The Wanderers

Do they wander do you suppose? Books I mean.

Every couple of years I herd them up from the four corners of the house, sort them out, put them into some sort of order so that I know where they are (a few are lassoed and corralled for the charity shops). Then I try to work out how “Eastern Vegetarian Cooking” came to be nestling between “Travels in Tartary” and “The Marriage Proposal” up in the spare room where the shelves are mostly filled with thrillers (and the odd random school report hastily shoved on the shelf when visitors come).

The cookbook should be in the kitchen, still pressing petals from my first bouquet (many many years ago, the giver lost to the turbulent waters of teenage past). “Travels” should be close by “Notes from a Small Island” in the travel/autobiography area in the hall and “The Marriage Proposal” should be with the novels by authors names at the end of the alphabet in our bedroom.

Do you think it’s because I’ve never cooked from the cookbook? It’s far too complicated, and I’m not a vegetarian.

And “Travels in Tartary” is an old book, very old, bought by my father in some dusty secondhand shop, maybe the one in Salubrious Passage many years ago. It makes me think of Dad – travels in the wild, unkempt parts of the world being absorbed by a comfortable plump man who didn’t like to be too far from a decent cup of coffee and a three course meal. I keep meaning to read it too, but never quite get round to it.

So do you suppose the unread ones move about when we’re not watching?

Maybe they get bored with the company of their own kind. Perhaps Tartary said to himself: “Just because I’m a travel book, am I only allowed to hob-nob with travel books?” and decided to broaden his horizons? Perhaps on his travels he found a restless cookbook, clutching her petals in her pages and together they braved the stairs to discover the wild world of the spare room bookshelves with their murder and espionage and dark deeds. And at the door, they found a cosy novel about love who wanted a bit of excitement and together they… no that’s ridiculous. How can books wander?

Only where is the one I’m looking for now? It is another cookbook which I’ve never cooked from (mainly to avoid an early death from coronary heart failure.) Where would it go?

Any ideas? If you were a cookbook of recipes from the Southern States of the USA (lots of frying). Who would you want to hang out with?IMG_0820

Copyright 2015 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

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Reunion

Three grown women from college were we
Black and white in certainty as we could be
We knew it all at twenty-one; our working lives had just begun
And the world was wide and free.

We’d sat up all night and destroyed our fears
We’d shared the wisdom of our years
We’d cut the apron strings at last; we’d left our childhoods in the past
And shed our final tears.

But here we are now, thirty years on
The certainty, arrogance, seriousness: gone.
We’ve survived long days both bleak and dark; Clung desperately to the tiniest spark
Through illness, loss and funeral songs.

So let’s raise a glass to the girls we were
Of wine or cocoa, we don’t care
And sip it down like the women we are
Whose peaceful hearts still bear their scars
And maybe we’ll talk all night or maybe not
Somethings remembered, some best forgot
Maybe we’ll cry but I hope we’ll laugh:
We knew it all then but now: not even half!
In fact let’s look forward and let’s have fun
Cheerfully knowing nothing at fifty-one!

On the other hand..
At 21 we sat up all night to talk of plans and dreams
We didn’t discuss digestive tracts or arthritic knees
We wondered about the future and the joys of motherhood
And now we’re comparing stretch marks and tackling teenage moods.
We wondered how to do our hair, now we fight to stem the grey
Not wonder if the aches will go, or if they’re here to stay
On the other hand, we used to care if we were cool or hot
But now we’re content with who we are and everything we’ve got.DSC_0034

A Little Something

DSCN2928On her birthday, Liz, as usual, got up first while they slept. She went to the office and shared cakes round. She waited all day for something. Nothing.

She got home early. The kids were late: hope flared. She made herself a cup of tea and picked up the post, one official-looking envelope. The front door banged and Amy stormed in, the door banged again and Jason called “what’s for tea?” Amy shrieked: “He humiliated me in front of EVERYONE. Tell him …”

A text from Stuart: “sorry, forgot.”

She left the kids fighting, wedged her bedroom door shut with the laundry basket and opened the letter. A solicitor wrote: “your aunt remembered you in her will with the message: “be frivolous.”

Great Aunt Nell: the free spirit who settled abroad to be whispered about at Christmas. Liz had only met her a couple of times. “Stay independent” she said to Lis the last time, “Don’t lose yourself looking after them.”
£60,000. DIY? university fees? But Aunt Nell had said: “be frivolous”.

Liz kicked the laundry basket aside, ignored Amy’s complaints and walked firmly out of house. She got in the car, drove two miles down the road till she found the “for sale” sign by the river, noted the estate agent and turned back to town. As usual no mobile signal anywhere. For once, a blessing.

By the time she got home, they were all contrite. A takeaway on order, a bottle of bubbly chilling.

“I saw the letter from the solicitor” said Stuart. Liz’s heart stopped. He continued: “How much did she leave?”

“Oh there’s £5000 left,” Liz answered, remembering the sum was not on the letter and that she’d put the cheque and other documents in her chaotic undies drawer. “I thought we’d get you, I mean, us that boat.”

“Shouldn’t you get something for yourself?” he rallied valiantly.

“Oh I’ll get myself a little something too.”

A little something. Ten feet from land and forty feet in diameter – a tiny island with fishing rights.

It was surprisingly easy. When things got too much, she’d pop out for a slightly longer than usual Saturday shop and paddle across in a ropy old canoe and just sit. Sometimes she’d leave work early, change into jeans and just sit, no-one making demands, until it really was time to be at home. She called it Nell’s Island. Interesting, independent Aunt Nell of the serial lovers and child free adventures. Liz built up a stash – a sleeping bag, roll mat, stove and kettle. She kept them under the million bags for life in the car and blamed the expenditure on things for the kids. She never stayed for more than half an hour in daylight. But it was good to feel lost for a while.

