With an enormous workload of assignments to complete for a work qualification (the biggest reason for my near silence on this blog at the moment), I still find time to sit and play with collage.
With an enormous workload of assignments to complete for a work qualification (the biggest reason for my near silence on this blog at the moment), I still find time to sit and play with collage.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There he goes, my beautiful son.
Bone china skin, hair afire.
Fragility worn in cool style.
Brief nod at my frantic goodbye.
A pang of love explodes my chest.
Your face on the pillow in early morning light,
touched by sleep’s youthful kiss.
Crow’s feet, which tell of love, laughter, loss,
wiped from the corners of your lids.
And I watch in silence,
afraid to stir and wake you from this contented bliss.
And I listen in silence,
afraid to disturb your relaxed breath, leaving your body at ease.
Soon the busy day will shake you awake,
deepen the creases on your brow with worldly concerns.
Your face on the pillow in early morning light,
And I am enveloped in your peace.
My husband has decided to keep a pet caterpillar. It is disconcerting to see it sleeping under his nose as we have a conversation. When we kiss, it wriggles and prickles in discomfort. A top lip is not the best home for a caterpillar. One day, it may move on, find an appropriate place to live, crawl under a damp cabbage leaf. Or perhaps it will spin itself a silky cocoon, grow beautiful wings and flutter away.
Looking out of the window on a damp grey day, I noticed something black and white, curled and hidden, under the bushy overgrown shrub which adorns our front lawn. At first, I thought it was my cat tucked up in her favourite sleeping place but, looking more carefully, I realised this animal was too big for her. Fat spots of rain began to fall, turning the scene outside to blurred watercolours. The black and white bundle snuggled closer into the hedge. A shiny nose cautiously stretched out from the shelter of the untidy branches sniffing the air, and a bright pink tongue tasted the raindrops. Some farm dog, I supposed, settled down for a cheeky rest from work. Still, it wasn’t usual for a dog to use my shrub for a bed.
“There’s a dog asleep on our front garden.” I told my husband.
He came to take a look.
“Poor thing,” he said, “better check it’s all right.”
“I was just about to.” I said.
On opening the front door, the dog jumped up from its resting place, tail wagging and tongue lolling happily in greeting. It seemed pleased to see me. Normally, I’m a bit wary of farm dogs as they can be temperamental and, once or twice, I’ve had a nasty nip. This pretty tri-coloured collie seemed friendly, however. It looked at me with forlorn eyes. I put my hand out slowly. At this encouragement, the dog bounded over, nuzzling and licking my hand. On closer inspection I found she was a female, small and slender; a friendly, sweet-natured animal.
“What are you doing here?” I asked her, “Run along home.”
She eyed me expectantly and sat down on the gravel. She wasn’t going anywhere.
“Are you lost?” I stroked her glossy head. She rolled onto her side revealing her pink tummy, showing she was no threat. I noticed an old faded collar but no tag.
“Well, you must belong to somebody.”
I thought she may be glad of a drink so I went around the back of the house to collect a bowl of water. She followed me to the side gate and waited patiently there until I returned. When she saw me, she gamboled ecstatically around my legs. I put the bowl down and she lapped gratefully.
“You were a thirsty girl,” I said, “but now you’d better make your way home. You can’t stay here, I’m afraid, I’ve got three dogs of my own and that is quite enough for anybody!”
I patted on the head and went inside. I hoped she would head off once alone.
Every half hour or so, my husband or I looked out of the window to check whether the dog had moved on but, each time, there she was, snuggled under the bush trying to keep dry. The rain fell in an unrelenting downpour. After three hours, I decided she definitely wasn’t intending to leave.
“What should we do?” I asked my husband. He agreed the dog would have left for home by now if she was going to.
So, unlike the rain, I gave in and went to the side gate to let her into the back garden. My concern was rewarded as she danced around me, wagging her happy tail, thrilled to see me again.
I towelled off her wet hair and feet and let her into the conservatory, then fed her a bowl of kibble. She ate hungrily and settled in the large dog basket belonging to my labrador.
“You can stay in here while I make some phone calls.” I told her.
My three dogs knew something was up. They weren’t usually shut out of the conservatory and there was a whiff of strange dog in the air. They sniffed with curiosity at my legs, snuffling and whimpering. I lifted the receiver and rang the vet. No one had reported a dog missing but they would keep my details in case somebody came in. I should bring her in to check for a microchip. Then I rang every vet in the area. It was the same story with all of them.
“Any luck?” my husband asked.
“No one’s reported a dog missing anywhere.” I explained, “The vet told me to inform the dog warden.”
We looked at each other sadly. it seemed a shame to put such a lovely dog in a cage while she waited for her owner to find her. It was with some reluctance, therefore, that I picked up the phone. Surprisingly, they seemed unconcerned. The service was overstretched, it would be a while before the warden would be able to collect the dog, would we be happy to keep her until he got in touch? I agreed, of course.
