Archive for : January, 2015

Frozen Playground and Friends

6.57 am


The playground


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A high black perimeter fence encloses the tarmac of the playground that is reached by short steep stone steps. If you have a pram with you its almost impossible to access, you either have to leave the pram at the bottom of the steps or get someone to help you carry it up. There are a few benches under the trees, a shed, some planters, and graphical games drawn in colour on the tarmac.

Naoise jumps and hops and skips and twirls. He hides, finds stones and insects beneath. He plays out Power Ranger games. He re-enacts fantasy and dream and future. His feet run. He can run around the whole playground.

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There used to be a slide but it wasn’t maintained so they took it away.

There used to be a boat but it wasn’t maintained so they took it away.

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Helen twirls and hops and skips and jumps. She re-enacts scenes from Star Wars. She takes a magnifying glass and burns a hole in a leaf. She plays cats cradle, and hopscotch and marbles in the tops of drains. In summer she makes daisy chains with friends, the longer the better and little dens with cut grass in the privet hedge.

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The playground is frozen. Dancing feet are preserved in the ice. The care taker smirks as he sees me taking photographs, and states “it looks the same today as it did yesterday”. The head teacher asks me “what are you doing”, I reassure her that there are no children trapped in my cameras lens just empty playgrounds, I’m doing a project. An art project. She is nice and laughs and smiles, but there is always suspicion. Always something a little dangerous. Always a little threat. The threat of the photograph, what could it capture ? The threat that I pose with a camera in my hand.


Three Friends (and a ghost friend)


The first friend

My friend cycles over to my house to record me reading a story, but his stories are better. He is a film maker. He can link two entirely disparate ideas together with intelligence and clarity.  He quotes Nietzsche and scenes from films and recounts episodes from his life. He comes alive as he talks about his dad. His dad who was a political prisoner in South Africa and disappeared for over four hundred days.

Four Hundred Days.

He has written a book, book about him and his dad, he needs to edit it a little, write a bit more. He has written eighty thousand words in three months. Is that right ?

Four Hundred Days

I keep thinking of this space this amount of absence. It is frightful to begin to imagine such a disappearance.

How strange, I am now laughing to myself as the plastic Tracey Island toy that Naoise borrowed from his friend  has started to speak to me, “give me your pass” it is saying, then a rocket launching sound. 

The second friend

My friend meets me at the cafe. I sit at a position on a table so that I can see her arriving at the top of the stairs. I get out a book, read a little. Wait. Her face lights up into a smile, I greet her with a hug.

She is a generous friend, always kindly and thoughtful and supportive. She brings gifts of homemade apple jam from the tree in her garden. Pickle, a book of short stories by Alice Munro and a copy of her PhD proposal.

We talk about families and art and work. We talk about children growing up and leaving home. I recount the story of Syd and recalling in horror as he tells me that he will be able to learn to drive in four years time. The horror of it, Syd at the wheel of a car. He of cause is delighted by the idea of driving and independence. We sip tea. We discuss entering our work into art competitions, we commiserate each other over the ridiculous costs of doing so, we talk about how difficult it is even to just to get your work out there, to get it seen. Everything has a price, every action an emotional price. We talk about using our homes as temporary gallery spaces. I recall the work by Laura Godfrey Issacs about the projects that she set up in her home; called Home.

The idea of Home came in part from Godfrey-Isaacs’ experience of motherhood and the desire many women have after birth to retreat behind the closed front door. “I discovered, like many women, that having a child was isolating me and it made me explore the potential of the home and explode the idea of it as a reclusive space that stymies your creativity as a woman, a mother and an artist. Home is my way of reclaiming as a dynamic, creative place – a place where I live but also work.”

Home is where the art is, The Guardian, Wednesday 7th July, 1999

I should also tell her about Lena’s work, her performances, the Institute for the Art and practice and Dissent at Home. Her fortieth birthday performance still resonates in my memory. I loved it so, sitting at the top of her stairs my back to a bedroom door, listening to her talking, laughing, listening with all the other brilliant radical women she had invited.

I order cake, its my mum’s birthday, I haven’t eaten cake in a whole month. I adore cake. I choose a slice of lemon with icing dripping down its sides. It is delicious. Some kind of heaven. One slice of cake.

The third friend

I collect her from the station. Its not a long walk, but it is icy cold, there is no need to suffer it.

I am disorganised. I have wine but haven’t cooked yet. I cook a girl called jack recipe that I have been drooling about all week;  chilli kidney bean soup with herby dumplings. I drink white wine as I chop and fry and stir. I am giddy after just one glass. I am a cheap date.

Friday, always a relief to make it to the weekend.

My friend sits on the sofa with Naoise, they play a game on her phone together. She is great with children. So relaxed. She visits Syd in his attic bedroom and admires his new guitar and playing.

Naoise plays with Tracey Island all evening long. He would like a Tracey Island for his birthday. Syd is tired and kicks off about some camera that he wants to buy, his tantrum is perfectly timed with Patrick leaving the house to drop my friend back at the station. Maybe its a betrayal. Its a betrayal writing this. To my children and my family their right to a private life. It is written with love and Syd honestly, I am not spying on you, I am just writing words so that I may understand so that I can negotiate this complex life of mothering. I may fail, but I may learn.

The ghost friend

You arrived. You came back to me as an email. An email from a novelist wanting to find a good reproduction of your art work for a book that she was writing about parenting and surrogacy. She needs an image from an exhibition. A good quality image, a high resolution image is required, from an exhibition that took place thirteen years ago; Five Naked Ladies at the Lewisham Art Gallery. I hated making the exhibition. Syd was only six months old. I spent the day naked and cold and not really feeling that comfortable with what I had been asked to do. Drawing each others bodies against paper that covered the walls and floor of the space. My breasts were leaking and sore and full. I was very anxious about my post pregnancy body. I felt big and lumpy and clumsy. They were all childless apart from one woman. All skinny and glamorous.

