I remember

I met the buyers today. In two weeks (gods and solicitors permitting) they will live in my dad’s house.

The house will open to welcome them, their story will, for a time, become its story.

Life goes on.

I wanted to tell them the stories I remember, I wanted to show them everything that has happened here, to weave it for them, a glorious tapestry of life shared over forty years.

Stories vanish if they are not told, memories wither if we don’t walk them.

This is what I remember.

I remember visiting for the first time, and the Polls, who sold us the house in 1982, giving us tea. I remember the brick-cladding in the front room on either side of the fireplace and thinking how amazing it was to have a downstairs loo.

I remember the livid green and yellow flowers (bigger than my head) on my bedroom wall.

I remember riding our bikes around the cul-de-sac and playing with Nick, Joanna, Christopher, Richard and Paul in our back garden.

I remember creating adventures for the Star Wars and Action Force figures up beneath the cypress trees.

I remember the laburnam flowering; rich, golden, pendant bunches of blooms, and imagining they would taste like honeyed grapes (my mother warning me they were poisonous increased the fascination).

I remember my grandad digging in the garden in his shirt-sleeves.

I remember barbecues under the pergola and my dad’s potent home brewed cider which sent us all squiffy and led to an afternoon of laughter.

I remember the party I had when I was sixteen where one guest stole a bottle of sherry and another dropped brie in the pond, and that everyone left early and I felt awkward and out of step. I would find my people later.

I remember Meike from Germany who came to visit her Nana at number 8. We went to the beach together one afternoon and I met my first boyfriend (I was thirteen, it lasted a month). Later I heard he was in prison.

I remember Mrs Walters from number 14. She was very old and whiskery and often cross. She had lived in her house since it was built in 1933. I remember her telling me about the time during World War 2 when a Messerschmidt flew over and strafed the houses, how it hit our house, leaving bullet marks above the landing window. The bullets burst the water tank and the water had flooded down the stairs. The marks used to be clear, but time has blurred them.

I remember the plum tree at the end of the garden, and the joy of picking its sweet purple fruits, or rescuing windfalls before the wasps found them.

I remember dressing up with my school friend Jonathan, in wigs and heels and seventies jumpsuits, garlanded with beads. Later he becomes a drag queen and I remembered how glamourous we were.

I remember cycling to school each day, and puffing back up the hill on the homeward journey, and the day in the sixth form I was setting off and realised I was still wearing my slippers.

I remember the day, aged twenty, I married the boys’ dad. We had a marquee in the back garden, garlanded with ivy, and I wore a crown of flowers in my hair.

I remember sitting in the paddling pool eight months pregnant in August 1998 and trying to cool off, beached whale woman.

I remember Jonathan, setting off down the garden in his dungarees and red wellies, and vanishing for ages to talk to the bugs and plants, aged eighteen months.

I remember sitting on the swing seat with Mum on her fiftieth birthday and how happy she was.

I remember finding her on her knees scrubbing the paths clean of moss, and meticulous organisation in the tool shed and greenhouse, everything in its place.

I remember the first year I decided to grow veg and planted fifty brussel sprout seeds which all came up, I created a brussel sprout forest in the veg patch!

I remember sacred circles around the fire in the part of the garden that no-one else can see, gathering to share ritual, conversation, mead, magic.

I remember sitting on the bench with Mum in her final autumn. How she always felt the cold and we wrapped up in coats and blankets so that she looked like a mini-Michelin man. How the sun bathed us with fire and she was enraptured (all over again) by the “golden afternoon”, the garden her sanctuary and always happy place.

I remember taking coffee up to the patio in the middle garden each day in lockdown, sitting with Simon in the warmth of March, April and May and staring at the deep, blue of a trail-free sky.

I remember the one, brief moment when I dared to stand naked under a June full moon.

I remember the stories…the grass snake in the pond, the poorly cat who took refuge in the greenhouse, the kitten attempting to hop across lily pads, Midge chasing the fox up the garden.

Memory is a wonky mirror. When we return to the places we have known they are changed, as are we.

Yet for all that the stories abide, the tears of early heartbreaks, the magic of shared celebrations.

The house was our home, “home”because of those who shared it. Home travels with us as we wander onwards.

