We have retreated into ourselves


It is raining, autumn is in full techni colour, and winter looms. The white sky merges with mist over the sea. Bardsey, the holy isle of the bones of a thousand saints, disappears from view completely leading us to speculate it has magical qualities or that a secretive organisation, ‘them’, dedicated to the preservation of the bones deciding what measures are best needed has reeled it away for cleaning. Sometimes it appears to float like a spaceship, or be twice as large as it is, or as today, abscond entirely. We joke and speculate what it can be this time.

And so another day passes. The forced togetherness affirms and destroys the relationship we thought we had. New rules are set, new habits formed over the long months it has so far been.

We hear of others’ weekends spent visiting, mingling together, or away, or following interesting new pursuits such as book binding, potting, yoga, I wonder if it is us who has fallen through the net, who doesn’t realise that Covid is so over and it is possible to live as ever we lived in the wider world.

Offers of visits, attempts of socially distanced gatherings, even of under six and outdoors are rebuffed. I’m surprised we are not consigned to Facebook friends with lonely birthday messages accruing annually on the page with infrequent photo updates bathed in the colours of the flag of the country where the latest tragedy or assassination attempt took place to show that perhaps we still exist for real.

Maybe, when this latest garden project is satisfyingly finished and planted, when the latest clutch of recipes has been shopped for, cooked and consumed, the next box of wine sent for and shoulder-shruggingly quioffed with a what can you do nonchalance, we will venture out.

The chance of reprieve is lost as once again we slide with relief into lockdown. It is not just us who is avoiding everyone. We are not so antisocial after all.

And then comes another reprieve: the first dose of vaccine.

Don’t it always seem to go…

Today we dug up a tree by its roots, snapping mercilessly and chopping with dobbers. Not a large tree, and not a huge job to remove it, but having lost shape and beauty it had grown unsightly. We laid the tree on the grass denuded of its branches and Sunny Boy posed with the hammer like a game hunter standing by a trophy. A robin perched bewildered, like an old boy come to see a childhood home where once he’d been happy. Only then were we wistful too. It had only been to please me that Sunny Boy dug it up at all.

God Bless the NHS

    This day will never come again, hung over as it is with grey clouded, midge-filled sky in a garden full of bumble bees.  The Boxer is in bed. The effort of getting out of it valiant but futile.

    “Can’t I just be bedridden?”

    I point out that this is not an easy option and brings many disadvantages. “Besides, you’re not.” The ‘not quite’ is perhaps understood between us.

    Anyway. We decide on lunch in bed, why not? But in the making of it she has gone back to sleep and I haven’t the heart to wake her…not yet, soon.

    For five days I have been surrogate for my sister, now her prime carer (sole carer, to be more accurate.) Hard to be a fish out of your own water. All the times the positions were reversed and my sister moved in to my house in order to facilitate our holidays, I gave it the briefest of thought. 

    The district nurse called in ‘on the off chance.’ I should have solicited her help. Another pair of hands to effect the monumental effort of getting from the bed would have proved without doubt that a king’s fund bed would make life easier. Usually only for the bed-bound, I’m told. The buck is passed and she has recommended a visit from occupational therapy.

    God bless the NHS.

    Truth better than Fiction. A postscript.

    The poet Dave Toft has sent me a correct version of the events following the 1932 Mass Trespass. Good to have the facts straight. I take the liberty of posting it here (with permission).

    “There was no physical battle – just one scuffle. The gamekeepers were overwhelmingly outnumbered. One was injured in the single scuffle – he tried to hit someone with his stick and they took it off him and hit him with it.

    The five who were sent to prison served up to 6 months hard labour. There was a public outcry but they weren’t freed because of it, they served their time

    4 of the 5 were blacklisted and lost their jobs. The 5th was expelled from Manchester University and instead took up a place in Cambridge

    The oldest of the trespassers was 21. The leader was 20. Jimmy Miller, better known as Ewan MacColl the famous folk singer, was 19, but not arrested. They would have all been working in the mills since being 14.

    At least 2 were killed in the Spanish Civil War.

    They were almost all in the Communist Party, which was not unusual amongst progressive young left radicals in that period,who wanted a fairer society and who opposed the rise of fascism. The repressive nature of Stalin’s rule was not known at that point.”

    Wilful Blindness and Nothing New Under the Sun

    img_3381We are wilfully blind to the problems faced by rest of the world. Even the euphemism the ‘third world’ satisfactorily distances us.
    We squabble over ‘getting our country back’ while millions face starvation due to war and drought and further millions drown in an attempt to reach this other world, only to find the drawbridge being hastily drawn up and the portcullis down.
    The global picture is so much bigger and more important.
    Our children will remember us with shame for our wilful blindness and pettiness.

