Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Do I dare say it (the E word)?

Do I dare say it? Shall I whisper the words? In teeny tiny letters so as not to tempt providence and the gods of ill-fate? We have exchanged!
I tried to post the news yesterday but kept being booted out so maybe it wasn’t supposed to be a fanfare. In fact, I didn’t even know it had happened until several hours after the deed was done.

Yesterday I had taken Zoe’s advice and gone off to get myself some serious pampering. South Molton, by some bizarre fluke, has a practitioner of chavutti thirumal, possibly the best massage in the entire world. You lie, butt-naked, with a sort of towel nappy over your bits, on the floor and your massage therapist uses her feet to massage you, while balancing on a rope slung across the room. OK, so it sounds like the weirdest kinkiest massage going, but by heck it’s soooo good. I had my last one twelve years ago and have raved about it ever since (which says something methinks). Anyhow, I was probably having my left buttock poked by a big toe at the moment the papers were signed and a fat dollop of dosh was being deposited into some account somewhere in cybermoneyland.

The run-up to yesterday had been – to put it mildly – fraught. Our buyer reverted to type and didn’t just move the goalposts but picked them up and ran off the pitch with them. At the very last moment he demanded to keep our Aga (having previously agreed that he’d stick by our original arrangement that it would go with us). Pastard. I was so angry I could barely think in a straight line. It wasn’t the Aga so much (to be honest, it doesn’t cook evenly and not sure it would even after renovation) it was the sneakiness and sheer unfairness of it. I will drive a tough bargain but I like to think I’m always fair and above board. He wasn’t. So all our plans of leaving everything tickety-boo with a bottle of champagne and a list of useful people and nice places to go have gone out the window. Petty, I know. But I’m afraid he’s lost our goodwill.

I should be feeling cock-a-hoop, I really should. But there’s a sort of anticlimax about it all now. Having waited nearly three years for this day, it would have been nice to have been able to celebrate it in style. But other events crowded in to nudge the lustre off it. My mother is getting more helpless and frail, and I am seriously wondering how much longer she can remain on her own. A crisis happened over the last few days and so I spent most of yesterday talking to my brother in the US about how to handle it all. Then we got the news that my father-in-law had been raced into hospital with pneumonia. His lungs are shot to pieces so the outlook is not great.

So, all in all, we didn’t really celebrate. Funny, isn’t it, how the rough and the smooth go together – as Faith says, life really is a rollercoaster. Nothing is clear-cut. There are no easy answers. Everything is shades of grey.

The ‘medicine’ of the last few days was that of the ant. We went walking in Horner Woods, where there is a lovely sculpture trail (OK, the sculptures are a bit ropey, but it’s fun finding them). We came across several huge ant-nests among the trees, absolutely teeming with ants - an incredible sight. Ant represents the power of teamwork. It also speaks of loyalty, duty and sacrifice, of learning one’s place in the larger picture –it’s an augury of family and community. It indicates a time of preparation before making further moves – a situation where patience and strategy are tantamount.
I thought it was very apt. Not just the family business that is unfolding, that must be dealt with, even though we would love it not to be there. But also the preparation for moving into a community. Away from our lonely hill, our rainswept valley, and into civilisation!
I also thought about our little purplecoo community and how intensely valuable it is. I can’t tell you how much your support has meant to me – all the way from CL to here. In the scheme of things, our problem was small but nobody belittled it. Everyone gave kind words, encouraging words, tales of triumph over adversity (I am still reeling at AnnaK’s experience!) – some even sent daily emails (Grouse, bless you, as if you don’t have enough on your overladen plate!).
Of course we can’t totally relax until we’re in the front door – if Bradders is out there, sure she’ll tell me what can go wrong twixt exchange and completion! But for now, it is good news and I am blissfully happy to share it with my dear friends. If nothing untoward happens by tomorrow night I intend to crack open the fizzy stuff and raise a glass or two…..(oh, OK, the whole bottle). Hope you’ll join me!

btw, no that's not me in the photo, nor is it Exmoor! It's my dear friend cowgirl on her recent holiday (I know a few of you have been asking after her)....but the pic sums up the feeling!
PS - don't know how many of you have read Hopping Moon's blog recently but she's having a really tough time and could do with all our thoughts and prayers and whatevers.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Wu wei (living with change)

I can’t blog. Just can’t seem to. I keep starting and then deleting it all. Nothing seems worth saying. Words seem empty. I’m all indecisive and mixed up and all over the place. We were supposed to exchange on Wednesday, then Thursday, now today. Will we ever move? What ill spirit is putting the dampers on everything? Because while, a week back, everything seemed to be going great guns (not just on the house but everything) now we’re stuck in the doldrums again. Calls not returned. Messages vanishing into the ether.

I can’t write, can’t draw, can’t clean, can’t do anything. Just sit and gaze out of the window (but not in a productive way). Letting the house martens hypnotise me as they sling themselves at the window, cutting it so fine, then an uptilt and into their nests. I wish I could be so flexible.
Last night we watched the deer, slanting down the hill at dusk. Then a fox sloping inbetween them. Half my heart winces at the idea of leaving all this. Half couldn’t bear to stay. Therein lies the problem I think – caught in the mid-place, stuck in the middle. It was funny that you were talking about that poster on CL – Janus. It’s a good image for how I feel at the moment, facing two ways at once – to the future and the past; to our old house and our new; life as it was and life as it will be. I know from bitter experience that the grass is rarely greener. I have made mistakes with houses before and dread making them again.

Sorry, this is just a splurge really. Words frustrate me so much at the moment. I want to paint, but can’t. I want to shake myself out of this inertia, but can’t. I should be drumming up more work but simply can’t be bothered. I let things drift.

Wu wei – standing out of the way to let things do themselves. Moving with, rather than against the nature of things.

So easy to write, so hard to do.