In quiet moments I can hear the whisper of new stories, waiting in the wings, potent with possibility and promise.

Old she is, and wise

Old she is and wise

White hair spiralling into a galaxy of stars.

Time was when she was young and lithe

Burning with the fire of a million suns

Exploding out from the darkness

All flame and burning passion.

She spun the moonlight from her silver hair

Kissed the earth into being

Moulded from mud and her spit

The creatures, trees, mountains.

Dug great pits for oceans and filled them

With tears of laughter

In the pure joy of creation.

Aeons passed.

She grew old in her watching, in her waiting,

Grew strong on the prayers of her

children, dolphin song, volcano shout,

The pure clear voice of the wolf by moonlight.

Her fingers stretch out to caress each one,

Her breath whispers in dreams,

Her footsteps in each heartbeat.

She gathers the lost children, the old ones dying,

She heals and wholes in the kindness of strangers,

The hope of a sunrise.

She waits in the ink-black darkness for us to awake,

And know her again.

I have been trying for an age to work out “who” I am speaking to now when I offer devotion. Christianity is pretty clear about its God and the pagan world (for a newbie) is a bright and magical place, a bazaar of deities, like entering a crowded party and trying to get acquainted with the whole room.

Six years later I know who my goddess is. I know, too, how she is and where I will find her. I know some of her names; Cerridwen, Hecate, Hel.

She is grandmother and moon priestess, witch and wise one, she hides in plain sight among the unwanted, in shadowy places. She dances in the clear light of a frost kissed morning. This poem is an attempt at a “creed”, for today at least.

Fiona x

Selling Up

I stop-start through Friday hometime,

nose to tail across town.

The car park is emptying at the store,

I grab bunches of flowers, a small potted plant.

Arriving, the sign is fixed to the gate post.

For Sale.

Reality check.

Inside a sense of order,

Best foot forward,

An elderly maiden aunt decked in finery

For a public occasion.

Scrubbed, tidied and weeded,

Decked with blooms,

She looks beautiful, hopeful.

I imagine those who will come to view,

wanting to show them everything

She means.

How she was when we came here,

How she has grown, expanded,

Through thirty-nine summers.

The memories, birthdays, weddings;

Funerals.

The Christmases and celebrations.

Seeing them again, superimposed,

Layered, ghosts of memory.

We cannot keep her,

She is too big, and empty now,

leaving us heartsore, her keeper gone.

A family home needs a family,

And we are grown and flown.

Flowers and instructions left

I reverse from the drive.

Heading homewards

The sun melts its glorious golden death

In the rearview mirror.

What I have learned about grief (so far)

I thought it would be noisy.

In the preceding years I feared it, the maelstrom malevolence, jaws awaiting me, to swallow up identity and reason. I watched it approaching, week by week as my mother’s health waned. The diagnosis gave us the end point, though not a timescale.

After two months living in the front room beside her hospital bed and going through the gut-wrenching vigil of watching her make her final journey the initial forty-eight hours after her death were heady. There was a sense of great sadness but also so much relief, she was, after all, free of the pain and challenges which had been limiting her for years. I imagined her smiling, on a sunlit beach in foreign lands in the sixties, like those in her photographs of pre-marriage travels, waving to us with glee, mischievous, fun-filled grin in place.

There is much to do after a death, organising is a great refuge from the chasm of loss.

I am rational, like Elinor Dashwood my default it to “think”, to reason around life’s challenges, to grab a book or Wiki page and learn. In the beginning I reasoned that to keep active was a good way to start. I also reckoned that to deal with the milestones in the journey of being “without” her would also be helpful way to manage the sense of loss. We took charge of planning and leading the funeral, sending out death certificates, notifying authorities, I am a natural administrator so this is a comfortable place for me.

Weeks passed, things took much longer than seemed “normal” in lockdown and it was four months before we were finally able to bury Mum’s ashes. We stood together in the garden of rest, parakeets chirping and wing-whirring among the yews, and I was washed by a wave of emotion, until this point I had cried very little. I am not great at crying, I do not enjoy or allow myself strong emotion readily and fear that should I let it in it will wash me away entirely. People used to talk about children this way when I was younger “give them an inch, and they’ll take a mile”, I am the same with emotion. You shall not pass.

