Monday, April 30, 2007


It took seven weeks to throw off the cough and I was a lump from sitting around so long. While I was still getting worse an on-off boyfriend had his bike taken from outside my house while a brief visit developed into a needy one. He didn't get away with it this time. I was more upset about it than he was, and afterwards I had an unrelaxed feeling about where I lived. Years had slipped by while I was working. I found out that I didn't know much about my neighbours, the kids flitted like a mixed flock of birds and I wouldn't even recognize them. Now I wanted payback, somehow. I was aware I must keep my wits about me and know people's names and where they all lived. I sat in the shadows a little back from the window and spied. On Mondays and Wednesdays the noise of the binmen was a pleasure, and later still the postman cycled in with his bag of supermarket offers and election promises. Library books expired. When the kids went back to school the scooters no longer revved round the flats and with a sigh of relief frightened old people crept out on their steps and read in the sunshine, but not for very long. Soon the mothers and toddlers filed up the road from the playgroup. I tried to learn the doors they entered. Every afternoon was fine. Sometimes the sky was hazed and the sun was a hot copper ball. The next day it was clear again. Driving in the countryside the rapefields hidden by hedges smelt of honey and also of cheap margarine. A cloud like a large comic turtle was being drawn across the sky. The shorn head of a child on a bike glided along the top of the wall. A crow, every feather fanned out, swirled to rest bouncing in the cypress. I ought to know the cars they drove; what a car betrays about its owner. If someone gave way to me at the end of the road, I didn't just wave my hand, I tried to learn their faces too. Friends. Enemies. I tried to make out that I was still hazed, but it was an art that didn't come naturally to me and my attention provoked attention in its turn. What's your problem, they looked. Want a picture? My coughing invaded their homes. I had panicky thoughts of them talking about me, saying She's a bit funny. I was beginning to have a face.


I was just getting ready to leave when Jen called me over and she told me Nerys would be doing the bar in the evening so I wouldn't be needed later. She said Nerys had been promised Saturday night but now Mark and Jen had cancelled their plans for the week-end she wasn't needed so it was only fair that they let her work Friday night instead. I said to Jen that's fair enough but I felt gutted. Friday has always been my night and I've been working at the King George a lot longer than Nerys has but she was taking my shift so I wasn't impressed. I've had the feeling from the moment when Nerys started there she was brought in to replace me so I think I might have to start looking elsewhere soon. In the afternoon I went and did for Margaret as we arranged and then I went shopping. I had no plans for the evening and I was going to have a quiet night in but then I told myself don't let it get to you girl so I decided to show my face anyway. I wore a halterneck bustier and slingbacks plus the new snakeskin bag I got down town. It was a bit awkward at first because I was sitting at the bar on my own and Nerys made it plain she did not need my help so I just sat quietly and had a drink. Then Mark and Jen and Jen's sister Trish came in and I got talking with them. Later on I had a couple of dances


One thing which gets me every time is when I go past a field and I see the elm trees coming up behind the gate. I think, that field hasn't been mown for three-four years, and it gives me a good, peaceful feeling of nature coming back strong and green. Then I go on thinking, and it's always the same. I realize it's the next field to the last house on the edge of town and I realize that they're just waiting for someone to cark it so that they can sell it on for building land. If by then the field is all full of thistles and thorn then you'll never get any problems with the planning department because the people who live next to it say: what an eyesore, it's time it was sorted out. It's all about greed. But for me this is a good opportunity because I can tether my animals in there, of course that makes people even more anxious to get it built over. We've always lived along the edge. The edge keeps shifting just like I say but there'll always be an edge. Right from when I was young I used to play the game of looking for money in the street and I still play it now. You learn to look along the gutters where people get out of their cars because the change falls out of their pockets. Markets are good places too, and best of all are the pubs of course but I can't go in that sort of pub, I'm too conspicuous and in two minutes it turns nasty, you'd be surprised. When Kelly was a baby we used to go down to the NCH day centre where you can use the washing machines and kitchens. The dogs are part of our lives. It's good to keep dogs, it's about respect because others are the same around here, they're not very well off and they keep their eyes open. The rule is, if you look after your property you won't have any trouble, but if you take liberties with it then it's fair game. That's how it works.


