Tag Archives: edinburgh

Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not worth the earth – these streets are your streets, this turf is your turf.

There are so very many things that I could write about Climate Camp 2009, and other experiences I’ve had in the last couple of weeks. None of it would be very coherent or cohesive, though, I would find it difficult to get points across, I would argue with myself, I would struggle as I always do.  This statement addresses some of my concerns about it, and this article voices some of my hopes and happinesses.

And what about me? I am well and happy. My head is full of ideas, hopes, fears, half-formed analyses. A lot of things are wrong in the world. Some things are right and good. Some things are ugly. Some things are beautiful. I had some time to think and a lot to think about. I value opportunities to meet and spend time with interesting and kind people. My brother is one of the most interesting and kind people I know. I value time spent with him, above much else. I met several new interesting and interested and kind people, too. I like being heard and respected for who I am. I enjoy pubs, pretty girls, Thai food, sunshine, laughter, foxes, freedom and fire. All of the above were features of my week away. I missed my lover, and my bike. My sister is sixteen years old. I got to Newcastle to see her a few hours before her birthday began.

This weekend just gone was Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year – it started at sunset on Friday. I guess that means I started it by tipsily cycling home from the pub where my newish boss had treated me and a colleague to drinkies following an unexpected, but pleasant, ‘it’s 5pm on a Friday and this bottle of wine has been in the fridge for ages!’ one in the office. I had a ‘credit crunch date’ at home, as the boy and I need all the spare dolla we can muster for paying the deposit on, and buying stuff to go in, our new flat next week. We had a nice meal and watched The Proposition – I’d seen it before, in the cinema with K, but he hadn’t, and it is still as bleak yet brilliant as I remembered. Then we sat and talked about stuff and I ended up crying about EDL and/or UAF until I felt very very sick, and not sleeping well at all, wakefully Thinking about Things until after 4am.

I got up on Saturday morning with puffy eyes, had some tea, and baked some really nice cinnamon biscuits. Then had some more tea, then went out on my bike to meet my good buddy P, who I hadn’t seen in four weeks, due to our busy lives. We met at the start of the canal, rode down the Union canal path (nice and flat, and mostly wide with just a couple of slightly scary bits where you’re supposed to get off and walk, but of course we don’t), over aqueducts and under viaducts, talking about stuff – what we’d both been doing over the month, his 30th birthday being in a few days, bikes – to where it meets the Water of Leith path somewhere around Wester Hailes and so we switched on to that (pretty good, scenic, but a lot more bumpy – rather him than me on that roady bike he has borrowed from his brother while the latter is in New Zealand. Leon can handle all the rocks, sticks and mud just fine) and took it all the way to Balerno, where it somewhat abruptly ends. It had been pretty grey and drizzly all day and a proper downpour commenced just as we stood there wondering what to do, so we went to the shop and bought some milk to have with our biscuits, then went a little way back along the path looking for shelter. I always find it sort of awesome how much cover the trees can offer from even this torrential rain – we quickly found a really nice dry spot with a big rock to sit on.

Then P decided that if we scrambled down a horribly steep bit to the river’s edge, it would be a perfect place for a little fire, but upon investigating my handbag it turned out we had no means of making the fire (a mirror, yes, but not enough sunlight for that) so, as the rain wore off, he went back to the shop and bought a lighter, the cheapest newspaper he could find (Daily Express – ugh ugh ugh!), and a fruit loaf, while I ate an apple and collected firewood. We locked our bikes together just off the path. He leapt fearlessly down the slope to his proposed fireplace and I crept gingerly behind him, which took about twenty times as long, but didn’t fall. He crumpled up paper, mysteriously found a huge, comfortable plank and by means of balancing it across rocks, assembled it into a handy bench upwind so we’d be out of the way of any smoke. I built the sticks into the little pyramid over the crumpled paper, gathered some more wood, and lit the fire. He got a rock and bashed the protruding ends of some ‘deadly’ nails back into his lumber bench, convinced me it was now safe to sit on, and flapped the remaining paper at the base of the fire as a makeshift bellows, to get the flames going. Then we just sat and toasted pieces of fruit loaf on a stick and had them and the cookies with milk and talked and stared at the beautiful fire for a couple of hours. When it was time to go home, we let the fire burn itself out and then doused the embers using water from the river in the empty milk bottle. The sun had come out while we were sitting there and it was finally a really beautiful, crisply sunny late afternoon, and clearly the last day of summer, and the start of something new. The ride back was easy because it was all very slightly downhill, and we had a laugh, and talked about autumn and time and light, places, politics, plants and plans.
I went home and hung out with D without crying about UAF, and made some totally delicious vegetarian chilli. That was Rosh Hashanah. When I was younger I used to go to shul.

I talked to my dad on the phone. My mum’s got swine flu but he said she’s not feeling too bad. He’d been to the first day of his teacher training course at uni, so he hadn’t been to shul either, which is more ground-breaking – and had spent the week working in the school where he’s been volunteering part-time for a while now. He told me that it had been the most enjoyable working week of his life and I wasn’t surprised, but was very happy for him. I told him about my three-month review and how happy I was at work too, and about my plans for my career, and about K’s success in Catalunya, and about my bike ride. He told me about reading a story to the children (And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street) and how he was impressed and amused by some of their own creative writing, and described the way that he cycles to the school and to uni now – it has been a very long time since he hasn’t had to drive to work, as he used to work a long way out of town in Consett and Blyth. And he told me that my sister had been at a surprise party for her (belatedly) and one or two of her friends’ birthdays.
Obviously I’m gutted for my mum being ill, and I don’t really know what my brother did, but for the rest of us I kind of love that we each celebrated the New Year in our own, very meaningful ways. I think God would like it, if there was one.

