What follows is a section from the diary I have been keeping all this year.
Aug 23: Feel terrible.
Aug 24: I was trying to get out of bed, when Marika came – our gem of a cleaner – and berated me; I just needed to get up and go for a walk. But I couldn’t. The pain is too much, like peeing acid.
Aug 25: Rang PRI and told Dr Gowan that I could not come. He talked with Dr Evans at the surgery in Dunkeld, and told me to go to Ninewells in Dundee where a bed was waiting. Heather drove us, and I was admitted into single room with bathroom. Can’t remember much, beyond a sea of faces and names, multitude of tests and an x-ray of chest. Chest?
Aug 26: Bad night. Dr Gowans comes with a convoy of cohort doctors. Asks for a stethoscope as his daughter has pinched his; just heard she had got into Edinburgh to study to be a vet. I must drink, I am told, but peeing so painful. Akii brings a few things. Ultra-sound reveals a shadow on bladder or colon.
Aug 27: Another bad night. So weary. Non-stop saline drips. Antibiotics. Blood. Lovely day outside, so go on an adventure, taking my drip stand with me like a pet on a leash. Just into the next room which is empty and has the most incredible view of the river; I just sit and look. Guy moves in later; feel envious. Chat with cleaner Kevin whose marriage just split up; felt he was most likely gay. So ready for sleep but worrying about the letter I promised Viv I would send for David’s funeral; he died of tongue cancer ten days ago. What a terrible thing! I was their bridesmaid in 1962.
Aug 28: Akii comes at 11 with toothbrush and pyjamas. Drafted a letter in my notebook. Finished the Kazue Ishiguru book, When We Were Orphans; I now see the themes more clearly that have haunted him throughout his books. Peeing non-stop, pretty miserable. At 8pm suddenly pushed into a bay with three other women. No warning. Lights not off until after 11, as very noisy and busy. Julie next to me seems grounded. Alison a complaining cow. Whoever is behind the curtain, very ill.
Aug 29: Slept reasonably until 7.30. CT-scan at 10.30. Weird or what; I am full of dye. Shower and change clothes. Then peed my new Plumo pants. Back in bay now. Cold. MRI discussion continues … (to have or not to have). Alison has gone. Hallelujah! Angry unhappy woman.
Aug 30: Woke in tears. Very low. Mists over the landscape; I am by the window which is lovely. Couple with an umbrella, must be raining. A young man running, taking his body totally for granted. Pyramids atop buildings with glass and reg and green struts. Curtain opposite drawn to reveal Jessica a young Ghanaian woman with sickle cell and studying to be a forensic anthropologist. She wear a huge red snoody-type hat; we never see her hair. Spend all her time huddled in bed with her mobile, even takes it to the toilet with her. Her mother comes to visit, resplendent in animals prints and bringing baby pyjams for Jess that leave little to the imagination. Julie’s husband Gary comes every day after work.
Aug 31: More in balance today. Shower. Gout pill seems to be working; foot back to near normal, and no side effects. Internal probe at 4pm tomorrow. Caroline came into fourth bed but already packing to go back to hospital in Arbroath. She seems to be fading fast. Julie goes Friday. Long talk with Jess last night about God. Lost the plot when she began quoting scriptures to me. Patsy mailed. Kara is on the M25 with Tom driving to Italy. How lovely.
Sep 1: Rabbits. Aching and diarrhea all day. Camera up the fanny finally at 4. Zaiheb took me in chair down to urology, where I was laid on a bed and then curtains drawn back to reveal an audience. Very Handmaids Tale, I thought. My bladder looked good, it was decided, so problem had to be bowel. Another CT-scan planned, then camera up the backside seem to be on the cards. Feel very despairing, distressed. Caroline leaves, Jess leaves.
Sep 2: Julie goes home at 2. I still not cleared. I shall miss all the lovely staff – junior doctor Carly, nurses Rosie and Urooj (rouge), student Morpeth etc. who all come to chat at various points. Dr Gowans pointed out that I was so ill due to infection and nothing to do with the cancer, but I was his patient so he was keeping me close.
Sep 3: Reputable night’s sleep. Doctor came and discharged me. Pharmacy sorting out drugs. Came back from shower and graduate nurses Zaiheb and Courtney were standing by my bed, grinning. When I approved how neatly they had made it, C said, “If we had had a iron , we would have ironed it for you.” Brought tears to my eyes. Akii came and Zaiheb found a chair. Wheeled out to Graham waiting by the car; he drove us back. Feels weird to be back home, here. Felt safer there.
Nine days of superb care made a great difference. Thankyou Ninewells. Thankyou NHS.
I was not good over the summer. You can see how much weight I had lost …
Friday 29 July 2022
I was in such a daze the date of the first transfusion that I can no longer remember it. But roughly a month ago. It took six hours, with time spent awaiting delivery of the bags … it had all happened, been organised quite fast, which may explain? I do recall that each time the nurse hooked them up, I said thank you to whoever had been the donors. Blood is a precious commodity, and potentially life-saving.
I am on time today, 9.30am on the dot, having driven 25 miles. But am then confused (and irritated) by the new-style mandatory mask, that has ribbons to tie behind the head. Such a palava! Fortunately Akii finds an one in the car. He then leaves to catch the 10.08 bus into Dundee.
Everyone is now calling me Angela; seems I have become a regular. I take a chair on the back row. Only four others patients so far. A dark-haired nurse with gothic eyebrows and loads of tattoos offers me coffee, tea, water or lemon water. I accept the latter, which proves very refreshing. Unpack my backpack while laughing that the guy next to me just ordered a Guinness. Cancer and a sense of humour!
The floor is coral coloured. Walls pale apricot. Chairs dark blue. Nurses’ station, grey.
9.40: Nurse finds a vein for the canula. Ouch, ouch. I am such a wuss. What is a wuss? A pathetic weakling, responds Google. Sounds about right. My blood type is 0+, as is most of Scotland. Blood pressure slightly down.
10.00: Bag in place and dripping into me nicely. Feel okay, just very tired.
10.05: Brought the wrong glasses. Can’t read. BP100/62. Two new patients: an Indian man in his 30s, and a woman in her 50s wearing a turban. Nurse notes: “Most are creatures of habit and always head for the same chair.” A woman with long blonde hair is being told gently that she is likely to lose it. Susan talked with her for over an hour; amazing patience and empathy.
11.15: Eight of us. Unplugged to go to the toilet. Plug myself back in on return. Peeing is painful.
Times passes, staff constantly on the move; they never stop for a minute. Man in his 60s waiting for pills has “two grandsons waiting outside in the car”.
11.30: More lemon water. An older woman asks for a cushion. “For your wee bum?” responds Susan. The seats are not as comfortable as first imagined. My nurse, Lorraine, has loaned me her reading glasses; read a few pages, heading towards the end of The Man Who Invented Infinity.
12.15: BP 122/72. Now my ‘bum’ is hurting. Sitting too long.
12.20: Second bag. Jolly conversation about urine infections. Choose an egg sandwich for lunch, the package stating ‘Handmade in Scotland with passion for over 25 years’. Also a yoghurt. “Late today”, commented Lorraine’ Food usually here at midday.” I ask her what she had planned for the weekend, and am told with a gleeful grin: “A Roxy MusicTribute Band, and if the sun comes out, a nice round of golf.”
13.00: William in the next chair is reading. Not a social creature. Our ‘bags” are level pegging. Everyone else is sleeping or on mobiles. People drift in and out collecting meds. A tiny Asian woman. An obese woman in a wheelchair. As I watch nurses changing plastic aprons and gloves every time they approach anyone, I am horrified to think of the waste …
14.00: Bags are empty, flushing with saline begins. Canula removed. Gather myself and leave. Outside, waiting for Akii on a bench, William passes and nods. “See you next month?” I ask. “three weeks for me”, he replies and is driven off … No idea if and when I will be back. Duncan (Dr Gowan) was talking about six months of transfusions, “to see where we go”. Back on August 25 for another consultation. Wish I felt better. Tomorrow, maybe.
Waiting every two weeks for the appointment with the consultant, I sit opposite this lovely Chinese silk painting of “100 birds”. It is always off kilter and I never leave without straightening it. Something positive I can do, somehow, to make me feel useful rather than completely useless.
And it seems I am one of them. I am going public not to seek sympathy but because it may help others, especially those who were living in Japan on March 3, 2011.
The last few years I have been troubled by any number of symptoms: bouts of dizziness, numerous infections, gout, easy bruising, increasing fatigue, breathlessness, weight loss … Referred to Perth Royal Infirmary by my local surgery, I was monitored for several months and finally given a predictive diagnosis in May. This was confirmed after a bone marrow biopsy.
I have Myloefibrosis, an uncommon type of bone marrow cancer that disrupts the body’s normal production of blood cells. It causes scarring of the bone marrow, leading to anaemia, and enlargement of the spleen which struggles to cope. It is one of three quite rare blood cancers, with only 520 cases in the UK last year. Trust me!
I have consistently lost weight since late last year, some 11kg in total. Because the spleen is enlarged by 3cm, it presses against the stomach and reduces appetite. Eating less and less was obviously contributing to weight loss, and while I do feel more comfortable in my body than for years, obviously something needed to be done or I would just fade away from malnutrition. There are worse ways of dying, but I have a strong sense of having things still to be done.
I had a six-hour blood transfusion in early June and did seem to have more energy. The experience of sitting in the oncology clinic for so long, surrounded by patients wearing cool caps to help reduce hair loss as they underwent chemo, and yet so many upbeat and full of brave good humour, was saluatory, however.
So too was my conversation with Susan, the nurse who with some difficulty extracted bone marrow from my hip. She told me that when the clinic first opened 25 years ago, it had one doctor, herself and maybe three or four patients a day. Now there are half a dozen nurses, three doctors and up to 50 patients a day. We have poisoned our natural world, I noted; we have poisoned ourselves. She agreed.
I saw the consultant on June 23rd to discuss the result. If not effective, I had been told, there is a medication, a pill. I have indicated that I am not interested in invasive treatment, and this pill is a form of chemo, but not one with too many hideous side effects. I was advised to try it, and when approved by the medical panel, he rang me to say “Good news. Come collect your medication.”
I began the medication – two tablets a day of Ruxonolitinib – on July 4 and almost immediately felt more myself. Like Lazurus I rose from the sofa and began hectoring my poor husband, who had been nothing less than wonderful in caring for me.“Ah”, He said, “you are better”.
July 1: A week later I am doing well. Still getting tired far too easily but mentally I feel more optimistic and energised. I have blood taken locally next week, and see the Consultant at PRI on the 28th.
What interests me most is where this cancer has come from.
Blood cancers like leukemia are linked to certain poisons, like glyphosate, the main ingredient of Monsanto’s weedkiller Roundup. I believed in its early marketing that it was biodegradable in soil. But no longer. There are any number of legal cases piling up with proven evidence that Roundup’s most active ingredient Glyphosate, is toxic to the human body. (https://www.baumhedlundlaw.com/toxic-tort-law/monsanto-roundup-lawsuit/)
One quarter of people with Myloefibrosis go on to get leukemia. But this means that three quarters do not, and I fully intend to be one of these. It is not a matter of ‘fighting’ the diagnosis. Personally I dislike all the military terms generally used – “she lost the battle`’, “he fought so hard”. Instead I shall take responsibilty and try to love my cancer into submission or accept that what will be, will be. No fear of death. If there is nothing, there is nothing. But if there is something, well how interesting is that; the next great adventure
Basically, Myloefibrosis is not genetic and causes are few and little understood. The only one of the four that makes any sense to me, is the last, the single blunt word ‘radiation’. Since I was in central Tokyo, on my Friday shift at NHK on 3/11 and could not get home for 48 hours, when the cloud from Fukushima was drifting in that direction, it seems a distinct possibility to both Akii and myself.
As you get older – I am now 81 – and if odd things begin to show up health-wise, I would suggest routine blood and urine tests. This is how I was diagnosed.
I understand that statistics on Fukushima-related cancers are mostly concerned with children, and thyroid cancers in particular. It would make perfect sense that others would start showing up, but which maybe dismissed or not investigated or recorded accurately. We all know how the Japanese government chooses to cover up the difficult and unpleasant.
When I went public of Facebook on June 17, there was one response that I found especially interesting. JM is French but has lived in Japan for many years, and she too was in Tokyo on that dreadful day of earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear meltdowns.
She wrote: “I have been struggling with numerous health problems since 3/11 and was diagnosed with cancer of the endometrium in 2014 in Tokyo. Luckily, if I may say, it was a stage 1 cancer and I didn’t need chemo. Now, 11 years after Fukushima, I don’t feel well. I know I was exposed to radioactive Cesium, I had a whole-body count in France. And around me back in Tokyo there were so many people with cancer, including rare bone marrow cancer. Radioactivity-induced cancer does not mean only thyroid cancer or children’s cancer, you are right. Take care and thank you for bringing up the topic.”
Another friend commented that there were a lot blood cancers in Tokyo. Really?
I had worried that I might be being over dramatic in linking my problems with Fukushima. But now I think not, and seek to reach out to those who are suffering without answers, guidance or support. I am happy to discuss this with anyone with concerns for their own health. Information is power.
