Doing This for Mom

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Doing This For Mom

“I have to go pee,” Cindy got off the long-distance bus when it pulled into the lay-by on the way to Heathrow Airport airport, broke away from her mother and her grandfather, and ran to the washroom.

“What’s up with her, Tiggy?”

“I don’t know, dad. She just wants to go pee, I guess.”

“You shouldn’t let her go in there alone. Go in with her. Go on. But wait, look what I’ve got for you,” he pulled a wad of fifty pound bills out of his pocket, licked his thumb, and slowly counted them. “Eighteen, nineteen, twenty. Here: one thousand pound. Cash.”

“That’s wonderful dad. You’re very generous, but I can’t take our money. Put it back in your pocket.”

“I know things aren’t going that well for you, now you’re on your own. Take the money.” He waved the cash at Tiggy, but she pushed his hand away.

“No dad. I can’t take your money. You need it more than we do. We’ll survive.”

“Not on your own, you won’t. Not without help. Here, take it.”

“Listen, dad: I’ve seen how you are living. Hand to mouth. Why don’t you sell the car? You know you can’t drive anymore. You’ll save on the insurance. Sell now, while it’s still working. Throw in a thousand pound sterling and you can have taxis galore for the next couple of years. You can shop when you want. You won’t have to rely on unreliable friends …” Tiggy watched a tear squeeze out of her father’s left eye and slide down his cheek. “Don’t cry, dad. You know I’m right.”

“I’m not crying,” he wiped his cheek with the back of his hand. “Some dust blew into my eye. Look, there’s Cindy. Take the money for Cindy. Please. And tell her to sit beside me on the bus.”

“I’ll ask her if she wants to sit beside you,” Tiggy hesitated. “But I won’t tell her. You can’t buy her affection with money, dad. It takes more than cash to rebuild a broken family. I thought you knew that.”

“Hold this,” Tiggy’s dad thrust the money at her. “I’ve got to go to the washroom. I don’t want to go in there carrying this,” leaning heavily on his stick, he limped towards Cindy as she emerged from the rest area, but she skipped quickly away and out of his reach

“Cindy,” Tiggy grasped her daughter’s arm. “When we get back on the bus, will you sit by your grandfather?”

“No,” Cindy’s face was grey, set in stone. Her nose was a hawk’s beak, fierce in her rejection.

“Why not?” Tiggy asked.

“Grampy doesn’t love me, he hates me,” Cindy ground her teeth. “He never wants me back in the house again. He told me so. That day he banged on my bedroom door. He hates me. And I hate him too,” Cindy’s chest heaved and her breath came faster. “He was always trying to open the bathroom door when I was in the shower, and he peeped at me through the keyhole …” Cindy gulped. “He was always rattling the bedroom door and trying to get in.”

“But Cindy, why did you never tell me about this?”

“I was frightened. He threatened to beat me. Then he said he’d give me money if I was good. Is that the money?” Cindy looked down at the dollars in Tiggys’ hand. “I don’t want it.  Give it back to him. Or throw it away.”

Tiggy strode towards her father hen he returned. “It’s blood money,” she said. “Cindy’s told me everything. You’re just laundering your soul.”

The driver tooted his horn and the passengers returned to the bus. Cindy got on first and took her seat by the window. Tiggy followed her and sat beside her. Tiggy’s father, hesitated, hauled himself in, then slumped by the window in the seat on the other side of the aisle. They all gazed out of their respective windows as the bus pulled away.

About half an hour later, Tiggy needed the washroom. She picked up her purse and headed to the back of the bus. As soon as she left, her father got up and lurched into the seat next to Cindy.

“Cindy,” he tapped her on the shoulder.

“Leave me alone,” she stared out of the widow.

“Cindy, you must listen to me. Cindy, your mother’s ill. She needs an operation.”

Cindy sat, a silent stone. Then: “An operation? How do you know?

“She told me.”

“She didn’t tell me.”

