Sunday, 30 December 2012

Seeing the light

In the sudden switch from sleep to wakefulness, I can't work out what's woken me or why. It's as though someone has come into the room and thoughtlessly turned on the light. Philip is still there beside me, and there's no sign of recent movement, but across his face and pillow there is indeed a light; a clear bright beam, falling on him like a spotlight from the sky.

A strange and unexpected alignment of cloudless sky, leaf-bared trees and the lunar cycle, has brought the full moon through our open curtains and into the bedroom. Drawn to it, I stand at the window looking out, thinking of all the clich├ęs that have ever been penned about moonlight, my sleep-dulled brain unable to come up with any new words to describe the silver glow lighting up our room, shining magically outside.

It's bright enough to see along the row of gardens that back the houses of our street; to pick out the sheds and greenhouses, washing lines and compost bins. It's the same garden furniture I see every time I look out, but tonight it's lost some of its ugly practicality, swept by a glistening shimmer. For a moment I wonder if this is what it would be like if giant slugs had crept across the land while we slept.

I stand and gaze, and as I do, the view in front of me is replaced by a series of other gardens, looked at from other windows. I'm back leaning on the tiled window-sill of my childhood bedroom in Croxted Road, peering through the net curtains and the steel-framed windows that were covered in condensation every morning of the year. I remember the story that I used to tell my friends to explain the small scar on my forehead; the story where I fell out of the window and somehow miraculously survived, not the real one where I climbed up to watch my Dad in the garden, slipped and caught my head on the corner of a cupboard. Or at least that's the story I think is real.

Then I'm looking out over the flat pitched roof of the dining room extension in Manor Way, past the spot in the flower bed where Megan would sit chatting to Ruth next door, as they swapped mud pies through  holes in the fence; past the hedges and the shrubs that I clipped and pruned year after year, down to the bottom of the garden, where the green swing sits, just as it should for every child.

I'm whisked forward in time to the bedroom window in Crown Road, to see Martin, our overweight cat, teetering along the top of the garden fence, making his way to our neighbours' bird table to sit hunched up like a fat furry turkey on a plate. Beyond the fence is the old orchard, where the overgrown grass and ancient trees strain to face another year, hoping once again to defy the latest in a long list of planning applications to fill their space with a row of houses.

I stand remembering, until I realise that the light is getting brighter, no longer from the moon but the start of a new day. I think about the hours I've spent staring out of bedroom windows at a series of gardens and neighbourhoods and I realise I've almost always slept at the back of the house. Hardly ever has my view been of street lights and front doors, of passing cars, or concrete paths. My first glimpse and last look at the outside world each day has been the world of grass and trees, of home and family.

I take one last look at the sky before going to make my first cup of tea of the day. Sometimes we try so hard to reach the moon, when all we really need to do is stop and see.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

The address book

It's just a small address book, and I have to rifle through a pile of old bills, used train-tickets and Indian take-away menus before I find it, tucked away behind some tissue-paper at the back of the green wooden cupboard. On the outside it still looks new, the smooth red leather is barely scratched and the band of black elastic holds it tightly closed.

I hardly ever use it now.  New contacts are so much easier to store in the phone that's always with me, and a number for texting serves better than the full address and post code for a letter that never quite gets written. But once a year, after I've lined up the cards on the table, set out the different designs in separate piles, with the right-sized envelopes stacked beside them, I search for a pen that's nice to hold and has smooth-flowing ink, and then I reach for the old address book.

I write the cards in alphabetical order, filling in the names as I go through the book, and as I do, I find myself slowing down, pausing to think about the people who sit behind these names on a page. The aunt in Bristol, who's lived at the same address as long as I can remember, and who I've always called Auntie Tupp, although her name is Beryl. My ex mother-in-law, who used to play such a large part in my life, but who now lives in a flat I've never seen.

There are the friends I used to work with, whose company I valued so much "it would be great to see you in the New Year" I scribble in the corner of their cards; all the people I used to see every day, but never quite found time to see last year. I hesitate as I turn the page to a work-colleague from many years ago. Her husband is very much older than her, and for the last few years I've waited to receive her card, and the long round-robin letter that always comes with it, dreading the year when it will be just her name at the bottom.

As I leaf through the book, I see names crossed out; a sad reminder of relationships and marriages that didn't last. Other names remain, the friends and family I couldn't delete, the ones I thought would always be around.

On several pages there are old addresses scribbled through, with new ones added underneath. I remember all the excitement of friends and family as they moved to new homes and I think about the places I once visited, the houses that felt so familiar then, but that I'll never set foot in again. Suddenly I picture another address book from long ago, where Claire had added our own address and the bold claim "The Longworths - that's us!" with each of our names listed separately. Today, I still can't quite get over the feeling of surprise when I find my children's names next to houses that aren't mine.

The very last entry in the book is my Mum's, her surname for more than thirty-odd years is that of my step-father Albert, who'll be eighty years old this week. I'll see them both on Christmas day, at my daughter's house, with two of my other children and my two delightful grandchildren. No doubt when I see them all, I'll stop to reflect on how some things have changed and moved on, how others have stayed just the same, I'll smile at the people who are there, and think for a moment of those who are not.

It's odd that I hadn't realised until today, how much of all that change is caught in the pages of my small red address book.

Sunday, 9 December 2012


Through wind-bared trees, I stare across the valley
Tangled branches frame the distant view
Here, the darkness gathers strength to hold me
There, the lights shine bright, of home, and you.

I stay here, on the wrong side of the valley,
Where sharp-thorned scraping bushes hold me in.
No reaching out across the hill to softness
Of fingertip on lip, of skin on skin.

The path beside that leads to other stories
Is littered now, with leaves that didn't tell,
Relinquishing the grip that held and nourished,
Knowing they were dying as they fell.

A misty silence seeps along the valley
The muffled, dampened hillside makes no sound
I stand and gaze out from the growing greyness
Crying out, but rooted to the ground.

*the title for this poem and the beautiful photo above it of the Darenth Valley, were both taken from The Domesticated Bohemian. If you haven't already done so, please go and read the poem that inspired mine.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Small things

And so, the days move on. A week, then a month, passes without words. Finally, I return to the blank page, with a compulsion, much like being called before the Headteacher, to account for my behaviour.

How have I spent the last four weeks? Can I describe what I've achieved, justify the hours gone by, explain the difference I have made?

I stare at the page and a white blankness stares back.

There are so many things I want to be able to say, so many things I know I can't write here.

How do you describe an almost overwhelming sadness,  how do you portray an immense sense of disappointment, without upsetting everyone you know and care about? How do you grasp a life that's slipping by too quickly and turn a list of not-quites into a catalogue of success?

How do you come to terms with all the things you'll never be, all the things you'll never do, all the things you'll never see?


I stare at the page. Slowly, gradually, there's something more than a blank whiteness in front of me. It's not the novel I always thought I'd write, nor yet a sonnet for my love. It's just some marks on a page; some letters in a sort of order, reaching out, trying to make a claim.

So this is me, playing with letters, dabbling in words. Hoping, one day there might be more.