20.2.18 Origami tree
My mum handed me the flat envelope with a twinkle in her eye.
"Here, we bought you a tree."
It unfolded like magic. All day I've smiled and made it grow, over and over. I'm going to sleep with it under my pillow tonight and see if I can dream my way into a paper forest.
17.2.18 Buddleia, back garden
I've been so tired today. I was sure when I took this photo that it had been the afternoon light through the buddleia leaves that had caught my attention, but now I look again, all I can see is two dozen paper cranes, folded thin and taking flight.
16.2.18 Night-time snowdrops, deep breaths in the garden
Infatuation scares me. I have been programmed to distrust it. Over and over: don't get carried away.
I live under a deep pressure to be sensible. I'm a single mother. I don't have much money and I rarely have a secure job. My options each day, even down to how I move and direct my body, are limited to a frightening degree.
When vulnerability and responsibility collide together like that, the world makes it very clear which path you must take. You don't have a lot of choice in any case. You should be practical and prudent. You should face your reality and fight for your survival. Focus on what you have to do and let go of the rest. Focus on being better. Don't get distracted. Be careful of your daydreams. Be careful of your loves and the voices that whisper to you from the bright, sing-song sidelines. Be careful they don't try to pull you away into places of idleness and fancy. Don't try to be a bird when you need to be a fish pushing your way up the river. Eyes straight ahead, girl. Don't you stop. Keep your mind set on ambition, not on play. That's the only way out.
The rebellion of it then, to buy a new camera I didn't need. Oh the gleeful, stubborn joy of it. I did that. I did. It was the smallest thing but it has made my eyes gleam.
I did it because taking pictures makes me beautifully, simply happy. I did it because I'm infatuated with light and telling stories and I want to run away with those feelings and their promise, like an unsuitable fling. I did it because it wasn't the least bit sensible and that scared me half to death and because that's who I am, really. That's who I can't help but be: a dumb, wide-eyed, grinning fish who will never stop leaping out of the river just because she wants to see what the sky feels like.
I may be stuck here in this tight place but I'll be damned if I'll be sensible. I'll be damned if I accept a life without play and without the wicked thrill of infatuation.
Here's to falling in love, without sense, without reward.
(And here's to my new camera, too. She's a beauty.)
13.2.18 Pancake Day at the Mundays'
Have you ever had something in your life so precious that it's hard to talk about? Something so fundamental to your world spinning and growing that to try and give it words makes you pull up short. It's like trying to describe what colour feels like, or oxygen.
Some families you're born into, others you make, but another kind still is the family you find. I'm not even sure how it happens. There's no spoken consensus. No marriage or birth or ceremony, it's just... that's what you are now. From the outside, no one would know it, no one would know to place you all together, but if they were to dig deep under the ground of you they would see it. You're all joined up.
A few years ago, I found a sister that way. With her came brother-in-law, niece, nephews. I don't get to call them those things, but that's what they are.
We're taught that only romance can give us the love stories we crave.
I say, come sit with me at my best friends' table on pancake day, our formed-family delighting in every part of each other, laughing loud enough to make the sugar shake, and tell me that's still true.
12.2.18 Darth, bedroom window
My wicked soot-sprite: dragon-toothed and dragon-tempered. He stalks my house all day long, as wild as the day I found him. You can tell the weather from his ears, both the kind that storms inside of him and without. Dark hair stiff and trouble's afoot. A softening and sudden tip to one side, all four paws in the air like a puppy begging for a belly rub, and all is well. He has a purr that could wake mountains and a bite that could bleed one dry.
He is all play with a dark motive, eyes always like dinner plates, his sleek flank instantly snaking in front of whatever you are trying to do. Without fail, he will seek out every single focus of your attention and insert himself into it like an unmoveable shadow. Books and keyboards must be smothered, shaken duvets must be charged under, meals interrupted. Shoo him on and you'll only turn to find him still sat silently a foot away, eyes wide, back stiff, long tail curved neatly round front paws, waiting for his opening, eyes on your calves.
He chirrups to himself like a bird when he's cross, marching the landing, up and down, meeting your gaze to issue long, musical proclamations. Ignore him and he'll open every cupboard and door he can get his claws into, or find something shreddable and leave his mark. He shuns laps and so to quieten him, you must scoop him up in your arms, where he'll lie transformed, content and still and watchful, until you're forced to put him down again. It's at this point he'll frown hard and puff out the air through his nose and you will swear you see smoke. He hoards balls and toys and treasures, raiding the terraced gardens to bring them to you. Pigeons' eggs are a favourite, as are mice, laid all in a line. He is a devil, through and through, and I have never loved an animal more.