“She thought you were too young to know. Families don’t tell everything, you know. Look, take this money. Not for you, for her. Keep it a secret. Give it to her when you’re on the plane. It’ll help pay the fees. Take it now. While she’s gone. I won’t offer again.”

“You hurt me, grandpa.”

“You hurt me too.”

“You were always watching me.”

“I wanted to see you. I’ve only seen you twice in ten years. What did you expect me to do.”

“Be nice.”

“I did my best.”

“It wasn’t very good.”

“It’s the medicine. I get moods.”

“Is that what will happen to mom?”

“It might. But money for the operation will put everything right. Here,” he put the money in Cindy’s lap. “Sorry.”

“You should have said so before.”

“Can we be friends?”

“No. Now go.”

“Look after your mom,” The old man struggled to his feet and stumbled back to his seat.

When Tiggy returned from the washroom, she looked for her daughter and saw her on the other side of the aisle, next to her grandfather. They were both sitting upright, very stiff, not touching, staring straight ahead into the distance. Tears shone in Cindy’s eyes and a wad of bright new fifty-pound notes bills stuck out of the pocket of her jeans. Tiggy saw her daughter’s jaws clench and un-clench but she didn’t  hear the half-swallowed, mumbled words.

“I’m only doing this for mom.”

Commentary: An old story revived and revised. Let me know if you like it.

Writing Memories 4

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Writing Memories 4

Module 2.1 : Accidents

Like it or not, accidents happen at our age. We trip on the rug, slip on the ice, fall in the bath, so many little things can happen, none, hopefully, serious, but every one of them annoying. In my case, my beloved traveled to Ottawa to visit our family then and I stayed to look after the cat (and have my favorite chair vomited on by the monster). I played contact sports for years, no stitches. My beloved goes away and two or three days later, I slice myself up sharpening a kitchen knife. Everything is fodder for creation. Here’s the poem.

Triage
A stitch in time

1

Banality, stupidity, or just old age:
how did the knife slip from its intended path
and end up slicing through my finger? Blood

everywhere, oozing then pumping, flowing
freely, deep ugly, red, between fleshy
cliffs, the wound’s edges. Chaotic, shrill pain,

short, sharp shocks, cold water flowing, flushing
out the sudden gulley, cleansing, thinning
my life’s liquid. Little finger, left hand,

right down to bright bone. Instant recall, first
aid course. Sheet from paper towel, staunch, press
down, pressure, find gauze, bandages, scarlet

ink, my blood, not royal blue. Take bathroom
towel, run down corridor to garage,
leaving fresh blood spoor, the cat following,

sniffing, licking my blood fresh off the floor,
one hand clumsy on steering wheel, the other
held high as I drive to emergency, fast.

2

Three nurses attend me. The first completes
the triage, stops the bleeding, bandages
my hand, gauze pads press down, sends me to wait.

Second nurse inserts needles, kills the nerve,
cleans the wound, sews my little finger up.

Six stitches. A tubular dressing. Time
now for third nurse, anti-T-jab, checks me
for PTSD, smiles sadly, sends me home.

Commentary: The poem summarizes the instant well. I think the most horrible and outlandish thing of all was looking over my shoulder and seeing the cat following me, licking up the blood trail that I left spotted across the floor. I remember her squatting there, licking her lips: little horror. So, for Sunday’s session, I turned that moment into prose.

Triage [Pose 1]
A stitch in time

1

Banality, stupidity, or just old age: how did the knife slip from its intended path and end up slicing through my finger? Blood oozes, then squirts, then flowing freely, deep ugly, red, between fleshy cliffs, the wound’s edges. Chaotic, shrill pain, short, sharp shocks, cold water flowing, flushing out the sudden gulley, cleansing, thinning my life’s liquid. Little finger, left hand, right down to bright bone. Instant recall, first aid course. Sheet from paper towel, staunch, press down, pressure, find gauze, bandages, scarlet ink, my blood, not royal blue. Take bathroom towel, run down corridor to garage, leaving fresh blood spoor, the cat following, sniffing, licking my blood fresh off the floor, hand clumsy on steering wheel, horn tooting, driving to emergency, fast.

