Reading

Last Friday, as I pushed the buggy up Causewayhead, I faltered at the new bookshop. I was emotional, and I was emotional because money was tight, and when emotional, I spend money. (The day I resigned from my well-paid job in London after moving to Cornwall to study during a sabbatical year, I sent the email to HR and then went straight out and bought £100 worth of new clothes.)

Right near the open door were two paperbacks. The first was the new Philip Marsden book on searching for the spirit of place. The second was the latest novel by Sarah Moss, who taught me for my MA. I wanted both. I’d earned them; having a young baby is wonderful and life-altering and joyous, yes yes all of those things, but also bloody hard at times. My identity is shattered, my time to myself each day lasts under 20 minutes (the time spent having a shower and getting dressed). I want back the ability to think.

I walked out with neither in the end, because of how difficult it is to read physical books with a baby. I’d never thought about it before my son came along, but you need both hands to read, just as you need both hands to butter toast. The thumb of the right hand wedges the book open, placing pressure on the spine and so releasing the pages to the light, the other four fingers support the book’s back, while the left hand, on call for the page turn, gently pinches together already-turned pages by their bottom left corners. (At least I think that is how my hands read, from memory; on my lap sleeps a baby.) Hardbacks are even more taxing and, for me, require a table or a lap: another no-no.

Realising this soon after the birth of my son, I asked for an e-reader for my birthday. It has helped when an opportune moment turns desperate, and I can now read during the night feeds, but my hands can’t take to its light, slender inertness. They feel uncomfortable, the right thumb gripping the base, the little finger joining it to form an awkward, splayed cradle. I’ve still not worked out how best to tap the pages on; sometimes my thumb tries, sometimes my index finger cranes round from the back and gives it a go.

I haven’t yet bought the books I saw on my e-reader. I know I could, and I’d certainly read them, but I want to hold out. I want to give my money to the new bookshop at the top of Causewayhead. I want to enjoy them. I can be impulsive and want things; I am also learning, thanks to the child who has now woken and is stretching up and over my shoulder, about patience.

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Mothering and writing

Writing when you have a five month old baby is hard.

You don’t have the hands. Or the time. Or the quiet. Or the necessary mental energy.  I’m here now though, typing this with my right hand while I cradle my napping son in the left.  Since he was born, I’ve wanted to write but found myself, with every slim, time-sensitive window of opportunity, choosing to do different things instead. I’ll put the washing on. I’ll go on Facebook.  I’ll clean the sink. I’ll rush around completing half of about seventeen chores. And with every three minute window in which I prioritise something else, the frustration of not writing collects. It doesn’t get swept away like it usually does. It’s settling like sediment, it’s compressing, it’s warm to the touch.

I don’t know how much time I have before he wakes and requires my attention (and my right hand), so I will press on.

I barely wrote in 2017 for various reasons and excuses. Pregnancy and then having a baby are two of them. 2016 wasn’t much better. In 2014-2015 I’d pretty much lost all confidence in myself that I’d accrued up until that point. I’ve not felt like a writer for years, have been startled and embarrassed when old friends and acquaintances ask me ‘how my writing is going’. I’ve not felt very alive.

But motherhood is changing things. It’s the main reason why I currently can’t write (easily, without trying really hard to find the time, the mental wherewithal and the free hand), yet it’s brought me back to this neglected blog.  I am rusty with words and my re-wired brain (yes really) feels blunt and muddled, and my thought streams are shallow, but I want to – need to – write.

Surely, surely new mothers can write. New mothers do write. I owe it to myself. I owe it to him.

(He’s awake.)

On not writing

Through the cottage window, you can see the trees, and the leaves from those trees coat the ground, and a long rowing boat lies face down on those leaves. That is all that is seen.

The winter sun breaks through from about 8am onwards. By half 2, it retreats.

Walking through the woods at lunchtime, afternoon, dawn. The dogs come, they live on this island; no leads. At the water’s edge Max, the Jack Russell, flits like a wren between the tree roots reaching out over the shoreline. He bolts across the path, disappearing for stretches of time only to be discovered in the distance, a bright brown and white guardian between distant trees, checking that his visitors don’t get lost.

Venturing deeper. The cottage cannot be seen from here, and wouldn’t be able to be picked out from the weak winter sky anyway. Panic trickles into the chest; branches on the ground that should be firm give way under the boot; the ground becomes soft.

A tree that could be named three years ago stands where it has always stood, impassive, indifferent. What could possibly be a Jay screaming up in the thin treetops could be something else and so passes without the visitor knowing what it is. Panic gives way to sorrow: this walk is not restorative. Much has been abandoned.

Tree roots are stumbled over. A boot becomes lodged in the bog and the foot escapes from it. Falling, the eye level plummets to the carpet of leaves.