I had begun writing a book I had been planning. I work well with deadlines and the busy-ness of the project (and associated terror of the creative, fearing censure, or success) filled me up. In the aftermath of the publication I began to unravel.

Nothing “felt” right. I was uncomfortable, emotionally dissonant. We had lived with my parents throughout the final three years of Mum’s life and in a bizarre accident of timing – and over three months later than expected – completed on our flat in the week of her death. We moved house, became “empty nesters” and lost my Mother within, in the end, a space of forty-eight hours. The structures which had kept my identity throughout my life, the roles which defined me – daughter, mother, carer – vanished.

I retreated into my head, it is my safe space. I could not allow myself to feel because there was too much.

I began to unpick creations, long worked-at and hoped for, I made changes to the things I could control. I came up with plans one day and took them apart the next. Physical symptoms began to emerge, chronic pain, blood pressure issues, as though my body was working out my emotions when my mind and emotions wouldn’t. I observed, as though an interested observer, that my diagnosis of insanely high blood pressure, showed that my heart was not happy. No shit Sherlock.

Yet still no storm, no tirade, no Ophelia wanderings in the local park, scaring off the school kids and causing ructions on Nextdoor.

Summer passed in a blur of unseasonal dampness and grey days. I had blogged about life and musings throughout Mum’s final five years, but this experience took me into silence. I could not explain it and each time I tried to fit it to words it was as though mental shutters came down, officious and grumpy. I was on one side of a glass wall, the world wandering by, lion in the zoo, watching dull-eyed.

I felt trapped. I knew other people experienced grief. I knew many had faced loss, more so during life in the time of Covid. I tried to tell myself that these experiences were “normal”. They didn’t feel normal, what seemed most strange was the lack of feeling. Surely there should be something? I was moderately depressed, disinterested, but the expected drama failed to materialise. After eight months it felt too late to Mrs Bennett my way into my bed and stay there demanding smelling salts. Life inched forwards.

In the end I arrived in the reality of my sadness in a counselling session. I hadn’t been able to admit that I missed her. It seemed selfish, and pointless, to do so, when it was much better for her to be free from the pain and challenge which had marked her final years. I had felt that to say I missed her was in some way to wish her back, to hold her responsible, somehow, for leaving us. I went to church for the first time in five years and cried into my mask, unable to sing the words of familiar hymns because they reminded me of Sunday evenings in our childhood home eating home-baked scones and watching Songs of Praise.

I do miss her. But the missing will not change the fact that she has gone.

Death is the strangest thing.

What I have learned about grief is that you can read articles, listen to talks, engage with therapy, exercise, act practically, eat sensibly, try to sleep and it will still happen, keeping you company like a too-chatty stranger on a train.

It took me much of a year to realise that this is not an experience I will ever “get over”. Maybe I will learn to live with it. Maybe life will begin to coalesce into new patterns and pathways. Death is not a stone in the water; one disturbance, ripples and then stillness, as if it had never been.

We are unmade by it. Entirely. And in their leaving our loved ones gift us a final gift. A new life. Stumbling in an unfamiliar world, all the stranger for its external sameness we walk slowly, feeling our way forward, dazed and dazzled by the bustle and normalcy.

There is no going back.

I come to the church door

I have been wandering in the wild, green, woods.

I come to the church door, my hair tangled, threaded with bindweed and bramble. My hands earth-grimed. Pockets stuffed with acorns, berries, a small, nesting bird.

I am become a witness for the wild earth’s beauty, a listener of dawn breezes and owl music.

Lifting the latch silence swallows me. Ancient stones enclosing mystery.

I approach slowly, feet cooled and soothed on time-worn floors.

He stretches his arms wide to welcome, eager to see what I have discovered.

Taking the bird in its cocoon of grasses he places it high on a ledge, by an open stained-glass window.

I can see now the flowers which climb spirals upwards on stone columns, the diamond stars winking through roof timbers.

I am come again to this place and know it “for the first time.”

Standing between the worlds.

Faery Wilding

We have a wilding project taking place in woodland near our home. Bison, iron age pigs and Exmoor ponies will be moving in to help with forest management.