2

Three nurses attend me. So many questions. The first completes the triage, stops the bleeding, bandages my hand, gauze pads press down, sends me to wait. Second nurse inserts needles, kills the nerve, cleans the wound, sews my little pinky up to the sound of thread pulled through flesh, then knotted, and snipped. Six stitches. A tubular dressing. Time now for third nurse, anti-T-jab, checks me for PTSD, smiles sadly, sends me home.

Commentary: Nothing wrong with that. From poetry to prose poem. But is it lacking something, some bite, the feeling of panic, a sense of shock? Alas, it is missing so much. “Every attempt / is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure / because one has only learnt to get the better of words / for the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which / one is no longer disposed to say it.” And that is so true. What was true for me then, battered, bruised, bleeding, in shock, no longer comes through the words I left on the page. I wondered if I could warm them up a little. Here goes.

Triage [Prose 2]

A stitch in time
1
Banality, stupidity, or just old age: how did the knife slip from its intended path and end up slicing through my finger? Blood oozes, then squirts, then flows freely, ugly, red, between deep, fleshy cliffs, the wound’s edges. Chaotic, shrill pain, short, sharp shocks, cold water flowing, flushing out the sudden gulley, cleansing, thinning my life’s liquid. Little finger, left hand, right down to bright bone. Instant recall, first aid course. Sheet from paper towel, staunch, press down, pressure, find gauze, bandages, scarlet ink, my blood, not royal blue. Take bathroom towel, run down corridor to garage, leaving fresh blood spoor, the cat following, sniffing, licking my blood fresh off the floor, hand clumsy on steering wheel, horn tooting, driving to emergency, fast.
2
Three nurses attend me. So many questions. The first completes the triage, stops the bleeding, bandages my hand, gauze pads press down, sends me to wait. Second nurse inserts needle, kills the nerve, cleans the wound, sews my little pinky up to the sound of thread pulled through flesh, then knotted, and snipped. Six stitches. A tubular dressing. Time now for third nurse, anti-T-jab, asks me questions, gazes into my eyes, checks me for PTSD, smiles sadly, sends me home.

Commentary: Not much has changed yet now I seem to have lost the thrill, the shock, of that moment. I never even mentioned the feeling of achievement that warmed me when I got home, the knowledge that I had hurt myself and had got myself repaired without having to call my neighbors or emergency. I didn’t add that the first nurse tossed the blood-soaked kitchen towel into the garbage can and that she was unable to stop the bleeding. The second nurse managed that, after he injected me. He also gave me extra bandages in case the cut re-opened during the night. It didn’t. Looking back now, and remembering, I recall the hospital smells, the sense of the needle slipping into my flesh, the gradual loss of all feeling, the smell of the surgery, the scent of the anesthetic, the taste of the saliva in my  mouth. Revisiting the scene, so much later, I can begin to see all that I missed. As a result, Eliot’s words ring out truer than ever. Clearly, I will have to revisit this poem, this prose, this memory sketched into my life. This commentary, written on the spur of the moment, may help me do just that. Clearly I need to move from visual expression to visceral experience and taste and smell may just do that. Yes, I tasted my blood (so did the cat), and my saliva, and  I remember how the taste changed, oh so subtly, with each injection (there were three). I also remember the smells, all different of each of those rooms. Oh dear, so much work still to do.

Suggestions for the writing exercise included in each module:

Write a prose memoir, just reminiscing.

Use 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person narrative.

Choose 6-12 words from the reading and expand on them using associative fields.

Write from an image or a metaphor.

Journal style: automatic writing, but try to select the gems.

Letter style: write to a friend.

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Writing Memories 3

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Writing Memories 3

Module 1.2 Disasters:

Last Sunday, the first module was titled Triumphs and Disasters. I have separated them here. My first thought for Disasters came in the form of a poem.