Leaves that presumably were once green and attached to branches during Spring and Summer, before turning brown and falling to the ground.

Yes, much has been abandoned before this point.

The dogs know the way. Eventually, we begin to follow them.

red arrows, falmouth, 13 August 2015.

Harbourscape thumbed

Chalk red, blue,

dirty sighs from sharp shined jets.

Abdominal muscles press through to spines and hands press

 

through grass blades to the earth; grip the cold metallic frame of deckchairs,

reach through gloves to control wheels –

 

And the eyes they overreach, searching the thin lines between joy and fear

 

Checkout

At the checkout

I suspend us and run back, past

More aisles than I remembered

there were, an elastic

between us,

stretching,

Hooke’s Law,

F = -kX, and

just before the snap
I pick it up

recoil

Checkout after checkout

Homogeneity released from heterogeneity

In the kitchen, it is already feeding,

Burping, multiplying –

I spread the cling film over

The bowl, a starter for a bubble

That will rise, a dough that will exhale

Like a city

Threshold

My brother, whether he realises it or not, is still at one with his roots. His current residence is in Didcot, five miles south of Oxford, a top floor flat of a two-storey apartment that nestles amongst red-bricked houses with brown window frames. If you look at his housing estate on Google maps, it bears anatomical resemblance to a heart, with a main road for an artery that feeds off into little capillary cul de sacs. Here he lives with content, over five hours’ drive from the nearest family member. My brother is unmoved by places and locations. It’s not that he particularly likes living in suburbia; it’s more that the things about suburbia that people loathe, or admire and are drawn to, simply aren’t of interest to him.

At least they don’t seem to be of interest to him. It can be hard to tell sometimes.

The red kites didn’t seem to interest him, not even the one I saw out of his lounge window, patrolling the suburb with bent head, its wings and tail forming angles unfamiliar to me.

“But look at it! It’s incredible! And it’s rare!” For me, this Red Kite was a big deal; only the third I’d ever seen, the first two being sighted on the way here as they flew over the M40. In the 16th century, the Kite was persecuted to the edge of extinction in the British Isles for being verminous, and then in the 19th century, when their numbers were so low, it was pursued for being rare and valuable. Egg collectors all but wiped them out, leaving only a handful left to breed in Wales. After around a hundred years of conservation efforts, the Red Kite is now enjoying some resurgence, particularly in this area of England.

“You think every bird is a Red Kite,” he replied good-humouredly, turning back to his PS3.

The following morning after breakfast, I slipped out. I’d sighted a straight concrete path from the bathroom window and had decided to go looking for it. The houses were silent; around them, the scrubby spots of hedges and trees turning to bud were noisy with sparrows and blackbirds. Crossing a road, I found the path and was led through a small grassy park, into cul de sacs that themselves held paths to other cul de sacs. I was soon lost in the capillaries.

The Kite I’d seen yesterday was already patrolling its patch, floating with a calm rigidity a few metres above the rooftops. Much has been said about these birds of prey and their striking long, forked tails; less has been said about the fact that the toy of the same name that’s cast into the air and held up by the wind was so called because of the manner of the bird’s flight. There was something arresting about how the bird above me used its tail to feel its way and lock into the wind’s unseen gusts and fluctuating thermals – it was if it were double jointed. As it swung and paused directly over my head, for several, separate split seconds, it seemed to lose its sense of animation; it was, in one and the same moment, a bird and the semblance of a bird; in flight, and suspended in flight. I had an urge to test the tautness of tightened string, and I felt my thumbs twitch deep in my coat pocket.

It was magical. I stared up at it; it didn’t stare back, but continued to monitor the cul de sac, eyes keen for carrion, perhaps, or a spilt bin bag. I suddenly felt sorry for it. Such a creature, I thought, should be scanning fields and hedgerows. Looking around me at the tarmac, the red bricks and the brown window frames, I felt a familiar and directionless sense of guilt.

The bird disappeared from view. I remained standing there for a few moments, suspended as if in fluid. And as I stood there I wondered whether, if I ever came back to these parts, I would become more like my brother, and in time not bother to raise my head at the Kites that carved their way through the Oxfordshire skies.

Wee January poem

His fingers furred with Dorito dust

Orange light / Aztec fashion

have long dispensed with the Finlandia kitchenware.

We use what is not ours.

The record collection pressed against

The wall that is not our wall, is, however.

Spines with their own smile lines, weak, white.

I like to think it listens to us

as we mop gravy from Finlandia

wash up, fold stiff towels

and move on, upstairs.

 

I left Billy Joel on to make

the clock ticks reverberate

against the clothes horse, book piles,

gifted television set, broken chair.

The ironing board, at rest

divides room from storage

 

ticking

printed with use