August 8: Ten days into treatment, a urine infection knocked me back and it took ten days for my local surgery and the hospital in Perth to determine that I had built up a resistance to the prescribed antibiotics. By this time my bladder was out of control and urinating extremely painful. Today I am feeling much better, though whether to do with new antibiotics or the cranberry juice Buffy ordered me from Canada, I have no way of telling.
I posted this as an update on Facebook last week. You may be interested or might like to pass it on to anyone you feel might benefit from the information: https://www.kobe-u.ac.jp/research_at_kobe_en/NEWS/news/2019_02_08_01.html
Friday last, Robyn in Oregon told me that a dear friend in Japan has leukemia. I have asked for details.
It was not just the price that drew me to buy these bars of Cadbury’s chocolate, but the words on the wrappers. They made me smile. They made me think … remember even.
By the time I was born in 1941, food rationing had been in place for a year. I do look at the list now and wonder how my mother managed to feed us. But she did. I was always hungry, however …
The list? This is what we were each allowed for one week throughout the war.
Bacon and ham 4oz
Cooking fat 4oz
Milk 3 pints
Jam 1lb every two months
Eggs, 1 a week, if available powdered egg packet every four weeks.
Because my sister (born in 1944) and I were growing, we received extra milk, orange juice and cod liver oil. (Immediately postwar my cousin was also fed Virol, a sweet malt syrup which her parents could afford, but my own could not.)
Many non-food items were also rationed such as soap, clothing, petrol and paper. Petrol, I note, wondering if we are on the verge of rationing again !
This is where I now become puzzled. Because I always thought I had learned to read from reading food packaging – the packets, the jars, bottles and cans on the dining table at mealtimes. But how could I have done when there was so little food available? And most – sugar, other dry goods and dairy products – had to be collected (in containers or wrapped in waste paper) from the grocery shop, butcher or baker. Not much to read there.
But this is my memory: sitting at the dining table and reading and re-reading every line, word and letter on labels and packaging. There was little else to read in the house – few books and a small collection of the Reader’s Digest. Yet when I first went to school I could read fluently and had been in proud possession of a library ticket from the age of four.
I distinctly remember there being Kelloggs’ packets on the table, but how was that possible when imported and ships from the US concentrated on transporting more important cargoes. Maybe cornflakes became part of my diet after 1945, along with bananas and ice-cream. But that still begs the question: what was I reading before that; how did I learn to read?
My first ever ice-cream at the Victory Day party in Coventry in 1945. I am touched to see how well-turned out I am, my mother making all my clothes, especially when she herself is so dishevelled.
So a mystery, but a somehow based on a habit that I practise to this day, especially at breakfast time. And in recent years I have become more and more aware of how packaging is changing. Not simply that some companies – some – are trying to use less, in respect of dwindling natural resources, but the tone of the advertising. This has been evolving of course all long throughout the decades, to reflect political and economic changes, but now it feels very different.
What matters nowadays is content, with less emphasis on instruction and more and more on story-telling. With lists and the origin of ingredients and calorie counts etc now demanded by law, copywriters have a new freedom: to be playful, to be personal, to be ethical.
I have brought muesli since the 1970s, but Dorset Cereals captured my attention since the start. What a way to start the day! Breakfast on the slow, followed by words like bustle and hurry to start winding me up for the day ahead …
By contrast, reading this lifts me off my seat and sends me spinning …
Are the ways in which big brands are being marketed influencing smaller companies, or is it the other way around? Certainly major advertising agencies were talking more and more about story-telling from the 1990s on. What began however as stories for the masses are becoming more and more intimate and personal.
Graham: the family dairy. https://www.grahamsfamilydairy.com/our-products/category/butter/
While products with an ancient heritage can milk that provenance, with words like ‘traditional’ , or ‘Since 1720’ offering reassurance and comfort, some are really upping their game, well aware that new brands are breaking boundaries and throwing out challenges to woo future consumers with an interest in the ethics of consumerism. On the fashion front, companies like Primark really have had their day. We all know the true cost of cheap clothes. Slave labour on farms and in factories. Landfill. (In Chile’s stunningly beautiful Atacama desert, there is a Mt.Fuji of discarded textiles shipped from western countries …This is not simply waste. It is an insult on every level. )
Clever Marmite: Maintaining a historic front while letting it all hang out on the back. Especially love the Sale By date (as in, there isn’t one)
But there is hope. Young entrepreneurs with concerns about climate change and the limitations of natural resources have a whole new language – vocabulary – at their concerned fingertips: nature, organic, vegan, green, sustainable, plant-based and so on.
Also they seek to make contact with their buyers, by making their story resonate. They use humour. They use poetry. They ground us. They encourage us to consider the intrinsic value of what we are buying.
“CEO Annabel Thomas left her job as a consultant in London after a whisky road trip prompted her to see if she could create a distillery with a difference. By March 2017, Nc’nean (pronounced Nook-knee-anne, it’s an abbreviation of Neachneohain, a witch-queen in Scots Gaelic folklore), was founded as the first fully organic modern distillery in Scotland powered by 100% renewable energy. The wood chips for the biomass boiler are sourced from a local forest, while all by-products are recycled as animal and plant feed on Drimin Estate where the distillery is located.”
Seduced by the philosophy (and the beautiful bottle, with its relief of white heather) we tasted Mc’nean’s first malt in 2020 and have never looked back. Interestingly, the company has already reduced the packaging as while lovely, was considered too wasteful. The bottles we keep to give away as souvenirs.
Good producers want us to know everything there is to know about their products. They want us to know where items come from, what they are made of, how they can help us. They seek to deepen our understanding, teach and illuminate.
Am I too gullible? Am I simply falling for new tricks to part me from my hard-earned cash? I choose to believe not. I am an idealist and I believe in ever-hopeful optimism even when there is so much pain, blind anger and cynicism in the world.
Mainstream manufacturers with one eye only on profit and shareholder interests are jumping onto the ethically-inclined bandwagon, so be aware! The loose use of the word ‘organic’ does not necessarily mean the product is organic, according to certified rules. It is time therefore to still think globally – we are One – but actively consume locally, which is supportive and reliable. A gift of raspberries ‘grown in Morocco’ is not longer acceptable, unless you live in Morocco that is! Raspberries are naturally seasonal, so let’s enjoy at the right time, not all year round. Think need, not want. Many are adapting to this policy and to some extent lockdown has helped, bringing us back not only into our physical homes, but ourselves and a more thoughtful space.
Go to any farmers market throughout the summer and see how local producers are marketing their wares. Of course they are concerned to make a good living, but the large majority who make something with their own hands are invested in honesty and the desire to make lives better not worse. Is not that why we are here? To ensure we leave the planet a better place than the one we were born into?
