The Moment



                To write down all I contain at this moment

                I would pour the desert through an hour-glass,

                The sea through a water-clock,

                Grain by grain and drop by drop

                Let in the trackless, measureless, mutable seas and sands.


                For earth's days and nights are breaking over me,

                The tides and sands are running through me,

                And I have only two hands and a heart to hold the desert and the sea.


                What can I contain of it? It escapes and eludes me,

                The tides wash me away,

                The desert shifts under my feet.


                The Moment - Kathleen Raine






I've been neglectful. The geraniums that should by now be happily temperate in the glasshouse instead hunker soggily in their chilly terracotta pots on the table outside, their leaves left lifeless after the harsh frosts of the past week. A couple still lurk inside; stubborn late flowerers now just dusty and green, pushed high onto shelves some weeks ago and forgotten. I wish I could over-winter myself. Last year was difficult and I've been neglectful of more than just a few plants. So starting up this new year - hefting routines and resolutions into place - feels like physical labour. It feels like hard work. 

There is good news. A pair of deep pink cyclamen unexpectedly came back to life, flaring bright in low sunlight and as I write, the room is scented with the incongruous high-summer headiness of white hyacinths. Three swans circle the lake, calming to the eye. Daffodils are now inches through the earth. My son's head reaches my mouth - a kissable height - but he is still light enough to lift into my arms. These necessary dips into reflection precede growth.

I look forward. I hope you fare well into these next new months. 



silence II


'Some people say you can hear the northern lights, that they whoosh or whistle. Silence, icebergs, musk oxen, and now the aurora borealis - the phenomena of the Arctic. This is why we've come here. This is why we are out on the freezing deck at midnight.

Polly comes up beside me and pokes me as best she can through all the layers of clothes. With head tilted back she whispers, 'They are changing without moving', which is true, and I fall to wondering if there are other ways of changing without moving. Growing older perhaps, as we are. Reforming one's attitudes, maybe.


Among the passengers are doctors, dentists and engineers: people, it would seem, of professional certainty. People like myself - and Polly, I suspect - who don't quite know what we are. Who know only that we live short lives, that we float on the surface of a powerful silence on the surface of a mile-deep fjord, with icebergs, that we're driven by some sort of life force, flickering and green.'


Kathleen Jamie 'Aurora' Sightlines


silence I


This tiny extract from Marina Abramovic's piece An Artist is Present - in which she sits in silence with a stranger for just one minute - captivated me when I first came across it. I still find myself thinking of it. A procession of strangers comes and goes. And then she opens her eyes to see a former love sitting across the table from her. The reunion is evidently staged. But those silent seconds of clasped eyes and hands have a poignancy that feels truthful. Their meeting of eyes suggests years of knowing and an intimation of those hurts and misunderstandings that exist as a relationship ends. As she leans back again, readying herself to meet the next stranger, his hands are momentarily left on the table, stretched still towards her. In her work to compose herself for her next encounter, she too seems to be outstretched towards him. It feels like there has been something of importance said: largely in silence. 

Why it moves me so strongly I can't entirely say. Partly because it is an act that explores our culture's strong discomfort with silence. That so few seconds can carry a disproportionate weight of meaning. I suspect, however, that it's mostly because I have a few people I would like to sit in eloquent silence with: wounds I would like to heal. And when deep emotion is involved, words often fail me or become my enemy and, as in Prufrock, I hear myself repeating:

               'That is not it at all, 

 That is not what I mean, at all'

I am thinking there is something I can learn from this. Something about saying less but meaning more. Valuing the small moments. That reaching out can be enough. 




'I have always thought there was such beauty about a room like that [empty], even though there weren't any people in it, perhaps precisely when there weren't any.' Vilhelm Hammershoi 1907

I find myself drawn to unpeopled rooms as a subject for art and photography. Then the focus shifts to the slant of light on an object - highlighting a detail, re-shaping the contours of the space, emphasising the silence.  