“Life lasts only a moment. Then another moment arrives and dissolves into the flow. We live our life from instant to instant. We realise that every experience of our lifetime has been impermanent except one. That there is an unchanging spaciousness in which all our changes float.”
Steven Levine, A Year to Live

Well, well. Look at that. I blogged. Can't load images though - ah well, never thing at a time. jx

Monday, 21 May 2007

How we met (Fate blog)

I’ve been thinking a lot about how and why things happen. I’ve finished the first draft of my psychic’s memoir and, reading back the entire story from start to finish, am bowled over by her attitude to life. She had the most appallingly abusive (sexually, physically, emotionally) upbringing – and came close to death on numerous occasions. She saw things no child should see. Yet she doesn’t bear any animosity; she doesn’t hold any grudges. In fact, she considers herself hugely lucky and her life totally blessed.
I asked her if it was because she believes in karma and she said yes, in many ways. ‘Not just my own karma though. I was there to give people choices to work out their karma,’ she said. ‘They had the choice to do harm or not. Some chose to harm; others made the choice to walk away and do no harm.’
She firmly believes that, while we ultimately create our own reality by our thoughts and actions, some things are meant to be. Obviously the house comes to mind when I think about this. For us to be in the same situation as we were a year ago smacks rather strongly of Fate.
But it also got me thinking about Adrian and I and how we met. I remember, back on the CL site, Frances and a few other people asked how we got together and I promised to tell but never got around to it. Well, it was very much a tale of Fate: too many coincidences to be anything but.
I had just left my job at the Evening Standard and had gone freelance. Freedom from the office grind was bliss and I arranged with a friend to go to the gym one afternoon. So, sporting leggings, trainers and a top in a particularly vivid shade of puce (that clashed horribly with my hair) I headed off to Brixton.
Louise was standing outside a large pair of doors with a face like thunder. The gym was shut. ‘But it’s never shut,’ she wailed.
‘Never mind,’ said I, never that gutted by a missed exercise opportunity. Let’s have a coffee instead.’
The coffee place was shut.
‘This is getting weird.’
‘OK, so let’s go back to your flat and have one there.’
So we did. As I was sitting at the table, waiting for the kettle to boil, I found I couldn’t keep my eyes off her phone. I never ever checked my ansaphone (this was before mobiles) but for some reason I felt I had to. So I rang up and sure enough there was a message from my old editor. Was I free to go to a Paul McKenna launch at one of the Park Lane hotels? In about two hours?
It was hardly a glamorous assignment but I figured I couldn’t very well turn it down.
No time to go home to change so I found myself in gym gear and NO make-up walking into this smart hotel. Ah well, I figured, it wasn’t as if I were going to meet the love of my life or anything. I’d sit at the back and sneak out the second it was over. But, just at that moment, someone I hadn’t seen for years turned up and insisted I sit with him.
The presentation was a bit cringe-inducing – very stage hypnosis – and when it ended I was all set to run off.
‘Stay for a drink,’ said Andrew. ‘Oh, and have you met Adrian?’
I knew his name – he used to work on the NME and write for Blitz and City Limits. He also looked familiar – a bit like a slightly manic Nicholas Cage. We shook hands and wandered out the hall, chatting vaguely.
‘Well, nice to meet you but I must get going.’
‘No, have a drink. Just a quick one. Stay right there.’ And he ran off before I could say no. A few minutes later he returned, with four bottles of wine poking out the pockets of his crumpled Katharine Hamnett suit.
‘I wasn’t sure what you’d like.’ It set the tone for our whole relationship really. We sat and drank and ate sushi and really it was like talking to my twin. We liked the same things, we felt the same about everything (this, I hasten to add, was before he became a real ale bore and got into shooting).
When we were turfed out, I got on my bus and he jumped on too. At Kings Cross the bus turned a tight circle. Adrian leaned with it (thinking of his motorbike days I suppose) but then leaned too far and flopped neatly into the aisle. There he sat, unable to get up enough momentum to regain his seat while the whole bus dissolved into hysterics.
‘Er, don’t you need to get off here?’ I reminded him.
‘Oh God, yes!’ Jumping off the bus with a jaunty wave. I looked back and smiled and then he smacked his head with his hand and started sprinting after the bus.
‘I haven’t got your number! Give me your number!’
So I did, yelling out the numbers, painfully aware that the whole bus now knew we had only just met and that I was considering a return match with a mad man with wild eyes who evidently drank Far Too Much.

So that was how it all started and I can’t help but think that Fate had a helping hand in it – probably appalled at the lack of progress I was making when left to my own devices. But there’s an amusing epilogue too. Many years later I was in London in a bookshop in Cecil Court. As I placed my purchases on the counter, the woman serving looked up and stared at me.
‘I know you from somewhere,’ she said and we then proceeded to go through everything from junior school to foreign holidays, much to the irritation of the small queue building up behind.
‘I think I’ve just got one of those faces that are very familiar,’ I said in desperation.
‘No. I know you.’ Then she clapped her hand over her mouth and laughed. ‘I know! You were on the 73 bus, sitting next to that mad bloke who fell over as we went round Kings Cross. My friend and I were crying with laughter about that. God he was drunk. And totally bonkers. What a nut-case eh?’
I tried to stop her but she was in full flow, now telling the whole queue about it.
‘Hmm, wonder whatever happened to him? I reckon he was heading for a fall that one.’
‘Er. I married him.’

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Not for the faint-hearted - one about sex toys!

Adrian arrived back last night. He said Lithuania was fascinating – storks nesting on chimneys and a true peasant culture (plus good beer of course). After Spain, James and I had high hopes but sadly, this time, our trawl was not quite so classy. James got souvenirs from the brewery – towel, baseball cap, coolbag – all in a bilious shade of yellow. I received a bottle of Lithuanian champagne – which we decided we’d take to a dinner party on Saturday for novelty value (rather than saving to toast any imminent move) – and two boxes of possibly the most disgusting chocolates ever manufactured. Suffice to say they are still relatively untouched – possibly a first in this household. How is it possible to make chocolate so revolting? The only stuff that I’ve tasted quite as nasty were some chocolate willies from a sex shop.

