Ghosts and Bugs

Last week was a week off and we went to Derbyshire again, staying near Belper. Unfortunately I got the dreaded bug that was spreading through the office the week before (although I tried every hygiene method recommended and sanitised my hands to the point of sticky ridiculousness.) I was determined to do things and not lie in bed too much, so we went to see the film IT, which I found most frightening for the memories of 1980’s bathrooms, poor housing and suspect family relationships –rather than the obvious multi-toothed clown. Derby was a nightmare to navigate in the car and the Plaza Lux was up lots and lots of escalators – like finding a needle in a haystack of high street shops, all enclosed in the obscene barn of the InTu Derby Centre. Bolsover Castle was my favourite part of the holiday and we recorded me reading a few of my poems there (avoiding the camera people and history students making a documentary about ghosts). I was nervous and I don’t think I read them so well, but there were lots of footsteps on the stairs – human or otherwise – and I was keen to get them read before other presences appeared! Apparently the ghost of a young boy has been seen in photographs holding the hands of visitors. I kept a hand free in case he needed it. Chatsworth House was a strange sort of place, quite sterile really – but then I was feeling sick and giddy and was irritable with even the most innocent shove out the way by a fellow tourist. We saw fallow deer on the way out which was the highlight. One was scratching its antlers on an oak tree. I loved Autumnwatch as I always do, and on the day I couldn’t get out of bed, I looked forward to the evening and watching it, particularly the fox-box test. I was so utterly sick with this bug (worse with my osophogeal issues) it reminded me of my dad saying, after chemotherapy, how sickness is the most soul destroying feeling – far worse than pain in many ways, and less treatable.

I’ve realised that my blog is a little less than professional – in fact more like ‘The Diary of Kitty D Aged 38 and a Bit’. So I’ll just keep things to a minimum from now on. If anybody would like to see a few poems, I’ve put What Happened on Pudding Lane, Germination and Twins on YouTube, all filmed in Derbyshire on location (as The Rutles may have ironically said). “I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter”, T.S. Eliot said. Well the first is true… I longingly wish for the second.

 

Raised on Promises

Cumbria’s already gripped by autumn. We’ve had floods again this week and I noticed on the school run today how the leaves were letting go, streaming like confetti. I felt like catching one to wish for luck (being superstitious on Friday 13th) but everyone in the passing cars seemed to be staring so I gave up after a couple of attempts and waited in the playground like a normal parent.

I was thrilled to see my two poems in Quadrant and felt very lucky and grateful to Les Murray for publishing them. I got my first ‘proper cheque’ in Australian dollars which I almost threw away by accident – so excited by the magazine – and had to retrieve from the bin in the bottom of the envelope.

It was my birthday last week and I did feel different with a strong sense of time running through the hour glass.

I was very sorry to hear that Tom Petty died earlier this month. His music had been on in the car most days for a few months and so he seemed present and real and it didn’t seem right that he wasn’t on earth anymore. What a productive, inspiring life. The Travelling Wilburys are further reduced.

There seemed so much promise when I was growing up and music was part of that. I felt a sense of possibility that I’m not sure my daughter’s generation feel now. I kept that wonder far longer than children do now. Some of the cynical statements that come of tiny mouths make me laugh, such as ‘…don’t be silly mum. I won’t be a real musician. I might be a secretary who plays guitar in my room after work.’ That was the gem of the week, but not funny in another way. I didn’t believe I could be a writer for a long time. I still struggle with the thought that the word might apply. Only when I’m writing do I feel like I’m a writer.

I’ve read a couple of my poems and they’re on YouTube – The Click of the Lock and Woodman. I didn’t feel very comfortable watching them. It’s like learning to read all over again, hearing your own voice for the first time and waiting to be corrected on accent and pronunciation!

I’ve been reading a lot of Robert Hass who I was introduced to on an Arvon course earlier this year. He’s both simple, with the beauty of simplicity, and highly complex. Some poems I’ve had to read over and over. I’ve also found my favourite ever short poem: Iowa, January.

I’ve struggled to spend my two days off work doing anything productive and gravitate towards the bed like it’s a magnet. I did manage to write 3 poems yesterday and felt much better for doing it. I notice the strangeness of poems that come whole – although they’re songs you already know and have heard again, or that you wrote them long ago and stored them away like nuts to be discovered.

 

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.

Anniversary

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.

Writing by the Rochdale Canal

I’m writing this in Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire, in the last in the row of mill worker’s cottages between the river Calder and the Rochdale canal. It’s a cottage that floods regularly, sandwiched in by water. It backs onto the canal tow path and the living room, which is subterranean, is a great way to people watch. Only a ratter-type dog has spotted us down here so far. The canal’s still and ominous now in the dark. On one side of the road Scout Rock looms and on the other there’s a high clough. There’s an old pack horse bridge and the moon’s directly above it.

