August

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haiku

when words seem worthless

listen for the wood pigeon

calling to your heart

When I was growing up, the wood pigeon’s cooing was a familiar sound in my parents’ Essex garden. Today, as August begins, and another  retreat is called for, from the confusing world of Covid 19, I sat for a few minutes in meditation, on the orange cushions in my back room, overlooking the garden. So tired. So very, very tired. And the thoughts –  a beating incoherence in my head. Through the open window, I heard the fleeting distant sound of a wood pigeon, quietly warbling. It reminded me of then. Of childhood. And of now. Late adulthood. Many missing people, many years flowing in between. But, in the sound of the bird, for a few precious seconds – all one.

Freedom Calling?

haiku

and now we are free

when all I feel is sorrow

so much has been lost

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Yesterday, Saturday 4 July 2020, was dubbed “Super Saturday” in England. A grand lifting of lockdown. The pubs re-opened. The hairdressers. The restaurants. People queued from early morning for their pints, and to get their unruly hair cut. But the theatres stay shut. Some for good. The musicians are silenced. Live arts have disappeared behind a zoom screen and into the archives. I don’t feel much like celebrating.  I stay at home, sit in my shed in the early morning – listen to the gusts of cold, unseasonable wind, shaking it by its rafters – and wonder how the world became so out of joint. So splintered to its core. Even the singing birds fail to lift my spirits today. Sometimes the only answer to the question is sadness itself.

 

 

Poppies

Poppies are probably my favourite flower. I love the technicolour brightness of them. I love their furry, sexy, serrated leaves. I love the way the fat buds lurk in a mass of foliage, waiting, waiting, waiting…. for their moment to BURST out, in full technicolour, one lucky and glamorous day in May. Perhaps most of all, I love that they are both powerful and fragile, all at the same time. It seems, every year, that the minute my poppies come into bloom, they are savaged by sudden winds and rains, and resort to bending their gorgeous heads – bloodied, unbowed – as long as they possibly can, before shedding, dropping, disappearing for another year, sometimes after just a few days of flowering. They are a wonder.

I still wait for this year’s beauties to appear. Spring has been slow in its dawning. I stalk them in the garden, day by day, inspecting for buds, stroking their camouflage greenery, willing them to come out and join in the party, to break suddenly and stridently into song. The picture here is from last year’s crop. They are Tim’s poppies: grown and then transplanted from my old house, to the allotment, to my new house, all from a small plant given to me years ago by my husband, as a present for Mothers’ Day. So they hold a special place in my heart. They live on, though he couldn’t. They seem to shine in his honour, his memory, holding his curious mix of shyness and belligerence. And aren’t they bonny, with their red-orange skirts, their bold black hearts? Real warrior flowers.

This Bank Holiday weekend I have hardly been in my garden at all – though I feel fingers and toes itching to do so, the minute I finish writing this – because I have been up to my neck in a theatre festival, TRANSFORM 2015, at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. It was a wonderful event – full of international artists and cross-cultural conversations – which will form the seedbed (gardening term unintended, but entirely appropriate) for future collaborations between Leeds and the cities and countries of the world. The thing about theatre folk, however, is their tendency to talk. To be LOUD – if not onstage, then certainly off it. So now I want to be silent for a while. Now I am turning, once again, to the quieter form of theatre right outside my kitchen window: the green stage and sweet scenery of my own city back garden.

Everything is looking very lush and verdant now: the acid greens of the euphorbia, the sharp sword leaves of Crocosmia Firebird – which will, come July, rival the poppies with its sharp, scarlet, trumpeting blooms. The birds are going crazy for the birdseed: hungrier than ever, now that they are making their nests and raising their young. Swarms of warring sparrows swoop and squabble over my birdbath every morning; blue tits and coal tits swing insouciantly from the fat-filled coconut shells; and my favourites – the blackbirds – hop and bounce across the grass, in search of the juiciest grub, the fattest, sleepiest worm.

Every week I go walking in Roundhay Park, north east Leeds, with my dog friend Badger, whom I borrow for the day each Thursday. Last week we suddenly found ourselves caught inside a great shaggy circle of shining black crows, all intent on their foraging, down at ground level, on a large open slope above the glittering lake – and quite oblivious to the hapless dog and human trapped momentarily in the middle of them all. What would they be, this gathering of satanic masters: a convention, a concatenation, a coven? Whatever the word, they had a certain pleasing menace about them: and a natural dramatic presence. Theatre in the round. Black crows in Roundhay Park. Theatre, said Augusto Boal, quoted by a Lebanese activist at the TRANSFORM festival this last weekend, must be a “rehearsal for the revolution”. I just wonder what those birds – never mind the humans – are plotting to overthrow first?