A ploughed field, and from the woods beyond, a pheasant’s call. The warm wind on my skin as if to say there-there, and buttercups that wouldn’t melt.
Along the towpath in a dimming light my dog snuffles in the ornamental shrubs and rolls on recently cut grass. Nearby is a dark shape that I soon recognise as a human figure on its side with knees drawn slightly up. I wonder if it is alive, and see when closer, it is a shabby man, his head on the pillow of his collie dog. It’s Good Friday, the ground still holding the winter’s chill. Nearby, discarded, is an empty beer can. I walk on and pass a couple seated on a bench, hear the sound of their kisses, so keep my eyes averted, although my dog knows no such courtesy and goes to investigate. Passing houses, I smell honeyed spice cake, and further on, the sulphur tang of a lit match. Street lamps come to life along the embankment and across the bridge, throwing their reflections like yellow ric-rac on the water. I think on the curled figure of the man on the grass. I want to give him a blanket, soup, something, but return to my place of plenty, pondering only the nonjudgmental warmth of a dog’s fur.
I don’t know why I find it easier, or feel more motivated to clean when the husband is out, but his being away fishing for the day has led to this activity. That and the light. Where he normally sits with blinds drawn, I open them, and with the act of cleaning, find that the paintwork after 10 years is shabby. And strange stains are appearing on the ceiling. It feels like the house is sharing in our own dilapidation. We need an NHS for homes.
A blue sky, the low sun forcing me to shade my eyes. I take the high path, the river walk being bog. At the lake, I see that the curve of the fountain’s spurt mimics that of the swan’s neck and the squirrel’s tail. Near the tennis courts, my dog finds a lost ball.
Our body-clocks are shot. We stay up late, the TV mesmerizing us, the sofa forming hollows where we sit. Each grey day, it has crept a little later, until today, we wake at twelve. Dream-lagged, I mourn the morning lost, but still I shun routine or rule.
My dog rolling – nae, wriggling on his back in rapture. In flattened grass, the rain-drenched corpse of a rat… My dog, giving me his hard-done-by look, in the bath with foaming clouds of shampoo.
A shower of sweet-smelling gifts makes for long, luxuriant baths into the New Year. Each side of the window, rain drops and steam streaks seem to mingle.
‘Remains’ is the word today. At the site of Santa’s Grotto, we take down fairy lights, un-decorate Christmas trees and dismantle panels. Eleven months’ hence, the storage boxes will be unpacked revealing so much forgotten treasure. For now, rooms become as bare as winter trees. I go home to drink the last of the Christmas pudding vodka.
Boundaries blur between stream and bank. Talk of insurance, the mill sluice, and log-jams on the weir. Meanwhile, a delinquent wind plays roundabout alone in the children’s park. My dog snuffling.
Small steps on this mud-slide slope. Twigs are tousled, branches beaten – the wind rests a while. My dog snuffling. Amongst the rusty ground-fall leaves, green spear-heads. On the branches of a silver birch, two cola cans hang like baubles.
A way, picked around bomb holes muted with bramble and old-man’s beard. My dog, snuffling. Crumbled fortifications, mossed and strung with briar rosehips. Below, the sea. Beyond, more beyond. Nothing to fear.
I wouldn’t be getting emotional about it, if I weren’t over-using it, would I?
It seems to me that facebook is like a social gathering where most guests are standing alone talking to the space a foot in front of their faces. They don’t make eye-contact with anyone. They all hold a photo album and turn the pages, pointing sometimes to a picture. Occasionally a passer-by will stop and look at a photo, or listen to an individual’s dialogue, but most of the time words mingle and dissipate into the room to become an incoherent buzz – just the noise in a hive.
It’s ‘Red Nose day’ or ‘Comic Relief’ – bombardment on the conscience – all that contrast between our ‘celebrities’ entertaining us, and images of sick and suffering humans elsewhere – somewhere – a long way from my and your sofa, our kitchens, however worn, or short of aspirations.
It’s weird that I’ve spent more in this last week on my dog’s unidentified infection in his pee-pipe than the money needed to inoculate ten or more children in some forsaken village on another continent, to save their lives.