In summary, then, same as almost always I suppose: small things good, big things… not so good. Or thereabouts. I am not mentioning the footy. My hopes and plans for 5770 are pretty shiny and exciting. They include

  • not filling in one single job application form
  • Barcelona
  • A garden
  • Saving up for this, yeeeah booooi!

Happy new year to you too.

The silver apples of the moon, the golden apples of the sun.

I’ve been meaning to get around to writing something a bit less ‘oh mama, can this really be the end?’ around here, something rather more reflective of my usual generally pretty chipper life and times. Only, over the last few weeks, life hasn’t been the usual, not really. It’s been just stressful and angry, lonely and hard, missing persons, and pretty awful overall, with bright spots cast by the wonderful people I try to surround myself with and by climbing high enough to get above the fog (literally, but also a painfully obvious metaphor, no?).
Also the damn wind won’t stop blowing, which I hate. It makes cycling, and indeed walking in the ‘wrong’ direction, feel like a chore – it can’t have been like this last April when I first got Leon (yes, I have been a cyclist for one year and one day!), now it just feels awfully inexhaustible, and exhausting. Although I have just recently gone caffeine-neutral as an experiment, so that might also not be helping. It is not good!

Anyway – to write, you need some inspiration, and I’ll be honest, I am truly spoiled for it. It’s spring and I’m springin Edinburgh where so much of the city is bordered in fantastic vivid sap green, everything that was so sad just a few weeks ago, so bleak and dried-up, has come to life and it’s all bursting with newness and potential. I guess that this is almost the best time of the year for that. Bright sunlight streaming dappled through these many leaves feels like a real blessing, all the better for its having been away so long. I hope I never lose the delight of witnessing this annual return to life. I mean, it’s been 25 years and, just as Samir said the other week, it just seems to get more miraculous and joyful each time, not less.

Apart from leaves, there’s friends and art. The quietly wonderful James Robertson, who I’m lucky enough to know in a professional capacity, brought a breath of fresh air, and the word ‘bawheidedness’, into the quiet of the Scottish Poetry Library (which is in itself a very excellent thing) with a bubblingly brilliant reading from the two latest pamphlets from his press, Kettillonia. Again, that warm feeling, like springtime, of newness out of the old, surprises out of the familiar.  Gordon Dargie read powerfully and passionately, and often funnily, of youth and young manhood; James read reflectively and raptly, soft echoes resounding in his words of lives past, glowing, glints.

He was kind enough to insist on presenting me with a copy of his book which I’d expressed an interest in. It’s gorgeous. I probably should read rather more contemporary fiction. Off the top of my head, novels that I’ve read that were originally published in the past ten years: Everything is Illuminated, if nobody speaks of remarkable things, The Good Mayor, and now half of James’ novel The Testament of Gideon Mack. I’ve enjoyed them all, in different ways. I’m sure there must be some others I’m forgetting (oh, something by Will Self, but those are all the same really), but yeah, the point is, I don’t do it much. There’s always just so many books I want to read and most of them aren’t contemporary, not really, now that the twentieth century’s been and gone. I suppose in a way that puts García Márquez, Heller, Kundera into the ever-stretching bracket of [the past] with the classics and epics; what chance do I have against the weight of all the past and all that’s never done nor dusted?

But to get to what was supposed to be the point: now there’s something that’s kept me inspired, kept spinning in my head, filling up those dry old channels which are usually full of crust and crud like thinking about work, conversations I have had, I might have, I didn’t have, wondering what people are doing, thinking, wondering what I’m going to have for tea tonight. These mental arteries like drought-stricken, dusty riverbeds are now green and overgrown (like the fantastic, lush peace of the huge half-forgotten cemetery, full of bluebells and birdsong, that I climbed into on Monday with Sarah) with thoughts of essential music, rhythms and patterns, colours; thoughts of Wounded Knee.

Wounded Knee is a downright incredible dude. For one thing, he’s amazing at communicating – getting across what he’s thinking and feeling to his audience, which is what makes him such a different prospect from an evening with most artists. I think it’s fair to say that the phrase ‘audience participation’ usually strikes a chilling chord of fear and horror in the hearts of all right-minded people (it was ruined at an early age by the multifaceted badness that was schools’ theatre), but somehow WK manages to make this feel like collaboration rather than participation, something much more natural and joyful, like connection. The bowling ball song and the birdsong, and ramsons (one of my favourite words and definitely one of my favourite smells, it’s a long story, but they’re the wonderful smell of the Hermitage in spring and summer, the cycle paths, the burn, the cemetery too, and I’ve long thought they’re the smell I will most miss if I ever go and live elsewhere. I’ve never been anywhere else where it’s so easy to surround yourself with that wonderful fresh greenness in the middle of a real, populated city). The sound, the fury, the sheer cathartic noise of a room full of young people really thinking about testicular cancer; screaming, a gong. Being more than the sum of our parts. The awareness, somewhere in the sidelines, of how odd it might look, if I could be outside looking in at myself, to be so rapt – wrapped – in the depth and sincerity and resonance of the unamplified songs of a man in purple underpants standing by a white wall.

The first time I saw Wounded Knee it was like falling down the rabbit-hole. It’s just like that, I guess, with the tangible texture and growth of his sound using loop pedals; the surprise of hearing something I never had heard —

The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down what seemed to be a very deep well.

Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her, and to wonder what was going to happen next. First, she tried to look down and make out what she was coming to, but it was too dark to see anything: then she looked at the sides of the well, and noticed that they were filled with cupboards and book-shelves: here and there she saw maps and pictures hung upon pegs.

but this time, at the second Downsizesound, there was no electricity and no loops, it was more level, all of our many feet remaining on the ground, but a feeling more like finding yourself in a secret green glade – a blossoming arbour or a mossy clearing in a vibrant old forest – with one you just realised you love. Tapping in to something bigger and older and darker and more alive than any of us. Sharing time and sounds and silence. And knowing what someone means, or getting the impression that you know, insofar as we ever can know what anyone means, is just unbeatable.

