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Some days are like this:

It’s 11am, you’ve got everything to do but it’s warm, sunny even, and you feel good. So you pack a small picnic and a couple books and head out. But there’s nowhere you really want to go. So much choice, but you’ve been to all the local parks each a dozen times this year, it feels like, and it’s nearly May. So you get on a bus and read.

The sun’s heat through the window is gentled by a breeze from the open windows. Voices rise and fall around you. Sometimes you look out the window and see a church, or houses, or shops. In your ears, Coldplay sings this is all I ever wanted from life.

Back at the bus station, it’s nearly two. A bus station. You look at the destination and think, I haven’t been there in ages. It’s local, but a lot of places are. It has house, too, and shops and green spaces, but in different combinations.

You get on the bus.

This time you see birch trees with canopies like umbrellas, little roads and lawns full of clover. Streets called The Dell only lead to yet more houses if you get off the bus and look. You stay on the bus and imagine. The sun is still warm. The sky is blue, littered with candy floss clouds. And then there’s a brief burst of fields. Spring fields, full of green, and loved orchards. You pass Deadmans Lane and wonder.

You’re the only one on the bus. The driver pauses to have a smoke. A nearby clock could tell you the time, but you don’t pay it any attention.

By the church, you decide. You’ll give the dead some company.


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When I look up I am overwhelmed by the immensity of the sky.

I like blue. I love it. The brightness of a summer day, the clarity of autumn, the promise of spring, the ice of winter, the midnight sky with its stars and the ever-present sodium glow. All of it is blue. Jackdaw and husky eyes, alien in their faces. Estuary mud reflects the sky, and on a clear day the blue ribbons across the mud flats like irridescence on a pigeon’s neck. When I crave release from the overbearing grey cloud, it isn’t the sun I’m after. The warmth is welcome, but I want the sky back.

If the sea is time, the sky is forever.

Stand where the horizon isn’t hampered with mountains or buildings, and it seems to stretch out into eternity. The urge to walk rises. Not to go anywhere, just to walk, forever, chasing the uncatchable, to reach the impossible. No rainbow and its gold can match, no star in my hand would satisfy the urge. Onwards, onwards, until there is no more horizon or you come home. [The latter is hard. The former is merely impossible]. Stand there, be blown by the wind pushing against you, driving seas to rise up in foaming angry white at your feet. [Time will end one day. Forever will not.] Stand here, trapped in your skin, deprived of the wings you should have had, of the fast feet and the claws to grab, stand here and reach for forever.

It will wait.

It’s been waiting a long time.


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The flowing of water feels like time. Sand and mud and sea-worn pebbles are the history of time. And what time I spend by water is added to the great wealth of time water has eaten away and paid elsewhere, destroying and creating, ancient, forever, secretive, today your friend and tomorrow your enemy, and what are you to it? But you still exist, here, now, your connections and your dreams and your being, and one day you’ll be a piece of time stolen then repaid elsewhere, and is that so bad?

Death and life are wound together, and I am bound more to the Thames than the City, the sea than the seaside town, the mud and estuary and the boat graveyards than the living barges. Tied helplessly to the flowing of time, but the water isn’t always deep, and sometimes you can stand in the tide and see around you and understand, know, touch that elusive great thing that lies just beyond comprehension And in that moment, the entire world is beautiful, from wild nature to suburban sprawl, because you can see.

Then the waves rise up and swallow you whole, and you are lost again.


Memory Scents

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Cordite smoke, fireworks and echoing bangs in chilly air. Joy, wonder, smell of the sparkling lights that I saw, once a year, standing with my mother’s hands over my head, hat and hood and all – took years to get used to the sounds, the bangs and sparkles and fizzles and dum-dum-waitforit-BOOM. Always loved the glowing lights, though. Cordite is the scent and the taste of sparks in the sky, alive for a heartbeat and all the brighter for it.

