Monday, July 31, 2006


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

This is me: 4 of 4

Aha! I'm done! This is my final entry for Crack Skull Bob's Self Portrait Marathon.

As the anonymous quote goes: My goal is to someday be the person my dog thinks I am.

You can see my previous self-portrait efforts here, here and here.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Sunbathing ...

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Where I am from

I nicked this from Jean at this too and Mary at A Breath of Air, who in turn stole it from Fragments From Floyd.

The idea is to write your own version of George Ella Lyon's poem "Where I'm From". Go on, you know you want to.


Where I'm From

I am from space lego
bmx bikes and Evel Knievel
and elastoplasts ripped off quickly to get it over with

I am from velcro on my sneakers
and diet cola and The Milkybar Kid
semi-skimmed milk and sugar on my cereal
cold baked beans and banana sandwiches

I'm from Crosby, Stills and Nash
Pink Floyd and Aztec Camera
my father's records
from live music is always the ticket
and this song is my favourite (apart from all my other favourites)

I'm from self-built homes
no door handles and unpainted skirtings
hand-prints in concrete and my own toolkit
I'm from neighbours called auntie and uncle
and calling for friends to come out to play
but not feeling sure that they wanted to

I'm from bunkbeds, tidying up for visitors and being on your best behaviour
from church twice on sunday
jesus loves you
and reciting the books of the bible

I'm from The Famous Five and The BFG
Jabberwocky and climbing trees but coming down in time to watch
The Monkees, Record Breakers and Starsky and Hutch

I am from hamsters and goldfish and a nervous cat
from packing and moving and starting again
new schools and girls can play football too
from do your best and no-one likes a show off
you are older and you should know better
and there is no reason to get angry (ever)

I am from distance and separation
from 400 miles in a Ford Cortina (MEL 396 W)
from grannies that baked and grampas that teased
and isn't your accent funny

I am from betweens
lists and boxes
of photographs piled up and dog eared
my mother's round handwriting on the back

Friday, July 21, 2006

Friday pet blogging: melting and moulting

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Summer evening in Surrey

This is who I am. Tree climber. Stream jumper. Forever seven. I had forgotten. It felt so good to remember.

We walked through the dark and the cool of the woods, grateful for damp air and shadows. And back out into melted butter sun slathered over every blade and petal.

It has only recently occurred to me that people put benches where there is something to look at. If you want to know what, sit on the bench.

Nothing makes water taste better than watching Ruby drink from my bottle. Nothing. They should use her to sell the stuff.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

This is not a twig

... it's not a twig. It's a Buff Tip Moth. Photographed last night at a great moth, glow worm and bat spotting evening at the wonderful Pewley Downs.

I was simply stunned. I was not alone. The woman beside me kept gasping that she was over sixty and she'd never seen one of them before. I'm sure we have ... just thought they were twigs.

The moth dudes were also enthusiastic about butterflies, for which Pewley Downs is an important site - being one of the few chalk downs of significant size remaining. The warden spoke to us about the difficulties of fragmented habitat - Guildford is full of small patches of ideal butterfly territory, but although some species can make flights of dozens or hundreds of miles to find new habitat (the Monarch migrates 4000 miles from the US to Iceland! ), others will live their entire existence in just 50 square meters of wildflowers. These 'local' butterflies fly close to the ground. They flit happily amongst flowers and short grass, but the moment they hit a patch of longer grass or a bit of wild parsnip they think it is a wall marking the end of the world and turn back. Food for thought.

We arrived just as the sun was beginning to lower, the downs smattered with happy couples, enjoying a romantic evening in the breeze after a truly sweltering day.

This is me: 3 of 4

Ok, I'm really tardy and the self-portrait marathon ended over ten days ago, but I've started so I'll finish. Actual body parts in this picture ... well, as far as a picture can contain anything 'actual'.

A few days ago I accidentally produced a piece of modern art so breathtaking that I can't remember what it was. What I do remember is saying to my housemate "I could win the Turner Prize with this ... all I need is a post modern title". So, should I ever find said ball-of-gaffa-tape / potato-peeling / part-melted-yoghurt-pot (ah yes, that was it) that's what I'll call it: I could win the Turner Prize with this ... all I need is a post modern title.

