Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Walking North

Christmas Day morning: one of my favourite walks, from Barley up through the woods above Lower Ogden reservoir, up round Upper Ogden Reservoir, and back down under Pendle Hill. A damp morning, so quiet in the trees, only the sound of running water, and the crackle of pine cones under my feet. Red dead bracken and a couple eating a picnic in Christmas hats. I've walked here many times before so there is something self-affirming about this walk. It's me. I grew up in the shadow of this hill.

Tuesday: Janet's Foss, Gordale Scar, and Malham Cove. Mist, mizzle and mud, until the sun broke through the clouds, not for long, but long enough to open up the sky. Twisted fallen trees and limestone pavements, more water in the waterfalls than I have ever seen and aching shins. Bacon sandwiches and cups of tea. Another favourite place, memories from when I was much younger.

Today: Another favourite walk from Howarth to Penistone Hill and onto the moor. Wind-whipped and stinging with cold, wrapped tight and struggling against the winds. Heather and dry stone walls, ruined barns and flagstones. It wasn't enjoyable, but it was needed. No photos because the weather was just too wild. It was like being in Andrea Arnold's version of Wuthering Heights but colder and with none of the passion. Walked today to try and recover something of myself.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

grateful for...

A warm bed. Presents under the tree. A lovely evening with friends and the best hug I've had in ages. Laughing yesterday until my cheeks hurt. Kind messages in Christmas cards. The beautiful turquoise beads in the mala Eric gave me. A vivid imagination. The view through my dirty office window onto the Rochdale canal and the looming mills of Ancoats. Friends who seem to love and accept me just the way I am. The best parents I could ask for. My cat who plays tig with the backs of my legs every time I walk up the stairs. A lovely inspiring house mate who makes a great cup of rooibos tea and makes me laugh when she says the word 'waltz'. My allotment. New pretty beads. Being taught a mantra to 'Eliminate all Darkness' and chanting this 108 times while the rain lashed the hut roof. SSRIs. James Vincent McMorrow. Florence. Bombay Bicycle Club. Foo Fighters. Regina Spektor. Six Feet Under. My doctor who gives me a lot of time and rough tissues. The ex-boyfriend who said how great it is to see how much I've grown as a person. Short stories. Mel's emails. Feeling scared but doing things anyway. A brilliant editor. Texts inviting me for drinks and cups of tea. Opportunities to learn about love. Opportunities to learn about loss. The courage to be myself even when I get hurt.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Miss September

I am Miss September in our allotment site's 2012 calendar. I am very proud of my nasturtiums and muddy knees. Ha.

The allotment has been amazing this year. I worked very bloody hard and had a glut of vegetables and fruit. My shed had a grateful renovation. As did my pond. In fact, I've been digging right up until last Saturday when the weather took a turn for the windy and wet. I've still been out anyway, and planted three trees into knee deep holes filled with horse muck. I was soaked and wet, but escaped the worst of the weather in the tea hut where Eric and me listened to classical music, drank tea and bemoaned the world. I then fastened my trees to stakes with strips of bicycle inner tube, and watched them sway in these crazy winds hoping they will survive this weather. Sunset apple. Victoria Plum. Conference Pear.

I've still got some winter veg to harvest, given the chance. Sprouts grown especially for my dad, leeks, beets and swedes. Still have a sack and a half of potatoes, onions, and pumpkins all stored in the kitchen. My horse muck is shovelled, wheel-barrowed and rotting nicely in a huge stinking pile at the back of my lot. I've dug in a lot of manure already, I've dug over most of the ground ready for winter, composted dead plants and cut back my currant bushes.

To be honest, the allotment is my escape, my therapy, my exercise, my peace and contentment, my joy. There is nowhere else I can run like a seven year old from one end of the site to the other with a carrier bag held up high in the air behind me like a balloon, or dance along the edge of my railway sleeper raised bed without a care whether anyone is watching me. It's the place where I hide, where I feel I belong and where I experience nothing but kindness. It doesn't matter if I fail, I just try again. It doesn't matter if I know nothing, nobody laughs or puts me down, we are all always learning.