Saturday, April 21, 2007

poems in a folkrhyme manner

    Many waters -
        which of them here?
    Many birds -
        which flock here?
    Which come to rest,
        on which waters?
    Who stays to
        see them, where?


    The pigeon sat under
        the hawthorn leaves
    While the rain pattered
        he snapped the old twigs


        Edie sitting
    on a kerb
    absorbed -
  plays in her
    space, with her
        pink-framed mirror


    catch speckle

    a pair of

    sometimes lawn

    chased mirror-scent


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

desert of knowledge

What do you come to the table with? - I have a weakness for double punctuation marks as you know; - the sky over the houses, but the stolen bicycle, that's also hazed; - storms off Guinea, as has been remarked to me - not in words - , welter on umbrella-stems.

- Now, this drink [an icy cider]. You haven't sipped from it yet. But the glass, you know. Funny thing about that glass, you can't say if it's clean or dirty.

- It's clean on the outside.

- No, you don't get it yet. Don't come at me with that way of extending familiar terms as if you are discovering something.

(after-image: nematode egg film)

What I mean is, the glass when in use is in a ceremony of transition. So are you; you're going to be drunk by the cider. During this ceremony the glass can't be called clean or dirty, any more than the barman can pluck it out of your hands; there would be an element of sacrilege.

- I like sacrilege.

Darkened hands flutter in a recess

- Like hell you do; - but you feel the need to say it, oh yes. A couple of minutes ago the barman (I hope) would have checked that glass and said to himself, Ah yes, here's a clean one for the thin gentleman's nasty cider. Time declines, we shrivel away. He comes by with a tray, you've left some dregs of course. Pick up the empties, he thinks without saying it. Dirty. Bung it in the machine. I don't particularly want to spell out the cycle - but one only sees it straight when in service: Dirty. In the machine. Clean. In use. Got that?

- Well, yes. And your point is - ?

- Like a shirt. These are service terms. Lay out a clean shirt. You put it on - later that night you take it off and then it's a dirty shirt. But it would be rude to describe your shirt now as dirty, while you're wearing it. Balzac perhaps would: painting you unfavourably into his story as shabby-genteel. The rest of us, we avert our eyes from the present minute.

Tea-tree shampoo filled up a stovepipe hat - chatter

- Something's coming to me, though. That's it, the Status Accounting field on configuration items. "In Use" is a status - a life-cycle phase - where you might not find clean and dirty helpful attributes from a service point of view: same with "Stolen", "Lost", and "Disposed". You'd only use it when the status is "Stored". "Delivered" is moot. Most people who take a decent sense of pride in themselves would wash a piece of crockery before first use. Even though you can't particularly see any dirt - it's a matter of rinsing away uncertainty. Clothes, too -but with a shirt that's also about shop-folds.

- So sarcastic! What about you? Do you take a decent pride, you scruff?

- My pride's different.

- You smell of bedrooms and your clothes smell of warehouses.

Monday, April 16, 2007

brief hist latest

A new piece on Intercapillary Space: Richard Makin, St Leonards
Other recent things:
Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man
Robert Browning, Pauline
Jean Giono, "The Man who Planted Trees"
Arielle Greenberg, My Kafka Century
Forthcoming: Euripedes, Prosper Mérimée, John Wilkinson

Saturday, April 07, 2007

happy day note

I went to the sea in my van and we rode bikes until they jammed in the hot, dry sand. There and back I admired, in gardens, the full pure white blossom of Prunus 'Shirotae', earliest of the ornamental cherries and my favourite.

I also noticed:

Common Reed (last year's flowerheads, now crumbling and fluffy.

Sand Sedge (buds appearing, stems still much shorter than leaves).

Sea Spurge (leaves only).

Black Spleenwort under shrubs on a rocky cliff.

Rock Samphire (leaves only).