I have been calling my portraits sp.jpg, sp2.jpg and now sp3.jpg. I am very much a sayWhatYouSee.jpg type person normally. My file-naming discipline is long established and usually uncompromising. And yet, with images of me, I am abbreviating to the point of bare identification ... encoding myself.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Bridges 101

I need to build some bridges.

In my new neighbourhood I know precisely two human beings, two cats and one dog, and I live with all of them. I had a plan for generating a new social network when I arrived here, but for various reasons that hasn't panned out. Plan A was still useful - without Plan A I don't think I would have had the courage to up sticks and leave behind almost everyone I knew, but now I need a Plan B.

So, I am checking out the local adult learning stuff ... with the question "Who else might take a course like this?" ringing in my ears all the while.

So you think you can't draw? is the provocative title of one course ... and yes, I would certainly fit into that category, but I'm not sure I want to spend all my time hanging around with other people who can't draw either. Mmm. I'm going to take this class anyway, mostly because it scares the hell out of me, but it would be nice to have some Others around who can help with my homework in that department. I don't know why, but I really like people who can draw.

Ok, how about Creative Writing ... oh dear, there are 3 levels, am I a beginner or an intermediate? And who the hell is available at 10 am on a weekday morning? Ok, me, but these theoretical Others who are going to be my New Friends ... do I really expect them to have nothing in their diaries on a Tuesday? No. No. The Others will have jobs. That's out then.

So, ok, we're getting somewhere. The Others have jobs, or some sort of occupation at least, and they can already draw (or think they can). I've already established the queer-positive skew of the population attending the recycling center, but I can't very well hang around there all day every day. Just a few times a week or people will think it suspicious.

I used to belong to a football team in London, so I thought that was a possible avenue, but having looked at the pictures of the three local teams online, I find that, in contrast to the women I played with in the big smoke, they are all 18 years old with ponytails. Neither of these was on my checklist.

I have checked out the various organised groups for women and gay women around here. The trouble is, I'm just not Anything enough. I'm not Jewish, Catholic, Vegan, Under 25 or Over 40. I don't have a disability. I am not a single parent.

Ah. A reading group. Yes, I can read. Better - an over 30 women's reading group where I get to be the baby again - this feels good, as I'm the old hag in the house I live in. I want to be the one who can say "sorry, I don't remember that ... I was only three ... ".

So. Art classes for insecure wannabe sketchers. Youth affirming reading group. And, one final piece of the puzzle: Dog obedience classes. I mean, who wouldn't want to be my friend when I have a doggie who loves life as much as this:

Any further suggestions for meeting interesting open minded people gratefully received :)

Friday, July 14, 2006

Friday cat bloggin' : on a diet

Ophelia asks: Does my bum look big in this?

Ophelia sits in the last box to be unpacked. That's it. I officially live here.

She needs to lose half a kilo. She's on the 'lite' cat biscuits, though I'm not sure she doesn't like them better. They seem to have a more satisfying ccccrrrrunch to them.

I, on the other hand, need to lose about 2.5 metric tons.

I moved here in a 7.5 ton truck. Which wouldn't fit up the narrow track approaching our new home. We had to ferry the contents from the bottom of the lane to the top, where our house nestles in the trees, in a transit van. It was exhausting, but most of all I feel anchored by the weight of my possessions. I am determined to leave here in a 3.5 ton luton van. One load. And judging by the room left in the giant truck last time, I estimate I weighed about six tons on arrival.

The plan of attack is three fold. The cat will lose her half a kg. I will stop gaining weight by creatively reusing the resources I already have. And I will give away the remainder. The 2.5 tons less half a kg.

I am giving it away on Freecycle. I have finally realised that I don't need to keep everything just in case because when I need it, someone will be there in the network to give it to me. I am setting my possessions free. Free to exist more purposefully elsewhere.

I am also recycling with renewed vigour, having visited the local recycling center yesterday and found it awash with attractive lesbians. Of course. That's where you find them round here ...

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Home coming?

how long
does it take
to belong?


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Late evening, early morning & a concept

Yesterday evening. Long walk in the woods. Picnicing on pasta salad and strawberries with cream. A call from a friend to say she is in an airport, going home to be with her family in the US as her father is dying. Trying to find words that aren't as shallow as the sand sprinkled on the woodland paths. Afterwards, everything seems more important, more urgent, more vital. Perfect evening light.

