“Time spent with cats is never wasted” – Sigmund Freud
Shadows rooted in the sour
grooves that framed
her mouth. Invisible at first,
they bloomed in the living
map of her face, festered
in the lines on her brow,
in the web of crow’s feet
perched on cheekbones
and in every pore
of once perfect skin.
Within the purple moons
beneath shuttered eyes
spread along the wrinkles
of her neck, the valley
between breasts, the soft
folds of belly and genitals,
filling hollows and dimples
right down to the pink tips
of her toes. Eventually
shadows enveloped her
like a miasmic cloak.
In the mirror she saw
memories of memories
and not the shudder
of dust she had become.
In the street, folk saw
a swirl of fog and not
a woman named Margot.
They walked straight
through her and shivered.
Her words became a wild
keening of wind, creatures
of night her only friends.
Bats, moths, owls gathered
safe in her twilight wake.
The smell hit her the instant she opened the door. A mix of cats, geraniums and cigarettes. Isabel hated smoking and potted geraniums in equal measure. She didn’t own a cat. She shoved the mountain of accumulated mail out of the way with her crutch. The paramedic placed her bags inside the hall and disappeared down the overgrown path without saying goodbye, still grumbling about how you were only allowed one piece of luggage in an ambulance.
Isabel closed the door behind her and locked it. Her hands shook and her heart threw summersaults of joy to be home, in her own private space, finally away from the prying eyes and probing fingers of the white coats. She’d thought this day would never come. She’d thought it was over, the end of the road, kaputt, finito, nothing left except bedpans, pain and humiliation. No future except days lying in her own stink, face down in a bowl of hospital porridge while the fat lady sang.
Panting with exertion she shuffled slowly into the living room and sank into the cane chair by the French doors that faced onto the garden. She’d missed her mountains, the light and emptiness of the vast sky. Her solitary room on Ward 3A looked out onto a brick wall. She couldn’t see the sky at all, not even a sliver. The only way she could tell if the sun was shining was by the light reflecting in the brickwork, the changes in hue. On a bright day the bricks gleamed like tiger’s eye. On a grey day they were a dull flesh pink.
Now Isabel surveyed her garden, still marvellous despite the weeds and rampant lawn. The hollyhocks blazed magenta. The roses drooped with lush scarlet blooms, the honeysuckle smothered the archway and on the horizon Morven and Scaraben glowed purple in the evening sun. She sat there for a long while, just breathing, in, out, in, out. She was alive. She was home. No one could hurt her now.
And then she saw the boots. Dirty workmen’s boots placed casually in the middle of the kilim rug she’d brought back from Turkey. They were caked with mud, one boot tilted as if they’d been cast off in a hurry, the soles worn, the brown leather wrinkled with age. Her chest tightened in panic and she scanned the room for other signs of disturbance. Everything seemed much as she’d left it the day of the accident other than a layer of dust and a few cobwebs. There were books and magazines in a tidy pile on the coffee table, logs stacked by the wood burner and dead daffodils in a stained glass vase on the window sill. Her grandmother’s vintage clock had stopped at five to five.
Isabel couldn’t bear to touch the disgusting boots with her bare hands so she nudged them closer with her crutch. One of them tipped over and a tiny square of paper fell out. Leaning unsteadily from her chair she picked it up and unfolded it with trembling fingers.
Written in red biro on a torn piece of graph paper was just one word, ‘remember’.
To be continued…
Self portrait after ten months of shielding and UK Covid daily death toll exceeds 1,300.
We follow the signs, white on blue
autumn clouds shifting. Slings
and arrows show one way to exit.
We follow the twisted pitted road
down the line. We avoid potholes,
broken tarmac, pines felled by storms
littering the verge. We drive slowly
around those tight bends. The road
south unspools an old home movie.
In Golspie the doors burst open,
the sun breaks gilding the moss,
the dry stone walls, the sycamores.
The paramedic with kind eyes
wishes you breath. Magic
moss crumbles gold dust
between your fingers until
only the scent of earth remains.