Alasdair Roberts did wonderful things with words. I’m no music critic (as you’ll have noticed) and don’t really know how much I can say about him other than to say it’s really not often I come away from a gig thinking ‘that must be a bit what it must be like if you could be in a very small intimate space with some of the Decemberists’, or ‘that must have been a bit what it was like to see a young Bob Dylan’, and definitely not both at once, but this is what I thought about him. He also seemed to reference Yeats, bringing back welcome echoes of the first poem my mother ever read to me – ‘because a fire was in my blood’, I recalled happily at his tale of the hazel wood, and given the fortnight that had gone before this night, was it ever. I’d been thinking, talking about hazel trees just the other day, I perhaps ascribe too much significance to coincidence sometimes, but if I were you I’d not be surprised to see the image of some lucky Corylus avellana leaf coming soon to a ribcage near you. Alasdair Roberts sang, heartfelt and convincing and light (in the way that insect wings are light and beautiful, not beer or entertainment) songs of dowsing, really quite considerable gore, the three ages of man, sociopathy and saturninity (gosh I love that word. Word of the week, I think), among other things, and that is some feat.

An incredibly vivifying evening was brought to a close by the spirited Issho Taiko drummers – four people, many different drums, accompanied by accordion, flute, guitars played with skewers, xylophone. To say they had impressive technical skills is really not the half of it, the red-blooded forceful drumming coming together with the otherworldly melodies to bring about a breathtaking, haunting happening in the room. A deep, vital,  feeling suffused me, deep in my belly, the same place as sex or somewhere very near it. Joyous and uplifting, it just physically got to me: made me stand up straight, made me feel taller and kind of better, grounded, self-aware. It also underlined, or was, the reason for seeing this sort of thing (and no, I have no idea what ‘this sort of thing’ is either) live because recorded it’s like losing a dimension or two or three. Sometimes gigs can just be adding vision to sound, seeing people play songs you’ve heard before; this couldn’t have been much more different. It was adding vision and touch and experience to sound; feeling and hearing and doing something totally new – it was collective, people joining and working wonderfully together – which I think is both necessary and inspiring; exaltant, and in truth, revolutionary.
(And for more on that note: Nowtopia, which I should write more about but don’t have time because the Edinburgh book launch is happening right now! Read and learn and be the change.)

It’s been a long, long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come.

I don’t do this often, but this is important:

Please, please, please go to the cinema and watch this film this weekend.

The Age of Stupid

If you’re in Edinburgh, it’s showing at the Filmhouse for a week from this Friday, with a bunch of events around the screenings in association with the lovely people of Take One: Action, and on this page you can find local screenings throughout the UK. I watched the premiere on Sunday night, and apart from anything else, it’s bloody brilliant – it really is the most thought-provoking, outlook-changing, unmissable, oddly life-affirming £6 you’ll spend in a good while.

There are terrifying, horrifying moments – as stomach-lurching and spine-shivering as anything from War of the Worlds or 28 Days Later – but this isn’t science fiction. Instead, you find yourself shuddering at things like the realisation that about 40% of natural gas is still being burned off at source across Nigeria‘s 1000 onshore oil wells. Yes, that’s the same natural gas that we use to cook and heat our homes: according to the World Bank, over 100 billion cubic metres of it – that’s the combined annual gas consumption of Germany and France – are ‘flared’, uselessly spewing filthy, toxic smoke into the air, every year, apparently because it’s not easy enough for oil companies to make a profit storing and exporting the fuel. In Nigeria, the practice continues despite the new law prohibiting it from 1 January 2009. Much like the High Court ruling that prohibited it from 2005, then.

It’s difficult not to feel appalled at moments like this – but that’s not the whole story. The Age of Stupid, like our world itself, is beautifully put together, inspiring and frightening by turns; part-disaster movie, part-cautionary tale. There’s no knight in shining armour, no fairy godmother, and no straightforward way to a happy ending, but for me, some of the most thought-provoking moments are genuinely uplifting. Watch the excellently named Alvin DuVernay III – the Shell employee who lost his home and everything he owned, but saved the lives of more than 100 of his neighbours in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina – sitting in a jazz bar and reflecting on what he’s learned from the experience about materialism and the way Americans use energy, the way we all live, and tell me you’ve seen a more – good GOD I hate this word and can’t believe I’m about to use it – heartwarming scene in a film this year.

Incidentally, from filmmaker Franny Armstrong’s fascinating backstage diary: [Alvin] is haunted by all the people he didn’t save. He said he “lost his humanity” that day – because he was so focused on getting as many people as possible that sometimes he snapped when people asked if they could bring lots of luggage or go back for something they forgot. Now he says he wants to find all those people and apologise for being short with them.

If that dude has lost his humanity, there’s a lot of us could really do with finding some of it.

Anyway, got distracted there, my point is: it’s pretty easy to feel tiny in the face of climate change. It’s easy to feel terrified, to feel there’s nothing you can do to help avert the forthcoming catastrophe – in short, to freak out. Easy, but certainly not logical – this is our world, our generation, and this is real change that’s happening now, to us. This is why Age of Stupid media producer, brilliant animator and all-round mensch Leo Murray wants you to

Wake Up, Freak Out – then Get a Grip

Very seriously, if you don’t see The Age of Stupid (which would be, well, stupid), if you don’t even read this whole post, then please, please DO take 10 minutes to watch Wake Up, Freak Out – then Get a Grip. It’s short, it’s easy, it’s free, it’s got some ace artwork, and it might just change your life. On peut le voir en français ici, and it’s also available in Deutsch, Español, Nederlands, Türkçe and English with subtitles.