Nine hours later. Grass puffs up mist and the dog's breath swirls around her. It is all still here. Still beautiful. Lit from the other side. What was hidden last night is this morning revealed.

A concept. Seems too bold, surely I am too new at all this? But then, it's only a suggestion.

There is an album, by Max Richter, called The Blue Notebooks. I came across it because Hyundai are using a track from the album in an advert right now. I thought I recognised the music from a movie, but it turns out that is only because this is what the composer has intended. The album has been described as the soundtrack to the movie everybody wishes they could one day write. Some of the pieces have dialog, enough to shape the direction of the narrative, but with questions not answers. The challenge to the listener is to form their own narrative, their own movie, around the music. In fact, it would be a greater challenge not to.

The pieces draw out stories within me. I am wondering what stories they draw out in others. The same? Different how?

So, maybe I will post a link to an MP3 of one of the tracks. Produce my own narrative images, and perhaps a few words, and invite others to do the same. Create an animation of the sum ... accompanied of course by the track. Do I dare?

The track is here, to listen or download: Vladimir’s Blues, Max Richter, 2004

I believe the composer would indulge this small breach of copyright in view of the intent. However, I also believe that hearing that track may set off a craving for the whole album. Which you can buy on amazon UK, amazon US, or, as I did because I couldn't wait another day, download it from iTunes.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Pacing myself


buzz buzz buzz

buzz buzz buzz

today an idea has been forming. cross pollenation. more to follow when it's more coherent!

in the meantime, enjoy the bees enjoying the echinops :)

Monday, July 10, 2006

Carpe Domum!

These pictures were taken yesterday afternoon - on my little phone camera, after I discovered that it was possible to leap from the hazel embankment on to the roof of the house. The view, the sense of space, is just incredible.

The images don't do it justice, and when the sun returns I will take the proper camera up there and capture the full 270 degrees of trees and sky that the brief moment of trusting everything I have learned about gravity to date has gifted.

At only six and a half stone (that's 90lbs in american and about 40kg in European) I don't need to worry too much about the impact my weight has on the surface and structure ... although I did tread very gingerly most of the time. And of course, the building's days are tragically numbered, so there is no need to consider the long term impact ... I think we will try to obtain a couple of old sun loungers off of freecycle and have it as an occasional treat through the summer.

Today, some men are digging holes in these woods around my house. A painful reminder of the clock that ticks loudly in the back of my mind.

Ruby is an expert hole digger, and so we went down to offer some assistance, and she has been with them "helping" for a few hours now. She seems to be enjoying herself, showing them the best routes around the quarry.

Anyway - we had a chat about the developer's plans and the soil type and the depth of new soil over the quarry and the trees and wildlife and badgers and woodpeckers, and their opinion was that they would be absolutely gobsmacked if the planning took less than a couple of years.

So - time to stop living as if I might be moving again any second. Time to allow myself to lay down some roots, which have been twisting out into this place against my will, but now have my full support in doing so.

Step one: mend the shower in the wet room, which is utterly fixed solid. No amount of limescale killer has made a difference, and prying it open myself has so far led to little useful information. So, I went to the Mira website, and found a customer services number, and was astounded to find myself chatting to a woman who was able to work out precisely which shower I had (a feat considering it's 25 years old) and for a bargain price one of their engineers is going to come round and have a look at it and tell us what is to be done. The spares are easy to come by, so if he thinks it can be mended then I will probably have a go myself. Though I'm a little daunted because the plumbing in this place is "unique" to be generous ...

Ok, getting a shower fixed is not a major life event, but it's the commitment to remaining here - to allowing myself to live as though I will remain here - that is so significant.

Isn't it funny how commitment can make you feel so free?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Home to roost

This shed in our garden was this morning home to sundry pieces of wood and metal, a television which must have been around for Charles and Diana's wedding, 13 rusting cans of paint and varnish, some broken glass, an interesting wire sculpture and half the local spider population. Today my flatmate emptied it, and by wednesday, all things going as they should, it will be home to four little chickens. A grand accomodation we think ...

