A walled garden! Frolic frolic.

And while typing the above the door knocker rapped. A man who I thought was selling stuff assured me he was not. Instead he sorted out insulation for the loft space of the entire house – absolutely FREE!

Never have I been as cold as last winter, what with the heating off and snow and ice and such.

Hurrah, and again I say HURRAH!

No words

The girl stood, faced upturned to the dark, leaking sky. The orange street light turned her olive skin copper. Above her in the tree a robin, sodium-copper-breasted, showered liquid notes, more than a match for the thin drizzle. Her lips pursed, she whistled: blew, inflated, floated back each phrase to the listening bird.

If there’s a soul, then, I wonder
where it might sit?
I picture a yellow canary flitting
anxiously from perch to perch as
its cage travels deeper into the mine.
I picture the trees our primate bodies
evolved to navigate, their ladders,
their heartwood neither alive
nor clearly dead. I remember
the blossoming branches of a wild
sweet cherry tree one spring,
after an ice storm had toppled it
& a chainsaw had severed the trunk
from the tangle of roots and soil.
Even decapitated, it bloomed with abandon,
it bloomed as if there were no tomorrow:
clouds of white against the brown woods.

My child: “When I ran through the park to school this morning I imagined that the whole world was 2D. It was like running through the pages of a giant pop-up book full of flat trees.”

As I cracked open the pomegranate, marveling at the glistening rubies inside, I thought about the way it’s bad luck to drop and forget any seeds – you have to eat them all. And then – the mind is odd this way – each seed suddenly became a child, and I thought about all the children of Gaza, and then children throughout the world, so much more precious than any of nature’s jewels. I looked at my hands, splattered with red: how blind and bloodstained we are.

A group of pupils from the local school hang around on the street corner. Normal, but not normal. No laughing, shouting, jostling. Quiet and still. They wear badges of the Palestinian flag on their uniform. Their uniform is black.

The number of Palestinians killed since the Israeli Defence Force action began is over 800.  Approximately one third of these deaths are children. From 60 child deaths in the first eight days of aerial bombardment, the number of children who have been killed now numbers in excess of 260.

I walk home with a child holding my hand. His thumb is, as usual, thrust aslant the underside of my wrist across vein and artery, pulse to pulse, snug under the coils of my mala. He asks, worried, his hand gripping tighter, why I am weeping.

I have no answer. I have no words.

PS the new moniker (not Monica)

Lady Penelope was my nickname at former former (former) work. This, in response, was my desktop wallpaper.

lady penelope

It would be wonderful to think I was thus known because I was stylish and fashionable in almost every aspect of my life and a world renowned supermodel etc etc but I think it had more to do with my hair colour, gadget obsession and desire to rehabilitate the colour pink.

I did also have a large orange hat…

london agent

… (which I still have) although it’s a brimless fur number more appropriate for a trip to the arctic than a garden party.

There are many worse role-models. And, after all, I get to drive a seeeriously cool car. Or rather get to be driven in a seeeriously cool car by the faithful Parker (who is never seen parking, incidentally, despite his name).

fab 1

I still have the Lady Penelope mug I was given as a leaving present.

In lieu of words

Since I appear unable to complete the simplest post, a couple of pictures of Brodick, this looking seaward, high tide just after the full moon, the lagoon full to flooding after torrential rain

brodick bay

and looking towards the edge of town as post-rain vapour rises from the hills


From my notebook

brother left, son right

Two pictures I carried round in a notebook on opposite pages for many years. On the left is my brother, Charles (1964-1982), on the right my first son (b 1995).

I kept the images opposite each other because I thought the people in them looked unbelievably similar. Scanning the pages today, loading them up to edit and looking at them for the first time in a long time I can’t see a resemblence at all. In fact my brother looks uncannily, eerily, like our paternal grandmother, a woman my mother loathed viscerally and to whom I, she always said, was identical.

I used to show these pictures to people, like a diptych, an icon, a small personal shrine against the tyranny of death and say “doesn’t my son look just like my brother who died”.

How could anyone respond other than to agree in a generalised way with perhaps a quiet qualifier about children often looking similar, so clear and so desperate was my desire for that connection to be imprinted on face and page and body and mind.

Small things

Just back from a few wonderful days in Cornwall and still not done with the pictures from Holy Island. So here are some small things.

I took them with the point-and-shoot.