It led me to a flight of fancy (or fantasy) thinking about what the faery folk might need to help rejuvenate their numbers, to bring magic back into the wild spaces of Britain.

I imagined wide, wildflower margins at the side of crop fields, ostensibly left there for bees and butterflies, but much loved by the little folk. I imagined grandmother fae telling stories to the young ones about a time when there were no mechanical harvesters and they had the freedom of the fields in all seasons. Horror stories of pesticides and their effects on long, lost loved ones.

I began to imagine what I might do if I believed there were fae folk in the scrap of woodland behind my house, how I would go to collect the litter more often, or leave gifts for them by the sweet chesnut trees. I began to imagine what I could do when I am out and about in my town to help them out, picking up rubbish, dropping a few seeds here and there for birds.

I realised that much of what I would do would help the bees, butterflies and others creatures too.

I have been taught that the fae are wild things, to be treated with respect and reverence. I imagine that they have a fierce loyalty to the land and to all green and growing things. That they ride on the backs of dragonflies or finches. That when housing estates crawl, an ugly welt of scaffolding poles and concrete, over the green spaces they are enraged.

What would a faery wilding project look like where you are? What could you do in your window boxes, garden, in your street or city park to help them? What could you do in the home?

When I start to look with these eyes of imagination I see a different world, it is more hopeful, there is less red tape, and more magic. It lightens my heart and reminds me of the magic of intention and purpose. If there are small, green eyes watching me now as I type from the chesnut branches outside the window I know I would want to help their world. Which is also mine.

They are older than us, and they have longer memories. They know that now it is already late, although not yet too late.

I will begin. And begin again.

A witch in the world

Back when I was a Church of England lay minister I spent a lot of time pondering how to serve God in my daily life. I was in church perhaps one or two hours a week at most. The rest of the time I was a boots on the ground Christian. How could I live by Christ’s example in every moment of my life. I studied, prayed, adopted spiritual practices, gave to do good works, watched my language, sought to be kind and generous.

I figured that if I said I believed in Jesus and what he had to teach then my life ought, at least in some measure, be a witness to that.

Fast forward to some seven years later and I follow a different spiritual path. As a druid, witch and priestess my focus of spiritual practice is different but my question is the same, how do I embody my spiritual path.

I am interested in the path of everyday magic.

Each moment of life is sacred, a gift, I want to honour that and treat daily tasks, washing dishes, cooking a meal, as ways to express my magical practice. When I cook I want to stir in intentions for nourishment and companionship, for wellbeing for those who will eat. When I clean (when I clean!) I want to use this as a way to shift and lighten the energy in my home. There are moments when I can indulge myself with a full cleansing ritual but in the middle of life these can be the exception rather than the rule.

It is harder when it comes to my day job, how can I bring magic into the office environment and business. Perhaps in how I interact with others, in the values I bring to my work, the Reiki principle to “work diligently”? Perhaps in remembering that whatever I put out into the universe may return to me threefold so to keep that snappy response under wraps and breathe?

I am no saint for sure. I get jealous, frustrated, fall into comparison, or wishful thinking…but I want to be a “full time” witch and for me it isn’t an option to run away to a cottage in the dark woods. In my modern mid-life world it means making magic in the everyday, right here and now, with what is to hand.

Witches, so I’m told, do what needs to be done, with what they have, where they are. A smile. A cup of tea and a listening ear. Picking up litter in the street. A card pulled while the kettle boils in the morning…

This is what it is to be a witch in the world.

How do you make sure you write everyday?

Thanks to my friend Susan for this question.

Which, as with many things, got me thinking.

The short answer is, I don’t.

I know that daily practice helps many people in their creative life. For me “making myself” do almost anything is a quick way to kill it. It is in my mindset to turn most things into a stick to beat myself with so I chose a while ago not to do this with my passions.

That said creating a structure which holds me accountable has been helpful.

For me, at present, this is mostly through social media. I am restructuring some accounts at present to encompass this further. With Tea Break Tarot School it was a Facebook group. I set out to write a free tarot school blog, I set up a group for anyone who wanted to join in. The group then became a way of being accountable for finishing the work.

With current creative projects it is my Patreon supporters who are my accountability buddies. They might not know this is their role but by sharing that I will do or complete something with others I then see it through.