Now, let me explain VERY quickly. Many aeons ago, I used to write about sex and relationships for some of the women’s magazines (New Woman, Elle, Options etc). It was good fun but had its fair share of embarrassing moments. For instance, I was asked once to review sex education videos and so had to steel myself to go into one of the Soho sex shops (this was before the time of one click ordering on the Internet). I figured the only way to do it was to be upfront and professional about the whole thing, so I took a deep breath, marched in and said, ‘What have you got in the way of sex education videos?’
The man brought out a batch and I said briskly: ‘Lovely. I’ll have the lot. Oh, and a receipt please. They’re on expenses.’
His eyes nearly popped out of his head and it struck me that was quite an achievement, shocking the unshockable.
I became pretty unshockable myself. In fact I got so used to talking about bodily bits and orgasms that I forgot that normal people don’t go around discussing clitoral v vaginal orgasms or the relative merits of Taoist over Tantric sex. I still blush to think about the dinner party I was at when, having quizzed the man next to me ad nauseam about what he got up to between the sheets, I popped what seemed to me (at the time) a perfectly normal question, just at the precise moment when the general conversation hit a lull.

‘So, how big is your penis?’

After that I resolved not to mix work and pleasure. But it was tough. What do you do when your editor says she wants you to write a feature about how unrealistic movie sex is – by testing out some of the most famously lurid sex scenes on celluloid? I hadn’t been going out with Adrian for very long at this point and so when I said, ‘We’ve got to pretend we’re having Basic Instinct sex,’ he looked pretty cheery. Then I told him that the editor wanted a photographer to take pictures. His eyes widened. ‘Posed of course,’ I added hurriedly.
‘You are joking?’
I looked at him. Joking? I took my career very seriously at that point. I never turned down a commission.
‘Er no.’
‘Er, hello. People we know read that magazine.’
He had a point.

Sexy food was fun though. We virtually peed ourselves laughing in Waitrose, looking for ‘suggestively’ shaped vegetables (which are supposed to put you in the mood). I waved a very skinny carrot at him. He replied with a marrow. I retaliated with a deformed turnip and we both dissolved into hysterics much to the bemusement of the other shoppers. So we moved swiftly on to stock up on champagne, oysters, prawns and dark chocolate – God, that was a great job!
Now I hope I’m not shocking you. Let’s bear in mind this was a long time ago and of course I wouldn’t dream of having sex now! But, while I’m on the topic I suppose I should mention one more story. In fact, I had an overwhelming urge to write about this on the other site, when the competition was announced, as it was an amusing tale of the perils of village life. But somehow I didn’t think it would be considered quite suitable. But you purple bunch are made of sterner stuff so here we go.

My editor decided that we should run a feature on sex toys and so, over the next few weeks, the postman delivered a very large quantity of plain brown packages.
‘You’re getting a lot of packages,’ said the postman in that nosey parker postman way.
‘Yup,’ I said airily. ‘Bulbs.’
‘Big bulbs.’
I have to say they weren’t really that great. Certainly not remotely aesthetic. I tried, I really did. You couldn’t say I wasn’t game – good old girl guide Jane always willing to have a go. But some had me totally bemused. Anyhow, I applied the third rule of journalism (“When you don’t know, guess”) and the feature was done and dusted. But I was left with a problem. How do you get rid of three boxloads of sex toys? They’re not exactly the kind of thing you can shove off down to the village fete. Or pass on to your friends – ‘hey, fancy a barely-used Rampant Rabbit?’ It seemed wicked (to someone who’d been recycling since she was three) but there was nothing for it – they had to be thrown in the bin.

You know what’s coming, don’t you? We hadn’t been living in the village that long and so I cheerily put out our bin bags in the lane. The next day when I went to walk our boxer, Monty, I couldn’t believe my eyes. A fox had been in the bins and there they were – about a dozen vibrators, various balls and other contraptions all littered over the lane, some merrily humming away to themselves. Never has one woman hunted and gathered so frantically. But I did it – got the whole bunch whisked away in the nick of time before the Colonel and his two Springers hoved into view.

The Springers bounced off to play with Monty and I exchanged the time of day and details of the dog show with the Colonel.
‘Well, m’dear, must get going.’ And off he went, just as Monty came bouncing out of the hedge with something horribly pink buzzing like a demented gnat in his mouth.
‘What’s he got there then, eh?’
‘Oh God, no idea. Monty! Monty!’ Hysteria tinging my voice.
‘Bring it here boy.’ Calm and steady military tones. And Monty, the traitor, did just that, trotting straight past me and dropping it neatly at the Colonel’s feet.
I was scarlet. But, to my total amazement, so was the Colonel.
‘Er, better give that here, boy,’ he muttered and in one seamless movement scooped it off the ground, switched it off (something I’d never quite figured out how to do) and popped it in his pocket.

PS – changing the subject totally……dreams. A few more notes following your comments.
@themill – bridges join up two locations and usually indicate moving from one phase to another. Can be fear of how change will affect your security. Also there has to be a link to childhood here – maybe even trying to get closer to someone from your childhood.
Ragrug – either she IS your Mum, or you’re trying to contact a part of you that is represented by your mother. Try taping them – it’s the easiest way of remembering them.
Mousie - discovering hidden talents, needing to put more energy into that. A neglected baby suggests a vulnerable, sensitive side of you that needs nurturing.
Jacqui – a need to be more carefree and natural – not knowing quite where you stand on something.
Frances – a feeling of being out of control in some way, but also (interestingly) a need to be more childlike, or to sort out something from that toddler period of your life.
Grouse – I’m foxed!! But maybe you need to think about what a ballbearing means to you. I can quite see how horrible this must have been…..quite the strangest dream I’ve heard.
Suffolkmum – remember the house is you – why not try painting it but putting a big black border round the edge so it remains safely trapped inside the boundary?
AK – teeth loose can suggest the need for a more positive attitude, or wanting to get your teeth stuck into something. Can be about self-image, exposing true feelings, letting down defenses.