A few years ago I went to a stunning Hammershoi exhibition. Many of his paintings are of interiors, executed in muted variations of black, grey, beige, white. Sometimes a woman is glimpsed, her back to us, holding a plate perhaps or disappearing through a doorway. Rooms only recently deserted have a different energy to those that have been empty a long time, as if you can still feel the human molecules. Somehow, Hammershoi conveys in his paintings that sense of rooms where absence is recent. But even the paintings containing a figure imply that their presence is transitory; undisturbing. I circled the room over and over, taking in the cool delicacy of the palette and the absorbing quality of the empty canvasses.

Eventually I stepped out into the noise, colour and movement of Piccadilly and felt like Alice slipping down the rabbit hole with a feeling that the world was topsy turvy and I'd left reality behind, in that gallery.



wing's beat

Twice weekly I sit pool side as Joel swims into the early evening and those little pockets of time have become an unexpectedly pleasurable part of my week. Once I've thrown off all the layers I need in the world outside, and am better placed to withstand the throat-catching heat, I settle into my nook at the back of the stands and gaze on the activity around the pool.  

For a few minutes it's like watching birds flock and gather: all is flurry, noise and motion as busy chattering mingles with the slip-slurp of wet feet and the colour-flash of swimsuits as girls bend heads to knees to fold long hair into hats. The young boys laugh and wheel their arms in animation; their long limbs lengthened further by the monochrome stretch of knee-length lycra. The older ones hold their bodies awkwardly, watching the girls shyly from under still-dry fringes. Then groups begin to slip into the pool, stopping momentarily with the cold shock of water, before arms and legs start moving and the whole pool becomes alive with the grace of bodies in water. No longer boy and girl, in the water they become swimmer - athlete. Finally, as the air calms into the regular soothing rhythm of churn and splash, the busy hum of my mind calms and I reach into the chaos of my bag and pick out a book.

Over the last couple of sessions I've been reading Kathleen Jamie's intimate, weather-filled essay collection Sightlines. I close my eyes and think about the book. I think of wind, light, birds, sea, sky, home. Transience. A startling, poetic precision of language that sometimes made me shiver. But I can't separate my experience of reading of it from the sensation of itchy, chloriney heat and yellow light on blue water and the simple, touching pleasure of watching children determinedly ploughing back and forth. Watching, amongst others, my child. In the final paragraph of the final essay - Wind - she writes:

'There are myths and fragments which suggest that the sea that we were flying over was once land. Once upon a time, and not so long ago, it was a forest with trees, but the sea rose and covered it over. The wind and sea. Everything else is provisional. A wing's beat and it's gone. 

That wing's beat echoes in the arc and stretch of the young arms pulling through water in front of me as I read; pulling, striving, growing. Growing up and away. A wing's beat - and they're gone. 






You meet people so easily! Mom said, when I smiled at the man who changed the car oil, who smiled back. Certainly I had very little competition, since Joseph smiled at no one, and Dad just flashed his teeth, and Mom's smiles were so full of feeling that people leaned back a little when she greeted them. It was hard to know just how much was being offered. 

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake - Aimee Bender

A curious little book that I slipped through during a late afternoon, it caught me out with scratchy, unexpected and often uncomfortable recognitions. It lingers. 




Home. West Wittering beach

The sensations of sea and air and sand are what come first when I close my eyes and remember this summer of Atlantic beaches. The slam and lift and ceaseless pounding of a sea at full surge. Hot blue air that burned skin and bleached hair. Salt in eyes and hair and on lips already roughened by the battering of tiny particles of sand and shell that flew on the wind. Utter happiness.

And now, as we tilt further into this new year and towards the final months of dark and cold, I turn to our own english coastline. Coat and scarf replace swimwear and boots hide bare feet but when the sun slants low and the waves pound hard in a wind that makes hair a nuisance, it's as if bodily atoms reform to their proper shapes. It feels good. 


The sill is peppering with storm-flies.

Colours deepen. Too close. Time to change.


Shed your clothes like pointless wings.

Now it's just the weight of you.


Rocks, sun, waves have kept a place for you.

Expecting guests? No matter. Go.



Feet on the brink. Avoid brushing earth

from your soles. Some trace of it


can cross the border with you:

flecks of other people on your skin and hair,


their wounds in your scars. 

Their memories? The ones they told you.



Look down. Don't. It's up to you.