One Friday, the whole week had been stressful to the point that Liz thought her heart would explode and she could barely breathe and the house was a total mess and the fridge was empty. Liz was the last person home for the fifth time, yet walked it to “what’s for dinner?” “where’s my best top?” “have you signed that form?” and walked out again.
In her office shoes and smart suit, she drove to the island. Hauling her stash out of the boot, she stomped towards the padlocked canoe with mud sticking to her heels.

But there was someone already there, fiddling with the lock. It was a vagrant, thin. He looked up at Liz and paused. “This is yours isn’t it” he said “I watch you sometimes. Sorry.” It wasn’t clear if he was apologising for sitting in the canoe or for watching her.

“What are you doing?” Liz said, uncertain. The vagrant was dirty, camouflaged in the canoe. Nothing with him but a small bag.

“Borrowing the island to sleep” he answered. “Feels safer. I always lock the boat up after.”

“This isn’t the first time? People aren’t supposed to sleep on it.”

He shrugged. “You’ve never been here later than 5ish before. People aren’t supposed to sleep in doorways either.”

They looked at each other: the vagrant in the canoe; Liz in her incongruous clothes – the owner of a boat, a canoe, an island, a family and frustration.

“Fancy a drink?” said the vagrant, holding out a can.

“More of a white wine girl really” said Liz and wished she hadn’t, partly in case he had some.

“Why are you here?” asked the vagrant.

“Everyone wants something from me all the time and I never get time to myself.” How childish she sounded.

The vagrant stared for a while and took a swig from his can. “No-one wants anything from me. They just want me to eff off.”

“What’s your story?”

He shrugged. “What’s yours?”

Liz was silent. After a while she handed over the stash and said “This stuff – it’s a bit chilly tonight. Just leave the canoe secured.” She wasn’t sure that he needed the stove but there you go. She tried again: “I just feel a bit trapped, pointless, unimportant…”

Eyebrows raised, he looked her up and down and took another swig.

She felt exposed when she turned and walked muddily back to the car but when she sneaked a look backwards he was smoking a roll-up and paddling to the island. Liz went to Tesco then home, found Amy’s top, signed the form, handed a ready meal to Stuart and told them she was taking up a hobby and would take time out occasionally.

One day, when the summer came, she would tell them all. They would cycle to the island, spend the day fishing and barbecuing. Then they would cycle home. It really wasn’t far.

Right now, for a while, she would keep enjoying the occasional ten minutes of quiet raising a cup of tea to Aunt Nell and the absent vagrant.
And if the family couldn’t be bothered to ask and thought that going to Tesco was her hobby, more fool them.

Copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

Travelling

Once I said “I want to go somewhere”
And my listener asked me where
“Anywhere” I said
“Anywhere different, I don’t care”
“Why” she said, “you’re settled here”.

But I like travelling restlessly from here to there.

I remember journeys when very small, from grandparents’ to home at night. Past London suburb shops still open and lit to the cosy darkness of our Berkshire home; with just the cosy domestic lights and blinds pulled down. The wondering, wondering – all those unknowable lives behind the curtains and doors –

And childhood holidays, down torturous Cornish lanes, crawling like crippled ants towards the coast. The plunge of green hill to the glittering blue. for the one who first sees the sea:
“It’s me! It’s me!”

And then moving away, travelling by night on blankets and toys, waking to find our new Welsh home curled low: guarded by trees and surrounded by ranging mountains like sleeping giants.

And to and from college and evening drives to film the moon dissolving into the sea. And to and from friends…I never want travelling days to end.
Yes I’m settled here – but sometimes I just want to be somewhere else.walk in the woods_edited-2

Blue is, Blue is Not

Blue is for uniforms.
Teenage girls reluctant in boring old sensible navy blue.
Blue to make us all look the same.
Me and Susan and Annette.
But it didn’t of course:
Short or curvy or thin or tall or a mix of these things
We simply looked ourselves in navy
No, blue is not just for uniforms.
Blue is dreary.
No, it does not have to be an apologetic tint
Like white that got in with the navy wash.
And neither do I – I can like blue but not be uniform
Like blue but not be indistinct.
Blue is cold.
What about peacock or turquoise or teal?
Those warm blues, sultry blues, Moroccan blues,
The colours of possibility
The open sky, the open road,
Mystery of Indian sapphires,
In them I feel sensuous, rich, warm, adventurous.
Blue is dull.
Oh think of the wine dark blue of winter
Brightened with pink or red
The colour of cuddles by the fire
Of spicy plums and apples and blackberries
In Latin there is no proper word for blue
Caeruleus covers everything
From wine dark sea to stone washed jeans.
In blue I can feel the moods of the skies:
In October I wore fine sophisticated Delft
Blue and white, fine patterning on
a flattering summer dress
I felt grown up and pretty
Sipping my anniversary wine
in a charming side street restaurant.
This week wearing dark blue
Like the bruised dusky sky
When the clocks went back.
Oh blue.  It is the colour of calm.
Perhaps.  But it is the colour of water.
And water has many moods.
Under the water the feet of the calm swan
Paddle madly.
It is the colour of sky but
The blue can hide the coming heat
Or the coming storm.
I can look calm.
But I am not.
Underneath, I whir with possibilities.
I can wear the uniform
But I am not the uniform
I am, finally, myself.