Discombobulated


  1. Yesterday you saw me lolling around in a field but today it’s time to work. Now that my lovely agent has given 17 thumbs up (literally 17, yeah I know, I was worried about that too, but I want to get published so what are you gonna do?) to my idea for the new novel based on the short story, and is as excited as I am, I guess I’ll have to start writing it. Usually I start with an emotion, nothing more, I write it and it goes from there. But this. This is different. I have the feeling (ALL OF THE FEELINGS) but also I have a full plot, characters, landscape, ending, everything, the first time that has ever happened, and it all came together in about five minutes on a train from London. It’s so strange, so scary, so exhilarating, like a little miracle exploded in my head and in my heart simultaneously and now I just have to clothe it in words and let it go.
I have given myself a tight deadline of 1st September for the first draft, which JUST HAPPENS to be the day my ever-busy and booked up tattooist re-opens his list. That’s my incentive for meeting my deadline, see, a present to myself of some beautiful new ink. The thought of the colours of my swallow tattoo will keep me on track.
OK then. The sun is shining and it’s hot and I’m barefoot and I’m going out now to sit in a field and write. Or maybe I’ll just take off my clothes and roll around in the grass for a while, like a dog made crazy by the joy of summertime. I feel so happy. The book is going to be amazing and you will love it.
You will.

    Yesterday you saw me lolling around in a field but today it’s time to work. Now that my lovely agent has given 17 thumbs up (literally 17, yeah I know, I was worried about that too, but I want to get published so what are you gonna do?) to my idea for the new novel based on the short story, and is as excited as I am, I guess I’ll have to start writing it. Usually I start with an emotion, nothing more, I write it and it goes from there. But this. This is different. I have the feeling (ALL OF THE FEELINGS) but also I have a full plot, characters, landscape, ending, everything, the first time that has ever happened, and it all came together in about five minutes on a train from London. It’s so strange, so scary, so exhilarating, like a little miracle exploded in my head and in my heart simultaneously and now I just have to clothe it in words and let it go.

    I have given myself a tight deadline of 1st September for the first draft, which JUST HAPPENS to be the day my ever-busy and booked up tattooist re-opens his list. That’s my incentive for meeting my deadline, see, a present to myself of some beautiful new ink. The thought of the colours of my swallow tattoo will keep me on track.

    OK then. The sun is shining and it’s hot and I’m barefoot and I’m going out now to sit in a field and write. Or maybe I’ll just take off my clothes and roll around in the grass for a while, like a dog made crazy by the joy of summertime. I feel so happy. The book is going to be amazing and you will love it.

    You will.

  2. "We are all bitched from the start…"

    "Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it—don’t cheat with it. Be as faithful to it as a scientist—but don’t think anything is of any importance because it happens to you or anyone belonging to you."

    A month after the publication of his novel Tender Is The Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote to his friend Ernest Hemingway to ask for his opinion on the book. The letter he got back is fantastic, passionate, affectionate and full of writerly advice that I am going to try and follow from now on.

    Also, I’m going to start saying “goddamn” a whole lot more.

    Go read the whole wonderful thing over at Letters of Note.

  3. The language of bees

    "A research technician is required to work at the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects assisting Professor Francis Ratnieks on research projects on honey bees, stingless bees, and ants. Previous experience of working with these types of social insects, in carrying out lab and field research, and a basic ability in speaking Portuguese, are required."

    I never knew honey bees speak Portuguese.

