#31 Travelling

In my mind, the dark roads had already unfurled themselves ahead of me, the broken white line flickering to my right. I had begun to lean into corners that unspooled from the dense night beyond.

So, when the journey was aborted by a stomach bug, that particular anticipated experience was severed from this time-stream. Last night’s midnight-run from here, through Wales to Pembroke Docks was left hanging like an ellipsis. To be continued…

Mastering the disappointed child-within is decorous, and necessary. As my mother would gladly attest, I’m predisposed to sulk. This last-minute cancellation of our motorbike trip to Eire is prime sulk material, I could (un)happily use up this kid-free week in a heavy funk. Yet, somehow, I won’t. The ferry can be re-booked, there are refunds on the air-b-and-bs. A bumble bee is surveying the lemon balm, and my sweet-heart’s foot is resting against me.

Next year _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

#30 Marta

Raton. Rrrrrrrrrrrraton, Spanish for mouse.

I can’t pronounce it, my lips/tongue/mouth don’t know the way of forming the sound.

Marta laughs.

Quack, miaow, woof. Animal sounds are the same in Spanish, which is useful as- right now- they form the only shared language between Marta and me.

 

Yesterday, I was so tired. The weekend I’d been anticipating for so long was over, and now it was just me and my fatigue. J and I took a train to Whitstable to visit an old friend. We ate (plenty of oysters) and drank copious amounts. We caught up,  broke bread, laughed, lounged.

There had been a malaise that fell on me towards the end of Saturday night. Gin-fuelled, undoubtedly, gradually I slumped into a wordless sinkhole, and detached from J. It hurt her. I pulled myself more-or-less together the next morning, but I was left with the consciousness of dark silt in the depths of me, threatening to billow up with the next change in current.

 

Marta is my daughter’s Spanish exchange student. I had to retrieve her from school Monday lunchtime. She was crying as we drove away, and she phoned her mum as we headed to B&Q. When we got out, the trolley I chose was unco-operative, causing Marta to chuckle. A woman from B&Q came across to help me separate a different trolley from one with which it seemed to be coupling. More chuckles. I needed some manure and shears and, as I searched for them,  I gradually managed to draw Marta out on the subject of her garden at home in Seville- quite large, no orange trees. We got the manure – caca de caballo. Smirks.

Back home we set about making spag bol. Turns out, Marta is an excellent sous chef. She made quick work of the pepper, garlic and onion, though the latter drew yet more tears. I offered her a taste of tea. Slowly, without either of us really noticing, trust was being established; the sense that, although we couldn’t communicate about anything more significant than nouns or the films we liked, the tone in which we communicated, the way we  inhabited our shared space suggested that we both meant well.

Later, after my daughter came home, we took a turn around the town. Keynsham of an evening is something of a ghost town, certainly compared to the Spanish evening promenades (passegiata in Italian). What we did come across, helped draw Marta further out of her shell. Two boys sprinted downhill in the park, away from a bin they’d just set light to. We went down to Echo Bridge and presented Marta with the acoustic wonders. We jumped, clapped and shouted a cacophony of reverberations. She was delighted.  There was an old woman drinking cider by the river, whose dog (a white, cutesy teddybear fluff ball) followed us, ignoring its owner’s calls. Marta seized the initiative and the dog, and returned it. She wants to be a vet. As we walked up the hill towards home, my daughter found a broken egg at the base of a tree. Gaviota, seagull. Marta picked up the fragile shell and unravelled it as we walked on.

We got home and the girls watched a film while I filled my newly prepared pallets with topsoil (to be raised beds). By the time it was time for bed, we all knew each other a little better and I was feeling more recovered from the lapse of the weekend.

Marta had come to feel safer and more able to be herself once she felt that my daughter and I understood who she was. The ingredients had been:

  • mispronunciation
  • animal noises
  • slapstick comedy with supermarket trolleys
  • caca de caballero
  • cooking
  • echoes
  • a little white dog
  • a seagull egg

 

Last Saturday night’s existential angst was a momentary forgetting of who I was. A slow-burning chain reaction of:

  • gin
  • tiredness
  • disorientation (J and I rarely spend time with others for long periods)
  • mild envy/the acknowledgement that my friend (and his girlfriend, with whom we were staying) are home-owners and materially better off
  • lack of a sense of belonging (my friend’s mum and dad live close, he lives in a town he grew up in, always bumping in to long-established friends with whom he maintains a mostly easy, regular socialising existence)

 

Marta recovered herself gradually, by establishing an understanding between the three of us of who she was, while (simultaneously) discovering who we were. Not only that, but we cared about her well-being and actually wanted to know who she is.

