Wednesday, 29 July 2009


I feel terribly ropey, and it is worrying me slightly.

When I got up this morning I ached all over. It was completely out of the blue - I felt fine yesterday, I was fine all weekend, even with getting both sunburnt and soaked to the skin, and sleeping in a field for three nights.

I've now reached lunchtime and I have to face the fact that there's something wrong with me. I have the energy levels of a ninety-year-old. All my joints hurt and my head is throbbing as if I have a fine old hangover (I haven't). I just want to lie down and be left alone. But Roxana is off on annual leave for the rest of the week, and now I am thinking I may be off too and that will mean no-one on the Visitor Info line for two days. Not good. Damn it; but this is another of the things that happens when two people try to do three people's workload.

I'm eating as I write - a toasted bagel with a bit of Wensleydale cheese. It tastes like dusty all-bran with sour milk. Yuk. I have some Morrocan mint tea but that doesn't taste quite right either. If I have this blinking swine 'flu I will be really cross; but I have to admit that that is what this feels most like - the beginnings of 'flu. Blast and b*gger it...

I will not get in a panic; I am a healthy adult with a normally-good immune system. I came through one of the famous "terrible 'flus" of the last forty years - that dreadful Christmas in Tankerton when we were all ill, and none of the presents were opened until the 28th. I will not run down the hallway wailing that I've got Mexican Swine 'flu and I'm going to die, woe's me, woe's me... Doubt very much if I could muster the energy to, anyway.

I will soldier on to the end of the day if I can, and then see how I feel tomorrow. But if I vanish from here for a while, that's why. I am not usually a hypochondriac, or a malingerer, I'm glad to say. I don't want to be off work this week; it will really screw things up for everyone else in the department. But I do feel increasingly dire as the day progresses.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

My pitch for GY, online...

Please have a look at this website if you have a minute
as my draft "pitch letter", a synopsis (minus the very end as I have what I think of in my vanity as plot twists to keep schtum about), and the opening pages of "Gabriel Yeats" are there. Feel free to comment; I want feedback or I wouldn't have done this. I'm really pleased to start with that the site moderator thought it good enough to post at all.

Back in London now after a wonderful break at WOMAD at Charlton Park. For the last few days I have been in another place altogether, a strange alternative world in which I live in the magical realm of Albion, not the UK, and all the world is bound together not by capitalism, tv and twitter but by ties of friendship and the joy of sharing our wonderful variety of cultures... I have been hearing fantastic music, getting rained on, dancing my feet off, eating good and immensely varied food, and sleeping like a log in my little old Eurohike 225 (which oddly seemed to stand up to bad weather a lot better than the larger swankier tents pitched all around it).

There's another shorter WOMAD at the Tower of London in September; already trying to work out if I can make it to that as well.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Off to dance in a field!

I'm off to WOMAD, via my brother Stephen's place in Bath, and will be dancing in a field all weekend (possibly in rubber boots - I'm taking a pair just in case, but I hope they won't be needed). Back at a computer on Tuesday 28th. Have a wonderful weekend, all!

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

A bad dream can mess up your day...

I had a very odd dream last night, one that has left me vaguely shaken-up and ill-at-ease all day. I dreamed I had to go to a meeting with all of the team from the first floor office I work in, plus one other person who works at Kew, with whom I used to share a flat and who was at the time a very good friend - up until about two years ago when we had a huge bust-up, as a result of which he has cut me dead ever since. In the dream, I was dreading having to spend a couple of hours in his company but was trusting that we’d be civil to one another and hoping we’d be able to sit far enough apart not to have a problem. Incidentally, if we were to have to go to a meeting together, this is exactly how I would feel.

However, when I arrived at the meeting room it was to find everyone else had turned up early, including my former flat-mate, and I was the last to get there. I tried to slip in quietly but he crept round behind me and suddenly grabbed me from the back, catching me round the waist with his left hand and very firmly by the elbow with his right, and to my disbelief having thus trapped me he then leaned over my shoulder from behind and kissed me on the cheek as one might a good friend. He said – to me, but loudly enough that everyone else would hear too – “It’s okay, I’ve explained to them about everything.” I thought, what the heck has he been saying? One of my closest colleagues then said to me cheerfully “So, Imogen, are you going to apologise?” - and I woke up shaking with shock and anger.

Dreams are the brain trying to sort things out, shake them up and look at them from a different angle, right? They don’t mean directly what they show, right? I certainly hope not, in this particular case. I made very full amends, nearly two years ago, for the relatively minor fault that ended this friendship. The idea that I could be considered still to owe anyone an apology for anything about this made me so angry that I woke up outright. But in that case, always assuming I am not merely being horrendously self-deluding about the whole topic (which is always possible), what the heck was this dream telling me?