    Nor flying ants or any other social insects, though actually it would make sense, these creatures fly far and wide and who’s to say they’ve not visited the continent and picked up some of the local lingo, some of the local colour, so to speak, and if they’ve, for example, been to Lisbon, who’s to say they didn’t fall in love with the city and join a local hive - I don’t know how these things work in the world of bees, hell I don’t even know how these things work in the world of humans, am I right, well anyway - so like I was saying they might move in with the local bees, say hola and cómo estás and gracias and te quiero - but in Portuguese, they would speak Portuguese, I only know Spanish so I wrote some Spanish there, the important phrases right - they might stay a while, hang up their tiny little hats and stay and fall in love with the local cuisine and the music and have little Portuguese grubs, and then come back home only after long months have passed - months are like years for bees I do know that much - and it’ll have been so long they’ll have forgotten their native language, their native tongue, so to speak - bees have very long tongues you know - their English words have flown, have gone, adiós, adiós las palabras - like I said I only speak Spanish so that’ll have to do - and then, when they’ve come home and got comfy in the English hives of the university where they can be cared for and studied and have tiny numbers painted on their furry backs - special paint must be used, I guess, but how do they catch the bees, how do they hold them still - then of course someone has to speak their language, no one can talk to them or understand them unless they speak with the soft, rushing sounds of Portuguese and sing to them the passionate and mournful fados of Lisbon - OK maybe I do know something about Portugal, at least I know of their sad, desperate love songs, I’d like to know their happy songs, you know, their songs of joy, I’ve had enough of the sad songs now - and so they put an advertisement on their website for a researcher who knows about insects that are social and know only how to speak to each other by dancing in circles and singing the Portuguese Fado.

    Maybe the job description should have included an intimate knowledge of Portuguese music and broken hearts as well. But what do I know?

  4. "People say to write about what you know. I’m here to tell you, no one wants to read that ‘cause you don’t know anything. So write about something you don’t know. And don’t be scared, ever."

    Toni Morrison

  5. It has been raining all day. My colleague’s office  flooded and I spent the afternoon moving furniture and plugging in  cables. I mopped a carpet. I’ve never mopped a carpet before.
Yesterday I was sick as a dog. Migraine thing. It  was already too late to take painkillers by the time I got up at 7:00am,  but still I sat on the kitchen floor whimpering and threw pills down my  throat. It didn’t make any difference. So I dragged myself back to bed  and spent long hours smelling sounds and hearing colours, shaking and  sweating with the hurting. I wanted to cry, with pain, with frustration,  but I knew that sobbing would make my head pound even more so just lay  on my back as tears dripped slowly into my ears, hoping for  death and cursing the fact that I wasn’t a snail.
I bet snails don’t  get migraines. Trod on and squished yes, migraines no.
But I didn’t die. I’ve been dizzy and clumsy all day today, it’s actually pretty funny, and I didn’t die.
Because I didn’t die I went for a long walk in the  rain through the woods this afternoon. The sky was furious but the  raindrops were fat and slow and gentle. They felt lovely on my face,  warm caresses, soft fingers on my cheeks, my eyelids. They found the  angle of my jaw, crept down my neck. I caught them on my tongue. As I  wandered along the path, dragging my feet through drifts of wet leaves, I  surprised four black and white goats grazing next to the footpath. I  shit you not. Goats.  They come from the farm that borders the University land and sometimes  get loose from their pen. I stopped to watch them but I must have  squealed out loud in my delight because they took fright and bounced and  skittered and slid up the muddy slope towards the safety of their  field. One of them wore a bell. It made a sweet, deep sound. At the  fence the goats stopped. They turned and looked at me. I told them that  they should be ashamed of themselves, getting out like that, should get  on back home and be quick about it. They ignored me. I guess I have  something to learn about talking to goats. I said goodbye and they  watched me until I was out of sight.
A long shower is good for when fireworks have  been exploding in your brain and you’re finding it difficult to hold a  pen or enunciate the word “shenanigans”. It’s good for emptying the  mind. Which isn’t hard for me, there’s not much in there anyway. My skin  felt happy listening to the water whisper against it. My hands felt  happy with my wet hair snaking between my fingers. I felt happy with  just that, the water and the warmth, the fact that I was alive. And that  I am not, after all, a snail.

    It has been raining all day. My colleague’s office flooded and I spent the afternoon moving furniture and plugging in cables. I mopped a carpet. I’ve never mopped a carpet before.

    Yesterday I was sick as a dog. Migraine thing. It was already too late to take painkillers by the time I got up at 7:00am, but still I sat on the kitchen floor whimpering and threw pills down my throat. It didn’t make any difference. So I dragged myself back to bed and spent long hours smelling sounds and hearing colours, shaking and sweating with the hurting. I wanted to cry, with pain, with frustration, but I knew that sobbing would make my head pound even more so just lay on my back as tears dripped slowly into my ears, hoping for death and cursing the fact that I wasn’t a snail.

