I know. No more blogging I said. Well, this is the exception that proves the rule. And it’s a long one. So, make a pot of tea or coffee, cut a slice of cake – whatever you fancy – and take a break.*
*(Jill Dennison, I see you, don’t think you can hide behind that coffee cup.)
Taking time out
It’s struck me, wading daily through the mire of Twitter – a self-imposed punishment for being alive in 2019 – how many people are living in mental darkness. Existing at various stages along the spectrum of gloom and doom, from a wee bit concerned about the state of the world to outright despair.
I see and feel their anger, misery, frustration. Their cynicism, disbelief, disappointment.
When it all gets too much, if it’s not bucketing down with unreasonable rain, I try to go for a walk. A ramble, mental and physical. But if you can’t – or won’t – step out and feel the breeze, listen to the birds and smell the flowers, come with me. You’re taking a little trip.
As usual – well, as used to be usual – I may digress a bit. But feel free to stop reading right here and scroll through the pictures. There may be a few…
A big day. But not the kind of big you’re thinking. The prof is off to Zambia. For seven weeks. To a spot where we’ve spent time together in the past . A spot remote from our urban world and almost completely devoid of communication media.
Yes, a big, quiet, crevice is about to crack open in my world.
We practice the satellite phone, prof out on the road, frowning. Me in the kitchen, waiting. Finally he gets it to work. Hooray. Emergencies covered. And off he goes. Laden, optimistic, anxious – and excited.
I’ve booked a week’s self-catering in Yorkshire at one of my favourite places. I was there around this time last year. A perfect place to forest-bathe, revel in nature, write.
The weather’s not bad. The place is the same wonderful place. I’m the same optimistic me (no, really). What could possibly go wrong?
I climb the stone spiral stairs of the old mill, open the door into the flat and … A wave of shock hits me.
What on earth am I going to do? Why am I here? Why didn’t I stay at home?
I shut the door on the stairs. Button up my woes. Unpack. Go for a stroll with my camera.
I came determined to snap dragonflies using my new-old lens and pre-loved camera. Packed the folding chair intending to sit, patient in expectation. But. I’m too early, only damselflies are out.
Well, hey, damselflies are pretty. And the water lilies are undeniably fabulous. Pert buds peeping through leathery leaves and blooming daily. Petals sneaking back in, curling up for the night while twilight tiptoes through the trees.
Returning to the flat with hours to go before bedtime I realise, last year I would be going to Haworth this evening. And tomorrow and the next day and the next … celebrating Emily Bronte’s birthday. I’d also be in the company of three lovely women who welcomed this stranger into their lives.
This time I’m alone, with no commitments. And I must live with it. I’m here to write. No distractions.
But muses are fickle – and mine’s gone her own way.
Well, I’ll take a few more pictures while I… Ah. The prof’s taken my camera’s battery charger.
I ponder a drive to Ilkley and a camera shop I used last year. The prof’s not fond of Ilkley, so here’s my chance to shop and walk its famous moors. With or baht me ’at.
The shop comes up trumps (sorry for that word). Universal charger in hand I hear the siren call of fashion. Succumb to temptation. An hour later I have a new, black jumpsuit, wrapped in tissue paper, in a glamorous paper bag tied with ribbons. Leave feeling fabulous and head for t’moors.
Hmm. Every road I turn is a ‘road closed.’
The moor does its best to put me off – and succeeds.
There are people I can call, but I promised myself no people until Monday. (A silly decision, in retrospect, the muse having snubbed me.)
I won’t trail you through the doldrums of the next two days. Let’s skip to Sunday. Turnaround day.
Sundays have always been a glum day for me. Childhood routines – church in the morning, roast lunch, homework, school tomorrow looming.
How to cheer the day, Yorkshire?
What about the steam train?
I’ve done that before. Twice. Sorry, what’s that? Vintage carriages?
Oh, hell, why not?
I drive to Oxenhope, jump into a carriage – seconds to spare, bearing no ticket. (It’s fine, I confessed as I hurried in – the ticket inspector joins me at the next stop.)
He’s a kindly man. Works through all the options, not allowing me to spend more than I should and soon I’m a bona fide traveller.
Steam trains and their stations are friendly places. Everyone seems to have a, ‘look at us, having a lovely time,’ attitude.
