Notes From Swansea

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Swansea High St at night gave a fair imitation of a late summer evening. The trees still retained their leafy canopies and the evening air was comfortable. On Bethesda St, Matts Cafe held a pop up restaurant so we left the train station in search of the street (shown above) and curry. The food was excellent as were the bands.

The good wather did not hold. The following day began with my host family’s activities: BSL lessons, a session at Outcasts in Llansamlet, lunch at Peg 2 in Mumbles, accompanied by heavy rain and drizzle. image4.jpeg

Peg 2 is a restaurant that donates its profits to good causes across Swansea and is part of a wider network that works to offset poverty across the city. I later met the cafe workers at a church service. The food at Peg’s is excellent offering a wide choice of food well prepared and presented. 

I especially loved the tiny herbs on my plate of sweet potato hash and it takes some skill to poach an egg well. The food was good value for money and all in a good cause. The one thing that has struck me is how much of a cafe culture there is in Swansea, and how it has become a city of eateries, drive through restaurants, pizza places, ice cream parlours and coffee dens. There are places to suit all tastes; there is even a roadside cafe on the road to Penclawdd selling Lebanese food which I’m assured is excellent.

Of course Penclawdd means salt marshes and mists and the weather closed in so that it was impossible to see across the estuary or beyond the motor boat. The marshlands are full of sea birds and wild life, and the seagulls squabbled and swooped until their leader succeeded in opening a chip packet

Caawell Bay was a heady mix of woodland and salt. The surf was lively and small children braved the high winds around the coast, like an army of wetsuits flanked by anxious watchful parents. Ibeatched a surfer far out in the bay and mapped familiar points in my mind. It seemed each cove or rock held an association with family and friends as I created a memory map, and even as I write this I remember more connections not just from childhood with my sister and brother but from my teens, when we built fires and grilled sausages , drank coke or Fanta and made twisty things out iv flour and water. Those idyllic summer days seemed far away in the teeth of a chill wind, and the grey high tide. I guess I’ll have to wait until next year for a swim.

 

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Which is all about an Indian Summer

Indian summer
noun
 
  1. a period of unusually dry, warm weather occurring in late autumn.
    • a period of happiness or success occurring late in life. Dictionary .com

Other than a week in May, and some days in July, it was a grey summer. So on a wet, grey, Monday morning I packed my summer clothes for the winter. Then this morning, I watched as a handful of leaves dropped to the floor; marvelling that I had the leisure to do so while realising that this bitter-sweet summer is ending.

The crown of a distant sycamore is turning yellow, while the lower canopies of those closest to me remain green. A weeping willow yellows in a nearby gardens, the crab apples and hawthorn berries are scarlet; while the pines and evergreens are wreathed in a morning mist that hopefully mean late-summer- sun, warmth and a spectacular sunset like last night’s.  And I wonder at our ability to inject emotion and meaning into plant and cellular activity, and the combination of weather factors, and the turning of the seasons.

The last days of  my husband’s life were days of golden sunrises, ferocious orange sunsets and the clearest – the most beautiful –  of night skies where it was possible to see the Milky Way.  There was even a brief roll of green light along a hillside a lucky glimpse of an aurora. I remember thinking it was if the earth was raging in a Dylan Thomas-esque way, and that the sun burned as if it were the end of something – and it was. But seasons still turned: it rained, it snowed, the frosts were harsh and the sun continued to rise and set and there were glimpses of beauty.

Consequently, I love an Indian summer – the last fierce blaze of colour and warmth –  before the earth closes in and we hibernate or go to work, ‘like pit ponies,’ as my aunt says,  ‘always in the dark.’ An Indian summer offers promise, that no matter how grey it was before before, the ‘after’ holds promise. Then the clock falls back an hour, we draw the curtains and enjoy the warmth of the fire with the smell of coal and woodsmoke. We wait for the joy of Christmas, the celebrations of warmth and light and then have to hold on in February and March for it all to begin again.

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Which is about writing

imageI see that people have been looking at my blog to see if I’ve been writing – and I haven’t. Broadly speaking the ‘pesky dose of shingles’ that I wrote about elsewhere prefigured a bit of a skirmish with ill-health which has now passed. My thoughts are now more in sentences most of the time rather than flitting from one place to another between: past present future work home writing not writing work and generally trying to second guess analyse over analyse situations looks books poems though it was difficult to read for about ten weeks. I couldn’t hold a thought so I erm… read love stories (cringe)! The formulaic type and guaranteed a happy ending.