Imagine that someone you once loved and trusted appears to have told a group of people you work closely with and see every day a version of past events that makes you out to be a Bad Guy. You have always seen yourself as essentially more sinned-against than sinner with regard to this particular issue, and you believe you did everything you could to make amends. You have always felt your conscience was clear. Being confronted by a group of familiar people all convinced of the opposite is both painful and angering, and leaves you feeling helpless and manipulated.

If someone told me this dream as one they had had, and filled me in on the background, I’d suggest they tried to move laterally from the central image. I think I need to remember that – the central image is, to coin a phrase, doing my head in. Perhaps something has left me feeling vulnerable, feeling that I am about to be wrong-footed, and, too, feeling guilty when I know I’ve done nothing to merit it. I know what it’s like to feel guilty when I have merited it (= ghastly), so I know the difference. And the fact I was grabbed from behind could be significant. It’s hard to think of a more unpleasant way for someone to catch hold of you. The unanticipated kiss was upsetting, too; a friendly buss on the cheek, something one would normally welcome, something I once would have been happy to receive from this person, transformed into something that made me feel bad about myself and completely unsure of what was going on.

Yes, yes, this blogger-therapy thing is working! Of course, the dream is so obvious once I think about it; it’s all about vulnerability and feeling vulnerable. The only problem is, why?

Bizarre things, brains. Can’t live with them, can’t live without.

On which idiotic platitudinous note I’ll go home and pack for WOMAD.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Going like a bush fire...

Last night I got home and sat straight down to writing again. Typed all evening. Ate hastily reheated remains of previous night's supper. Typed on until I was pie-eyed again. It was wonderful. It was going like a blaze. How am I going to cope without my laptop for four days this weekend? I shall have to take a notebook (paper kind, of course!) to WOMAD so that I can carry on regardless. Nothing I know, nothing at all, is like the buzz of working when the work is flowing. I am never more in the moment than then, because it is simply the best place in my life to be.

Listened to music while I worked; two albums of Bulgarian choral music and then a brilliant recording by Cathal Hayden, of Irish traditional fiddle and banjo music. He plays a slow air called "A Stór mo Chroi" which is hauntingly beautiful and has been on my brain ever since. I don't know any Erse speakers, so don't know what that means, but it is a melody to gaze out at the sea to and dream of dark eyes looking into your own... I did have an Irish woman next to me briefly on my way into work this morning, stuck at traffic lights while idiot drivers went through the red light in front of us. She was muttering under her breath "Straight through the red light! Straight through the red light! Jesus God!" in a lovely Ulster accent as we watched and waited. Not enough time to ask if she spoke Irish Gaelic, though, before finally the idiots let those who actually had the right of way have the use of the road, and she sailed off on her bike and went the opposite way to me.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Thought for the day...

A little nugget of wisdom, from a slightly unexpected source:

" amount of success or exposure, or opportunity is going to really matter or be ultimately fulfilling unless you can be totally present in what you're doing right now."

- Zachary Quinto (The hot hot hot new Mr Spock).

I've just found he has a website. He seems like a good bloke, as well as being hot hot hot.

Thought for the day (no. 2), occurring to me on considering Zachary Quinto (Hmm -"For I shall consider my cat Zachary Quinto/ For he is the servant of the living god, duly and daily serving him/ For he is hot hot hot..." - apologies to Christopher Smart and anyone else concerned or offended by that but I couldn't resist it. Note to self; actually, "Zachary Quinto" would be a great name for a cat...).

Sorry, I'll begin again. Thought for the day (no. 2): Whatever can it be like, to be so attractive that it is the first, and sometimes even the only, thing people notice about you? I am not sure I could stand it (so it's a good thing I don't need to try). But however does Mr Quinto manage to go down to the corner shop (or U.S. equivalent) to buy a loaf or a pint of milk without getting hassled every step of the way? Imagine having to wear dark glasses and walk with a stoop whenever you went out. One would need to be a capable actor to carry it off. (Fortunately for Mr Quinto, he is).

Anyway, it amused me to see someone out of the blue saying just exactly that; be in the moment, not pinning all your thoughts on what might be, or on what may have been, or what is no more, or maybe never was. Be present in what you're doing right now. He even has the guts to lay it right on the line, and say "Nothing else is going to matter if you don't do this", which a lot of pink, fluffy, lovey types who preach "be present in the moment" don't have the nerve to do. But it's true; live only in your head, not in the world, and ultimately you aren't really alive. Be embodied, be alive here and now, and deeply committed and involved and related-to what you are doing; because this life is all we have, and whatever follows after, we will not have this life again. (Apologies to Rose McCauley as well, since I've just realised I'm quoting "The Towers of Trebizond" there).