    I bet snails don’t get migraines. Trod on and squished yes, migraines no.

    But I didn’t die. I’ve been dizzy and clumsy all day today, it’s actually pretty funny, and I didn’t die.

    Because I didn’t die I went for a long walk in the rain through the woods this afternoon. The sky was furious but the raindrops were fat and slow and gentle. They felt lovely on my face, warm caresses, soft fingers on my cheeks, my eyelids. They found the angle of my jaw, crept down my neck. I caught them on my tongue. As I wandered along the path, dragging my feet through drifts of wet leaves, I surprised four black and white goats grazing next to the footpath. I shit you not. Goats. They come from the farm that borders the University land and sometimes get loose from their pen. I stopped to watch them but I must have squealed out loud in my delight because they took fright and bounced and skittered and slid up the muddy slope towards the safety of their field. One of them wore a bell. It made a sweet, deep sound. At the fence the goats stopped. They turned and looked at me. I told them that they should be ashamed of themselves, getting out like that, should get on back home and be quick about it. They ignored me. I guess I have something to learn about talking to goats. I said goodbye and they watched me until I was out of sight.

    A long shower is good for when fireworks have been exploding in your brain and you’re finding it difficult to hold a pen or enunciate the word “shenanigans”. It’s good for emptying the mind. Which isn’t hard for me, there’s not much in there anyway. My skin felt happy listening to the water whisper against it. My hands felt happy with my wet hair snaking between my fingers. I felt happy with just that, the water and the warmth, the fact that I was alive. And that I am not, after all, a snail.

  6. Scene

    [ our office; for an hour there has been a constant grinding, whining noise from the room upstairs, a cross between nails on a chalk board and an electric lathe ]

    Me: Oh for fuck’s sake.

    L: What?

    Me: That noise. Above us.

    L: Is it getting on your nerves?

    Me: [ growls ]

    L: Would it help if you imagined it was them upstairs doing some carving?

    Me: Carving?

    L: Yeah. A big carving.

    Me: A sculpture.

    L: Yeah. A sculpture. Of a massive penis.

    Me: A wha..?

    L: Just imagine they’re up there, carving a giant, erect penis.

    Me: …

    L: There. You feel better already don’t you?

    Me: …

    L: Always happy to help.

  7. Dear Instagram: I like you

    There I said it.

    I know, I know. I spent the better part of a year ignoring you. Going out with Tumblr, holding hands with Flickr on long, quiet walks along the beach, having a brief but torrid fling with Twitter again. See, I thought I didn’t need you. I thought you were just like all the rest, nice enough, funny and smart even, certainly good looking but nothing special, not for me. I convinced myself I wasn’t interested. I convinced myself you weren’t my type, that your filters were the wrong colour, that you didn’t have enough features.

    But three weeks ago something happened. Something changed. I don’t know what. It doesn’t matter what. It’s a feeling I have and I know it’s right. I feel good when I’m around you. I feel free. You just seem to “get” me, you know? Do you know what I mean, Insty? Do you feel it too, Insty?

    Can I call you Insty, Insty?

    So anyway. I like you. A lot. More than a lot. I like your simplicity. I like the way you look. I like your filters. I like the way you put up with my shit: no editing, take it or leave it. I like the way you just work. All the time. And I like - love - your…blurry focussy thing. I’m sorry! I know that’s terribly forward of me, but I can’t hide it anymore. I’m not a pervert, I promise. I just like a tight focus, OK? It makes me feel…nice.

    I feel for you, baby. And after all, I’m just a girl standing in front of an, um, an iPhone, asking a photography/social networking app to love her. If you feel like taking a chance on a shutter-happy goatherd with nothing to her name but a pile of books, a guitar, touchscreen-gentle fingers and a fine pair of socks, meet me at 8:00 in the park by the pond. I’ll be the one lying on the grass counting the stars. Bring cider and an increased depth of field (do you have a big f/number? An f/8 even?).