I hauled the DSLR all the way up to Scotland and back again (accompanied by its lenses) in a padded camera bag and didn’t take it out once. When I packed to go to Cornwall and took it out of the bag I discovered that somewhere along the line the screen on the back of the camera had been broken. There is a series of cracks radiating out across it from one side and it’s entirely black. The filter on the front of the macro lens, which was on the body at the time, was completely smashed although the lens itself appears to be unscratched.

This means that, technology being what it is, the camera is pretty much unusable since all the data about settings etc (not to mention the pictures themselves) are displayed on the screen. I presume it should be possible to get the screen replaced but however much (or little) it costs I don’t have the money.

All is not entirely lost. I switched the camera mode to auto (I usually use aperture priority) and took a few pictures. The lens focussed fine, the shutter operated fine. I took the card out, examined the pictures (since obviously they couldn’t be seen on the screen) and they too appeared fine. So I have an automatic camera with interchangeable lenses but no controls and no picture review. And a point-and-shoot with limited controls and a single lens.


Of course beggars can’t be choosers. I always knew that the lovely, expensive consumer durables with which the house is littered, left over from the days of unthinking unappreciated affluence, would start seizing up, failing and breaking and that I wouldn’t be able to mend/replace them. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit recently about money, work, the children, the future. We are shortly going to be quite a bit worse off for reasons too complicated and boring to go into, partly involving yet another change in the law governing child support benefits for children being cared for by a single parent. The children are very clear that they don’t want to return to the days when I left the house in the morning before they did and returned, if we were lucky, in time to say goodnight to them before they went to bed and they were cared for by an au pair. There are obviously huge numbers of alternatives to this extreme on the one hand and facing difficulty affording food on the other. I just don’t know what they are yet.


The retreat schedule, although apparently far from onerous as these things go, started at 6am and finished at 9pm. And it was exhausting. I frequently slept through the midday break. This didn’t allow much time roaming around with a camera.


The weather mostly generated a diffuse grey light, a diffuse grey-pink light at sunset.



The last full day of teaching was followed by the full moon, a particularly auspicious time apparently. A group of women who had been on retreat at southern end of the island at the Inner Light Retreat for the previous year came out that day/night of the full moon.

Each time I go to Holy Island I stay in the dorm and pounce on a particular top bunk and move the pillow from where it’s generally placed, by the wall, to the window end so when I wake up I can open my eyes onto the sea.

On the morning after the last full day of teaching the waking view was of the full moon slipping down the sky towards its own milky train in the water below made pink by the reflected glow of the rising sun.


This photograph does not, of course, come anywhere close to conveying the breathtaking beauty of the sight.

Later that day I discovered one of the women on my (little) retreat had a daughter, her only daughter, who had been on that one year retreat. The mother had been getting up every morning of our one week retreat at 5am to walk to the end of the island and leave a note, pick up a response. They had agreed, before the retreat started, that on the last day of their year apart they would start walking at 1pm, the daughter from the lighthouse cottages that had been her home for the previous year, her mother from the Centre and they would meet somewhere in the middle.

“I set off as agreed” said the mother, “and of course I know the path really well because I’ve been walking it every morning for the last week. When I got halfway she wasn’t there, so I kept going. When I got two-thirds of the way along I was starting to get worried. You can imagine. And then I turned a corner and there she was. She didn’t see me. She was standing chanting in front of the image of Green Tara.”

green tara

“I just stood and watched her. My beautiful daughter. She didn’t see me. This was not what we had planned. This was not the two of us seeing each other along the path, running towards each other. This was so much more wonderful.”

Black pudding

black pudding

A gift from the step-mother, from her homeland. Prize-winning, she said. And I can well believe it. After more than a week of meatless purity what a girl really needs is some serious fried blood. And stuff. A bit too peppery for total child approval, ideal for maternal joy.

I took the picture to mail to the aforementioned step-mother by way of thanks. It appears here inspired by Krista‘s flowers and because black pudding is sixth on the list of the meme below which I couldn’t resist.

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at linking to your results.