It strikes me – a lack of foresight for sure – that much of the above may appear to be primarily concerned with whisky. This is because during lockdown we stayed close to home, keeping away from markets and urban areas. Instead we tested a new brew every couple of months and so became familiar with the most interesting on the market via The Whisky Box in Dunkeld. Scotland appears especially innovative, creative and protective of its history and geography, and nowhere it this better reflected than in the marketing of its most admired beverage
The ultimate soft sell: wonderful that so few words can be so powerfully evocative …
I banished the words ‘accident’ and ‘coincidence’ from my lexicon long ago. Instead, I think synchronicity.
Synchronicity? A concept first introduced by the German analytical psychologist Carl Jungto describe circumstances that appear to be meaningfully related yet lack any causal connection. Science has no time for it, but I do, and so do many others …
Christmas Eve for example.
A gift ordered for Akii had not turned up so he had slim pickings, gloves and socks and a sign (ordered months before from the USA) for his doorway: Keeper of the Bees. This was on my mind as I drove to Dunkeld for milk and croissants, and little did I know that a treasure was waiting for me to find it.
Popping into the vintage shop next to the baker to offer seasonal greetings – Mara always does such eye-catching classy windows – I had a quick look around but saw nothing of interest.
Leaving – on the spur of the moment – I called back “Happy Christmas and year end, Mara. I don’t suppose you have anything Japanese, apart from large ceramic vases, do you?”
“Only a shrine”, she replied.
A shrine? And as she lifted it down, I gasped.
Ten minutes later it was lying on the front seat of my car, going home. I did not even query the cost, I realise now. Just said, “I’ll take it.”
Mara knew nothing of its provenance. Simply that she had found it in Edinburgh, and thought it ‘interesting’.
My first thoughts were that it was Shinto (animist) but not a kamidana, or god shelf. Traditional homes in Japan have one tucked high in the corner of the room for ritual devotions. Our favourite local eatery in Zushi, Harada, a family-run business as the name implies, had one that was always beautifully decorated, with white cut paper (for purification), flowers, and rice and sake for the gods.
This one is different, and neither of us quite understand why. We need Colleen Sakurai, an American artist in Japan who has collected unwanted/antinque/vintage kamidana for decades now. She would surely cast light onto its origin, use and meaning. Akii says he has found some online that look similar but they all roofed, and this is flat topped. Is part missing? We do not know, and it does not matter.
Akii has his third Christmas gift and he visits often, to stand quietly – thoughtfully —entranced.
Shinto in Scotland. Well why not? in Japan, my own far more modest kamidana was home to any number of images and artifacts, all symbolising and reflecting ‘isms’, as my book Household Stories explains: Judaism, Sufism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Animism, Socialism, Druidism, Capitalism, Imperialism, Communism … each and every one a philosophical way of looking at the world and initially at least designed to try and make sense of it for the common good.
Before Christianity spread here, and Japan, our ancestors worshipped seasonal changes and the movement of sun, moon and stars. They acknowledged dependence on nature and prayed for nature to be kind and understanding of simple human needs.
I think of the tree or trees from which this was made, and where they had grown reaching for the sky, the skilled fingers off those who made it, and the synchronistic magic that led it to our safekeeping. And I say thankyou.
Synchronicity is God sending us messages anonymously.” – Deepak Chopra
Growing up during wartime and through the immediate post-war years of the 1940s, there was no youth culture. This was launched in the 1950s and thereafter gained momentum. All I wanted to do as a teenager was become old enough to legally drink, smoke, vote, have sex and leave home. Twenty-one was the magic birthday number. As a result I looked and acted far older than my years, even though internally I was just another trembling adolescent. In a strange way I never had a youth; sadly I wasted it away …
It’s an equally strangely surprising thing that I have just turned 80.
Does that make me old? I think not, just older … older than I was the day before, yesterday. Older than just seconds ago. But old? Never.
Back in December last year, organising a month-long diary writing project that is now lodged with Perth Museum in their Covid-related archives, I wrote: “Today, after a long deep sleep, I woke to winter-warm light in a cold blue sky. Of course the sun is shining, it’s Buffy’s birthday. How come she is 55? I remember being 55, and it’s not that long ago. All part of the shape shifting that comes with age, but especially this year, when time seems to have lost shape altogether.”
And here I have to smile, because it’s not just time that has lost its shape. Parts of my body are on an ever-speeding downward trajectory, and as for my skin and muscle tone … something has definitely changed, even in recent months.
How I wish I had been as wise…(singer, songwriter and artist David Robert Jones, 1947-2016)
Mostly however I hear people talk about old people and wonder what and who they mean. I believe it’s a word that needs to be banished from the lexicon of daily usage. Yes, I know it means having lived or existed for a long time, but that’s not how it is regarded. It sweeps us all up regardless …
Old is anyone who has retired (not that I know what that means either). Anyone who has grey hair. Anyone who only wants to live with people of their own age. Anyone who cannot be bothered to keep up with new technology and world affairs. Anyone who chooses to wear a hairnet. (My mother wore a hairnet at night from the day her husband died; she was just 51.)
The American comedian, actor, singer and writer George Burns (1902-1996) is quoted as saying: “You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.”
This I do believe …(CSL, writer and theologian, 1898-1963)
Elena Roosevelt (former First Lady, diplomat and activist, 1884-1962) has a different slant on the subject: “Today is the oldest you’ve ever been, and the youngest you’ll ever be again.”
Like the American Pulitzer prize-winning poet Mary Oliver, who died in 2019 aged 84, I no longer worry. Instead, I too take my ageing body out into each and every morning, and sing. And dance; I have always danced …
The actor and prolific writer Shirley Maclaine also knows what I am talking about.
Now 87, she wrote in I’m Over All That: And Other Confessions (2011): “In this third act of my life, much has become clearer, so much is over, and I am over so much… I have learned to ease up on worry, scheming for films or rolls, planning for better surroundings, and feeling anger at all our leaders who operate politically rather than humanely. Yes, I am over all that. I’m over listening to advertisements, the latest fashions (I never was much for that), events I should attend in order to be seen, red carpet madness. I’m getting more and more free from the expectations of the external world. In fact the one worry I can’t seem to give up and get over is a lingering fear that being a reclusive, happy, older woman may not be entirely healthy. But who says so?”
I loved her book Sageing not Ageing, in which she focuses on the benefits of growing older: In her case, an increasing wisdom. Of course, some may say, it okay for her, being rich and famous. But I’m not sure that becomes very important, or any consolation, towards the end …
Or the beginning, as Shirley – and I – choose to believe… A new beginning.
When asked if I am truly convinced there is life beyond death, my reply is always the same: If there is nothing, so be it, there is nothing. But if there is something, how interesting, how exciting …
June 12, from A Year With Rumi – daily readings (Coleman Barks, 2006)
It’s several months since I last blogged. Maybe because I had nothing to say.