When I think about life, I think of a random thing that enters at fertilisation or conception, the other part of life – not the physical. I think that it was completely random that I entered a life in a Western, middle-class womb, and not one in Uganda or wherever, and of course, I am thankful. And I don’t want to get all political, but it is all down to that, because we developed a society that protected the starving and diseased.
It’s weird too to find with all this DNA research recently, that we, with our white skins and tiled bathrooms come out of Africa – from the original pool – polluted, muddy puddle that it is.
You don’t need to be a specialist to decode dreams, but maybe being a student of literature helps. One of my recurring dreams (common, apparently) is that of searching for a disused room I know I have in my house. In the dream I know it’s a beautiful room, containing lovely furniture and art, and sometimes I discover it, not having known it was there. Sometimes I’m searching alone, sometimes I’m trying to take guests there, and I turn down countless corridors, up and down countless flights of stairs.
But last night I found the room. I had been trying to regroup my children. There were four, maybe five of them. Maybe someone else had been looking after some of them. There were several rooms, all dusty, with faded curtains and antique furniture, and all were bedrooms, and the disused room was at the end of the corridor. I opened the door. It was a big room with several beds, and the children, who were excited, bouncing on the beds, said they wanted to share the room, so I started to rearrange the furniture and shake the thick quilted satin eiderdowns.
I had a distinct feeling of relief and well-being that I had these children safe together, and that I found the room, which had perhaps been waiting.
Twenty-eight years have passed since I sat in my mother-in-law Helen’s kitchen. We were bickering over something trivial. The room was huge and tudor-beamed, and we were at a long oak refectory table, where many enjoyed the Jacobs’ family hospitality, often given to down-and-outs as well as old friends. I was six months pregnant with my first. There was a knock at the back door, which was odd.
Helen got up to see who it was. A young policeman stepped into the kitchen and removed his helmet. He asked for me by maiden name, and I proudly and chirpily responded that I had changed it with marriage.
Then he told me that my father had died.
I’ve never been one to hold back emotions, although while I howled, I do remember thinking I should not, for the sake of my unborn. The policeman started to cry too. I can’t remember what Helen did – undoubtedly she tried to console me.
Dad’s only form of identity was a letter found in his pocket. I’d written it a few days earlier, inviting him to Helen’s farmhouse where I and my young husband were living.
My father was a goldsmith and horologist, and his name was Anthony John Fox. With such a surname, collections of fox images and ornaments are inevitable. I have many, but the main is my middle name, which I took a few years back by deed poll – his surname – my maiden name.
It was the day after Dad’s sixty-fourth birthday. Apparently, he’d seen some lads spraying graffiti on a Clerkenwell street. He shouted and gave chase, but his heart couldn’t take any more. He was in the middle of his third divorce. He was sure his wife’s lover (the two children’s piano teacher) was a pedophile, but who would believe a cuckolded man?
Twenty-odd years later, that piano teacher (who eventually married my stepmother) was imprisoned for pedophilia – my half-sister, Antoinette, one of his victims.
A.J. Fox – 20-2-1921 to 21-2-1985
It being Lent, our local vicar, who’s quite cool, and recently took part in the TV show, ‘Come Dine with Me’, put a long post on facebook. The first paragraph made reference to ‘Eve eating of the tree of good and evil’, and I got no further.
Since childhood, I’ve heard and read the story, or references to it, countless times, but this morning, the thought of ‘Eve’ taking those first brave steps out of ignorance, raised her in my imagination as a sculpture or stained glass window, lifting that symbolic apple high in triumph, turning her back on the blinding light – making a halo of it, her vision newly focussed, young face full of epiphany.
‘Adam’, meanwhile, cringed and wrung his hands in angst. Ever since, he’s been trying to suppress and control that precocious woman.
Don’t get me wrong, although often mystified by their behaviour, I like men, but I’m so happy to be a daughter of Eve. I love my woman’s body, that I grew babies in it, that my female mind looks for subtle solutions, not bloody conflict, and I remember a day back in my twenties probably, when I had an epiphany, that my actions were powerful, that they had repercussions, and I had to be careful. I’m not saying I’ve always been careful – far from it – I’ve had my moments of true madness, but that epiphany gave me a strong sense of independence, even though my yin always felt better nestled against a yang. The one without the other becomes tear-shaped – together they are a complete apple.