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare – before the food police made it a crime
5. Crocodile – smoked, southern Africa, delicious
6. Black pudding – from weaning, and see above
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp – in France, where it was made to taste delicious
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho – never heard of it, sounds divine
13. PB&J sandwich – PB & marmalade mainly, but that should come within the definition of “jelly” shouldn’t it?
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart – but not in the US, does that matter?
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes – oh yes, the memory of the violent vomiting on the top deck of the night bus is with me still, decades later, but that might have been the vodka we had after the papaya wine
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes – having googled them I think the answer is no
22. Fresh wild berries – the most memorable of which were cape gooseberries wild in Zimbabwe
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese – another childhood staple
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper – sadly not, but I’d like to try
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters – smoked and tinned, not raw
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda – never heard of this either
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl – sounds good
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float – individually but not together as a float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar – ooooooooooh yes, a memorable evening that
37. Clotted cream tea – my search for the Best Cream Tea Ever continues
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo – well yes, but not in the US (see 15 above)
40. Oxtail – another from-childhood delicacy
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects – not something I’d care to repeat
43. Phaal – clearly an omission in my curry education
44. Goat’s milk – I used to have to milk the damn thing
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut – but I had half a chocolate one the other day (my first ever)
50. Sea urchin – on sushi
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi – something else I’d never heard of
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal – how I wish this weren’t so
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV – loony juice
59. Poutine – in Montreal
60. Carob chips – but only in extremis
61. S’mores – never heard of these before and they sound *nasty*
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin – as in kaolin and morphine? but of course
64. Currywurst
65. Durian – in Thailand
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake – churros and chocolate in Spain
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini – but not proper sturgeon caviar for years
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost – in Norway, and not as unpleasant as I anticipated
75. Roadkill – not that I know of, but it’s possible
76. Baijiu – another unknown
77. Hostess Fruit Pie – and another
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong – C at university used to swim in it
80. Bellini – in Venice of course daaaaahling (as well as elsewhere)
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky – in the form of Mikado as they’re called in Europe
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant – one star was the best I ever managed
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare – jugged
87. Goulash – in Hungary
88. Flowers – in salads
89. Horse – don’t think so, but definitely donkey
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam – frequently, at school
92. Soft shell crab – possibly in sushi but can’t be sure
93. Rose harissa – fancy restaurant in Paris, but not as good as that made here by F
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano – last year in Brooklyn
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor – in Tanzania, unbelievably delicious
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake – not sure


It started in one place

sunrise on the coach

and ended in the same place

Euston, early

but different.

The important thing now, I think, is to ensure that the new pathways, neural and otherwise, are maintained.

A pile of rocks

It’s proving rather difficult to marshal my thoughts about the retreat. So much happened in such a short space of time. Such huge, tectonic shifts of deeply embedded plates. And a state which allowed a number of realisations (insights?) which are probably banal but none the less also profound and important.

sundown cairn

This is one of the trains of thought I had.

I suddenly realised something that I might have been told before but had never actually viscerally understood and accepted. Which was that the way my mother treated me (loathsome and evil) and my brother (lovable and divine) was actually nothing at all to do with our inherent selves, it was projection of her own deepest fears and highest hopes. Good child, bad child; good me, bad me. And because she had schizophrenia the projections and their content were somewhat extreme.

So my revelation was that it was her shit, not mine. I might actually have been quite a normal child really. And I felt rather sorry for her since the embodiment of all that was good about her (my brother) was sent away to boarding school leaving her alone in the house with the embodiment of all that was bad.

And I further realised, with a deeply visceral understanding, that in order to deal with the situation I too had good me and bad me. I had, in order to stay alive, to manufacture a semblance of a good me (an achiever of… stuff) and I locked up bad me in a very small thick-walled wooden box with a lid held down by very many bars and bolts and locks and weighted down with rocks. But I felt, on some deep level, that good me was a construct and bad me was the real thing. And the breakdown was the disintegration of good me (the carefully placed armour plating) which appeared to mean only bad me really existed. Which was very very bad indeed.

(Once, near the beginning of my therapy, I saw bad me, and she wasn’t what I expected at all. Instead of being the bestial brutish creature I was terrified of she was in fact just a very small, very sad and lonely child who desperately wanted someone to look after and love her. Which was a step in the right direction, obviously, but not very far.)

And on retreat I realised that I too, at the time of the breakdown, had been projecting my shit in turn on at least one of my two children. Possibly both. Possibly a similar good child, bad child dualism. And I realised that even though I have overcome that pattern to a great extent it is fundamentally important that I nurture an acute mindfulness of those relationships.

And with the realisation that I was not actually intrinsically bad, I realised that bad me didn’t really exist. And I went and found bad me and she looked just like I do. And we hugged. And we melted together and became one.

Now how fucking amazingly freaky is that? I’m still in a bit of a state of shock about it all.


But however extraordinary that experience might have been more important is whatever allowed it to happen. And that’s far more difficult to articulate.