“We have to keep her until the warden has time to come and get her.” I explained to my husband, “He’s out at the moment and will ring us back when he can.”
“If she’s going to be staying with us, she’ll have to meet our boys,” my husband said, “If they don’t get on, she’ll have to live in the barn.”
“I’m sure they’ll get on.” I didn’t like to think of her out there on her own.
We decided it would be best if the dogs got to know each other in the garden where there was plenty of space. Luckily, the rain had finally stopped. A pale sun struggled to smile through the clouds. Rather than terrifying the new dog by sending out the boys in a rowdy pack, we introduced her to one dog at a time. First, Sammy, our aged collie cross, quiet and gentle. Next Iolo, our gangly labrador, barely taking any notice. Finally Monty, our yappy terrier, noisy but playful. The dogs did us proud. Their manners were impeccable. The little female collie liked them immediately and soon all four dogs were playing on the grass. I breathed a sigh of relief. It may take us a while to find the owner but at least she could enjoy living with us while we did.
Then I remembered my cats. Would she be a chaser? My dogs and cats were best buddies; friends since puppy and kitten days. This dog may never have lived with cats before. It wasn’t long until we discovered the answer. Kipper, our ginger boy and keen hunter, came ambling around the corner of the house right into the middle of the action. He confidently walked up the new dog. She sniffed him with caution. Kipper rubbed himself against her legs then sidled off. She didn’t follow or chase him. Phew! Later in the day, the other two cats appeared, feisty Mags and grumpy Maude. The new dog didn’t bat an eyelid and the cats were unphased. All remained peaceful.
Over the next few days, the female collie settled into our routines and became part of the family. She behaved perfectly in the house and was a clean, tidy creature. We hardly knew she was there. I took her to see the vet and discovered she had no microchip. I drove her around the neighbourhood, knocking on doors and calling in at farms. Nobody recognised her or knew anyone looking for a lost dog. Next, I took photographs and made posters to put up on telegraph poles, fence posts, in shops, at the vets, in the library, everywhere I could think of. No luck. I posted photographs and information on local social media sites. No luck. The dog warden didn’t ring. We began to think the new dog may be with us forever. Some of us may even have hoped it. We were growing fond of her calm, sweet nature.
“We can’t call you the new dog all the time,” I told her, “What’s your name?”
Over the next few hours, we experimented calling out different names and watching for a response. She didn’t seem too bothered with any of them until finally I called out, “Lucy!” she stopped in her tracks, pricked up her ears in apparent recognition and came running over. From then on, that’s what we called her.
Two weeks later, two weeks of looking after Lucy with no sign of an owner, we started to reconcile ourselves to life with four dogs. She was no trouble. When you had three, an extra one made no difference. Lucy fitted in. She was at home with us; part of the family. We all rubbed along happily together. We played in the garden. We went on walks. At night, she curled up on the floor with her doggy mates while we watched TV.
One day, two and a half weeks after Lucy had tucked herself under the bush on our front lawn, the phone rang.
“Hello,” said a lady, “I think you might have my dog.”
The lady described Lucy perfectly, down to her faded collar. She explained that she had been away, that Lucy was one of four outdoor farm dogs, that her husband had been feeding the dogs and hadn’t noticed one was missing every night. It wasn’t until she got back with her children that they realised the dog was gone. She’d spent the last week searching everywhere, finally getting my number from the vet.
“Can I come and collect her?” she asked.
My heart sank a little, “Of course.”
It was a shock when giving directions to find that Lucy had travelled six miles, crossing a busy main road, to get to our house. The lady thought she had probably been frightened by a bad storm, running in blind panic.
We said a sad farewell to Lucy while we waited for her owner to show up. Half an hour later, a land rover pulled onto the drive. A lady got out and I brought Lucy to her. The dog was very pleased to see her owner. She jumped straight into the car.
“She loves a ride.” the lady said, “Thank you so much for having her all this time.”
We waved away the offer of money for Lucy’s care. We had enjoyed her company and were just glad that she’d been happy while waiting to find her true home.
Before the lady drove off, Lucy jumped out of the car and ran back to us to say a last goodbye. We gave the little collie, who had stayed with us for a short while but touched our hearts forever, a big fuss.
“Oh, by the way,” I asked, remembering just in time, “What’s her name?”
And they drove away.
“Nadolig Llawen!” the chubby chip shop lady called as Jon left the steamy atmosphere and went out into the crisp, wet darkness of a typical December in West Wales. He didn’t reply. Christmas was not on his agenda this year. Having lost his job and the love of his life, his Spotify had been playing Joni Mitchell’s River on repeat for the last fortnight.
