An early rising.

Sunrise over Treown

The cool grey light of 4 am seeps beneath bedroom curtains. No matter how I straighten them the night before – battening down the hatches, blocking out the light – by morning cracks have appeared and sunlight pierces the room, refracting into rainbows.

This morning I rise before the sun, before even the birds. Swimming through the soft silky silence of the morning, the light pulls shadows from my skin. Even if I weren’t still longing for sleep I would look haggard. The call of bed is strong but the tug of ritual stronger, so I slip from sheets, soft and crumpled and steal downstairs before I wake the dog.

Stillness is broken by the pulling on of clothes.  Bra forgotten on the bedroom chair, I risk sneaking back up to find the dog startled by my upright presence. Confused, she jumps at bare legs in her excitement – early breakfast? A sneaky walk?

Scratches blossom on my skin and I shush her down the stairs. Her joy at seeing me, as if we didn’t spend much of the night listening to each other snore, is in equal parts endearing and annoying. I’d hoped to steal away unnoticed, greeting my gift with only myself to please.

She waits expectantly at the kitchen door. I finish dressing under her critical gaze, avoiding the glare of what she must see. The sag and swing of a body that has repeated this yearly ritual 30 times gone.

Trainers shuffled into, lead in hand, we slip the latch on the back gate and head, free, for the hills.

Some years this day has been meticulously planned. Travelling to favourite spots or camping out the night before. One year a party of strangers appeared around my tent and I, less than graceful, hollered that they could all shut up and bugger off. Other years I’ve been alone, well except for the dog.

Even when I’ve known the clouds would be low, the ritual of it all pulled me from my dreams and demanded at least a cup of tea on the doorstep of a damp drenched garden.

Some years the sheer beauty of the landscape blinded me. The light, so memorable, sat behind my eyes, imprinted like a photo. The smokiness of the hills, the iridescence of the golden dawn light as birds rose, ignoring my intrusion into their early morning world.

This year, still struggling to regain the essence of myself, I steal up the hill behind my house skirted by factories on one side, the school and houses laid out on another. This is more my kind of magic anyway. The ordinary, the banal, the places where people do all their living and dreaming and dying.

I sit here, amongst sleeping daisies, eyes turned towards the east, the crows caw a rough serenade and I offer up my prayers, accept my blessings. Giving thanks for the sunrise and its presence in my day, a man on a bike squeaks by.

Fires will be lit and late-night whispers will pass into flames. Today we honour all that is light, all that is lush and plenty and growing. Too soon, we will welcome the soft embrace of gently lengthening shadows into our life.

All is in balance, our hearts beats following the spiral dance.

Happy solstice.

Bright blessings.

Dysgu Cymraeg – Learning Welsh

The word Dylexia surrounded by a jumble of words making it difficult to read

Bore da! Sut wyt ti?

I have been learning Welsh. I’d wanted to for years, I live in Wales, after all. With courses moved to Zoom over lockdown and the course being half price – I could never afford the original £90,  I am now dysgu Cymraeg.

Learning a new language is challenging for everyone I guess, but as a dyslexic learner, it is tough.

The words dancing on lines in English can be hard, especially when I’m tired or not well, but my brain recognises the shapes of the words, and I can get the gist. I read early as a child, memorising the shapes of words not their sounds.

Reading in English, I reckon I get it wrong a third of the time. Impossible to see that similar words are wrong, I struggle to check my work. If I read ‘the man has a red tractor on his head’ I know that is probably not the case and go back and carefully read again, willing the words to stay put, not sneak up to the line above then grab a word from the line below.

Sometimes its laugh out loud funny – the mix-up, especially with headlines – only now I can’t think of a funny example.

It’s less funny in Welsh. I haven’t memorised all the words. It’s impossible to recognise the dancing out of order as I don’t know the order in the first place.  I can’t sound it out as I don’t recognise the sounds. Reading takes me longer, and I struggle to retain what we have learned.

But learning Welsh, or trying to, has helped me understand my dyslexia in unexpected ways.

First comes the blind panic, something I no longer experience in my first language.  In Welsh, the words jumbling on the page causes a flush of anxiety that flares across my skin. Widening my eyes, from fear and concentration, I try to follow what the tutor is saying. 

Shame at my stupidity and embarrassment as I lose my place, a tight knot forms in my throat. My eyes swim with tears as I try to concentrate on the screen. This feeling , old as stone, sits like a pebble in my mouth. More panic when everyone is turning the page, moving on, laughing at the joke in the text while I am still stuck, letters swimming in nonsense.

I have no idea what we are meant to be learning.