How can anyone not be happy to see Spring arrive? Right now, nature is about the only thing we can rely on and long may this continue. But for how long?
Now I get the feeling it really is time to move on. But how? Since the virus is clearly not going to go away, it may be just another we have to get used to, get vaccinated against annually like all the others that would otherwise ruin lives …
We need to keep moving, I suppose, so as to not fall into the traps of despondency and boredom that sadly afflict so many. Personally I always find it quite odd when someone complains they are bored. I’ve never been bored in my life. There’s always been far too much to explore, learn, consider. But then that’s just me: I have always had a very powerful inner creative life, living in a dreamworld of fantasy and possibility that is as destructive as it can be fortifying.
Looking back to 2020, I am wondering where it went. My friend John Bowstead, suffering vascular dementia, died of Covid-related symptoms early in the year, and I began a DOTWW writing course on March 15. Five students and I met the first Sunday, socially distancing, but then the UK went into lockdown and we never met again as a group. Over the next weeks though I talked with Alan (who has since been helping us here in the garden), Alison, Jane and Shiona by phone and facetime, encouraging them to do their omiyage homework and move on with their writing. As a full-time carer Lucy just could not find the time or energy, but we keep in touch.
Lucy, Alison, Shiona and Jane (who had covid but is now much better…)
Alan the Hat, who along with Alison and Jane contributed to the Diary Writathon in December 2020
The day of John’s funeral in London in April, I wrote a piece for an anthology about wine. I had known Graham Bathgate in Japan, and now he has a small publishing company in New Zealand specialising in books about vino. Asked if I would like to contribute, I immediately remembered a certain bottle that I drank before lunch one Christmas in the 1970s (and then passed out for the remainder of the day), when John and I were living together. The resulting piece – about 1,500 Words – was accepted, and Johnny Be Goode and that bottle published in TO WINE towards the end of the year.
Summer last? A bit of a blur.
I think it was in late October, with the UK sinking once more into the mire of confusion, fear and uncertainty (along with the rest of the world) that I came up with the idea of asking writers I have worked with here over the last decade (not that many but enough) to take on a date in December and submit a diary entry. As I have since written in an introduction to the project, ‘This was in part to give them something else to think about in the run up to Christmas, but also the opportunity to reflect on the past year and what may or may not lie ahead. I also hoped it might help them recall how much they loved writing.
Many accepted but others were too busy or disinclined, for whatever reason. So I extended the invitation to DOTWW students I had worked with in Japan, and then to a few who had returned – or were returning – from Asia to their home countries. Having filled the calendar, there were some latecomers keen to participate, so there has been some doubling up on dates.’
November got busy. December just flew by. I was so just caught up with daily submissions, 39 in total. It would have been 40, but one writer who took Christmas Day (along with two others) quite simply forgot. By the end of the first week of January this year they were all compiled into one document and circulated. I then decided to continue throughout this year, by asking 24 writers to take fortnightly blocks, plus one other submitting what we are calling ‘interludes’. As with the December project, everyone is meeting deadlines to near professional standards, and the calendar appears booked until July. Beyond that I have a list to draw upon, depending on circumstances.
Perth Museum has accepted the December project for Covid-related archives, and say they also want the one in progress right now. Beyond this there is no plan. But I do think they will provide a fascinating glimpse into the past in the future, a social document that while not being exactly global in its coverage of the pandemic, offers glimpses of life experienced in Scotland, England, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and the Netherlands in the most trying of times.
October last I also began writing what I am calling my memoirs, provisionally entitled THIS LITTLE I REMEMBER (and this much). Already I have a strapline for the end: This much I remember (and this little). Because the flood gates of memory have opened, and this was not what I was expecting. Every Monday I zoom with Kristin Newton in Tokyo, who at the same time I started writing began ancestral researches into her own Icelandic, French, Scottish and Californian roots (she was born in Hollywood!
Former glass artist Kristin via zoom: We encourage one another; we laugh a lot
Every week Akii and I have driven into Dunkeld or Blairgowrie for food, and from the very start worn masks. It’s customary in Japan to cover up if one has a cold or some other bug, to protect others; it came easy to follow suit here, and we took no notice of people who stared or even laughed.
We garden. We read. We cook, watch TV, films and documemtaries, and sleep (a lot). Akii does jigsaw puzzles, writes haiku, practises guitar, zooms with friends and family in Japan. Right now he is translating my last book, Five of a Feather into Japanese and using it as a weekly teaching tool with his brother and cousin, who are both learning English. He also finds his daily list of household chores – feeding the hens (and putting them to bed at night), chopping wood and laying the fire – a familiar reassuring comfort.
Oh, and I write.
Masked in public for over a year. Why do so many find it so hard?
Right now Akii is jigsawed out; must be Spring. Instead he is translating Five of a Feather – a fable. (Order online from books on Amazon)
The last piece I wrote for anyone other than myself was for Carolyn Hashimoto, a former graduate of DOTWW in Tokyo but now busy with a Masters in Creative Writing at Glasgow University. As part of her studies she is launching a fashion-related online magazine on April 16 called SKIRTING AROUND. To help her promote it I did a reading of Waist Lines on video (a first, but now that I can do it, not the last) and it will be attached to a twitter feed on Monday. Keeping up with social media tech stuff is far from easy (the language keeps changing), but I am doing my best.
I am learning Spanish online via Duolingo, and wondered the other day if I ought to try keep up my Japanese. I did a test and cartoon figures onscreen began jumping up and down, saying You know a lot! All things are relative however; I know how little I do actually know. .
Taking on new challenges is the way I personally keep moving forward, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Right now, facing 1981-1991 in my memoirs, I feel more than a little discombobulated – it was a tough time and so many of those involved are still alive – but I know I have to keep going. I know it’s the only way to move forward, move on, and hopefully leave the past well and truly behind.
Daffodils: an ever encouraging sign …
WEBSITE NOW LIVE ONLINE: https://www.skirtingaround.org
I began writing a new blog a week or so ago, but changed my mind. Instead of trying to answer a question addressed to myself, Where am I (in this once again Covid-affected and increasingly polarised world), it seemed a lot easier – and more fun – to write about brooms.
Do you want to be great? Pick up a broom and sweep the floor. Mother Theresa
Road in Etten, 1881. Artist Vincent van Gogh.(Photo by Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty Images)
I was listening to a BBC World Radio programme on this very subject, called Sweeping the World, and images began to dance before my eyes. Not only the leaves drifting in desultory fashion past the kitchen window, signalling the arrival of autumn, but brooms past and present.