Salt and car fumes – we used to go to the beach with grandad in the car, or on a coach trip for the day. The windows down, the smell of the sea gets to you first, no matter how far it is, mingled in with the pollution, making the air cleaner in the worst traffic jam. Now it’s by train, but still – salt and sun, the cool North Sea lapping at your feet, hot sand in your toes, drawing words on the beach with a stick. Sitting on the sea wall when the sun sets, a sky of red and blue, a wind that never stops blowing.

The softer salt-scent of an estuary, the salt that tastes better when you lick it off your fingers. Mud that stinks in a hot summer heat, sea birds screaming and calling and walking quietly along the edge of a river at low tide. Fish and chips and ice cream.

Grass. Or… not grass, exactly. Sitting outside my favourite house, one I could never own in a million years, or want to, because that would make itmine and it should be for everyone. Looking down over a green sloped lawn to a manmade lake, and onwards to the town I grew up in. Trees and flowers and everything just coming into season, or going out of season, bright and green and colourful. A place like home. That reminds me where I’m rooted, where I’m from.

A place we used to visit with grandad, because he had a car. He’d park and we would lug a picnic and seats up the path, through the woods, to sit under a tree. The same tree, every time. And later, I’d greet the other one. An old, old black walnut, branches bowed to the ground. Both of the trees are still there. My grandad isn’t.

What are your memory scents?

November 16th

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The mist is rising in the chilly afternoon, but I need milk and bread. Wrapped up in a jumper and fleece coat I go out, tugging my shoppping trolley behind me.

The park is muddy, ground slick under my feet, but it’s a short cut to the shops. I cut around the woods. On another day I might walk through, but today it is dark, full of bare brances and oaks with their stubborn browning leaves. It reminds me too much of a place I’ve never seen.

On my way back, the mist has turned to fog. Things rustle in the undergrowth. Leaves fall like heavy rain drops, caught in a breeze. I can see maybe ten meters in any direction – the road sounds like it’s a million miles away. My visible space is empty and somehow still full, too-loud bird song filling the air around me, the trees of the wood looming close.

The fog chills my fingers, nose, and ears. My breath is visible. I’ve stopped, my hands at the side. I should be getting home.

This moment could be at any time, in any place. These parts are like those my grandparents heard, and their grandparent. This plae that is grass was forest, and before that bare earth crushed under ice, and forest before even that… once it was neighbour to volcanoes. Once it was volcano.

The chill strikes through my fleece. I should be getting home.

I am home.


8th August

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This is the world after rain.

The river runs high and fast and brown, pushing the boundaries of its channel. The path beside it is slippery with mud. The locks seem to strain with the weight of holding it back.

The sky is blue with grey clouds like bruises, drifting where they will. As the sun sets, it lights them on fire, a scattering of crimson across a purple-pink horizon.

Life is green. The grass a lighter colour, trees darker. Stiles on the footpath are wood soaked a brown-black, with moss that stains skin. The posts that mark the way are lost in bushes or stand tall and proud over fields of wheat that come to the knee, fully grown and waiting to be harvested. The path dips back to the river, a rolling hill of faded gold.

Ducks gather by a lock gate, eying my sandwiches. Four of them are hybrids, larger than the others. Two of the hybrids  -one white, one brown – quack at each other, thicker than thieves.

Empty river boats sit on the water, waiting to be loved again. In the shadow of one, a pair of moorhen chicks hide. They are small and black and so painfully new to the world.


Aspects of Home

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from june

Down in the park, amongst green oak avenues and soft, lush grass, people lie and talk. Couples lay in the sun in loving silence. Dogs chase balls, secure in the knowledge that days like these last forever. A moth lands on my page, cream but gold at the wing-tips, and flutters away.

Boys in the skate park watch others go, up and down the ramps. Shoppers and walkers go by, distracted by friends and phones and plans, and never see the tom tit in the tree beside them. Trains rattle across the viaduct.