My mind shuts down, no longer able to process the information, an internal dialogue of ‘try harder’ ‘stupid girl’ ‘pay attention’  ‘lazy’  runs on a loop until the tutor, noticing my silence asks me a question.

‘I don’t know,’ I mumble, forgetting how to say it in Welsh.

It is not the voice of a  50+woman.  A woman with degrees and post-grad qualifications coming out of her ears, an award-winning writer no less.

It is the voice of the funny little girl I was. The funny little girl, berated by teachers, exercise books thrown at her in disgust as the rest of the class sniggered in alarm. The funny little girl made to sit at the front so the teacher could slap at the desk with a ruler every time she caught her ‘being lazy.’ The funny little girl, who had wonderful ideas and dreams and stories but became silent and anxious when faced with the urgency of filling the blank page.

The shame, of my stupidity, of my indolence, of my inability to ‘just try harder,’ never left.

Except.

Now.

Learning Welsh.

Now I can see how hard that funny little girl must have had to work. It’s no wonder she left school with no qualifications. No wonder she thought she was thick, no wonder she still worries about spelling and commas and where the speech marks go.

I can see how hard it was for her. How hard it was to understand that it wasn’t her, well it was, but not in a bad way, not in the way she thought.

That poor funny little girl, always a bit weird, always on the outside, never quite following what was going on, always escaping into a book.

It’s ok now because I’m here. I’m no longer that funny little girl – I’m now this funny grown-up woman.

In my Welsh class, I take a deep breath and holding my funny girl’s hand in mine, we raise our hands together and simply say ‘ I don’t get it.’

The tutor smiles, apologises for rushing on.

Me and my funny girl let out that last held breath, our fingers moving slowly along the page and say loud and proud,

Maya dw i. Dw i’n hoffi dysgu Cymraeg, ond dw’n dal angen ymarfer.

(I’m Maya. I like learning Welsh, but I still need to practice. )

P.S I was at a training course for Dyslexia and they used a great exercise to show what dyslexia can feel like for some students. Give it a try if you like.

Grab a piece of paper and a pen and copy the following statement. You have three minutes. If your paper is lined, turn it landscape and write across the lines.

Oh, you must replace every letter A with ( . Every letter E with % and every letter Y with *. When you come to the letter N you must insert a word from the line above. You can only read these instructions once.

Good Luck

Not only is Maya funny, witty, and charming. Not only is she a mother of six children, yes six! Yes, I know that’s a lot. Yes it was busy, yes it was very noisy and yes I was insane. Not only is Maya an award-winning writer, but she is also dyslexic, dyscalculic and dysgraphic. This means, despite being a seriously kick-ass sock knitter, she cant read kitting patterns so she memorises stich-patterns instead.

HURRY – GO FASTER.

Enjoy!

Wordless Wednesday

Each Wednesday I’m just gonna share a photo that sums up my week. No words just a pic – that is if I can stop gabbling. Happy Wednesday

Stormy Winter Seas Sunshine Aberystwyth 2022

The one where we get the lurgy.

Seasonal Illness Stickers by Michele Bruttomesso is licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0

I came home from London with covid.  It has not been the one where people say it was just like a bad cold and didn’t stop them doing much – a weird combination of bragging about the strength of their immune system, combined with a tinge of disbelief that it could really be that bad.

On day eleven I am still in bed struggling to stay upright for the whole of the day – my disco naps turning into full symphony slumbers.

My husband gets sick two days behind me.  He too, fails to get the fluffy kind of covid, staggering from his bed to the bathroom and back again before collapsing in a heap. The dog is not impressed.  Bribed with spray cheese in an empty Lemsip box, she destroys this in the garden in lieu of a walk.

I order the supermarket delivery, off my head with a temperature. Unpacking the ingredients to make trifle but not tissues, or loo roll or tins of soup that might make the painful shuffle to the kitchen for dinner more bearable. I did remember beans but not enough bread.

We do, however, have four aubergines and a tin of jackfruit so when I am back to cooking I can spend an entire day trying to think what to make with them.

I crave custard, jelly, the blob of thick whipped cream on the top of a trifle, studded with bleeding hundreds and thousands. It’s funny what we think of as comfort food. Peanut butter toast becomes a staple. Even in the throes of covid my husband struggles with me buttering the toast the wrong way up, or in the wrong direction, with the moon rising in Aries – don’t ask!

I long for soup and silky pasta bakes, he craves the comfort of curry. We always were an odd couple.

I have a passion for old cookbooks. A 1930s favourite, Economical cookery –  is a glimpse into history, with costings and menus and  dishes long out of flavour.