Listening to Gillian Clarke on BBC this morning, I was reminded sharply of my undergraduate self when I used to keep a quotation of hers (I wish I could find it!) on the wall, and decorated with a green border, a daffodil and a box. It was to do with interruptions while she was writing and the assumption that it was ok to interrupt her writing because it was not viewed as ‘work’ – paid, domestic etc.

It was a quotation I identified with at the time but one that I forgot over the course over the next few years. Writing was not something I admitted to and I well remember my discomfort in the seminar where Tony Brown asked, ‘Who writes?’ I kind of wiggled a finger because mine didn’t seem to be the kind of writing that counted back then.

In his Welsh Writing  in English seminars there was a cohort of (mostly male) writers whose cadences  and syntax reflected my own and those of where I grew up. They were mostly male because working class women were too busy working, raising a family, completing endless domestic chores, in the battle to keep clean in dusty mining communities. Nevertheless it was like coming home. Enter Gillian Clarke a woman from South Wales, caught between languages in the nineteen thirties, forties and fifties, –  Welsh for poverty and rural life and English the language of aspiration, who was a mother AND a successful poet. The interview is available here  

Writing, then through studying Welsh Writing in English suddenly became accessible .I well remember – I was just into my thirties then – the feelings of possibility evoked in me. Not about success or fame but the possibility of writing every day and that it was ok to do so. It wasn’t  just about scribbling into private journals (link to a guest blog I wrote about journalling) it was shaping and making something new – be that a short story or a poem. It was about possibilities; not just about a ‘Room of One’s Own’ but making time and commitment.

I write most days, be it a scrap of a line or a thought;  occasionally, if I’m lucky, a poem. Complete narratives unfold in my head – explode out of an image – and I have to note them down otherwise they are lost. Sometimes that experience is more pleasurable than the slog of writing and planning because no matter how much passion and love go hand in hand with the practice, it is a slog on times. And then the balance between planning and creation. How much is enough? it is easy to get lost on a journey. In one case I’m stuck in rural West Wales; in another, I’m stranded at an airfield (Woodhall Spa) in  April 1943 wearing a navigator’s uniform (not a Dam Buster in sight yet) and longing for the hills of home in a flat, fen, wet spring landscape.

It’s about reining in thought, Killing Darlings, as Faulkner and Stephen King  and perhaps being more streamlined after the initial explosive burst and recourse to Nathalie Goldberg when stuck. It’s also about a sense of accomplishment when you know something is finished – like knowing when to stop tweaking your hair otherwise you’ll ruin the look. Most of all it’s because inspite  of yourself ,you just have to

write

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Gratitude

I subscribe to TUT notes which sends daily inspirational quotations. Sometimes they fit, at other times they haven’t.  Today’s goes like this:

‘Please tell anyone who wants to know, Anne, that a dream not followed by consistent action, however humble or small the actions may be, points to either a huge contradiction or a gigantic misunderstanding. Because when people are clear and they realise just how powerful they already are, wild horses can’t stop them from taking baby steps, every day.’

I’ve been taking baby steps for the past month, recovering from surgery, and as I emerge from a world of Clexane, Zapain, anaesthetics and pain relief, I wonder now, ‘What next?’

‘It’s not every day you get your life back,’ someone said to me recently, and I was forced to agree and yet it was not entirely taken from me – more reshaped by disease and the need for medical intervention, and the questions, anxieties and fears that go hand in hand with that process. Then my life was refashioned again, by the words, ‘You’re cured. We don’t need to see you again.’ Indeed I arrived home from hospital to find the house the same as I had left it – my perspective had fundamentally changed. Luck has played a part and in the midst of worry and fear there have been wonderful moments of friendship, joy, prayer and a sense of the absurd. These moments too,  expanded my universe –  made the world a slightly larger and infinitely kinder place.

