Dancing alone

Enjoy the days when sleep evades you, when you pace the chilly floor, a restless shadow, soothing the warm bundle in your arms. Make the most of the times when door handles are sticky, feet bruised with plastic brick imprints, a favourite jumper smeared with snot, or goodness knows what. Breathe in that special, belonging to your baby, smell. Take it deep, deep into your lungs. So, you’ll never forget.

Every trip an adventure, every moment a question, the wide-eyed why? why? why? Back breaking bag full of books, crayons, plasters, snacks and sand, always sand. Bucketfuls of shells and stones. Crinkly seaweed, stinky dead crab, bleached bones. Shiny conkers, spiky beech nuts. Bark rubbings and coin rubbings and grave rubbings. Bumps, scrapes, tears, laughter, lots of laughter. Singing in the car, in the bath, in the park. Kitchen band, walloping the pots and pans.

Later, gossip and giggles, worries shared, successes and failures. Falling outs and making ups. Lifts given, endless waiting. Meals spent around the fire, guitar playing, silly prancing. Cello screech, drum machine beat, tap, tapping of a foot keeping time on the ceiling.

The house is quiet now, stillness fills spaces where junk models stood. Silence wiped fingerprints away. Everything tidy, where it should be, in its place. The songs I sing to myself, dancing alone.

Just walking the dog

This little tale popped into my head while I was out exercising my two furry friends the other morning.

———————————————————————————

“Where do you go every day, bach?”

“What do you mean, where do I go every day? You know where I go…I take the dog for a walk.”

“But where do you go?”

“You know where I go. Down through the cemetery, into the woods, to the stream. You know Buster likes to splash around in there. Proper water baby he is…Then home the other way, through the village and up the hill.”

“But why are you gone so long?”

“What do you mean, why am I gone so long? He has to have a decent play, dun he? Sometimes, on the way back, we stop and chat to the old girl, you know, the one on the corner. She’s usually pottering about in her garden. Likes to chat she do…bit lonely I think.”

“You see why I’m worried, doctor?” Mrs Thomas pinched her lips into a small o with pale fingers.

Doctor Williams sighed, “I’m sorry Mrs Thomas, I don’t understand…”

“It’s the old girl, see. Mrs Jones. She died last year…” Mrs Thomas clenched her hands together, squeezing out any remaining blood.

Doctor Williams leaned towards Mr Thomas sympathetically, “I’m sure there must be an explanation, Mr Thomas? Perhaps you are getting this Mrs Jones confused with somebody else? Maybe the new owner of the house?”

Mr Thomas stared back blankly at the doctor.

“No one has moved in, doctor.” Mrs Thomas explained, her forehead furrowing into deep gashes, “They’ve had a muddle. The family are squabbling over everything. No will, see.”

“Oh. Well…perhaps you are getting your times confused Mr Thomas?” Doctor Williams looked at his patient hopefully, “Is that the problem? You’re thinking about conversations that happened some time ago…something you haven’t done in a while?”

Mr Thomas looked through the doctor.

Shaking her head, Mrs Thomas said, “No doctor, he told me just this last Friday he’d had a chat with her, see.”

“Mmm.” Doctor Williams leant back in his chair, pressing his palms together.

Mrs Thomas drew a deep breath, “The thing is, doctor. That’s not the biggest worry…”

“Then tell me, Mrs Thomas, what is the biggest worry?” Doctor Williams turned his chair to properly look at this small, anxious woman for the first time.

“Well doctor, the biggest worry is…we don’t have a dog.”

Fermenting

During these strange times, I have been enjoying the art of fermentation. A traditional method of food preservation, it appeals to my belief in a simpler way of life. I enjoy the whole process: selecting fresh produce, cleaning, chopping, salting, massaging the leaves and packing the vegetables in the jar. It is relaxing and uncomplicated; my mind has time to unwind and think. While I ferment vegetables, I ferment ideas. Then comes the waiting: watching the bubbles start to rise, checking every few days for unwanted mould and tasting to see if it is pleasing to my palate. The smells as I unscrew the jar lid hit me full in the nose and carry through the house.

Fermentation has opened interesting doors for me. There is a whole world of fermented food out there waiting to be discovered. So far, I have made sauerkraut from Germany, kimchi from Korea and giardineira from Italy. The last is my favourite, at the moment, with its delicious garlicky flavour. Many pleasant hours are spent searching the internet for new recipes. I have found an exuberant man called Brad who shares videos about fermenting on Youtube. His enthusiasm is catching and I like his often imperfect presentation without any artificial polish. It is good when things go wrong. It creates a feeling of humanity and camaraderie. It is because of Brad that I have my ‘fermentation station’.