    Tell me I’m not too late, honey. Let’s make beautiful, transient things easily together forever.

    [ runs away to the park, heart pounding ]

  8. [ Scene: outside my window just now, two drunk blokes stumbling up the street ]

    Bloke 1 (shouting): THE FUCK’S WRONG WITH YOU?

    Bloke 2: [ incoherent mumbling ]

    B1: YOU TURNED DOWN A GIRL!

    B2: [ im ]

    B1: BUT A GIRL. YOU TURNED DOWN A GIRL.

    B2: [ im ]

    B1: YOU TURNED DOWN A GIRL, MAN. A NICE FUCKEN GIRL.

    B2: [ im, sound of beer bottle shattering on tarmac ]

    B1: SHE WAS. FUCK. A GIRL, MAN. YOU TURNED DOWN A GIRL.

    [ continue to fade, exeunt omnes ]

  9. I just spent five seconds looking for a USB port on my typewriter. On my 1950s manual typewriter. Five seconds. Looking up and down its sides, running my fingers across its grey back, testing its corners, sure that the effing thing was there somewhere. I felt confused. For five seconds. It doesn’t sound like a long time, does it? But try it. Get a, I don’t know, a large hardback book. Look at it carefully for five seconds. Just stare at it intently. Five. Long. Seconds. Imagine you’ve spent those five seconds searching for a USB port that does not exist, has never existed, on books or on typewriters, not even in my favourite alternate dimension where I have a prehensile tail, I show my feelings by changing the colour of my eyes and am able to talk to birds and flying squirrels. Old typewriters simply do not have USB ports. They never have. They never will. Anywhere.

    And I felt so silly and burst out laughing and that’s the story of how I discovered that five seconds is a very long time.

  10. Whiskey and strings

    I’ve drank, drunk, lots of vodka and then some whiskey, sorry, bourbon, at my favourite pub, which happens to specialise in American whiskey, sorry, bourbon (so confused) and local bands. So, on advice from the bar guy, much pondering and beard stroking (from him, not me, I have no beard, really) I had a shot of Makers’ 46 on ice. I think. Anyway, delicious.

    But I wanted to tell you about the bus back home. It was full of boys with instruments. Musical instruments. Not, like, surgical instruments, that would be weird, right. So anyway. Guitars! And a mandolin, guys, a bloody mandolin, such a sweet, lovely sound, my brother used to play one, he was good, and there was a banjo and more guitars. And they started playing songs. I’d got a seat at the back and found myself wedged in amongst them, all elbows and cardigans and beards and denim knees and oops sorry no it’s OK and shy smiles we were, except for me in my flowery dress (I will pretend it’s still summer, I will) and goddammit, it would have been rude not to join in the singing, no? So. I sang all the way home on the bus with the boys who had guitars and a mandolin and a banjo and it was so great and they smiled and clapped and called goodbye (really!) when I got up to go etc and stuff and it was so sweet. So sweet. I will never stop smiling. Never.

  11. On the bravery of swallows and the goodness of home cooking and that damn illness that needs to go eff itself

    Soon the swallows will be gone.

    September is the month they up and leave for African shores. Calling to each other high and far from soft, red throats they gather in the skies and leave this island. A few stragglers will stay until early October, but most will have left by then. They go journeying far away but always come home, are persistent and beautiful and brave and so I love them, as one must love a thing that is beautiful and brave and does not give up. And that is the why of my swallow tattoo.

    Do you know Oscar Wilde’s heartbreaking story The Happy Prince? About a swallow and a statue and how they help the suffering people of their city. It is a tale that is beautiful and tragic and deeply moral (God appears at the end but don’t let that put you off if, like me, you are a non-Goddish kind of a person). It is about sacrifice and love, that is all. I will never forget the time my mum read it to me in bed when I was eight. She had just left my dad and his psychosis and taken us, her three young kids, with her to live in a tiny flat. Sitting in the dim light on the edge of my bed she read the story quietly to me. Her voice got fainter and fainter until, about two-thirds of the way through, she burst into tears and closed the book. She caught herself quickly and sat silent for a moment with her hand over her mouth and her long blonde hair over her face, then kissed my forehead and left. I lay in the dark and wiped my wet brow, listened to her crying in the living room. I wanted to go to her and put my arms around her and tell her, Mama, don’t cry, I love you, it will be alright. But I didn’t. So many years have passed and I still feel bad about that.