Another of the most resonant moments in The Age of Stupid, for me, was a quiet reflection from an Englishman. Piers Guy, a windfarm developer who’s struggling to achieve positive change against the disturbingly blinkered ‘not in my back yard’-ism of a snobbish, Home Counties tweed-wearing set, stands in Airfield Farm, near Bedfordshire, and is reminded of the war and how the land got its name: “You only have to look at the terrible things in our history, which everyone regrets now”, he muses, “massacres, the Holocaust, and a lot of that was just going along with what was the predominant thinking at the time.”

And this is it, this is what I needed: the reminder that yes, massive social, economic and political changes for the better can happen. More than that, they do happen, must happen, and will happen, and relatively fast.24.358

A hundred years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to vote, and it’d be massively unlikely for me to go to university – but as early as the 70s the UK had a female Prime Minister (granted, she was a shit one, but that’s beside the point here). Sixty years ago, black children in the USA were segregated into ‘Negro’ schools, and couldn’t ride buses or trains, use drinking fountains, or play sports with their white peers; today the President is black. These changes have happened within living memory, and there’s more – the film goes into the (rather exciting) possibilities for going forward into a cleaner, greener future and working to achieve a position of global energy equality, which will unsurprisingly involve the US and Europe seriously (though gradually) downsizing our fossil fuel consumption. (Al Gore: ‘They’re seeing the writing on every wall’).

My grandparents, probably some of your parents, remember life during wartime – living in fear through Blitzkrieg over London, and worse in Poland and the former USSR; losing brothers to the fighting, watching children die from treatable diseases. And they remember dealing with serious shortages – they remember the rationing of clothes, petrol, soap, sugar, meat, fat, then bread, then potatoes. Nobody’s asking our generation to give up our lives for our freedom and principles, and we’re not even talking about rationing bread, more like rationing the time we spend with big-screen TVs, XBoxes, cheap flights. Unquestionably we can face this fight. It’s started in the Maldives, it’s coming to Copenhagen this year.

We can do this, we can survive – and more than that, we can and we will live low impact.


Newsflash: Bikes are still amazing!

Who’s with me (pictured)?

Pete Postlethwaite is with me.

And finally, bonus fun, whimsical and actually rather beautiful link by way of a reward for having read this far: check out Leo and Bill’s creation of the universe with milk and a fishbowl.

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Mayday

remember that day when we saw the kite caught in the big tree
the little ginger cat from your neighbour’s garden had followed us all the way to the shop
the red kite in the big tree and you with grass stains on the knees of your jeans
i think every boy in the park climbed into that tree to get the kite back down,
human pyramids, twelve boys up in the big tree and you and me laughing at the foot
playing catch with an old tennis ball

and in the end they got it and the pretty girl said thank you
and in the end none of them took her home
pollok dave said he got her number but elgin dave said he never did
either way, we didn’t see her again.
in the evening your neighbours had a barbecue and shouted over the wall for us to come round
we fed that little ginger cat on scraps of chicken until it fell contentedly asleep
the sky was all orangey fading into slate

I wouldn’t normally do this kind of thing.

Today has been much more than okay. I could try to write about it all, try to pin everything down – I could write about laughing in the kitchen, smiling down the stairs at the big blue sky that feels like a promise kept; about getting the best text message and sitting on the bus at a stop light and the shining silver banner fluttering in the breeze from a window, flashing at me HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HAPPY BIRTHDAY. About a little walk all on my own in the Hermitage of Braid where the bottom fell off the heel of my boot and I didn’t mind a bit, about feeling ridiculously, insanely lucky that 15 minutes from my happy, friendly, stuffy, ramshackle old office I could be here in this idyll, sitting high on a hill in the fresh dewy grass with daffodils filtering the light to gold, with the burn glinting as it runs by below, with the beautiful big trees reaching right up to this magnificent sky. About all the songs I listened to, lying there wrapped up in my purple hat and polka dot scarf, my green boots and the green grass, my skirt with the pink flowers on, my bright white legs goose-pimpling and then warming, surprised to feel the sunshine, and how hard it was to not sing along, how maybe sometimes I did a little bit because after all there was nobody else there, just me and the birds. And of course I could write about Helen, and a pat on the back. And about smiling all the way home, and coming home to my boy and putting on Wonderful World by Sam Cooke and dancing with him in the living room in our socks, holding each other close in that special not-shy, easy, supportive way and feeling very beautiful and happy and in love.
But I dunno, I don’t think I could ever really nail the way it just is.
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New words for old desires

It’s just various lists today and that is all. I like lists very much, I have been making and collecting them for many years; my paper notebooks, the most important ones, are full of them. I think they’re eloquent and shapely, suggestive, intent, expansive, neat. I like lists of songs, lists of names, lists of places. I think they’re my favourite pages on wikipedia, the ones that just list hundreds of names or words… they’re just so full of potentialList of Fanta flavoursList of misquotationsList of fictitious Jews. There’s a list of lists! Joy! Be still, my beating heart!
I especially like indices, and contents pages too. But I even like shopping lists, sometimes, or menus, or when people make those food diary/calorie intake things; there’s poetry there, I’m sure of it, freeform and grinning up at us. Teriyaki chicken salad sandwich. Blackcurrant-banana-orange-juice smoothie. Piece of bread with chocolate spread. Green milk. I grow old… I grow old… I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. Gertrude Stein understood this before I did. I don’t know what to think about Gertrude Stein, I suppose I like to think she and I are alike in some ways and not in others. Alice B. Toklas, more, maybe; she liked hats too. I’d like to read her book very much, it’s called What Is Remembered which is a very good title. It sounds rather sad. Anyway.
Entries on the ‘Missed Connections’ page on Edinburgh Gumtree: I love those things. I habitually read them for other cities, not because I or anyone I know would be in there, just because they’re nice. I love it when people look, notice, react, I suppose. It’s proof of that.
So, yes, as I was saying, Entries on the ‘Missed Connections’ page on Edinburgh Gumtree
Lynette
(West Lothian)

i always miss
(edinburgh)

Bryan Temple
(Leith Trinity Newhaven)

Livingston, you got petrol at Morrisons Petrol Station, and smiled at me.
(Livingston)

angry number 10 girl
(a princes street bus stop)

girl in the green car
(jewel)

Laura Scott
(Leith)

The girl who is not a librarian
(edinburgh somewhere)

London Kings X-North Berwick-Edinburgh Waverly
(Edinburgh)

debbie cemetery
(edinburgh)

Need to find Ryan
(Edinburgh)

Import prohibitions and restrictions that the New Zealand Customs Service enforces at the border (I had to look it up for work, so that shows how long I’ve had this beast tucked away for)
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You made me forget my dreams.