Just idle thoughts….only you can really interpret your dreams……

PPS - pic is of a much-younger me and that rogue Monty.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

One about dreams

Dreams and portents. Dreams as portents. Last night I had the most horrific nightmares - of demon baby heads in boxes; of malevolent houses; of shit-smothered lavatories. Then again, like UPL, I often dream of horses – beautiful horses that I ride perfectly, seamlessly, like a centaur (exactly how I don’t ride in waking life). I’m forever revisiting old houses and those I’ve never been to. I’ve met Christ in a helicopter and flown with demons over urban parks. Sometimes it seems as I spend my entire nights dreaming – and half of my waking hours trying to puzzle out what they’re saying.
I’ve been intrigued by dreams all my life. The first one I remember was when I was about three. My mother had taken me to see the dinosaurs in Crystal Palace and, she swears, at the time I seemed quite sanguine about them. But that night I dreamed of a brontosaurus charging down our suburban garden and breaking in through the French doors. After that they turned really nasty – a black creature (half cat-half monster) stalked me throughout my childhood, my teens and my twenties. There would come a moment in the dream when I would realise, with horror, that the creature was there, waiting in the shadows, and that any moment it would fly at me, sinking its teeth in my wrist.
Sometimes, of course, dreams are just junk, the detritus of the day, anxieties and fears tumbling out. But some dreams, I know, have meaning. They are the big dreams, the important ones. I truly believe that dreams are the way our unconscious speaks to us.

There are many ways of working with dreams but I tend to paint mine. One of these days I will figure out how to get some of my images up on here so you can have a good laugh or shudder – they are a bit weird! I can’t scan them as they are usually huge. They may be a literal picture of what happened in the dream or they may be more of an expression of the mood of the dream through shape and colour.

The other thing I like to do is to “dream the dream on”, otherwise known as “active imagination”. If the dream ends on an uncertain or disconcerting note, you simply try continuing it in waking time. Imagine your dream in all its detail, not just visually but with all your senses, hearing the sounds, accessing the feeling in your body. There might be a character in the dream you want to question. If so simply ask the character if it would like to talk to you and then wait for the answer. Be patient: you have to wait for the answer and not rush to put something in. You will get a sense of when it's coming and it won't just be something your conscious mind is making up.

Generally the people or creatures you meet in dreams will tend to be different aspects of yourself, often those repressed in waking life. There are no hard and fast rules but here are a few that might have cropped up for some of you.

THE SHADOW: a dream character which normally manifests as someone of the same sex as yourself. Jung said it represents all the things about ourselves that we find unacceptable and so try to repress. Hence, if anger wasn't acceptable in your family as you grew up your shadow might appear as an angry or violent man or woman. If you can talk to your shadow and get on good terms, it will allow you to express your anger appropriately without flying off the handle. Ruthlessness is a common shadow for women because lots of little girls aren't allowed to be ruthless.
THE QUEEN: usually represents for a woman her own sovereignty and power. For a man it tends to represent his ability to deal with the feminine side of his nature.
ROCK STARS AND FILM STARS: generally represent the hero, excitement, creativity. Dreaming about a star means you want to project the part of you that craves attention and the centre-stage.
BABIES: Represent new life of all kinds. These dreams often come when you need to develop other sides of yourself - often when children have grown up and left home….
GOING TO THE LOO IN PUBLIC: Urinating in public usually represents spontaneous self-expression while defecating generally represents your creativity. Either dream usually means you haven't found your true way of expressing yourself.
BEING NAKED IN THE STREET: classically means a fear of revealing who you really are. Normally it will suggest that you need to reveal more of your true personality.
BEING CHASED: Usually whatever or whoever is chasing you is a part of yourself that wants to make contact with you. Animals can represent your instinctual nature - you may be leading too cerebral a life.
KILLING SOMEONE: A warning that you’ve tried to disown or failed to develop an important part of your own nature. Often this part of you contains your power, your strength – something you deny.

Sorry, I got a bit carried away there. Back in the real world, Adrian is in Lithuania. James is at school. I moved the wheelbarrow and the watering can and so the woodpecker has given up in disgust and gone back up the combe to hammer at trees (a far more suitable diet). I have finished the first draft of my ghosted book (hurrah!) and might even go to aerobics this morning. Thanks to everyone for your comments – I am continuing to be stern and steely to all concerned with the house (though so far they continue to ignore me totally!).

Aaaghh, all my pictures are on my laptop - so this will have to go picture-less for now.....imagine your own dream here!

Friday, 11 May 2007

The Pit and the Pendulum

We go down, we go up. Life seems to delight in playing games with us at the moment. One step forward, one step back. We continue to do the house sale dance. Today we got a thick wad of papers from our solicitor – hurrah. Things are moving. Then we read them. Eh? Since when did a stream become diverted through our potential property? No wonder it’s darn well damp, if it’s got a river running through the cellar! OK, I exaggerate – but not that much. There were also horrible scary photographs of the behemoth of a wall that separates our house from the vicarage. It’s a mammoth wall. Forget Hadrian’s malarkey, this is akin to the Great Wall of China – huge and tall but sadly not as thick as it should be, and doing a bit of a Pisa number….(sorry, the geographical references are skittering all over the globe) This lean has been measured and tracked over years and seems to be giving up the struggle to remain vertical. We are advised to have builders prod bits. We are further advised to get quotes for its replacement. Replacement? I have visions of the pyramids being built (yup, we’re in Egypt now) – hoards of builders like ants in endless lines, overseers holding out bottomless buckets for us to empty out our pockets into.