    I may have told you that story before.

    Mum was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer two weeks ago. She broke the news to me, in her usual matter of fact way, over the phone. Both she and I have had cancer, and have both beaten it right back to hell too, but when she told me I felt sick, as tiny and helpless as a baby bird. Next week she is having a mastectomy and I will be taking time off work to look after her if she is allowed out of hospital. If she stays in I will stay at her house, wander the little rooms, unearth old childhood stuff, do some pottering around London, write. Wherever she is I will read to her. I will write something for her, on paper. I will make her laugh. I will cook for her. She eats hardly anything at the moment but she loves to see me eat and I love to cook, so I will cook lots and eat lots. I will bake us a Tarte Tatin and dammit if I don’t get her to have a whole slice (if you’ve never tried it, you really should).

    These little things of love, a home-cooked meal, a few handwritten words, a gentle touch, can make a difference, I think, sometimes. I hope.

    "Justine, I’m perfectly capable. It’ll be fine. Don’t fuss so”, she tells me. I half expect her to go all Monty Python’s Black Knight on me: “Tis but a scratch!” She is a stout-hearted Eastern European socialist who built roads in her native Yugoslavia as a child and prefers to deal with things herself: slaughtering pigs, beating cancer, overthrowing capitalism, that sort of thing. I try not to pester her too much with my concern, for it seems to upset her more than the illness does. But this time I will not let her do it all on her own. This time I will go to her. Though I feel scared and oh so small, I am strong and this time I will go to her and put my arms around her and make sure she is OK.

    The swallows will be back next year. And you know what? I am hopeful that my mother will still be here to see them return and that maybe I will be in Africa to wave them goodbye as they leave on their return journey to the UK in the Spring. I’ll stop and watch them and say to my small herd of goats (for I will have some goats by then, oh yes, and maybe a kitten, I would like a kitten), “Look! There they go!” The goats will shake their heads and wonder what I’m on about. They’ve seen it every year, it ain’t nothing special to a goat. I will call to the birds and ask them to say hello to my mother when they arrive. “Tell her I love her. Tell her I will be home soon. Don’t forget!”, and the swallows will rise into the African sky and start their long, perilous journey back to this land.

    Bon voyage, little birds. Be safe. Come home to me soon.

  12. Monsters of the Id

    I don’t know about you, but when I wake early from a series of bruising nightmares I feel shaky. I feel small and scared and alone. I hold myself and cry. I tell myself that it is OK to cry - because it is - and that there was no brutal murder. There was no blood.

    That I didn’t watch the bludgeoning to death of a young girl and then spend long hours trying to wash blood and hair out of clothes, blood that was thick yet thin and that stained my fingernails and would not come out.

    That I didn’t fall through the ice, I didn’t plunge silently into the black water while refusing to let go of the heavy thing that dragged me down.

    That I didn’t walk amongst a herd of skinny horses who limped along the side of disused train tracks, chunks of flesh ripped from their sides, their legs, their necks, long teeth showing in the sides of jaws, eyes mournful and pleading with me for something, I don’t know what. That those sad, slow, tortured beasts were not real. That none of it was real, though the feelings of horror and sorrow and helplessness remain with me for a while.

    It’s OK. These are my feelings. I own them and welcome them as old friends, my old monsters. I let them flow through me and over me like deep water and then I bid them goodbye and turn away from them. I wipe my eyes and breathe deep, stretch out my limbs in the warm bed. I watch the clouds race the starlings through my window and smile at the chuckles of the seagulls as they waddle about on my roof and I stroke the skin of my belly and say to myself it’s alright, I am here and this will pass. I think of sunshine and the open road and a cowboy walking his dun pony along a sandy beach and I know that everything will be alright.

    It always is, you know.