Now and then, I feel unsure of who I am.

The things I do- the writing, playing the accordion, motorcycling, rambling- are partly about defining my self to myself (and those around me). It’s probably the same for all of us. Most of the time, the way seems clear- just keep doing the things you do, try your hardest, help others; smile. But from time to time, the energy required to just be can just suddenly wane and the ground beneath you falls away. Thankfully, this Saturday night, I was with one of my oldest friends and the woman I adore. I was given time to resurface and gather my senses. It’s not always the case. In the future, when the walls close in, I will try to remember how an eleven year old Spanish girl pieced herself together with the simplest of words, echoes, an egg and a little laughter.

#28 The garden

Image

My daughter took this photograph a few night’s back. It’s useful because it is me as I am, here and now.

The bonfire that lit me is ashes, but I’m stood in the same place. It’s just started to rain, there is that sense of electricity, the scent of it has risen into the air. Although it’s nearly sundown, I’m waking up. I’ve been waiting for this moment for hours.

My daughter has just berated me for stealing her pillow. She has been tucked into bed, but opened the window and yelled, well within earshot of my Polish neighbours two doors down who are having their usual summer evening smoke and chat. The neighbours stopped their chat, I went back inside. By now, she’d found the pillow I didn’t steal, but she’s still angry. Just angry, no reason. Grudgingly, huffing, she went back to bed.

I am supposed to be doing some other writing, but gave myself a break to water my garden, which has now given way to this.

This is my horse chestnut

Image

It is over 5m tall, and about that many years old. I grew it from a conker from my garden back in Eynsham, Oxfordshire. J and I repotted it a week ago Sunday into a half sherry barrel that is too small. I will order a more suitable one here: huge pot

The 230l one should do the trick.

I love repotting plants.

This is one side of my row of pots

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Five lavenders, strawberry trough/lavender, rosemary, and a young birch sapling.

This is the other side of my row of pots

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Horse chestnut, two lavenders, scots pine, ash, rocket, willow, hazel, blue tub of rocket, olive, french marigolds (not sprouted), willow/lavender, mini Christmas tree, lavender…

The young ash has thrown up its first leaves of the year this week

Image

I’m very proud.

The plants are all in pots because I’ve moved three times in the last five years.

The plants might represent several aspects of me:

1. I made mistakes

The first of the three moves was to move myself and my daughter in with a girlfriend. It lasted three months before she found out I was flirting with someone online.

It is the worst thing I’ve ever done.

I’ve tried to reason out why- maybe it was a result of the damage done in my own divorce, the unfaithfulness of my wife. Maybe it was some need to not be instantly, entirely merged into someone else’s world. As likely is that I am not perfect, that I am capable of baseness and cruelty. It’s been three years and I’m still feeling guilty.

2. I need moments of calm

I usually water the plants after working-out in the evening. For the last four months, I’ve given up weights and adopted this programme: Medicine ball workout Maybe I’ll write about that another time, but it is good, despite the fact several of the exercises make you look like a bell-end. In between sets, I like to fill up the watering can, then get close to the plants and carefully water them.

There was a toad amongst the strawberries once

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Beautiful creatures. Orwell wrote an essay (Some thoughts on the common toad, 1946) in which he describes the toad’s eye:

…the toad has about the most beautiful eye of any living creature. It is like gold, or more exactly it is like the gold-coloured semi-precious stone which one sometimes sees in signet rings, and which I think is called a chrysoberyl.

3. I want a future in which I can plant my trees into the ground

I keep the plants in pots because I am too selfish to leave them to whichever tenant moves in after I leave. I  love my plants, particularly the saplings, and want to sustain a mini arboretum which increases each year. Medium specimens of all my favourite trees. One day. One year, I will buy a house, or we will build our own, with some land into which I will plant the trees, the lavenders. Their roots will sink deep and they’ll flourish.

My plants will go with me wherever I go. I provide for them, they grow and provide me beauty and joy. My children too.

My hopes are the same. For them to come to fruition, I will ground their roots in endeavour, nurture their growth with clarity of purpose, honesty and humility.

