On being unable to stop the clocks
by Sue Sims
When Mark died on January 19th this year I so badly wanted to stop the clocks, as in Auden’s poem. Yet the seconds ticked by and the minutes, and the hours and finally the months. Six months to be precise and I am not sure how we have all made it this far. The passage of time is relentlessly cruel after a death. Mark’s voice is still absolutely clear in my head and sometimes I hear him shout Mum, yet I know it is not real. How can it be?
I am still editing Mark’s cancer memoir, alongside working on Bearing Gifts, my poetry collection based on the twenty three months that Mark lived with melanoma. I find his words so inspiring. There is a chapter in the book where he imagines the wedding he so wanted to have with Georgie and gives the reader his ‘groom’s speech’. In fact his older brother Matt read this out at the memorial event for Mark in February and we all held our breath as Matt reached the end of this paragraph.
The day Georgie and I stopped mid cycle next to Normanton church we fell in love with it. A wedding was going on that day and we sat and people watched as the congregation, and eventually the bride filtered past us into the church. But as you know we’ve had a much harder journey to be here today. I’ve come all the way from St. Peter’s gates.
Mark was not religious, yet that religious metaphor crept in and is such a powerful one that it haunts me. Mark and Georgie’ s wedding if they had achieved it would have been a non religious service in a church, the pefect compromise for the romantic atheist that Mark was. This would have been possible as Normanton is no longer a registered church but an ancient monument licensed for weddings, a relic from the flooded village beneath Rutland Water that had to be sacrificed to create a reservoir. It is a perfect spot for a summer wedding.
I think I’ll always say ‘four’,
in answer to questions.
Four sons. I have four sons.
Don’t make me say ‘three’.
Three will refuse to fall
off my tongue.
Ask me what they do
and I’ll say three live
and one lives on;
in the hearts of his brothers;
in the hearts of his friends;
in the hearts of his parents.
And in the girl he loved
and wanted to marry,
in an ancient chapel
at the edge of a lake.
Susan Jane Sims, 20th July 2017
7th July 2017
A Metaphor for Life?
What you can’t see in this picture of the Southfield larvae is the small frog, who has climbed part way up the thick stem of the plant whose leaves they are eating. He is there, motionless, his arms embracing the stem, waiting for the larvae who gorge themselves too much to tumble off their leaf into his mouth. I was delighted to have provided a moth nursery and asked Project 2017’s butterfly expert Sarah Gregory if she could identify what these gorgeous creatures were. Which indeed, she did. They are the larvae of the Buff-tip Moth, Phalera bucephala (Linnaeus, 1758). When they finish feeding, they will pupate and not emerge into the garden until the summer of next year. Strange to think that these little creatures will be sleeping soundly through all the months it will take me to finish the draft of my Venice Book.
31st May 2017
A Story by the Fireside at Trelay
from Verona Bass
It had to be the right story (click link to read Verona’s story) for the community’s 10th anniversary to celebrate Trelay Farm Eco-village near Crackington Haven in Cornwall. I saw the project take off before 2007 when a good friend had the idea, and encouraged her to do it. It’s taken a lot of ‘doing’ and is a thriving place. This late May evening had a Sixties theme for dressing up just to make everybody try and look colourful. I had no prior notice of this so I don’t look very Sixties but I reckoned I was a living relic so that was allright.
I was asked to offer a story at the fireside out of doors after we’d had the buffet, speeches and photos. There were several children there, and I knew it had to work for them too. I had ‘found’ my story on a walk through Rocky Valley and along a cliff edge past flowering gorse and thrift on the coast path. The fable of an eagle who thought like a chicken, who was liberated from being confined with chickens after being rescued after a storm by the chicken farmer, came to me. I researched online, and then I wrote it up in my own words, so that I could make it part of me…
The fire blazed high with old pallets, waste wood, dried gorse etc. When I had the go-ahead to start, I found my position at an angle to the fire, not so close as to get burned, and to avoid the sun’s direct glare onto my face. The sun was still high, behind people, and almost blinding. The audience were mostly sitting on rough benches and by wooden picnic tables, or on the ground, maybe thirty people including children. It was a sylvan scene, with some large trees nearby and a green backdrop. The children were clustered on a rug in the centre and I kept addressing them to try and keep them with me. A couple of adults encouraged the very youngest to join with the refrain. It was told in an adult manner without a patronising children’s type of voice, though.