Friday, April 06, 2007

mercuries / mallard

Mercurialis perennis (Dog's Mercury or Perennial Mercury)

This is the plant, inconspicuously flowering now, that carpets woodland floors in spring with energetically green leafage. These leaves are in opposite pairs and are ovate-lanceolate, acute, slightly downy on both sides and neatly serrate; successive leaf-pairs are set more or less at right-angles to maximize absorption of the early light in the woods.

M. perennis is dioecious: different clumps of plants are either male or female. In fact these clumps are usually all one plant, though the smaller vertical stems may not produce any flowers. Underneath the ground surface each apparently separate plant is seen to spring from a horizontal white rhizome , several inches long and the same breadth as the vertically ascending stem. Trace the rhizome back to its source and you arrive at the real heart of the matter, a network of tough nodes with strong, cord-like roots.

Dioecious plants are always interesting since the set-up of separate male and female individuals, relatively unusual in the plant world, is the norm for us animals. Plants of both sexes produce their flowers on axillary stems arising above a pair of leaves. The male flower-stems are much longer. One naturally looks for secondary sexual differencebut these are few: while the female plants must sustain fruit until maturity they have far fewer flowers. The essential distinction is about timing; the male effort is now, the female effort comes later. Therefore at this moment the female plants look slightly fresher, neater, healthier, with more rounded leaves and stronger stems. They still hold something back.

Mercurialis annua (Annual Mercury)

This is a scruffy plant, but that may be because its preferred habitat is the dog-tousled verges of urban pathways; it's quite likely not native to the UK and you never seem to find it far from human disturbance. Being an annual, each plant is separate and has its own mop of fibrous roots. The leaves are smaller and less toothed, paler green and nearly hairless; the main stem is branched, producing many more flowers. This species too is dioecious; a surprising arrangement for an annual plant where successful reproduction is so critical, but not all that unusual among wind-pollenated annuals (including cannabis and spinach). Every individual bears flowers; the ones that appear to be non-flowering are females, whose flowers are on very short stems. Since both flowers and leafing side-branches are produced from axils of the main stem, these nodes can be quite crowded, like spaghetti junction. The aerial form of this plant bears an analogy to the undergound parts of the perennial species.

(Mercurialis annua: male plant on the left, female plant on the right. Taken in central Bristol in December.)

Anas platyrhynchos (Mallard or Wild Duck)

Mallards look sweetly peaceful when they pair up at this time of year. In fact their mating behaviour is not always very sweet. I was once watching a duck and drake foraging quietly in a wood when another drake came out of the sky, and forcibly mated the duck while the other drake stood helplessly by. I have also seen a duck incessantly chased by a group of drakes, cornered exhausted between jetties of a reservoir and mounted by each of them in turn.

That was on the water. Also on the water, I saw a drake mount a duck (during mating the duck is almost under water, but for her head which is gripped in the drake's bill). Another drake took exception to this and leaping on the back of the first drake, tried to force his head beneath the surface. Eventually the attacked drake struggled free and fled with the other in brief pursuit, but in the meanwhile the unfortunate duck, three layers deep, was forgotten and its body then re-emerged on the surface, tail and feet up, drowned.

The life of the mallard being so visible to us, humans often witness these scenes and worry about them; to describe them, using words like "gang-rape", "murder", etc. We accept inter-species violence, e.g. of predators on prey, but intra-species violence is more unnerving. Theologically, is there evil in the animal world too? Generally, these outrages occur near the end of the pairing season when most ducks are mated and reclusively nesting. The few remaining ducks in the open are then at risk from a preponderance of unpaired drakes. One looks for the corrupting hand of man in this and it may be that we exacerbate the situation by feeding up the largely-male groups with stale bread in the warmer days of spring, increasing the weight and strength of frustrated males. Besides, these semi-domestic mallards of our parks and urban waterways are often genetically mixed with domestic breeds such as the Barbary Duck grown for extra size, increasing the risk of drowning during aquatic mating. Zoologists will go so far as to surmise that the mallard is an object-lesson in the different, and often conflicting, reproductive motives of the sexes.

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