I drove across central London to the opening, with Syd strapped into his carseat. The journey was a nightmare. Only a short distance from north to south, but Syd cried most of the way. They were all drinking, thats what you do at an opening. I could not drink, I had a six month old baby strapped to my front, that I was breastfeeding through the night. Thankfully one friend of mine turned up for the event and we found a place to hangout in the corridor and talk a little. Looking back I wonder why I ever agreed to do it. I guess I wanted to make some work as an artist again after being “out of it” with having a baby, and I loved my friend and I wanted to please her by taking part. It was the first time that I had left Syd. I  had a break from him. For one day, he spent a day with his dad, not me. I expressed bottles of milk for him to drink. That was good, as was spending time with women, with artists.

I thought that the idea was great, the premise, but I thought that we should have been filming the process of the work being made, the conversations that were had. I said this at the time, but it fell on death ears. It was the process, the making that was interesting, not the end product. How these five women’s lives and their bodies collided in this naked drawing space, at this time, in this place, that was the magic, that was the art in it all.

I promise the novelist that I will search my studio for a good reproduction. I feel a strange weight of responsibility. I am bought to tears thinking of my friend, we met at Glasgow School of Art, we laughed and shared a lot, drank tea out of a glass pyrex jug, there was no pot.

She died at the age of thirty something of breast cancer, leaving three small children without a mother. Life is cruel. Life is very cruel. I miss her so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To the Lighthouse and the school run

6.10am

The book by Rebecca Solnit A Field Guide To Getting Lost arrives as a thud through the door. I read the first chapter and find this quote by Virginia Woolf, from To the Lighthouse. 

It was about a mother and wife at the end of the day.

For now she need not think about anybody. She could be herself, by herself. And that was what now she often felt the need of-to think ; well, not even to think. To be silent, to be alone. All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated and one shrunk with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something visible to others. Although she continued to knit, and sat upright , it was thus that she felt herself, and this self having shed its attachments was free for the strongest adventures. When life sank down for a moment, the range of experience seemed limitless….Beneath it all dark, it is all spreading, it is unfathomably deep; but now and again we rise to the surface and that is what you see us by. Her horizon seemed to her limitless

Rebecca Solnit A Field Guide To Getting Lost: Open Door, Pages 15-16

Me (text message to mum yesterday)

Have you read To the Lighthouse ? Do I need to read it ? Cold any better?

Mum (text message to me yesterday)

We have just enough snow to look good and that is plenty for me! I guess you have more Syd must be feeling better to want to go sledging. I have had a better day and the cold is retreating. I have given in for an hours rest. I have read To the lighthouse but found I found it very hard going and got little out of it. You might enjoy it…too airy-fairy for me and hard reading. Lots of love xxx

I haven’t read To the Lighthouse, I should try to read it, even if it is all airy-fairy. The quote by Woolf shone out from the pages of the book, and I metaphorically circled it with my mind. Her words point to that thing perhaps that I  have been trying to express, the idea of aloneness, of not being.  Motherhood, and how the self is seen in juxtaposition with another. Perhaps all this walking is about freeing the self, the self disintegrating into the place where I am at right now. When I walk out on the tops, I am not judged. Waiting in the playground the maternal surveillance is present.

Helen Sargeant,, The egg the womb the head and the moon : Hide and Seek,  15th September 2013, Comments

I agree with you that play can just feel like another chore, and yes the maternal surveillance is horrible, if only we could just be more honest about what motherhood is really like, perhaps some of societies high expectations of us could be eroded. Its a trap, I fall into it, I try to be a “good” mother, am I a “good-enough” mother, perhaps my biggest critic is myself. Perhaps all of this idealisation is a fiction that we ourselves have created. Perhaps the pressure of the ideal begins early on when we are children ourselves, as we watch our mothers, mothering us ? Its not my mum that has made me feel this way though. Where do I go from here ?
Outside, out there in wide open spaces, wild places, I feel that I can play freely be happy and content with my children, be myself. Inside my head, inside my home, at playgroups, at the school gates, within the institution of motherhood, I feel confined, constrained, criticised.

I haven’t read To the Lighthouse, I should try to read it, because I have had a copy on my shelf since June 1994. Its a copy that was given to me by my Grannie. Its a beautiful version from the portfolio society, almost too good to read. It slips inside a blue case. Inside there is a message from Grannie and the date that she gave it to me.

The school run: in the morning

Drop Syd off at school, behind the bush in the pub car park. On the return journey, a heron flies exactly at the same speed that I am driving (30 miles per hour). The heron is flying the length of the river that runs next to the road. I am astonished at the speed of its flight.

Snow arrived again. I helped my friends boys to school as she was unwell. A little stressful not because of the children or the lateness. Stressful because I slid my car inches between a stone wall and a parked car. The car literally became a sledge. The children all three of them crammed in the back thought it delightfully funny and giggled and giggled.

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Naoise enjoyed having me and his dad at the school workshop. We helped him and his classmates to make tissue paper kites. It is very difficult to make tissue paper kites using scissors that are blunt and caked in PVA glue and sellotape residue. But the kites still got made and they did look so lovely and fragile.

 

I was so impressed with how the teacher coped with the constant barrage of questioning. Her use of collective dancing fingers to get their attention. Her constant patience. It was a real eye opener. Naoise loved sitting on my knee when the teacher read the three little pigs. Sat on the floor of the classroom, on the ridge of the carpet.

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At the studio: I read, I buy a jumper from the charity shop, I read, a blizzard begins, I go home.

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The school run: in the afternoon

Collect Syd at 3pm from behind the bush in the pub carpark, drop him back at home. I stop for a moment and take a photograph of the pram tracks running down our road. It is good that there has been a baby born in our street. The first since we moved here with Syd nine years ago. It is good not to be the only family.

Collect Naoise.  Naoise sadly tells me that his kite got ripped and trashed in the wind when he flew it after break-time. Naoise plays hoping in the snow. He falls and I am holding the camera. I think he falls deliberately, he is enjoying the slip of the snow. Should I be holding the camera when he is falling ? He is fine, he really is.

 

 

 

 

Stones, potatoes, mud and rain

6.20 am

Last night (28/01/15)

Blue electric light flashes at the skylights. I am reading to both children, a funny book of Syd’s choice about a family of abominable snowmen. The children are like the storm. Syd cannot settle and keeps farting and jumping up and making Naoise giggle and resting his head a little to close to my breast for my comfort. Always a battle of wills. I am the thunder. I shout. The skylight is now all completely white with snow.