My introduction was a short enigmatic piece by Christopher Logue, a Sixties literary character, which seemed appropriate to get them used to my voice first, and set the scene.
Come to the Edge.
Come to the edge.
We might fall.
Come to the edge.
It’s too high!
COME TO THE EDGE!
And they came,
And he pushed,
And they flew.
I then went straight to the fable’s theme by asking everybody to practice the refrain first:
‘Eagle, You are an Eagle. You belong, not to the earth, but to the sky; Stretch out your wings and fly.’ (Only I offered a simpler version which lacked the rhyming element, saying ‘You belong to the sky, not to the earth’, and I regretted that, as they would have got it, and enjoyed the rhythm more.)
I felt the ‘Awen’ as the story progressed, because I lost the sense of ‘me’, and became the vessel for the story, and whatever it gave to people. I pictured the scenes in my head, and raised my arms high as the eagle stretched out his pinions and took off from the mountain top, till he became a speck. I was thanked for the story, even the next day, and that is the reward.
23rd May 2017 – an Australian autumn
from Sue Sims
In the middle of April, Chris and I flew to the other side of the world and found ourselves experiencing an Australian autumn. It was warm and sunny most days, very much like an English Summer at its best. This was our first visit to Australia and we spent our time in Western Australia; Perth, Kalgoorlie and Margaret River. For me it was particularly interesting to reflect on the fact that I could have been born in Perth. Back in the nineteen fifties my father had wanted to emigrate. In fact he went so far as to book ten pound passages for himself, my mum and my sister. But Mum did not want to go and put her foot down firmly. Apparently Dad did not forgive her easily. On a trip to Fremantle we saw the very spot that the ships from England docked and the tour guide mentioned the ten pound passage. I had a very strange feeling at that moment.
Australia felt very British and we felt comfortable there. It felt sad though that there is so little left of aboriginal culture. In Perth I don’t think we saw single person who looked like they were of aboriginal descent. We did see some in Kalgoorlie though and in Margaret River. In fact a highlight of our trip was spotting an Aboriginal cultural centre and stopping to visit. The woman in charge gave us an impromptu tour of the grounds and a tiny, yet enlightening glimpse into an almost lost culture. She described the slaughter of her people, the Wardandi people as genocide as indeed it was.We were struck by the folk remedies she described and how the people took just what they needed and no more from their environment. Below is a photograph of a smoke hut still used by the women in a ritual designed to relieve worries and stress.
16th May 2017
a post from John Richardson
the making of prayer
(In praise of the cherry blossom by John Richardson)
This tree has no need of words; there is music here.
Autumn had made for her a leisurely disrobe,
winter fashioned a shroud, bereft nights
left her silent, naked and drear
under white blankets she slept upright,
patient, having faith that greening again
would come, after the sun, after the rain,
budding tiny fists furled tight with promise,
each miniature star burst – a sky kiss,
make this, our longed for, welcome prayer.
Not needing words, she sings earth’s music;
dances on air.
14th May 2017
Sad postscript to the spider study below. This afternoon’s hailstorm washed away the two colonies and their supporting webs. The few remaining spiders are attempting to regroup, but there seem to be too few of them to succeed. Like Mark’s ducklings, they too have probably fallen victim to the horrors of the spring.