I've begun re-reading "She who changes" by Carol Christ, a marvellous book about feminism and process philosophy, so I'm feeling deep. And I had a good afternoon yesterday, moving a writing project on a good bit. I was typing and typing all afternoon until I was so tired I typed the immortal phrase "I am not string enough to do this" and knew I had to go and get some tea and chill out for a bit. It is so easy to get so intensely into what you are doing right now, if it is flowing and going well; but not being string enough is a less-than-desirable state of affairs for one's protagonist to find herself in, and sometimes you have to stop and let the flesh rest even if the spirit is willing to go on till silly-o'clock...

Friday, 17 July 2009

Your comedy note for today

Three gift ticket sales, in rapid succession, in the names of Snook, Dreck and Sanders. They sound like a firm of dodgy lawyers in Dickens...

Good news, "good news" and bad journalism

At work, we get a media review each morning, showing where Kew has had press coverage lately, and also covering other things that might be of interest, or of use to us to know about. Sometimes one can get distracted by it; it's a quiet Friday and I've strayed into the website of the Grauniad. And so I have some good "news" (or rather, an inspiring opinion piece);

And then there's someone having an interesting struggle with some other "good news";

Pity their coverage of the Royal Ballet's visit to Havana is so embarrassing. Cuba isn't a perfect society by any means (nowhere else is either, in case you haven't noticed); but it isn't Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, either. The phrase "...since Castro's guerillas seized power" really got up my nose. I expect something a little more considered from what purports still to be a respectable and reputable left-of-centre newspaper. That whole "Aargh, they're Commies!" riff is so dated, man! Seriously, though, I just don't think it's very good journalism to trot out a snappy but inaccurate description that doesn't say anything - except that the writer isn't knowledgeable enough about twentieth century history to differentiate between different types of socialism.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Different opinions, or why I'd rather sometimes hear the other side.

I've been asked again - no, rather, almost reprimanded, this time - why on earth I have a link to Orson Scott Card's website here. I repressed the urge to say "I'm a grown up and I can do what I like on my blog!!" and reminded my interlocutor that OSC is one of my favourite SF authors and I regard "Ender's Game" and "Speaker for the Dead" as two of the greatest science fiction novels ever written - up there with "The Player of Games", "Body of Glass", "The Man in the High Castle", "The Dispossessed" and "The Left Hand of Darkness"...

But I also like to hear an intelligent arguament that is counter to the normal views of my regular good-lefty tribe. It's good for the brain to engage with different viewpoints, for goodness' sakes! It's also frequently illuminating or startling, sometimes humbling; always interesting. It's a valuable exercise which in my book any self-respecting intelligent adult needs. All question of emotion aside, this is one of the more rational reasons why I miss my father; we didn't agree - about a lot of things - but I could have a real discussion with him rather than being either shouted at or stifled under someone's disapproval. We do tend, once out of the battleground of childhood, to gather with relief into little clumps of like-minded individuals, but it can be self-defeating never to hear anything but ideas you agree with.

And I say this, incidentally, as someone who absolutely loathes conflict. I had enough of it in the first seven years of my life to last me the rest of my life.

So anyway, I was still feeling a little grumbly inside when I happened to find this article, on OSC's website, in which he articulates what I am now trying to say, far better than I ever could. I still don't know how to post a link, so this is something you'll have to cut and paste into the address bar in order to read it:

I'd recommend scrolling about halfway down and starting at the point where he reviews a novel by John Mortimer, unless you are quite certain you can control your knee-jerk good-lefty reflexes. But please, do read this article, or at least the last third of it. And then stop preaching at me about how I'm betraying my values, my family, my friends, my country and my intellect by trying to be marginally less tribal than you, and remembering that every side of the issue is worth hearing, provided they aren't trying to force their views on me.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Wonderful weekend walk in orchards

To anyone who lives in the south-east of Britain, or in London, take note; visit the National Fruit Collections at Brogdale Farm (just south of Faversham in Kent). What a magical place! As one enters, it looks a little unpromising - "a bit pop", to quote the older friend I was with on Saturday. There's a market area, a fudge stall and a café, and if you look for it (quite hard) there's a very good plant sales area. But push on through all that and go for a walk through the orchards, because that's where the magic is. Rank upon rank of fruit trees, cherry, apple and plum, literally hundreds of varieties of each; Kentish cobnuts and hazels; finally a huge field of currants, with red and black berries gleaming like beads of coloured glass among the foliage. It's the height of the cherry season and the cherry orchards were a joy to behold, shadowy and quiet, and jewelled in the shadows. The air smelled of ripe cherries.

