All entries for April 2005
April 27, 2005
Please, please, please let me know what you think!
“Hello, can I help you?”
“That’s six eighty –five, please.”
”Two large whites and a dozen bread cakes.”
”Can I get you anything else?”
Voices ring in my head, all repeating the same lines over and over again, the smiles plastered on our faces might be fake and plastic, but it doesn’t matter as we swing and twist our elaborate dance, a ballet of monkeys swinging around the counter. They stand still, waiting as I twist around and detach a bag from it’s hook, before turning again, and ducking under someone else’s arm, twisting as I emerge to avoid running into a hot tray of Cornish pasties that is just being pulled from the oven; I reach across over another bent colleague to reach for the allusive large whit, slipping it’s soft playable, and still warm shape into the bag in my hand, before throwing it into the air, and swinging it like a gymnast on the barre, and handing it to the patiently waiting customer. Again and again I repeat this endless dance, my overall moving with me, a chequered dress that straps around me, giving me freedom, and giving me my identity.
There is a freedom for me in this tiny, country bakery, lost in a small town of flowers and trees, the church tower rising above the slate roofs and ringing out in deep clangs the time, and memories of being a little girl. Old friends drop into the shop, and smile, and I serve them, feeling awkward and insignificant, whilst knowing that my name will remain here long after I go, and they will be forgotten after they buy their flapjack, and step out of the door into the sunlight and muffled noise.
“Pam dropped in today. Yes, she’s fine.”
The bread is like playdough in my hands, and I know that if I ate it, it would melt in my mouth; a sweet savoury. I hold a bread cake in my hands, and feel the underside, almost mould to my palm, whilst the top is the colour of fake tan, crispy and delicate. The flour is my hand cream, laving my skin, and dying it an imperfect white, and I become a queen.
I have watched this bread cake from the moment it began, and until now, when I am about to sell it for sixteen pence each, or one – fifty – five for a dozen. I watched it take shape, and rise, and bake, and as I stand in the shop, different worlds spinning around me, I know, that there is a connection, if only I can find it.
_“Morning Mrs. Wesel. How are you today? Yes, yes, it’s grand weather, isn’t it? And how’s the young one? Good, good, glad to hear it. A balm loaf did you say? Of course, of course, yes here we are. Now, anything else for you today? No? OK, well pet, you have good day, and take care of yourself you here? Yes love, now what can I do for you?”
Bert Wyer is managing his shop, a small family – run bakery in Baslow, 1927. His hair, a dark brown, is already thinning, even at the age of 42. He is dressed in a long overall, perfectly white, despite having been worn since the early hours of the morning, with the tie brought round to the front, because he has never been able to tie I behind him. His hands are scrubbed clean, until all sign of flour, and tobacco have disappeared, and his large hands are left pink and smooth.
He owns this shop. Or rather, he rents it. He has worked as a baker ever since he returned from the war. He used to deliver it, fresh and smelling of the kind of warmth you only find when you wake up under a duvet with a blanket of comforting air next to your skin. He sat on the horse and cart, driving through Baslow, as the village woke up, and smiled lazily at him over the treetops. He horse, a large black shire, plods rhythmically, in time with the beat of his heart, and Bert greets people much as he does now, although he seemed shyer then. Maybe he is embarrassed – he is one of a select few to have found work after the war, and he looks away from the accusing eyes of the young men sat on the benches by the road side, the young men with haunted eyes and shaking hands.
But now, he has rented his own shop, and hired an assistant, and is raising his own family. His daughter, with fine golden curls pulled back away from her face, and her daintily pink petticoat fanned out around her legs, is sat on the sideboard in the back, watching him, as he kneads the dough, his hands pushing and pressing against the elastic mixture. She is eating glace cherries from a small paper bag, and they have stained her lips and fingers red.
“Tell me daddy. Tell me about the horse.”