13th May 2017
Almost fluorescent yellow with a single round black blob on their backs, the spiders are the produce of the common Araneus diadematus – or cross orbweaver – species, which lays anywhere from 300 to 800 eggs each autumn. The mothering spider then cements her minuscule eggs together by covering them in a dense layer of coarse protective yellow silk and detritus – fragments of dead organisms and fecal matter – to protect them over the winter until they hatch in spring and early summer. These two adorable clusters hatched a day or two ago on the Southfield garden mint. It doesn’t quite feel like an invasion…..but do check out below….
7th May 2017
Spring on the pond by Mark Haworth-Booth
Eighteen wild ducks spent the winter on our pond – most were born here last year – and recently a pair of them produced a clutch of 14 ducklings. The nest was in a well-chosen site, concealed by the quite thick curtain of ivy close to our back door. I fed the mother duck surreptitiously so that the others didn’t notice. One early morning, on my way to the summer house where I read and write, I came across the new family making their way across the lawn in the direction of the pond. My wife has fenced our garden against rabbits so I opened a gate and the ducks were able to continue towards the water and relative safety – I have seen foxes take ducklings in the blink of an eye. So far so good.
I went to check on the new arrivals a few hours later and they had disappeared. I was pretty sure that they had made for a nearby stream below us on our neighbours’ property – mother ducks sometimes do this because they fear that drakes will murder a rival’s offspring. Sure enough, my neighbour appeared later with a gorgeous duckling cupped in his hands – the only pure yellow one in the clutch. He had found it cheeping loudly in his vegetable garden by the stream. There was no sign of the rest of the family. I cupped my hands and received the lost infant, thanking our kind neighbour for Saving Private Duckling. I was very aware of the tiny heart beating and the only just formed wings ready to flap out of my grasp. I held the duckling while my wife found a box, wire netting to cover it, and some straw. Despite the ground-up chicken pellets and bowl of water provided, the duckling hurled itself again and again at the top of the box. It was intent only on escape and returning to its family. In fact, I soon found them, resting at the side of the pond among the reeds. When I placed the duckling close to the mother it turned back in my direction but the duck made some quiet quacks and the prodigal re-joined the brood.
I have placed a couple of rafts on the pond so that the ducks can roost in safety. However, the next morning there were only nine ducklings, the morning after only five, the next day two. Two remain, a week after that clutch of fourteen first made its appearance, one being the pure yellow one, aka Blondie. The mother seems uninterested in them but they doggedly traipse after her and the drake. Maybe now there are only two ducklings they can sleep safely at night under her wings. I walk down to the pond each morning fearing the worst. I shan’t forget cupping my hands around that small, urgent, bundle of life.
After writing that this morning, I went down to the pond to fill the birdfeeders and check on the ducks: now only Blondie survives from the clutch of 14 ducklings hatched only a week ago.
7th May 2017
Spring by Janet McClean
7th May 2017
23rd April 2017
St George’s Day
Three Views of Spring by Ann Preston
three lookout rooks
on three pointed pine trees
spiralling sprays of white camellia
crammed into my largest vase
a blackbird framed in the doorway
eyeballs me from the wall
16th April 2017
Four Ways to Look at Spring by Susan Jane Sims
Spring’s bloodied lambs
are licked clean
who will later cry
for their lost children.
in long Spring grass;
behind locked doors
blades are sharpened.
This Spring’s an interloper
coming much, much too soon.
Before my heart’s repaired.
builds twig by twig by twig.
11th April 2017
Thirteen Ways… from Lesley Saunders
The eyelets of spring are pinched
and metal-rimmed, letting barely anything
through; only this ribbon of spinning light.
A woman holds her hands a little way apart,
an unfinished space like the wait for the first words
of a new story, like the gap through which a grown man might slip.
Meanwhile the earth opens – grass
is not what it was, rising again
through the mist, shouldering stones aside
with its shining blades.
Left over from Christmas a gilt angel –
no bigger than the brazen wasp that butts
itself against a square of solid light – has slid
between the slats of the kitchen table;
glints in the angle of the sun.
(How could she not have noticed?)