In the plum sections the trees had all been grown on dwarfing rootstocks, so that the young plums were as if on display, held out before us; small and violet-blue-blushed, slightly furry, still hard and undersized but ripening and waxing like hundreds of small moons.

I know the official purpose of Brogdale is as a repository for genetic diversity of agriculturally useful fruit species. But the atmosphere is startling; it is like walking through a vast open-air shrine to the blessedness of Earth's fertility. Walking through the trees evoked an atavistic power, a sense of potency and of unabashed and endless growth and renewal; and of our eternal debt to, and reliance upon, Mother Nature. I wanted to write a poem about the trees and their fruit and the fact there is always fruit, every year, as the wheel of the year turns now towards autumn; about nature eternally supporting us though we do nothing but attack and undermine her, and the Earth, Our Mother.

But when I thought about it I realised that the great Orcadian poet Edwin Muir said what I wanted to say, better than I ever could, though he was not writing about trees; check this out

Friday, 10 July 2009


It’s an odd day, sunny yet chilly. I would say it has the feel of the first day of autumn, daft though that sounds in early July, yet that is the sense-memory that this combination of light and temperature evokes in me. It carries me back to Cornish holidays in childhood; it always felt slightly autumnal there, even in high summer there was that yellow intensity to the sun and that sharp odour in the air, and the heavy, heavy dewfall each night. I used to love being woken by the shipping forecast, and my father’s bubbling childlike excitement if it became clear that this was a day when we could take the boat out. Now in this autumnal Kernow light I’m haunted; I sit in the office and I keep expecting to catch a whiff of the rank small of wet bracken coming in through an open cottage window.

It is extraordinary to think how long ago that was. Dad rented a boat called “Demelza” from a little firm in Falmouth, a fifteen-foot skiff with brick-red sails. Every day the weather was decent we would drive the short but blissful ten miles or so of twisting lanes and sudden stunning views, from Tregolls, outside Stithians where my grand-stepmother lived, to Falmouth, and set off to sail around Carrick Roads, and up and down the myriad creeks that run down into the Fal estuary. I loved these sailing days – I’m lucky enough to be a good sailor, unlike my elder brother who was violently ill every time – and they remain some of my happiest childhood memories, and some of my happiest memories of my father. Dad was a difficult man in some ways, but he was at his very best in a boat.

I want to go back, whenever I think of it.

If now were then, I’d be getting excited by this point in the month, knowing that as soon as term ended I would be off on the first of my two summer holidays (there aren’t many other perks to having divorced parents both of whom are broke, btw), and the only extended period of time I got to spend with my dad each year. I loved Jane’s mum, Betty, and her wonderful granite cottage on a hillside above a dairy farm, with the outhouse converted into a sculpture studio, the big Rayburn stove, the vise attached permanently to the kitchen table, the proper open fire and the bookcases tucked into every corner; and the garden full of tangled attar roses, leggy marigolds, harts-tongue ferns, redcurrant bushes and rows of lettuces and beetroots. The view from the window of the room I slept in was a vast panorama of moorland and farmland, with grazing cattle, ripening wheatfields, and the roofs of the village in the distance. I remember it always with huge summer clouds like îles flottantes drifting by overhead, drawing their shadows after them. Even though we only ever spent the day on land if it was either raining hard or very wild and windy, we visited castles and stately homes and magnificent gardens, and wonderful prehistoric monuments like Chûn Quoit, Mên an Tol, and the Merry Maidens. I revelled in the atmosphere and the sense of the earth’s heartbeat so close under the soil, so intense in Cornwall. I want to go back, whenever I think of it…

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Okay, so the weather broke. I suppose I ought now to be apologising for the loss of the sun and the heat, or at least lamenting it and my folly in having complained; but in fact I am in raptures. I can once again think straight. My feet have returned to their normal size. My appetite has come back. And I don’t need to spend forty minutes every evening, the moment I get in, hauling watering-canfuls into the garden to save all my young plants from collapse. The garden only measures something like fifteen feet by twenty-five, but each can only waters an area of about two square yards, and because I know one should water plants thoroughly, not lightly, to avoid encouraging surface roots, I have been wearing myself out with haulage duties daily.

The plants have responded with enthusiasm to being baked to wilting point and then watered heavily each day. My first trusses of tomatoes (Tigerella, Sweet Millions and Red Robin) have set; the first runner beans have set; I am already eating home-grown chard and spinach beet in salads, and I have wonderful fairy pink godetias, egg-yolk yellow French marigolds, and vermillion dahlias, all flowering their socks off, and buds on the pot marigolds and Shirley poppies.

