Stale, mate

 

Stale, mate

 

I’m stuck, trapped, boxed in.

Whichever way I move,

It brings me back to here,

Walled in and cornered.

I’m sick of the knife-edge tango

This dance with balance

and the relentless Dark Queen

Chasing me across the board.

I tap-dance between squares,

Trying to escape with clever moves

returning always to this state.

Breathing space, for a short while

Means I can fool myself I am free

Before the shadow of the Queen

Falls long across the field

And in a few moves, I’m locked up

Pinned down and frantic.

I concede: you win.

No rematch, please.

 

The Healing Power of Metaphorical Mud

 

The Healing Power of Metaphorical Mud

I took the train yesterday across the frozen land between my small coastal port town and our nearest big city, Norwich. Traces of snow still showed here and there like dirty cream at the sides of roads, and the trees were all coated with a fine fur of hoar frost. Standing water was grey with sheet ice, and water birds huddled in stoical groups waiting for the thaw; slow-running water was sealed with a layer of rotten ice, broken and untrustworthy for anything larger than a mouse. Rivers were flowing under filmy remains of ice, but the landscape held little comfort for humans. The immense skies for which this area is famous were layered with clouds and colours ranging from palest apricot to brilliant turquoise, but I preferred to enjoy the scenery from the warmth of the train. Stepping out into the city, I wished I had brought gloves and headed first for a hot coffee before beginning my shopping.

As I walked around the city, I reflected on how the unusually cold weather my land was enduring might seem mild to those who live through the fierce winters of Canada and parts of Europe where once winter has begun, it holds the earth hard in its grip until the spring thaw. In Britain winter bites and releases many times until spring, but the milder times are a time of terrible mess. Once the land thaws, the water imprisoned in snow and ice flows freely, often causing localised flooding, and when the floods recede, mud and filth coat everything.

Snow was once referred to as poor man’s manure, because it brings with it minerals that feed the land, and mud, however foul it smells, feeds the often impoverished farmlands. Egypt relied on its annual floods to keep the farmland fertile.

Water as an element is often equated to emotions and feelings and the state of being frozen emotionally is often one that can become a state of normality for some people. To feel nothing is sometimes a blessing but it can’t carry on for long. Like winter, it won’t last forever, and that’s when the mess comes.

Mud and tears.

After the snow: the rain.

After the rain: the flood.

After the flood: the mud.

Snow imprisons me

And I dread the thaw:

Tears, anger and the mud.

What a mess!

But the black Nile silt

Laid thick across the plain

Made Egypt once

An Empire’s breadbasket.

Let then the ice melt:

Welcome the dancing torrents

And await the healing mud.

Of course, the state of transition between emotional states is deeply disturbing. It feels as though chaos and ruin reign. Nothing feels as it ought. There is mess everywhere; we cannot control our feelings, our reactions. We become coated in mud.

But mud, whether literal or metaphorical, contains nutrients that feed the land, or the ground of our being. And a garden that is well nourished brings forth flowers and fruit in their season.

Watching your garden emerge from the dark dank seasons of mud and muck and ice is a beautiful thing. Seeds from who knows where have been washed in, too. Some may germinate and surprise you by the beauty of what they bring; some may be no more than weeds. But mud brings growth and change.

Don’t be too hasty to wash it all off. You never know what strange and wonderful things it may have brought to you.

The Uninvited Guest

  The Uninvited Guest 

I felt him come in; through the noise and colour and lights of the party, I felt him come into the room and stand quietly to one side, not mingling,  just waiting and watching. We have such a deep connection he didn’t need to tell me he was there; I knew. Maybe there was a change in the air, maybe I smelled him, his scent distinct as the ozone smell before a storm breaks. Whatever it was, I knew he’d arrived and I felt a brief flare of rage that he should just turn up here, uninvited and unwanted, when I was trying to enjoy my party.

The heat of the room was pleasant still and I was passing from guest to guest, making conversation and laughing, but all the time I could feel his eyes follow me round the room. He wouldn’t do or say anything yet; from experience I knew he could be trusted to behave for a while longer. He might even be decent company for some guests but if that were the case, as I shut the door on the last few to leave, there’d be hell to pay for ignoring him all evening. I had to act.

I sidled up to him; he’s an expert sidler so he appreciated that, and grinned at me as I took his elbow and guided him into the kitchen. With my foot wedged against the door, to stop anyone else coming in, I looked at him sternly and felt furious that he just laughed.

“What are you doing here?” I demanded. “I didn’t invite you.”

“You never do,” he said, his mouth turned down in a quirky mock frown. “You never do.”

“Well, what do you expect? You’re a right royal pain when you’re with me. You make my friends hate me,” I said.

“No,” he said and I saw that the joking was over. “They don’t hate you. Honestly. They don’t even know about me, most of them. Or care. I know I make you different when I’m with you, but is that such a bad thing?”

“Yes,” I said.

Someone rattled at the door.

“Just a minute,” I called.

“Look,” I said. “You can stay, all right, but please don’t upset anyone.”

“Deal,” he said and held out a hand.

Reluctantly I took it and he squeezed it.

“We do need to talk,” he said gently and I could see he meant it.