I really cannot stand it when they get giddy at night. I cannot express how tired I am come the evening after eight. Perhaps it is the diet, but I am totally worn out and at my wits end. Why won’t my boys sleep. All they want to do is music music music draw draw draw. Ahhhhh what have I done. Oh and watch rubbish TV. Even I have started to watch Power Rangers, I must be loosing it.

The diet is boring. Corn crackers and rice cakes suck. They taste nothing as good as homemade bread.  I made them a lovely chocolate loaf cake from all the left over christmas chocolate.It is torture to make the children cakes. It smelt so delicious. I cut a slice. I got Patrick to take some around to my neighbour. May as well spread the love far and wide, or at least around the corner, if I cannot eat it….

The evening did not go well. A conversation about Syd’s GCSE options deteriorated into a fall out between me and Patrick because he barged in on the discussion that I had initiated and I couldn’t get a word in edgeways. I snapped. I snap sometimes. I am no saint, far, far from it. I am no mother monster. I am no good mother. I am just roughing it, doing the best that I can. I have given up trying to live up to perfect. I am a little bit milk on the turn. Negotiating the emotional landscape of step parents and their children is hard.  Syd immediately defends Patrick. I am the ogress. So maybe I do fit the mother monster frame. It is best that parents do not argue or disagree in front of their children. I know this. I know. But I just cannot keep my mouth closed all the time. It is maddening. Resentment, disappointment, bad communication, loneliness. It is so lonely being a parent.

I just feel like running away, far away. Instead I opt for a bath and shaving my winter coat of hair on legs and armpits. This shaving is some way towards a purification of the stress that has built up. Hot bath. Hot bath. Release the tension. Its not long before I am visited by Syd apologising, then by a very fascinated Naoise. He wants to help me by shaving my legs, I decline, explaining that the blade of the razor is very sharp. He asks if I am going to shave off my pubic hair or that as he refers to it pointing. “No I am not going to shave off that” Naoise, “it would be very itchy and sore if I did so. ” Then Naoise says “and you would look like a man” !

9.41-9.50am

Earlier in the day ( after the school run and a walk up to the tops via The Pexwood Road)

A stone. A stone. One on top of another.

A stone from the playground that Naoise has pushed inside my coat pocket.

A stone balanced on top of a grave stone.

A flat stone selected from the river bank to be skimmed across the waters surface.

A stone wall with lichen, foxglove, moss and a bird sheltering within.

Pour coffee

Artists break rules. I shouldn’t be writing this now. I’ve broken my own rules. I’m only meant to wtrite first thing, in the morning, when I wake. I’m allowing myself this extra thirty minutes.

The weather is foul. Foul. I walk up the Pexwood road in all weathers, It will not defeat me.

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I am drenched through to knickers, I like being drenched through. The rain turned to hail, then back to rain, then hail and a little snow. Great sheets of rain blowing across the valley. I struggled to walk in the mud. I sued the umbrella as a stick so I didn’t slip over. The earth is sodden. I can see cuts in the turf where sledges have been driven through the snow.

Its nostalgic to remember moments from being a child. I’m thinking of the quaker burial ground behind my grannies house. Scaling the wall. Crawling along the top.

sydclimbingwall

I remember walking along alone to the next village across fields and through stone step stiles, meeting my auntie at the pub.

There was more that I wanted to say.

The mud, stones on graves, walls, domestic, agricultural, to keep in and to keep out. To protect and to violate.

An image. I am wearing my new blue dress, madonna blue and I am holding my arms out wide, you know like that Yves Klein image is it called Jumping into the void. It is photographed here on the tops. Another cliche. Always cliches. Perhaps not.

I need to organise all the standing still for one minute videos. I am not sure why I am standing still. It isn’t a mediataion on motherhood. I am just standing in the elements watching one minute go past on my mobile phone video camera. Thats all, there is no other meaning to it. I guess its saying I am here, I am here in this place. I am standing in this weather, in this place, on this day. Each day the same, each day feeling different Perhaps hoping that my face will shrink and change with my weight loss, perhaps it will document a change. Perhaps.

Keep thinking of the butterfly. The butterfly caught between the net curtain in my studio, battling against it, trapped.

Am I trapped ?

Motherhood- the wild, the untamed nature. Motherhood as a journey, an expedition.

Listen to the lark ascending………look up the work of the poet form portugal writing about the love of her daughter.

Krishna is coming on Friday to film. He wants a handwritten story. Here it is. Its not really a story, there is no clear lineage or narrative. I jump cut back and forth. There is just a flow of thoughts. Sometimes connected. Sometimes not. Notes to myself. Notes to my guilty self. Notes of hope and of hopefully transformation.

There are stones and potatoes and mud and rain

And guilt.

Naoise wanted me to stay at school and make cardboard aeroplanes. I probably could have stayed. I didn’t. Tomorrow me and Patrick will both help at his school. We will make kites.

I feel guilty. But I just need some time and space. Aloneness.

We got to school early. I can’t believe we were the first into the classroom. Naoise coat was soaked. I removed plastic cups of PVA glue from the radiator and placed his coat to dry upon it.

Its not been thirty minutes, but its been long enough. I won’t wait for the beep of the oven buzzer.

 

 

Tears and potatoes

6.45 am

Naoise favourite uniform is tumble drying in the washer. He is very fussy about jumpers and tops and how socks are put on. There must be “no crumpled sock”. Some jumpers are a little too big others too small, it has to be just right. His fussiness is a real challenge to my patience.

