Monday, October 30, 2006

Jeans and Walking Shoes

I love my jeans. All of them. But the pair I wore yesterday especially.

They fit. Perfectly. They are long in the leg, and when you are 5 foot 9 inches tall that counts for something. The waistband moulds itself to the body without being too tight and the now-faded blue denim is soft against the skin. There is a patch on the left knee where I fell over and tore the fabric after slipping on wet leaves. I’ll continue patching them for as long as necessary.

They have magical properties. I put them on and suddenly become strong, confident and at ease. When I’m happy in my own skin they make me feel really good. At other times I end up feeling better.

Sunny and warm with a cloudless blue sky, yesterday's weather somehow matched the jeans. I had to be in Chelsea by late morning and thanks to the clock change was up and ready far too early. There was time to go on foot. I changed into walking shoes and headed out the door.

The combination of a long stride and an impatient nature means that I set a faster pace than most. Across the common I overtook dog walkers and parents with small children, continued past the bandstand and the outdoor cafe ....

I'd found my rhythm.

Walking is a favourite therapy, always has been. It's liberating. I know myself to be free, dependent on nothing and no-one to get where I want to go. Stepping out yesterday in the autumn sunshine with the sound of church bells in the distance, feeling momentarily at one with the world, the cheap, comfortable shoes seemed to have grown invisible wings.

A weakness in my lumbar spine has caused me two serious and prolonged bouts of back trouble. On both occasions I was confined to the house for months and each time I wondered if my walking days were over.

So much is difficult and stressful at the moment. No certainties. Much indecision. Some fear.

But I'm also very, very lucky.

Click to enlarge photos.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Perspectives II

the earth calls the raindrops home.
They tremble, then fall.

A friend has a favourite saying: Waiting is an art form. When it's time, he tells me, we move forward. We don't have a choice. The annoying thing is, he's right.

For now I wait. In Becca's words in her comment on the previous post, I live in the meantime. Maybe we are never anywhere else ......

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Uncertainty. Real problems with the sale of the flat.

I can't describe how rattled I am about this, but equally I don't feel justified in complaining. Increasingly, to be a home owner in the UK is a mark of privilege. The fact is that I have a home. A lovely friend, who used to be an estate agent, tells me each time we speak that every property sells eventually.

It's the sense of disorientation that's hardest to deal with. The inner landscape is being stripped away. Predictable thoughts. Familiar feelings. I didn't always like them, but there was a comfort in the habitual. Now, even though the outer circumstances are as yet unaltered, the internal points of reference are being ruthlessly demolished by the prospect of major change. Even more so by the prospect of its deferral.

Transition is uncomfortable. But, alas, comfort probably shouldn't be the goal.

There is some reassurance in living in the present, and I take refuge there. The sound of the steady rain outside is soothing. The cat sleeps on the sofa and companionable voices emerge from the radio in the background. I know that I have a couple of phone calls to return and a yoga class this evening .....

So there we are. It is as it is. Reach out. Trust. Or not. But keep going.

Now, if I could just stop worrying .....

Click to enlarge photo.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Hmmm ....

A truly astonishing, symbolic photograph, The Hurricane Tree, one of the winning entries from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition now on at the Natural History Museum here in London. Taken from the air shortly after a hurricane hit part of Sweden in 2005, in the photographer's words:

"It's as if the heavens had sent a message to the forest industry, reminding them that, in this area, deciduous trees would have withstood the winds much better than pine. ....."

I'd love to see this exhibition but I'm in a quandry.

From a glance at the website, some of the entries are extraordinary and my entrance fee would doubtless support the valuable work done by the museum.

But quite rightly so in my book, there have been protests over the choice of Shell as the exhibition's sponsor because of its environmental record. Will my attendance be taken as an unspoken endorsement of the company's policies?

Or am I just being hopelessly precious about the whole thing? Possibly.

But it's about living comfortably with a small decision.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Going Back (Updated)

Update: I put this post up then almost immediately took it down. It just wasn't right. But Dale's comment here, and Jessie's and Sonia's on the original post encouraged me to rework it - many thanks to them. It's a record of a visit made last July to a childhood haunt.