  13. The light is doing strange things today. There are no clouds, just a haze that hangs in the sky like a gauzy curtain. When the weather is cool or unpredictable I walk. Up to the farm or    through the forest, sometimes to where people with guns come to shoot    birds and deer for sport. But today I have returned to my nest in the    long grass on the side of the hill. From the main path at the bottom  you   can just see where my feet have made a faint beaten track that  snakes   up the slope through the long stalks and flowers. Turn and  follow it.   Walk slowly and touch the spiked, purple heads of the  thistles as you   pass, stroke the sprays of tall white daisies that  sway and leave trails   of yellow pollen against your thighs. Run your  fingers through the   graceful nodding tails of the grasses, let their  silk play between your   fingers.Pretty soon you will come to a  small open patch where   the plants have been trodden down to form a  hollow. This is my nest. I   can be away for over a week and return and  there is the impression of my   body still in the grass, an oblong that  fits me perfectly. No one can   see you from the path, only the bees and  the  crickets will know you  are  here.
In a few months I will be gone from this place for good and my nest    will disappear. The grass will spring back and other plants will lean  in   and grow tall. It won’t take long for there to be no sign that I  was   ever here.  But now you have found me here, lying sprawled on  my  back  watching the sky, legs crossed at the ankles, my arms flung out   at my  sides, a grass stalk in my mouth, thinking certain thoughts, not    thinking certain others. One   brave cricket has decided to  hang around a little longer today. He has  sprung  from the grassy wall  of my hide and landed - ping! - on one of  my bare  knees. He tickles  but I keep still. I say hello. He doesn’t.  Instead he  rubs his tiny  hands together then strokes his antennae, one  then the  other, over and  over. He steadies himself and starts a  rasping, circular  song,  serenading me with his tiny, broken violin. A  thousand others,  hidden  in the grass, begin too and suddenly I am  surrounded by wave upon  wave  of cricket calls, insistent and constant  and pulsing deep within  me.I  whisper things to the creature as he  plays. I talk to him and tell him  secrets. Insects are good at keeping  secrets, mainly because they are  bad listeners and never remember what you’ve told them. But I whisper to  him anyway and he plays his broken violin  and the sun  comes out and  warms my legs.
A bi-plane drones overhead. I shield  my eyes with my hand and watch  its progress, which is so slow that I don’t know  how it stays in the  air (I can explain the principles of aeronautics and aerodynamics in  minute detail, with explanatory diagrams and sounds (the sound effects  are vital) as a result of my fight against my severe fear of flying. It  hasn’t helped the terror, but the wingtip vortex noise I can make is  pretty great.) The old machine potters around in the sky like a happy,  fat dragonfly and then starts to climb. It rises through air that seems  thick as honey until it is upside down, then loops backwards and over  and comes horizontal again. I half expect it to shake itself like a wet  dog after its exertions, and it meanders on until it is out of sight.
I look down and the cricket is gone. No  warning, no slight shift in  weight, no soft  spreading of wings in  preparation. One moment he is  there, rubbing his  hind legs together and  watching the world through  his bulbous eyes, the  next he is not.
I  smile and stroke the  skin on my knee where  he sat. It is marked still by old faint scars  from childhood falls and warm from  the new sunshine. A line from a  Philip Larkin  poem comes into my mind.  It’s just a scrap, a final  sentence, and I  don’t know why these words  are suddenly in my head,  words that the poet so desperately wanted to believe were irrefutable, rather than the “almost-instinct almost true" of the penultimate line. These words, this simple thing, this poem’s end:“What will survive of us is love.”I    look up and across the valley to where clouds are massing on the    horizon, an army of them all seated on their heavy, snorting warhorses,    preparing for battle, readying for the charge. They will be here soon   dragging the wind behind them,  battering this grass with their cloaks   of rain, galloping in  chaos about the dark skies and rattling their   shards of lightning  against the trees. But right now I am here,   safe and warm, lying heavy and soft against this earth that I love so   much, watching planes play in the sky, listening to an insect  orchestra, thinking about Larkin’s medieval knight and his lady frozen  in stone and in love, the grass stroking my cheek, the flowers nodding  sleepily against  my hair and this is happiness, these simple moments,  these tiny details, this is all it takes, truly, and I believe Larkin’s  words. I believe them whether the old bugger meant  them or not.