“Later, when everyone’s gone,” I said.

“You always say that,” he said.

“Maybe this time I mean it,” I said.

He kept his word and behaved like a perfect gentleman. I’m not sure anyone really noticed him among the guests; he certainly didn’t stand out as anything out of the ordinary. Nonetheless, I was glad when I shut the door behind my last guest and knew there was nothing more he could do to spoil my party.

I was collecting glasses and he came up behind me, making me jump and drop glasses. I scrabbled to retrieve them and set them down on a coffee table.

“We need to talk,” he said again.

“Then talk,” I said. “I have all night now. What do you need to tell me?”

The Peach Tree

I woke up this morning remembering the peach tree in Ely.

I’ve lived in many places in England over the years but from 1997 to 2003 we lived in a small village in the heart of Norfolk. England is a small country but within it, each area is very distinct and different from each other and Norfolk is famous for a number of things: being totally flat, inbreeding and the Broads. I grew up in East Anglia so the flat landscape has always been a familar one to me. We currently live in a town that is referred to as The Gateway to the Broads and for those who don’t know, the Broads are a watery landscape of slow moving rivers and marshes, very popular with boating holidays and nature lovers. I’ve only ever been on the edges of the Broads; the landscape and the type of holiday it promotes has never appealed to me.

When we lived in Norfolk, the village we lived in was so small there were only about 300 people eligible to vote, our nearest shop was in the next village two miles away and the nearest town was almost seven miles away. It was very peaceful and a good place for my daughter to grow up. Living so far from any sort of civilisation meant that you had to plan shopping and things like dentists and so on, as well as keep a fairly well stocked pantry and freezer. Our nearest town was the little market town of Downham Market and for most things, it sufficed but if you wanted anything a bit more exotic, you had to got further afield to King’s Lynn, Norwich, Swaffham or Ely. Ely was about 20 miles away, all through the Fens and at one time before the draining of the Fens, much of this landscape was waterlogged and impassable for the winter months. The Romans began the draining of the Fens and it continues to this day with a landscape of ditches and dykes cutting across the countryside and making it useful farm land. Once, prehistoric forests covered the land before being swamped and lost; bog oak is hauled up every time some farmers plough and a friend used to use my Landrover to go and collect loads of iron hard ancient wood (like ten thousand and more years old)for her fire, that had been ploughed out and left for anyone who wanted it at the side of the road. It took days to saw into manageable chunks and the wood burned very slowly and gave off both heat and a weird blue light as it burned.

It was a lonely life in some ways. I’d not got into the Internet when we first moved there and indeed, even when we left we were still on dial-up. So a trip to Ely, my favourite of our local towns was a treat we would enjoy and extend beyond whatever business we had. My husband used to take me on his day off, and we’d often have a pub lunch. On  Saturday there was a superb Craft market(Thursday was ordinary market day) that meant you could find interesting clothes and so on.

Our favourite pub was quite unpromising until you found the garden. It was just a fairly ordinary pub, about ten minutes walk from the Cathedral and it was only the notice that announced a secluded pub garden that drew us in the first time. This was our summer pub; we went to another in the winter, within a short dash from the Cathedral. The garden was lovely; well tended but not overly manicured and the food was nice standrad pub grub, not expensive and not too fussy.

One of the lovely features of the garden were the trees. Whoever had orignally planted the garden had chosen well; smaller trees that would not shade too much but give dappled shade in the summer heat. One tree attracted me greatly because my own had recently died; a peach tree. Mine had been in a pot, so it could be moved in harsh winters, but it had been attacked by a parasite and had succumbed.

One day in late summer we had lunch at the pub and the peach tree we’d seen bloom so marvellously in the spring was so laden with ripening fruit is seemed impossible. Pound after luscious pound of golden peaches hung from the boughs; the tree seemed to be groaning with the weight of its fruit. It’s rare for a tree like the peach to bear much fruit in our cold and unpredictable climate and I commentd on it to tha landlord.

“Oh yes,” he said. “It’s always been very fruitful, that one.”

He didn’t seem to think anything of it. That was our last visit of the summer and it was mid spring before we were back and I had a shock.

The peach tree had been pruned to almost nothing. Stumps of its branches remained, sprouting leaves but nothing more, I was horrified and I asked about it.

It turned out that the previous year when the tree had been so laden, it had been too heavily laden and the main branches had been beginning to split and break off with the sheer weight of fruit. A tree surgeon had been called in and had recommended drastic action. Amputation of the major branches was the only thing that was going to save the tree from literally splitting itself in two. This had been done and the tree, though looking sorry for itself did seem to be recovering but it would be some years before it would be able to bear fruit again. I’ve not been back since 2003, when we left the area and I do hope the tree has begun to bear again.

Sometimes it’s possible that we bear too much fruit from our creative lives, so much it drains and exhausts us. Perhaps this explains things like burn-out and writer’s and artists’ blocks. We have maybe given too much away and need to draw in our energies and let our strength build for future efforts.

I wrote 8 novels in four years. Maybe it’s time I allowed myself some rest  and stopped expecting myself to be able to work like a machine and churn out stories constantly. Maybe it’s time, like the peach tree, I was given the space to recuperate from being so very, very fruitful.