The passage of one life is like a poem,
the end an echo of the start; a solitary
fight to enter this world, darkness
to light. The bloodying of white
sheets observed by strangers in a room
with thin curtains, mirrored in the final
stanza only without felicitations.
You hope you die before you get old.
The romance, the action, the clues lie
in the middle section of your poem,
an exposition on your main theme;
a search for happiness, love, money,
acceptance, fluffy cats, fame, red hair,
a good shag or prize-winning dahlias.
You hope you die before you get old.
Whatever floats your boat, baby!
By stanza seven you learn you are not
a boat but a desert island, unexplored.
You hope you die before you get old.
You sit on the shore watching the murky
tide of water and wait for the Ferry. Angel
whispers in your ear. It is the jade game,
the sky is not the same blue, the sun holds
no heat and no one will ever truly get you.
In stanza nine the diminishing begins.
Your body shrinks (except for your nose).
You shape-shift, spend more time looking
down and back. Chins multiply but hair
and friendships fall away. Downsizing.
You hope you die before you get old.
You can’t piss in a pot no more.
You can’t recall names no more.
You hope you die before you get old.
The passage of your life is like a poem
structured by repetition, rhythm, rhyme,
recurring motifs and metaphors exploring
a theme (same shit different day). The arc,
the meaning of your story remains hidden
to you (although strangers see) until
the moment God turns over your page.
In the topsy turvy world of the Pandemic where social distancing is paramount, the news media and politicians are broadcasting from their home environment either by Skype, Zoom or other technological wizardry. This is fascinating as instead of a neutral studio backdrop we get a glimpse of the real personalities behind the public image. Or do we?
The funny thing is the majority of such broadcasters are careful to arrange themselves in front of their vast book collections reminiscent of a city library with thousands of resplendent volumes on custom-built floor to ceiling shelving. It’s as if they have to prove to themselves and to the audience just how intelligent and ‘expert’ they really are. I would love to know how many of those books they have actually read and digested or are they merely status symbols signalling their supposedly superior social class. The tasteful middle class interiors with designer accessories and original artworks are a universe away from the average person’s home, that is if they’re lucky enough to have a home at all. I have yet to see an ‘expert’ speaking from a cluttered bedsit or a small kitchen with dishes draining by the sink. Perhaps we would trust these people more if they showed their human side. They’re keen to prove how intelligent they are but books are not the only marker. There’s something called “common sense” which has fallen out of fashion in recent years. And there are different types of intelligence, not just the academic sort with its focus on science and rational thinking, there is also emotional intelligence, the intelligence of direct experience. There is intuition, gut intelligence, survival instinct, body intelligence.
According to Howard Gardener, the American developmental psychologist there are nine different types of intelligence, all equally valuable. Which one are you? I am probably a cross between interpersonal and existential but perhaps that’s something for someone else to judge.
So back to the Pandemic crisis…perhaps we would be coping better with defeating Coronavirus if we relied on people with different perspectives on life, different skills and different types of intelligence. A footballer, a psychotherapist, a musician, a poet, a plumber, a mother of six, a gardener..they all deserve the same respect. Their insights and skills are just as useful as any so-called expert with an impressive book collection and a David Hockney on the wall.
The Coronavirus pandemic is being widely compared to a war, a war between humanity and an invisible, mysterious enemy – the virus. There are many weapons used in a war and propaganda is one of them.
The word ‘propaganda’ was derived from the verb ‘propagate’, meaning to spread. It can take many forms including the withholding or distortion of information, the dissemination of fake news, emotive language and subliminal ‘brainwashing’ techniques which pass unnoticed, for example, the repeated use of suggestive images and slogans. Since the early twentieth century propaganda has been used to persuade or manipulate an audience into behaving or thinking in certain ways. If you think that kind of thing couldn’t happen in a Western democracy, think again. Look at Donald Trump’s election campaign and Brexit. Look at any advertising campaign. Democracies depend on the cooperation of a compliant population. We are told we are free so we believe we are free, but how free are we really?