Age of Spillage

Fingers turn to butter, permit cups to slip,
flying saucers to take off, to stall and crash,

their broken bodies resting in peace and pieces
on kitchen floor, waiting to be picked up and buried.

Worse: bottle tops screwed up tight refuse to open.
Plastic wrapping, flagrant in its defiance,

wages its guerrilla war against ageing,
uncoordinated arthritic fingers.

Tongue-twisters twist tongue and tones and speech,
filling mouths with glottal stops and threadbare words.

The rib cage is a cupboard barren and bare.
So many slips between palate, teeth, and lips.

So many precious things dropping to the floor.
I cannot always bend and pick them up,
not even with my new mechanical claw.

Commentary: Nothing wrong with this as a poem. It’s fun to experiment, though, and poetry takes up more space than prose. This is the prose poem, or prose passage, or flash fiction piece, take your pick.

Age of Spillage [Prose 1]

Fingers turn to butter, permit cups to slip, flying saucers to take off, to stall and crash, their broken bodies resting in peace and pieces on kitchen floor, waiting to be picked up and buried. Worse: bottle tops screwed up tight refuse to open. Plastic wrapping, flagrant in its defiance, wages its guerrilla war against ageing, uncoordinated arthritic fingers. Tongue-twisters twist tongue and tones and speech, filling mouths with glottal stops and threadbare words. The rib-cage is a cupboard barren and bare. So many slips between palate, teeth, and lips. So many precious things dropping to the floor. I cannot always pick them up, not even with my new mechanical claw.

Commentary: I liked this transcription. The changes came easily and are very few. A little expansion there and there, but not much. The challenge for me then became the desire to reach out from my private world to the world of the workshop. I felt that to do that, I needed to add some material, specifically I wanted to highlight and intensify some sensations.

Age of Spillage [Prose 2]

    Fingers turn to butter but taste of nicotine, garlic, and soap when I bite my nails. My fingers encourage cups to slip, flying saucers to take off, to run out of energy, stall and crash, their broken bodies resting in peace and pieces on kitchen floor, waiting to be picked up, one by one, and buried in the waste bin. Arthritic fingers grown clumsy now struggle with bottle tops and glass containers screwed up so tight they refuse to open, even when soaked under the hot tap. I stick those jars in door jambs, lid first, closing the door with one hand, and twisting the jar with the other. Sometimes jars slip and crash to the floor, often with a portion of the contents spilling out. I hate these onion style plastic wraps, gathering together in layer after layer of wrapping. Flagrant in their defiance, they wage a guerrilla war against these ageing, uncoordinated fingers. I am often forced to use a knife, but a knife can slip or twist so easily. Occasionally, blunt, it will not even penetrate indomitable, multi-folded Saran wrap. On the telephone, names and numbers turn into tongue-twisters that twist tongue, tone and words, filling my mouth with glottal stops and threadbare speech. At times like these, my rib-cage becomes a Mother Hubbard’s cupboard, barren and bare, empty of all feelings, save panic. I reverse my numbers, putting them the wrong way round, calling by mistake so many unknown people. So many slips between plate, teeth, and lips. Multiple precious items drop to the floor. I cannot always bend to pick them up, and I cannot easily grasp them, not even with my new mechanical flexi-claw.

Commentary: This is the version I read on Sunday. I quite liked it at the time, but I now find the telephone passages at the end to be intrusive. I may  well cut them out and concentrate on touch. I wanted the telephone ‘in’ to exemplify sound, but on second thoughts it should probably be a fresh piece on its own. I could easily incorporate sound, the crash of the jar, the splintering of breaking glass, and even smell, the rich scent of the jar’s contents, into the touch section.

“We have no time to stand and stare” but true art demands that we sit, stare, look, listen, think, re-think, write, re-write. Remember too that some results are delayed and that impatience is the worst enemy of art. Don’t transport your paintings while the pain is still wet and don’t pull your carrots up early to see if they are actually starting to grow.

Addendum: Participaction … don’t think about it, do it.