Spurred on by your advice I have been sending ever stiff emails, starched emails, emails so sniffy and affronted that even Running Woman, queen of all shifty tight-lipped estate agents, began to quaver and sent back appeasing notes, ending up with an extraordinary phone call.
‘He (as in our buyer) wants to know when you want to complete.’
She threw it down like a cat bringing in a mouse. Pitifully hopeful of pleasure, but in all reality expecting a clout round the ear.
‘Complete?’ If ever a word could be spat, this was it. ‘He can’t even exchange so how on earth does he think he can complete?’
‘He just wondered when would work for you. He’s totally flexible. Maybe to tie in with school holidays?’
I know what he’s doing, the toad. He’s trying to take our minds off the fact that the whole thing is still wafting round in the air like a big balloon.
He’s trying to sound like Mr Nice Guy, Mr Reasonable. I know we aren’t the most hard-bitten of buyers but we aren’t total idiots.

I sounded off a bit and felt much better for it. We decided that, should exchange not happen on the 22nd May, then the house will go back on the market – full page ads, the whole shebang. If that doesn’t put a rocket up his, er, bottom, I don’t know what will. So, the clock is ticking.

Whether it’s the clock ticking or that bloody woodpecker still pecking (it’s now taken to acting as a 5am alarm clock, hammering on the wheelbarrow), I have had a headache all day. ‘Move the wheelbarrow,’ said Adrian. So I did. And what did it do? Started pecking at the flipping window. That’s all we need, window frames collapsing due to woodpecker activity.
When I got up, bleary-eyed and horrible after a few brief hours of slumber, there was another unpleasant surprise.
‘Come and look at this,’ yelled Adrian.
‘What is it?’
‘Come and look.’
Don’t you hate that? So up I got and walked out onto the landing to join Adrian, James and Asbo staring at a pit. OK, so not a true Quatermass of a pit, not a Pit and the Pendulum pit but a depression nonetheless. A concavity in the carpet between James’ room and the bathroom.
‘Oh for pity’s sake, what the heck is that?’
We edge up the carpet and found that we do not have floorboards, we have odd little squares of chipboard bearing our weight and that of our furniture. One had given up the ghost and had sort of collapsed in on itself. Rather how I felt looking at it.
‘Thank God that hadn’t happened when the surveyor came.’
Indeed. The surveyor arrived last Friday, unexpectedly and looking stressed. He’s gone into the estate agents to get directions to another house in the area he was supposed to be surveying and had been bullied into doing ours while we was out here. Well, I have to give the agents brownie points for that.
It was a hot day and he had four dogs in the car. Hurrah!
‘Oh, do let your dogs out – it’s far too hot for them in there. Jack won’t mind.’ Fixing Asbo with a pleading stare. Yes, I like dogs and I did have their welfare in mind. Well, partly. But most of all I know full well how wrongfooted anyone is when their dogs crap all over your garden path.
The poor man. He tried to demur but I gave him a look that said he would be cruel indeed (and I would be on that phone to the RSPCA within a nanosecond) to leave three labs and a terrier in a small car in blistering sunshine.
‘Are you sure?’
‘Of course, of course.’
So he let them out and they did what all dogs do which was to sniff around and then wee and poo liberally all over the place.
‘Oh God. I’m so sorry. Have you got a spade? I am SO sorry.’
‘Not at all, not at all. Don’t worry about it.’ Lady Bountiful incarnate.
Let’s be honest, he barely looked at the house. He asked me if we’d had any problems and seemed to think it perfectly fair when I said not. He desultorily measured the perimeter and took a few snaps with his digital and that was that. The poor chap could barely wait to herd his dogs back into the car and zoom away.

So there you have it. We go up, we go down. Our poo quotient rises; our floor levels sink. Then, just when it seems to stop still for a moment, Adrian gazes out of the window, over the lush greenness, watching four stags wander over the field.
‘We’re going to miss it, you know.’
Should I murder him now, or save it for a treat for later?

PS: Talking of pits and pendulums, I have given up on The Poe Shadow - type too small, story too tortuous. Life too short. Am now reading Shamanka, a children's novel about shamans and magicians (aaagh, but not remotely similar to my own, Walker Between Words (another segment of which awaits your perusal).

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Woodpeckers and general weirdness

Things aren’t right. I have that horrible sense of life sliding away in the wrong direction. As you know I look for signs all over the place. A dear friend, a Jungian psychotherapist and dream analyst, once told me that you should keep a beady eye out for the things that flirt with you – things that pop up and catch your eye. Sometimes they will be subtle – a colour, a shape, a pebble (Lixtroll!). Sometimes they will hammer themselves into your head as if you’re a stupid child who refuses to understand. However they arrive, they have a lesson to teach you.
The last few days it’s been a woodpecker. James and I were sitting in the living room chatting when we heard this strange tapping.
‘Is it Daddy?’
‘I don’t think so. Daddy doesn’t do DIY.’
‘Good point.’
‘I think it’s coming from the garden.’ And I walked towards the window to see a flash of black and white disappearing.
‘I think it was a magpie, tapping on the wheelbarrow.’
A few minutes passed and it started up again, more insistent this time. James crept over. ‘No. It’s a woodpecker.’
And so it was. A large one with bits of red. The wheelbarrow is leaning against the picnic bench and – don’t ask me why – but the daft bird is pecking it. Not the table, which might make some kind of sense, being wood. No, it’s the wheelbarrow, made of whatever it is that wheelbarrows are made of – some kind of metal for certain.

