Entries in seasons (26)



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)





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.



...               I love

to stand among the last trees listening down

to the releasing branches where I've been - 

the rain, thinking I've gone, crackles the air

and calls by name the leaves that aren't yet there.

from Wood Not Yet Out - Alice Oswald

Now that drought has officially been declared in our area, it's rained solidly for the past week or so. That really heavy, vertical rain that drills straight into the soil. Good for plants but bothersome to walk around in. Unless you have a rather fetching olive green hunter-style hat with a ludicrously large peak that makes it a matter of pride not to let a drop of rain touch face. Happily, I have such a hat.

As I walk I tune into the rhythm and patterns of rain. I like the hypnotically loud and regular drumming sound on the brim as I walk: it goes a little way to drumming out circular thoughts that walking alone has failed to do. 

And so the sun comes out now, until the next shower in a half hour or so, judging by the colour of the sky. Then comes that glorious hour before sunset when the skies ease and break into extravagantly tinted pinks and purples. Before it all begins again. I'm sure I'll miss it when it's gone, and sunny skies are taken for granted. 


colour blindness

Pink - blue - yellow - fresh greens. The colours of the garden. 



It was another brief weekend at the cottages. A perfect pair of spring days with a sudden warmth that had me stripping off my layers in disbelief. Arriving late morning, we unpacked and ate a hasty make-do sort of lunch before heading out and up to walk the forest tracks to the ridge of hills that give us a favourite view over the area. The snow layer has been slow to go so the ground was surprisingly muddy. Joel soon regretted his decision to mountain bike and there was not a little bartering about who would push the bike on the steep sections. Back home, in front of the fire, a few slices of intensely lemony drizzle cake with a good thick crust of sugar made the efforts worthwhile, and eased the hour or two until the grown ups reclaimed the evening.  

I woke the next morning to silence as the boys had slipped next door to have breakfast with John's mother. Cup of tea in hand and a stack of old Country Living magazines weighing down the bed covers, I listened to the birds calling happily through the window until the light forced me to get up, and get out my camera. It was a day of rainbows, scattered through the house and briefly cresting the distant trees. Football and more cycling, this time on the flat, before we had to pack up and make the journey home. The grind of unpacking made more palatable by the sheer pleasure of knowing we'd each be sleeping in our own beds with all the familiar sounds of home. 



Another overnight delivery of snow rearranged my day and left me with a couple of spare hours this morning. I was happy. The sun began to assert itself as I walked and the silence of the empty fields was punctuated only by the music of birds. The buzzards wheeled in slow arcs. A tiny wren perched on a thorned branch for a moment to catch its breath. An apricot-coloured young fox paused in fright at the crest of the ridge as I climbed, and disappeared in an instant. I stopped to speak to the pair of horses I'd last seen trespassing in the grounds of the manor house at new year. 

Sometimes I'm not sure if I value such moments of solitude more than others or if I'm more accepting of them. I've spent a lot of time alone during my years of academic study and work and during long bouts of travel and living abroad. Alone a lot even while in a relationship because of work. Being alone in public doesn't bother me. I can eat alone, travel alone, go out alone. But long periods of living alone is something that saps all joy from me. I miss that daily routine of being with another person. At the moment, John is clattering through the cutlery drawer to lay the table for the supper I've prepared while he's put Joel to bed. I like that. All the daily inconveniences of sharing a life with another person are secondary to the simple pleasure of knowing that my solitude has an end. My achilles heel. 



Even though the sky was thickening we didn't dare get our hopes up. But late afternoon, home from the planetarium and with eyes full of black holes, small flakes began to fall. By evening, the unmistakeable silence that comes with snow had settled and we could relax, knowing it would be enough. Though a few days late. These last years the first snow has fallen during the night before Joel's birthday and that opening of a curtain to unexpected whiteness has been the first present. But it's worth waiting for that day of exhausting sledding down our long hill and snow fights. 

The sun is too warm though for the snow to last. Already, the whole hill has reverted to green though the lake remains weakly frozen. Yesterday, snowed home from school, we watched a heron lifting off from the still-running stream in the stillness of the snow, trailing long, awkward legs.

