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.

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.

Years ago

My husband and I started dating in 1991. We’ve recently celebrated our Silver Wedding Anniversary – that’s a long time together and a long time married. Like any married couple, we’ve had our ups and downs. It takes work to have a successful relationship, and some days it’s hard to put the effort in, but we’re doing all right. We both agree that we’re happy. Here’s a poem I wrote a while back about long-term partnerships.

 

Years ago, you knocked on my door.

I put the chain across,

opened it a slit and

looked you over.

Then I

let you in.

For a drink, a chat.

 

But you

hung up your coat,

took off your shoes,

put your

feet under the table.

 

Sometimes we danced in the living room

giggling until we

fell in dizzy heaps.

Sometimes we sat reading

separate novels,

lost in

distant worlds.

Other times we fought,

brutal bloody battles,

no one could win.

 

Sometimes we shared a meal

together, diced sliced,

laughed over a glass of wine,

candles twinkling.

Sometimes we were tired, got take away,

couldn’t be

bothered with the effort.

Other times we ate apart,

solitary below the

cold kitchen light.

 

Sometimes we snuggled

beneath the duvet,

late lazy lay-ins,

close, so we were

touching.

Sometimes we gave a

peck on the cheek, rolled over,

started snoring.

Other times we slept alone,

chilly with a blanket, on the

hard floor of the

spare room.

 

But you

made yourself at home.

And I

never moved out.

We’re still here.

 

 

On Bergen

Bergen is a beautiful city. It sits nestled between mountains, fjords and islands. Known as ‘the city between the seven mountains’, it is actually surrounded by nine in total. The name Bergen means ‘the meadow among the mountains’. The mountains protect the city, keeping its climate relatively warm considering its northern aspect. The water is clear and blue. The many lakes and fjords are like glassy mirrors reflecting pure images of the forested surroundings. Up in the mountains, if you are lucky, you can see goats living wild. (OK, so this one isn’t really wild – but they are there!)

P1030808

Bergen is an old city. It was founded about 1070. In the harbour, you will find the ancient district of Bryggen. These beautiful wooden buildings now house shops, museums and eateries. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, they are crowded and popular with tourists. Bergen’s narrow cobbled streets are lined with picturesque, clapperboard houses.

P1030853

Bergen is a city of fires. Its history contains a trail of destruction. Many of its buildings are wooden and in danger from the flames. In 1248, eleven churches were burnt down. In 1702, ninety percent of the city was reduced to ashes. Bryggen has burnt on more than one occasion, including in 1476 in a fire started by a drunk and in 1955 when many of its buildings were destroyed.

P1030836

Bergen is a clean city. It is a city you can breathe in. The mountain air is sweet and fresh. Bergen has an excellent public transport system, including trains, trams and buses. Much of it is electric. This transport system keeps cars out of the city centre. The few cars you do see are mostly electric. The Norwegian government subsidises the purchase of electric cars, so Norwegians drive more electric cars per capita than anywhere else in the world. It is a green and environmentally friendly place.

P1030817

Bergen is a wild city. Bergen residents like to party on a Saturday night and this includes indulging in some heavy drinking! Luckily, alcohol is very expensive, so drunkenness seems to be limited to once a week. People in Bergen love to enjoy the outdoors – swimming in the fjords, walking the trails, sailing around the islands.  There are trekking trails everywhere. It is easy to get up into the mountains and explore, especially the two most popular ones. Floyen has a funicular railway and Ulriken has a cable car. There are cabins hidden in the mountains and forests where you can stay after a long day trekking. There are places to set up camp and get your fire going all over the mountainsides.

P1030792

Bergen is a beautiful, old, clean, wild city. I recommend you go and visit.

P1030839P1030949

Time for change

Here are two recent entries in my notebook. Funny how quickly our lives can turn around.

Saturday 23rd November

I’m appalled at how little writing I’ve done this year. This notebook is less than half full, my novel untouched for months (and months), my thoughts embroiled with work. And now this promotion to a management role. Have I made the right decision taking on more work? I know there will be lots to do and big changes to be made. My mind will be preoccupied and distracted. What will this mean for my writing? Will I ever find time to put pen to paper, to think it matters enough? My writing plays second, third, fourth fiddle to everything else in my life – family, job, household chores. Why can’t I prioritise it and find the space for it? How do others manage it? One friend says I’m not selfish enough. Is that what it takes – selfishness? Perhaps on some level it does require a certain selfish attitude. It requires me to think that my writing is more important than anything else at that moment. And that is an exceptionally hard thing to do.

 

Tuesday 10th December

Ha! I wrote that piece just a couple of weeks ago and the change in my situation has been dramatic. Sitting in this empty café, overlooking a dreary, blustery grey sea, the voice of a young Michael Jackson chirping in my ear about Santa coming to town, I’m wondering what on earth happened. I’m shell-shocked, a turmoil of thoughts and emotions in my heart and head. An occasional anxious panic grips my chest and sets my pulse aflutter. Within two weeks of promotion, I am jobless again. Me being me, I’m questioning whether I made a mistake in resigning. If I hurtled headlong into something, whether I considered it for long enough. But deep in the pit of my roiling stomach, I know. This is for the best. This is the right decision. I know that I could not have continued working for an organisation whose professional values did not really match my own, despite what outward appearances suggested. But, what now? I have no real idea. Some time for relaxation and reflection. Everything happens for a reason; I truly believe that. I rushed into a job when my home education days ended. The void was huge and I was afraid. I panicked. I have always found it easier to think about and help other people rather than face myself, so perhaps the job was a way of running away – from the idea of writing, of being creative, of doing something for me. I don’t know. One thing I’m certain of, I’m going to enjoy Christmas.