This summer is rainy day after rainy day after rainy day.

The latest incarnation, the shower I just walked through, is these heavy, tangible, fat drops, a centimetre or two across: few and far between to start with, so that they feel like a deliberate affront when they hit you in the face, but soon running together like a stream. I’m walking home with K’s graduation rose sticking out of P’s Canon bag with my Nikon tucked safely waterproofedly inside, and I’ve got my pearls and my cassette tape t-shirt and my boy jeans and my blue socks that almost match, but one’s got skulls and crossbones on and the other has hedgehogs, and my oldest trainers on, the Converse ones from about 1999 that are more holes held together with bits of shoe than anything, and I don’t mind the rain.

My hair looks better this way anyway, an inconstant, mad tangle with sodden silky rat-tail tendrils snaking through it and dripping cold onto my hot skin, shocking in my cleavage like a tiny caress. Or perhaps it doesn’t look good at all but it feels good, it makes me feel wilder, and besides I like the smell of it later while it’s gradually drying. I’m bruised all over from Friday night‘s shenanigans.

I’m living in my two favourite pairs of jeans, in strict rotation between me and the radiator in the kitchen – they’re never both dry at the same time – and on occasion other things, my summer skirts and my spring boots, and B’s giant old Guinness t-shirt and S’s shorts (‘it’s actually just an optical illusion’), on Sunday evening when we leapt up off his bed and into the rain, having assessed its heft by watching the tree outside the bay window – B calls to S who’s in the bathroom and I run with him barefoot out into the street, laughing, aimless yet irresistibly drawn, like moths to a flame; jumping and splashing in all the puddles, the filthy streams of the gutters, fag ends or no fag ends we jump in there nonetheless, the cold water feels amazing on my feet, it’s unstoppable and immediate, it’s how I’d like to be.

B’s got no shirt on and when I hug him it’s surprising the difference it makes, you don’t usually touch your friends’ bare skin, strange even when it’s wet and feels slick like a seal, which it does now. It reinforces the instinctive feeling, the real-ness of the moment; it feels necessary and inevitable, I don’t know what the carful of traffic wardens think, or the people in their flats watching from the windows. If I were them, I’d want to join us; fuck that, I’d want to be us. When the thunder rolled it woke something up inside us, we are savage, we are frank, we are human. Human in the rain.

It doesn’t feel like the rain is ever going to end, and that’s okay. It’s right now; by which I mean, it’s what’s happening now and it’s right, it fits, S’s shorts fit me, everything fits me and it’s okay. I feel what I am: young and alive.

These could be the good old days.

The day of the red feathers

We were walking down to the shops one early evening at the start of May. We were on the street two down from ours, a quiet, broad street where there’s a school and some flats and a closed-down shop and a beautiful old building that used to be a church, when we saw the red feathers.

There were many, many of them everywhere – they’d been blown all along the pavements, sticking in the bushes and trees and weeds and cracks, in the ivy and in the gutter, bright, scarlet feathers between about 3 and 10cm long. They were the same kind you get in feather boas – it was as though someone had got one (or even two, the number of feathers there still were, maybe two had had a fight) and ripped it to shreds, floating, bright red, fluffy carnage in the middle of the street. That was something I noticed, there didn’t seem to be more on one side or at one end of the street; they were so spread out that you couldn’t tell where they’d started from, there didn’t seem to be an epicentre. Like rain.

I kept seeing the red feathers, fewer and farther between, whenever I was walking around our area for the next few weeks, it felt like whenever I’d look down I’d see one. The winds took them and scattered them, and the sun and rain bleached them – I think they must have been white and had been dyed to be so bright in the first place, and gradually they become more pink and pale, fading like bruises, until you wouldn’t realise they were the same ones unless you’d seen them all that day. The stems or stalks in the middle, the harder parts, the spines of the feathers, they stayed redder for longer but mostly they got broken.

It’s been three weeks now, or thereabouts, and I still see one or two around the place. The only ones left now are caught up in something, mostly wrapped around weeds or tangled into fences. I saw one today, straggly and faint, sadly clinging to a little clump of alyssum that was growing at the bottom of a doorstep. That made me realise that I hadn’t thought about alyssum in a long, long time; I remember a big carpet of it around the edges of flowerbeds and pots in the garden of my maternal grandparents, who, I realised when reading something Sarah had written yesterday, I don’t speak or write to enough. I have a lot of good memories of being a child in their garden; I told my grandmother this – I bought her a card with a botanical illustration of a passion flower on it because it reminded me of her and there – and, my mother told me, made her cry, but in a good way.

Alyssum, then – it’s simple and understated and I used to like the smallness of it and the scent, but mostly the name, I think. They called it sweet alyssum, or maybe that was the variety, and made a thing of how it sounded like ‘sweet Alice’. Perhaps that was what I thought it was or should be called, how I’d have spelled it if I didn’t know: alice-um. But I was always good at reading, and I always used to like reading seed packets and catalogues, so on the other hand perhaps I knew how to spell it before I knew what it was. That’s how I can spell all the flowers: helianthus, delphinium, hydrangea, even fuchsia, which I remember was one of the hardest but one I liked a lot so I had to learn. Mr Fothergill’s seed packets and Cicely Mary Barker’s flower fairies; between the two of them my horticultural literacy was assured.