My friends are convinced he is enchanted and it is only a matter of time before I accidentally find the words or the charm to give him voice.
Perhaps he'll grant me wishes. I'd wish for him by my side always first.
11.2.18 Hidden footpath
I turned right instead of left and went the long way home. I have longed for this place and avoided it like a cursed thing. I used to come here every day when my legs were better behaved. I have sat cross-legged on the path and drawn the trees in charcoal and written secret words on slips of paper and hidden them in hollows. I have walked its length a few hundred times and one glorious summer I even ran it, sunlight through trees making me laugh, breathlessly, hopelessly. We have a history.
It cuts along the boundary of our estate in one meandering line, hidden unless you know it's there. It is an edge place: dirty and riotous and wonderful. The trees are young in tree years and they grow where they please. In the green months, it heaves out a hedgerow unique to places like this, the prim botanist's favourites all jumbled up with deeply urban life. It is a place of hooded dog walkers and cyclists and litter and graffiti and all manner of good, wild things.
It is here I returned to today, on the mobility scooter that more reliably serves as legs these days. It must have been two years. Three, even. It had got bigger in my mind in my absence, like an unsettling dream. I think I had worried I would come back and no longer fit it, and so I stayed away.
I go slow. There isn't a soul here and so I let myself move my wheels at a crawl, face to the sky. All is bare and dark, ivy black and bramble brown, the only bright colour from carrier bag and spray paint. Birch trees cradle the path like boned fingers. It is a dead and hollow place and my love of it rushes back in a wave. Soon, I know, it will grow back thick, lush and hungry, and swallow up our uncare, but until then, it is a good time to come back feeling small and ashamed and repentant.
The trees make my ceiling and I can see every lung line of them. I can see them breathe. My feet don't touch the ground but I am as rooted as they are. There is nothing but glowering sky and branch. I am held in the giant nest of it and as it starts to hail, I feel perfect. Weatherwitch. Tree friend. I know this language and it doesn't leave me out. I can't believe now that I thought it would.
When the blackbird comes into my path, I imagine for a moment that it will take to my shoulder right there and then, in forgiveness and benediction, and there we will go onwards, just like that, all things in their rightful place again. A jogger passes and startles it before it can, my unexpectedly young face, kind and happy under my deep hood making him miss a step, and I beam like a mischievous gnome, all freckle and delight. This is what I am and everything around me, the patter and the sway of it, says yes, yes you are, and I am home.
I let myself take only a few careful photographs before I turn away: a promise to come back, to myself and to all of it.
I will do, soon.
7.2.18 A poem in pictures. Skeleton leaf with viburnum flower heart. Back garden.
Some days, you have to spend long hours thinking up the right words to describe how you feel. Others days, all you need is to look in your garden and bring back what you find there.
5.2.18 Homesewn pyjama bottoms
Pyjamas is my favourite word. I like that you can't say it without sounding like you're purring a little and the way that the y and j look like two pyjamaed legs climbing out of bed.
They were the only right and proper choice for my first dressmaking project. I bought brushed cotton in a bright paisley print in honour of the word's roots - the Persian pāy-jāmeh (which means leg-garment) - and they are exactly as soft and as comfortable as you're imagining. They came out just right and I beamed as wide as my trouser legs when I finally finished them today.
Making them took time, my body finding the movement and up and down of measure and cut, press and hem more of a challenge than I'd expected, and I found it strangely moving to sew them.
My whole life, I've been wearing second-hand and shop-bought clothes almost exclusively made by other people: people I haven't seen and will never know. Watching my fingers carefully fold and press seams, guide stitches, I kept thinking of all the other hands that have worked on things I own, hands far quicker and more skillful than my own. I felt suddenly embarrassed never to have thought of them much, imagined them. I wondered what they thought about as they pushed fabric through machines and snipped threads. I wondered what they worried about.
It is a good thing to make your own clothes at least once, I think. Sometimes it is only by moving our bodies and our minds in different ways that we can fully remember the things that other people do for us and have done for us. By copying best we can, we get to join a different kind of dance for a while and there is something special in that, in the synchronised bend and reach and turn and focus, fumbling the steps until we can find the beat of it. Our muscles can feel it, that this is something bigger than us, older than us. That sense of being one of a tribe intensifies for a little while and you get a deeper sense of what we are, all of us together.
It is a humbling thing to make something slowly. Here's to much, much more of that.