My favourite section is the Cooking for Invalids. Between the sections on Buns, Scones and Biscuits and Homemade preserves for the Larder, are fifteen pages to fortify your recovery from illness.

Here we are informed that ‘the appetite of an invalid is often jaded, and every effort has to be made to induce them to take sufficient nourishment to prevent undue wasting’ . And to always use a white cloth and dainty dishes to entice the appitite. Fine sentiments and very wise. Who isn’t tempted by fresh Banana’s and custard or a coddled egg?

The recipe for Invalid Jelly is less appetizing – boiled pearly barley with a dash of beef essence, served cooled to a set jelly. Or a recipe for gruel, served plain for the poorly? Calf’s foot jelly, perhaps ?

 Jelly is definitely a thing – just not the kind I was craving.

How about some Raw beef tea! – this involves 4oz of ‘juicy beef’ bashed and soaked in ¼ pint of cold water for an hour, making sure that the particles are pressed against the side of the bowl to wring out all the goodness.  Then strain. And serve. Yum!

The recipe does suggest straining into a coloured glass as  ‘it would be most unpalatable if served in a cup or plain beaker.’ !!!!!!! – Oh, a coloured glass is really gonna make all the difference.

My absolute favourite recipe, though one I’ve never been sick enough to try, is toast water.

Now everyone knows that toast is the perfect staple poorly food ( as long as you remember to order bread) but toast water takes it to whole other level.

The instructions demand stale bread, toasted slowly until very dark. This is then placed in jar and covered in boiling water. Allowed to stand until cold, it’s then strained, discarding the bread and the ‘water’ served with a little sugar or dash of beef tea for flavour.

Even in the mists of covid coughing, addled with fever dreams, I cannot imagine longing for toast water. How sick would you have to be to?

They were clearly made of sterner stuff in the Twentieth Century. I’m not sure I have the stomach for being an invalid.

Instead, my husband and I,  zombie like, wait for the Tesco delivery of bread and milk, comforting fishfingers and the essential Lemsip topped strawberry trifle.

I’d ask you to come in for tea but we’re still positive.  Otherwise, we’ve some pretty coloured  glasses, so you’ll be grand.

Every day is a chance to celebrate.

Star Trek Communicator Badge (badge) by Unknown maker is licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0

Today is National Caramel Day. – I don’t know where? Everywhere, I guess? Are you prepared? Do you have a box of caramels, robed in chocolate, soft and sticky enough to rip a filling out? Are you planning on making caramel sauce for your lunch? Salted Caramel ice cream for your tea? A sneaky Curly Wurly?

Who decides what day is what?  I mean, is it someone’s job? Can you pick anything? I think this might be the job for me.

Could we have National Pyjama day – I’d be really good at that. No, damn – I Googled it and that ones on the 13th May. How about National drink tea day ?  I personally choose to celebrate this every day, but a quick Google and that one’s taken as well – Thursday 21st April.  It seems I might not be very good at this job after all, what with the lack of originality of my Day suggestions

Today is also First Contact day – when in 2063 Vulcans first make contact with Earth. For Trekkies it’s a chance to get your Star Fleet Uniform out of the wardrobe, practice your Vulcan neck pinch and instruct the woman at the shop to Live long and prosper.

Potentially combining the two days, you could do this with a caramel in you mouth. To be honest she already thinks you’re weird – sputtering over a toffee while you try to pull your fingers into a Vulcan salute is not gonna make much a difference at this point.

And while we are at it, Today is also National Read a Road map day (as opposed to what, wear it ?)  I have to admit, I do love a map. In another life I used to lead kids up the local hills and mountains for their Duke of Edinburgh training – this was my job; I didn’t just drag kids up hills like some weirdo.

Admittedly they were using OS maps, but it was always fascinating to watch the pecking order in the group change. The big hard lad, local bully struggling with the cardio, would suddenly plummet in status next to the wee wiry kid who could read the map and get them all home again – even if it only lasted while they were up the hill.

Recently travelling through central London was certainly easier with Sat-Nav but I admit to a flurry of nostalgia for the anxious flicking of the A to Z and the ensuing argument that I definitely said turn right!

There’s something about the nostalgia of old maps, isn’t there, especially if its somewhere you know. Seeing the roads shift, the markers that you recognise swim in and out of time. It’s the same with photos of your hometown from a time long ago – a nostalgia for a place you cannot remember but recognise now.

I’m resting in bed today, (though National stay in bed day was March 28th and national Reading in bed day is not until 31st July.)