Fermenting foods is great for the mind and the body. Not only is the process relaxing, the final produce is healthy, being full of good bacteria. Our bodies need this good bacteria for our digestive health. There is growing scientific evidence that gut bacteria play a role in many diseases too, including heart disease, cancers and rheumatoid arthritis. Good bacteria can boost our immune systems and help us to fight disease. Other research has suggested that gut bacteria play a part in our mental health, so eating fermented foods may help to keep us happy.

Fermenting foods is a positive experience for me. Returning to old, clever ways, safe and busy in my kitchen, while the world outside goes off kilter.

Rescued

We have a new puppy; an eight-month-old crossbreed from a local animal sanctuary. He was rescued from a designer puppy farm. The runt of his litter, malnourished and afraid. Thankfully, the farm was shut down. He was lucky to be fostered by a wonderful lady who brought him back to health during lockdown. She did an amazing job teaching him to do his business outside, to travel in a car, to walk on a lead and to sit on command. It means our job is much easier. He is a beautiful boy and settling well. We have named him Pasha which suits his good looks.

I had forgotten what hard work puppies can be; their bursts of boundless energy. He must be kept amused with games and walks. He needs to learn the rules of the household (it is okay to chew the rubber tuggy but not my flip flops). He must be taken out to the garden for regular toilet trips. He needs help to build his trust and confidence in us. His hardships in early life have left their mark and he is nervous around men and new people (though improving everyday). He and I have become very attached. He is my shadow. I am trying to get him used to being without me for short periods so he will not develop separation anxiety. It all takes time and patience. It is much harder at the moment to train your dog to be alone, and to socialize them, as we are home all the time and no one visits much. He sleeps in our bedroom. A thing unheard of in our house but this is what he is used to and change takes time. Slowly, we are moving his bed further away from us. I hope this will work. He wakes me at 5.45am every morning exactly. I am tired but I love him. He has given me plenty to do.

I had forgotten how much fun puppies can be; the silly scrapes they get into. He tears around the garden and paddock so fast that sometimes he cannot stop and goes somersaulting over. He adores puddles and will jump crazily in every one he finds. When he grabs a shoe, he runs with it to the living room and launches himself onto the sofa in such a rush that he flies off the other side. (The jumping on the sofa is another thing he is used to and something I am not sure we will ever be able to stop.) He chases through the long grass alongside Monty, our little terrier, with complete abandon giving me a real sense of joy. He has given Monty, who is twelve and was missing company after our old dog Iolo passed away, something to think about.

I had forgotten how revolting puppies can be; the yucky things they enjoy. He loves going on chicken poo hunts. He found a dead bird in the garden and gobbled it down with pride before I could snatch it from him. He caught and ate the mouse that lives under our potato containers (even the cat had not managed that!) We have suffered the consequences of his undesirable snacking. I am trying to teach him what he may and may not munch on. I need another pair of eyes and hands to keep him out of mischief. He has given my son, feeling rather low from weeks of being isolated, a sense of purpose.

Re-homing Pasha from the animal sanctuary has been an absolute pleasure. He makes us laugh every day and keeps us busy. We have little time for worrying about the future and how our world will be changed now. Like dogs, we live in the moment, making the most of each minute. In fact, you could say Pasha has rescued us.

The Mask by Maya Angelou

We wear the mask that grins and lies.
It shades our cheeks and hides our eyes.
This debt we pay to human guile
With torn and bleeding hearts…
We smile and mouth the myriad subtleties.
Why should the world think otherwise
In counting all our tears and sighs.
Nay let them only see us while
We wear the mask.

We smile but oh my God
Our tears to thee from tortured souls arise
And we sing Oh Baby doll, now we sing…
The clay is vile beneath our feet
And long the mile
But let the world think otherwise.
We wear the mask.

When I think about myself
I almost laugh myself to death.
My life has been one great big joke!
A dance that’s walked a song that’s spoke.
I laugh so hard HA! HA! I almos’ choke
When I think about myself.

Seventy years in these folks’ world
The child I works for calls me girl
I say “HA! HA! HA! Yes ma’am!”
For workin’s sake
I’m too proud to bend and
Too poor to break
So…I laugh! Until my stomach ache
When I think about myself.
My folks can make me split my side
I laugh so hard, HA! HA! I nearly died
The tales they tell sound just like lying
They grow the fruit but eat the rind.
Hmm huh! I laugh uhuh huh huh…
Until I start to cry when I think about myself
And my folks and the children.

My fathers sit on benches,
Their flesh count every plank,
The slats leave dents of darkness
Deep in their withered flank.
And they gnarled like broken candles,
All waxed and burned profound.
They say, but sugar, it was our submission
that made your world go round.

There in those pleated faces
I see the auction block
The chains and slavery’s coffles
The whip and lash and stock.

My fathers speak in voices
That shred my fact and sound
They say, but sugar, it was our submission
that made your world go round.

They laugh to conceal their crying,
They shuffle through their dreams
They stepped ’n fetched a country
And wrote the blues in screams.
I understand their meaning,
It could an did derive
From living on the edge of death
They kept my race alive
By wearing the mask! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

#blacklivesmatter

Black Lives Matter https://blacklivesmatter.com/

We wait

Time passes in fits and starts at the moment. As the lock down continues, with no easing here in Wales, hours can disappear without notice yet weeks and months seem to stretch on interminably. There is a paralysis of inspiration, focus and motivation; nothing much beyond normal routine is achieved, activities are cancelled, future prospects and plans are on hold, loved ones are missed, anxiety is buried beneath layers of mundanity.

We wait.

Nature does not wait, however, and time continues in the passing of spring into early summer. The swallows have returned and built a nest in the barn, flitting and swooping above the paddocks, finding pure joy in the hunting and catching of winged insects for their hatchlings. The hedgerows are vibrant with wildflowers, white, blue, purple, yellow and pink; bees darting among the petals, legs laden with pollen. The air is filled with amorous sounds of life; the buzz and hum of mini beasts, the chattering conversations of birds, the throaty calls of frogs, busy in their mating rituals. Less welcome, the local farmers are industrious, cutting silage and spreading muck on the fields during the dry spell. Tractors roar up and down narrow lanes all day and late into the night. The pungent perfume of manure sends us scampering inside with our lunchtime sandwiches.

Staying active in the garden, observing and enjoying small moments of this normality, keeps us grounded and content. Vegetable seedlings need planting, weeds must be cleared, brambles and bracken cut back. A poorly chicken needs care. Wood preservative is ordered ready for treating the stables, barn doors and fencing. There are jobs to do. Physical work to keep us healthy in body and mind.

There is family too. The bliss of being together with nowhere else to be. The pleasure in gathering for good food cooked with love. Sourdough bread is a success; warm, crusty and flavour-full, now yeast has become like gold dust. Pride at how well the young people are coping, with university closed, projects and dissertations to complete in difficult circumstances, unable to enjoy a night out with friends. There is zoom and social media but it is a long period of uncertainty and missing out. They are doing remarkably well.

And there is community. A group of willing and able volunteers in the nearest village. We post leaflets through doors, offer help for those alone and isolated; shopping, collecting prescriptions, posting mail. A support network, building links and hopefully lasting friendships. A chance to give something back for those of us who know how lucky we are. More people are walking; unable to go further afield in their cars, they explore the footpaths of the local countryside. We see new faces, shout welcomes over the hedge, have little chats. This gives us mixed feelings; selfishly we have enjoyed the peaceful isolation, and wonder if we will continue to have walkers once this is over.

Life is quiet and simple. We think about how it will be when lock down ends; what will we have learnt, what will remain and what will the new normal be?

We wait.

At rest

The world is at rest,

a respite from the noise, from the fumes, from the crowds.

Let us be braver,

conquer all our fears, our anxieties, our doubts.

 

Raise our voices in love, in friendship, in kindness.

Notice what’s important, overcome our blindness.

Remember Mother Earth, renew our connection.

Keep safe, keep strong, keep faith in our shared protection.

 

The world is at rest.

We can pass this test.

Relearn old ways for

future better days.

All my life I’ve tried

I am full of songs at the moment. I need to write and sing out my pain, my anger, my doubts and my joy. Here is one I currently have in my heart.

 

When I hear what you’ve been saying about me,

I don’t recognise myself.

It seems that when you look at me,

you’re really seeing someone else.

Maybe I am deluded,

maybe I am fooling myself.

But I don’t like this person you describe,

I want to be somebody else.

 

All my life I’ve tried to be

the kind of person who can see

through the eyes of others

but I know I’ve often failed at that.

 

When I hear what you’ve been thinking about me,

I don’t recognise myself.

It seems that when you listen to me,

you’re really hearing something else.