Fingers slip across the telephone key board, pressing the wrong numbers or punching them in in the wrong order. Strange voices reply from the other end. This morning a woman spoke to me in a language I didn’t understand, Then a man came on the line and yelled at me in broken English to “Go away! Go away! Leave alone!” I imagined him tearing the telephone from his wife and berating her for this call from a foreigner. Often, I am too clever for my own good. I think I recall the right number for a friend, but when  punch it in, I find I have reversed two of the figures. I hear other people doing that when they call me: “Sorry, I say. I think you have the wrong number.” “Is that 472 …?” they query. I say that it isn’t and they say sorry and end the call. Then they call me back immediately and get the same answer. I hate running through my list of callers to get to the name that I want to call. But that’s what I have to do most days now. At least I don’t run into so many wrong numbers. And as for answering the phone … well … I am tired of robot calls, especially around election time. I am fed up with telephone surveys. I am driven crazy by the little men, I assume from their voices that they are little, who call me in the middle of the night or wake me early in the morning to tell me that my computer needs repair. “Suh, suh, we have discovered a werry nasty wirus [sic, or should that be sick] on your computer. Give me your password and let me in to your computer and I will repair it instantly. ” I have had calls from the telly-phony tax men who tell me the RCMP are about to knock on my door and arrest me if I don’t immediately give them my VISA Card number, passwords, and send them, right now, the $7,200 I owe them in taxes. I have grown to loathe the harbor boat hooter that announces I have won a cruise from Florida to Mexico on a super cruise ship …. that is probably a rusty tug boat that will take me twice around the harbor, be declared un-seaworthy, and leave me stranded miles from anywhere and paying a fortune to get myself home … and all I have to do is … Click! I think it’s the marketing surveys that really get my goat though. I am no expert, but I have read up on surveys and designed some myself. What I love-hate about telephone surveys is the lack of real choice, the forced direction in which they push you, the pre-determined result on which the designers are fixated. I know it’s a waste of time, but I occasionally indulge: “On a scale of 1-5, where 5 is good and 1 is poor, how would you rate … ” I explain that the question and the ratings do not work, but they are adamant that I must answer from 1-5. Yes, they understand that it can’t really be done, but yes, it must be done, because that’s what they are paid to do. O tempora o mores … “O tempora o mores” is a Latin phrase that translates literally as Oh the times! Oh the customs! but more accurately as Oh what times! Oh what customs! or alternatively, Alas the times, and the manners (Wikipedia). Oh boy, what an enjoyable rant. “Enough, no more. It is not as sweet now as it was before.” (Shakespeare).

Commentary: And that is another way to create. You find the splitting point in an already written narrative and, realizing that you have two narratives, not one, you divide the passage, rewrite the offending portion, and come up with something equally original, slightly different, and, in this case, hopefully funny. I leave that to the reader to judge the effect of the humor. The writing technique, however, is well worth recognizing, studying, and pursuing. One further point: sometimes it is necessary to be cruel to be kind. Splitting the earlier piece (oh cruel world) leads to the creation of two quite neat pieces (oh happy days).

By all means use these pieces and ideas as a prompt for your own memory writing. If you do, remember the suggestions I made earlier (and copy below). And, above all, have fun.

Suggestions for the writing exercise included in each module:

Write a prose memoir, just reminiscing.

Use 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person narrative.

Choose 6-12 words from the reading and expand on them using associative fields.

Write from an image or a metaphor.

Journal style: automatic writing, but try to select the gems.

Letter style: write to a friend.

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My Favorite Pen

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My Favorite Pen

This is my oldest Mont Blanc fountain pen. I must have bought it in 1986 when I traveled to London to attend a Spanish Golden Age seminar at one of the university colleges. I can’t remember which, though I do remember the seminar was on someone called Francisco de Quevedo. We met like spies, my pen friend and I, on the steps of the British Museum. I had never met him before, so he carried a specific book under his arm, one of Quevedo’s I think, by which I would recognize him. We lunched together at an Italian Trattoria, whose name also escapes me, and we discussed the ways of that ancient Hispanic world and our own research upon it. I paid for our lunch from my travel funds. I had a sabbatical that year and had arranged a short tour of four or five British universities in my search for knowledge. After lunch, he took me back to his London college and I sat and absorbed wisdom from 2:00 until 5:00 pm.