    The light is doing strange things today. There are no clouds, just a haze that hangs in the sky like a gauzy curtain.

    When the weather is cool or unpredictable I walk. Up to the farm or through the forest, sometimes to where people with guns come to shoot birds and deer for sport. But today I have returned to my nest in the long grass on the side of the hill. From the main path at the bottom you can just see where my feet have made a faint beaten track that snakes up the slope through the long stalks and flowers. Turn and follow it. Walk slowly and touch the spiked, purple heads of the thistles as you pass, stroke the sprays of tall white daisies that sway and leave trails of yellow pollen against your thighs. Run your fingers through the graceful nodding tails of the grasses, let their silk play between your fingers.

    Pretty soon you will come to a small open patch where the plants have been trodden down to form a hollow. This is my nest. I can be away for over a week and return and there is the impression of my body still in the grass, an oblong that fits me perfectly. No one can see you from the path, only the bees and the crickets will know you are here.

    In a few months I will be gone from this place for good and my nest will disappear. The grass will spring back and other plants will lean in and grow tall. It won’t take long for there to be no sign that I was ever here.  But now you have found me here, lying sprawled on my back watching the sky, legs crossed at the ankles, my arms flung out at my sides, a grass stalk in my mouth, thinking certain thoughts, not thinking certain others.

    One brave cricket has decided to hang around a little longer today. He has sprung from the grassy wall of my hide and landed - ping! - on one of my bare knees. He tickles but I keep still. I say hello. He doesn’t. Instead he rubs his tiny hands together then strokes his antennae, one then the other, over and over. He steadies himself and starts a rasping, circular song, serenading me with his tiny, broken violin. A thousand others, hidden in the grass, begin too and suddenly I am surrounded by wave upon wave of cricket calls, insistent and constant and pulsing deep within me.

    I whisper things to the creature as he plays. I talk to him and tell him secrets. Insects are good at keeping secrets, mainly because they are bad listeners and never remember what you’ve told them. But I whisper to him anyway and he plays his broken violin and the sun comes out and warms my legs.

    A bi-plane drones overhead. I shield my eyes with my hand and watch its progress, which is so slow that I don’t know how it stays in the air (I can explain the principles of aeronautics and aerodynamics in minute detail, with explanatory diagrams and sounds (the sound effects are vital) as a result of my fight against my severe fear of flying. It hasn’t helped the terror, but the wingtip vortex noise I can make is pretty great.) The old machine potters around in the sky like a happy, fat dragonfly and then starts to climb. It rises through air that seems thick as honey until it is upside down, then loops backwards and over and comes horizontal again. I half expect it to shake itself like a wet dog after its exertions, and it meanders on until it is out of sight.

    I look down and the cricket is gone. No warning, no slight shift in weight, no soft spreading of wings in preparation. One moment he is there, rubbing his hind legs together and watching the world through his bulbous eyes, the next he is not.

    I smile and stroke the skin on my knee where he sat. It is marked still by old faint scars from childhood falls and warm from the new sunshine. A line from a Philip Larkin poem comes into my mind. It’s just a scrap, a final sentence, and I don’t know why these words are suddenly in my head, words that the poet so desperately wanted to believe were irrefutable, rather than the “almost-instinct almost true" of the penultimate line. These words, this simple thing, this poem’s end:

    “What will survive of us is love.”

    I look up and across the valley to where clouds are massing on the horizon, an army of them all seated on their heavy, snorting warhorses, preparing for battle, readying for the charge. They will be here soon dragging the wind behind them, battering this grass with their cloaks of rain, galloping in chaos about the dark skies and rattling their shards of lightning against the trees.

    But right now I am here, safe and warm, lying heavy and soft against this earth that I love so much, watching planes play in the sky, listening to an insect orchestra, thinking about Larkin’s medieval knight and his lady frozen in stone and in love, the grass stroking my cheek, the flowers nodding sleepily against my hair and this is happiness, these simple moments, these tiny details, this is all it takes, truly, and I believe Larkin’s words. I believe them whether the old bugger meant them or not.