During the day, the chickens will have the run / flap / walk of the garden, which is quite extensive in a rambling and be-careful-you-don't-step-over-the-edge kind of way. Come dusk they will be safely shut away in their chicken palace, away from the foxes and badgers, and tucked up in the nesting boxes which were clearly always the true purpose of the spaces in the work bench :)

And, on their first night, they will be tucked up in the freshly raked Hay that I gathered this afternoon.

Raking the hay reminded me of my grandmother's funeral. In the morning we laid her to rest, and in the afternoon we rode behind the tractor baling hay. It was ready and rain was forecast, and in farming life goes on no matter that life does not always go on.

After I'd got my hay together, I went out into our surrounding woodland in search of a six foot fallen branch to use to prop up the washing line. Climbing through hazel copse, wandering amongst the hundreds and thousands of trees that grow around my home, I was struck by how much I already miss this place. It is a funny situation ... the site has been bought by a developer, with a view to demolishing the existing beautiful building and clearing much of the wood and wildflowers, and building some flats. We have a guaranteed six months here, but it could be years - we will get 2 months notice when they get the planning consent. We have badgers and rare woodpeckers and so perhaps there is an angle to be worked there, but one day it will, inevitably, be destroyed. Apparently this is progress?

So, like in so many situations before, I am already grieving for the loss of something I know cannot last forever. I feel weighed down by the certainty of the ending, something which I struggle with in other areas of my life as well - especially relationships. My flat mate said on the day of Summer Equinox, "Oh well, that's it for this year then - all gets colder and darker from here ... ". And it's true. It's barely July and I am already mourning the summer, wishing for the hopeful heady future of May day, when summer stretches forever, just a promise.

I need to find a way to be here, in the moment, and enjoy it, without feeling the pulling away. At least I have plenty of good examples to study. All around me.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The how of who

Obscure blogging name: check
Anonymous googlemail account: check
Avoidance of real names of human beings: check
Careful side-stepping of personal details: check
Pseudonyms for significant pets: no, wait ... I can't do that to them

My pets' names are not up for negotiation it would appear.

I'm sure there are others who share their names, but probably not in that particular combination. If I am to be 'discovered' it would be by someone who has knowledge of my animals. Of course I like to think that they are visually so striking that anyone would recognise them instantly from the photos ...

So - having gone to considerable efforts to fudge and erase as many links with my offline identity as possible ... what stops me from using different names for a dog and two cats?

I would like to argue that this is the respectful thing to do for my pets, but I do realise that they have no concept of noun. 'Ruby' simply means "give me your attention, make eye contact with me". It means walks and ends of custard creams and coming back incase there is a custard cream on offer.

The fact that my dog cannot read is looming before me now. I am faced with the suspicion that I cannot change their names because those names represent something too precious to be altered. Titles that were at first arbitrary have become identity. "Ruby" means love, safety, companionship, loyalty, comedy, trust, independence and joy at the simplest pleasures. It is the comfort of another life breathing in the dark of night, and the freedom to enjoy being, without judgement or question of motivations. It is the understanding that running is better than walking only because it is more fun. It is the honesty to express feeling without censorship - irrespective of time, place or company.

No wonder I can't find another word for all that ...

Friday, July 07, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging

Cat on laptop reading a blog

I'm sure she comments on other people's blogs.

She likes to run spotlight searches on my computer, and then open hundreds of files which responded to a search for "rty".

At one time she was a minor internet celebrity, with her own streaming 2.5 G webcam feed ... but I don't think she misses it. The fan mail was appreciated but the pressure was getting to her.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Cat massage video

You tube video: Cat Massage

The best 30 seconds I've seen in a long time :)

What do you think he charges?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Self-portrait: Steps, sketch by g
g has very generously done some photoshop work on my second attempt at a self-portrait. I really like the softness this filter brings - like warmth and safety and familiarity seeps through the picture.

I had been playing a little myself, and in entirely the opposite direction there is something really working for me in this black and white version.

Self-portrait: Steps, black & white
Bless my little phone camera, it did alright in the end.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

This is me: 2 of 4

Self-portrait: Steps

I'm struggling to keep myself in the picture where this self-portrait marathon at Crack Skull Bob's is concerned ...

And today, when I had to find a mirror to check that the cap I was buying to keep myself from going blind in the sun didn't make me look like I'd skipped off my paper round, I realised how uncomfortable I am with making eye contact with my reflection, let alone capturing my image.