I’ve been privileged that many people have shared stories with me, sent texts,facebook messages, get-well cards; gifts of flowers and books, random hugs. I loved everyone in my morphine-induced, post-operative state and for ten days or so functioned in a bit of a bubble. I’d had so many worries about major surgery and it was all fine. I was treated with care, compassion, skill and expertise by the NHS. What more could one ask? I was in good hands.The euphoria and sense of relief have not receded. However, the question of  what all these experiences mean for me remain.

One of my favourite authors, Daphne Kapsali, serendipitously popped up on a Facebook feed with her book, “How to live a deliberate life.” Here she details the forces that conspire against writing, and she details how social conditioning and expectations shape what we do with our dreams. It contains a moving tribute to her father, ‘a fucking good poet’ and the impact of Greek austerity on his life and literary career. In fact, I had hoped to find a few pointers. but all I encountered was a brave writer, who personifies the competing forces in her life and details the tensions between them. Kapsali has the ability to describe a literal walk and suddenly it becomes a metaphor for encountering difficulties and  joy in experiences, and as she writes and rewrites sentences, fashioning and refashioning  words and phrases, she pushes towards finding joy in an ordinary (and therefore extraordinary) life. Perhaps that too is my answer.

Increasingly, I have the sense that the universe has flagged up a few questions about my life and where it goes from here. I guess there will be difficult choices at some point: Stay, Move, Relocate, Move South, Write More, Teach Less, Give up writing. There are no answers in neon lights, no lottery thumbs, no answers on a post card and this time no 50/50 answer – for that would mean continued compromise. And yet I have to balance the need to provide with my increasing urge for freedom.

But just for now, I’m thankful. I escaped with my life.

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A day of delights

The day started out with ‘The Last Breakfast” meaning that this was the last chance I and a couple of friends could get together before my planned surgery next week. It was lovely – we had chance to swap notes on consultants, swap notes on the various house moves that are ongoing in this lovely group.

“You will learn a lot,” one beautiful wise lady said to me. “Nothing happens to us that we cannot learn. It is from the heart. It is mostly about friendship and love.” Then she gestured to the group and the customers in the cafe and as we laughed about Bridget Jones’ underwear. I knew she was right. Who better than your best friends to guide one through the maelstrom of appropriate night wear and preparation(“natural kelp, or spinach  darling”) of a biggish operation.

She continued,”I was surprised about how loving the care was.” And suddenly I was reassured. The professionalism was always going to be there but it is supplemented by good  nursing staff . I’ll gloss over the conversation about clean or cleaning bowels, but I will never again eat poached eggs without chuckling and grimacing as there is much to be said but not repeated  for alternative healthcare approaches!

By the end of the day as I prepared to wave my bestest church friend away, I was doing the pig snort… my pig snort a sure sign of a joyous transaction, this time fuelled by whitebait and chunky chips.

It happened like his: “You said you want to go on a rib ride,” said Anne. “I’ve booked it.”Now the thing is despite my inner love of speed, adrenaline and danger, I hate getting off and on boats – the bouncy thing is just too dangerous. The jetty was, to put it mildly, exceptionally buoyant and  I had visions of being seasick before leaving it. The life jackets were  a mix of neoprene origami . My only instructions for drowning were out of Outlander: Don’t struggle, discard surplus clothing and float to the top. Except in my case it was all tied in the jacket. My harsh lesson was that Gabaldon’s Outlander is not a lesson for a rib ride.

None of the passengers wanted to sit at the front so Anne and I got the wet seats on the prow of the rib. After bouncing on the inflatable side and gripping the pilot’s hand aboard, I was initially dubious. But hey here I was In my own micro-mini -Titanic. My friend, Anne was initially bemused by my cries of “jack… jack… draw me like your French Girls.’ But I forgot all hilarity when I saw the first cormorant; bobbing mid stream. His cousins’ wide winged, black fanned and skittish watched the approach of the rib. Their wings stretched and lengthened  as the hull of the boat drew closer to the rocks. And we were off – flitting between buoys and craft till we hit the Swellies.

I have a healthy respect for these current in The Straits  – if only because someone ran aground there with my daughter on board. We bounced on the sea: looking at the site of the Conway’s destruction, looking back at the post and seeing where the rocks pushed above the green water surface. Our pilot pointed out various landmarks and explained why the swellies were dangerous. I had a sudden vision of a vessel aground between the bridges, smoking – on fire, maydaying for help and  explaining that there were children on board. God Bless the RNLI and then,as today, I was reminded of y grandfather’s plea: When its stormy, rough or just plain sailing weather – remember to pray for those at sea. To this day I love the chords of ‘ The Sailors Hymn”  and I have a feeling it was sung at his funeral , he survived The Battle of Jutland and was a life long pacifist and communist.