    There are many precedents in history and the phrase ‘nothing new under the sun’ springs to mind as well as a poem by Louis MacNiece at the outbreak of WW2. (Substitute the name of politician/tyrant of choice to update)

    Louis MacNeice’s Autumn Journal

    Conferences, adjournments ultimatums,
    Flights in the air, castles in the air.
    The autopsy of treaties, dynamite under the bridges,
    The end of laissez faire.
    After the warm days the rain comes pimpling
    The paving stones with white
    And with the rain the national conscience, creeping,
    Seeping through the night.
    And in the sodden park on Sunday protest
    Meetings assemble not, as so often now
    Merely to advertise some patent panacea
    But simply to avoid
    The need to hold the ditch; a bare avowal
    That may simply imply
    Death at the doors in a week but perhaps in the long run
    Exposure of the lie.
    Think of a number, double it, treble it, square it,
    And sponge it out
    And repeat ad lib and make the slate with crosses;
    There is no time to doubt
    If the puzzle really has an answer. Hitler yells on
    the wireless,
    The night is damp and still
    And I hear dull blows on wood outside my window;
    They are cutting down the trees on Primrose Hill.
    The wood is white like the roast flesh of chicken,
    Each tree falling like a closing fan;
    No more looking at the view from seats beneath
    the branches,
    Everything going to plan;
    They want the crest of this hill for anti-aircraft,
    The guns will take the view
    And searchlights probe the heavens for bacilli
    With narrow wands of blue.

    Autumn journal (Fabre) was written in February 1939

    Objects of delight


    I see myself  in my final hours, about to face my last judgement, clutching favoured treasures in the palm of my hand.

    A perfume bottle – a caprice with daffodil-yellow puffer, not much taller than my thumb, pretty with a sensual shape and feel, or a red bracelet made with nibs of bright coral with a tiny silver pendant of a scallop shell – emblem of the Camino de Santiago which will always sit high in my heart.

    This no doubt betrays a shallowness. A crucifix, a rosary, or photos of my nearest and dearest would perhaps be more appropriate, but it is objects I will chose for the memories the engender.


    Any Human Heart


    Often, in the view from my window, sea and sky merge.  Obviously  different elements and entities and yet there on the horizon is an intimation that one disappears into the other. Sometimes they merely reflect each other like a blend of fact and fiction.

    I have been reading Any Human Heart. Had I bought the book rather than a download  I might have thought twice. It’s quite a tome and I usually go for short.  But I’m having a William Boyd fest at the moment and the note stating five hours left to read, that would normally send a frisson,  ‘have I five hours left to give?’ I  ignore happily. It’s a really enjoyable read. Logan, the (anti?) hero, witnesses and participates in the major events of the twentieth century in a grand sweep, meeting novelists, artists, even  the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. I like the improbability of the names and  the pretence. A blur of real and unreal that can constitute a good novel.

    Reflecting on the improbability of life and fiction, William Boyd and me both, a few choice quotes worth pondering.

    What do you believe in?

    ‘(A) credo of two hates and three loves: hatred of injustice, hatred of privilege, love of life, love of humanity, love of beauty.

    The meaning of life?

    ‘That’s all your life amounts to in the end: the aggregate of all the good luck and the bad luck you experience. Everything is explained by that simple formula.’

    Advice for budding writers perhaps?:

    ‘In good prose precision must always triumph over decoration…Wilful elaboration is a sign that the stylist has entered a decadent phase….sometimes a plain dish of lentils is all that the palate craves even if one insists that the lentils come from Puy.’




    Interlude in blogs


    Monday’s the day blog spots drift in like falling leaves clogging time. When it’s poetry though, it’s pleasant to kick through the traces.

    Thanks to Lindsaystanberryflynn.co.uk for this Elizabeth Jennings Song at the Beginning of Autumn.

    Now watch this autumn that arrives
    In smells. All looks like Summer still;
    Colours are quite unchanged, the air
    On green and white serenely thrives.
    Heavy the trees with growth and full
    The fields. Flowers flourish everywhere.

    Proust who collected time within
    A child’s cake would understand
    The ambiguity of this –
    Summer still raging while a thin
    Column of smoke stirs from the land
    Proving that Autumn gropes for us.

    But every season is a kind
    Of rich nostalgia. We give names –
    Autumn and Summer, Winter, Spring –
    As though to unfasten from the mind
    Our moods and give them outward forms.
    We want the certain, solid thing.

    But I am carried back against
    My will into a childhood where
    Autumn is bonfires, marbles, smoke;
    I lean against my window fenced
    From evocations in the air, kickin
    When I said Autumn, Autumn broke.