So, back to my shadow, and this photo was taken on my rather rubbish camera phone, but I felt some sort of connection to the geometry of the picture.

Maybe I should get some crayons out instead?

Monday, July 03, 2006

30 degrees

West from Waterloo bridge
As I walked over Waterloo bridge yesterday, the National Theatre proudly announced in dot matrix that the temperature in London was officially out of the 20s. It felt hotter.

The sun beats down on sweating bus passengers and cyclists panting like dogs. Every other pedestrian is followed by a drip drip drip trail of 99 ice-cream (contains non-milk fat so the stickers keep telling me).

Why does vanilla ice-cream contain non-milk fat? What kind of non-milk fat does it contain? I thought I should do some research, what do you think the minimum sample size should be for a scientific investigation into frozen vanilla flavoured non-milk fat dessert products? Do I need to do the whole experiment twice - once with flakes, and then a control group without?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

This post is brought to you by the number 1 and the letter 'm' ...

Camping field panoramic
... for most of the last nine years or so, I have been half of a Two. Now, I am becoming accustomed to being a One.

Right now, I am sitting on a small wooden pontoon over a lake in the field where I am camping in Wales. It is the first time I have been on holiday as a One. Just a few days here, so far west that you can't go any further. When I say One, I mean one person. Ruby is here with me, loving every moment. So, I did not sleep alone, but snuggled up with a tired, sandy, happy dog.

The weather is astounding. The lane we drive from the field to the beach has set the hedgerows a loose dress code for June/July - anything, so long as it's pink and flowery.

Pink foxglove
Red campion
The thing about my dog is that she is so much better at making friends than I am. She struck up a conversation with Meg, a border collie we met by the sand flats, and whilst they romped and chatted, there was not much else I could do but strike up a conversation with Meg's human, a lovely woman in her late sixties, not that long in the area. We talked for maybe twenty minutes, maybe longer. First just the polite soundings out, but after a while she told me that her husband had died in November. She went on to talk about how supportive her welsh farming neighbours had been, much more so than the middle class english folks with whom she has so much more in common - on the surface at least. We talked about whether living in proximity with death as well as life, with death as part of life, equipped those people better for dealing with loss in all forms. How so many people seemed to think death was something that could be avoided.

Eventually we said our goodbyes, and Ruby and I carried on our path, stopping to greet a small but cheerful cocker spaniel - Meg. Whilst meg and ruby chased around her owner and I initially kept some distance, but our defences were broken down by the ridiculous antics of our doggies, and we struck up a conversation and quickly found we had our profession in common. Meg's mum began telling me how she had got into her industry, but ended up telling me pretty much her life story. After a few minutes she invited us to walk with them on the route they were taking, and so we spent a couple of hours together, strolling and talking. She spoke to me about struggling with depression, and anxiety. About failed relationships and finding herself. About loss and fear of loss and how powerful that could be in her life. At one point as we wandered across the golf course, she turned to me and said "I don't know why I'm telling you all this, you're a total stranger ... but I trust you - I don't normally talk about this stuff". And I believed her.

We both shared confidences and spoke about the kinds of feelings not normally thought of as small talk. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Big talk. About stars and the nature of shared experience and reincarnation and self-destruction. About being a One when you have been half of a Two and how difficult it can be, but how freeing and empowering too. And when we had to part she gave me her number, and I did the same. For next time I am here. And she gave me a hug. And it felt right and supportive and not at all odd. Which is odd in itself.

So, back on our own again, Ruby and I retired to the beach and lay in the sand, scorching under the sun but not much caring. And I felt hopeful, but also heavy, scared of losing Ruby, who is my world. And I wondered whether I would ever get over the loss I am feeling now, and the future loss of Ruby, which may be sooner that I would hope because she has a heart problem which may get worse quickly at any time.

And then we met Mabel. 12 weeks worth of loose skin and big paws and pure vulnerable joy. Just like Ruby was when I first brought her home a year and a half ago.

Mabel, boxer puppy, 12 weeks
They romped around together for a while, but it was an uneven match and little Mabel scared regularly and retreated to sit on my feet and lean against me and look up for reassurance. And I knew then that if Mabel didn't already have a very lovely family, I would take her home and love her just as much as I love Ruby. Different, but no less. Hope.

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