Today, the garden is busy with birds readying for spring. Looking out on my peaceful, if quietly active garden, with workmen sizing up the fireplace for another wood burner, I'm accommodating the incongruity of listening to a news report of the bombardment of Homs with defiant birdsong still audible amongst the blasts of mortars. It reminds me of the recording of the song of the nightingale in a Surrey garden - not too far from here - through which can be heard the drone of the bombers flying on a raid during the second world war. I'm not sure if that juxtaposition of bird and bomber lifts my heart or makes me despair more.

A male blackbird eyes me through the window as if to inquire about the too-soft grapes that usually make their way outside at around this time. I know I'm grateful to be halfway through an ordinary day with its ordinary preoccupations: supper tonight, schools, the deepening creases at the corners of my eyes. The vague, ungrateful dissatisfaction that my lunchtime bowl of leftover thai-spiced spinach and potato curry was just a little too small for my big hunger today - until sharp lime pickle brought me to my senses. 

I wish you an ordinary day. 


winter morning

Sipping slightly too hot soup by the stream at lunchtime, I welcomed the bracing, wintery feel to the day. I'm feeling oddly emotional; or rather, full of emotions that I can't quite identify. The intense happiness that I felt this morning on my drive home from school has filtered into something more complicated. Like finding something lost, I retrace my footsteps. I remember the joy of that drive through the narrow lanes with the sun still low and pink in the sky and the air heavy with ice crystals. I remember the pleasure with which I listened to Vikram Seth as I drove. Then I remember what the music made me remember and it occurs that perhaps the answer lies there.

The distinctive voice of Lata Mangeshkar sent me back to a cinema in Kathmandu and the first Bollywood film I'd ever seen. Breathless after the scrum to find a seat, I sipped gratefully from a flask of chai laced with ginger and pepper to try to combat the vicious cough that would only clear when I briefly left the choking pollution of the city for the mountain air two months later. Senses already heightened by my rapidly rising temperature, watching that film was unlike anything I'd known. People clapped, cheered, booed. Walked around, chatted, argued and spread out food. Sang along. I remember my hands on that flask in the dark and my senses singing.

Intense cold, a constant cough, an odd sort of loneliness and a discovery of my own self-reliance are what I remember most from those first weeks. The intensity of that time was greater than the warmer, easier days that came later with familiarity, changing seasons and the arrival of John. An intensity of memory that equals my early days of motherhood: always intertwined because I came back from Nepal pregnant with Joel. 

So when it came to Seth's choice of Bach's Partita for Solo Violin No 3 in E Major, another layer of memory was revealed. One of my favourite pieces and especially so during those odd, intense, exhausting early weeks after Joel's birth when I'd lie on our bed with Joel propped on my knees and we'd gaze at each other, working on our new relationship in the outside world, letting the music fall around us.

Funny things, memories. Now it's time for the drive back to school and I've let the fire go out, so wrapped up have I been. It's the onion, memory. *


* Craig Raine


la mer

On Sunday, John and I were thrown an unexpected couple of hours alone. As Joel disappeared on a hunt for flints with his visiting Italian uncle, we stood bewildered by what to do. Desperate for air after the celebrations of the night before, but away for the weekend without our walking boots, we struck out for the sea. 

Fiercely cold and intensely bright, it was a perfect day for a stomp along the promenade. The sea dazzled and the wind blew strong but - oh joy and pleasure - it miraculously blew behind us each way. So my long coat and untamed hair moved smoothly around me and we moved swiftly along together; discussing, looking and breathing in all that good air.

There are some days just made for fish & chips and this was one of them. Hurrying the short steps from our favourite fish restaurant to beach with our paper wrapped food, we settled on the shingle and dived in. Eating hastily, gloriously burning fingers and mouths, we stared in companionable silence at the surf and the gulls scudding and darting over the waves.  Denise's post beautifully captures how the sea can heal and settle. I've lived near the coast on and off for years but when living away it's the shift and swell and empty horizon that I crave. 