So, this woodpecker obviously had some kind of message and, as I do in these situations, I pondered what it might be. The woodpecker is associated with storms and thunder – it is said to give a particularly shrill call and become very active before storms and so can be an indication that a storm is on its way. Woodpeckers don’t only drum or hammer for food, as is commonly known, but they also use it as a form of communication – to tap out their territory, to attract a mate, to keep track of one another.
So I felt it was warning me – possibly of storms to come. And come they did. First we had shenanigans with James, not wanting to go to school, playing up, feigning illness. He loves his school and is very happy there but I do wonder if the uncertainty of the move and all is starting to get to him a bit. Or then again, maybe he just fancied a day at home. But when you balance your entire life like a pack of cards, it’s tough when one falls out of place. Then we started getting nervous about the move. Our buyer promised it would take a maximum of two weeks to sort out the issues that are holding up his own sale. Eight weeks have now passed and still no resolution is in sight. We are beginning to wonder if, once again, we have been suckered by this guy. Adrian has been uncharacteristically irritable. He’s been yelling at Jack (not so uncharacteristic, come to think of it) and stomping round using the Hoover like some kind of weapon (which is more unusual).
We had hoped that we would get some decent news today but no, nothing, nada.
I was so cross that I wrote a stiff email to our estate agent, warning that if he didn’t honour our exchange deadline (two weeks away now), we would pull out. In the past we have rolled over all too easily – this time we have to be tough.
Woodpecker can bode that we’re out of sync or out of step. I hope that’s not true. Sometimes its message is that we need to rest up, to pull together our strength. I know that’s true but it’s just not possible right now. At other times it – interestingly – is said to call people to the shamanic path. I have been fascinated with shamanism for many years and have done several trainings in it, including soul retrieval which is truly intriguing. I’ll tell you more about it another time as it’s quite involved. I based my children’s book Walker Between Words (which some of you are so kindly critiquing for me) on its practice – all the shamanic practices described in the book are based on fact. But in the last year or so I have stopped journeying (the shamanic technique for travelling to other realms for guidance and healing) so maybe the woodpecker is urging me to get back to that (it is supremely soothing, quite apart from anything else).
But then again, and I am clinging to this more than anything, Woodpecker can mean an uprooting, a change of abode.

Monday, 7 May 2007

Seaside and insomnia

Oh the horribleness of insomnia. I am greeting the week in a haze again, eyes sore and mind fogged. Two hours sleep I had. It’s deeply unfair. Jep will understand…. What is most irritating is that I must have written nigh-on twenty features on sleep and insomnia over the years. I’ve spoken to every expert, tried every last cure (even going to bed in cold damp socks – courtesy of Lesley Kenton, usually a mine of useful and comforting information but sadly astray on that one). In fact, I clearly remember talking to Lesley. It was about ten years ago, before I had James, and in those halcyon days when I had never suffered even a moment’s sleeplessness. She told me that she hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep since having her children and I clearly recall feeling quite horrified. A famous health writer unable to solve her insomnia? How careless. Now, of course, I unreservedly apologise for even thinking such a thing, for karma came round and bit me on the bum. Sleep and I have been playing silly buggers ever since I fell pregnant.

Adrian arrived home on Saturday and James and I fairly raced out the door to meet him. For once it was not only James who was hunting through his pockets, hoping for treats. He had promised ‘hand on heart’ as I can’t believe anyone can get to and from and into and around a foreign country without a zillion opportunities to buy something, anything for your nearest and dearest. But still I was prepared to be disappointed – after all, this is the man who tends to think that a postcard of a brewery and maybe a promotional pen is a suitable souvenir of a trip abroad. But this time I ate my words (quite literally). He had done a raid on a Spanish delicatessen and brought back a foodie haul of various chorizos and hams, tangy Manchego, some other deliciously gooey cheese and big fat olives. Plus a bottle of perfume (not deodorant this time, praise be). Plus various bits for James. Brownie (or should that be Scout) points all round.
He’d had a fine time at the cider convention and came back extolling the virtues of Canadian champagne cider and Japanese fruit cider (or it might have been the other way around).

James and I gave him the three cheers he’d missed at the last (halleluyah) football training of the season (he helps coach the under-9s) and also a huge hug. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder – it was absolutely lovely to see him. I truly think that a few days apart does all couples the world of good – it makes you appreciate the other one just that bit more.
By pure serendipity, we had the perfect opportunity for a little ‘just the two of us’ bonding (yeeuch, that sounds ghastly). Yesterday James was whisked away for a birthday party at The Big Sheep, out near Bideford in North Devon. Toady, we thought of you! So A and I (and Asbo makes three) went to Appledore.

Appledore is a lovely seaside town, with picture-postcard cottages, painted in rainbow colours, all higgledy-piggledy down small winding lanes. It’s the kind of place where you always find something new, something to lure the eye. This time it was that clear pure shade of mauve – that reminded me with a kick to the solar plexus – of a crimplene trouser suit my mother made me to wear on the first holiday after my father died. Isn’t it funny – I hadn’t thought of that suit for all those years.
We'd had in mind a long walk along the coastal path but we soon discovered that this stretch is not that thrilling (copious amounts of dog poo and rather sludgy sea) so after an hour or so we turned back and by the time we returned to Appledore, we were ready for rest and refreshment. Our favourite cafĂ©, on the seafront, was open (there IS a God) and so we had a leisurely few coffees and a slab of carrot and walnut cake, while reading the papers. It’s so rare to get the chance to just sit and be.

‘I suppose you’ll want to go to Atlantic Village,’ said Adrian, referring to a rather grim shopping outlet nearby.
‘Oh God, no.’
‘Oh. OK. I thought you would.’ Did he sound a little disappointed? Surely not. A few minutes passed as we sipped and read.
‘Are you sure you don’t want to go to Atlantic Village?’
‘Quite sure. Ghastly place.’
I read the supplements and he read the sports pages and then…
‘Umm. Well actually, I wouldn’t mind going there. I thought I might be able to get some shoes.’
How typical is that?
So we went. I said I’d lose myself in the Planet/Country Casuals shop while he looked for his shoes. And, of course, he came back empty-handed in time to find me handing over my credit card while the assistant wrapped two sort of coat-come-overshirt things into a big shiny carrier. Well, they were a bargain! And truly, how could I resist when one was the pure lime-green of the fresh new leaves and the other that deep dark rich and naughty purple?

I nabbed a Lavatera for my mother who wants one for some reason (can’t see the attraction myself) and we raided the deli for a picnic (stuffed onions, peppers and squashes, smoked duck and so on). Delicious. Then we picked up James who was in fine fettle having played laser warfare for several hours. Rattled along the expressway and then onto the moor, stopping to take a few pictures of ponies.