Those long sunny days that I remember in their garden being small, the school holidays, I would be with my brother and sometimes my cousins. Or on weekends in London, in the magnificent garden of my dad’s great-grandmother, a warm and tiny woman. She died when I was thirteen and she was ninety-seven. Her garden was tidy, almost formal, but if you knew where to look, which of course we did, it was bursting with life and more importantly fruit; apples, plums, gooseberries, redcurrants, and most wonderfully a mulberry tree. Me and my brother and my other cousins this time, my London Jewish ones. We’d stuff ourselves with mulberries, plump, dark and intense, and she’d warn us that we’d get tummy aches but mostly we just got sticky purple juice everywhere. It was before I ever had a sister; a sister with a flower name or otherwise. I wonder if there was a time when I would think about flowers, or leaves, and not feel even just a tiny bit sad. A time before loss, I suppose. I wonder if anybody does, or can.

At times like these I think it’s strange how symbolism doesn’t work on things outside of your head; it’s strange the difference in accountability between the imaginary and the real. If I’d dreamed all this, the story of the red feathers and the spring alyssum, you’d say that everything meant something; perhaps the feathers were some metaphor for… K, or time, and the red was because of my phobia that I’d been thinking and worrying about, and the fading was because of me worrying about being trapped in my job, and so on and so forth. Everything would have its place, everything its reason. But I didn’t dream it, it just happened one day in the street, and so it doesn’t have all that neat translation or explanation, it doesn’t have to be reasonable or reasoned with.

I didn’t mean this to be sad.

A shell is nicer when there’s somebody to show it to as well.

One rainy night in Edinburgh:

I met K tonight, for what she calls in her inviting text ‘post-work brunch (?) like proper grown-ups’. After the ‘brunch’ (at Biblos in a comfy corner sofa), we moved on to Sandy Bell’s, where I’d never been before but, being situated in the middle of student-pubs-ville, have been drunk within a few yards of its doors scores of times. It’s really refreshingly unstudenty; we bought our pints and snuggled in to a wobbly little table that’s almost in its own tiny room, deep-pinkly walled on three sides away from the world. I don’t need to write what we talked about, that is for us and nobody else and it wouldn’t get across how much it means, how much she means, there’s no way that words ever could, no way that I ever could, no way that writing this will, but I do it anyway – I’m trying, struggling to catch it and put my fingers on it, to hold on to something that can never be held on to. I just don’t want future-me to forget this, this night and this time in my life, this girl who is so much more than a girl, this remarkable one, so wise and so beautiful, this… little human being who is everything. As always I’m struck by the frequency and accuracy of her knowing exactly what I mean when I can’t express it, and by knowing what she means before she does; she never fails to amaze me. As always I love her on the surface, as well, I love her eyes and her beauty and her speech and her idioms, so close to the ones that anyone else would use but with her own Finnish twists; ‘but it just slips through your hands, all this time’, she laments. I want to never let her slip through my hands. At the same time I know that she won’t be here for ever, and whatever happens I will always be so, so lucky to have known her.

At the pub there was a little loose group of musicians sitting around a nearby table and playing unpretentious folk music, looking as though they were doing it for themselves and for the fun of it rather than for the benefit of the few people who politely, quietly clapped at the end of songs: playing, not performing. A plain-looking, middle-aged woman sat with them and sang one song, in a voice so lovely that it stopped me in mid-sentence to gaze at her as though by watching her I could work out where it was coming from. Her voice was like driftwood or sea-glass, something weathered, worn and softened by time and elements, only to become more and more beautiful. A man was playing what looked like a little tiny guitar, but with decorative little curlicues on the corners of the body and the top bit where the tuning pegs go, which gave it a delightfully organic look as though he’d just found it growing like that and plucked it one day, perhaps at the top of a magic beanstalk. Actually what it reminded me most of was this little fellow, even if that is pretty geeky. Afterwards we went out and stood under an archway to shelter from that very Edinburgh type of rain that seems so light and fine but makes you very wet very quickly, while she smoked. Behind her there was a very pretty old switch that said ‘FIRE SWITCH’ but all the letters were peeling off and higgledy-piggledy. The switches were bright blue, like her hair. (What do those things do, anyway?) We talked about friendship. I wanted to take her hands, her elegant porcelain hands, half-hidden in loose turquoise fingerless warmers like extra sleeves, and never let go.

These words are to remind me. I want to keep moments, keep things that can never be kept and have already gone. I take photographs sometimes. Today I write this down instead. It’s like a sigh.
Snowflakes on my tongue, rain in her eyelashes, post-coital sweat on his skin, sand in your shoes, wind in our hair: things that can never be kept. Time with her, her voice, her gaze, her laugh: things that can never be kept. This feeling, or more accurately all these feelings, including but not limited to devotion, relief, awe, tenderness, peace: things I hope to feel again.

Promises

We go to Francis’ and Mattia’s farewell drink, planning to drop in on our way to A’s, so we’re unfashionably on time and only the two celebrants are there when we arrive – they’re sitting outside on this slightly chilly, bright evening and looking even younger without their aprons or their shirts and ties, their uniforms. We get our drinks and go and sit inside in the section they’ve reserved; I remark that the barman looks as if he’s in a band, not realising that Francis knows him, and ‘he is’, he agrees, wide-eyed, ‘…they’re rubbish’. He’s obviously younger than me as well, which makes me feel funny.

