BOOK REVIEW

This sudden reversion to reading real paper books is just so pleasing, and surprisingly surprising. And, I love the fact that I am actually reading books from my to-be-read bookcase – yes, a whole standard bookcase, taller than me, full of real goodies. It’s been years. In the last few weeks I have had in my hands: The Somnambulist by Essie Fox, Blindness by Jose Aramago, We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo, and Autumn Voices edited by Robin Lloyd-Jones…still to finish the last two. I usually always read poetry in this form so there’s no need to mention them here.

One of the best things about this is I get to now pass the books on and someone else will have the pleasure of them. All of the above are so different from each other: The Somnambulist is a long, slow and beautiful story but as you reach the half-mark you are then racing towards the end; and Blindness, is told in a cold, distant voice with no separated or denoted speech but it drags you in and the horror of the tale holds you in speculative thrall. We Need New Names is funny and charming in the beginning but is full of war residue, enough to break your heart. Autumn Voices is an inspiring read from 20 writers over the age of 70, talking about creativity and how it caught or was instilled in them. I am a very satisfied woman…and today I pick up NoViolet Bulawayo’s book and run to the end.

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I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing

When I were a lass we sang of building
bonfires, putting teachers on the top…now
I’m almost ancient the song returns, pokes
a question: if we build it will he come?
The fool on the hill when I’m sixty-four,
see nowhere man, watching apes screech and lounge
on green leather, eating lice, grooming in
their counting house. All the leaves can never
be brown, mellow yellow left a cake out
in the rain – all my lovin’ was happy
hour, day by day, not ever in blue jeans;
there was a kind of hush, magic moments.
It’s hotter than July here – may we change
the song to these are better days…because.

A Tiny Memoir

I loved little people; the earliest stories were, obviously, Blyton’s. There was a girls magazine, either The Bunty or The Judy that had a weekly series about a girl who had a living doll – that might have been the name of the story. I lived for that, gasping for the next episode. There was something about the measurement, the distance between the human girl and the tiny human-like young woman. I think there was a difference in their ages; I don’t remember the little person being a child, childish in any way. In my memory the girl was being guided, kept (let’s call her Living Doll) the secret and seemed to be helping Doll to stay free. I’ve forgotten all and any of their adventures.

How could I have missed The Borrowers? No one told me about them, about that book. The first one was published in 1952, two years before I was born – so why weren’t they on the shelves of my library? Why didn’t my librarians push them at me? There were four of them – FOUR, by the time I was seven or eight; I spent hours sitting in a corner of that little library; it was barely the size of my whole house…a poor thing really, a classroom on the end of the school. I discovered The Borrowers when the BBC produced the TV series, when I was about forty. When I think of that little me and how she would have adored that world…of course I read all the books, in the end; I bought a huge compilation for one of my nieces and read it all before I gave it to her.

But Living Doll wasn’t the only little person story in my life: one of the Superman comics had a story about a miniaturised city full of people…not sure if it was Krypton or not, but it sat under a glass dome and Superman looked after them…or saved them, or something. Not many people I’ve asked about this remember it – or Living Doll. Maybe I invented them.

It was always the little folk that interested me: not the giants. Being a giant, probably didn’t enter my head. I think I wanted a big doll’s house and never got one – don’t know why, though it would have been about space, I’m sure. From the age of four I was brought up in my grandmother’s house that only had two bedrooms so my parents slept on a pull-out bed in the living room; apparently this was how most people lived in the 50s. In my mind the giant in my life then was that grandmother; I have since written about her as a dragon and an ogre. The other side of the story was that she was very good to us but a dangerous woman to cross, old and crabbit, and guilty of whacking us on the arse with the coal shovel if we were late, or cheeky…or anything.

A TOAST

We clink Prosecco; enthusiastic
sun has escaped winter and burns while snow
clots the hills. All week daffodils across
the road waved at me, called me over. Now
they’re smug, shouting at our daffs, measuring
the amount of sun a long afternoon
offers. Red wine in bulbous goblets sneer
at the tall bubbly glass, and I have one
of each, clink them together. It’s a dark
restaurant…I choose lasagne and latte
with dusting chocolate not realising
that a season had turned. But the hills still
wear white…a radiator warms my back.
All hail Nature and the new calendar.

GOOD THURSDAY

Out of this window the day is thick with rain, but at least it scared the snow away. The whole country is on tiptoes waiting for the season to stabilise – if spring can ever do that. I am in the throes of April-poem-a-day, forcing nature into words, sometimes. Enjoyed a great poetry workshop with Ann McKinnon yesterday which brought me two poems in the long run – one to work on in time and one late last night for the month project…which needs a tweak or two.