I’ve got the bedroom routine a little better sorted, but the morning one is still a stress. We were over fifteen minutes late to school yesterday. However organised, however early I wake, we never seem to be able to get to school on time. Naoise is on a different time scale entirely, he has no sense of urgency. He sits in front of a plate of breakfast with snuffly (his comfort blanket/king sized duvet) hanging over his head and just stares at it. Moments before we need to leave the house, he wants to do creative projects, when we really  should be walking him to school. He has been making stickers for his friends out of address labels that are then placed inside small brown money envelopes that he decorates.

therocket

After school all he wants to do is play in the upper playground. To kick around a stone with his friend. He calls this “stone football”. There is something very victorian about the stone and the kick. Hazardous too. The stone occasionally is launched haphazardly into the air. I stand and chat and freeze. When it is time to part he just hugs and hugs and clings to his friend. They twirl around and around in their boy embrace. Their cheeks touching. We have to physically undo them from each other. Its very sweet to see them be so affectionate. A whole gaggle of the children in his class have known each other since they have been babies at the local sure start nursery and they have strong bonds of friendship. I envy them and their gang, they are fortunate.

I walk out. I walk out alone. I walk out on the tops and I visit my friend. I visit my friend because Syd is back at school. I have been released from two weeks of caring captivity. I am free. We drink strong coffee from little china cups. We talk about the children and work and diets and running. She is so kind. She gives me a pair of her husbands fell running shoes to borrow and a t-shirt to use. Just need a sports bra now and then I have no excuse. I must run. 

Patrick is out working all evening, this happens a couple of times a week. I enjoy having the children to myself. The freedom of the house all to ourselves. It is much easier to parent alone, their are no conflicts or differences of opinion. I can concentrate solely on the children. I like it. I am lazy though and opt for instant meals from the supermarket and double lashes of TV if they want. The evening is focussed on the routine. Home, snack, play, tv, put on washing, dry and fold clothes, cook tea, eat, clear up, kids in shower, little bit more tv, get super and milk, reading to Naoise. At this point I tend to fall asleep cuddling Naoise and telling him a life story.….he fights sleep. Last night he was snoozing by eight thirty. This is a triumph, the earliest sleeping Naoise yet in the past eight weeks. Hooray for me.

Syd wakes me from my sleep. “I am tired” He wants my attention and…..

The buzzer on the oven just sounded fifteen minutes gone. I had thought that it was 6.45 am when I started writing but I have just realised that I began at 5.45 am. Ahhhhhh so early so its now 6 am.

6am

I am not thrown by the time. I am glad of it. Glad of the time to structure thoughts and find some flow.

I wanted to write about Syd’s tears at bedtime and something about my mum’s potato patch in her garden in Scotland. I cannot see any particular connection between the two subjects other than the word bed.

A bed of potatoes and a child that is settling down for sleep in his bed.

Syd is crying. He is crying because he cannot rouse me from my sleep. He shakes me, he taps me, he begs me to wake up and tell him a “life time story, tuck me in, watch tv with me, read me a story”. He is crying. Big tears falling. Tears that I have caused. He is so patient. Naoise being the youngest inevitably gets the most of my attention, he has to fight for his. His tears wake me. The loudest of tears.

We watch some rubbish;  Back Chat with Jack Whitehall. I lie next to him in his bottom bunk, his iPad is balanced precariously on his music stand. We watch and giggle together at the hilarity of Mirander and the pretentiousness of Joan Collins. I tuck him in and sneak back to my own bed with Naoise next door.

Within about an hour he has jumped in with me and Naoise. At some point in the night I will wake and then go downstairs and sleep in the double bed. All this bed hopping. I just don’t care as long as I get to sleep. Sleep is so precious. I am so glad that my sleep is not broken by the torture of breastfeeding, crying, consolling and nappy changes. Those days are long gone.

Mum is away in Scotland. I speak to her on the phone. She sounds far away. Far away on the bog. The roof of their house was damaged by the storm. They need to sort it out with the insurance people. What a total bore. She isn’t feeling too well and has a cold and is in bed. Last trip it was the lack of electricity that kept her in bed, this time a cold. Poor mum. I hope that she gets better for her birthday at the end of the week.

Over the summer I took some pictures of my parents garden. I am amazed that mum and dad manage to grow anything at their wind ravaged home, but here it is a beautiful patch of potatoes. Potatoes growing  in the far, far, north. The wind has not stopped them from domesticating a little patch. The soil must be peaty and acidic, still against the odds their potatoes flourish.

mumandadspotatoepatch

The buzzer on the oven timer sounds. Beep Beep Beep Beep ……….

This Charming Teenager

6.10am

What to write. Gas fire on, washing machine chugging. Laundry draped against hot radiator. Cars passing. The cars woke me, I can now sense the time dependent on its flow. Humans are habitual.

Syd is better, least better enough to go back to school. His test results came back and thankfully no meningitus virus and iron levels just a little lower than normal. He has to have more tests for vitamin D, but I am just so relieved.

Today I hope to be released from caring captivity.

He worked hard on playing his new electric and  by the evening had sussed The Smiths, This Charming Man. I was subjected to the same rifts and chords all day. It drives me loopy, but the results are awesome. He loves a challenge, Johnny Marr is notoriously tricky and complicated he keeps reminding me. I listen and I congratulate. Patrick is amazed. We are so proud of Syd.

Naoise just wants to play and play and play, cop-copter, mine craft. He has built a treehouse just for me and him to live in, two comfy beds, a view out to the sea and loads of chickens laying eggs in the basement. Patrick is rather envious of our reduced family unit home.

We have been watching Boyhood in small chunks. The boys enjoy it. Naoise rewinds the DVD so that I can notice the cutesy baby sleeping in the car seat.

Bedtime always a battle. However ordered, however much I schedule and prepare its always hard. A battle of wills and warm milk and coercing. Syd is really pissed off with me as I fall to sleep after reading to Naoise, it must be a around nine. He keeps trying to shake me awake. He really demands my attention. He needs it in the evening but I just feel so exhausted, I struggle just to tuck Naoise in and read him to sleep. I must try to find some more space for Syd at night, its hard.