Today I will be celebrating, sat in my Star Trek uniform, sucking on toffees and planning my route to the shops for when I am up and at ‘em again.

Live long and prosper, sweeties.

The coming of the light

Sunrise over Newtown

I am writing this at 7.30 on Sunday night and it is still light.

In the garden I can hear a chorus of blackbirds serenading the setting sun. On the distant hills a kite calls, underpinned by the thud, thud, thud of some distant party beat. The clocks have sprung forward.

Spring has returned.

Oh my days, it feels as if winter has dragged its feet, pulling and tugging, wanting us ever sustained in its slumber. I have felt the light has been coming and this week’s unseasonal weather has caught our faces, turned to the sun, but it feels like this winter has been a long one.

My health is not good, and in the last few weeks I have lost too many days to resting and sleep, as if my hibernation is renewed rather than relinquished.

But this evening, with the call of bird song I feel my own energies stirring and with a burst of joy I realise the time and call out in surprise,

            ‘Bloody hell, it’s still light.’

My own serenade to spring.

Sowing the seeds of love

Here in Wales, with weeks to go before the clocks spring forward, Spring is beginning those first tentative stretches towards the growing light. It is time to sort through the seed box

My seed box is really a bag, with a perfectly nice shoebox-sized box at the bottom filled with seeds I’m never going to use. Balanced precariously on the top are a couple of plastic grape boxes and plant pots crammed full of the seeds I do use or did last year.  I should sort it out, I know I should.  Once, I even made little dividers, the month scrawled across the top so I could find things -I never used them.

I know a proper gardener would have their seeds stacked in order, labels clearly legible – not the mad guesswork I undertake, trying to identify seeds by shape or mystical divination. A proper garden would keep a log of everything they’d grown- their success and failures- not sit playing Russian roulette with courgette seeds trying to remember which ones were amazing and which were the duds.

 Saturday afternoon with a cup of tea is the perfect time to go through the seed box. By ‘go through the seed box’ obviously I don’t mean tidy it, or sort things into piles. I don’t even mean taking out the empty seed packets – what is this madness?  Instead, I take a quick gander at what seeds I have, that I might want to use this year, before heading over to the Interweb to go seed shopping.

There is something eternally optimistic about seed shopping in early spring.  All that potential, all those possibilities for the year to come. And there are pretty pictures and wonderful names – Ruffles red, Angel’s blush, Perfumed promise.  I sit, with a rough idea of what I might want to sow this year but that flies out of the window when I spy the multitude of different cucumbers, the teeny-tiny aubergines and of course the tomatoes.

Tomatoes are my obsession.  I don’t know why? I mean I like to eat them, who doesn’t, but there is something about the images of glistening vine-ripened fruits that I seem unable to resist.  

 I promised myself I would not repeat the tomatoes in lockdown fiasco.  I was going to be disciplined. There is only my husband and me here now – oh and the dog who is partial to a daily carrot but not, as far as I know, Solanum Lycopersicum, those perfect little Love apples (tomato to you and me, I was just showing off)  

Still, I find my online shopping basket full of such delights as Honey delight, Cherry rosella, Burlesque, Crimson crush, Ola Polka, Sweet Casaday and the lovely Shirley. I narrow my selection down to 5 varieties that I can grow in pots in the sunnier parts of the garden and press send, confident in my restraint.

 But then I decided to write about seeds and went back to the website to check tomato names… Last time I did not notice the Artisan golden bumblebee, or the Cream sausage, or the Cuore Di Bue and now I’m entranced by the Dwarf Rotkappchen, my fingers hovering over Add to Basket.

There are worse obsessions I convince myself. Think of all the lovely tomatoes, I justify the dog. Could a few more do any harm?

 I’d like to tell you I resisted. I’d like to stay and write more … really, I would… but there’s a tomato calling my name.

Becoming an astronaut.

I once said to Michael Sheen – you don’t get to say that very often, do you? I once said to Michael Sheen that saying you wanted to be a writer when I was growing up was like saying you wanted to be an astronaut.

For a girl, growing up in the relentless poverty of the ’80s, the dole not stretching to heat and food, the Provi-man’s knocking at the door for repayment of loans my parents could never afford, saying you wanted to be a writer was mad, like saying you wanted to be an astronaut.

I didn’t know any writers. Writers were posh, went to posh school that I’d go to with my mum to clean after school.  What did a writer do anyway?  Sit in their special writing room, sharpening their pencils before having cocktails on the lawn as the sun went down. (I watched a lot of old movies so my references may have been Noel Coward and Agatha Christie????)