What brought me back were memories.

I hadn't been to Bradwell for years. It isn't really a beauty spot, just a small fishing and sailing village at the mouth of the River Blackwater in Essex - a lonely, remote corner of the world, frequented by a few holidaymakers partial to fresh air and no commercialisation.

It is also home to a now-decommissioned nuclear power station, whose brutal concrete bulk isn't out of place - aesthetically anyway - in this spare, almost bleak, setting. We used to take it for granted. Like other species, humans adapt.

The plan was to walk from the village along the sea wall to the ancient chapel of St Peter on the Wall, which stands isolated and surrounded by fields at the very tip of the estuary facing the North Sea. As I set off heavy grey skies were being carried eastwards by a strong warm wind.

To the left, on the other side of the banks of shingle, cockle and oyster shells, the tide had retreated revealing an expanse of mudflats, a feeding ground for Brent geese and seagulls. The wind whipped up small wavelets on the surface of the water and rattled the furled rigging of the yachts at anchor in the harbour.

On the landward side the reeds rustled and sighed in the drainage channels. In the distance a tractor crawled along a farm track, the drone of its engine barely audible. Wildflowers - purple mallow, poppies and meadowsweet - bordered the wheatfields. Skylarks sang overhead or rose suddenly from the long grass as I approached. There are so many of them here. I'd forgotten that.

I took a deep breath of sea air and a gust of wind blew my hair over my eyes. I had decided to do this trip alone, but if I had wanted a companion it had already occurred to me that I might have had my work cut out to find one. Lonely mudflats on an overcast day aren't for everyone.

The enemy has generally come from the east, from across the North Sea.

The Romans knew this. They built a fort, at the eastern tip of the estuary against the threat from the marauding Anglo-Saxons. After their departure, in the seventh century a monk from Lindisfarne, St Cedd, constructed a church – my destination - using stones from the abandoned fort, and established a religious community.

In their turn the Danes sailed up the Blackwater to the little town of Maldon a few miles to the west, and defeated the Anglo-Saxons in battle; a
poem of the time commemorates the bloody event. And latterly small concrete bunkers were built along the sea wall prior to World War II, now repositories for shingle and seagrass, for empty cigarette packets and discarded beer cans.

For two hours or so the world consisted of the low scudding clouds, the sea, the fields. I met just three other people. It was unsettling to be here again - there is something about these wide expanses of sky that encourages self-examination. I did this same walk years ago with friends in bright sunshine, when the light was so penetrating that it conjured up an almost hallucinatory, out-of-this-world quality in the surroundings, every small detail clear and vivid ...

The chapel was empty. Given the plain, austere decor, not much imagination was needed to visualise the monks going about their business. Both they and the soldiers who preceded them would have needed to be hardy - in winter there are few colder and more desolate spots.

I stood and listened to the sound of the wind tugging at the stones and tiles. On occasions it died down and the silence was tangible.


Then something shifted. My own personal ghosts were starting to gather, joining those who were perhaps already in situ. Just a few miles away I had swum and played beach cricket and walked along the sea wall at dusk, part of a group of holiday friends, children and adults. As a child I had on the whole been happy here.

But it's really not a good idea to spend too much time with ghosts, even benign ones. You run the risk of becoming disembodied yourself. It was time to go home.


I'm thankful this place is so difficult to get to. I'm glad it has never been on the tourist map. I'm glad that the beaches are of shingle rather than sand and that there are mudflats at low tide.

I don't want it to be spoiled. Ever.

  1. Click on all photographs to enlarge.
  2. Photographs from the top: Sky, land and water; St Peter's on the Wall with the North Sea beyond; view looking out from the interior of the church. Follow the link in the body of the text for more photographs of St Peter's and information on its location and history.
  3. More about the nuclear power station.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


Last Saturday was beautiful. Autumn sunlight. Summer temperatures. Climate change no doubt, but it was hard to resist basking in the warmth. I was househunting.

I may have been successful. It's probably tempting fate to say any more at this stage - there's a long way to go yet, particularly at the more critical selling end where a few minor, or not so minor, problems have arisen.