Refreshed and restored we retraced our steps, more slowly now, back towards the cliffs and to the cottage, where a ring of flints were joined by two perfect shells. It was a good day. 


quietly happy

Back in our own little house after several days staying in rather glamorous surroundings it's the pleasure of the familiar that has us excited. I'm happy to live at a gentler pace after the rush of these last few weeks and to enjoy looser days before school enforces its own routine. 

These first days of a new year always take some adjusting for me: I've only just dug out the new kitchen calendar. It's a ritual that I write in all the birthdays and important dates for the year - and a ritual still to be running to the postbox with a card at the very last minute and just hoping that our postal service will perform a miracle. And since I have a stock of cards always made, and envelopes and stamps and the dates faithfully written in my diary why should it still happen? I think because I feel I've already done the hard work. 

I hope this first week sees you settling in happily into 2012. 


a new year

He remembers the day the field burned,

not, he thinks, by accident.

Something deep within him said: I can live with this,

I can fight it after a while.


The terrible moment was the spring after his work was erased,

when he understood that the earth

didn't know how to mourn, that it would change instead.

And then go on existing without him.


 from Averno by Louise Glück


light can be both wave and particle

me, by Joel

Several years ago, I found myself stuck in the middle seat of the middle row of a jumbo when I'd expected to be in splendid isolation on the side aisle. Oh I was unhappy. Pinned in on both sides and unable to move my arms and legs my claustrophobia began to rise at the thought of the lengthy transatlantic flight. I determined that this was all a bad show and my bad mood radiated off me. I ignored my fellow passengers, scowling instead into my book. Time passed though my fury remained.

Suddenly the man beside me said 'it's true, y'know'. I blinked at him. He just smiled and repeated 'it's true - the book'. I was reading Ellen Gilchrist's Light Can Be Both Wave and Particle. With that, the journey changed. He was a physics teacher, travelling back home with his wife. We all talked for the rest of the flight. I remember nothing of our conversation but that it was good and thoughtful and unexpected. He took the risk of breaching my barrier of gloom and it lifted the day for all of us. 

I'm not a fan of the strict resolution but this year I'm going to try and remember to live with more generosity and lightness. To smile and see the best in someone, or a situation. To cut off a bad mood before it affects other people. To enjoy the simple fact that I'm alive to see in another year. I hope you've had some good days and are looking foward to the chances that this new year brings. Happiness to you. 



These last few weeks have been lived largely without internet access, often without a phone line and with a dying laptop that finally had to be replaced. The daytime silence that settles through the house on a school day was heightened by the absence of phone rings and click of keys to the point where I held off automatically switching on the radio in favour of letting the external sounds filter into the quiet. In some small way, those little periods of mindful silence these last weeks have been a form of meditation. Perhaps I'm storing up the silence for winter, as term ends soon and the season of anticipation and feverish excitement begins. Storing up patience as I've stored the fruits that have been harvested, juiced, cooked and frozen.

And warm autumn sun has continued on, making these short days vivid with colour. Surrounded by woodland and heaths, our valley has been so lovely to walk through, especially as we can do so largely unencumbered by coats and layers. The heather lasted well beyond its usual season, the berries fruited on and on and our garden blue tits have recently raised their second batch of chicks this year. Until yesterday, when the first hard frosts left fields and leaves stiffly white for those first hours, it seemed impossible that winter would ever come. But I'm ready for it now; ready for the rush towards the end of the year with its making and baking and advent.

Walking to the car this afternoon in low yellow sun through rustling brown leaves with the church bell tolling the end of another life, I felt utterly grateful. For the warmth of the bonfires and fireworks and unexpected loveliness of autumn. That I was on my way to pick up Joel from school. It seems that the warm pleasures of these last weeks has enabled me to build a store of happiness against the coldest weeks of winter and those moments when joy is harder to find. Come on winter, we're ready for you. 


sunlight on your eyelids

Good morning. And it is good. Sitting outside with my coffee I realised that something felt different: yes, the leaves had yellowed dramatically but it wasn't that. It wasn't even that the grass is so thickly carpeted with yellow and orange leaves that light is reflecting happily upwards. It then struck me that there was a lot more sky and water than normal. After a night of strong winds the tops of the tallest trees are bared and the lower limbs of the trees surrounding the lake have dropped, letting in so much more light. Tilting my closed eyes up to the warmth and brightness, I thought of this song, discovered via Lily and played over and again.