After the seminar, walking back to the nearest tube station, I passed a shop that had this Mont Blanc in the window. I went in and bought it. On the spot. No second thoughts. Then I caught the tube to Paddington station. While waiting for the train back to Cardiff, I sat in the station bar and ordered a pint of beer. A well-dressed man, slightly older than me, asked if he could join me. I said yes. He sat down and began to talk. He told me how to commit suicide by slashing my wrist with a knife.  There were many incorrect ways to do it, he explained. But only one right way, if you wanted to be successful. He rolled up his sleeve and showed me his collection of scars that ran crisscross and welted over his left wrist. Failed attempts, he said. But I’ll get it right next time. I wouldn’t want you to make the same mistakes as me, if you decided to try it.

Must go, I told him. My train’s about to leave. I left the remains of my pint on the table, looked back, and watched him finishing my beer. Good job I didn’t spit in it, I thought. Then I realized that I probably had, one way or another. I boarded my train and 90 minutes later I was back in Cardiff. No more post-war, coal and steam engines, a diesel this, powerful, fast, and smelly. It reduced the former four hour journey to much, much less than two. Cafeteria style, the train carriage offered a table top for every four seats. I opened my new pen and wrote in the pocket journal I had bought for the trip.

So many memories. But I don’t remember the names of either of these two men. I do recall those scars, though, deep and ridged, crisscrossing like railway tracks. Every time we clicked over a junction or a cross track I shivered and my writing wiggled on the page.

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Whisky

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Whisky

     Dry energy bristles through your body, tangible electricity, I dare not touch you. Sparks fly through your hair and light up pillows and sheets. Plugged into your flesh and blood, those instruments of life and death and in-between flicker and will not stand still, will not take appropriate measurements in the way doctors and nurses predict or want. Stranded on your beach of bleached white sheets, you are smaller than a seal, an otter, perhaps, a sea-urchin, or a star-fish, struggling in the high-tide mark, not with the sun and wind that dry you out, but with the sands of a time that is ticking away from you, filtering through your fingers, fleeing from your grasp. Your hair ruffles. Your forehead wrinkles. Your gaze sharpens. You have the hunting eyes of the unhooded hawk, or those of a peregrine falcon fixed on its prey, yet you cower like the land-bound beach-bird that he hunts. You are burning up, devoured in your own interior inferno. You slap at my hand as I take a risk and try to place it on your forehead to offer you consolation. What is it? I ask. What do you want? Shall I go and get the nurse? The doctor? You shake your head, your eyes flash, the air sizzles, and you whisper something, too low for me to hear. I put my ear closer to your lips. Your voice: coarse sandpaper over the soft balsa wood frame of a plane that will strive, one day, to grow wings, to take flight, to be a bird. Whisky, you whisper. I just want whisky.