 

To everything there is a season,
a time for every purpose under the sun.
A time to be born and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to lose and a time to seek;
a time to rend and a time to sew;
a time to keep silent and a time to speak;
a time to love and a time to hate;
a time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

 

 

 

 

 

#19 being worthwhile, secret images

I deleted the earlier draft, it was a gallery of  photographs copied from the last month on my phone. I changed my mind. I changed it because some of the images that mean most to me are of the other humans that mean most to me, i.e. they are personal. They are deliberately captured moments that remain deeply felt. They are memories, altered atoms imprinted with experience,  giving existence meaning, improving and strengthening who I think I am.

I deleted the earlier draft because I came to suspect that it was  motivated by the need to be defined. I learned this phrase  something like fifteen years ago watching an episode of Friends. In that episode, Phoebe was in that coffee shop, at ease, being friendly and her boyfriend joined her. This friend was not like the other friends, he was a cynic. Having had the opportunity to observe the friends’ winning mixture of joshing and self-deprecation, he couldn’t resist commenting on their group dynamic:

I hadn’t considered this in much detail before. Since that time (quite probably before, but the Friends episode is a convenient reference point), I sometimes question what motivates the wish to share my experiences with others. These are my thoughts:

– due to simply being human/ being a single parent only intermittently able to be with his lover/ being adopted?/ having boarded school? I find I sometimes need definition*.

[*I am defining: definition, as the comfort given when we have it affirmed that we are worthwhile, that we are lovable, we are attractive, and that our existence in the world has purpose and value outside of the value that it has to us. The need for definement is akin to loneliness.]

All this need seems a bit needy and I treat it with suspicion. This isn’t an original thought, I don’t think I’m alone in this.

My thoughts in summary:

  • what is written here should have more purpose than a Facebook status update, or a posted image
  • it is true/a cliché that being shown someone else’s holiday snaps is perversely tedious
  • aren’t there more important things to do than to be writing this (be reading this)?

At the heart of my thoughts is that sharing your private life online is casting pearls before swine. I see that you are not entirely swine, but it is foolish to give precious things away, let alone set them adrift on the internet ocean.

I can admire dignity, or creativity in sharing our own perceptions or fantasies:

http://nightmarebrunette.wordpress.com

http://rine1873.wordpress.com/

But uploading our children, or our lovers into the ether seems to me as if they are somehow taken away, like we’ve valued them less. So, I keep mine dear.

The images that I didn’t post are:

                                            My son asleep                                                                 My son and daughter gazing at the sunset from a train leaving Bath

                                                                        A moth on my bathroom ceiling

                                                                                     A poppy                                                                           A chestnut in full flower in Victoria Park, Bath                                                                                My son in a sand-pit

J draped in a tree                         My daughter and me after swimming in the Wellow                            J and me at St.Pauls Carnival, Bristol

                      Our watercolours from Tintern

#17 The worst thing

Be insincere to someone dear,

Bitter, callow, moved by fear,

Lend frost to tender, naked roots,

The threads that delve,

The nets they weave.

 

Haul them out,

Fling them wide,

Watch them fall

Over yourselves

#14 OM ugh

OM stands for Orgasmic meditation.

theom

There are OM classes locally (around Bristol and world-wide) that couples can attend.

OM is a meditation, equally powerful for both partners — only the object of focus is the clitoris.

Yep.

Women lay down, supported by men and OM branded pillows in the church hall/community centre and have their clitorii massaged. Collectively.

When I heard of this, I was disturbed for a number of reasons. Call me a prude, but never has it occurred to me to take my girlfriend out to meet a bunch of strangers and massage her clitoris. I thought that was called dogging. It’s not really crossed my mind to meet up with friends and do it, either.

I’m not against the idea of people engaging with their sexuality to enhance their relationships and sense of self- these are clearly good things. If I felt that something was up in that department, I would definitely want to sort it out.

My negative reactions are based on:

1. The sense that there seems to be a growing consensus that doing your washing in public is not only a good thing, but also intrinsically beneficial/therapeutic.

2. That sex is being turned into a commodity again. That people’s insecurities/dysfunctions are valuable income streams.

Let’s look at 1 first.