It’s time to start sweeping autumn fall into huge golden heaps readied to decompose into leaf mould over the winter. (Neighbour Tom will climb over the fence to transfer buckets to his compost heap, to be layered with summertime grass clippings for rich potato pickings next year.)
Problem is, no besom. They seem so hard to find around here. And using a rake is just not the same.
I loved my besom broom in Japan, purchased from a shop in downtown Zushi that specialised in the most amazing and creative ranges of kitchenware and garden tools imaginable, all manner of useful equipment made from bamboo and wood.
Stored in our cave (Household Stories/Katei Monogatari, page 19) and lasting for years, it was immensely satisfying to use, sweeping up and down the drive, and all around the house.
Swish, swish, swish.
By the time we left to come here, to Scotland, the twigs had near worn down, but still did the job until the day of closing up the genkan for the very last time. Its remains? Secreted high on the mountainside to return to nature.
When I was eight, my pals and I went up to my bedroom, put on our party frocks and mimed to ABBA records using broom handles as microphones. Kylie Minogue
In Europe besom are traditionally made of birch twigs, gathered around the base of a branch and tied into place. In the UK, the craft appears centralised in and around in Hampshire, where the broom maker “by appointment to the Queen” is based. (www.besombrooms.com)
Visitors to Aberfedy, Perthshire, Scotland are often drawn to The Birks. In Gaelic, birk means birch trees. It strikes me that there is a small business here, should anyone fancy the woodland life and working with trees rather than against them.
Besom of course are for outdoor use. Softer brooms are used inside. Again in Household Stories/Katei Monogatari, this time on page 47 (and an illustration on page 44), I describe how I bought such a broom from a Japanese woman in her eighties, carrying her hand-crafted wares on her back. Woven from rice straw, it is far too beautiful to use, and now hangs on a wall.
For centuries then brooms have been regarded as practical and effective means by which to keep floors and living spaces clean. Nor has their basic design changed much, wherever you are in the world. Based in cheap and simple practicality, they fall into that category of refined and even revered everyday objects known as folk craft, or mingei in Japanese.
The first time they became linked to the supernatural was in the 14th century, when illustrations in Austria showed two women riding broomsticks. Rumour spread of a witches coven, and their rounding up and execution resulted in the burning and drowning of five million predominantly women through the next century.
For today’s generation, brooms have become magical enough to make author J.K Rowling a millionaire, and Harry Potter a household name.
Too bad brooms can’t really fly. Now if you miss the bus you can go to your room and fly to school on a nimbus two thousand. Rupert Grinch
While a dying craft when compared to numbers produced in the past, there is a revival of interest and they are increasingly snapped up at fairs, agricultural shows and farmers markets. Plastic? Definitely had its day.
Or has it? My daughter bought a boat the other day. An old houseboat moored on Toronto Island in Canada. It came complete with an ancient broom, that is part wood (the handle) and part synthetic fibres. Does the job, she says, when needed!
When asked about it, she revealed that Max (my grandson) had named it ‘spiders bane’, because it came with the boat and on the first day the boat was like a scene from a horror movie. “So many cobwebs that we designated it the cobweb broom.”
Be amazed to know that the oldest broom of natural materials known is dated 200BC. Discovered in a watchtower in China, it still had the original ties, and the handle displaying a fine patina. At 2,000 years old, this is both astonishing and yet unsurprising in its familiarity.
Painting, 19th century. Japanese artist Shibata Zeshin. (Photo by Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty Images)
Even today, go anywhere in the world, and the basic design of the broom has not changed. Tie some fibres to a stick and away you go to do the job.
My Japanese husband can remember his mother scattering tatami matting with wetted newspaper (to collect dirt and dust) and then sweeping clean with a broom not dissimilar to the one shown below in Africa.
Mukuni Village, Zambia. (Photo by: Edwin Remsberg/VW PICS/UIG via Getty Image)
A new broom sweeps clean but an old broom knows the corners. Irish proverb
So why this sudden foray into brooms… swish, swish, swish…
Imagine a broom that would sweep not only dirt and dust but germs, pandemics, misguided policies, inept and dangerous politicians over the moon and far far away…
Swish, swat, scram …
It feels like I have somehow come full circle and the last thing you need is a downer at this point. May this quote by the reclusive but ever inspiring Milan Kundera (b.1929) – he who wrote The Unbearable lightness of Being – help lift your spirits, calm anxiety, raise a smile, feed your soul.
Stay safe everyone.
Sleep in my arms. Like a baby bird. Like a broom among brooms … In a broom closet. Like a tiny parrot. Like a whistle. Like a little song. A song sung by a forest … within a forest … a thousand years ago.
The weekend of May 30-31, the Coronovirus lockdown was partially lifted by the Scottish government. After months of being confined to home, however large or small, Scots could theoretically go out and about, and while the large majority stayed put, thinking of others as much as themselves and so doing their best to keep us all safe, a significant few thought Buggar this for a laugh, we’re off!
And – with no pubs, cinemas or shopping malls open – off they drove, to Loch Lomond (from Glasgow way), Loch Tay and Loch Tummel, beaches along the Fifeshire coastline and any other scenically endowed stretch of water they could find on the touristic maps of mainstream and social media.
Looking northwards, across to Forneth House
One of these was Loch Clunie, a centrally placed jewel in a necklace of five freshwater lochs (lakes) strung along the Lunan Burn in the Lunan Valley, which connects Dunkeld and Blairgowrie, in Perthshire. It is a designated area of natural beauty, the main reason a proposed wind farm at Dulater was turned down at the highest level just last year.
Craiglush is just that: lush; Loch of the Lowes has protected species (famed osprey).
Butterstone seems to have fiercely defended fishing rights; you only ever see rowing boats out in all weathers.
Beyond Clunie, there is Marlee, with soft fruit and Christmas trees farmed on the south side, and the northern shore now cut off from public access by wire (2019) and (significantly more recently) large boulders placed in unofficial and official laybys.
There is a sixth expanse of water, Rae Loch, just before Ardblair Castle on the A923 just before Blairgowrie, but this is not counted as part of the chain. Why?
Because in any rainfall, water overspills onto the roadway and flood signs lying along the sides of the road are lifted into place again. The reason? It is near clogged with rushes, and surrounded by swamp. This protects from intrusion, while driving motorists, cyclists and even walkers up the wall (not that there is one of course). And as long as the wrangling goes on between officialdom, and nature reservists who claim beavers have the right to do their thing, like chewing down trees and building dams, and rare species of flora require protection ahead of human wants and needs, nothing will change. It is quite simply allowed to be.
And then there is Clunie, right there in the middle and as popular now as it has been for centuries. *As Kenneth McAlpine united the Picts qnd Scots in 843, he chose Dunkeld as his capital and Clunie for the site of his summer hunting palace.
