These last two weeks have been a bit tough. Preparing for, and then returning to, work I found especially hard after being off so long. My desk was still there though with all my sweets and snacks in the draws and nothing much had changed. Last weekend we walked from Nether Wasdale across a swamp and then fields to a waterfall. I felt tired at first, every muscle complaining and the effects of the medication I take (which I think is the culprit) causing all my joints to ache. The walk actually helped. I looked in the stone walls all the way along the route (I’d forgotten the metal detector again) and found evidence of animal activity and very old industrial bits and pieces (bits of ploughs, rusted chains, strange bolts etc). We saw the screes running down the mountainside to Wastwater.  I enjoyed a pint of elderflower beer in The Strands Inn beer garden.

I sort of enjoying reading Broken River by J. Robert Lennon, but no character was particularly likeable and that’s always a bit of a barrier. I’ve ordered a good pile of books to read and it makes it easier to get through the day knowing there’s a book waiting. I’ve started another Elizabeth Strout book and ordered everything by David Foster Wallace. I’ve been working on my ‘Oxford’ poems and my ‘Cumbrian’ poems, both sets are written from the perspective of a 9-12 year old. I’ve been looking up the old Oxford of my childhood, as the city has been renovated again – the old Westgate Centre (above which my mum and dad got married in 1976) is unrecognisable. I haven’t been back for a long time but I get reports from my sister. I’m writing about Cornmarket Street before it was pedestrianized and the old basement Co-Op which has got some memories from a strange time. Change always feels like loss to me.

The feral kitten, Pepper, is a ball of energy but very sweet (watching the washing machine go ‘round, falling asleep on the cooker top for some residual heat). She a very skilled little hunter and measures will have to be taken to protect the birds (a bell collar). I’ve been watching films on Netflix about escaping into the wild – some inspiring, some sad and some unintentionally hilarious – one particularly terrible one that involved the largest more impractical backpack known to humanity. I’m spending lots of time looking at places to escape to (such as holidays tracking wolves in Canada and tropical places). I’ve decided there are some things I do want to do while I’m on the planet.

We’ve been watching a strange series called Gypsy on Netflix with Naomi Watts. It must be captivating or intriguing in some unknown way as we’re on episode 9 out of 10 but it’s also very slow and frustrating. The main character is a therapist who has an identity crisis, leading her to meddle (very unprofessionally!) in her patients’ lives.

Today has been rainy, which is not unusual for a Sunday in West Cumbria. We’ve been to see Dunkirk, which I thought was excellent – and then Harry Styles made an unexpected appearance! We drove to Cockermouth and had tea in the The Bitter End pub.  I’ve realised this blog’s particularly lacking in poetic content. I had a lovely (poetic!) email from a poet I met on the Arvon course and I really appreciated that. Now I’m wondering whether to write or read but am not keen for Monday to begin, starting the week’s carousel of duties. I’ve put a picture up of me drinking tea, revising a few drafts and watching the birds in the yard only because all the old, nostalgic Oxford photos I’d chosen were under copywrite (with names written across them when I tried to copy them) and at least the picture’s got a bit of poetry in it. There’s an owl hooting in the trees opposite and I feel lucky to be sitting here listening to that.

Manchester, the persistent past and a feral kitten

I wasn’t sure whether I’d get myself to the Radiohead gig in Manchester on Tuesday. I didn’t feel well and was a rubbish travelling companion for most of the way. Once we’d changed trains at Barrow, I woke up a bit and enjoyed the scenery – the sands of Morecambe Bay, the birds, the derelict caravans and the old rail stock at Carnforth, rusting and side-lined, reminding me of rail journeys in childhood when the trains were named and carriages had separate compartments.

You forget what city life is like living in Cumbria too long and I was very excited by Manchester Piccadilly: the huge, empty old buildings around it, the Pret a Manger (always a bonus) and just the volume of people. At the Emirates cricket ground there were 50,000 more! There was a large police presence, some on horses, organising and herding but, once inside, it was a total free for all – a crush really. It was hard to see the band, apart from on the screens but the sound was good (loud) and they were on form and, I thought, gave it everything they had – the most important thing.