The train stops again. On climbs a man in orange trousers. As we chuff-chuff off, I wonder if I missed something. Was there a troupe of Morris dancers on the platform? I go ahead and ask.
‘Are you doing something special or do you just like colourful clothes?’
‘I just like colourful clothes.’ Oops. ‘I have several pairs of different coloured corduroy trousers,’ that’s fine then, ‘though I draw the line at pink. But I suppose my shirt is kind of pink.’
It isn’t – it’s kind of peach. And his waistcoat is green. It’s as if a leprechaun ate the cake that made Alice grow bigger.
I don’t see much of the scenery (The Railway Children was filmed here), but the men are companionable and at the end of the line we all climb out smiling.
When we start back they usher me in the direction of a very special carriage. Built by a businessman to transport him, with his chums, to and from work, it’s really something.
By the time we return to Oxenhope I’m happy as Larry (that’s an expression, the real one may not be at this point, given the realities of digging in great heat in Zambia).
I disembark and – lo – what’s this? A brass band?
(There are silver instruments among the brass, does that make it an alloy band?)
Oh frabjous day, calloo callay I chortle in my glee. Well, I don’t, but there is glee.
I have a cup of tea, wend my way back to the flat. Tired, happy, with a renewed faith in my fellow human beings.
People, places and ashes
Next day, a trip to Salt’s Mill with its Hockneys and bookshop, followed by lunch with a school friend is a treat.
And, feeling more human, I finally accept that the muse has taken umbrage and give up on seeking inspiration.
The weather beams in response. Tuesday morning I fill my water bottle and head for Ilkley. I will not be diverted. There will be an open road. Any road up, like. (That’s a Yorkshire in-joke.)
Tenacious and determined I succeed. Park beneath the Cow and Calf rocks.
And, stepping out, pass through a time warp. I’m eight years old again and homesick, staying in an outward bound centre. We walk on the moors, find the cup and ring stones and the tarn. Magic – a lake in the moors.
Up top, I find no tarn. No cup and ring stones. But there’s a cairn, fabulous views and a happy encounter with a woman and her dog (on a lead).
Two and a half hours later, melting, but happy, I’m back.
The man I noticed earlier, wearing a big smile and hugging a cardboard box, is atop the rocks and a fine veil of dust is floating out, onto the still air. I guessed it was ashes. A wonderful place and day to float free of life.
I order a tuna sandwich at the cafe. Snigger along with my women neighbours who saw three girls go up the rocks in ‘the wrong kind of shoes.’
‘They came down in style, on their bottoms. We didn’t laugh or anything.’
Giggling catches, doesn’t it?
A fond last gaze at the scenery and I’m off. Home. Where butterflies are all-aflutter.
I’m not unhappy to be leaving, come Wednesday. The mill’s a lovely place to stay and no doubt I’ll be back. But, next time, in company – or with a plan.
Talking of which, a very brief summary of where I am, in case you’re interested.
My down-time in Yorkshire enabled the discovery, on Twitter (it’s not all grim) of a woman, called Nikki, proprietor of ‘Splendid Stories.’ Out of my creative turmoil she summoned three pieces of advice, each of which ended with ‘focus’.
I’ve set aside the novels with which I’ve done NOTHING for over a year. I’ve set aside the short stories. I’m taking a break. When Nikki’s back from holiday and ready to give me her professional critique I will focus on getting one thing done. Then another. Then – I’ll see.
Odd, before we met she asked me to send her my poems. I’d said nothing about poetry. Yet it feels as if I’m heading that way. And a friend from college days, who’s a poet, may be running a course in November at … the mill in Yorkshire.
It’s an odd world.
So, summer passes and I walk the beach, find a wreck, meet old friends, visit a poet … a few more images:
Persist with this little video, it’s poor quality is down to rain, traffic and me – but it’s so sweet, so olde English.
And so to that poet – Deb Alma, the author of ‘The Emergency Poet’ who is setting up a Poetry Pharmacy in Bishop’s Castle, Shropshire, in an old ironmonger’s shop.
Well, sorry to keep you so long, hope your tea or coffee lasted the course.
One final thing – I’ve talked my way into being writer-in-residence for a local nature reserve. As I write, there’s nowhere online to post, but we’re working on it. I’ll pop links on here. And here are a few pictures I took there last week intending to write about August and the fairies flying…
Meanwhile, wishing you happy blogging and reading – and rambling.
And, live for the day.
One last image, read the caption: