this too
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
  Year of the Fire-Dog

I found out by chance that Tibetans celebrate the start of a new year today: Losar. Always a cheerful thought – the idea of purging negativity and ceremonially marking a new start somehow never goes amiss, does it? So weighed down we feel, yet so endearingly ever-ready to cast it all off and begin again.

Today begins the Tibetan Year of the Fire-Dog. A quick web-search tells me that, like the Chinese year, each Tibetan year is identified by an animal: hare, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, ape, bird, dog, pig, mouse, bull, tiger. In addition, each year is identified by an element: fire, earth, iron, water, wood. Finally, the gender alternates every other year, in a sixty year cycle. This Fire-Dog Year is Male. Next comes the Female Earth-Pig Year - MUST remember to celebrate that!
Monday, February 27, 2006

Hell of a week. Still too tired to clear the work backlog that still keeps on growing and sits there glowering at me. By Friday I feel just dreadful and it’s obvious I’m sickening for something. Should have realised how vulnerable I was at this time of year and being so run down after previous bouts of illness. Should have been downing industrial quantities of Vitamin C and Echinacea, but that was one more thing I was too tired to do.

So, Friday night, out for dinner with three friends I’m very fond of. Should have gone straight home to bed too, but I haven’t seen them for ages and what is life if it’s all work and being ill? - just too miserable!

After an hour or so of pleasant conversation, pleasant food and drink, I feel MUCH better, winding down fast – perhaps a little TOO fast, because before I know it the word ‘blog’ has passed my lips.

"What?" "You have?" "Why haven’t we seen it?".

Uh-oh. A whole year and I hadn’t told a soul. I’m kind of embarrassed, I guess, because it’s all about me – hardly a riveting subject. If it’s only other bloggers who read it – well, some, at least, have similar tendencies to self-absorption.

Too ill all weekend to dwell on it – some kind of nasty virus: raging temperature and stomach like a witches’ cauldron. Now it comes back to me: oh dear, this is no longer my secret vice!
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Further to my post before last, I see Ruth has some beautiful photos today of mimosa from the Cote d'Azur. Sigh.
Monday, February 20, 2006
  Walking: latest

Week 6
Miles walked: 10 (target 20)
Total miles walked: 122.5 (target 120)
Miles remaining: 877.5

I was ill

Week 7
Miles walked: 18 (target 20)
Total miles walked: 140.5 (target 140)
Miles remaining: 859.5

I was better, but still feeling weedy and also very overworked due to having had time off. An object lesson in the benefits of getting ahead when you can!


February, ugh. Trudging through cold porridge towards a distant Spring. The grim month in Northern Europe. Just once, the year I was 20, I travelled South in February into the sun, and every year about this time I remember and feed on it.

A train and a boat and an overnight train and waking in the early morning to blue sky over the Mediterranean. At Cannes station a lanky nervous woman in a swirling cape picks me up in a clanking Renault 4 with a hole in the floor and we go bumping inland along narrow roads where the driving style, I note with sleepy alarm, is to keep to the middle of the road, stare the oncoming motorist in the eye, and the one who blinks first shoots to the side at the last minute.

In the hallway of a pale house, with tiled floors and little furniture and so much light, stand two tiny girls. They’re 2 and 3, but look more like twins, in miniature ribbed sweaters and checked dirndel skirts about 6 inches long and baggy woollen tights. Two mops of hair, one blonde, one dark, with the birds-nest mussiness of toddlers who fling themselves at life head-first. "Angele, Julie, dites bonjour". Two small mistrustful stares.

As the clanking car zooms off again to deliver them to school, I’m left alone in my bedroom to unpack, with sinking heart at the strangeness of everything and little feeling that this could be home, but find myself drawn to the window, standing in the light that climbs brighter and brighter over the hill.

Then we size each other up over coffee, Michelle and I, talking shyly and wondering if we might be friends - and she, no doubt, if this stiff English girl will be kind to her daughters. My eyes must be drawn still to the window, for soon she suggests I take a walk around the neighbourhood and I find myself dawdling, tiredly but with dawning happiness, up a hillside lane, smelling for the first time growing aromatic herbs and seeing everywhere… mimosa, clouds of flowering sunlight.

My senses open in the mid-morning warmth and my heart opens in hope. It’s not a vain hope, for we will be good friends. Michelle's loping elegance hides a gentle, wounded woman in much need of a friend on hand, and I am less immature and conventional than I look. It is perhaps the most important friendship of my youth, because I learn from her what I most need to know: that troubled people who find life difficult are not for that less lovable. If I can love her, with all her inadequacies, for her warmth and honesty and vivid mind and the many tastes and feelings we share, perhaps I too can be loved, although I am odd and struggle with life and fear I’m mad.