And there was a bonus. All the walking between properties turned out to be a good way of getting to know the city better. Periodically during the day I would come across something quirky or interesting or picturesque ....

For example there was this telling piece of social history.

Click on the photo if you can't make out the wording.

I'm particularly struck by the name of the philanthropic organisation.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Random Harmonies

Piano hammers
from Piano, Wikipedia

In the evenings after I was in bed my mother would sometimes play the piano. My bedroom was directly overhead so I was a captive audience.

But it isn't the memory of a careful and hesitant Chopin nocturne that lingers. I used to lie there and wait for the chords, the arpeggios and the random harmonies.

I waited for her to start improvising. That's where the magic was.

It was her way of unwinding. Very different from the timidity with which she approached the set pieces, her unstructured playing was relaxed and infused with pleasure. The notes seemed to float upwards through the ceiling and and waft around the bed. I have a dreamlike memory of lying on my side in my nightdress under the covers, probably aged eight or nine, cheek on the pillow and knees drawn up to my chest. Enthralled. Willing her to go on. Praying that she wouldn't stop.

She never gave herself permission to do this for too long. Sooner or later she would strike three or four loud, random, dissonant chords - her way of breaking the spell - and these were followed by the inevitable echoing slam of the piano lid.

The television would be switched on and I could hear it, muffled and indistinct, as I fell asleep.


On the train recently a young man in my carriage took out his guitar and started to strum, singing softly under his breath. Just chords and fragments of tunes, with an occasional pause to tune a string.

The music felt like a caress.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Neither Here nor There

Evening runner, south-west London.

Apologies for the disappearing posts around here of late.

On connected topics, Stray muses about personal boundaries in blogging amongst some beautiful cat photos. And Edie at Just Write teaches creative writing and is posting assignments on her blog for anyone interested in honing their skills. She recently put up a thought-provoking post on the nature and ownership of personal writing. Definitely worth a read, as are the comments.


The Move: the situation is fluid to say the least. Much uncertainty. The bad news is that there is very little I can do about any of it.

That's also the good news.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

And Then

The mobile rang at about 5.30 on Monday afternoon. I was waiting at a pedestrian crossing on a main road with a steady stream of traffic just a few yards away, and could barely make out the estate agent's voice telling me I had an offer on the flat. Yesterday I accepted it.

Things can go wrong. Sales do fall through, purchasers do withdraw. There are no certainties here (there never are any of course) but there are strong possibilities.

The priority now is to find a new home. Starting this weekend I will be spending a good deal of time out of London doing just that.

I'm overwhelmed by the speed of events and have a gnawing anxiety about the magnitude of what still remains to be done. But there are also transient, evanescent glimmerings of excitement and anticipation, and these are almost more alarming than the worries ....

Thank you so very much to all of you who left comments and good wishes on the post below. And for some light relief for any other potential house buyers I found this.

Click to enlarge photo.

Sunday, October 01, 2006


The viewings start tomorrow.

By the evening, in my absence, at least four prospective buyers will have noted the little statue of the Buddha on the windowsill, the wooden angel from the cathedral gift shop, the cosmetics in the bathroom, the books and CDs.

Maybe one or two will glance out of the kitchen window at the lime tree on the front lawn - a visual focal point as I have waited blearily for the kettle to boil on countless early mornings.

They will doubtless stare at the family photographs. My sister will grin confidently back at them. My father will smile diffidently.

As I did myself on my first visit to this home twelve years ago, they will draw certain conclusions from such items, pieces of a jigsaw depicting a life.


It's nothing really. I am just one of millions changing habits, lovers, spouses, towns, jobs, religions, nationalities, countries. Being born. Dying. Millions leaving behind a safety, or a danger, that seemingly no longer serves.

This time I am among those fortunate ones who, it would appear, are setting their own course and choosing their destination. And I am supported.


I met some friends for breakfast this morning and on the way home bought a large bunch of red and white carnations, partly for myself and partly to impress. It took ten minutes to prepare them. The process was calming: fill the cut glass vase with water, strip the lower leaves, snip the ends of the stems, place the flowers one by one in the vase.

White then red then white.