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Swansea Bay

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 Swansea Bay

            My childhood in Swansea: a mixture of seaside and sand. Walking over the bridge at the Slip to reach the dunes at high tide, the fish nets at low tide, the dog ever before me, running fancy-free, chasing yellow-beaked gulls that swoop low, mewl, and lead him on and on, past bundles of bathers’ clothes in summer, and the dog lifting his hind leg, visiting each pile, marking them, one by one, a squirt at a time, and us denying we know the dog, not ours, we say, then beg for the empty pop bottles, taking them back to the vendors, pocketing the cash back on the bottles until we have enough for an ice-cream, a grown-up wafer, not a childish cornet, or a go on the swing boats, and the dog comes with us, gets sea-sick, air-sick, hangs his head over the wooden sides drooling thick saliva as we wait for the bump and grind of the wooden bar that will slow us down in spite of us pulling on the ropes, harder and harder, until we swing higher and higher into the heavens, and the sands dwindle into nothing, and the dog throws up, and the man who handles the swing boats calls us bad names, as we run away, across the sands, ‘I’ll tell your dad,’ he shouts after us, but he never does, and the dog wanders loose across the sands to drink salt water and throw up again, and yes, I remember the starfish, their golden triangles winking wet in the sunlight as they hang from their netted firmaments, and we walk out along the concrete sewer pipes that pour the town’s waste, the town, and not the city, never for me a city, and how could it be a city when so many uncles and aunts lived on Town Hill and my father worked in Town Hall, and Swansea Town were the Swans, and they played soccer on the Vetch Field, the old hanging ground for the town jail, never the city jail, and the Mumbles Railway ran its electric trams out from Swansea Docks to the quarries by the Mumbles Pier, and we took that train, sat on the top deck, The Slip, Singleton Park, Blackpill, the Mayals, West Cross, Oystermouth, where last year, after a hundred years of absence, wild oysters finally returned, the pollution from Copperopolis, the largest copper mining and smelting town in the world, finally drained from Swansea Bay and the waters now clean enough to keep those oysters alive in their cultured oysters beds at Oystermouth, on Swansea Sands, below Oystermouth Castle with its ruined walls where we went once, but I remember nothing about it, nor Swansea Castle, in the old town centre by Castle Street, its ruined walls banned with their Keep Out signs and Danger, but the warnings themselves enough to invite us in, except we knew we’d be beaten if anything happened and we were caught and everyone knew everyone in Swansea Town then,  and somebody would surely bear the tale to our parents or grandparents,  but that’s enough of that, and its’ out of the tram and across the wooden planks of the Mumbles Pier, out to the end where the old men throw their lines into the sea and sit and wait and hope, pulling on cigarettes, Players Nay Cut for preference, as they watch swirling waters, taking sips, like old men everywhere, from secret bottles in brown paper bags that cause them to wipe their lips with the back of theirs hands and cough with pleasure, waiting for God knows what to come along and tickle the end of their line, and out there, at the end of the world, the lifeboat house with its slipway and the lifeboat, launched only in the roughest weather when the tall ships founder or the small boats are blown away, out into the sea, that twinkles now with its wrinkled old man’s face as it moves back and forth beneath wind and sun, and everyone is smiling in the summer warmth, though it’s cold where the wind blows off the sea, and it’s into the corners away from the wind, or into the pavilion where the arcade games wait for our money, and it’s ‘please, please, one more go’, as the small metal arms armed with their claws, clutch at toys and dolls, and furry animals, and the fighter planes come swooping down in their practice arcs and yes, I am a gunner again, fighting my Battle of Britain in a spinning turret with a mobile gun-sight, and time and my money run out and it’s ‘ please, please, one more go’, and my head is spinning, as the turret is spinning, and the world is spinning on its axis as memory’s spider spins its web of illusion, delusion, and time rolls backward on the station clock, as the tram rolls up and we track our tired way back home, past Oystermouth, West Cross, Blackpill with its little Roman Bridge, Singleton Park, the Recreation Ground, St. Helen’s, to the Slip, where we boarded in he first place, and home we go via the fish-and-chip shop in the road at the bottom of our street, and all adventures end as we open the front door, calling out ‘we’re home’, and the smell of warm salt and vinegar soaks through the newspaper binding the delicacies we have brought to placate the gods who wait in silence for our return.

Cows

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Cows

Underneath the bungalow, we find a secret space so small that only the young ones can crawl there. We go after coins that drop through the floorboards of the verandah and we hide there, in that cool, dark grave space, when we wish to be neither seen nor heard. At the far end of the bungalow, in a larger space beneath the floor, Nana has her refrigerator. This space, similar to ours, is where she keeps the thick cream off the bottled milk when she wishes to turn it into Devon Clotted. Here, too she places the jellies when she wants them to set. We have neither running water nor electricity, just the cool beneath the floorboards. We do have two water tanks, one a square, red-rusted, cast-iron tank that collects the rain-water off the roof, the other an old iron-bound wooden barrel that connects to a downspout outside the backdoor.