And the children wind themselves quickly around my heart, which has never known little children and heard for 20 years that I’m selfish and unfeminine… and believed it. I easily find the wellspring within me of nurturing love for very small, vulnerable people. I never knew. I had no idea. And all this in the bright, bright light around us and inside me too. The next six months are full of sunshine.

The arriere-pays, the Riviera hinterland, nearly became my home, but in the end I didn’t stay and there’s never been another Spring so bright. But once you know, it lingers always just behind the eyelids.
Friday, February 17, 2006
  Spatially challenged

I can’t tell if a space is wide enough to drive through, sometimes not even if it’s wide enough to walk through. Other humans don’t seem to need whiskers.

I have enormous, hair-tearing, head-banging difficulty processing information on more than two axes, eg determining the best of 4 dates for 6 busy people to meet.

And there are some things I should never order on line, because I don't grasp until I see them that two boxes of 100 large ones is going to be so much bigger than two boxes of 100 small ones.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006
  A year rushes by

Like heavy traffic on a wet day, time rushes by splattering me with mud and it’s a year today since I decided that I too must definitely have a blog and jumped in. A strange decision, a strange activity, and I still don’t really have a handle on it, but I know it has proved a great gift and made this semi-technophobe unequivocally happy nearly every day to be connected to the internet.

I wanted, mostly, a framework for regularly trying to write a bit - and in this I have been deeply disappointed and frustrated with myself. I’ve found the time and energy so briefly and sporadically, lacking the space to reach inside for it and knowing that it’s not really the space - since it’s not in the same dimension as my other daily activities - but the motivation that I lack. This has been painful. But here I still am, so I haven’t given up hope.

On the other hand, buying a digital camera was a whim, an add-on, and taking photos (which I’d almost never done before) has proved a delight, a new opening into seeing and touching and playing with the present. My world will never look the same again as the patterns and colours keep growing and changing and swirling around me. An escape from words into a different dimension of head and heart. It’s lovely.

And most of all this new navel-gazing activity has miraculously proved to be very far from just that, brought new friends and contacts on every continent through their blogs and comments and emails, and some of them right here in London in the flesh - precious people I never would otherwise have met. It’s a village I can visit every day: what a sweet discovery for someone tired of the anonymity of the big city who longs for community. It’s a flood of writing and photos – skilful and moving, hilarious and immediate, experienced quite differently from reading a book. It is hands that reach out from the computer screen and take mine. Amazing.

And what comes next I’ve no idea. As Spring approaches some doors seem to be opening for me, if I don’t take fright and turn away. In that context, a place to reflect and process and connect and let off steam feels like a good thing to have.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
  That damned illusion of control

Being ill, even a little ill, scares me. Not pain or weakness. Not even the imaginative person’s curse of hypochondria. No, what scares me is that illness disrupts the oh-so-precious, oh-so-foolish illusion of control. The illusion that if I work hard, keep lists, do my best, keep trying harder, I’ll get everything done, feel satisfied, stop worrying and receive only positive feedback.

Naturally, I never get everything done or feel satisfied or stop worrying. The lists are never complete. My best is indefinable. Feedback tends only to arrive when someone else’s worry or bad temper gets the better of them, and therefore to be negative.

Nevertheless, I persist in the illusion that any day now I’ll reach the point of being in control. And I know I’m not alone in this. It’s at heart an attempt to comfort ourselves, I suppose. But the effect is just the opposite. Because there is no control. Because the unexpected always happens. Everything is fragile, tomorrow it all changes, and life is beautiful and precious because of this, not in spite of it.

All this I would be the first to tell you, when I come to think quietly about it. But not in the thick of all the day-to-day rushing about. As long as this-and-this-and-this-and-this get done, it’ll all be fine, I keep telling myself. And every time a new this arises unexpectedly and one of the existing thises falls off the bottom, my heart and stomach turn over and a loud warning siren goes off, and then, if my energy and resilience levels are up to it, I do a rapid juggling act, redefine today’s list, today’s parameters for a bearable level of supposed control. And it’s all in my head, all self-inflicted, and I wish I could stop it.

Nothing wrong with making lists or setting priorities, setting realistic aims and trying to fulfil them. But they’ll never be more than indicative. They aren’t magical charms. Experience suggests that life will intervene over and over.