Naoise is starting to read everything, signs on the road, packets of food, titles of films, everything. He takes my phone and sends a message to my friend requesting that her son come and play at his house. The phonics spelling is just so adorable, makes me smile. This is what he wrote;

Kan

******

Kum

To

MI

Hwos

I find it hard to throw away scraps of his writing. I threw away a shopping list he had written for us, wine was vine, chicken korma was chikun Korma. He is learning fast.

shoppinglistnaoise

I had a strange day, went for a slightly shorter walk up the hill at Lumbutts and back down Rock Terrace. Just far enough to see the hills and the lay of the land. All the snow has gone. Small piles where once snow cats and snow men stood. I spend the rest of the day sorting through photographs and small pieces of video. I find a ten minute video that I had made of collecting Syd from primary school. Its really great, the dialogue, the strange over the shoulder footage. I asked Syd if I could publish it but he was resistant, he didn’t even want to watch himself. I think I need to unpick some of the ethics of working with my children. Give all this some thought. I could just ignore him, but that would feel like a betrayal. Perhaps I will type out the dialogue see where that leads too. He may feel more comfortable if its just text, and there were parts of the film where he is just a shadow, a hand or a pair of feet. I maybe able to edit it so he is happy for me to show it.

 

 

Homemade earthquake

7.27 am

Its much too late to be attempting to write this, should be laying the breakfast table, getting dressed, getting the children up. There is very little time to find to be creative before the school run, the timeframe is tiny. The sore throat that I had when I first woke up has dissipated. I feel ok now. Been battling with technology and cables to work out how to upload a video that Naoise made yesterday. I have got there at last, but the quality of this version is poor, I’ll replace it with a better copy when I have a little more time, still you get the general idea with this sketchy version.

I was amazed by Naoise’s acting and point of shot camera work. All his own idea, made in the bedroom art. I asked his permission to post it here. The feature image is also a photograph by him. He has captured a fleeting moment of me tidying his room at night. Picking up or dropping his clothes. I am unsure what it is exactly, but just a glimpse of my hand and a blur of red.

Its good to get the children collaborating with me on this project. Can’t feed the monster all by myself. Its almost been a month now. Only another eleven to go. Best not to think about the big picture but meet each day as it comes.

I went for a walk with Patrick and Naoise but it was mostly dreadful as Naoise was refusing to walk, his stubbornness resulted in an argument between me and Patrick and a lot of piggy backs. I cannot even begin to go into the details of it here, that would be unkind. I hate it when there are disagreements over parenting, I just cannot stand it, it makes me feel so sad and depressed. It makes me feel so bad, and if it makes me feel bad then poor little Naoise too. I must learn to be more resilient, I must. A thick skin is needed when living in a relationship and bringing up children. There is just no time to argue, it is such a pointless activity. Pointless.

Syd is still unwell but was practising his songs on his electric guitar all day. Home is a constant soundtrack of Syd. He still looks pale as a sheet and reluctant to go outside, to do any exercise. He complains of feeling dizzy and that the lights are hurting his eyes. I worry. I am worried about him, he really is not himself, he didn’t even want to go out for a pub meal and was in bed by 8pm. This is most unlike him. Hopefully the blood test results will be in today and they will point towards a problem that can be treated.

I feel so caged by his illness. I haven’t left Todmorden in two weeks now. On call all the time. I have valley fever.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

6.30 am

Don’t want to be up writing this, want to be back in bed. Sunday is a day of rest. Feeling the weight of responsibility of this project. It needs constant feeding. Constant maintenance. I’ll try, I’ll try, but right now its pissing me off. I want to be back in bed.

When I get back from my summer holidays this year, I’d like to adopt a kitten. I saw a Facebook post of my friends new ginger kitten. Ahhh so so cute and adorable. Perhaps I can go and visit them, they only live down the road. Weird that I see more of her on Facebook than on the street. I want to hug and mother a kitten. I don’t mind if it scratches my hand, it has a place on my bed, yes I hate cat shit, but they are soooo wonderful and playful and cuddly and cute. I really want one.

I remember looking after litter after litter of kittens as a child. Getting your cat neutered in the 1970’s was not a priority for my parents. Not sure my mother has ever forgiven me for giving away a boy ginger cat to a happy couple who came to collect on seeing our postcard  advertisement offer of kittens free to good homes in the newsagents. I was only six or seven. She shouldn’t have given me the responsibility. She should have made herself more clear. Mum I don’t feel guilty anymore.

The kittens home was the large victorian conservatory that clung to the side of the house. A vast warm glass space, with an occasional missing pane, a stone floor. Where cycles and abandoned pram scooter and such were kept. Where a grape vine grew. I watched the cat giving birth. I stayed with her. I loved to watch the kittens feeding. All snuffled up in the fur of their mother. Cosy and snug. The mother cat closing her eyes blissfully purring with contentment.

I miss my cat Frida, she was killed on the road over the summer. All ashes now, she lies in a small cardboard box on my bookshelf. Sandwiched between a tent rip repair kit and a stack of cameras. I’d like to make a ceramic cat shaped urn, like the ones in the Egyptian section of the Manchester Museum. An urn to place her remains. It will happen. Until then she is filed between language, camera and repairs to be done.

Throat is sore. I got stressed and drank too many glasses of red wine and slumped asleep on the sofa watching Winter Watch with Naoise. Syd was busy playing his guitar. Went to bed far too early, only waking to placate can argument about teeth brushing between Patrick and Naoise.

We spent the day splashing around in a wave pool in Blackburn. I’ve not been swimming in a while, I felt too embarrassed of my overweight, out of control body, but now I’ve lost a little weight, I feel less conscious a bit more confident. I can brave the theatre of the pool. Its fun bobbing around with floats. Naoise loves the water. Syd loves the water too. He still does not seem quite himself, he is pale and complains that the lights are hurting his eyes. He jumps and dives and swims under the water. He must be a little better.

Syd has decided to spend some of his savings on a new electric guitar. I fully support this purchase, he needs to follow his dreams. Options evening is coming up and I can sense his concern and anxiety. The pressure to conform. To select an imaginary career path defined by GCSE subjects. He wants to be a recording artist. He knows its a precarious option, but I keep reminding him that he can do it and it is possible and you can make a living from performing and teaching, like his guitar teacher. He knows its precarious he wants to be sensible, have two paths to follow music and engineering.

In the music shop. I like to watch him selecting and trying out each instrument. A shiny glittery black one, a pale blue shiny spiky one, a black one, a wood toned one. All different all different sounding. Tuning up each, holding its weight in his lap, sampling the strings, strumming, plugging and unplugging each from the amp. Naoise is busy playing an electric piano. Random noisy tunes. Syd cannot concentrate. It is noisy. There are men sampling guitars in each corner of the vast warehouse sized shop.

