my brain.

It feels good, better than good, the stirring of the muse, who’s been gently whispering in my ear for over a year – resulting in many random scribbles in random notebooks.

Today the sun forced me up, and although I can always use more sleep, I felt an overwhelming desire to arise and pull back the curtains. I relished the early morning chill , the feel of the floor beneath my feet. At the washing line, I paused many times to pat the black-furred mini beast who curled her unhelpful way about my legs. The back field was a glorious vision of long grasses, bright buttercups and mysterious circles of forget-me-not and violets. And everywhere a rush of tweeting and chirping.

There was a heavy pause in the air, the sky waiting for the moment to sound thunder and signal a downpour. I felt it in the soft breeze that blew the pale, white thorn blossom about like faerie confetti. The cat laid herself at my feet, and began to lick a lazy paw, a single dandelion wish resting between her ears. Wet-whiskered and silky from her path through the meadow.

Nature pulls me in with the arms of a lover and I breathe deeply, each inhalation slightly easing the coil of wire within, a gentle unspooling. I take a sip of my now tepid Earl Grey and bend my head to the open page.

Channelling My Inner Magpie

I am a magpie. A collector of pretty things, shiny objects, keepsakes and knick-knacks. Pieces that hold meaning, quirky gems that caught my eye on my travels; at the beach, in the forest, on the road. The beautiful and unique detritus of Mother Nature.

Beside my bed is a falcon feather, it floated on the breeze one Summer’s day as I walked the country road. It’s pure white shaft dappled with ochre markings. It sits in a gilt shot glass, soft and so light to touch. A finger width away lies a pile of semi precious stones and crystals, catching the sunlight, within easy grasp. Sometimes when I am propped up on pillows, reading or scribbling, I rattle them in my palm like rune stones.

In the pocket of my jacket are five objects, four pebbles of differing size and colour, a russet and gold beauty, the smoothest piece of white marble, an oblong, grey piece of stone shaped like a tiny foot, a yellow rock that sparkles in the light, and a shard of white sea glass. It comforts me to feel them as I walk, rolling one over the other always searching for others. Soon as their number increases I will transfer them to a little clay pot I keep in the bathroom thus creating space for the collection of more.

I believe these objects were left for me, little earthly signs of my connection lying along the seashore, shining in the grass by the hedgerow, in the shadow of a beech in the forest, or simply amongst the stones on the surface of the road. There is so much joy in their serendipitous placement.

I have always been a collector. My shelves and surfaces contain marble eggs, pieces of pretty pottery, brightly glazed, candles in all the colours of the sea, fossils I picked on the seashore as a child, a rattle snake’s rattle (ancient and paper thin), once shiny conkers and acorns still in their pretty hats.

And I have been gifted the most beautiful objects from those who know me well; a pretty china cup from my daughter sits on my dressing table, a heart carved from two thousand-year-old bog oak with care that fits in my hand and is smooth as butter to touch, from my boyfriend. A framed piece of stained glass sprinkles the worksurface with greens, reds and blues as the morning light passes through, crafted by an acquaintance. In the bathroom is a wonderful jellyfish batik from my best friend, a talented artist whose resin and glass painted pieces hang on many walls.

There is as much pleasure for me in the touch of a smooth stone taken from a beach in County Clare, as there is at the sight of a bunch of bright daffodils in my vase, the glaze as deep blue as the Atlantic on a cloudless day.

And on a dark, angry-skied day in March, these trinkets and small treasures bring a peace and inner happiness that is tangible. And I am grateful for the magpie in me that feathers my nest with such beauty.

Be well, stay safe, my friends.

New Year’s Musings – Light at the end of a Lockdown Year

It’s bloody cold, the tips of my fingers red where they stick out of my fingerless mittens. The beanie pulled down over my ears provides scant warmth from the bite of the wind. As I walk across the deck it crunches, frosted and slippy. The banister pale with ice, glints in the moonlight.

The lawn slopes to the road, the grass seems covered by a light covering of snow but the sparkle tells of ice. The overgrown shrubs are eerie monoliths casting heavy shadows that creep to the hedge boundary. A beautiful, frozen vista.

Above all the moon shines full and cold. The Cold Moon, the last Winter moon of 2020. Triumphant and majestic. A moon above all moons, chill and filled with beauteous light.

A snapshot. A moment frozen in time. Two a.m. and the world slumbers, apart from slight movement in the ditch beside me, stealthy, a cat or fox whose normal silent padding is betrayed by the crunch of frost.

It’s technically New Year’s Eve. The end of 2020. And the countryside is peaceful, calm, almost dreamlike. A light fog shrouds everything before me. The last year has been anything but dreamlike. I mentally shake at the memory of our existence through COVID.

Starting a new year will not make any difference to the situation we are in. New Year’s Day is just another day, just like the one before. But we mark the turning of the year, it’s always been a time for inward thinking, planning, making wishes and resolutions. And this year was one with a difference.

I’m lucky, my family and close friends, acquaintances are all healthy. My daughter and her family keep a strict isolation practice as they have a health issue, and as such I have missed her, I’ve barely seen her new baby or my grandson but the main thing is they’re fine. Thank God for video chats and messaging.

It was a year of fear, anxiety and worry. Life as we knew it ceased to exist, it’s been a constant state of lockdown and number crunching of cases. It’s been scary and troublesome. Things that usually gave me joy, my mainstays of writing, exercising, meditation seemed to no longer offer solace. I became so disillusioned that I stopped promoting my writing, I even stopped reading – a first for me, but worst of all was my complete inability to put pen to paper. The muse deserted me.

So, I put all my energy into online communications, posts, the odd missive here, I shared what made me laugh, tried to raise morale for the troops along with many others on Facebook. I even cultivated online relationships as the dating world became purely messaging and video chats. Life had a surreal, bizarre tinge to it. We were masked and distanced, communicating from our laptops and phones in our bedrooms.

Life still continued, we connected, we kept each other going through phone calls, social distance coffees, messages, emails, video calls. Contact was all that kept us together, knowing someone cared, knew we were there. Hanging on. Laughing at the silly memes we put up, sharing their funny stories, discussing their struggles and methods of getting through it. We stayed connected.

And that’s the best thing I will take from 2020, the bubble of love and support that is always around me, through my kids, my extended family, my best friends, my online buddies and the many lovely new people who have come into my life this year, through writing groups, humorous interests and … romance. It’s not all been bad. There has been love, and excitement and wonder.

And tonight when I sit down by the fire with the usual New Year’s booze and an assortment of extremely calorie loaded confectionery, I will be celebrating each and every one of us, celebrating our resilience in the hardest of times, celebrating our ability to cling to the life and people we love and our undefeated spirit.

fptbty

Love you all, keep safe and keep your spirits up. Brighter days are coming.

Lost Gloves and the Airing Cupboard From Hell

I thought it would be cold on my walk and so, I brought gloves. The memory of my near frost bitten digits; a result of a recent glove-less ramble ever present in my mind.

When I say I brought gloves, well, they were fingerless mittens. Black and old, still cool in my head, reminiscent of my teenage years when they finished off a mixed bag of black, goth outfits, a must have. But now, they added nothing but scant warmth to my fluffy ensemble. They were the back up gloves. All my decent, actually warm gloves had absconded. Days ago a single grey woollen chap made its presence clear and I placed it in my drawer hopeful of soon reuniting it with its comrade, the other glove having been spotted in some other corner of my house and only required my brain to kindly reproduce the image. My brain declined, it’s been going rogue of late, refusing to cough up various bits of important information and substituting ridiculous for clever, or more ridiculous.

I have a horrible feeling that the missing glove and many other important items necessary for sorties out into the now arctic outdoors may have found their way into the airing cupboard. This troubles me greatly for the aforementioned closet has recently become a hideous black hole swallowing all kinds of household detritus.

Normally, the airing cupboard would merely represent a messy closet full of excess clothing, remnants of past holiday decoration clear up, such as forgotten cardboard witches and ghosts, old baubles and tinsel. But, now since I have put my house on the market it has become a receptacle for anything needing hiding from the eyes of the estate agent’s photographer.

A sad, solitary, grey glove would be lost, gobbled up and absorbed into the chaos. I have a lot of trouble just reaching across to find a folded towel on the shelving above the boxes and unused lampshades. The airing cupboard has become synonymous with the madness and craziness of selling my house, along with the decluttering and swatting away the flicker of old memories, plus the worry of the need to find another suitable place to rent in the area. It has become a daily reminder of a job I have no desire but know I must tackle. And soon, for I have a sneaking suspicion that right at the back, behind all the mess, lies a plastic bag stuffed full of scarves, hats and gloves, all essential items of outer clothing in this Irish winter.

The time for a clean up is undeniably nigh. What joy. I push my shoulder to the door and with a small effort manage to close the airing cupboard. Not today I tell myself, tomorrow might be good, definitely the beginning of next week. Sure, the kids can always put socks on their hands.