Never mind that my school had written me off already. Never mind that I didn’t attend school for the lack of school shoes.  Never mind if I didn’t go to school, I didn’t get my free school dinner, with that shameful little token that, some days, was my only meal.

In all of this I still wrote stories, still made them up on my long walks across the fields, feet wet, trying to keep out of everyone’s way.

Trust me, where I came from people didn’t become writers and the knowledge, knowing that I could never be an astronaut, ground down deep into my bones, staining the very marrow. A childish dream from a hungry girl.

We all have to grow up and get proper jobs, feed our kids, struggle to make sure they never go hungry.

Well, last night I was launched into space.

Along with 10 other fabulously talented writers taking part in A Writing Chance with New Writing North, Michael ‘bleeding’ Sheen – I think he could change his name to that, I’ve said it like that enough. Michael ‘bleeding’ Sheen performed our work on stage in Cardiff.

When I was chatting to Michael, trying to explain what a difference being part of this programme had made to me, how it had shifted my whole feeling about myself, about who I was, about how I had become a writer, Michael Sheen asked me what it was like to become an astronaut?

Then he went on stage and performed my words

The section he performed is from the beginning of my novel in progress about a woman who has forgotten she is the goddess of the River Severn. It begins with the myth of how the rivers of Wales got their goddesses. A reinvention of a tiny three-line myth I found in my research, Michael made it sound like a story of old.

I cannot tell you how amazing it was to hear words I’d written in the dark of early morning come to light on the stage.

Well, I don’t need to tell you as you can listen to those words being performed in ‘Margins to Mainstream’ on St David’s Day, Tuesday 1st March 2022 at 6.30 pm on BBC Radio Wales. (If you are outside Wales, go to the BBC Sounds App and type in ‘Margins to Mainstream’.)

BBC Radio Wales – Margins to Mainstream: St David’s Day Special

Going home

The river is resplendent in the colours of the season. Oak leaves turn biscuit brown, the Gelder Rose a dark lipstick pink, deepens to vermillion. Field Maples litter leaves the colour of sunshine, while Lime, leaves limp like hankies, drip to the floor. The Willow, luxuriating in a great unrobing, scatters its leaves across the floor like discarded clothes. With the passing of the pumpkin’s, the air shimmering with the crush of pine needles, autumn is here. It is still and lush and silent.

It’s a long farewell to the summer, a lover lingering, not wanting to let go and yet ready for sleep. And for me, all the more bittersweet. Summer has seen me zooming off, whizzing across the fields, the ground firm and dry, the path rough and bumpy but navigable. Here I get up close to the water, sitting in clearings to watch the river flow by. There are swans, heron and only once this year a kingfisher. In spring I watched water vole but later only the slinking black mink. In early mornings, the light glittering with dew, crow’s, dark and heavy hooded bobbed to the water’s edge to sip delicately, all eyes cautiously on me.

 I am nourished after the long exile of the winter. Days are spent by the river with the dog, a book, some writing, a sneaky sausage roll. I come back to myself.

There is no path down by the river. There’s a black path that runs across the fields, but it stays away from the water. A cycle lane/footpath of shiny black tarmac that floods each winter. It skirts the edges of the fields as if scared to encroach across the meadows, into the wildness. Clinging instead to the slope that runs below the housing estate. And it’s here I am now trapped, as if on tracks, where I should be. In my wheelchair.

Accessing the world in a wheelchair is a constant negotiation. – even international politicians can find themselves locked out of talks because there is no access. Accessing the countryside even more so.

In a wheelchair we are meant to stick to the paths, stay in our lane, and by lane, I mean stay home. Despite laws about access, wheelchair users still struggle to get into shops, get on a bus or a train or enter public buildings, never mind the great outdoors. And I’m not arguing for tarmac paths across the moors. I want the wild as much as anyone else. And there’s the rub.

 It feels like loss.

 I see it coming. The dew a little heavier, the subtle shift in the light. I risk a ‘walk’ in grass too wet for wheels to grip. Just about getting away with it, just about making it through.

 My heart aches.

 Today I got stuck. Today the wheels spun in the mud leaving deep tyre-tread ruts as I twisted and slid, in the end reversing slowly away. It is tense and tight. Panic filled with grief and the shame of needing rescue.

With the fall of the leaves, I am lost. Trapped now to pavements and tarmac. Instead of molehills and meadows, I now negotiate cars parked on dropped curbs, recycling bins scattered to the winds.

I am undone.

 No longer tethered by the trees.

The river calls to me, it is deep within me somewhere but for now, from the path, it is just out of reach.