“You want to know about old Blackie, do you? Well, let me see. Have I told you about the time when it was raining so hard, you could barely see your hand if you held it infrount of you? We were out at the other end of Baslow, near Calver, and it was pelting it down. We’d been out all day, but as I couldn’t see the road, I had to rely on Blackie to get us home, and he did. He walked slowly, took his time, and all, but we got there, soaked to the skin, but safe. I gave him an extra bit of oat in his tea that night, and made sure he had plenty of warm blankets. He’d certainly deserved it! And then, do you, know what your old da did then, little miss? He ate with the big family, and they gave him a bed above the stables. Now isn’t that grand? Oh, look, lassy, you’ve got your frock all sticky. Run off, and get it changed before your ma sees you!”
That was were he’d met Alice, whilst he was at big house. She’d been a maidservant there, trying, as he was, to support her family back home. She was only eighteen years old when they met, but they fell in love, and once they had enough money to marry, they did so, in 1927. BY then, he was forty. Within a year, he had his own family to raise and provide for, with the birth of this little daughter, the apple of his eye. Alice. She was born in October, in a small council house, and spent her days in the bake house with her father, eating cherries and yeast. She’d watch him in the evenings and at weekends, digging in his vegetable garden, caring for the roses and tulips like they were his children too. Hens run around his feet, picking at the soil, idly missing the seed he is trying to feed them with. Alice has a large, chestnut hen sat her lap, fat and overhead, the feathers are smooth and neat under her tiny fingers, the warmth of a living body making her feel peaceful and maternal, even at four years old.
“Have you fed Whiskey Bill, lass? Don’t forget now will you?”
“Mummy did it earlier, Daddy. He’s hiding in the lettuce bed now, behind you.”
“Ah, there you are! Come on out lad, come on, that’s it. Why don’t you go and sit with Alice and Brownie there? Go on, get him Alice.”
“Come on, Whiskey Bill. There’s plenty of room for you here, look. Daddy, Mummy said she might get two more hens soon. Then we’ll have ten! I don’t know anyone who has more than ten hens?”
“Aw, lassy, you should have seen the ones at Chatsworth when I worked there as a young lad. Dozens, there were. And they all had their own fancy huts, all varnished so bright you could see your face in them.”
“Did you collect the eggs, Daddy? Were they lots of pretty colours?”
“I don’t know, I’m afraid lovey, I didn’t work with them, though I used to help mam with ours when a was a young one. But no, at Chatsworth I was an under gardener.”
“What do they do?”
“They dig the earth, and plant bulbs, and seeds, and care for the lawns, and do all sorts of jobs.”
“Did you like doing it?”
”Yes, lass, I did, though it was hard work, and I had to be up every morning for six, and walk for an hour, before I got to the grounds. But, yes, it was good work, an’ the pay helped mam.”
”Why’d it help mam? Why, ‘cause love, we were very poor in those days, and me father had died when I was just a baby, and mam needed all the help she could get to raise us four. Life weren’t as easy as ‘t is now.”_
But life didn’t remain easy, I remembered. Things changed, as did everything did when the war began. With it came not only rations, and the Black Market, but supermarkets also began stocking pre-packaged, cheaper sliced bread, and business dropped, until finally they had had to move out of the large stone house, sunk into the river bank, that they’d had built when the bakery had been flourishing.
I have heard a lot about this house, with it’s open, busy kitchen, wide staircases, and large garden, overflowing with flowers and hens, but, until now, I have never seen it. And yet here I am, staring up at the walls, trying to see past the glazed windows, and uncover it’s secrets; all those little stories I never heard, and never will hear. I knew the man, I knew the father, the husband, the grandfather, the baker, the gardener. But there was so much I will never find out.
I place my hands on the cool stone, rough and hot in the afternoon spring sun, and leaving little grains of sand stuck to my palms, where it had eroded and become uneven over the centuries. But it stands firm, reassuring me, supporting me. The door is locked, and painted a murky green, telling me better than any sign that it is probably best if I don’t enter, and so instead, I peer in at the windows. The first one I come to must be the lounge. It’s empty now of course, except for an old, half – eaten sofa, that looks like it was once a shell – pink colour, but is now only dirty beige, the colour of old skin. Stuffing is overflowing from the seats, and one of the cushions is stood on end, but at an angle, and I wonder if it is trying to escape. The carpet no longer seems to fit around the edges, and it has shrunk with years of being neglected. There are feathers littering the floor, and I know that the only inhabitants here are birds, who get caught in the empty rooms, and flapped about, with nothing but echoes to accompany them.