I tried to take photographs of Syd playing the guitars in the shop, but he asked me not too. Its important to honor their wishes, respect them. I am sure that it can be very annoying having your mum stuck behind a lens looking on, shooting. I love to look and look and look and look at my children. Their faces are whole continents of intrigue. There is really no need to watch television when you have children to watch.

My body clock is changing. I seem to automatically wake between six and six thirty. There are no cars on the road. All the snow has gone. Washed away by the rain. I hope to find an image, its a photograph of a baby bath that was thrown out on the streets in London. In Catford. I saw it, whilst walking to admire my friends allotment. It was my first trip away from Naosie after he was born. My friend was holding her daughters hand,  helping her to keep balance, she was roller skating, and I think that dad was pushing their six year old son in a pram as he had broken his leg.

I look through thousands of images. I eventually find the one of the baby bath chucked out on the street in London. I find others. I also find an image of Naoise in the pram, on the canal, a little wisp of his hair hanging out of the back. Its so fleeting mothering. The kids growing up. Its so fleeting. The photograph stops it, stops it for a second. Freezes it Records a moment in time. Later there is intrigue and fascination. Looking back. Looking forward. Rewind. Pause. Stop.

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The oven buzzer sounds beep beep beep beep beep …..

Ice and the invasion of the snowmen

Women have felt insane when cleaving to the truth of our experience. Our future depends on the sanity of each of us, and we have a profound stake, beyond the personal, in the project of describing our reality as candidly and fully as we can to each other.

Adrienne Rich, On Lies, Secrets and Silence, Selected Prose 1966-1978, Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying ( 1975) page 190

6.30 am

Head sludgy hangover. Three half ciders at the local and I am rolling around drunk. I fell off the loo when I got home !  I feel so happy just to get out once a month. Hysterical with happiness. There was a time when I never went out, never had the energy. Those times of total wipe out exhaustion are long gone. Sitting supping extra strong mugs of  coffee in the park playgroup to stay awake and snatched conversations between watching small children filled days and weeks and years. A walk out down the length of the canal to the playgroup was the routine. Each day I set out. I cannot stand being inside the house for too long, a baby or a young child’s company is not enough to sustain me.

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Days where one seeped into the next. Get the children up, get out the house, drop Syd at school, walk to the playgroup, walk home via supermarket, make lunch, spend afternoon tidying a little, watch an Abney and Teal, collect Syd, make tea, baths, bedtime routine.

Naoise will soon be six.

How time’s flown, and hasn’t he grown.

Julia Donaldson, The Snail and the Whale, 2004

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I feel a bit of a con writing this. You know the kids are really manageable now. Syd is settling into his teens and Naoise grows more and more independent. There aren’t any nappies to change or hungry mouths to feed on the breast or a pram to push.

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I can walk out without the incumbrance of a pram. I don’t need to pack a bag with wipes and changes of clothes. I can read. I have more energy. I am grateful for my time away from the children, for adult time.

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When I walked out, out on the tops in the morning, I spoke to Syd on the phone, I took his orders for food from the shop, I made sure he had taken some pain relief for his head. I began to describe in detail where I was walking, what is it I can see, that I am tracing the steps of another boot as the snow is so so deep. I tell him everything. I tell him about the fog  hanging, the closeness of the trees, the blinding whiteness , and how cold it is , how cold it is, and the small bits of  bog grass poking up through the deep. I describe the sound of the children playing at Dobroyd Castle. I tell him exactly where I am, the path that leads down near the broken stone wall, where the ladder is strapped against it to prevent the sheep from jumping through, just near where his friend lives.  He knows where I am. He knows.

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Its hard growing up, I remember it a little. The whole worlds against you when you are a teenager the adult world is immediately in front of you but the adults that are near just seem silly and embarrassing and trivial and disappointing. I disappointed Syd when I didn’t pick up the phone to placate an argument that he was having with Patrick whilst I was out. I just have to carve out some space for me. I have to. I had to apologise for ignoring his thirteen calls to my mobile, but what is a woman suppose to do when they just need to laugh a little and let their hair down. It was G’s birthday too, I want to make her night fun, I don’t want the focus to be on me. G looks so cool in her new dress. The dress that she has made. Such a great pattern all swirling blues retro 1960’s. So clever, so stylish, so neat.sevensnowman

I wish I had picked up the phone on his first call. I was a little cruel not to answer. Is it best to ignore or communicate ? I tucked him in when I got home from the pub, I wrapped the blanket up against his body and I kissed his cheek. I so adore my eldest son. He is so beautiful and sensitive and creative and edgy. “FUCK OFF, FUCK OFF’ I can sympathise when the insults aren’t being directed at me, I wish the world to fuck off too. Its frustrating when people don’t understand, all that energy and all that passion. It is great to swear. It is a great release. Its ok to be angry. It is. Especially when all you want to do is watch TV when your mum is down the pub.

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The snow had turned to ice.

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Footprints captured in foggy ice. Heavy air, little distance. All close and all a drawing. Why do we make snow men ? Is it that we make figures out of the drama of nature to try and control its threat ? Why do we make snow men and not snow women ? Why do we ? It is fun of cause it is, but it must be about order and control and reducing the threat and the danger of nature, making something silly and funny. Mocking nature with our sculptures.  Making it cute and cuddly. Sticking a carrot in it. All this temporary public artwork is so cool, so wonderful. Everyone making sculptures. Sculptures to the god of snow.

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Naoise snowman had been kicked in. He was so forlorn to see it in its tumble down state. You can always make another. You can always build one again. Snow comes and goes. The sea washes in and out. The moon a never ending full and dimming light of love shinning.

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Maybe Syd will feel better today, maybe he will get to leave the house. He must be feeling strange having been trapped in for two weeks now. It is time to go out, time to mend. Maybe the rain hasn’t washed away all the snow, maybe we can find a place to slide and I will watch his face smile.

I love snow. I love snow.