Jon splashed through puddles slick with oily rainbows reflecting twinkling lights from the bedecked terraced houses. He arrived at his grey, unlit door and fumbled with his keys. There were advantages to adorning your home with glowing decorations, he thought as he struggled to find the lock. The door swung open and he entered his cold, bare hallway. Since losing his job, he had skimped on the heating. The last thing he needed was an enormous bill this quarter. Lying on the mat, Jon noticed four envelopes stamped with his muddy boot prints. He picked them up and put them in the bin. His mood was too low for jolly, holly seasonal messages.
Jon sat at the kitchen table munching salty, soggy chips and sipping a large glass of brandy. A steady rain pattered the skylight above. He pulled his jacket closer. This had to be the worst Christmas Eve ever. His friends would be out by now, doing the rounds of the village pubs, laughing, hugging, sharing bad festive jokes, gathering later at Twm’s house for the party, cheering and kissing at midnight to welcome in the big day. Jon shivered and pushed the thoughts from his head. He didn’t want to think about Twm. His tinkling laugh, like sleigh bells on a wintry night. His bright eyes, as dazzling as a string of fairy lights.
Jon’s mobile phone vibrated on the worktop. He glanced at the screen; a bad habit he was trying to resolve. He wanted to ignore the messages but read every one despite himself. WHERE R U? WE MISS U. FIND US IN THE 3 COMPASSES. ROB X. What was Rob thinking? He couldn’t go to the pub. Twm would be there. He could not face Twm yet. Not tonight. Not at Christmas, a time for being with loved ones. Twm had made it perfectly clear he didn’t love Jon. Better to forget Christmas this year. To hide away at home. To climb under the duvet and stay there until it was all over. He had his bottle of brandy, another couple of glasses should put him to sleep for a while.
The phone hummed again. Before Jon could stop himself, he looked at the screen. ARE YOU COMING TO THE PARTY LATER? YOU DON’T NEED TO STAY AWAY. I’VE GOT SOMETHING TO TELL YOU. TWM X. Jon shook his head in disbelief. How could Twm torture him like this? Surely, he understood how much hurt he’d caused? Three years they had been together. Three happy years, Jon thought they were. Running a business together and being in love wasn’t always easy. There had been stresses, disagreements and rows. Bound to be with a passionate man like Twm. His temper was fiery at times but it was his energy and life that had drawn Jon. Twm was the complete opposite of him. Jon’s quiet and thoughtful personality settled Twm down. Everyone said they complimented each other perfectly. The vegan café was becoming a success. The TripAdvisor reviews were fantastic. Everything had been going great. Or so Jon believed. But he’d been mistaken. Absolutely wrong. He’d made a fool of himself or Twm had made a fool of him.
Jon snuggled into the pillows and pulled the covers up over his head. The brandy had left a warm, soothing glow over his body and his lids were heavy. He closed his eyes and was soon deep in sleep. A glimmer of light played on the ceiling and a faint beat of disco music hung in the air. Jon stirred awake, rubbed his eyes and slowly sat up. He glanced at the alarm clock. Midnight. He’d been asleep for three hours or so. He scratched his head. For a moment, he couldn’t think where the light and sound were coming from, then he realised there must be a party going on across the street. He clambered out of bed to the window and pulled back the curtains.
Outside, every Christmas light and street lamp had gone out. His terrace was silent and black, as if in a power cut, but his clock clearly shone the time. And the room still filled with twinkling light, getting brighter by the second. Jon rubbed his eyes again. This was a hangover of monumental proportions. He started towards the door to fetch a paracetamol but a blazing flash and a deafening bang stopped him. Jon steadied himself against the wall as a glamorous woman materialised in the middle of the room. She was dressed in figure-hugging pink satin with platinum blonde hair piled up in curls and a diamante tiara placed precariously on top.
“What the…” Jon stuttered.
“Do not be afraid. My name is Letitia Splenditia and I am your magical Fairy Drag Queen, Girl.” She sashayed forward, placing a shapely leg in thigh-high silver stiletto boots upon Jon’s bedroom chair, “I’ve been watching you and I know how sad you are tonight. Nobody should be sad at Christmas so I’m here to help.”
John stared aghast at the apparition that had appeared on his cream carpet, “How did you get in here?”
Letitia smiled, showing large white teeth in her lovely, perfectly made-up face, marred only slightly by a shadow of stubble, “Now, now, you don’t need to worry your pretty head with things like that, darling.” She pointed a glossy, manicured fingernail at Jon, “I’m going to mend your little broken heart.”
“That’s impossible.” Jon pouted and folded his arms.
“Oh Girl, never say impossible to a Fairy Drag Queen. I know how much you are hurting. That naughty Twm did a silly thing but you can find it in your heart to forgive him. He wants you to go to the party tonight. And so, you will.”