In 1929 Everett Dean Martin argued that, “Propaganda is making puppets of us. We are moved by hidden strings which the propagandist manipulates.” In his book ‘Propaganda’ Edward Bernays wrote “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”
Back to the Coronavirus pandemic and the British government’s response (or lack of it). Think of the slogans and language used repeatedly.
STAY SAFE ………STAY AT HOME……..STAY 2 METRES APART…….STAY….STAY…..
STAY is a command used in dog training. Stay safe is a pat phrase we all say to each other now as we become ever more fearful and ever more passive, meekly accepting the nonsensical titbits of information about the virus that the government doles out. We are treated as sheep not equals.
FOLLOW THE SCIENCE, follow the yellow brick road, follow the Pied Piper…
At the start of the pandemic when the British government were wallowing in sloth and denial of the seriousness of the situation, doing fuck all to protect the public and wasting precious weeks, the Prime Minister would appear on his podium flanked by two government scientists. He claimed his decisions were based on ‘science’. There is no one science. Science is not God. Every country has its own scientists and experts with widely divergent views on this unknown virus. Even within the UK there are different opinions. While harbouring their covert dark agenda of ‘herd immunity’ and protecting the Capitalist economy at all costs (elderly and vulnerable groups considered collateral damage) the British government hid behind the veneer of so-called science. As a result, several weeks later the UK has the highest death rate in Europe and the mortality figures are ‘massaged’ to exclude deaths in the community.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of lockdown. We must take strict precautions. But we need other State measures to successfully eradicate Covid 19. Testing everyone, not just those with symptoms or in hospital, adequate PPE for all care workers, a safe vaccine, antibody testing, anti viral drug treatments, research into why some but not others succumb to this disease apparently for no rhyme or reason, proper financial support for self employed so they are not tempted to go back to work. Instead of throwing every resource into those measures the Government have been working behind the scenes; giving new powers to the Police similar to those in a Fascist state, the Care Act has been suspended, mentally distressed people can now be sectioned by just one doctor for example. And God knows what else has been going on behind our backs…
People are snitching on their neighbours. Poor Mrs Wigglesworth from No 19 is being blamed for the collapse of the health service and the spread of the virus because she took her dog Bowser for an extra walk! The public are told to stay home and if they don’t behave like good little children many will die. Like any skilled magician the government is making us look one way while they perform their dirty tricks. The health service and social care would not be in such a fragile state if it hadn’t been for years and years of cutbacks and austerity. Now the public are deemed responsible if the NHS can’t cope. Parents are scared to take their sick children to A and E as they don’t want to burden the system. Many people are dying unnecessarily and not just of Covid 19.
So please, please, those of you who have persevered and read as far as this….thank you and next time you listen to a Government briefing, or a media report or any ‘expert’ holding forth…think what language they are using, what are they choosing not to tell you? What might lie behind those smug assurances and token gestures? What are they really saying with those snazzy slogans. Look at the wider picture and think for yourself.
This is not just a war against a pandemic – it’s an exercise in social control. It’s amazing what fear will do to a population. Fear and sex- the primal instincts.
So I won’t say ‘stay safe’ but I will say Keep Well and trust only yourself.
This hideous pandemic has clearly shown that the earth and humanity are interconnected and dependent on each other for survival. Different nations, animals, plants, the climate – we all need each other. There is no room for selfishness, cheap nationalism and bigotry. The World Wide Web is not just on the internet but everywhere.
You come and go with the darkness.
I never see you leave but after snowfall
I see your footprints across the lawn.
You sleep alone at night in the shadows
under my exhaustion, a luminescence.
You keep one golden eye open
just in case I forget myself.
Your eye seeps around my raw edges
like cyanide, like a cloud of mustard gas,
like radiation in the house of the apocalypse.
I’m sealing myself in with duct tape,
pulling down blinds, wearing dark glasses;
a hermit with only a mantra
and a half-empty glass for company.
If only you were a little kinder,
I would welcome you with my blood.