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.

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.

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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 think that I should 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,

I think that I should go straight back to sleep.

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

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!)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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

 

Here

To sit on a World War II gun battery,

crumbling tumble-down shelter to shaggy sheep,

symbol of war, hate and death.

To watch the early summer sun sinking

behind bold distant hills,

spilling fiery colour across clouds.

To listen to the last birdsong of evening,

eerie calls of pheasant hiding in wavy grass,

maniacal cries of horned beasts.

To see that blazing ball of flame

drip amber, pink and gold upon the settled sea.

To experience a moment of peace

removed from this world of madness, fear and sorrow.

Life-affirming minutes;

we exist now, at this time,

we are here.

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.

Growing

There is something special about growing your own food. Gently planting a seed in rich, damp compost, waiting patiently for signs of green shoots pushing up through dark earth, planting out seedlings in neat rows of raked soil, watching the plants grow tall and vigorous, picking fresh vegetables for the evening meal, from garden to pot in minutes, is a kind of magic.

Sometimes, there are frustrations. Seeds rot in the ground, slugs feast on tender blooms, caterpillars attack glossy leaves, backs twinge, muscles ache, nails break and hands become dirt-ingrained, but it is satisfying work, good for body and mind. The clean air breathed in under wide skies, the smell of warm earth, the feel of fingers dug deep in crumbly dirt, the calming buzz of insects and soulful song of birds, the sense of well-being and pride growing brings. It is a connection with the land, a sustaining of life, something fundamental, something ancient.

Many of us have lost that connection, the opportunity to support ourselves, even in a small way, with home-grown food. If there were more gardens and growing spaces in our cities, towns and communities, we would be healthier and happier. Our diets are better, our appreciation of food far greater, when we grow it ourselves. Growing vegetables means being outside, exercising our bodies and working with purpose. The effort is rewarded with vegetables that taste wonderful, like nothing we can buy in supermarkets. Serving up Sunday lunch with three types of vegetables from your own garden is a feeling that is hard to beat.

Preseli Walk

Trudge breathless up boggy slopes,

squelching puddles pool under rubber heels.

Reach glorious heights of heather,

illuminated blankets in bright sunshine.

Beneath ancient sculpted rock,

rest on tumbled stone touched by pagan hand.

Warm breeze lifting hair from damp skin,

gaze on a patchwork as clouds cast ink blots.