Entries in quotes (10)


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



Ten years ago, when she was eighteen and was not called Arrow, she borrowed her father's car and drove to the countryside to visit friends. It was a bright, clear day, and the car felt alive to her, as though the way she and the car moved together was a sort of destiny, and everything was happening exactly as it ought to. As she rounded a corner one of her favourite songs came on the radio, and sunlight filtered through the trees the way it does with lace curtains, reminding her of her grandmother, and tears began to slide down her cheeks. Not for her grandmother, who was then still very much among the living, but because she felt an enveloping happiness to be alive, a joy made stronger by the certainty that it would all come to an end. It overwhelmed her, made her pull the car to the side of the road. Afterwards she felt a little foolish, and never spoke to anyone about it.

Now, however, she knows she wasn't being foolish. She realises that for no particular reason she stumbled into the core of what it is to be human. It's a rare gift to understand that your life is wondrous, and that it won't last forever. 

Steven Galloway The Cellist of Sarajevo



Today I found myself sketching from memory a Frink head and was surprised to discover how melancholy and odd he turned out. Replete with fiercely herbed and garlicky mushroom soup and with a cluster of newly potted tiny, fuchsia cyclamen catching this winter light on the windowsill next to me, melancholy is something far away.

Though as I drew I was listening again to a fascinating tribute to Ted Hughes, recorded to celebrate his inclusion in Westminster Abbey's poet's corner. The epigraph on his headstone consists of the concluding three lines of his poem That Morning, celebrating the magical sensation of standing amongst a shoal of salmon with his son. And perhaps the static monumentality of stone and plaster seemed suddenly a sadder, duller thing in contrast with the living, vivid flash of light and fish and atoms. With being human. 

There, in a mauve light of drifted lupins,
They hung in the cupped hands of mountains

Made of tingling atoms. It had happened.
Then for a sign that we were where we were
Two gold bears came down and swam like men

Beside us. And dived like children.
And stood in deep water as on a throne
Eating pierced salmon off their talons.

So we found the end of our journey.

So we stood, alive in the river of light,
Among the creatures of light, creatures of light.

from That Morning - Ted Hughes


tilt and shift

As a child I spent a lot of time on my back: trying to feel the motion of the earth (and I did, I swear), watching the patterns of clouds, and pretending that the ceiling was actually the floor and imagining how life would be different in that scenario. I feel like I need a little of that altered perspective this week. Life is shifting but how it is changing is as subtle as sensing the tilt and rotation of the earth through one's skin. Perhaps that explains my recent preoccupation with photos of the world upside-down and reflected; a sort of modern day reading of runes.

When I sat down to write this post this morning I had a different one in mind. That little paragraph above is where I got to before it started to go awry. As I wrote it became clear to me (and maybe that's why I write here) that looking for signs in cups and mirrors and clouds is an evasion. I had an image of myself lost in a forest, waiting for someone to come along and show me which way to go. As I pictured myself just sitting there, waiting for the all-knowing 'someone' to direct me, I realised that's how I've been acting in regard to my own life. Waiting for a sign that it's time to act; for 'someone' to show me what to do.

Chastened, I stepped away from my laptop and put on a pot of coffee (default delaying tactic). As I waited, I flicked through one of the A4 plastic-sleeved folders in which I file snippets that inspire me. I stopped at an article by American writer Anne Lamott. I attended a couple of her readings in the mid-nineties while I was living near San Francisco and enjoyed her dry humour and commitment to her writing life. So I paused to re-read it. Another blow to the heart. She wrote about making time to do what you most value. I realise I have time but I don't use it to do what I most value. It's as simple as that. I don't do enough of what I most value and I wait rather than act. When I sat down this morning I wanted a shift in perspective and I've got it; just not in the way I expected. Time to get walking.

All your life, you wait for the propitious time.

Then the propitious time

reveals itself as action taken

 (Louise Glück 'Landscape' Averno)


ah, grasshopper

detail of a journal entry

We plan our lives according to a dream that came to us in our childhood, and we find that life alters our plans. And yet, at the end, from a rare height, we also see that our dream was our fate. It's just that providence had other ideas as to how we would get there. Destiny plans a different route, or turns the dream around, as if it were a riddle, and fulfills the dream in ways we couldn't have expected. Ben Okri 

A couple of weeks ago during heavy rains, the little stream that runs down through our garden to join the wider stream at the bottom started to forge an alternative tributary to accommodate the greater volume of water. I have a little perch next to the point where the streams meet and, sitting there one afternoon in the stillness of the after rain, I noticed how beautifully the stream had dealt with its problem. Instead of overspilling wastefully over the garden it had quietly forged a neat path past various obstacles, to join the river at a very sensible point close to its twin. I saw there might be a lesson in that for me.