Around the back is the kitchen widow, large and divided up into neat squares by wood, neatly painted white. But the windows are a faint green colour, and although I never thought glass could smell, this does, of age. Perhaps it is the moisture from the river. Inside, the proportions are still the same, and there are the same old wooden worktops, and cupboards, all standing neatly in perfect formation. But, my great grandmother is no longer there, scrubbing and cleaning until even the doorknobs shone. The cats, two moggies, with a dash of Blue Persian thrown in somewhere, are not dashing in and out with rats they’ve caught from the river. And Bert is not coming in from the garden.
I turn, and gaze down at the garden, which slopes gently down to the river, which too is covered in algae, and I can’t see any ducks anymore. It used to be so full of life, so large, and friendly, and it enclosed me in its arms every time I visited. The hens are long dead, but if I listen carefully maybe I can still hear their movements. No, it’s only the rustle of rotting leaves.
And he is not there. Not stood in the vegetable patch, or knee deep in compost, or pruning his roses, or cutting Alice a bunch of tulips for the kitchen. I remember it all vividly however, every detail, every inch, of this garden, this house, this life. I remember the last time I saw him, just a very little girl. I had woken up from my operation, groggy and aching, and the world seemed to buzz around me in a way I had not noticed before. I could hear the nurses talking at the other end of the ward, and there was a radio playing somewhere. Radio four – I just heard the beeps. And he is there. My great grandfather, Bert. He is sat by my bedside, smiling in his polite way, and I know he is relieved to see I was ok.
_“There you are lass. How do you feel?”
“That’s good to hear. Listen, I can’t stay long ok, but I just wanted to say how proud I am of you, my little girl. I will always be proud of you. Give my love to your mummy, you hear? I’m sure she’ll be in soon. Goodbye lass. So proud…”_
He had died the day before, but he never mentioned that.
April 19, 2005
My favourites at the moment are "Daddy", and "Poppies in October". I find her images and her use of language so powerful, so magical and evocative. I think the fact that she leaves so many puzzles in her writing, that makes me love it so much, the way she never answers questions. Many of her poems are, I admit, depressing and fairly self-centered, but for me, who knows relatively little about her, I like that.
I've heard it said that you can't like both Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, it's one or the other. Well, I'm going to try that theory out, and will be reading some of Hughe's work once I'm done with the wonderful Ms. Plath…
April 13, 2005
I wrote this after I'd been to see Edward Bond's Lear at the Crucible, Sheffield. Let me know what you think!
Time is of the essence.
Consuming, all important.
It runs through our bodies like water,
A never ending stream,
Continuing ahead of us and trickling a
Crooked path in the sand of our lives.
We are reaching the edge where the water grows salty and
Spray stings my eyes and I cry
For the years I wasted and the love I lost
In a waterfall of blood,
Her heart in my veins, her liver in my hands.
There is blood stained on my skin and I
Cannot wash it off,
A stone on the path and I stumble
I have reached the end of the sea and
I drop off into an oblivion
Of everything there ever was and
Ever will be and I stay,
Moving downwards and up to a sky
That is no longer there.
The water is gone and I’m thirsty
As I hear a shot, alone in the dark.
“None shall ever see so much, nor live so long”.
April 10, 2005
I'm a thousand times more confident now than I ever have been, and that's largly down to my friends, but there are always moments, mostly when, like now, I'm struggling to keep my eyes open, but know that I can't sleep because I just have so much to do, when I get frightened, and want nothing more than to be idly wandering around campus with everyone, talking about something completly ridiculous, and knowing that no matter what, we are a close group of friends, of which I am as much a part of as everyone else.
I miss them, I think that's all I'm really saying.