  14. Wotcha, monkeys.
So, here’s what’s going on.
It is summertime and it is not summertimey or summertimish. It is not sunny. It is not hot. What it is, is raining and windy and cold. But I am resolutely barefoot and wearing a floaty dress and I shall go out like this later on. You will not beat me, grumpy English summertime. You will not. I shall bite you gently on the nose, summertime, and then I shall plant a little kiss on your neck and tickle you until you smile. You just see if I don’t.
Should I wear this dress for the leopards and bush-babies and baboons (oh my) in South Africa in April? Would it work with heavy-duty walking boots and a huge backpack? I think so. Problem is, I hear Black Mamba snakes prefer neon colours, stripes, lycra. High heels. None of which are really my thing, see. No matter. I have a while to think about it.
Did you know that the Black Mamba is the fastest land snake in the world and that you can die from its venomous bite in 20 minutes? It is also very shy and scares easily, so uses its speed (up to 20kph! eep!) to flee rather than to attack. My sister surprised one in the SA mountains a couple of years ago. She ran away. So did the snake.
Everything is scared of something, I guess.
What else? I am writing something called The Shape of Home. It is a story. I am writing it on my old typewriter. My fingers ache because I’m still not really used to having to bash letters out. Typing on a typewriter is violent, guys, violent and noisy. The story is about bees. Well, it’s not really about bees, but it sort of is too. About bees and the hexagons they make. And the hexagons we make. It is about home, and what that means, who it means. Perfect hexagons.
Did you know that a bee has to fly 150,000 miles, roughly six times around the earth, to make one pound of beeswax?
I always imagine hoverflies, who are also striped yellow and black, but smooth and shiny, are just exhibitionist bees who like flying around without their furry coats on.
Did you know hoverflies mate in mid-air? Now that’s what I call acrobatic sexytime.
Anyway, what was I saying?
Who knows. Something about bees and something about home and something about bare feet and tickling  and a dress and snakes that scare easily and girls that don’t (grrr) and something else.
Hey, silly monkeys. I’ve missed you. Hey.

    Wotcha, monkeys.

    So, here’s what’s going on.

    It is summertime and it is not summertimey or summertimish. It is not sunny. It is not hot. What it is, is raining and windy and cold. But I am resolutely barefoot and wearing a floaty dress and I shall go out like this later on. You will not beat me, grumpy English summertime. You will not. I shall bite you gently on the nose, summertime, and then I shall plant a little kiss on your neck and tickle you until you smile. You just see if I don’t.

    Should I wear this dress for the leopards and bush-babies and baboons (oh my) in South Africa in April? Would it work with heavy-duty walking boots and a huge backpack? I think so. Problem is, I hear Black Mamba snakes prefer neon colours, stripes, lycra. High heels. None of which are really my thing, see. No matter. I have a while to think about it.

    Did you know that the Black Mamba is the fastest land snake in the world and that you can die from its venomous bite in 20 minutes? It is also very shy and scares easily, so uses its speed (up to 20kph! eep!) to flee rather than to attack. My sister surprised one in the SA mountains a couple of years ago. She ran away. So did the snake.

    Everything is scared of something, I guess.

    What else? I am writing something called The Shape of Home. It is a story. I am writing it on my old typewriter. My fingers ache because I’m still not really used to having to bash letters out. Typing on a typewriter is violent, guys, violent and noisy. The story is about bees. Well, it’s not really about bees, but it sort of is too. About bees and the hexagons they make. And the hexagons we make. It is about home, and what that means, who it means. Perfect hexagons.

    Did you know that a bee has to fly 150,000 miles, roughly six times around the earth, to make one pound of beeswax?

    I always imagine hoverflies, who are also striped yellow and black, but smooth and shiny, are just exhibitionist bees who like flying around without their furry coats on.

    Did you know hoverflies mate in mid-air? Now that’s what I call acrobatic sexytime.

    Anyway, what was I saying?

    Who knows. Something about bees and something about home and something about bare feet and tickling and a dress and snakes that scare easily and girls that don’t (grrr) and something else.

    Hey, silly monkeys. I’ve missed you. Hey.