My life so far hasn't been entirely predictable. I've stopped and started and moved and changed. I went to Nepal seven years ago to teach and to explore, with a deep need to change my life. I anticipated the change would come slowly, through travel and encounters and the gradual unfolding of a new path. John joined me after a time and we planned to change our lives slowly in tandem. Instead, in Nepal, I found myself pregnant. So life did change - and it's been a wonderful change - just not at all as either of us had anticipated.

The route of my life has taken hasn't been straight and undoubtedly I'll continue to encounter detours and change. The lesson I take from the stream is that if I move purposefully and consistently back in the direction of my childhood dream - moving steadily and calmly past the obstacles - I'll get there. The journey and the destination may not be exactly how I planned, but perhaps that unknowing is part of the joy?


a song of love and loss

Absent-mindedly stitching onto a little square of linen this afternoon, I found myself incanting one of my favourite poems, 'Donal Og'. A centuries old poem of Irish origin and uncertain date, I first heard it read by Seamus Heaney at a reading to celebrate the publication of The Rattle Bag. Sadly, it was shortly before Ted Hughes died, and he was too ill to attend. Heaney concluded the evening by reading this poem on behalf of Hughes, for whom it held a powerful, personal resonance. 

I've read the poem so many times I know most of it by heart. But it's never my voice that I hear. Often it's the voice of a young, Irish girl; sometimes Heaney's gentle murmur. But mostly, I hear the deep, doleful crack of Hughes' voice, making the lines ring.

Donal Og

It is late last night the dog was speaking of you;

the snipe was speaking of you in her deep marsh.

It is you are the lonely bird through the woods;

and that you may be without a mate until you find me.


You promised me, and you said a lie to me,

that you would be before me where the sheep are flocked;

I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you,

and I found nothing there but a bleating lamb.


You promised me a thing that was hard for you,

a ship of gold under a silver mast;

twelve towns with a market in all of them,

and a fine white court by the side of the sea.


You promised me a thing that is not possible,

that you would give me gloves of the skin of a fish;

that you would give me shoes of the skin of a bird;

and a suit of the dearest silk in Ireland.


When I go by myself to the Well of Loneliness,

I sit down and I go through my trouble;

when I see the world and do not see my boy,

he that has an amber shade in his hair.


It was on that Sunday I gave my love to you;

the Sunday that is last before Easter Sunday.

And myself on my knees reading the Passion;

and my two eyes giving love to you for ever.


My mother said to me not to be talking with you today,

or tomorrow, or on the Sunday;

it was a bad time she took for telling me that;

it was shutting the door after the house was robbed.


My heart is as black as the blackness of the sloe,

or as the black coal that is on the smith's forge;

or as the sole of a shoe left in white halls;

it was you put that darkness over my life.


You have taken the east from me; you have taken the west from


you have taken what is before me and what is behind me;

you have taken the moon, you have taken the sun from me;

and my fear is great that you have taken God from me!


Anon. from the 8th century Irish (trans. Lady Augusta Gregory) from

The Rattle Bag ed. Heaney & Hughes, (Faber & Faber 1982)


of stars and silence

1. Untitled, 2. Dye Party, 3. nine., 4. rainy day pears, 5. stars + deer embroidery, 6. perfect night, 7. House., 8. 'arlo's space' embroidery, 9. Pojagi - Korean Style Patchwork, 10. oops., 11. paper, 12. Untitled, 13. Day 2/Dream Journal, 14. Untitled, 15. Untitled, 16. the eucalyptus is always greener

The longer a silence goes on, the harder it is to break. It becomes more important to say the right thing. But all too often lately, my ability to choose the right words has deserted me. I'm undermined by a series of griefs, hastening one after the other. By profound misunderstandings only heightened by candour. Some things, it seems, really are best unsaid. And I'm left feeling oddly mute. But the time has come to reach back out into the world and start trusting my voice again.  