April 06, 2005
You all know me, every single one of you. Maybe it’s the real me you know, or maybe it’s only the public mask. I’m afraid I wouldn’t know. My mind is cloudy, covered over with a blanket of lies, and left to rot.
I’m a sister, I know that. Lilibet, that’s what I call her is it? If you say so. Lilibet. Lil-i-bet. Sounds like the name for a dog, doesn’t it? Yes, I think I could call that across Hampstead Heath, “Lilibet! Lilibet!”, and stand patiently under a large, old oak, in the rain, watching for a black poodle, clean, but raggy around the edges, to come bounding up to me. “Lilibet”. An old lady seeking comfort in a false net of security. It’s strange what comfort we can find in a string of strange syllables, used to convey a sense of endearment, love, history, a sense of humanity from a far away figure that we cannot hope to touch. But I must have touched her once; she is my sister.
Why do I call her Lilibet? Whereas Elizabeth was marble, Lilibet is plastecine, easily warmed up. Elizabeth was brutal, decisive, prominent; Lilibet is forgotten. See, even I can’t remember her. I remember Elizabeth. The figure knew before she disappeared behind her mask, and was forgotten. I remember her glare, her simpering face, trying to be sympathetic, whilst all the time she knew she had to get the job done. I am trying to remember, trying not to forget. I know there is something, something you all loved, something that I loved. I felt something once, something that warmed me, and gave me life, a breath of fresh air after the dust of thousands of years setting in my lungs, and in my blood, and stifling, until I could not speak, or breathe, or think. I want to remember, but the details are foggy. I remember a warm summer afternoon on the grass in Balmorral, far away from everybody, he and I were alone for once, and then he fell asleep, and I watched him, looking like a child who has forgotten how to play. No, I’ve forgotten. I can’t remember.
I remember my father. We were very close, I think, were we? Yes, very close. He was tired, and trapped into a profession he didn’t like, and didn’t want to be in. I see you smirk; King of England is hardly a profession, is it? It was a job. Didn’t require much skill, just a lot of time, doing menial jobs someone else could have done just as well. Most of the time, someone else does do them, did you know that? Maybe I am bitter, but you asked me to tell you all this, so the least you can do is listen for once.
Daddy died, “on the job”, as they say. It wasn’t like it could be any other way, was it? The day he died, they brought him home in a coffin, and buried him in state. The press reported how heartbroken we all were, but all I felt was numb, and blind, and deaf, as I watched my father swallowed by the country in a haze of endless faces and cameras, and forgotten as we all moved on.
As she was crowned, I fell in love. I remember the coronation day. I’d been there at father’s and now I was here at hers, the woman whom I did not know, standing with a man they told me was my brother-in-law, and his two dark-haired children. The girl looked like me, I remember that. Anne. They called her Anne. Yes, I remember her. Anyway, I tried to keep out the way, made sure I was dressed down. But he had come to me, smiling, and he bowed his head – a tradition. How comical it all is. There he was, a man who had fought for his King and Country, bowing before me, a girl who had six maids simply to help her get up in the morning. He bowed, and we talked. Is it sad to say that I don’t even remember doing it? That small action that I didn’t know had ever occurred until afterwards, the next morning at the breakfast table, and the angry telephone call from my sister, saying now the whole country knew. Sometimes I play it to myself, that snapshot photo, seeing myself lift my hand and brushing carelessly at his shoulder. Was it some fluff, or perhaps a feather? I don’t know. I don’t remember the moment my life was turned upside and shaken like a child plays with a snow-globe. Only, I never floated back to where I had been.
They’d married before the war, quickly, not wanting to wait, incase he didn’t come home. He said she’d been pretty, and that they’d known each other since they’d been children, so they understood each other well. Maybe that was the problem. Maybe they had nothing to talk about. I remember I used to be frightened he’d end up thinking the same thing about me. Maybe he would have. His father had been a general during the first world war, so he’d risen quickly within the army, but not only because of his parentage; he was an English hero, and was treated like one. He loved his plane; it gave him a freedom he said he never felt anywhere else. Only in his plane was he completely in charge, he was his own king. I always thought that was ironic. But the war had made life for him as a husband hard, and they divorced. Just like that, a slip of paper separated not only him and his wife, but also he was separated from me, then and forever. We didn’t meet until a good few years later, by which time she was remarried, and had two young children. Her name was Jane. I never met her.