If you can treat the view as abstract, then



reach up with your arms, as if this was 

less dive, more surrender,


less surrender, more ascension. Stretch

until your heels lift from the sandstone.



Technically, this is the crux.

You are living a half-life between


two elements. You may wish at this stage

to be photographed or painted.


Now you know what your solidity is for:

so gravity has something to work with.



You begin to melt, head first,

hair diffusing, clear lines of your form


dissolving. But you gain slow-motion.

Everyone looks graceful underwater.



Out in the nick of time, the strong sun

reconstitutes you. Back. Round your mouth,


a lick of salt. At home, casement 

windows bang. Net curtains haunt the rooms.


Your visitors stand in their coats,

looking for a note, a trace of you.


(extracts from Anatomy of a Perfect Dive - the last poem in Corpus.  Michael Symmons Roberts)



these days

They move slowly when you're in them but then you realise that they've gone - and so fast. I'm taking deeper breaths and letting things drop. 'Standards' as my grandmother would have called them. Obligations. Expectations. I'm not someone that all this comes naturally to. In fact, my husband would laugh to think that any of these have been dropped. I expect a lot from myself; from everyone. But when it comes to Joel I'm more able to let it go.

The side of my self that I like most is the one that takes life lightly and it's the one that having a son draws out. Perhaps a child, I don't know. But my son is all I know and I know that I like myself better for being his mother. Not all the time by any means but that's for another time. 

This time is about swimming outdoors, tennis and table football, drawing, playing with Lego and being silly. Hugging. Which is heaven for me, except for that point in the middle of the day when I need to draw breath and draw myself into my self for a little. So he goes up to his room with his books and I do - whatever I need. I need a lot of things but with him in my life it makes it easier. 



a little blue

Joel at 2. taken with old film.

This morning's dawn chorus was different. Instead of starting slowly, with blackbird and robin calling out politely to start a birdly murmur, there was a brisk and purposeful bird-wide chatter as if they all woke up at once and knew that the rarely-seen sun would shine for a few hours and there was work to be done.

I'm also jolted into action in the knowledge that tomorrow marks the end of the school term. There have been so many school and personal commitments filling up the days that I've kept my eyes averted from the calendar simply not to feel the acute sense of time limited. But they're suddenly here. The holidays that I've longed for just a few steps away. There is an odd sense of sadness about the closing of this term as it marks the end of Joel's time in the comfortable, homely early years. In September, he moves to another part of the school and another type of learning and a longer day that breaks my heart. Over these last months we've deliberated about home-educating Joel for the next year to avoid the working week school hours. That's what I would like to do. But he loves his school and his friends so on he'll go and we'll take it from there.

And on I'll go. I'll take my coffee outside now and watch the busy, birdly times outside. The buzzards wheeling lazily overhead now, confident of speed when they need it. The little wrens moving so quickly and beautifully from bush to fence to perch in the honeysuckle that's just beginning to bloom. Blue-tits hanging upside down on the willow. I'll sit in the noisy silence and have my fill of the solitude that will soon be a memory.   



In 1978, back in Britain for a few months, we rented a gloomy old vicarage just outside Oxford. This was our sixth move in nine years. Uprooting small children and raising them in other people's homes quadruples the strains of parenting. I was shattered. I was miserable. 

One afternoon, I was stripping down the double bed, barely listening to whatever was on the radio. Then, suddenly, out of it came the sound of dripping rain so real I stopped flapping sheets around and lay flat on my back staring up at the ceiling. 

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Silence downstairs. (One was asleep under the piano she'd been banging for hours, the other deep in a book). And for a few moments I was truly there, in that dripping radio forest, with wet bracken and soft soil under my feet. 

And then I heard: "Simplify, simplify." I realise now it must have been a reading from Thoreau's Walden. But then I didn't know and didn't care. I just got up and switched off the radio. It really did work like the voice of God. From that day on, my life changed. I know what I care about. Everything else - I let slip. I barely shop, except for food and necessities. I have fewer possessions - and am happier - than almost anyone I know. 