“A silly thing, that’s what you call it, is it? A fling with his ex? I call it unfaithfulness…disloyalty…betrayal…” Jon’s voice cracked.
“He made a mistake. He was stupid. He drank too much and allowed himself to be flattered by that sweet-talking charmer,” Letitia put her arms around Jon and squeezed him tight. He was engulfed in voluminous bosom and heady fragrance, “but he is sorry. He is heartbroken like you. This party is an attempt to make things better. To put things right. He is waiting for you to turn up.”
Jon shook his head, “Well, he’ll be disappointed then. Anyway, I don’t believe you.”
“Take a look at your phone, Girl. You’ll find many messages there.”
Jon took his mobile from the bedside cabinet. Sure enough, Twm had sent text after text, each one more pleading than the last. The final message read: PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE COME. I MISS YOU. TWM X.
Jon sighed, “I don’t know…He’s hurt me so badly.”
“I know he has, darling. But you love him, don’t you?”
“Then I will sort everything. You shall go to the party!” Letitia squealed in delight.
“Oh yes, and just how can you do that? I’m a mess. I’ve let myself go these last few weeks. I look and smell awful…” Jon shuddered at his reflection in the mirror.
“Girl, I’m a magical Fairy Drag Queen, how can you even ask?” Letitia twirled her wand and, with another flash and bang, Jon was standing in a sharp suit, hair cut and styled to perfection, swathed in the fresh tang of citrus cologne and mint toothpaste.
“Your carriage awaits…” Letitia pointed to the window.
Under a single street lamp, Jon saw a taxi cab, clouds of exhaust fumes billowing. The driver leant against the bonnet, puffing on a quick cigarette.
“Go slay him, Girl!” Letitia winked, blew a kiss and disappeared.
Jon took a deep breath, appraised himself with pride in the mirror and skipped downstairs.
Twm’s house throbbed with loud music and lights pulsed in every window. Jon thanked the taxi driver and climbed out onto the shiny, wet pavement. With a pop, the cab disappeared. Jon pinched himself to check he was awake then darted inside the house, out of the rain. Everywhere he looked, people were dancing, cuddling or snogging in the warm radiance. Drink and food flowed in greedy Christmas excess. Jon searched each room for Twm but no one had seen him.
“That’s great.” Jon said to himself, “All this effort and he’s not even here.”
“Jon, is that you mate?” Rob came bowling out of the downstairs loo, followed by an attractive dark-haired woman Jon recognised as a nurse from the hospital where Rob portered, “Brilliant you turned up! Are you looking for Twm?”
“Yeah but it seems he’s cleared off.” Jon shrugged.
“He’s in the garden. Been there hours in the freezing, bloody rain. Tried to get him in but he said he’s in no mood for a party.” Rob shook his head as the dark-haired woman pulled him back towards the loo, “Sorry mate, things to do. Good luck!”
Outside, the rain fell heavier than ever. Twm hunched on a bench, a coat pulled up around his ears, his normally soft, curly hair plastered to his skull and dripping.
“What are you doing out here? You’ll catch your death.” Jon said.
Twm looked up, “Jon, you came after all.”
“Looks like I did. In the nick of time. Come on, let’s go in and get a drink. Warm you up. It’s Christmas.”
“One moment.” Twm looked serious, “Please sit down. I want to tell you something.”
“It’s wet and cold.” Jon shuddered.
Twm took Jon’s hand, “That doesn’t matter. You’re here. I’m here. We’re together again. Please sit.”
Jon sat on the sopping seat. Water seeped into his smart new trousers.
“You look beautiful.” Twm smiled sadly, “You always do. I’m so sorry I hurt you, Jon. I was a drunken fool. I behaved appallingly. I…I don’t deserve your forgiveness but…I really want it because…I love you so much and I don’t think I can carry on without you. Nothing is the same. I’ve been so miserable…I shut up the café…I haven’t seen anyone until tonight. I only agreed to the party because I…I hoped you’d show up and maybe it would be all right again. Things are bad, Jon. They’re really bad without you.”
Jon held both of Twm’s hands, “I know Twm. I’ve been miserable too. Things are bad without you.”
Twm looked into Jon’s eyes. Jon thought Twm’s eyes were dazzling, bright as a string of fairy lights, though a little fogged with tears.
“Can you ever forgive me?” Twm bit his lip with anxiety.
“I think so…” Jon said, “I’m going to try.”
Twm smiled, “Thank you. That’s the best Christmas present I could wish for.”
Jon pulled Twm closer and kissed him tenderly on his cold lips, “Now let’s go inside, you idiot, before we die out here in this rain!”
Twm laughed, like sleigh bells on a wintry night, “Yes, let’s.”
Jon heard the faint sound of disco music and caught a whiff of heady fragrance on the wind.
A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone who reads my blog.