A wren jumped on top of the fence in the yard.  I watched it as I was washing the dishes. A wren. Hunger. It must be hunger as the cats prowl large at the backs of the terrace. It bobbed and bobbed saw me watching turned and scarpered. All these encounters with wild life, are so brief and fleeting and never enough time to catch them on camera.  Humans always a threat, best to flee, best to get away, always danger. I caught the end of a squirrels tale, a tiny blur in a dreadful photograph.

The buzzer sounds half an hour gone. BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP…..BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP…….

 

Snow lungs

6:10 am

Strategies of feminist motherhood in visual culture and in life set out to embarrass – to get in the way of – restrictive traditional taboos, so that maternal qualities such as caring, empathy and sacrifice are displaced, no longer kept solely in the private realm, assigned to their ‘proper place.’ So that we understand and thus enlarge the concepts of maternal care and feminist action as reciprocal: so that feminist care and maternal action are at work when, for example, childcare is no longer considered trivial and does not present an embarrassment to mainstream mother-loathing-if-she-is-out-of-her-place culture. Feminist care and maternal action are at work in loving actions and representations where sentimentality – to be understood as deep, intimate and real feelings not limited to gender – is no longer a cultural embarrassment.

Andrea Liss, Studies in the Maternal: Maternal Ethics: The Surprise of the Real

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The cars movement on the main road outside increases as the early morning progresses. Left a warm bed. Washing machine chugging, gas fire glitching and hiccupping and crackling, radiator on, blanket over my legs and laptop light burning the early into my eyes.

” Get down Marney” I sternly proclaim. The black labradors owner is impressed by my assertions and congratulates me for disciplining her dog. This is an entirely strange arrangement, but I have conceded to the fact that if she is not going to stop her lolloping male dog from attempting to launch me to the ground each morning, I will have to discipline it myself.

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The birds are more active. I cannot catch them with my mobile phone camera, they dart and fly too quick. They must be hungry, thye must be, the snow is over four foot deep in places. I delight at a wren hopping around near a baby beach tree just at my head height. He scurries away and hides between tuft of grass and clump of snow. The snow is thick and heavy in the trees. As I pass under its canopy, small avalanches of the stuff fall gently to the ground. The snow is thawing already. It is surprisingly warm. Still I have never seen so much snow. It hasn’t drifted. It has just piled up and up. It has stuck in ridges against the sides of the dry stone walls. It has clung to the sides of trunks.  In the smaller branches it sits in clumps and craddles.

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I momentarily jump into the sledging field, I had planned to make portraits of all the snowmen, but I have to abandon the mission. The snow is so deep that it reaches right to the inside of my thigh. I am not wearing waterproofs and don’t want to get cold, my throat is already tingling, I am tired and fear that I have contracted Syd’s virus too. I walk on. I walk on and I am in awe of the beauty. It is the best Breugal scape. At the ridge of the hill, behind the large walled georgian mansion the snow piles even deeper. Great lines of snow have formed on top of the gate to the sheep field. The sheep look forlorn, hungry and cold. A large crow sits on the back of one of the sheep, presumably keeping warm or wishing it a carcus.

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At the intersection of the perimeter wall of the mansion and the road that stretches onwards to Todmorden Moor where you can see the windmills turn slow in the distance, I meet a woman and a ginger greyhound with a large leather collar. She is friendly. We discuss the snow. We talk about how deep it is, how it snowed all day long. We talk about the lack of drifts and how it has piled higher in some fields than others.  She wistfully tells me that it will all be gone by the weekend. She tells me that she loves snow. We discuss the birds, she is concerned that they are hungry. I tell her about my encounter with the wren. I pat her obedient dog. He is Henry and he is lovely. She lives in the cottage on that farm over there, she points out to me. There are no trees near the farm so she sees few birds at close quarters. We part company.

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I speed back home to Syd, its not good to leave him on his own for too long, I can get away with about an hour, he is older now. I run through the two fields down past the herron pond. I run in my big heavy walking boots, maybe I could become a fell runner I think. I think. As J says I need a good supportive sports bra and a pair of sturdy trainers, next month there will be a little money to equipt me. I can wait. I will walk. I will quicken my steps. I will strengthen my muscles. I will breath through an increased pace. I will get stronger, I will.

I have snow lungs.

The snow on the pavements is turning to slush. I notice Naoise red gloves on the pavement, they must have slipped out of Patricks pocket the day before. I ring him to tell him about the magnificent depth of the snow and finding the gloves.

The snow on the pavements is turning to slush and its all brown and mucky and horrid and wet. I have failed at the PhD deadline. I have failed. I am sad. It is hard to battle against the illness of a child, to juggle the demands of caring and working. It  is sometimes impossible to meet a deadline. Next one will come up, next time I will triumph. I will write a draft anyway, I will meet with all my friends that have offered help. I will join two thousand words of clarity and comprehension together. I will. To be patient is hard, to except defeat with your head hanging high. Its ok its ok. Better not to be harsh on myself. I will invent another deadline, as Patrick says the end of February, or maybe before the half term, February is short.

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Collecting Naoise the playground is filled with small snow men. Such a sweet surprise. I am glad that they have been building. I am glad they have had fun. They’ve been allowed to play outside and not cooped in. Naoise runs to greet me and he shows me the Snowman that him and F made together, it has a large body and a tiny winy pin of a head. A tall child in his class starts kicking and kicking at it. Can you stop I implore, thats a little mean, he runs off to kick his own snowman down, and I am glad, Naoise was not impressed by his distruction.

I am getting sick of the sound track to Power Rangers after school, but it does allow me to cook tea uninterrupted. I make two dinners one vegetarian, one meat. I am keen to get Syd’s iron levels back up. He is pale. He is pale. He hates ratatouille anyhow. He grimaces at anything remotely healthy.

Later Syd seems in higher spirits. I lie on his top bunk and he plays the song from the Boyhood film on his guitar. I melt in motherly love. I adore his voice. Again I request, he cruelly denies me a second listen in, not good enough mum he tells me, don’t get all soppy on me he says. Must get a thicker skin I keep thinking. Must get tougher to his rejections. Naoise jumps on top of me with plastic guns that he has made from knex. He wants me to fight him, but I am lying down, I am lying down defeated.