On first hearing, images exploded of my first trip to India. Driving dazed from the airport in a taxi playing bangra. Rolling along the stall-lined, rutted, back streets of coastal Kerala as dusk descended abruptly candles flicked on alongside us, the stars switched on above and woodsmoke wove in front of our headlights. I stuck my head out the window like a crazy mutt, all the better to inhale the scents of smoke, food, dust and dung. The smells of India. Addictive. But then, the scent of dusty pavements drying after rain is heaven to me. My first night in India, not sleeping. In a hut on a cliff above the beach where the incessant crashing of surf mingled with the shouts and songs of fishermen and early morning calls to prayer. And from somewhere, music. In India there is always music.

The colours of an English autumn can't compare with the vivid tones of India but this is our season of yellows and orange. Warm colours reflecting the welcome warmth of the last day of October. Sunlight on your eyelids: it's a good way to start the week. I hope your day - and your week - contains a little sunshine.  



Digging of various sorts happened at the weekend. A bit of harvesting and planting; rummaging in the earthen side of a slope in our woods that functioned as a broken crockery depository in the glory days of the manor house; and looking for flints in the earth excavated by badger and fox. There's something so satisfying about putting things into earth and taking them out. Bulbs that hunker in the soil until you forget that they're there and appear just when you'd stopped believing that spring would come. Garlic that warms winter dishes. Flints and bits of pottery that offer a little moment into another world. Just pottering about, all digging at this and that, there's satisfaction in dirt.  


barely beautiful

One of the four Royal Horticultural Society gardens, Wisley, is very close to us and we visit regularly: John to get inspiration (disappearing into the centre of a bed or clump of trees muttering in Latin) and me and Joel to collect leaves and cones and marvel again at the orchids, cacti and tropical plants in the huge greenhouse.

Some of the flower beds, while beautiful, are a little too brightly coloured and regimented for me. I prefer the loose planting of Piet Oudulf with his painterly drifts of flowers and grasses, especially at this time of year when the petals fade, leaving the bare brown outlines of seed-head and stem. 

Even with the abruptly darkened sky during our visit last weekend, there was still a stark beauty in their outlines and darkened palette. 


treading lightly

The summer holiday has begun and we all feel lighter for it. It's lovely simply to have time to be together. Getting out the bubbles and watching the butterflies and dragonflies darting in between them. Watching bubbles skim lightly over the surface of the stream and family of ducks swimming furiously to investigate. Sitting outside with boxes and tape and paper and pens and making a series of creatures and their homes. Discovering a skateboard park that's perfect for stunt biking. Building upon a growing crystal collection and reading all about them. Talking. Laughing.

Shedding constraints. I'm still tethered to earth by the practicalities of preparing to leave for France at the weekend but look forward to cutting those final ties and treading more lightly through life for a few weeks. I hope summer is being kind to you.



seeing green 

With the wild flowers over and the trees now in full leaf, the garden is looking disconcertingly green. I love the tall, swaying trees that cast welcome shade and shadows but have less friendly feelings towards the self-seeded laurels that cutting back only encourages, ivy covered tree trunks, dense holly and incongruously planted conifers that border the edges of the woods.

Once you start looking though, it's extraordinary just how many shades of green there are. A glance outside the door offers the fresh, broad bean green of the ferns unravelling from the stone wall, the dusty silver of lavender and eucalyptus, sharp brightness of lemon balm and muted, white-rimmed shade of hostas. It's a subtle palette that I'm having to take time to appreciate rather than simply giving in to envy of those gardens whose bright blooms remain glorious and un-eaten.

It's also a palette that is acutely sensitive to changes in the light. Delicate and fresh in the morning, by mid-day the sun bleaches out the subtle tones, making the garden heavy with shadows and sombre dark-greens. Late afternoon the variety returns and the garden sparkles lightly. While I'll never entirely lose my summery desire for bright drifts of colour outside, I'll console myself with the thought that looking at green is supposed to be good for the mind and body, and relax.

How does your garden grow?