So, a lovely weekend has been had by all. The only sour note was a sad email I received from one of our little gang apologising for bothering and hassling me. I was totally confused. It turned out she had received some vicious anonymous emails from some people on the CL site. One of the horrible things said was that I was sick of having to respond to people like her (based apparently on the time I said I had found it tough during the comp to comment on all the blogs). I was horrified. When will this ever end? Can I just say, for the record, that I LOVE hearing from people – either by email or via this blog. Yes, it all got too much during the competition but, for pity’s sake, there were nigh-on three hundred blogs to read. Now it’s entirely different. I wanted to let CL know what was happening – as I am sure that the editors would be horrified at this. But our friend said the best option was to just ignore it. Wise words I feel.

Once again it shows how much we have to learn about the Internet and what it can do to people. Looking back at the CL site (how very strange it felt), I discovered that Kitty Corrigan had strongly denied feeling contempt for bloggers. I know it’s tempting to think ‘no smoke without fire’ but I, for one, felt glad that she bothered to make the statement and am quite willing to accept her rebuttal.

However, let’s end on something cheery. I was rather chuffed to read that I (along with some other purplecooers) had been ‘tagged’ by CJ. Apparently it’s a way to alert other blog-readers to new or nice blogs. However, the only problem (for me at least) is that you are supposed to carry it on by, in turn, nominating your own favourites. But, er, how? I haven’t worked out yet how to embed a link to a blog or website in the copy of my blogs. Anyone out there got the key?

Friday, 4 May 2007

Of oak trees, violets, dormice and children

It’s a whole different dynamic when Adrian’s away. Some people hate being alone but I love it (maybe because it doesn’t happen that often). I can do what I like when I like, without having to consider anyone’s feelings but my own. So today I had ‘lunch’ at 11.20am and then found myself at ‘lunchtime’ with no hunger yet a vague feeling I should mark the hour somehow. Now, I’m a great one for telling people to slow down, live in the moment, wake up and smell the roses and so on. But do I follow my own advice? Do I heck. I am horribly driven (presumably it’s the Capricorn in me) with an over-developed puritan work ethic – I feel guilty as sin if I sit down and do nothing for more than ten seconds.

But today I made myself sit outside and drink my tea. No good – I could see weeds – a whole chorus-line of them throwing up their skirts on the ‘raised patio’ (OK, the bit where the greenhouse used to be that was supposed to be an ‘outdoor eating area’ but never really happened). So I weeded until my tea got cold.

Then I thought, this is ridiculous. It’s a gorgeous day and I’ll go for a wander to say hello to the oak trees. The year after we moved here, when James was a small baby, we rescued three young oak saplings (from someone who was thinning out their woodland). It felt symbolic somehow – a tree each. Of course, as luck would have it, that year was supremely dry and we wore ourselves out carting up water from the river to keep them alive. But there they stand, getting on in size now, protecting our hill. For a fair few years I felt we had the placing of them all wrong. Although they are within sight of each other, two are definitely closer with one slightly on the outside. For a long time it bothered me and I would reason that the two close were James and I (mother and baby) with father standing watch (the other tree is slightly higher). But as I looked at them today I thought otherwise. James is the tree outside – for while Adrian and I are (presumably) stuck together for life, James will inevitably break free at some point and go his own sweet way. It is right and proper that it should be like that. We borrow children – they are not ours. Our job as parents is – I believe – to nurture them, support them, be totally there for them but (and such an important but) also to know when to let them go. There is nothing worse than a child who feels he or she cannot leave its parents.

It was warm, sunny yet with a brisk breeze and Jack and I followed an old sheep track. We have been leaving the upper part of the large field unmowed for the last few years to see what happened, and what has happened is a ton of wild flowers. I don’t know the names of half of them and must look them up. But today I kept noticing violets above all. Violets are fascinating in folklore terms. It is considered perfectly fine to pick bunches of violets and have a posy in your home, but you should never pick just one single one. It’s even worse luck to pick a violet with dew on its petals – it was said to augur the death of a loved one. Pick violets when the weather is fine and intense rain is supposed to follow (now there’s an idea). Yet on the plus side violets are supposed to be an antidote to evil and dark witchcraft – they were grown in medieval monastery gardens as a protection against Satan. All violets were supposedly white until Mary turned from watching Christ on the Cross at which point they became violet to echo her mourning (hence purple as an original colour of mourning). This however may hark back to earlier times still – in mythology, Cupid was said to love white violets and Venus/Aphrodite changed them to purple in what amounts to sheer spite basically – jealous old bint.
Of more interest to a lot of Exmoor folk is the old belief that wearing violets while hunting was supposed to ensure that you didn’t fall off your horse.
Talking of horses, I also noticed a tiny horse chestnut sapling – only about six inches tall. It’s a long way from our other horse chestnuts and I had to wonder if it had come from a conker dropped from one of James’s pockets. I’m not sure if it will survive as it’s in a slightly exposed spot and liable to be tramped on or nibbled – but it must take its chances. Though as I reached in my pocket I found an old conker and tossed it into a small hole on the bank – it’s probably too old and dried but you never know.

Jack and I sat down on the bank that marked the old hedge-line, by a tangled stand of beech and silver birch. Thoughts were still whirring round my head so I shut my eyes and tried to focus on my breathing. It’s amazing how something so simple slows you right down. Immediately I could notice the cool air on my nostrils, redolent with the faintest tang of gorse’s coconut and the pure distilled scent of ‘green’. The birdsong became a concerto of woodpigeon, woodpecker, rook, thrush, blackbird and pheasant. Inevitably of course the JTR from my nearest neighbours decided it deserved a solo – but a hand on Jack’s shoulder stopped him from making it a duet (he is still being remarkably nice after yesterday’s shocks).