Years later, in a Chinese restaurant called Blue Sky, I read the mesage in my fortune cookie. "You can have what you want most in the world, but to pay for it you must give up what you wanted second and third." Everyone else round the table looked glum when I read it. But I just thought, I know. I was so glad I'd learned the lessons all those years before. Otherwise, I'd have wasted so much of my life. 

Anne Fine to Annie Taylor


truth and lives


I came across a box of old photographs in a flea market the other day and stopped, as usual, to sift through them. Finding a poignancy in each image - bare sketches of lives left lying unclaimed - I was most compelled by these two. With the photos tucked in my pocket, I walked around with scarcely half a mind on the push and noise of real life and the rest filling up with stories about that couple and the pair of girls. 

I think about their stories. I think about my stories: those ones I tell myself about my self, my memories, my life. I look at these strangers in the photographs and myself in the glare of the screen; glaring slightly with concentration and seeming a stranger to myself. Sometimes I wonder if the reason I write is because making up stories about other people is frankly more straightforward than sorting out the truth of my own. 



Blue warmth briefly breached the clouds so I took the chance to get into the garden. The slow and calm of tying in roses and the satisfying clip and pull of dead-heading made me hum out loud. That's a good sign. A precursor to the singing that will mark my full ascent to ground level. 

Buoyed by the pleasures of that outdoor tidy and trim I searched for a little something I could do in the house. Ignoring all the large, dull piles that are accumulating this week I settled instead on the smallest, and happily gathered all our recent beach finds into a jar for Joel. 

And so the morning passed until it was time for coffee. With biscuits of a kind I only eat on my own as I like to nibble away all the edge chocolate first in a way that seems unseemly in a grown-up. And a read through the new book I bought after taking Denise's counsel on my last post. The bracing blue against red made it irresistible and brought to mind summer and all things good.

I found more clear sky in Simic's words. The blue in the cloud, the light in the stone. Hope.




I have seen sparks fly out

When two stones are rubbed,

So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;

Perhaps there is a moon shining

From somewhere, as though behind a hill - 

Just enough light to make out

The strange writings, the star charts

On the inner walls.

Charles Simic




One More Time


By now his outdoor orbits of the house

approach the frequency of comets passing.


Yet when I ask what he's been up to since

he says he's been out in the fields walking.


And at once I know where he means. He says

he goes to keep his mind from wandering.


Andrew McNeillie 


My mind is wandering; roving like an unhappy ghost around old fears and unhappinesses. Sleeplessness, sudden doubts, this grey grey rain that just will not stop and the news that I dread but can't switch off. The sweat prickle awareness that each day is one less.  The remorseless orbit of thoughts. 

In the same way I've forgotten the feeling of sun on skin I've forgotten the simple pleasure of sleeping and living without the stone in the stomach. I know it will pass and pass quickly. The sun will come out, I'll sleep and will wake and forget this as I forget that time is passing. Until next time. 

While I wait for the orbit to slow, I'll practice the piano.  Buy some new herbal tea and stop for cake on the way home. Go to the yoga class tonight that I don't want to go to just because I don't want to go anywhere. Put on my boots and my hat and get out. Fare foreward.


food for eyes

 1. Untitled, 2. good morning, 3. Back to Bali, 4. Untitled, 5. Owl drawing on book edge, 6. les oiseaux., 7. cheer up, buttercup, 8. К, 9. Untitled

Perhaps because this stubbornly grey sky is muting even the brightness of azaleas and rhododendrons, my eye is desperate for bursts of colour. Out of the window, the green is dulled and uniform with only the few yellow stream-side iris that remain unbattered by rain and the last buttercups dotted through the grass like little lights of cheer. The lack of colour and sun is wearying somehow: my head feels woolly and unstimulated.

So when colour comes, it jolts me. The other day, a dull delivery was suddenly made magical by the marigold zest of the delivery man's turban. My eyes drank in the solar purity of the tone against the steel grey of his beard and I may have drawn out the conversation slightly too long. As we talked, I wrestled with shy reserve when all I wanted to do was catch that colour with my camera. Shyness won and I reluctantly watched him walk away, my eyes pursuing the glowing orange all the way down the track. Perhaps it's better kept as a memory.  

Instead, I've gathered together a few favourite images from other flickr feeds. May your eyes be full of colour today.



early world


I sometimes think my vision of the sea is the clearest thing I own. I pick it up, exile that I am, like the purple 'lucky stones' I used to collect with a white ring all the way round, or the shell of a blue mussel with it's rainbowy angel's fingernail interior; and in one wash of memory the colors deepen and gleam, the early world draws breath.  (from Ocean 1212-W - Sylvia Plath)

For Plath, the sea. For me, the cold Canadian lakes - some of which were so big they seemed like the sea. And the little sandy shored, pine-ringed lakes that we'd drive to on a weekend; my legs swinging and sticking to the leather beneath my short 1970s dresses. The regular peel and slurp of skin released from leather mingled with the car radio and my own low singing. Sometimes, to fade out raised voices in the front, I would sing harder. As we drove, I watched for patterns in the clouds that dominated the big skies. Some days, there would just be blue. A bright dazzle - just blue and the yellow disc of sun. 

At the lake, the first slap of cold against hot summer skin. The scent memory of sun cream and pine, earthy lake water and the rubbery swim hat I was sometimes made to wear. Then into the water and the freedom of moving further away from my non-swimming parents. My dad taught me to swim by making me arrow towards him underwater; and as he gradually moved further away I found myself to be a swimmer. The transition from the speed and grace and cool shadow underwater to the splash and struggle of swimming in the air was one I made reluctantly. So when the shouts and splashes and noises of a busy beach began to drown out my daydreams, I'd happily submerge and swim long, slow pulls underwater. That water is glass green in my memory, striped at intervals by the sun. 

My early world, encapsulated by those lakeside moments, is tucked inside my own seashell - ready to open at any time. I'm opening it now.


woman's work 

It's been an unusually domestic week - mostly because the sun suddenly came out and my strongest wish was to sit quietly outside watching the fishermen cast and reel on the lake or listening to the radio in the shade of a tree. Both provided the perfect accompaniment to sewing.

First, I stitched up some little stones for Jude's project. I loved the process of setting the pleasingly imperfect stone shapes onto tiny squares of linen and could have carried on for ages. Only the thought of Jude's heart sinking as she gazed upon mountains of my stones made me stop. Then I tried a little freehand embroidery but the heat sapped any creativity and I set aside my hoop with not a little irritation.

So it was that I gave in and got domestic. I cut down some outgrown patchwork trousers to shorts for Joel and then spent a frustratingly long while unpicking the excellent stitching that held all the separate patches together. Still, I now have a tantalising stack of colourful squares to work into a floor cushion or rug for his room. I finally patched up the pockets on my favourite 'hot evening at home' Antik Batik kaftan. I sewed swimming badges onto Joel's pool towel. I even fixed the hems on John's cricket trousers such was the domestic goodness of my heart. And remembering Anja's beautiful checks, I cut and hemmed up some extra large gingham napkins to use on picnics. Oddly satisfying; all of it. 

Though the tranquillity of sitting happily outside in the heat contrasted uneasily with the sense of dread that always accompanies the bowel-shifting grind of the low flying chinooks that are busy in the sky this week. There is something about the simple, homely sewing that I'm doing now that makes me think of all those women - stitching, mending, running a home - in places and circumstances where tranquillity is a distant memory. And thinking about them doing their best in intolerable situations, I feel - yes - gratitude for my quiet days but also such impotent outrage for the too many lives that are far from ordinary.

* Kate


perfect imperfect

Finally tackling the clutter and jumble at the back of the bedroom cupboard, I discovered a tatty art folder that still carried the musty scent of the cottage attic. Amidst a number of old art prints and contact sheets, I found a photo that John had taken of me a few years ago. 

A snap taken with the last of a roll of film, it was an impromptu capture of the black leather coat that I'd worn pretty much every day during my late teens and - though less frequently - into my twenties. God I loved that coat. Knee-length and slim cut, it slipped effortlessly over the beatniky clothes and 1930s dresses that I wore then. The smell of the leather was enough to take me straight back to those days of clubs until dawn and the curious peace and calm of the morning walk home.