Who Buries a Goldfish?

The goldfish died last week. Had I fed him recently? Yes, I remembered a hurried shake of flakes across the surface of the water. He’d been up at the top, mouth open like a little hoover. Little orange fish living out his existence in a grimy tank in the corner of my kitchen, swimming through faded plastic trees whose roots were encased in weighted stands sitting amongst dayglo pebbles. (Humming Radiohead as I type)

A little orange fish who used to be black. My son liked his cool, menacing, black scales and was rather disappointed when he morphed into the standard goldfish orange. Brick Bubba Burgundy, the monikers got better with practise, a slight creative curve from Goldie to Brick.

He was the last, and to be honest, I’ve been waiting for the bugger to pop his water clogs and join the choir eternal for years. But he was a stubborn bastard. Just kept swimming around, expectantly, the little mouth eager for food. Resisting the efforts of time, solitary swimmer in a large tank, the water getting progressively darker because the pump had stopped working and as I expected him to die any day I had no intention of replacing it.

Last goldfish standing…or rather swimming.

And then one day, he was upside down, his lifeless orange corpse stuck between a plastic tree and the side of the tank. A cup was all that was required to assist him on his watery way from tank to toilet. My daughter offered to bury him. But who buries a goldfish? It sounded like the punchline from a surrealist joke.

It was the work of seconds, one flush and he went on his last great adventure. Later, after the tank was removed to the garage and I had cleaned the area, the kitchen seemed brighter and tidier. One last thing to have to do, one less item to be crossed off on the ever-expanding list of jobs to be sorted out before the house was sold and we moved.

And while I wasn’t exactly heartbroken, after all we hadn’t had a dialogue or been particularly close, he had been a constant presence in our busy kitchen. He used to be an object of interest before all the cleaning and feeding was left to me and all but one of my children left for college.

I reckon we had that fish for maybe six years. A lot of shit went down in those six years – A marriage, the birth of the first of my grandchildren, a nearly empty nest, one divorce. I bid a fond fishy farewell to Brick Bubba Burgundy and made a firm resolution to never get a fish again ( ugh, memories of the green mould that had to be scrubbed off the sides of the tank, the irritating buzz of the pump that was a nightmare to clean out). Been there done that. This also applies to guinea pigs and rabbits (don’t get me started on the rabbits).

Sun-dappled Meanderings

I found myself walking in Autumn today. The last week’s heat and bright sunshine had fooled me. It spoke of the beach and hedonistic splashing, of sitting out on the deck with a cold beer in hand and a novel. Glorious, sun-dappled mornings of perfect walking, with ne’er a raindrop in sight. And although my son had moved out to begin his first teaching job, and two of my daughters were back to school and college, (with another waiting for her course to start) I had in some strange way put this changing of the house dynamic down to a further easing of lockdown. I mean, could we really be here? Mid September already?

I guess, in light of all that my brain had to process of late (an ongoing court case to resolve my divorce, now thankfully dealt with, fodder for another time) and the fact I am a bear of little brain, Autumn had craftily sneaked up on me, a red berry here, a yellow leaf falling there. And when I sauntered down the sunlit road this morning, minding my own business and glorying in the bright light, I came across a conker. A beautiful, russet, shiny new conker, nestled in its velvet bed.

Autumn in all her splendour shouted out at me from the hedgerows and trees, the fields.

Here, beside me, was a cluster of blackcurrants beside a rusted gate, up further, the hawthorn proudly displayed her red berries, fat and shining. There were dusty sloes ripe for the picking for my Christmas gin, and hazelnuts lying underfoot, unripe, still wearing their pale green feathery caps. Overhead, the sun shone through the canopy of yellowing leaves and a sudden gust of wind passing across the fields caused a flurry of multicoloured ash and oak leaves to whirl to the ground before me.

Toadstools had pushed up beside the hedge, their dirty caps a damp brown. I noticed a fine crop of tiny apples on a neighbour’s tree as I walked by reminding me that those in my own orchard needed attention. Very soon, I would be gathering basketfuls of cookers for pies and crumbles. This also meant that the damsons must be ripe and ready for jam but where to find them? The small thicket of trees I had taken from in the past had all been cut down and removed when a field was cleared. Hmm, I would ponder further.

We walked home together, me and my Nosferatu shadow. I watched it bob and elongate and then disappear as the canopy of leaves cast their own sun-dappled shades before me. I was already sweating beneath my t-shirt and leggings, my face warm from the strong September sun. Later, I would require a sweater to sit out with a coffee on the deck as the cooler evenings drew in, another reminder from Mother Nature that the year was moving on again.