A quick tour down by the river and I picked up a few hazel-nuts. I expect you know that you can always tell if you have dormice by the way nuts are eaten. Whereas a squirrel will splice the nut in half, a dormouse will delicately nibble a little round hole. We seem to still have a healthy population of these teeny tiny mice. Often they nest right by the backdoor and drive Jack potty by flitting across the patio while he is stuck inside watching.
The house martens don’t seem fazed by the unseasonably warm weather and lack of mud: their nests are looking very ship-shape.
I came back from my wander refreshed and recharged – and ready to tackle my dreary feature on allergies again (if anyone has been cured of an allergy do let me know and you can feature as a case study!).

By the way, thank-you so much to everyone who has read and commented on the prologue of my novel Walker between Worlds (see link on left hand side). I’ve posted Chapter One now and will put up the other chapters as and when I can (I’m trying to do some editing before putting them up). I’d really love you to continue reading and giving me your (honest) impressions and suggestions. And yes, would really welcome feedback from any of the target audience (12+). I’m relying on Frances to correct any howlers I make about US vocabulary and syntax!
Reading this back it's a bit 'worthy'. So the picture is of the infamous Woods - James insists that, regardless of Adrian not being here, we must fulfil our Friday early evening ritual of a ginger beer (or spritzer) and bags of Burts crips. So this is where we'll be come 6.30pm.... anyone fancy joining us?

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Asbo Jack meets his match

There are some days (not many, admittedly) when I think I have the best job in the entire world. Today was one of them and what made it even nicer was that it was so unexpected as it didn’t start remotely well. It started, in fact, at 3.30am as Adrian got up to drive to Heathrow. He’s off to northern Spain to visit the International Cider Conference (and there are some – ragrug probably included) who would say that really there’s little doubt that actually he has the best job in the world.
Anyhow, I stumbled out of bed to say goodbye and wish him luck. Stumbled back and, how unfair is this, could not get back to sleep for love nor lavender oil, nor even the reading of a seriously boring book on the Spanish Civil War. So by the time the alarm clock fizzed at 6.20am (it gave up alarming a few years ago – thank God) I felt like I’d already lived through Thursday and was ready for bed again.

I dropped James off for the school bus and then drove over to see my author. As I’ve told you before, she lives in the most idyllic thatched cottage down a sleepy lane. It’s the kind of house all our buyers wistfully told us they really wanted - to which we used to reply that if we had a thatched roof hiding away we would happily bung it on for them. Thatched and cute isn’t normally my thing but today I could really ‘get’ this one. The garden winds in and out with arches and pergolas dripping with clematis. There’s a teeny waterfall splish-splashing into a pool and loads of mellow old stone walls. Asbo had come with me and M said why didn’t I let him out? So, with a swift prayer to the patron (or should that be probation?) saint of bad dogs, I did. He bounced out, all pleased with himself and then, because he was bouncing backwards (how stupid is that?) he bounced straight into M’s JTR, Ruby (short-legs, smooth-coat, dead feisty). They did a typical terrier war-dance around each other, had a brief fight (all noise and no real action) and then decided to rub along.

So M and I found a spot under the apple trees and sat on the grass and mapped out the last two chapters of her book. I bunged on the tape recorder and we chatted some of it through. Jack didn’t help much by sitting on it from time to time. But I couldn’t help thinking, as I listened to the robins having a bust-up in the border, and the doves cooing gently, that, if this is work, I like it.

We had a cappuccino (M has every gadget known to woman) and went to say hello to the horses, ponies and donkeys (nearly all rescues). The largest donkey took an inordinate interest in Jack and ended up chasing him round the field to Asbo’s complete shock and horror. His JRT pride was severely dented (he likes to think of himself as the chaser not the chased) and there was a lot of affronted sniffing. But he was also just the tiniest bit rattled (rare and beautiful to behold) and stuck very close behind me as we went back. But, being a JTR, the lesson was forgotten the very moment we got to the house and off he went, exploring upstairs.

Next thing we heard the most unbelievable sound – just like a very large rabbit being slowly killed by a stoat (and, trust me, I know that sound all too well). We both jumped up and ran to the stairs to find Asbo shaking and whimpering with one large puffed up black cat glaring at him from the power position on the third step. Fantastic. Maybe we can get a cat when we move after all.

I drove back over the Brendon Hills, with a chastened Jack sitting meekly on the passenger seat, and dropped down into town. The perfect parking space was waiting for me right outside the florists and I went in to pick up an arrangement – all soft blues and whites in a vivid pink square box. Now, a few months’ back I went Nordic walking (as you may recall) and I offered to write a feature for the local Exmoor magazine to try to attract more business for Angela who runs the walks. The feature had – it transpired – brought her loads of enquiries and she emailed to say that if I popped into the florists, there would be a ‘small thank-you’ waiting for me. I was really touched – it was so lovely to get a genuine and totally unexpected sign of appreciation like that.

So Jack and I bounced back down the valley road in high spirits and stopped off at the village shop to pick up our organic bag. While I’d already met the woman who had bought the shop, this was the first time I’d met her husband.
‘Hello. I’ve come for the organic bag,’ I said cheerily.
‘Ah yes,’ he said, ‘I thought you might have.’
‘Why? Do I have the look of an organic bag-lady?’ Which I thought was quite funny. But he laughed nervously and vanished out the back.
As if the day wasn’t already going my way I spied one remaining bunch of the new asparagus from a local Exmoor producer. That went in the bag too, along with a packet of Serrano ham and some stuffed vine leaves and I left a happy woman.

Adrian lives to cook and every meal is a production. So, when I’m on my own, I tend to eat very simply. And what could be more simple – yet more delicious – that a huge plate of steamed asparagus with a knob of butter and plenty of freshly-milled black pepper, all wrapped rather fecklessly in dry-cured ham? I ate it (OK gorged it) sitting out on the patio, gazing over the valley and figured this is as good as it gets. Blessings? Too many to count. Gratitude? You bet.