Triumphs

IMG_0198

Triumphs

Waking to moonlight in the middle of the night, making it safely to the bathroom without tripping on the rug in the hall, managing to pee without splattering the floor, the seat,  the wall, or my pajamas, climbing back into bed, staring at the stars’ diminishing light until I manage to fall back to sleep. Waking to birdsong in the morning, walking to the bathroom without bruising my left arm against the door latch, shaving without cutting my face, getting in and out of the shower with neither a slip nor a fall and without dropping the soap, drying those parts of my body that are now so difficult to reach, especially between my far-off toes, pulling my shirt over those wet and sticky patches still damp from the shower, negotiating each leg of my pants hanging on to the arm of the rocking-chair so I won’t fall over,  tugging the pulleys of the plastic mold that allows each sock to glide onto my feet, oping the heel will end up in the right spot, forcing swollen toes into shoes now much too small, hobbling to the top of the stairs and lurching down them with my stick in hand, cautiously, one step at a time … on guard for the cat, the edge of the steps, the worn patches where my cane might catch or slip … one more step, and I’ve made it down. The first of today’s miniscule triumphs.

Pen Friends

IMG_0376 (2).JPG

Pen Friends

A writing day, today: so, spoiled by choices, even though some of those choices have grown wings and flown away. Pen friends and mood pens: I think I’ll begin with … and they are color coordinated for ink … this one … but you’ll never know which I chose … Maybe it will be my Waterman’s: speckled blue, second left. I do love pens: so essential to write with. Cursive hand-writing too, no longer taught in schools. It has become my secret code: nobody can read it.

But do you remember when pen friends really were pen friends and you wrote long letters to people in France, or Spain, or Germany, so they could practice their English and you could practice whatever language they spoke? I can remember playing postal chess with some of my pen friends. A move per letter and each letter taking a week or more to arrive. A full game with a pawn ending could take years! Did anyone ever meet their pen friends, I wonder? I know I did. I think of the immediacy of today’s online dating sites and I sometimes sigh for the old days. Courting by fountain pen … the slow and solemn can-can of two tortoises in the Carnival of Animals by Saint-Saens.

I write every day in a hand-written journal and have done so most days since 1985. I also keep a pocket notebook for odd moments, usually when I am outside in Mactaquac, or Funday National Park, or on Prince Edward Island, or at the beach in Ste. Luce-sur-mer, or beach-combing in Passamaquoddy. If I manage to write anything decent, I transfer these written ‘gems’ to the computer, where I revise and re-work. My poetry is almost always penned, but short stories usually go straight onto the computer, as do the novels, I have written three, though ideas and plans for stories and chapters do appear in the journals. I have come to think of the journals as a quarry and a memorandum, the computer as a workshop.

Come to think about it, I have, in the not-so-distant past, given workshops and seminars on just this topic. It is a very useful and informative subject, especially for beginning writers. With it comes the statement that (a) we must learn to recognize good writing when we see it; (b) we must learn to recognize, and reject, poor and weak writing; and (c) we must realize that we are not writers, we are re-writers. I always recommend people to keep their early drafts. Our tendency as re-writers may well be to revise out the energy and spontaneity of the original. This usually happens when the high-school policeman (thank you, Ted Hughes) steps into our brain and lectures us on how to write properly and correctly. If we lose that initial emotion, we must re-re-visit the original flow and try to recapture it recapture it in the re-re-write. Now here’s a good question: how many re-re-re’s can we get in there?

 

Cardiff Arms Park

IMG_0296

Cardiff Arms Park

I have the match program from 1938, Wales vs New Zealand. My father was at the game, alongside my grandfather. Both had played upon the sacred turf at Cardiff, for Swansea, believe it or not. I also have the program from the New Zealand game in 1953, both Welsh wins. I often visited the Arms Park and I saw the Springboks play there in the rain (1961) and Zeland Newydd in 1963.

“A rose by any name would smell as sweet,” wrote William Shakespeare. But would my grandfather have seen and smelled that rose, or my father, or me?

My grandfather played amateur rugby, as did my father. I, too, played amateur rugby and coached as an amateur as well. Money never changed hands. I never sold my name, nor my status. I was, and still am, convinced by the amateur code. Born in Swansea, play for Swansea, the All Whites. Born in Cardiff, play for Cardiff, at the Arms Park. Sure, players sometimes came down from the Rhondda on the local bus. Cliff Morgan did, from Porth, a mere 15 miles away. So did so many others. But Cas Newydd boyos rarely played for Cardiff and were never really welcome in Caer Dydd.

Whoever they were, wherever they came from, they travelled to Cardiff Arms Park. Not to the Millennial. Not to the Principality.

Sorry, William. Or should I call you Willy, or Bill? A rose by any other name does not necessarily smell as sweet. And Cardiff Arms Park is not the Millennium, nor is it the Principality. The Queen’s is not the King’s. Nor is the Angel the Woodville, or the Angel, Islington.

The world goes on, and on. Things change. We shouldn’t regret past things. Things that are in the past are in the past and in the past they must remain, as the words remind us in the Flower of Scotland. But there are traditions. And memories. And some old memories and battles are never forgotten. Nor should they ever be. Y Ddraig Coch Cymreig, the golden daffodil, the Red Rose, Twickenham or, as some call it, Twickers or HQ. And don’t forget the Load of Hay outside Paddington Station: some things will never change.