Francis phones our mutual friend P, gets me to talk to him to convince him to come along, but he’s not co-operating, and when F realises that P and I have just got into one of our interminable chats (apparently he’s got a great story for me about a swing) instead he snatches the phone back: ‘Stop stealing my minutes!’ We agree that P’s action – or lack of – is lame, but really I wish he were there because I feel so unselfconscious when I talk to him; it’s just familiarity, I guess, he’s part of my comfort zone. Soon we’re joined by Lewis, who was such a sweetheart and who I haven’t seen since he left, maybe six months ago; and some more friends of Francis’, a girl and a boy who are laden down with instruments, they have been out busking. She greets him as Frangipane, which makes me smile because it reminds me of my and P’s (but mostly my) many silly nicknames for him – Mad Frankie Lister, Francesco, General Franco, Frankenstein, Bacon, Teenage Kicks, Assissi. Obviously, he’s just an inherently nicknamable lad. We all talk about this and that – work, people we know or used to, summer, Italy, Portnoy’s Complaint (I’ve bought a copy for Francis, wrapped it in bright tissue paper and curly, lustrous scarlet ribbon which I find myself looking at, bunched up on the table in a little spray, when I’m too shy for eye contact) – with a slightly polite, slightly restrained enthusiasm, as befits the group. We all laugh when Lewis and F, like a tag team, tell us a funny story about a woman asking for squid in the deli where L works now; the laughter is uproarious, mostly because it’s a funny story and they tell it well, partly because laughing is free and easy and come-as-you-please, it’s a release, or a relief, or probably both.

f
Eventually the conversation will turn to music and the many instruments of the two (are they a couple, or just friends? I can’t tell) who arrived with Lewis, the two who I forget the names of almost as soon as I’m told. She’s the wind section, plays a mouth organ and a penny whistle; she can do guitar too though, and something else, flute perhaps? but she doesn’t have one on her. He can play guitar too, and most excitingly, sitar; he takes it from its case to show it to us, quiet, careful, not so much proud as reverent. He’s slim, this boy, and he gives the impression of slightness and delicacy, though he must be taller than me in my boots and I’m sure he’s not actually unusual in proportions or dimensions at all. Perhaps it’s his facial features that are delicate, softly sculpted; his hair is wavy and overgrown, his gaze is shyly averted and his lashes long. There’s something coltish about him, something not awkward, but not quite yet grown into his skin, a looseness of limb, maybe, and something hushed, it’s as though the unkempt fringe is there to shade or veil him from the world, or it from the intensity of him.

He’s eloquent when he plays, he’s at his best then; when his eyes are fixed on his own fingers and his face is relaxed and peaceful. The sitar is a remarkable object, the body, he tells us, fashioned from half a pumpkin or gourd and the neck incredibly, disproportionately long and covered in little tuning knobs all the way up; it looks as though there are more strings, many many of them, at the bottom and then some of them are shorter and the ends wind round these little turnable keys halfway up and further, by the time you get to the actual head of the thing there are only four or six left.

We go outside where it’s quiet to listen to him play. He sits down on the corner, on the little bit of wall at the bottom of the railings and he touches, tickles the sitar and these amazing sounds come out and ripple around us, caressing us, and spill raucous into the broad New Town street and the deepening blue air. It’s so beautiful that I want to laugh. The music strokes everything, touches everything like light does and stains it with beauty; there’s a full moon and the sky’s getting inky now and the clouds are scudding by fast and it makes me feel small to look up at them; the world is spinning around and untiringly around and the big bright moon is spinning around it and the whole thing is spinning around the hidden vital sun and here we all are, on the street corner, listening to this boy and his sitar. He’ll do requests. Someone says ‘paint it black’ and he can’t remember how it goes, so someone, the girl I think, sings ‘do do do do-do do do do-do do-do doo’ and he does it, plays the intro and then some improvised little curls and some of the middle in a way we’ve never heard and this time I think we do laugh a little, not an amused laugh but a delighted one, as though we’re surprised, like when you see a magic trick. Music is like magic, sometimes, for me; I don’t know how it’s done and I don’t really want to, I like the way it’s beyond my experience and perhaps I just want to think it comes from somewhere else, somewhere outside the quotidian and what humans do, that it’s… real.

This boy had been a bit down on himself, before, inside; not in a dramatic or attention-seeking way, not in a compliment-fishing way but genuinely, slightly embarrassed because he’d finished (or left?) sixth-form and hadn’t got a job yet and had been looking for a month. He’d talked about coming to work at V&C and I tried to warn him, and of course he knew all that from Francis, but said to e-mail me if he really wanted to, but we might not get it because of the spam filter being broken so he should come in, I guess. He was casual about it and he didn’t get upset, but I knew how he felt, I remembered it; he laughingly said something about just being a bum, and sleeping too much, and having to busk for his supper before too long.

Then when we were outside, in the fresh air, a cold little wind blew and I wrapped my dark red coat around myself and stuck my hands in my pockets, but I wanted to hug him, I wanted to say ‘don’t be mad, a month is just a month, you’re so young and you’ve got forever to work for other people and feel compressed, opressed and tired of taking their shit; a day is just a day but for you it’s a chance, a chance to do this and make this music and make people happy, make them peaceful, make every bad thing melt away, even just for a few minutes while they listen to you. You’ve got something so awesome here, so special, and you make everyone richer, and you just do it and look so natural and perfect and you’re just a child; you’ve practically seduced a woman five years your senior here, if you wanted to, do you realise?, and fuck, if I could have done that when I was eighteen – well, let’s just say I’d be proud. And you’re not proud, I can tell, not cocky at all and I guess that’s one of the things that’s great about you, and I’m just so happy to be here now tonight with the sky so blue and the air so crisp and the music so perfect I want to stop time for this moment, not with my camera like I always do, but just want to catch it with my hands and scrunch it and roll it, fold it up into a little mass that feels like clouds and smells like springtime, and I’d lock it up to keep it clean and fresh in a tiny blue box with a silver key with a heart for a handle, and I’d take it out again and stretch it over my hands and my face, soft like silk and light like feathers, when I felt cynical and tired, and I’d look at it sometimes before I went to sleep so that I’d dream good dreams, and maybe I’d look at it again before I die.’