Tonight is the first of the annual Summer Swing at Kew concert series; and it is chucking down rain as if the second Noah were due to arrive any day now. I happen to know that the concert will go ahead whatever happens; nothing short of a lightning strike on the stage would lead us to cancel one of our main money-makers for the year. But anxious people ring the Information Office and say “It’s raining!...” I can’t reply “Yes, dopey, it happens, get over it!” much though I would like to at times. I have to politely and patiently explain that unfortunately the weather is not under Kew’s control and this is an outdoor event and was publicised as such from the start, so please bring appropriate clothing and footgear, and a good dose of the Blitz Spirit to boot.

I suppose I had an old-fashioned, even rather Spartan upbringing; I find their wailing a bit sad. Have they never seen rain before? It doesn’t hurt, you know. It’s just water. When-I-was-a-lass-we-just-got-on-with-it, etc etc.

I genuinely don’t mind getting wet much, since as I know I’ll get home at some point and get dry again. I also don’t mind going hungry for a time, since I know I’ll always be able to get something to eat later. I don’t mind walking to the shops and carrying my shopping back, nor waiting for buses or trains, nor eating a plain supper without desert; nor waxing my own legs, amusing myself rather than requiring permanent entertainment on tap, going to see my mum in Kent for the weekend instead of going to Barcelona… It’s odd; I’m clearly a nineteen-forties person, trapped outside my true time period. I find life interesting and stimulating anyway, without all the frills, and I don’t consider that being mollycoddled is a basic need, much less a human right. Heavens, some folks are as mard as cats!

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Too darn hot...

The 'fridge at work is on the blink; between last night and this morning, my half-eaten tub of hummous went off, developing a strange new taste and an oddly unpleasant pétillant quality. I was left to make a lunch of toast and black olives. Luckily in this heat my normally very healthy appetite fails and falters, or I would have felt slightly hard-done-by.

Going home to sweat in a different building from this one...

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Still sticky

...and not getting any better. Another boiling hot day, with a sky like enamel. Traffic roars past over the Green.

It's odd to look at Miss R's pictures of her garden in Oz and see camellias and Daphne bholua in flower, and oranges fruiting; to think of having cool air with an edge of real chill surrounding one in the morning as one steps out of the back door to check on the last of the runner beans; to think of early winter, from the perspective of what Dennis Lee called "the swelter of July".

Ookpik, Ookpik, dance with us
'Till our lives grow luminous.
Feed the headlong green, in case
We do not give it living space.
In the swelter of July
Ookpik soften earth and sky.
Ookpik, Ookpik, by your grace
Help us live in our own space.

- Dennis Lee, from "Nicholas Knock and Other People", 1974.

I adored "Nicholas Knock and other people" and must have memorised getting on for half the poems in the book. I was ten, and feeding my mind was like feeding an insatiable whale - slurp, in goes another ten tons of cultural krill, whoosh, out goes the empty briny, what's next? By the time I was fourteen I had even set the title poem to music, although as I can't actually write music it remains stuck in my head, imprisoned.

I have decided to take this idea of "do something creative every day" to heart - it has worked for me before, I hope it will work again, and even if it doesn't it will still be fun. Last night I did some writing, challenging myself in the process as I was trying to describe a hard frost, on one of the hottest nights of the year so far. Tonight I am having supper with my brother, so by the time I've seen him onto the tube and got home and watered the garden I'll have to find something fairly short and sweet, like putting up some different postcards; or there's always sewing, after all. There's always sewing.

I had a weird dream; in the dream world I had aided and abetted the murder of a former housemate, and had helped to hide both the body and the vehicle in which it had been moved. His remains had never been found, and I had never been able to forget this terrible, terrible thing I had done. I don't mean that I find that surprising - I have no doubt that I would be tortured by my conscience every living minute, in such circumstances as these. But it was a dream, thank all the gods, so it was the product of my brain processing something and putting it into a new form in order to assess and assimilate it.

So I have been trying this morning to connect this with anything - anything at all - in my waking "real world" life, that might explain why I should dream of such things. I've drawn a blank, and I just end up saying "It must be the heat, the heat is getting to my brain." The heat is getting to my brain, and my limbs, and my feet (swelling) and my temper(also swelling) and my heart (aching). It's all the heat, all the heat's fault.

On the which note, let's end with a little weird humour; I just googled "Dennis Lee" and found that as well as the Canadian poet I memorised as a child there is also a chap of the same name who is trying to sell free energy machines; he sounds like the engineering equivalent of Bernard Madoff... It's a mad mad mad world out there.