Just about had enough of you

Singing is my sanity. It relieves stresses and worries. It fills my heart with joy. Recently, plans to finish my book have taken a back seat as I adjust to a new life of working and studying, after years as a home educating Mum. One thing that remains constant is singing – in my choir, in my job, at home and everywhere possible. I have even written a couple of songs, though I’m not a musician and it’s all done by ear. Here are the lyrics to one of them. If I feel brave, I may record and share it (if I can work out how!)

 

Just about had enough of you

 

Refrain:

I’ve just about had enough of you to last me a very long time

I’ve just about had enough of you to last me the rest of my life.

 

When I saw you that first night, my heart filled with joy

I thought I had found a love true

We shared much in common, you seemed to be kind

But you soon ended up being cruel

 

Refrain

 

We married on a Tuesday; the rain pattered down

My mother was weeping for me

I ignored the warnings, the worries, the frowns

Your love notes were all I could see

 

Refrain

 

I sat on a hospital bed in the dawn

A patchwork of bruises and cuts

The doctor asked questions, the nurses looked sad

But I shrugged off their cautions and tuts

 

Refrain

 

I cradled our baby and rocked her to sleep

Counting the hours that passed

Another night alone, while you messed around

I prayed that this one was your last

 

Refrain

 

We huddled in a corner, the children and me

I covered their ears with my hands

Your hatred and cursing swept over our heads

Like waves crashing over the sands

 

Refrain

 

I stared in the mirror at my ugly fat lip

The blood trickled down from my nose

The children were sobbing and clinging to me

I sighed at the life that I chose

 

Refrain

 

Early one Sunday while you lay in bed

In a black out from drinking all night

I left with the children and a small hold all bag

Disappeared in the grey morning light

 

Refrain

 

Flying

I am off to Norway next week to visit my daughter who is studying at Bergen University this semester. I can’t wait to see her but I’m feeling guilty. Guilty because I will be flying. Flying is a serious contributor to climate change. We really shouldn’t be flying anywhere at all anymore. With the XR protests taking place in London at the moment, my guilt is exacerbated. I should be there; fighting for climate justice, fighting for the future of our society, fighting for the future of my children. But I’m not in London. I’m at home; planning for my trip and getting excited about it.

In my entire lifetime, this will be my eighth trip away on a plane. Sixteen journeys in total, so I can hardly be called a big flyer. I’m aware there are celebrities, businessmen and politicians who hop on and off aeroplanes like they are buses. I am basically vegan; one of the best changes you can make to help prevent climate change is to eat less, or in my case no, meat and dairy. (I do eat my rescued battery hens’ eggs.) I have planted over sixty new trees around my smallholding; trees soak up carbon dioxide and are a natural solution to mitigate climate change. I’m trying in my small way to make changes. However, with the climate crisis in full swing, this doesn’t make me feel any easier about the situation. I’m still going to fly so I can visit my daughter.

Recently, I went on the Global Climate Strike to support the school children and students campaigning for change in our society’s systems. It was an inspiring day; full of warmth, positivity and love. Marching along in Aberystwyth, I found it hard to believe there could be any climate deniers left. The science is clear. As Greta Thunberg states, we can’t ignore it. I felt proud to stand with those young people and their hopefulness. I was brought to tears by their bravery. Just as I am brought to tears when I see the videos of the people in XR; lying in the streets, gluing themselves to buildings, risking arrest.

There aren’t really any realistic options for me to get to Bergen without flying, not with the timescale and budget that I have. Maybe one day, there will be. When the government has listened. When the necessary funding has been put into alternative, renewable technologies. When the greedy, gas guzzling corporations have had their day. In the meantime, I say a big thank you to those school children, students and people of XR. They are our representatives; my love and support goes out to every single one of them.

Joker

Image: Bristol Street Art from BBC

 

A couple of years ago, someone laughed at me for saying I was worried about Boris Johnson. He’s finished, they said, just a big joke. I thought they were being naive. There is nothing funny about Boris Johnson. He is deadly serious – a scheming individual with no moral compass or integrity. He has long hankered for the top spot and plotted his way there with cunning.

Boris Johnson has no ideas, or beliefs, or plans for the future, or for the benefit of the UK. He will say or do whatever he thinks is necessary to gain power. Obvious comparisons have been drawn with President Trump – the wild, straw-like mop of hair, the offensive language used in the name of ‘speaking one’s mind’, the populist rhetoric. The similarity is a big concern – both men are divisive politicians. I have long felt sympathy for my friends in the US, suffering from the embarrassment and hatred caused by their leader.

Unfortunately, it looks more and more certain Boris Johnson will achieve his ambition and become our Prime Minister. And that is not amusing at all.

Song

To bring a tear to someone’s eye, with your voice.

To touch a person, make them cry, with a song.

That must matter, I can’t deny,  it’s power.