But I didn’t, I said ‘Nice to meet you, good luck, maybe see you again some time’ and then we were off.

On the way up the street we saw Monika but I didn’t recognise her at first, I was glad that someone else was going to see them, for every reason.

I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it.

It is Friday, it is 5.30 and I emerge from the lane and out into the constant noisy hurrying brightness – sunny by day, at least in my memory, neon by night – of Elm Row. My sensible pencil skirt is tight at the hip, but too big at the waist and rides up irritatingly, my sensible bra chafes under my left arm and my feet in their awful sensible flat shoes have run up and down the office stairs too many times today, they ache and protest at the old repeated impact, and there’s more – but I am happy. I have freed my hair from its tight, prescribed chignon and I shake my head cheerfully, chew ruminatively on the glittery pink hairpin that I will not wear for a week like a toothpick, hope that perhaps it lends me the aspect of a time-travelled, gender-bent, browbeaten, Semitic, less beautiful Jimmy Dean. I love this loosening of the locks, this symbolic emancipation – I often hate my long hair but at these moments, at 5.15, 5.20, 5.30, whatever time I make my quotidian great escape, I need it; I need it as a window needs a curtain to show it day and hide it from night. I am happy. I am happy because it’s Friday, it’s 5.30, and because I am young and in love; because I found a silly little present to send to my amazing brother in Yorkshire in his new, second-year, flat and I think he’ll like it; because I have a beautiful flat to return to with a soft sofa and a Playstation 2 and, soon, a wonderful and sweetly sexy boy; because my friends are marvellous and make me smile; because I have a party to go to, new hairstyles to try and fail and cursingly give up on; because I’m leaving the dusty office behind for a whole week – the dust, the ‘straw’, the papers, the files and Shelob, the alarmingly huge spider that seems disconcertingly to have made its home beneath or behind the filing cabinet – all these I will not see again until it’s October and many of the leaves I’m half-gazing adoringly at and half-looking through will have browned or fallen. Then I’ll walk this way again, and I’ll be tired again, and I’ll tie up my hair and loosen it again, and I’ll work hard and I’ll be happy.

please.

Sun in the sky, you know how I feel.

Yeah, I’m feeling good. Today is a day off (extracurricular work – I did go to lectures) and it feels much better when it comes after a few days of actually having done some work rather than just many guiltily taken days off in a row.
Sooooo, ink.
new ink
I am going to get four or five more all down my right side/ribs – different species of tree and in different springy, summery and autumny colours – over the next year or so. I am in love with it. I think it is super beautiful. And it didn’t even hurt that much. Arnica makes me superwoman.

Leaves are beautiful, but they’re also a memento mori, for obvious reasons, and even more so for a less obvious reason. I was lucky to know a wonderful woman and rabbi, Erlene, who sadly died last year. She had been in hospital in London for some time and we’d been writing to one another; when I heard that she had died, I’d recently made her this little card with bright green dyed leaf skeletons (I bought them from Millers, oddly), and having nowhere to send it to, it sat on the mantelpiece in our old flat for nearly a year (until we moved out), reminding me of her.

Trees are links to the past, and they inspire me. I like to touch them. And, to quote, erm, myself, “I think it’s fair to say they are much greater than us – so much bigger, older, slower, grander, and harder to hurt. And they do so much for the world, and don’t do anything evil or malicious. They’re a home for birds, insects and all the coolest animals of the forest, like squirrels and bats. Um, actually I think bats live in caves. But never mind. And they make the air that we breathe. They’re amazing.”

Some (many) people translated this respect and awe into actual tree-worship (cf. The Golden Bough). Lots of funky nature worship stuff right here in Scotland, and to a perhaps surprising extent trees and nature are important in Judaism too. Most obvious example would probably be the popular idea of Etz Chaim (The Tree of Life) or Tu Bishvat – we celebrate the trees’ birthday! yay! – but they also come into play at Sukkot and Shavuot. The Torah – the Law – itself is described in a common prayer as being “a tree of life for all who hold fast to it: its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.”

Ruskin love: “The leaves of the herbage at our feet take all kinds of strange shapes, as if to invite us to examine them. Star-shaped, heart-shaped, spear-shaped, arrow-shaped, fretted, fringed, cleft, furrowed, serrated, sinuated, in whorls, in tufts, in spires, in wreaths, endlessly expressive, deceptive, fantastic, never the same from footstalks to blossom, they seem perpetually to tempt our watchfulness, and take delight in outstripping our wonder.”

This particular leaf came from a hornbeam tree in George Square, near the labyrinth; I picked it up just after a very pensive stroll around it last week, when I’d been thinking about lots of important things that I still am not entirely ready to go into here because they’re complex and hmm, painful. But lots of other nicer things as well. And, yeah, I am incredibly happy that I came here to Edinburgh and have a lot of respect and joy and happy memories and all that sort of stuff tied up with that particular geographical area. don’twanttoleave. Now I’ll always have a little part of it with me, forever.

Amusingly (I only found this out the other day), hornbeam is the Bach Flower Remedy used “against feelings of exhaustion and tiredness that come before an effort has been made. The person in this state feels that he or she is too tired to cope with the demands of the day. It’s easier to stay in bed or put off making a start – but if an effort can be made to get started the weariness will fade, a sign that unlike the Olive state this is a mental rather than a physical weariness.”
The website quotes Dr. Bach himself: “For those who feel that they have not sufficient strength, mentally or physically, to carry the burden of life placed upon them; the affairs of every day seem too much for them to accomplish, though they generally succeed in fulfilling their task. For those who believe that some part, of mind or body, needs to be strengthened before they can easily fulfil their work.”
I have an anti-procrastination tattoo! Heh.

And just to make today even more awesome, I got a nice jumper from a charity shop for four pounds.