But the day the photo was taken we'd been sifting through our possessions before yet another move and I had decided, finally, to take the coat out of storage one last time and give it away. I don't remember seeing the print before. Perhaps John and I both rejected it: he seeing the imperfections of print; me, the squeezed eyes, messy hair and far too many teeth on show. I dislike having my photo taken almost as much as I dislike looking at the results. See those defensive arms wrapped around my waist?

Looking at it now though - sitting amidst the mundane mess of daily life - that hasty, imperfect print fills me with happiness. Remembering not just those distant memories when a coat was a talisman as much as a piece of clothing but also all those times of laughing so hard that it hurts.



secret light

top: Woman in a Beret, bottom: Woman in a Fur Coat

At the weekend, I went with a friend to the Lucien Freud hoopla in London. Squeezing between the fractious, shuffling crowd, we tried our best to actually look at the paintings. Ignoring the passive-aggressive glares and sniffs (thank you middle-class English reticence) I sidled into the respectful space that people left between themselves and the canvasses to place my face a nose breadth away from the paint. 

I've seen some of his work in the flesh and almost all of it in reproduction, but was still startled by my visceral reaction to the canvasses and the complete turnabout of all I thought I loved. The fastidious smoothness and precision of paint in the very early works has always discomfited me and I've erred towards the later, larger, looser work. But I found myself drawn to a series of portraits that displayed such an acute drive to render the reality of a person in paint that my dislike of the hand-cramping, fine-brushed stippling was overcome by a frank wonder at his eye and technique. 

With the large nudes, the inherent problem of chronologically curated exhibitions took hold. Coming one after the other, room after room, I became desensitized and - rather bored. With a few extraordinary exceptions, I realised that I actually disliked a number of the canvasses I've long admired in reproduction. Partly a growing aversion to his palette and the obsessive dry stippling that he layered on over faces and contours, but more that his objective eye became colder and more relentless; more obsessed with paint yet less acute. What lingered most as I walked slowly through those rooms: what would that cold, clear, judgmental eye see hidden in me? 

The work that caught me most off guard was tucked into the very corner of a wall. Stepping close to the unassuming little head and shoulders of a woman hunched into a fur coat, intrigued only because she resembled an old friend, I was stilled. The extraordinary amber capture of light at the base of her pupils is a little slice straight into who she is. If you ever have a chance to see it, get close and peer at her. The technical mastery and sheer power of looking revealed in those moments redeemed Freud's genius for me. I have that little postcard on my desk and although her eye light is dimmed and dull in reproduction, I take pleasure in knowing that it's there. 

All that looking and shuffling made us suddenly starving and we sprinted through the crowds massed around the exit. Once we'd ridden up and down in the lift to find ourselves always outside the same beautiful (expensive) restaurant overlooking the rooftops, then wound our way down endless flights of stairs finally to find our place in the basement cafe, we fell upon salads and frittata and beer and coffees with hungry happiness.

Watching clouds and crowds moving across the street level skylight above our heads, eating and talking and taking our time, worked to gradually soothe my ruffled inner self. Remembering that afternoon now, it's the time talking together and a handful of paintings that settle inside me as a firm memory. That, and a reminder always to look for the little unexpected sliver of light in the eye. 



losing it

I've just had one of those moments that happen too often. When a thought I've been happily following simply slips away while my mind snagged on something else. I'm a lateral thinker and talker, constantly interrupting myself to say remind me to tell you about that later or to stop, mid-sentence, to follow another tangent whose logic is entirely apparent to me. Not always so to others. And there's the related problem of other people sparking off new thoughts that I need to follow - and on it goes. I fear it makes me seem scatty at best, tiring (or mad) at worst.At the weekend, whilst waiting for lunch, my request for a piece of scrap paper (to jot down a trail of thoughts) was met with a holding gaze of disapproval as a waitress slowly tore a ticket off her book for me to use. This came after my asking to move tables and usual menu indecision and marked me out as a person to be hustled out as quickly as possible.

The pressure of the mental catherine wheel is eased by jotting things down: pinning words and phrases and little mind maps that spiral in different directions. But while I always mean to carry a notebook, my restless jigging about of bags means too often I forget to transfer it. So the stack of notebooks and pens that I stockpiled for various trips have now been scattered around every conceivable pocket and bag. It's the only way.