Late 19th century photograph, taken when the ‘castle’ was still visible and largely intact
Locals say that summer time has always been a bit of a noisy smoke-driven litter-strewn nightmare, with people from the cities and roundabout – tinkers, travellers and, since the 1970s, EU workers from the berry fields roundabout – coming for picnics and camping for as long as can be remembered.
Camping as it ought to be, in tune with nature, offending no-one
A wonderful way to learn about Clunie’s history and wildlife
Responsible camping: A big family party who brought not only dogs but their own toilet
But the weekend that restrictions were lifted in Phase 1 of exit from lockdown, Clunie made the news. Not only were there 60+ cars parked everywhere – on lanes, in fields, on verges – but some 400 people – mostly from Dundee and Glasgow – partied by night and day. It came to a head at 3am on Sunday morning when the estate manager for Forneth House – his family unable to sleep and anxious – confronted three drunken individuals on the lochside, and was stabbed.
The owners of Forneth House flew in the following day from the Netherlands to check on their property and the wellbeing of employees and establish exactly what happened.
It took days for local groups to clear the litter and debris left behind. It seems commonplace these days after music festivals and other weekend events, to just leave tents and equipment, or even dump it all in water. And as for the human waste…
Much aroused and worried, there came the call for a meeting to discuss the situation with a local councillor. And so within days some 30 individuals, including landowners and representatives from the various local groups who do their best to use the loch responsibly, met online by zoom.
The main problem, everyone felt, was that the loch’s shoreline is ‘owned’ by five different people: the owners of Forneth House (who demand privacy); a man who lives in Cornwall and is said to have bought a stretch of land at a public auction for £4,000; an area of what is called common grazing land but most probably does have an owner recorded way back in the mists of time; a 40 yard stretch of ‘beach’ supposedly used by a local family as their landing stage; and the rest all part of the Snaigow Estate, owned by Edward Cadogan, Lord Chelsea. It is Snaigow that ‘owns’ Loch Clunie’s waters, and this includes its famed island, an ancient crannog with historic links to Dunkeld.
After the meeting was over, I could not sleep, and sat up wondering why I felt so disconcerted. And then I woke up, realised …
All those involved had been talking about how they used the loch. Yet the most important voice was absent. The voice of Clunie Loch itself. Who spoke on its behalf? No-one. So I walked our labyrinth, asked if this lovely place that I have been visiting since 1951 and now regard as a close friend and neighbour, would like to have a word, say its piece. And so it spoke:
I listened to you all the other evening. I heard you talking of proprietorial ownership of land – my ever-changing ‘owned’ shoreline. I heard you talking about how much you enjoyed using me. Using me for fishing, row-boating, paddling and swimming, as your ancestors have done for centuries. But more recently, for paddle-boarding, something you call wild swimming, yoga, canoeing and kayaking. In the main, quiet and gentle pursuits and ones I can happily live with.
Do you ever wonder how I feel about it, though? Naturally my water is in constant flow, moving from where the Lunan burn enters to where it leaves under the bridge to continue on to Marlee, so in this respect I am constantly changing and evolving. But at heart I am the whole environment, living in a harmonious whole as One.
I am the trees that thrive near good water. So why do some of you – some, not all – tear me apart, rip me down, saw and cut into me; don’t you know that my green wood of a sap-full summer fails to burn?
I am the shrubs and trees and flowers that both protect and feed off me. And yet you have no respect, leaving not only unwanted goods but your urine and excrement to despoil me, in terms of my own wellbeing, and that of other more considerate visitors.
I am the fish and diverse water creatures that naturally plumb my depths for nutrients, but are forced to dive dive dive by jetskiis and motorboats. There are not many of these noisy polluting monsters, but the few that tear me up cause havoc and great distress.
I am the birds that live on and with me – swans, ducks and all the other water fowl that enjoy my peace and quiet. Imagine our terror when invaded; think about how long it takes it regain our trusting equilibrium.
I am the birds that fly above me. But not when our flight paths or circling food forays or nests are threatened. Then we think to move away, seek wilder safer places elsewhere. This is when I forsee degradation and loss and even death on our imminent horizon.
I am the awesome creatures that come to drink at night. Voles, beavers, deer…
And in my quiet waters – my usually cold, mostly dark, occasionally desperate waters – where lily stems writhe, seeking a grip on thrashing limbs, and algae will bloom to negative effect to all (except the algae) if conditions prevail – I hold my peace.I can sense the respect of those who show consideration, who are quietened and even healed by my own undemanding meditative existence. They leave more contemplative, more at one with themselves and nature at large.
Credit: Kelly McIntyre
But then there are others who arrive in a state of unconsciousness and leave no better improved. They light fires, smoking out wildlife and leaving me burned and hurt. They throw empty cans into me and leave smashed glass for wild creatures to tread on. Thoughtlessly, they use, dump and move on. A great time, I hear them shout, wholly ignorant of the cost.
So what can I do? How can I keep my environmental health and ravishing natural beauty intact?
If you cannot live in harmony with me, respect my existence as much as I want to respect your own, then please, I beg of you, just stay away.
Credit: Kelly McIntyre
* From MEMORIAL INSCRIPTIONS AT CLUNIE CHURCH with historical notes by Elma Rodger Wood. Published by the Dunkeld and Birnam Historical Sociey, 1996, 2006. Master sheets and photographs are now held in the Dunkeld Cathedral archives.
I look up into the sky and it is the purest azure blue. It is also empty. Not empty of birds and cloud, but planes, and the vapour trails so beloved of conspiracy theorists.
These strange shape-shifting time-shifting days, such people – and I know a fair number – have other things on crazed over-active imaginative but otherwise perfectly reasonable and accurate minds.
What is actually going on behind the scenes of pandemic and economic collapse, they ask.
Who is making all the money, stashing all the cash in off-shore accounts, while poorly paid medics and other so-called front-line workers (to use the military terminology beloved of certain politicians and media oligarchs) work all hours of the night and day to save our lives?
Who is really in charge?
And what kind of world is being created for our children and future generations?
Just one click: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1974389855
But let me get back to birds – fly into the realms of be-feathered fancy and distraction. Because what can any of us do, we sigh, especially being in lockdown. Or shall we be suspicious of that too? Have ‘they’ got the masses (that’s theoretically you, and me, by the way) exactly where they want us: out of the way, too scared to put unmasked faces out of the door for fear… We are being educated to be afraid, and so we mostly are: anxious, distressed, fear-full.
For us, here in the lush countryside of Perthshire where the air is clear and roads have lain silent for two and a half months, life is not so changed. We find ourselves immensely fortunate to no longer live in a city, or to have to share living space with others. The very thought of a single mum with two small children isolated on the tenth floor of a converted office block somewhere in England – the government’s solution to the housing problem – is, as they say up here, beyond my ken.