When I discussed the public nature of the sessions with my girlfriend (purely in the name of research, things are very nice between us, thanks), she suggested that this group exposure of your intimacy could lead to banishing any damaging, dysfunctional feelings that sex is a dirty, sinful thing. A process akin to confession or an enema. This has some credibility, particularly in British society where we are supposed to be repressed in these matters. However, I would suggest that there is something sexy about naughtiness, that transgression is a turn-on.

What is possibly more concerning is the assumption that doing something in public makes it transformative. Are we to imagine that the adulterous wife baring all to Jerry Springer and the cameras is necessarily changed? Most participants seem to lack the decency to find the process embarrassing, so how far is it likely that they have the moral imagination to move forward from the experience? Put another way, what is to be gained by wanking your missus off in front of an audience, even if they aren’t supposed to be looking? Not having been to an OMing session (sorry for my lack of professionalism, I just don’t want to), I’m not able to say what the demographic is, but there must be a certain amount of exhibitionism going on. The sort of purple-wearing,wholesome folk who might hover on the fringe of a wife-swapping sesh. More linseedy than seedy.

Surely, focussed, reactive counselling from a genuinely qualified practitioner coupled with an honest commitment to personal growth might be a more productive way to overcome sexual anxieties.

2. Take a look at this:

http://www.onetaste.us/supplies.php

According to the OM shop, Orgasmic Meditation (OM) requires supplies. You’d be best advised to spend $184.97 on various cushions, otherwise sold as The Signature OM Kit. If you’re feeling less flush, you really should fork out $29.99 on that Strokers kit, because clearly Every stroker needs a strokers kit. Worryingly, I have dabbled with a bit of stroking myself, without the kit. Now that I’m better informed, I realise how inadequate this has been. I will get tooled up with: 1 Strokers Bag, 1 OneStroke Lube (full-size), 3 OM Towels 3 Vinyl Glove Sets. How many of these can they have sold?

I have a friend who used to run marketing workshops for companies looking to advertise their products in more engaging, leftfield ways- he called these sessions Quirkshops. I have a tip for those entrepeneurs looking to gain a broader market share for OM. Be honest. Re-brand, and call OM experiences what they really are: Jerkshops.

#8 Murder and death

I wove my path between the cows, feeling like a farmer, swinging my aluminium water bottle like a miniature milk canister. People are crushed by cows all the time, not continually, but several, annually. Sometimes cows will crowd a timid walker, slowly squeezing him to death with warm, suffocating curiosity. Occasionally, one lone cow will go berserk and charge, utterly out of character. These cows were calm.
 
They have large heads and walk like heavy horses, their brains must be of a significant size. We often hear that our brains go 90% unused, what if the cow uses all of its mango-sized one? The herd were gathered on my side of the valley in clearly defined groups that faced the same direction, with one or two loners mooching about, doing their own thing (mainly eating). The sinking sun illuminated the opposite hill, about a quarter of a mile away, and I saw instinct more clearly at work. A semi-circle facing a possible threat, a line grazing the best grass. Perhaps they use their brains for sustained empathy. Imagine continual, mindful understanding of the others in your herd, shared parenting, companionship and security. Or perhaps they move instinctively, ancient patterns woven into double-helices.
 
I eat the dead flesh of these gentle beasts. I can convince myself that I know how to hunt and gather, I should be able to kill and butcher one myself, that makes it okay. Cows are relatively easy to round-up and kill. Meat producers have made the process more pleasant for the animals, kindly designing the abattoir route so that the final bolt through the skull is a real surprise. I don’t dwell on the cow holocaust. I try to eat ethically.

Death comes to us all, the cows are murdered. Whether I’m murdered or reach the end of my allotted time, one day I will surely die. Natural death may be considerably more prolonged and painful than a quick gutting. People have probably been murdered in this field on a hillside over the past few hundred years. There is an enticing view into the soft Somerset hills along the valley, it would be a gentle place to bleed.
 
I have had a tiring and depressing week. The animals and the plants, the mushrooms and the trees have lived and died in the same week. They make no choices in life other than to follow the most direct path toward survival. Do their lives lack meaning? Wouldn’t our Earth be more wondrous if every trace of humans was suddenly removed? What is our great architecture, our invention, our fractured society to a willow by a river? A fox trotting? An owl.
 
Meaning in life is in its living. Somewhere, death sits and waits and will make it quick or slow, kind or cruel. Life is a cow grazing under a lavender sky. It is me lying under the same sky, staring upward, the seeing of it as relaxing as having my eyes closed.