I have come out of my hermit life-style quite a lot in the last five months, but only for writerly doings; a new phase has me, not quite a prisoner but slightly addicted and bouncy, although not in a physically active way. The big question is: will I ever get around to fixing the resistance on my new exercise bike. It’s sitting here, facing the window, and a sunnier disposition on the other side of the glass holds promise for the rest of the day. I have to go out for lunch, be sociable with old friends but because I start work at five I can’t join them in supping lovely whisky; a couple of glasses of wine will have to do me. The thing about these get-togethers is our noticing all the absent friends – and there are more of them than us now. We lost three in the last three years alone. There are group photographs of us taken more than a decade ago, one every year, laughing, full of good food and alcohol on New Year’s Day. Everything moves on.

Today’s poem might be stuffed with old pals and toasts, birthday numbers adding up like bills.

I Know Where I’m Going

Sitting here with a pack of Sicilian ham and a tangerine, listening to an audio of Gabriel Garcia Marquez with the fabulous title – Memories of My Melancholy Whores. Never read or listened to this before…loving the start.

When I got back from Glasgow this afternoon, settled down all comfy like, I opened a document I was working on in November 2016 and had to laugh at the first line – ‘Narcissists are people too: a poem title Dancing with Narcissists is running through my head today.’ Before I begin writing this I should check that I wasn’t quoting anything or anyone. Where is my head when it’s not with me? The character in the Marquez book is talking about memory and the struggle to match things up, like names to faces. I don’t think I’m at that stage yet but I keep tripping over pieces I’ve written or notes (like the one above) that have left my head entirely. So I’d better keep on with the collating of diary sections, the memoirs and stories before they sail off into the sunset.

I doubt if I could entitle any of my memories like that above, though I think we could safely call most men whores at some stage in their lives even if they don’t take money for their exertions. And, melancholy never sat at my table, but I’ve just had a twinge of remembering someone in my childhood who suffered (unofficially) from melancholy but who it was escapes me.

The diet is still happening; tomorrow is a weigh-day. I felt a little sprightly this afternoon, even walked up two escalators. It’s all to keep me on the planet as long as possible – to empty my head and heart of poems and tales. Head to tail, top to toe, I will shed half of this bloody beast.

MISSING

I’ve been sharing my bed this morning with Philip Larkin, Harry Dresden, and a bookseller called Shaun Bythell. This is all very calming and serious stuff, to keep me stable in a weekend by myself before the madness that is a family Christmas day. And, this house is full of very dangerous stuff to a woman on a diet – the knowledge that there’s puddings, (meringues for God’s sake) chocolate coins and…my bloody friend has given me a basket of goodies including rum n raisin fudge, friggin shortbread! And jam, of all things; something to sit in my cupboard and snigger at me. But, it appears I have passed the test at 3am this morning…so I will forgive her.

When sleep never arrived I got up and raided the basket, captured (first) the fudge. I ate two. Ha, so there. And then I had an idea: I could have a glass of Irish Cream – that might help me sleep. So on the way out of the kitchen with a glass half-full I stopped by the basket and fumbled in the dark to where I knew the shortbread lived and sauntered back to bed and my audio book. So now I have discovered the secret of how not to eat a whole packet of shortbread with a cup of tea: don’t have the tea. I could only eat one biscuit. Imagine that; it has taken me fifty years to realise this…that the tea was to blame all along.

So, when I got up this morning, around ten, I skipped bran flakes for breakfast seeing as I had that wee nibble in the middle of the night, then had healthy home-made soup at noon, toast at 2 and look forward to a fabulous mushroom omelette for tea. I await my medal. Oh, I forgot to mention that before the meddling with the gift basket I weighed myself to make sure the half-stone had definitely disappeared – even though it was a night-time weighing and might be different. The decision of whether to have a nibble or not depended on it, but I seem to have passed the wavering bloody needle. When I had my real weekly weigh-in this morning it was twenty to the hour on the scales. Yay, I’m in the running for the stone by the end of the year.

Going Home

When I sit I’m free to read, check for chat,
handle my technology, lose myself
for forty minutes,
exchange dimensions.
The train carries me west and north, above
the city and its noise smothers my gasp.
Finn left the world this afternoon. I knew
him on the ether, watched him beach-bounding,
frozen-pointing at the surf. His public
life skirted the edge of mine,
drew me in.
Stations sped past, the carriage lulled the hurt
at this sudden journey for an avid,
eager creature into the sharp winter.
Such is our connected life that we love
who catches our attentions honestly.

View from a Bus

Ooh, the sights you see from a moving bus are all the better from a wee doodle when you get home. I wanted to capture the new snow on our hills; this is the Vale of Leven in West Dunbartonshire, and I am delighted (often) that they are part of my everyday movements – if I actually moved myself out of the house as much as that. Glad to grab the light today after a quick jaunt into Dumbarton to catch the bank, which I nabbed by the skin of my teeth.

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And what a fab little crop this is, taken on Bonhill bridge; this is the top right quarter of an image spoiled by a spar. It looks very midnight-creepy but was taken about 1.30 in the afternoon. I go home satisfied with my dash out in the early winter…may the gods keep us from broken hips.