My husband is in denial. He needs a hearing aid. Having spent most of his working life as a guitarist in noisy rock and blues bands, this is hardly surprising. When I say he’s in denial, that means he’s in denial of needing the hearing aid – he’s quite aware he’s ‘losing frequencies’.
The constant ‘Eh?’ making me repeat my last sentence has begun to wear, and recently rather than repeat the sentence slightly louder and slower, and not without obvious irritation, I’ve responded with silence, and it turns out he often has heard, and repeats the ‘missed’ sentence himself. Is there such a thing as lazy hearing, I wonder? Or is it ten-years-married syndrome, where everything his wife had to say of any consequence, has probably already been said?
A few weeks ago, he received one of those phone calls, not for PIP, but for claiming off old employers for work-related hearing loss. Not really practical to sue every drummer he ever stood in front of, or every landlord who ever booked him on a gig. It did lead to a hearing test though, which proved he needed an aid.
‘You could get a hidden one,’ I urged. ‘You see them advertised all the time.’ Either he didn’t hear or he chose to ignore that.
It’s Shrove Tuesday. ‘Shrove’ is the past tense of ‘shrive’ which means to hear confession, give penance, or absolve a sin. I’ve mostly called it Pancake Day, but it’s also known as Mardi Gras, (French for Fat Tuesday). Somehow in America, Mardi Gras became a street carnival where women bare their breasts for strings of plastic beads, but in the (comparatively boring) older tradition we’re supposed to get whatever is left in the fridge and cupboard and fry it up, stuff our faces, then more or less starve for the following six weeks of Lent. Sounds like a good slimming plan.
A thin pancake, fried in butter, served with a generous squeeze of lemon and sprinkle of caster sugar is my favourite. I quite like it with maple syrup or honey, but the former is the best.
When I first married, we lived in a flat comprised of several high-ceilinged and huge windowed rooms in an old house (Weirton Place, just outside Maidstone). The little kitchen overlooked a bike shed, on the roof of which there was often a noisy peacock. Whenever I think of that kitchen now, where the open oven was the only means of heat in winter, I remember pressurised whipped cream, squirted all over our pancakes, then each other – Bonnie the border collie, bouncing around excitedly, and getting her share. We were cash-strapped, I was newly pregnant and unemployed, but that kind of shared hilarity kept the serious, responsible world from worrying us.
So now frozen lasagne as well as burgers are found to contain considerable amounts of antiquated and outlawed Romanian modes of transport. I ate horsemeat years ago in France, even though I’d worked with horses most of my young life and developed sentimental attachments with some. It was around that time, (in the 70s) with bravado, I also ate snails, frogs-legs, lambs’ testicles, squid – you name it. Just showing off really. But I’ve never been squeamish about food, having been introduced to a variety as a child. My stepmother loved to be seen at the village deli back in the 60s. My favourite was dried bananas. They came in paper packs printed with a Caribbean man in exotic setting, and were wrinkled black sticks, so sweet and chewy. I wish I could find them in the supermarkets now.
I’ve been struck by the number of people who comment in response to the horsemeat scandal, that they have no problem with eating horse, completely missing the point that they are being conned. Effectively, meat usually intended for dog food has ended up on their plate labelled as something else. It’s nothing to do with whether it’s morally okay to eat horse, or whether it tastes nice, or is nutritious – it’s to do with fraud and deception.
What all this has led me to think most, though, is the historic and social criteria we use to select which meat is okay and which is not okay. Why is it that we have a list of animals that we have no qualms in consuming, and another that go into the inedible category? If it’s perfectly fine to eat horse (which is a genetically selectively modified domestic animal, as are dogs or cats – nothing like their wild equivalents) why is it not okay to eat Fido or Kitty? A facebook acquaintance who shoots wild animals and claims to eat roadkill states that cat would be too greasy, and (he owns one) dogs were specifically bred to be our pals, so we can’t eat them. My own suspicion is, it’s to do with which animal is herbivore or not. As far as I know, I’ve not eaten dog or cat, but who knows what 1970s Chinese and Indian restaurants were serving in spicy sauce?
Really, the more I think about this, the more I ought to become a vegetarian (which might put me first in line if cannibalism takes off), but I shan’t, and in fact, this has made me hungry. I’m off for a bacon butty!