So, life intervened. Feeling sick and destroyed and lying down doing nothing for several days. And the deadlines and the commitments and the piles and piles of paperwork continued to arrive at an unabated rhythm.

I return to work and look at the piles and piles of paper and the overflowing email box. And I think: how do I get back in control? If I work three hours overtime every day, and all day Saturday and Sunday, how long will it take me to make up the 35 hours missed? And I work it out, and I throw myself in. And half way through Saturday I start to feel faint and weak and my mind shuts down and by Sunday I can hardly move, feeling quite as ill as I did a week ago. Did I really think the quickest route to recovery lay through merciless extra effort? No, not really. But I let myself be motivated by the loss of control which was scaring me much more than the physical symptoms.

Having got myself out of bed and back to my desk for a second time, can I try to look at it differently? Start from the knowledge that control is lost. Here, now, I’ve lost it, I’m naked. Breathe that in. Still alive? Surprisingly, yes. Loss of control can be survived. It’s a great relief, even. Teetering nervously in the gateway of an unknown garden where I’ve ventured only a few times, in the extremes of love and fear and grief that I’ve mostly managed to avoid. Could I, dare I, come here more often?
Friday, February 10, 2006
  Around there (Brixton)

click to enlarge - if you're a vegetarian, better not.

Not far from here. Not at all suburban.

Thursday, February 09, 2006
  Crumbling at the edges

Been feeling seriously (though it wasn't serious) and demoralisingly ill. Much better now, but seriously and demoralisingly Behind with Everything. However, back to the walking today, enthusiasm undiminished, and here is a report on last week's:

Walking a thousand miles in 2006 - Week 5
Miles walked: 19 (target 20)
Total miles walked: 112.5 (target 100)
Miles remaining: 887.5

And here's a link to an inspiring walker and poet.

Friday, February 03, 2006
  Around here

It’s an almost intact Victorian suburb. Here and there a block of flats or a few new houses, built on what was a garden too large for today’s tastes. Here and there a group of prefabs where a bomb fell more than sixty years ago – meant to last ten years and still, astonishingly, serving someone well. But these are few, amid mile after mile of red-brick terraces – large and small, two storeys, three storeys, four, some with carved wooden gable-edges or fancy plaster-work and some without, some still single-family houses and some chopped into two or three apartments. Solid and in good condition after much more than a hundred years, with their big windows and high ceilings, overlooking widish roads and generous gardens. It’s all on a human scale and rather soothing in its uniformity.

The Victorians built parks too; within a mile or so of here are two large green spaces, laid out along with the first housing estates, with huge old trees, lawns and lakes now undergoing expensive restoration. For we are restoring, gentrifying, going up market finally. Long a shabby, unmodish area because there is no tube link, the journey to work in Central London a lengthy, congested bus-ride through depressed inner city, we are becoming fashionable at last. Cheap property brought young professionals, single house-sharers and couples with small children - not the affluent, but not so poor either - and new businesses sprang up to cater to them. The tatty butchers and greengrocers closed down and re-opened as silly, sparkly trinket shops, the pubs sprouted new facades and tapas menus. Then the trinket shops turned back into butchers and greengrocers – expensive organic ones – and we were really on our way. Half the front gardens have been bulldozed and concreted over for car-parking, laden builders’ skips clutter up the streets as wooden floors and ‘shaker’ kitchens are installed, loft conversations rise and conservatories sprawl.

It’s all much better than depression and decay – a modest, decent place to live, just as it was when new. It’s a dormitory, though, not a community. A lot of uncared-for ugliness flourishes between the titivated houses and there’s a tacky fragility to the bright new shop-fronts. A Victorian suburb is at heart a grey-brown, gloomy place. And more starkly gloomy, perhaps, under sodium streetlamps, than ever it was by gaslight.

  Snug and smug

These raw mornings when I turn out and go to work, the cat eats a leisurely breakfast, cleans her whiskers and goes back to bed. I know she's well past retirement age, but really. Grrr.

Tamar and Mary have written so tenderly this week about their cats, and of course I'm just as soft on this wee thing, even at her most annoying...
Wednesday, February 01, 2006


summer afternoons
of lazy youth remembered
sun on weathered wood


crossing the river
leaving then to be with now
may not be easy

Meditation for existentialists

wake early and sit
wrapped warmly in a blanket
being nothingness

My Photo
Location: London, UK

Freelance copy-editor and translator. Keen on language, literature, photography, art, music, buddhist meditation and the countryside.

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