Time has changed though. Those days when it was sliced up into even quite large segments – but still called a schedule – are long gone. Now it is elastic, and stretches… Stretches in all directions, somehow – imaginatively, creatively, philosophically – while staying anchored in the same spot.
I have remained in my seat, in my lovely working space with the best feng shui this side of Asia, seeing a book to bed. True I have to trek back and forth across the garden, and in all weathers too, including hail in late April. But while giving my eyes a rest from the computer screen, I have seen branches break into green, wild cherry blossom flurry free on windy days, and now, the lawn – more moss than grass – spattering yellow, white and blue, with dandelions, daisies, buttercups and speedwell.
And the book? A piece of fiction – a fable – inspired by something that happened here, and which I started writing in Japan, it was completed in 2018 and then tinkered with through last year, so has some provenance. Why I did not push for publication for Christmas 2019 is a bit of a mystery to me. After all I had found the illustrator for the cover in October, and she had pulled out all the stops to get it done. Why had I not matched her enthusiastic response and energetic professionalism?
The answer I realize now is that I was not well. I was angry, despairing, being dragged down. So much so that we had no Christmas, or New Year; I just did not have the energy, could not be bothered. It was the build – the dragging build – that did it. An extension to the cottage that was supposed (on the basis of a handshake) to take three months maximum, but which was still not finished in February.
It was then I took matters into my own hands and in a state of desperate ignorance hired a team of cowboys to slate the roof. (Yes, we had been left to live through a Scottish winter without a roof or functioning electrics.) The day they left, it felt like a mountain being lifted from my shoulders. It has taken rather longer to smile again, especially since I have had come to see and accept that a botch job was done and it will have to be done again, but back in February life was slowly returning to that state of mind and being we called normal.
Then came the virus.
Now we have another normal. Staying local. Social distancing. Washing hands. Wearing masks. Shopping for needs, not wants.
What will the normal be next week? No idea. There is no normal any more; we need to learn to live in new and different ways, many of which may prove to be initially challenging but – let’s choose to believe – ultimately for the individual and collective planetary good. Those unconscious beings who insist to returning to their old ways may, I’m afraid, suffer alarming consequences.
My normal last week was an interview with the local paper about the book, published on May 1st. The photo-journalist and I sat outside in the sunshine, several metres apart, and Akii made us mint tea, which he left under a tree for us to help ourselves in our own time. A rather lovely afternoon if the truth be told.
My normal today? After an early shop to beat the queues, package up some books for posting out for promo purposes. Oh, and that drawing of a cat in a frame that I’d like to go to my daughter in Toronto. Also dig up some compost for putting in plants rooted over the winter. And stake an apple tree shaken free in a recent gale. Small things, but harmless and all useful in their own sweet ways. I get up, I do things, this and that, and then it’s time to go to bed.
And so it is. Good night. (With gratitude for today.)
Good morning. (With gratitude for another day.)
I am often asked where my ideas come from, and never more so than with any piece of fiction. What follows are five entries on Facebook that I posted late April into May as leads-ins to publication.
STORIES LEADING TO THE STORY…
No.1. A visual image seeded long ago
This scroll of a pair of mandarin ducks hung in my study in Japan for as long as I can remember. I have no memory of where it came from; was it a gift, did I buy it?
It has hung here in the o-shotei (my work space/study/studio ) since we came to Scotland in late 2012. And I would have liked to photograph it in situ, just across from my desk, but sadly a dark day, with rain clouds gathering to the west. So I hung it outside, and realise that since its job is done – the story told and book on its way – it can maybe find a new home. Right now, mission accomplished, it is blowing in the breeze, almost as if readying for take off. Interesting how these things happen.
STORIES LEADING TO THE STORY…
No.2. Clipped and pinned
It seems I got the arrival date of the scroll wrong. It came as part of a Christmas package, to be described tomorrow.
Today I’m going to take you back to the time I subscribed to the weekly airmail version of The Guardian Newspaper. Being far from home, it was a regular treat and I always read it from headline to yes, even the last word on the last sports page.
In one issue, sometime after the year 2000 and our move to Zushi, I cut out a tiny three-line report that a lone male Mandarin duck had been spotted on a reservoir near Bridgenorth, in Shropshire. Being the county of my ancestral heritage, and knowing the area well, I suppose it resonated; I certainly knew next to nothing about Mandarins.
On a visit back here to see my mother and aunt prior to 2007, the incident occurred locally that sparked the idea for my story, and the subject of that clipping was most probably why ducks became Mandarins in my mindset.
The clipping, which resided for many years on my pinboard in Zushi, disappeared in the move in 2012. But I remember it well.
PS This film was shot in 2010 in Rotterdam, which – another piece of engaging synchronicity – is (in my story) en route…
STORIES LEADING TO THE STORY
No.3. One Mandarin after another
I was Akii who gave me the scroll, and various other duck-related memorambilia, for Christmas four years ago. I had published HOUSEHOLD STORIES/Kateo Monogatari, and was set on my next project, but flagging.
“They are to encourage you,” he explained, as I opened one after another small packages, gleaned from e-Bay and all over.
And so they did. For a while at least.
STORIES LEADING TO THE STORY.
No.4. Knit and stitch, write on
The winter of 2018 was hard. My hands were so cold some days I could not write. Then Cassie came to my rescue.
Passionate about colour, Cassandra is a textile artist living in Brighton (https://cassandrawhitfield.com/) When I first arrived in London in 1962, I and her mother, Judy Whitfield (and two others) shared a flat in NW2, so I have known Cass since she was a baby.
Knowing she was making mittens from recycled fabrics and adding personal notes with applique and stitches, I commissioned a pair to help my Mandarins move forward, and within days, they arrived.
Looking at them now, I am delighted not only by the birds, but the symbols she used, both of which synchronistically appear on the cover of my book. They were on a list I sent the illustrator, Meilo So, who lives on Yell, Shetland.
STORIES LEADING TO THE STORY… No. 5. Moving in the right direction
It was a friend of a friend who put me straight.
“Your ducks”, she said, pointing to three vintage ceramic mallards hung above my door, “are flying in the wrong direction.”
Sally Lemsford was looking around my study after staying the night after a conference in Aberdeen.
“Aren’t they supposed to be flying home to China? Well, they are heading West.”
She was right. As soon as she had left, for the long drive back down south, I took them down and hung them on the wall opposite. Finally, they were heading East.
The very next day I found the Chinese illustrator I had been searching for, and arranged to meet in Aberdeen.
Soon enough, the story was told. The cover illustrated. Production completed.
And so, after five stories, FIVE OF A FEATHER – a fable.