I was so happy to see my sister who had driven up from Leamington Spa. We grew up in Oxford when one of the band worked in Our Price and sold us records on Cornmarket Street when we were children. we saw them advertised outside pubs in Jericho in the late 1980’s before they were famous. So it was a special night, as much about the past as the present. We couldn’t get out of the carpark afterwards as the roads were gridlocked so we went to a 24 hour supermarket and bought wine which we shared in the car. We saw a fox slink across the road on the way back, which was a novelty for me as much as it was an expectation when I lived in London. The hotel (not named here but definitively named and shamed on Tripadvisor) had ‘overbooked’ so my sister didn’t have a room. We made the best of it and laughed over the obscenities of George Formby and other silly things before she had to drive back at about 3am.

My partner brought home a feral kitten this week, found in some derelict flats. It came to him and he ‘had’ to have her. She’s already putting on weight and (hopefully) the fleas have been eradicated tonight. She’s a lovely little thing, playful but happy to play on her own too with bottle tops and boot laces.

We went to Whinlatter forest on Saturday. We walked the ‘red’ trail to the streams and I washed my hands in the waterfalls (a thing I always do). I desperately wanted to see a red squirrel but didn’t. We heard a chiffchaff calling its own name repeatedly and note-perfectly and saw some very unusual dragon flies. Today we went to The Farmer’s Arms in Portinscale, near Keswick and had a late lunch and a pint.

I’ve written a bit this week, but have struggled with the content of what my ‘brain’ – for want of a more psychiatric term – is coming up with. What’s being written obviously needs to be written. Nothing’s certain at the moment, job-wise, house-wise, health-wise and in other ways too. That’s the hardest thing. Certainty, even when it’s devastating, is somehow easier for the human condition to deal with I think. I’ve loved reading the sequel to The Unexpected Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey. I found the hospice scenes especially moving and they brought back memories for me. I also found it believable and very moving, a book I would’ve liked to have written.

Temps Perdu

Still being signed off work, I’ve had a lot of time to dwell on wasted time, to remember things past, to go hunting for lost time. I’ve been writing some poems about Jericho in Oxford in the old days, which is unrecognisable from Jericho now (people pulling Dalmatians along on bikes past delis as my sister put it). I was thinking of Lucy’s Iron Works that used to loom over the canal (and where dad used to work), the smell and sounds of it, the glow of the furnaces, fearful and fascinating. There are luxury flats there now (not a Larkin quote – there really are) and the beauty of industrial decay has gone. I felt sad that I can now never tell my daughter what to look out for in Jericho and what those things meant. It would be more like a sad old woman’s reminiscence: “where those flats are there used to be…. In my day there were no bistros”.  I remember the student flats dad took us into, springs sagging from sofas, ‘70’s décor, books stacked on floors. I’ve also written a bit about the disastrous move to Cumbria when I was 11, the permanent damage it did like a bad storm and how it moulded my views of the world. There’s a poem about Swansea in there too and my time working for the DVLA in a high-rise in those strange years after dad died. I hope there’s some good in some of them.

I’ve been reading some of Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry, which I admire for its skill but find cold at times. I’ve been listening to music in the day and lots of radio. It’s funny how doing nothing leads to more nothing, the same way excess sleep leads to tiredness. I feel less tired at night always, even after a full day at work. I’ve been watching Broken, the Jimmy McGovern series – Interesting and hard work. I’ve read Mudbound; The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry; Brooklyn and many other charity shop books. I started writing one as well, but it’s stalled for now.

I’ve been attending to the bird table again with passion this week. It’s funny what interests you find when you’re not working all the time. They’ve had gooseberries, seed, bread, red currents, rice…. The robin comes every day and also now a song thrush. A pair of collared doves come down together sometimes. They’re always too quick for the camera lens.

I haven’t felt up to much, but this weekend we did go to Ennerdale Lake. We waited until late afternoon and the rain was blinding. My mascara stung my eyes to the point where I couldn’t see at all (and missed the duck and 8 ducklings). The lake was misty and the hills stood out like ghosts in the distance. I didn’t mind getting soaked really and enjoyed the pint in the Shepherd’s Arms afterwards. It was nice getting home to the wood burner and some rubbishy films on Netflix. Life’s still on hold at the moment. You think it’ll be like a respite or an oasis, but there’s no peace of mind without some certainty.