I've been reading back through my allotment diary, through all the hard digging and ridiculous lists of vegetables I've planted and harvested. Just to prove I am hooked, here are three little snippets from earlier in the year:

'It feels more at home than being at home. At the lot, it's like I can breathe, and I hear the wood pigeons and the wind rustling the leaves, and whether it's basking heat or dull or windy or drizzling with rain, it always feel good to be out...'

'I love the pace, the focus, just me immersed in whatever I'm doing - sometimes I can't fix what's in my head, but most of the time the lot fixes everything and I feel bliss, wonder, awe, peace, I feel lucky to have these moments.'

'I harvested and dug and had a cup of tea, and dreamed a little while rain lashed onto the hut roof, just the sound of it, wow, with Eric's radio on classical and the kettle whistling. I needed it today, all this. I needed it so badly and I didn't realise how much. When I came home, I ran a bath and noticed in the mirror how I was smiling all over my face and how healthy I looked. It feels me with such an amazing sense of well-being,'

To be honest, it is such hard work, I have moments where all I want is to give up, but I push through because I can't imagine life without it.

I'm no good at relationships, I find intimacy hard and fall to pieces when someone says they no longer want me around. But I can take hardwood cuttings from a blackcurrant bush. And I manage my work stress badly, especially when I get no support. But I can dig two spits deep with a spade and turn the soil over until it crumbles. And I'm flawed in so many ways that it sometimes feels unbearable, but, somehow down there, noticing a red admiral butterfly at the end of November, or a ten spotted black ladybird on the inside of my shed door, or a robin eating the seeds from the sunflower heads I left on the ground rotting for him, everything clears. And it feels as if I can do whatever it is I need to do.

So when I saw my photo in our 2012 calendar, I remembered all of this, and wanted to write about it because in that moment, in this photograph, I was so wonderfully happy. And I wish that everyone could have something similar that makes them shiver and buzz and smile right down to their bones. This is life. No matter how tough it gets, I can cope if I can still have my time at the allotment.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

More to Say

Life is an interesting place.

One minute, I write a blog post about writing being the least important thing in my life. A few stresses and upsets later, and it feels as if writing is all I have left. I should have been more cautious about slagging it all off. Life has a habit of biting you on the arse when there's something you need to realise.

Here I am sheepishly and a little painfully admitting that I got a lot wrong. I still need to retreat from parts of the writing world for various reasons. But, as someone said to me recently, in the face of difficulties, 'write Clarkson, write write write.'

So, I am writing 'A Brief history of Wrestling', a conversational story about an amazing friend of mine who was a pro-wrestler in the seventies, taken directly from interviews with him about his wrestling days. I've written a strange story about friendship. And I have a story in the stew-pot that I'm waiting to write, exploring a difficult subject that follows me everywhere through life. I'd forgotten how much writing can focus me, drive me, comfort me, how sometimes it can be as essential as eating.

And this week I was interviewed by the Manchester Evening News, about my latest publication, a short story called Toby, which was published in Lemistry and launched this week in Manchester. The article explains the background to the book. It is a collection of short fiction and essays celebrating the life and work of Polish science-fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, published by Comma Press.

I've pasted the article here, but am not sure whether it's readable, so here's a link to the the interview online.

The launch went well, I think. Madlab in Manchester was packed with people, and the readings and discussion were widely diverse. Trevor Hoyle read part of his short story from the book. He's a lovely man, and I love his re-creation of an actual meeting with Phillip K Dick in his contribution to the book. Polish writer Wojciech Orlisnki, read a brief section of his story set in a Las Vegas style casino where people go on a virtual trip to nineteen eighties New York to try and win money. He gave us a very entertaining and illustrated guide to all things Lem, and although I would love to try and recapture a flavour of his discussion, I was a little nervous waiting to read so wasn't 100% concentrating. Sorry, Wojciech. This is what happens to me when I'm asked to read last. I sit at the back of the room, wondering whether my legs will take me to the front of the room when it's my turn to read. Thankfully they did, and I read an excerpt from my story about adoption, mixed relationships and damaged childhoods. We all answered questions at the end, and it was good, I think. I was able to kind of enjoy it in a strange nervous kind of way.

All in all, I feel reassured that I might possibly maybe have a small contribution to make to the writing world after all. And my plan (hopefully) is that instead of talking so much about writing on the internet, I will just write write write.