The walk into Hebden Bridge today was warm and the canal path was crowded. There seemed to be lots of creativity going on and I saw people drawing, the man who makes the chairs fiercely sawing wood on his boat and a huge tom cat catching mice in the reclamation yard. I wrote a little bit over 2 pints in the pub and then walked back at slept until nearly 9pm! I’m totally exhausted by work – both the nursing side and also doing up the house to rent. It was a long journey here yesterday via Bishop Auckland and I felt so disappointed in myself that I couldn’t even keep my eyes open to read, never mind write. When I go back in a week I’ll be part-time for the first time in years. Time is worth more than take-away pizzas and meals out. I’m quite looking forward to soup and toast for tea.

I’ve written another review for Mslexia on Sheila Hamilton’s The Spirit Vaults. I thought the title poem was excellent. I actually enjoy writing reviews and look forward to getting the books through the post to read. I’m wasting so much time not having mental or physical energy to write. I have finished a few things and have a lot of ideas for new poems. The poet, Em Strang, is running a new course in Edinborough called the Embodied Poetry Workshop which sounds excellent. Contact emcstrang@gmail.com.

Pepper the feral cat is still wild and bringing in lots of spiders and moths, which she eats on the rug! She’s tried hunting a seagull and is getting a bit above herself already. She’s good entertainment in the evenings.

I’ve had that autumn feeling for the first time this week. It’s an involuntary shift of something inside that happens every year as nights become shorter. It’s also nearly my dad’s anniversary (on 4th September) so that’s always lingering in my thoughts, even if I’m not aware of it. The new plaque has come and the plan is to put it up next week where we scattered his ashes on Haworth moor.

I feel lucky to be in this cottage tonight with its uneven stairs and atmospheric surroundings. I’m hoping to borrow a bit of inspiration from it.

Buzzards and Derbyshire

I’ve just got back from a very welcome break in Derbyshire. We stayed in a secluded cottage near Ireton Wood. The nearest town was Belper, a market town where it’s definitely worth looking in the charity shops for clothes, books and strange bargains. Ashbourne was just up the road and the highlight was the Oxfam bookshop. I found a draft copy of the Claire Tomalin biography of Thomas Hardy. Somebody had annotated it in their own, ornate handwriting (eg the typescript ‘dedication’ had a handwritten arrow stating “there was none”. There were also strange little comments in the margins, such as “shame” and “pity there wasn’t”. I was pleased to get it. I also found a copy of The Assassin’s Cloak, which is little pieces from famous diarists, beginning with entries on January 1st and filling a whole year (with multiple years of diary entries from Pepys, Boswell, Virginia Woolf, Siegfried Sassoon to Kenneth Williams and Brian Eno amongst many others). I love the idea of looking up the day’s date and seeing what was going on for others in other times.

Back to the cottage. It had a family of buzzards flying over several fields around it. I didn’t realise before how piercing their cry is, how high and distinct, more insistent than an alarm. They were stunning –flapping once or twice then gliding for a long time over the wood. There were so many animals making noises unseen in the bushes, we thought mealworms might draw them out. I was up and down all night with a torch trying to catch what was depleting the pile of worms. Around 2am, the wood mice, field mice and shrews started to emerge more boldly. I so wanted to see a fox or a hedgehog. It felt like they were hidden just on the peripheries, too smart to be seen.

Other highlights were driving to Eyam, the ‘plague village’ as it’s still known, although I’m sure the inhabitants are pretty fed up with that label. It wasn’t what I expected at all. It was further out, in terms of the National Park. I was surprised by the steepness of the limestone cliffs and the harsh physical geography which reminded me of West Yorkshire. I’d read a lot about it so the museum wasn’t too revealing. What shocked me was that the majority of the cottages the families lived in were still there. There were plaques on most of them. The cottage where the infection broke out, probably from infected materials containing fleas bought by a tailor in Eyam and delivered from London (in the heat of its plague year), was almost next to the church with its Saxon cross in the graveyard. I was moved by the bravery of the villagers, their self-isolation to contain the disease, the courage it took to bury loved ones, to tend to the sick. I was struck by the boundary stone where the villagers left coins soaked in vinegar in exchange for food and supplies. Then there was a huge storm with real thunder and lightening, almost cartoon-like, and most of the tourists ran to their tour buses. It was a spectacular Derbyshire storm and I loved it.

Bakewell was half sun, half rain but the bridge with its ‘love locks’ was beautiful. Half a ploughman’s lunch was fed to the ducks. I was lucky enough to meet up with my uncle and his partner in Buxton. We talked about the family tree – Northern Irish all the way back as can be traced with lots of characters. It made me feel closer to my dad. There was time for reading and laughing at lots of daft things and I realise more and more that is what’s important.

The journey back today was bad – the M6 totally closed. There was an incident witnessed in a lay-by on a back-road the satnav guided us onto which I can only refer to as ‘an unfortunate event and intimate revelations witnessed unwanted while trying to eat tomato soup’. It was much worse than you can imagine.

I’ve just finished Perfect by Rachel Joyce, which turned into an outstanding novel, and Nocturnal Animals (genuinely disturbing) and have lots to look forward to in terms of reading. I wrote 3 poems on holiday. They seemed great at 3am in Derbyshire but will need a lot of work. I’ll just have to think of the buzzards and write dawn ‘till dusk.

Escape

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.