Autumn Leaves

I’ve always felt a turn in the air at the beginning of September. For years I wondered why I felt suddenly sad around this time (aside from the dreaded school term beginning). Then I found Larkin when I was about 15 and the sadness made more sense.

Summer is fading:
The leaves fall in ones and twos
From trees bordering
The new recreation ground…

Philip Larkin, Afternoons

Most of Larkin’s poems are ‘autumn’ poems, or ‘twilight’ poems: endings, sad light on rooftops, leaves falling, people growing old unwillingly. Reading biographical accounts afterwards, and my reaction to them, were my first lesson in ‘separating the writer from their writing’. I struggled with this concept for a long time, very naively wanting writers to be in life the people I conjured up from their art. My dissertation tutor, Dr Helen Carr, reminded me of this when I was writing about Jean Rhys – a writer adamantly opposed to biography –and her message hit home and hasn’t left.

Last weekend was Crab Fair in Egremont, which is a symbol that winter is on its way. The lurid fairground and sad organ music reminded me of childhood.

I’ve been writing a bit in the last few weeks, mostly about the past and much more autobiographically – with some poetic licence – than I have before. I’m trying to write only about what I absolutely have to write about – no frills or trimmings. I used to think that if I visited a castle, or saw a sunset over the sea, I had to capture it in words. Most of those poems have been discarded.

Thinking of Jean Rhys, I’ve always wanted to visit Dominica and felt sad when I saw the images of the aftermath of the hurricane. I thought of the letters she wrote on her first visit home in the 1930’s (she’d left around 1906) about the changes to the island and how I fell in love with it, without seeing it, through Wide Sargasso Sea. I know the latter half of the book so well: the Yorkshire stone and moors and houses with long draughty corridors. The first half remains mysterious and out of reach. I hope the island gets the all the aid it needs as quickly as possible.

I can’t always say what I think/feel/experience in blogs because of my job as much as I want to. Working, looking after child/ren and dealing with day to day stress – money (lack of), health and other things – have felt like a pretty thick mud to wade through this week. That’s what makes us human though (hello Jeremy Vine) and I think it’s good to hear that life’s no bowl of cherries, the grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence (and other clichés) when you’re struggling yourself.

I loved The Rialto this month. Hannah Lowe’s series of poems on miscarriage were brave and brilliant.

This weekend has been a mixture of hiding under covers and physical activity in the garden. We had a bonfire tonight (above) to burn all the old wood and branches and a proper Sunday dinner. Now it’s raining again and I can’t hear the owl. I don’t feel tired, which is typical on a work night, and am going to search the bookshelves for Wide Sargasso Sea.


It’s the 14th anniversary of my dad’s death tomorrow. This week we walked up to Haworth moor, where his ashes are scattered, and put up a long-overdue plaque. The weather was so changeable we didn’t think it would get done (as an electric drill was needed apparently) but after waiting for an hour or so in Cobbles and Clay with lots of screaming, end-of-school-holidays-bored children, the sun came out and we walked up past the parsonage and the old allotments (feeding the hens) and over Penistone Cragg. I think about my dad every single day and that hasn’t faded at all, nor would I want it to. I’m very pleased with the plaque and I think he would have liked the Joyce quote. For anyone who reads this who doesn’t know, he was called Hugo Donnelly – a brilliant writer and lecturer, very witty and extremely kind.

Yesterday was a long crawl through solid M6 traffic back to Cumbria from West Yorkshire. We went straight to the house that’s being done up as a holiday let and I spent the evening spray painting old furniture in silver, blue and pink (‘upcycling’ is the term, but I didn’t know this until recently). I’m really pleased with the results. The wall in the kitchen was also spray painted today and I balanced on a fridge freezer, after climbing a ladder, to try and make an attempt at ‘sunset sky with blue cloud and silver lining’ graffiti. The house is looking very quirky now and hopefully any future bookings will get good feedback. One wall is all old maps in the bedroom and the other old deeds from houses, with wax seals, calligraphy and everything.

The other thing I did today, which I thought I’d never do, is drive a white van about 30 miles. It was scary and felt very high above the tarmac after my series of little cars. I got some very strange looks in the garage and at roundabouts. People must think white van = male builder and I had my hair in two long plaits and my daughter in the back (plus I was driving quite slowly and totally without whitevanman confidence).

I start work part-time tomorrow but I’m probably going to have to look for something else in terms of employment to fill the two days. Something totally different from nursing, but financially it’s not going to be a choice.

I manged to correct a fair few poems on holiday. Some drafts are literally years old and I’m still not satisfied with them. I realised how much sub-standard material I’ve sent out without thinking. I’ve got a full collection of finished poems though, absolutely definitely – to the best of my ability. I’ll just have to work up to sending them off. I really enjoyed The North this month. I thought the standard of poems was really high. I’ve had a lot of disappointments with my writing this year. I definitely don’t write in the ‘in style’, although there is definitely one, very distinct, and I can see why it’s popular.

I’ve got the Sunday Night Blues again as always but it feels worse than usual – maybe because of the anniversary tomorrow (September 2003 felt totally different from this year – it was a real Indian Summer with scorched grass and brown arms and memories of being with dad by the West Sussex coast). I also don’t really feel we’ve had much of a summer at all this year. I’m certainly as pale as ever. I haven’t relaxed much either, apart from a few snatched days in Belper and Mytholmroyd. I’m still thinking of the strange cat that came to the door of May Cottage last week and cried to come in most nights. It clearly knew the place well but looked homeless, a barge cat maybe. It was so loving but such a pest at the same time. I was annoyed when it came and sad when it didn’t.