I’m tired. I don’t want to talk anymore. Ask other people, read the newspaper archives, I’m sure I can’t tell you anything you didn’t already know. My head hurts, and my tongue is stuck to the top of my mouth. Is there any water? No, doesn’t matter. Let me out. Please let me out. I’ve done nothing wrong, why are you holding me here? I want to be free, but I’m caught and I can’t get out, and I’ve had enough, and I just want to go. I don’t want to remember. Don’t ask me to.
You want me to tell me what happened that day don’t you? Everyone wants to know what happened then. What do you imagine, a big argument, tears, screaming, vows of eternal love? That’s not what a family does. Or at least, not what our family does, but then do we even qualify as a family? What do we share? No, we did not shout and scream, we did not cry, and we did not throw anything. That is not dignified.
Instead, she was cool and calm, explaining to me that I had a duty, and that that was more important than anything. She reminded me what the abdication had done to father, and said she needed me by her side, and so did her children. She told me to think of mother, and how would she cope? She’d lost her husband, how would she deal with loosing a daughter too? It was like I was thinking of killing myself, when all I wanted to do was to live. Not once during the day did she call me Meg, and from then on I have been Margaret, always Margaret. I hate the name.
Oh no, she did not show any emotion, and neither did I, but instead she, the queen, talked to her subject, and how could I refuse? Her command was my wish, and I knew that although I might always regret what I’d done, there was never a choice for me. I could not marry him, I always knew I couldn’t, and so I accepted and I obeyed.
The telephone was cold and heavy in my hand, the contours of it biting into my skin, and making my palm red. It was an effort to hold it to my ear, it felt so heavy, pulling at my arm, and making my wrist ache. It was hours before the operator finally connected me, and then suddenly, time, which had been going so slowly, suddenly sped up, and he answered, and I told him. I cried then. Not hysterically, but calmly and sadly, as I let him go, and in my mind’s eye I saw him walk away from me, down the road, his step even, and his jacket blowing in the breeze. I stand and watch him go, the tears running forgotten down my face, but he doesn’t look back.
He accepted what I said, knowing as I did that it was all inevitable, and that our dream was over. He didn’t cry, though I knew he would later, as he walked away from me and realised he couldn’t remember the sound of my voice. We told the papers three weeks later that we weren’t going to be married, and the public were horrified, saying we deserved to be happy. But a week later, I was forgotten. They printed a picture of us along with the story, and as I looked at the photo, I was scared to realise I’d forgotten the way his face moved, the way he lifted an eyebrow slightly as he asked a question, and the way he moved his mouth as he said my name, as though he was embracing it.
I saw him once, years later – we went for lunch. We didn’t talk about what happened then, but concentrated on our lives as they were now. He hadn’t changed, except to grow older and greyer, and slightly heavier. But as I looked across the table, I saw the young fighter pilot, gazing at me with glittering blue eyes as he told me tales from the war, and I felt his knee pressed up against mine, his laugh bubbling through my veins. And I was the young girl, happy and in love, and living in our little world, where we were to be married, and we’d have three children, and live in Cornwall in a quaint little cottage.
It didn’t happen. None of it. Not really. We moved on, and forgot those little things that we used to love about each other. He became a presence to me, a memory that I treasured, without being entirely sure what it was. I stood by my sister’s side and smiled, and made polite conversation, as though we were strangers. She was at my side the night I died, but she didn’t cry, just watched, her face impassive, and told me it was ok.
You’ve questioned me enough, you have my story. Let me rest. Let me live. I deserve that don’t I? Let me live, and breathe, and be. Let me sink into an oblivion of his embrace, his arms, his smell and touch, and let me remember. During death, I stood by her side. Now let me stand by his in life. I want to remember…