Already, grubs of bread-and-milk to feed the gapes
of glistening newborns are squirming
in the hutch of spring – the hopeful word
for which is abdomen or womb.
And suddenly the air is full of fledgling names:
snowdrop, catkin, pussywillow, cowslip;
they are pale and precocious, their burred pollens
catch in her throat.
Even while they sleep
their pale foreheads nudge away the soil
and they come flailing out of her torn ground
like some wonder-tale, ashy-haired and ancient
as Egypt – these nurslings frail and dangerous as glass.
She gathers her blue folds round her.
People call it ultramarine because she came all this way
in a sail-less boat, bringing a dish of pomegranates
though what they notice is the wild inescapable light,
how momentarily it pools in the distance of her eyes,
trembling there like the frail ice they know themselves made of.
In the walled garden the stations of the spring:
lily-of-the-valley, rose of Sharon, star-of-Bethlehem,
A broken eggshell empty of everything but light
and birdsong floats away like a shred of sky,
a bright-eyed begging-bowl.
And now look how thickly the world closes over
the absences it has created, honeysuckle
poking its quicknesses into these roofless upstairs rooms,
and the carpentry of woodpeckers.
April moon – from Ama Bolton
8th April 2017
One Way of Looking At Spring
[inspired by Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens.]
It was afternoon well into the evening,
The sun’s warmth lingering
As though night would not fall.
A blackbird sang
When I looked up from the washing line.
6th April 2017
Early spring by Mark Haworth-Booth
I think of Blackthorn blossom as the chief player in the drama of early spring. Compared to Hawthorn, the blossoms are slightly off-white instead of brilliant white. On this bright, slightly chilly day (6 April), Blackthorn is still dominant in our North Devon hedgerows but the Hawthorns are beginning to come into flower. These are the other cast members, roughly in order of appearance: Primroses, Celandine, Stitchwort, Wild Daffodil, Red Campion, Wood Sorrell and Bluebell.
In addition to the flowering plants, the ferns make their entrance. A week or so I noticed how the bracken in our neighbours’ wood is simultaneously sending up new shoots, each with its crozier-shaped top unfurling, and letting the old leaves drop back onto the earth (and thence into it). Yesterday I photographed the same process in the Hart’s Tongue ferns on the banks of our lane: erect new bright-green shoots and prostrate darkening old ones. Dying off takes place as new life busts through.
On a day in late May a few years ago a hailstorm roughed us up in North Devon on its way east to blitz the Chelsea Flower Show. The next morning I walked down the lane to find that all the white Wild Garlic (Ramson) flowers had been torn off the plants and formed a bridal train. I wondered if the flowers were ready to leave the plants, with their work done, or whether the wrenching was premature. We know so much more now about the intelligence of plants, so it seemed possible that the flowers were ready to fall.
In a similar spirit, the beech trees, and beech bushes in hedges, will be shedding their old brown leaves as the new green ones emerge. In this way, the beech is a special shelter tree, keeping the curled brown leaves of autumn in place to mitigate the winter winds, and then the early spring ones, right up until the new leaf generation is ready to take over. As a parent, I’d like to emulate that – surviving long enough for my daughters to be ready for my departure.
25th March 2017
A Roman Spring by Sue Boyle
Six days after the vernal equinox, there were balmy breezes on central Rome’s lungoteveri to which, since midnight, many of the access roads had been closed. The 27 EU leaders were meeting to congratulate themselves on their continuing domination of the continent. By breakfast time, the polizia and the carabinieri had taken up positions on the various bridges which might have given the marchers access to the suburb of Trastevere. Across the city, an estimated 35,000 people were assembling to play a variety of parts in the beautifully planned unfolding of the day.
Around the world, other people were presumably celebrating rather differently. March 25th is apparently National Lobster Newburg Day. It is Brothers and Sisters Day. Also Tolkein Reading Day, Pecan Day and International Waffle Day – this last alluringly appropriate for the kinds of political sloganising which had taken over the streets and marbled halls of central Rome.