As for Saturday’s rugby international (Wales at home to England), I will put my heart firmly on Wales, but I will put my money on England. That way, if Wales win I will be ecstatic, and if England win, I will earn enough money from my bet to drown my sorrows. Either way, I will imagine my grandfather, and my father, watching with me, together again at the old Arms Park, and I know that, whatever the result, we will all be happy, all three of us, just to be back together, and to be watching the game in spirit.

Cows

IMG_4757 (2).jpg

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.

Haircut

IMG_0266

Haircut

A new barber’s shop, all male, cutting and shaving, a sea change from the usual unisex, all women, we do it all for you, either of you, your choice. A Muhammad Ali barber shop: ‘we are the greatest’.

“Do I need an appointment?” I ask.

“Sure do,” the boy behind the counter replies. “We’re the hottest thing in town. Let’s see: I can fit you in tomorrow,” he checks the computer screen, scrolls up and down. ”2:35.”

“Nothing else?” I ask.

“Three vacancies next week … let me see …”

“Book me in,” I said.

“Good choice, my man, good choice,” he held out his hand and I shook it.

So here I am, balancing on my cane, hoping I can make it from welcome desk to chair. They greet me warmly. Tell me my guy’s waiting. It won’t be a moment. Here he is. He announces my name with a query in his voice. I nod my head in agreement and mouth his name.

Houston Control: we have lift off.

He accompanies me to my chair. Helps me settle in.

“What can I do for you?”

“Cut my hair?”

He examines me carefully, checks me out in the mirror, runs his hand over my head.

“Would you like to do a Number Two?”

Where I come from, a Number One is a golden shower, a pee-pee, and a Number Two is …

“Not in this chair,” I say.

“Excuse me?”

“A number Two? I don’t know what you are talking about.”

He points to the chart on the wall where nine different men are posing in black and white photographs with nine different haircuts.

“Oh,” I stammer. “Do you think that would suit me?”

“It’s your choice, my friend.”

“Go for it,” I say, my heart filled with misgivings.

Billy

 

IMG_0165.JPG

 

Chronotopos

A dialog with time and space.

But what is time? A river flowing? A long line leading from our beginnings to our end? Alpha and Omega? An instant held between finger and thumb and so swiftly forgotten? A dream we dream when we are awake. Or asleep. And which is the real dream, waking or sleeping? Sleeping or lying awake?

And what is space? This house in which Billy lives? The garden Billy watches from his widow? Billy’s town? His district? His county? His province? His region?

And how does Billy relate to his “time” or his “place” and what is this being called “Billy”, this dream Billy dreams, this post-amniotic ocean of life in which Billy floats?

Billy dreams he is male. When he reads Carl Jung he learns a large part of him is female. Billy thought he was masculino / macho / male, yet when a large part of him is femenina / hembra / female, he’s no longer sure what he is.

Billy has ten fingers yet he uses only two to type. Two fingers manipulating twenty-six letters and Billy turns his black-and-white keyboard world upside down when he thinks his subversive thoughts and types them onto the page.

Time and place, male and female: Billy lay on his side in hospital and the young urologist shot him full of female hormones so his prostrate cancer would not takeover his inner organs and destroy his life.

Place and time: Billy lies awake at night and shapes disturbing dreams, dreams he never before dreamed of dreaming.

Billy senses the end is drawing near.

He fears it. Yet he loves it. He loves it because it’s his and nobody else’s.

In Billy’s beginning is his end.

Beginning and end: both belong to him.

Time and space, so sacred to Billy’s life … they will continue with or without him.

Billy may not be there to bear witness. But he has been here and parts of him will remain embedded in the mind of each and every one of those who knew him.

On an unusually Odd Sunday at Corked: raise a glass to Billy’s name when he is gone.

Leave an empty glass on the table for Billy and he will be there.

Okay

IMG_0286.JPG

Okay

So, I felt sorry for the squirrel, I admit that. But I didn’t bring him into the house. Nor did I open the door and let him in. Honest. Maybe it was the cat. She’s been watching him all day. Yes, that’s it. It was the cat. She saw him out there in the cold, felt sorry for him, slipped open the screen door and let him in. I could believe that. But no, I don’t know how those nutshells got there. Of course it wasn’t me. You know I’m allergic to nuts and no, that wasn’t me sneezing. It must have been the cat. Or the squirrel. Have you looked for him? I bet she’s round here somewhere. Why are you always blaming me for everything?

IMG_0288.JPG

 

Evidence? I don’t call that evidence? What are you accusing me of anyway? And no, I didn’t leave that tiny crust of bread in the nut pile. Must have been the squirrel. You know I like bread. Squirrels don’t like bread. I bet she left it there. Or the cat. What do you mean: it couldn’t have been the cat? How do you know she didn’t jump up on the counter and eat all those nuts? You’re just guessing and you want me to look bad. She does jump up on things, I’ve seen her do it. She’s always good when you’re around.  She’s not so good when I’m here on my own. That’s why I call her Vomit. I know she doesn’t throw up on your chair, but she throws up on mine. I bet she organized all this, just so I would get the blame.

What do you mean, you’ve left it up to the jury? What jury? You’re no taking me to court for this. Are you? Seriously? I can’t believe you’d find a jury willing to convict me on the suspicion that it might have been me, not on the sort of circumstantial evidence you’re presenting in those photos. And no, I’m not doing lie-detectors or DNA. The jury’s out there now? I don’t believe you. You can’t bring a jury home, to this house, to convict me of the crime of eating your pistachios. Can you? What do you mean: look out of the window? Oh no! You can’t be serious.

IMG_0285.JPG