Looking out at the ochring leaves it seems impossible to recapture the heat and languor of the South of France, or the gentle playfulness of our summer days at home. So I've chosen instead to introduce some of my favourite photos on flickr, inspired by Kristy's gloriously autumnal mosaic. It's only now that I'm looking at my choices afresh, right here, that I see how they reflect my recent mood and pre-occupations. Domesticity; silence; stars.

Looking up at the stars re-orients me: life is unknown and living it can be hard but there is so much that is beautiful. And when I look at these photos, their quiet beauty reassures me. Makes me look forward - to breaking the silence, reaching out, a new season. A new telescope.



When I woke up I was in a forest. The dark

seemed natural, the sky through the pine trees

thick with many lights.


I knew nothing; I could do nothing but see.

And as I watched, all the lights of heaven

faded to make a single thing, a fire

burning through the cool firs.

Then it wasn't possible any longer

to stare at heaven and not be destroyed.


Are there souls that need

death's presence, as I require protection?

I think if I speak long enough

I will answer that question, I will see

whatever they see, a ladder

reaching through the firs, whatever

calls them to exchange their lives -


Think what I understand already.

I woke up ignorant in a forest;

only a moment ago, I didn't know my voice

if one were given me

would be so full of grief, my sentences

like cries strung together.

I didn't even know I felt grief

Until that word came, until I felt

rain streaming from me.

from The Wild Iris - Louise Glück 


grand oasis

my photo of Russell Crotty installation, Turner Contemporary Gallery, Margate



Then I looked down and saw

the world I was entering, that would be my home.

And I turned to my companion, and I said 'Where are we?'

And he replied 'Nirvana'.

And I said again, 'But the light will give me no peace.'


from 'Fable' The Seven Ages, Louise Glück 



risky behaviour

We strung a zip wire in the woods alongside our house last year and it's proved to be both a great source of entertainment and a way to develop and direct risk taking. Over time, we've raised the angle of the wire so it goes pretty fast, and ends just short of a tree. But it's possible to hurl yourself off the platform so that you hit the buffers with a bang and a slam of feet on tree trunk. I wince every time. But I'm happy for Joel to keep on doing it.

One of the things I've found hardest as Joel grows is to stop myself crying out 'be careful!' on a loop through the day. We're surrounded by woods and water to explore and have done so since Joel was tiny. Building dams, floating boats, stream dipping and tree climbing have taken precedence over traditional playgrounds for us, mostly because it's on our doorstep rather than a drive away. All lovely but so full of potential danger! 

Despite my fears (the endless dreams I wake from in a cold sweat and run through in my mind whenever we're near deep water) I'm the one who urges Joel on to keep trying to climb a little higher, or ride the track that seems hard or jump into the deep end. I know that surge of self-confidence that comes with being scared and trying it nevertheless. He'll grow and the risks will get greater. I'll keep being scared and urging him on neverthless. We're both learning. 



reasons to be cheerful (part 2)


 All human life has its seasons and cycles, and no-one's personal chaos can be permanent. Winter, after all, gives way to spring and summer, though sometimes, when branches stay dark and the earth cracks with ice, one thinks they will never come, that spring, and that summer, but they do, and always.       Truman Capote


While I wait for the silver lining to reveal itself, I thought I'd share some small things that generally make a not-so-great day a little better for me.

Firstly, good coffee in my favourite cup. After a lot of experimentation with fancy brands, I find myself returning to Lavazza ready-ground for a strong morning hit when I need to get moving quickly. With a little more time I like to grind my own beans. Their cool, slippery oiliness in the hand and the aroma as they turn to powder really gets my senses going. If you love coffee and find yourself in London, drop into the Monmouth Coffee House in Covent Garden, or fuel up at their shop in Borough before entering the gastronomic powerhouse that is Borough Market.

Another source of bliss and joy is a new magazine. I'm a magazine obsessive, reading everything from fashion glossies to interiors to travel and fine art and craft journals. If (disaster!) I'm at the end of the month mag-wise and there is nothing new to be found, I trawl through my admittedly substantial stack of back copies. I tear and file articles to keep, rip out images to make notecards, and just generally lose myself for a bit.

Then I get out my camera and prowl around, even if it's just in the house. It's the looking that's key and I always end up with something that lifts me. A shadow, colours, a shift of sky or a detail that makes me smile.

Ending the day with a glass of icy cold wine in the bath, something funny to watch and a bit of a back rub makes it easier to believe that tomorrow will bring with it sunshine - and silver.

What little things makes your day better?