I believe there are as many ways to be creative and exercise our creativity as there are human beings alive on the planet. For me creativity is an ebb and flow. During a busy few years caring for a family member, with limited time or physical space, I found creativity was crammed into the 6 a.m. half hour before anyone else was awake, or the 3 a.m. slot when I wasn’t sleeping. Now, adjusting to a return to the virtual office, creativity is often something I engage with after the evening meal. I need to make time for other practices too to ensure this is possible. My physical health means that long hours at a desk are not an option, and my day job is desk based, so it may be that some days I cannot spend time writing because my body won’t permit it. In this case a walk, some stretching, are as crucial as words on the page.

Creativity is a wholistic practice, it encompasses all of who I am and how I am.

On a day when I haven’t had sleep then I’m unlikely to be effective, but staring at the squirrels in the trees outside or buying a bunch of flowers, can feed my imagination and nurture my soul, providing fertilizer for the top soil in which creative seeds can sprout and thrive.

I am not a fan of rigid structures. I find that life shifts, alters, reshapes itself regularly. This requires my practice to evolve as I do. A flexible container works for me, guidelines, or suggestions, gentle prompts.

If I was going to offer any of these they would be:

  • listen to your life
  • tend to your wellbeing – body, mind and spirit
  • create micro spaces for creative play
  • feed your imagination
  • daydream
  • find accountabiilty buddies (friendly ones!)
  • do what brings you joy

This, for today, then, is how my practice is; purposeful, playful, full of potential.

Tomorrow it may be different; for me this is the way.

How To Be a Writer

Begin with lines drawn in the sand, chalk squiggles on the garage wall, pictures drawn on steamed up windows.

Then your name, traced across your mother’s dots in crayon.

Write stories in your creative writing lesson, with a drawing of a princess with impossibly long yellow hair and a face splitting grin.

Write birthday cards and thank you letters.

Write jokes and quotes and I love A-Ha on your secondary school rough book.

Begin to read Douglas Adams and Arthur C.Clarke.

Fall in love with TV adaptation of Anne of Green Gables and Little Women and dream of your own dusty garret.

Study literature, fall in love, get married (far too young).

Live in a one-bed flat above a drug dealer.

Have two babies.

Move county, and then back to your homelands.

Write sermons, learn how to tell stories.

Teach adult literacy, year one phonics, poetry, Shakespeare, Steinbeck, Morpurgo.

Read for your life.

Imagine worlds, places and people.

Get lost in music.

Get sick, then better.

Get divorced.

Go to Germany on your own and walk through vineyard valleys with strangers.

Fall in love again, get married again, sharing cake and blowing bubbles by an ancient yew tree.

Midwife your mother to, and through, her death.

Wake up everyday with wonder at the incredible beauty, pain, brevity and sumptuousness of life.

Pick up a pen.

Sit down at a keyboard.

Begin.

The eighteenth day

I wasn’t prepared for the visceral nature of grief.

Holding space as she travelled through her final weeks was a physical task, watching, tending, adjusting, deciding; always on hand, waiting and waiting and waiting.

And then, to begin with, I was light, knowing she was free. At moments almost giddy, I could feel her sailing away full of joy that her prison was broken and she could fly again.

The Christmas holidays drew to a close, the calendar creaking back to the mundane Monday Friday.

It will be good, I thought, to get back to work; something to provide a distraction. Not avoiding, but giving shape, focus, purpose to the days, which are, now, surprisingly empty.

I sit at the desk and read an email. Then again. And again. My eyes slide over the words, they will not “catch”, connecting with meaning, context. They are tired and prefer to stare out at the winter’s day, lemon light bathing the houses opposite.

I am slow. Clumsy. “Wading through treacle”. I forget things I know, my brain operating at dial-up speeds, clicking and whirring to little effect.

On the phone speaking to colleagues I sound like myself, but inside a restless toddler impatient, tetchy, longing to be elsewhere.

The body hurts, skin taut and unsettled, longing for another time.

Now breathe.

Once more.

Stretch.

Lie on the floor until the world stops spinning.

Move slowly, intentionally.

Allow it to sit with you, to anchor you, in the new world.

This too shall pass.

[Image by Mandy Fontana from Pixabay]