Before me, the lake is glorious, perfectly clear. Willows caress the water lazily. The sun beats down, but a breeze keeps the water rippling, and the wavelets glitter in the sunlight. In it, I can see bricks and stone, lost to the strange weedy underworld years ago. Slowly, slowly, this manmade lake cuts its own shape in the land.

The mallards doze in the shade, but a duck shepherds her young from alcove to alcove, winning crumbs from adoring fans. On the island, under the shelter of the trees, a pure white duck shelters her patchy white young. Even the swans have given into the late afternoon heat, watching sleepily over four strong, healthy cygnets.

But coots and moorhens never rest. The first, trailed by ever-hungry, half-grown chicks in dark grey and soft cream bibs, do not balk at the swans’ hissing; they dive, carelessly.

Moorhens scurry across the lake, calling out. Their chicks hide under an overhanging bush, black shadows in the darkness. One bravely dares the day and the lilypads, small and black and long-legged against bright green and clear white. A sparrow flies past, chasing mayflies. It retreats to dark safety.

Goslings, caught between their sweet yellow and the soft brown and greys of adulthood, graze fearlessly. They’re followed by wary, ever-cautious parents.

The sun passes behind a rare cloud in a clear blue sky, then reappears, transforming water into light. Feathers sail across it, here and there, chasing water boatmen until they both disappear into brightness.

June 26th

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I was born and live in a town – grey concrete, red and yellow brick, brown rooftops and double-glazed windows – but I grew up surrounded by colour.

The park is green, always the grass is green, and as the season turns the trees change from white and pink and yellow to green to yellow and red and on to brown. The river flows, sometimes brown with silt, sometimes clear blue. In the upper park the water rises from maybe two foot to ten in a flood, a raging monster made out of the placid friend children wade in.

(It is always cool, no matter how hot the sun beats on your head.)

Beyond the fields are green or gold, the soft colour of wheat and corn or the yellow-gold of rapeseed. Whether they’re bare or not, the pheasants forage nervously. Somewhere there is deer – but never near where you are.

Spring in the town is a thing of pastels, white blossom mingling with pink. My favourite doesn’t quite bloom last. Nor is it the brightest, the biggest, or the oldest. It produces flowers in beautiful soft pink bouquets, and if you sit against the twisted trunk, they flutter down around you like a thousand butterflies.


June 24th

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The sky is blue, but a wander around the garden ends up as hiding in the greenhouse from a sudden shower. The clouds are scattered, fluffy white with rogue grey shadows; the patio is orange and peach when it’s wet, and slippery underfoot.

The rain makes the grass seem brighter. Raindrops on flowers add sparkle and shine, glittering even as the wind blow-dries the world. The sun shines brightest of all, heat and warmth and unadulterated light. It’s so rarely seen, these last few months, that it’s all the more welcome for showing its face today.

The sun’s last few followers are the flowers themselves, their wide faces turned to face it as it passes through the sky. They are devout as nothing else can be. Their scents are caught in the breeze and pulled away to a distant place, a distant time, swirling in the air over town and countryside, motorway and lane.

The bronze bottlecap on my bracelet scatters light over the shadows on  patio. I imagine a condor in the sky, rather than the distant buzzard circling away from crows and jackdaws, high above martins swooping for insects and sparrows chased by their offspring.

A goldfinch pauses in the apple tree. Sparrows hang sideways off red hot pokers and upside down on the bird feeders.

The patio is nearly dry, but I choose the lawn, enjoying the feel of fresh grass between my toes.

June 23rd

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Today the clouds are black and thick, and as they blow over they scatter raindrops in their trail like confetti. The wind is cold. The blackbird doesn’t care, sat in the little apple tree trilling his song. Sparrows flutter between the bushes and the grasses, new-fledged babies learning to hunt. When they’re bored, they fly up to the bird feeders anyway.

The greenhouse smells like ripe strawberries and heat.

Jackdaws circle overhead, a flock some fifteen birds strong. Today is a quiche day – I watch them from the patio, wind tugging at my hair.

A touch of today’s music.