Without doubt it was cold on the water. It wasn’t as bouncy as I had feared  but the turns were thrilling as was the slalom amongst the buoys. We needed more of that.  We got a glimpse of the Lion on the bridge, which was amazing and I got a sense of was how the landscape fits together between Beaumaris, Bangor, Menai Bridge and Felinheli. It took a while to recover my land legs so I popped into the library and chatted to the librarian, who I have to say looks really pretty and well and glowing since she took early retirement from work. And then I caught a sedate bus home.

More lowlights and a haircut followed , I really can’t wait to go grey!

The ribride was the perfect antidote to yesyerday’s preop. which I found an ordeal. “Think happy thoughts.” I was told but my BP just continued to elevate , my thoughts at variance with my smiling demeanour. “Happy thoughts? Here? Right here? Right Now? Are you serious? I don’t think so! ” Optimism may be a bonus but the humour comes with hindsight.  I can laugh now, I was so cross and cranky the numbers just got higher as my inner language and vocab deteriorated: capital F floating in my mind like ticker tape. I tnought of all the places I loved being.

I Thought of childhood beaches, sitting in my favourite places, being with my favourite people and friends; and the more I thought,  the more the numbers increased, and by the fifth or sixth or seventh go, I suggested that maybe we should just cancel everything and I could resume normal life. I know that work would love to have me back, and I could sit in the over fifty corner AKA Menopause  corner ( christened by me oh dramatic irony) and chatter with Karen, Sioned, Caroline and Helen and anyone else who joined us there. Because I miss my work friends. However, cancelling isn’t really an option.

Following the preop, friends from homegroup that I used to attend brought and prepared a cream tea of scones, strawberries and jam and we sat and giggled and it was fun to be together  for the first time in over a year since Anne moved to Waunarlwydd. Helen gave me a gift of a butterfly notebook and I love it, and the house is still filled with sunflowers.

” Most of all, you will have to learn to accept and let others take care of you.” Lyndell Alison and Gabby said at breakfast. It’s a tough one for a closet control freak, but I think it’ll be ok.

Truly I am grateful for so many lovely women in my life. 💕

 

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Wish Lists, Bucket Lists and Fuck it Lists!

sometimes life jumps at you and leaves you thinking of the things you wish to do and the things you wish you had. This is by no means a bucket list but it is a list of activities I would wish to accomplish before I hit 75 an age which is meaningful for my kids and me – as  they promised NOT to shoot me.

take a rib ride

ride a horse on a beach

go fishing for sea bass

go fishing for lobster

cook said lobster and sea bass

sleep out under the stars like I did in Gitzenweilerhof

sleep in a yurt

take a SARS flight around Anglesey

re read the Laura Ingall Wilder Series, Little House on the Prairie

re read Little Women, Great Expectations and read A Tale of Two Cities

Finish the Outlander Series and read the Lord John Series

have a Pirates of the Caribbean DVD-fest

Volunteer for a Writing in Health course

see friends

Watch Friends DVD

Zip World? errrrr maybe … not?

make and keep a gratitude  jar

visit Build a Bear

watch old favourites like Brief Encounter, This Happy Breed, A Matter of Life and Death, The Red Shoes, Little Women, the Ghost and Mrs Muir

revisit Haworth

stay overnight in the Bronte museum, the Dylan Thomas Place and Plas Newydd

have an outdoor meal of roast lamb and salad with candlelight and music

dance in a barn dance

dance at a wedding

eat Joe’s

drink tea from china and porcelain cups

plant wild flowers

swim un the sea everyday in September

make a herb station

read LucyWorsley’s bio of Jane Austen

buy L’occitane Lemon or Vetiver fragrance

stuff a lemon and orange with cloves

stare at the sun and watch my eyelids make patterns

cuddle Ginny everyday

Go to church

sing in a gospel choir

visit the library

write

stand on Cymyran beach and feel the rumble in my guts as the jets fly overhead

persuade BBMF to make a detour over my house

steam train from Caernarfon to Beddgelert

train from Porthmadog to Aberdovey

tell my kids I love them very day

review a novel once a month on this blog

diarise

see one familiar deeply loved face from my childhood

candlelit BBQ

swim in Caswell Bay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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No! I Won’t Write about this!