Keep safe my friends, be happy.

I Bid Farewell to the Waves – Part 3, Vitamin Sea

It was like any night I had spent away before, this time in a charming seaside bed and breakfast, the only glaring sign of the times we lived in was how on admittance, I was directed to make use of the hand sanitizer on the wall. I applied it liberally, carefully rubbing it into my hands like a good citizen. In the bedroom there were little bottles of the stuff on the bedside cabinets along with hand wipes. My breakfast was also set at a pre-arranged time in order for me to eat separately from the other guests, and for the table to be cleared and sanitized properly before the next sitting.

The owner of the guest house, Eric, a tanned-faced fifty-something (who looked as if he lived on the beach 24/7) apologised for the arrangements; for how I was forced to eat alone, and the fact that I couldn’t mingle with the other guests. I nodded, looking suitably disappointed and thanked him, all the time glorying in this enforced isolation. Delighted I had the dining room to myself. Delighted that the beautiful beach vista was completely all mine with no one to interrupt my thoughts. No one asking me to pass the salt or discuss the virus and how it had affected our lives, to marvel over how great it was that we could get away.

Once suitably stuffed from cereal, a sizeable cooked breakfast, all washed down with tea, I packed my little bag, grabbed my laptop (happily unused) and pulled the door of the guesthouse behind me. I left my bags in the car and descended the series of steps to the sea through a tiny gap, with yellow painted walls between holiday homes, that was so narrow I had walked past it on my first few beach visits. The tide was in. I found a place perfect for my needs, quiet; a little way from the entrance to the beach, where the sand was pale golden and soft. And I sat with my back against a gently sloping rock and gazed out to sea, taking time to snap the view with my phone camera, each snapshot barely capturing the beauty and tranquility of the scene laid out like a cosmic feast before me. I watched the grey-green waves, the two bulbous headlands, the myriad of barely discernible lighthouses.

Down from me, cars parked up on the strand, families emerged. Children escaping through open doors to caper about the sand, running in and out of the waves, shouting and laughing. Seagulls screeched overhead, dogs barked, straining against leads or running wild amongst unsuspecting sunbathers.

I closed my eyes and allowed myself to drift, my ears tuned to the sound of the sea, to the crash of the little waves upon the shore, the hiss and swish. Recording it all, keeping it in my mind, storing it for moments of need, when calm and tranquillity would be required.

After a few hours had passed, I peeled myself from the beach and stretched. I dusted the sand from my jeans and climbed the steps back up to the street.

It was time for home. Time for family and normality.

Stay safe , my friends, stay healthy.

(Photograph courtesy of Polly Hogan.)

Sunday Morning, 8.15 a.m. – (Vitamin Sea, Part 2)

The sea wasn’t cold. Not Atlantic, icy cold. I didn’t require my limbs to get numb in order for me to swim, as has often been the case. A lovely immersion. I waded out, the tide was fully in, lapping lazily against the shore of smooth, pebble free sand, the perfect, demerara soft beach.

I walked out, letting the waves cover my ankles, a little further and then my calves , until the water reached my waist before dipping slowly in. I floated, allowed my head back so that for a moment I was completely covered .

The only person in the sea at 8.15 a.m. on a Sunday morning. A few campers sat huddled in hoodies on pull out chairs, their hands cradling coffee or whatever hot beverage they had brewed on the little stove before them. Tent people wake early, to move, to stretch their limbs to connect to normality.

On my back, upon the rolling grey-green waves, I could see a pill box set into the cliffs, a remnant of war time; whether World or Civil, I wasn’t sure. The prettily, painted terraced houses along the street stood out in relief to the grey cliff, I spotted a take-away and a brightly coloured pub/restaurant on the corner.

Turning about, I kicked my legs and swam over the small, choppy waves and viewed the two headlands that swept around to almost meet each other. Rounded cliffs adorned with a patchwork of yellowing, green fields, small forests. I spied the lighthouses I had watched twinkle magically from the strand in the twilight the night before when I sat in my aran jumper drinking wine from a plastic bottle.

I lay in the sea’s embrace, allowing myself to drift from shore, from the little pile of clothing upon the rocks, where also lay my notebook and battered paperback. I closed my eyes and just existed for that moment upon the surface of the waves, little flutters from my hands and feet keeping me afloat. A seagull’s cry in passing was the only identifiable noise above the swish and crash of the water. And I disappeared into the peaceful, restful haven hidden deep within.