All the reading all the research is not a waste. I read some words by Andrea Liss, they are useful. I have toyed over and over with these idea’s of feelings and emotions and sentimentality and motherly love. What is permissible. I love to kiss my Naoise all over. I kiss him to death with my love and he laughs and laughs and we laugh together. I love my children and however frustrating and difficult and annoying and irritating and dismissive they are. Why wouldn’t I want to try to communicate this love, this deep maternal love. Patrick thinks that the problem is cliche. Perhaps it is cliche. Perhaps all of this is cliche. There are only questions. I cut up the idea of sentimentality, I remove the sentiment from the mentality. Mental Sentiments, is that ok ? Small observations. Small little sparks and moments of joy sliced up and reprocessed. The washing machine is reaching a crescendo, and I fear my tracks of thought are slipping into garbage. The cycle ends, sounds like an aeroplane landing in my kitchen. I’ll quote Andrea Liss here as a note to myself, and find that track from the boyhood film, its totally sentimental, and gushing. I give you permission to feel embarrassed by my words. I will explore this embarrassment further, how embarrassing can I be ?

When asked what he considered was the greatest act of heroism he knew, Mahatma Gandhi replied that it the one performed by the mother who woke up in the middle of the night to find that her baby had wet the mattress they were sharing, and who exchanged places to ensure that the baby slept in the dry for the rest of the night. The heroism wasn’t so much in the act but in the fact that the mother had forgotten it entirely the next morning.  Gandhi’s point was that true acts of heroism are threads of common productive actions that weave themselves into the fabric of existence.  Such heroism of everyday life go unnoticed and uncelebrated, but without them the world would grind to a halt.

Dr Jacques Rangasamy ( Review of M(other) exhibition) 

Mothers and all those that mother- you are all heroes, every little action of kindness and love, every sacrifice, every day, this is for you. Gush, blush and enjoy !!  Here is the trailer to the Boyhood film as the official video for Hero is so unbelievably tacky and male and american, and full of bucking rodeo riders, I cannot post it here, maybe I am a snob, but I prefer this, works better with the images from the film. Imagine if I could write a blog for twelve years. How amazing that would be, but I keel over with the thought, I guess that  is what makes this film so amazing, so brilliant, its the commitment by the director and actors to the timeframe and the discrete, intimate moments and scenes of life, of parenting, of care that it captures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The madness of snow

4am: insomnia

“Just as well I didn’t set my dogs on you”, the woman laughed. Art can be dangerous. “I just thought that your clothes pegs looked beautiful on your line, so was taking some pictures. It must have looked strange and odd, watching me from your kitchen window,  you must have thought me a little mad, I do apologise, I should have asked your permission”.  Art can be dangerous.

Perhaps it is best not to fight the wake of the words in the dead of the night. But it is so dam cold down here. The mad snow fall has turned to ice. Its cold permeates all.

Sandwiched between two boys on the backbone of a bed is no way to sleep. I jump in with Patrick. I can hear Naoise coughing. That lingering cough.

Back to bed now.

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12pm: much later

It snowed and it snowed and it snowed. Big flakes, little flakes, tiny, tiny, tiny flakes. Abadoned cars, no grit, no snow plough. A grey heavy silence. The high school and primary schools closed. On the hill a snow man being built. Jubilant celebrations. Play with white.

Snow balls thrown into the slush puppy canal. A shaving cream valley.

I meet the woman with the three black dogs, her labrador Marnie, always gets jumpy and over excited when he sees me. The woman says ” Just give him a whack”, “I’m not going to whack your dog”, I reply.

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I cannot really think straight. I’m cramming texts and papers. I’m writing an embarrassing load of nonsense. There isn’t any clarity or structure. Haven’t worked out what a methodology is yet. Is autoenthography  a methodology ? Do I need to include a Deluze or another something ? Can’t make head nor tale of Griselda and Bracha. I read and re-read.

Its kinda hard to concentrate with Syd being ill. He lies on the sofa, plugged into his iPad, he giggles at the screen, looks up at me and occasionally smiles. He is yellow. I am a rubbish nurse, clearly didn’t pick up on any of my mum’s skills. I am irritable, snappy, impatient, intolerant a bit cruel. “I HAVE TO WRITE, I HAVE TO WRITE” is my mantra. It is all too little, too much and too late. As mum says “the gods are against me”. I’m feeling caged by this PhD proposal writing and I am bored of Syd’s illness. Walking out on the hills for one hour each day provides some freedom and perspective, but when there is all this snow, all I want to do is be outside in it, up the hill rolling a snowman’s head, finding my head. A head made entirely of snow. Buried in cold.

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Just got  back from the GP’s. Syd is washed out and weak, and I am feeling guilty that I’ve ignored him. Too  much juggling not enough mothering. The house is a sty. He has blood tests for viral meningitis and anemia. He doesnt want to hold my hand or even have me in the room for comfort, he rejects my efforts. Boys, teenagers, just at the moment when you think you might be useful, they might need you, they turn you away. You can never get it right. I am a motherly embarrassment. From the plastic blue chaired room I here “Helen”, “Helen”, its the nurse calling. Syd has fainted. “Second teenager whose done this, this week” she exclaims. Poor love lying on the reclining chair, eyes closed, floppy and now white instead of pale. Me and the nurse fuss around him with cups of water in plastic and bowls of cardboard.

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All the birds were silent. They were shocked by the snow. All the birds were silent and nowhere to be seen. Hiding in bush, heather or crack of stone wall. The silence of the birds is eery.

A man sledging with his four year old son. ” I wish I had had this when I was four” he proclaims. ” You have it now” I respond. I look on with envy. Sledging that hill is the best fun ever. The snowmen that we made on Sunday are still intact. The snowmen are multiplying, a whole family of five in the field, circled by foot prints.

There are children canoeing in the lake at Dobroyd Castle. There voices are happy and lift upwards, I hear the instructors bossing.

So much snow. So much snow.

Later I take Syd for a small walk . We buy fingers of fudge from the village store. Then chips. We walk along the canal. I carry the small paper parcel of chips. It is warm and neat, it reminds me of the heat of a new born baby. The chips are so yummy. I feed Syd like a pecking bird from the parcel.

The oven buzzer sounds.

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