Maybe I am deluded,

maybe I am fooling myself.

But I don’t like this person you describe,

I want to be somebody else.

 

All my life I’ve tried to hear

both sides of stories, make things clear

through the ears of others

but I know I’ve often failed at that.

 

When I hear what you’ve been spreading about me,

I don’t recognise myself.

It seems that when you speak of me,

you’re really saying something else.

Maybe I am deluded,

maybe I am fooling myself.

But I don’t like this person you describe,

I want to be somebody else.

 

All my life I’ve tried to share

words of kindness, words of care

through the mouths of others

but I know I’ve often failed at that.

 

When I hear what you’ve been doing without me,

I don’t recognise you now.

It seems that when you need me most,

you’re really pretending you don’t.

Maybe I am deluded,

maybe I am fooling myself.

But I don’t like this person you describe,

I want to be somebody else.

 

All my life I’ve tried to feel

the pain and love that makes us real

through the hearts of others

but I know I’ve often failed at that.

 

I know I’ve often failed at that.

I know I’ve often failed at that.

I know I’ve often failed at that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tough times for a tortoise

Tortoises are awkward animals. Every job they undertake is hard work. Eating is effortful – with no hands to hold the food, necks stretch, mouths grasp and pull. Sometimes the delicious item slips away. Walking is effortful – dragging a heavy shell around, managing uneven ground. Sometimes the weight causes a tricky balancing act with the inevitable toppling over, then there is a scrabbling, useless flailing of legs in a hard-won attempt to get right way up again. Love making is effortful – the arduous manoeuvrings, scrape of claws on shell, crunch of carapaces and anguished cry. Sometimes the other half just wanders off. Life appears tough for a tortoise.

Living with a tortoise for forty-three years has given me some insight and surprises. My grandfather bought me one for my seventh birthday. Named after a popular road safety squirrel of the time, I chose probably the most inappropriate name ever given a tortoise – Tufty. He was beautiful – his shell a shiny, patterned olive green and mottled brown. At that age, I did not think about the terrible journey he had undertaken – snatched from the wild, crushed in a crate with hundreds of his fellows, packed onto a container ship. Shamefully, I think of it now and wish he could be returned to roam the dry, grassy slopes of his home country, sun warming his burnished back. Instead, he has had forty-three years of living in damp, rainy Britain.

thTufty the Road Safety Squirrel © ROSPA

At the end of every November, Tufty has to go to bed in a cupboard box, stuffed with paper bedding, insulated in another plastic box filled with polystyrene wotsits, for his annual hibernation. Every February, there is immense relief when he wakes up, fit and well. For Tufty is a resilient little creature. He is awkward but he is tough, reliable and lovable. He has character. He comes when called and likes human and other animal company. He particularly enjoys chasing other pets around the garden – dogs, cats and even ducks – who never seem to understand quite what he is; a moving rock, how is that possible? He never gives up if he wants something, even climbing out of his run to escape. Tufty may lumber around carrying his heavy home but he can move when he wants to, especially on a hot day. His pleasure in munching on a dandelion or buttercup flower is a joy to behold.

SONY DSC

Despite my guilt at having a pet who was torn from his homeland in traumatic circumstances, I am glad I have Tufty. He has been a constant since I was a small child and he holds an important place in the cycle of my life. Quiet, steadfast, patient and determined, Tufty has kept me company and provides a symbol for simple, sensible, contented living.

Sometimes

I’ve been writing (and singing) more songs. Still haven’t figured out how to post recordings of them on here but, at least I’m thinking about it. This one is about how life sometimes gets you down, and you wonder if you can cope, but then you think of the hopeful stuff and feel a bit better.

Sometimes, when I wake up in the morning,

I wish that I could go straight back to sleep.

The world is too big for me, I ache with the pain I see.

I think of the wars, the fear, the hate, the need.

I think of the waste, the mess, the greed.

My chest presses in at the thought of getting out of bed.

I don’t want to smile or share what’s in my head.

My legs weigh heavy and I struggle for breath.

Then I glance at the window where the sky hangs in silver hues.

Bird song rings in the air so true.

My soul brightens up with life anew.

I think of the love, the compassion, the empathy.

I think of friendship, partnership, humanity.

My heart swells so large that I worry it will burst my chest.

I smile at the happy thoughts within my head.

My voice sings out as I jump up from bed.

Sometimes, when I wake up in the morning, 

l wish that I could go straight back to sleep.

The world is too big for me, I ache with the pain I see.