They have built me a swing in the backyard and on sunny days I throw my head back, thrust my legs forward, and squint at the summer sky through half-closed eyes, as the old folk push me. “Higher,” I cry out. “Higher.” We don’t have a push lawn-mower, though we occasionally borrow one from the neighbors. We do have a scythe, a sharpener, and a pair of bill-hooks. I have never forgotten that head down, half-shuffle of the scythe man using his scythe: one step sideways, swing, feet together, one step, swing. I loved the sweet smell of the fresh-cut grass as I played the grim reaper in the backyard, always with a grin.

I lived in the bungalow for the whole of one summer. I guess my mother had been placed in some hospital or other for the duration of the fine weather. Nobody talked about her and I never knew what was wrong with her or when she was coming back. It was all a mystery, wrapped in stealth and secrecy. Her absence was a pain in my side, a thorn in my heart, and I still don’t know what happened to her.

I slept in the back bedroom with my Nana in her big double bed. I slept on the far side, next to the outside wall. At night I would often hear the cows as they munched away at the grass and wandered through our un-fenced yard. I say ‘I slept with my Nana’ but in actual fact I fell asleep long before she came to bed, often when the sun was still high in the sky. She always got up early in the morning to prepare breakfast for the men and lunch for my uncle, who worked in town and usually took the early morning bus.  My Nana was up and dressed by the time I woke up, so I rarely saw her in bed.

Some nights I woke up during the night, needing to pee. I never liked using the Royal Doulton chamber pot that squatted coldly beneath the bed, especially if she was in the room. We had no indoor plumbing, nor running water, as I have said, and apart from the rainwater the only tap was at the far end of the bungalow field, a long way away, and all but rainwater had to be fetched by hand in large tin cans that we ferried, empty, to the end of the field and brought back, full, at the end of our excursions to farm, local shop, or beach.

Those cows that wandered through our yard at night really frightened me. We would meet them in the lane some times, a noisy, dusty, flowing, multi-colored tide that flooded the pathway and forced us walkers into the next field, if there was a gate close by, or high into the hedge, if there wasn’t a gate. The one black and white cow in the herd really filled me with fear. She had a crooked horn, had gored a dog, and had kicked out at several of the local residents, injuring at least one of them quite badly, a broken leg, I think. That cow had an evil reputation, especially when, isolated from the herd, she meandered around on her own.

When I wanted to pee, I preferred to walk outside, to the outhouse, rather than use the chamber pot. I would grope my way out of the bedroom, turn right, drop down the steps into the kitchen, and slide back the bolts on the door. Then I would half-open that door and peep out, listening carefully for any sound of the cows tearing out the grass with their teeth, or rumbling gently as they chewed the cud, churning it over and over. I would sniff the night air, and if I sensed a cow in the vicinity, I would pee through the narrow crack of the open door and swear in the morning, when someone found the little puddle, that it wasn’t me, that it must have been the cows.

One quiet night, I walked bravely out into the dark and stepped right into a cold cow pat that lay just outside the back door like a landmine, waiting for my unwary feet. I still remember the cow-manure’s soft squish as it sifted upward through my toes and rose to assault my nose. After I had gone pee, I wiped my foot again and again in the long grass beside the outhouse, then placed it beneath the water-spout from the rain barrel, trying to flush it clean before I crept back into bed.

That was the night I left the back door open. Next morning, my Nana woke us all up with a series of long, loud screams and squeals. The black and white cow had wandered through the open door and ended up in the kitchen where my grandmother had come face to face with it in the early morning light.

A cow in the kitchen, that really spooked me and I still have dreams, nightmares, really, of a herd of cows invading the bungalow, breaking down the doors, and climbing in through the windows, and me all alone, trapped in my bed, shivering ferociously, squeezing myself, trying desperately not to go pee.