Assembled in the morning near the Bocca della Verità – the stone carved mouth of truth just outside Santa Maria in Cosmedin – were various good tempered groups of EU enthusiasts and federalists, waiting without complaint to be given the go-ahead to march. Their costumes and banner slogans were underscored by a sightly surreal playlist from the stage…. Edith Piaf’s Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien , the barricades song from Les Miserables, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy….. the federalists had chosen themselves a rousing selection of good tunes. It was springtime. The police were relaxed. A man had created a walking parasol of interesting thoughts. There were union jacks, plenty of blue face paint and lots of people cloaked in the EU flag. There was a lopsided balloon.
The afternoon march of the anti-EU protestors was expected to number 8,000 and a suitable number of fiercely armoured carabinieri and polizia and heavy vehicles had been deployed. The starting point was close to the Pyramid of Cestius which flanks the Protestant Cemetery where Keats lies beside his friend Joseph Severn and where Shelley, Mary Shelley and Mary’s son William also have their graves. More relevant to the day, this cemetery is the burial place of Antonio Gramsci, founding member of the Italian communist party, many of whose members were marching up with their scarlet banners from Testaccio. Gramsci’s theories how ruling bourgeoisies consolidate and maintain their power are as relevant in today’s elite-dominated Europe as they were in his lifetime, but March 25th was a day for photographs, not for political debate.
The groups streamed up Via Marmorata towards the Lungotevere Aventino. . The polizia maintained their blockade of the Ponte Sublicio and the Ponte Palatino. When it became necessary, they skilfully prevented access to the hill. The marchers waved their flags and raised their banners. The watchers took photographs. The press did interviews. The blindati , like a herd of blue elephants, closed ranks, advanced a little at a stately pace, halted, advanced again. We took more photographs. A man in a wheelchair moved into the path of a police vehicle, whereupon everything had to halt. A passionate woman on a pale pink bicycle joined the man in the wheelchair to argue the protestors’ case. Now the forest of cameras and tablets and phones had to be held high if the lenses were to glimpse the unfolding scene. We crowded in. We took more photographs. The march could not move forward and for half an hour the police were not given instructions to move back. To fill the time, we took more photographs.
Eventually the blindati were given permission to back slowly down into the piazza, where the marchers followed them and where it seemed unlikely anything much was going to happen, except more standing in the sun and – yes, of course – more photographs.
On the way home, spring really did announce itself unequivocally. Two rose-ringed parakeets flustered themselves down into one of the plane trees that line the lungotevere and started their mating ritual which consisted of one jumping uncertainly on to the back of the other, flapping his wings, failing to achieve balance, tumbling off, and choosing instead to start a tender sequence of beak strokes and gentle nibbles, as if feeding his rose-ringed beloved tiny grains of corn.
Spring had arrived in Rome.
19th March 2017
An uphill walk by Susan Jane Sims
Chris and I braved fierce March winds on Friday afternoon to walk the mile up hill to my children’s old secondary school. I noticed several gardens bordered with yellow forsythia and made a mental note to cut a sprig from our bush to bring Spring in to the house. Our reason for going was, that at the instigation of an ex teacher the school is planning to create an award in Mark’s name and we had been invited to discuss what we feel would be appropriate. It is eleven years since Dave and Mark left the school and we are very touched that they want to do this. Our suggestion is for an inclusive annual award for a student who has ‘beaten the odds’ in some way, be that socially, health wise or a specific act of kindness or bravery.
The head teacher had never met Mark but told us that he found his blog inspiring. He took us for a tour around the school and we got to stand and gaze at the fantastic artwork and design projects on the walls and to peep into several classrooms including one with a bunch of excited Year seven students making scones. Whether it was the scent of baking or the cheeky grin of one of the boys who looked across at us, but Mark’s face came to mind. He would have been in his element there amongst his friends creating something good to bring home to surprise us all with.