No I won’t write about this  – at least that is what I said to my sister.

Anyway.

My house is awash with flowers as I write this: yellow sunflowers, pink peonies, daisies, gerbera, roses, lilies; an orchid and a pot of marguerites – gifts from my daughter, friends and colleagues. My bathroom is filled with a variety of bubble bath, moisturisers and candles — sensuous gifts that soothe the mind and body. To add to this some crisp bedding, and a room burner. Frankincense is today’s choice for writing.

A few weeks and months ago I felt that my life was heading out of control: The merry-go-round was spinning faster  that I couldn’t see the view to the edge of the park. The feeling reminded me of the time when as a child in nursery school we had excursions to the park opposite in Middle Road. We would lie down and look at the sky while one of the boys hurled the machine. We were like mini dervishes: couldn’t tell left from right, top from bottom inside from out.    At work I mentioned to friends that I ‘felt my age’ and wondered how on earth I could carry on in a profession that has, lets face it been a political football for over a century. Cooking always a source of joy became a chore.

Determined not to ‘let the side down’, I worked through a bout of shingles, dealt with home renovations/ tarting up in order to sell quickly, wielded paint brushes, dealt with the lovely builder’s yard, CL Jones in Llangefni (they’re ace!) and surfed the web for my dream “two up, two down” in Bethesda, Talysarn, Trimsaran, Llannerch y Medd. I fantasised about knocking on the door of a pretty terraced cottage here and asking “fancy a swap”. My itchy feet were fast needing a dose of antihistamine.

Suddenly everything came to a stop and I was flung off the merry go ground skinning my knees and bruising a few limbs. The last two weeks have been spent catching up with friends and family, while I prepare for surgery and I will be home, off work for a minimum of three months.

I’m unclear what all this means for my writing, whether I will write or whether I   will just take time out for me, working out what it is I want – broadly speaking: three day week, writing for two days and a two up two down in a quiet sunny street, with a rose around the door (why not?), a herb garden and a lavender lined border. Window boxes trailing alyssum, lobellia and scarlet geraniums, and French doors from the kitchen to the garden decking. One thing at a time!

I don’t know if I should even be writing about my experiences. I’ll probably keep a private diary but illness narratives are just that. They do what they say on the tin; inform, give insight, share experiences are uplifting and heart breaking. Moreover I think the genre is just about full. This doesn’t mean I’m not grateful to other writers who share their experiences. Joan Didion, Gwyneth Lewis, Daphne Kapsali (to name a few) But it takes a special kind of writer to write these books and I’m just not that kind of writer. Really, I’m caustic with a cynical, gallows, sense of humour with an eye to the absurd and the bull shit, and theres a tiny lazy part of me that wishes to watch crime box sets back to back. Criminal Minds, Blue Bloods, NCIS, The Bridge,Wallender to name a few. Then read the Outlander series and watch (again!) the first two series. – Every Girl needs a Jamie Frazer!

And, the stories I had sketched out in my ideas book, the flash that came to me of a story set in the interwar years, have scattered like pearls to the furthest corner of the room. I  can see them glowing but I’m not quite deft enough to recover them just yet.

And yet, I need a deadline and it seems the universe has offered one. I applied for a Lit Wales Bursary and was turned down. Mildly, disappointed  is an understatement of how I felt in the context of failing to secure a job in South Wales, the School Governors turning down my request for paid leave to present in the NAASWCH at Harvard.

However, the start of the sick leave coincides with the date I had requested to commence my bursary application. Part of me thinks I would be a fool for not writing but sitting down and plotting in the midst of so much uncertainty now feels an enormous undertaking, and yet as someone pointed out to me – life’s uncertain anyway!

So I may blog, but it maybe that this will be a blog that focuses on the good things in life: Criminal Minds, outlander, essential oils and flowers. And if an element of doubt, cynicism or sarcasm appear, someone needs to give me a swift kick in the butt.



 

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