A thought for today

Sometimes, you’re offered a topic on which to write that is a challenge, a chore even; other times yet, a topic that, in one word, sees inspiration pouring from your veins. Today was the latter; at writing ‘class’ we were asked to consider the topic of ‘migration’ and 4 hours later I’ve already written 3 pieces; here’s one of them.

Migration 2

No one will object if I cross the border from England to Scotland, my spiritual home, much as my dad crossed from his homeland to England in the early 1950s. There will be no forms to complete, no nuances of language lost on my foreign mind. I will not have to prove ability to work, good health – mental or physical – or justify my rationale for this move. I will be one of many who traverse UK countries with the liberty of migrating birds, creating history’s footprints.

A line from a song enters my thoughts; those outspoken, proudly broad-accented twin Proclaimers:
“We’re all Scotland’s story and we’re all worth the same.”
It tells, like Ellis Island, a winding, weaving tale of migration; it speaks of hardships and struggle to reach a destination, lay down roots.

I return to thoughts of my dad, alive yet stripped of speech and movement. I watch Andy Stewart with him on YouTube; another song, a different yarn. This one touches my heart like a single tear; the soldier who longs to return to the “hills of home”. In dad’s eyes, I see that yearning, the knowledge of what will never now be, and we don’t need words …

© Liz MacKenzie
9 November 2017

If you want to hear/watch the two songs on YouTube, the links are below.

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Walking in the steps of others

When I visit Aberdeen, I am at home though I have never lived there. At the beach, I see my lovely dad, imagine his steps in the sand. This was a place he loved but will sadly never visit again since he had a massive stroke in 2015. I wonder what it is like never to go home again.

 

At the Falls of Feugh I imagine dad, mum, Jean, Myra and Betty (my dad’s sisters and my aunts). I gasp at the rush of the water and the bellow of emotion, of disbelief that only Jean and dad remain – the oldest and the youngest of the clan.

 

At The Ashvale Restaurant, I think of the last time I was there with Jean. She was walking with a stick by then but still spritely. When we came out of the restaurant the plan had been to catch the bus back to her flat but she got going and decided she’d walk, after all. I picture her getting going, her little legs hurtling along as if she wouldn’t stop.

I go to Bagels and Stuff; it is just round the corner from Thistle Court where my aunts lived. There are so many memories of Thistle Court, yet Bagels and Stuff is my own memory supplanted when all seemed impossible. I feel comfortable there; the staff know my order and that is immeasurably reassuring.

Aberdeen: The Granite City. Union Street continues to bustle along. My favourite clock ticks and turns if not quite in time; I wait beneath it for the soldiers to start twirling to the tune of Magic Roundabout.

Every step, tread, pace, stride, I am there behind one of my relations; stepping where they have surely been, treading their memories, pacing to the sound of their voices, striding to their tune. Today I feel it as sharply as the brisk walk of my aunt heading jauntily across Union Street, before Union Square had been conceived. I am with them all; I am home.

“Home: the place where one lives permanently”.  Though maybe I, like the salmon at Feugh, return by instinct to the place I feel safe, I belong.

© Liz MacKenzie

Can I do a Flop Flip?

This week, in the creative writing class, our Tutor talked about the fact that, in the English language, we automatically use the terms flip flop, drip drop, and so on, rather than placing them the other way round – i.e. flop flip, drop drip, tock tick… The BBC referred to it as the I-A-O rule – I before A, before O. This got me thinking and inspired the following quick, tongue in cheek poem (though it does have a serious banknote). 

Flop Flip

Still I stand

While people Flop Flip

Opinions

Offering up

Divergent views.

 

Turn, I turn

While silken Drop Drip

Cascades

Rinsing off

Obsolete news.

 

Gentle I whir

While children Down Up

Run and play

Chasing and kicking

Off shoes.

 

You don’t want

A nuclear site.

You make banners

And bemoan

Your plight.

Yet still you

Flop Flip

Drop Drip

Down Up

My harmless flight.

 

Not In My Back Yard?

 

© Liz MacKenzie 

 

The Room

I have recently joined a creative writing course as a way of trying to clamber over the writing blocks I keep bashing up against. The theme for this series of sessions is ‘writing about art’ and, at first, I wondered how that would go. I need not have worried, though, the class is relaxed and informal, the tutor welcoming and encouraging. I find that I have not only reignited the creative writing spark, I come to it with new experiences that I hope enrich the words and their meaning. Last week, we were set a ‘homework’ task. We had two paintings to choose from and the task was to marry description of the piece alongside ‘something more’. Almost immediately, I found a story thread itself through my mind and wanted to dash home and get on the computer. This is the result. I won’t tell you what the painting was until the end, though you may work it out for yourself …

The Room
Lately, the visits had left me with a burning, helpless hurt at sight of her, “don’t you understand me?” eyes but, for this final visit, those forever cherished eyes, which bore unconditional love and hope and belief returned. I didn’t know it would be the last visit; I didn’t know.

I never considered it then but, looking back, there is recognition that she held onto me as much I her. We were clinging together, a flimsy, barely-floating raft launched time and again at cruel waves, challenged to survive, or give in to the force that presented itself. I clung to her and yet, at the same time, I had no need to cling for she was everything she could be, and more. She was solid as well-tended drystake walls, warm as hot-water-bottled beds, yet firm and straight as Roman roads; she was all I needed when life’s plans cut me harshly from everything I knew. She faced her losses, with grace; some might say she was stoical but I think of her as practical, willing to face another day, and another yet, despite the keening that screamed relentlessly within her.

I remember the day she held my small hand as she showed me the room; it’s there like an imprint, forever etched just as it was. I wanted it to be that way in perpetuity. The pine bed with its burnt orange blankets, pillows and sheets in softest cream. Two chairs, pine with wicker seating; solid and reassuring. A wash of blue on walls and doors, ewer, jug, water jug, coats and cardigans. The contrast of the forest green windows, looking strong and determined; secure. Small pine table with drawer for my nick nacks, atop which stood toiletries in pretty ceramic bottles, soap that smelt like her and the hairbrush that may have been my grandfather’s. It certainly wasn’t the type for a small girl but I treasured it all the same, its brushes gentle as though they whispered through my curled locks. Pictures, mirror and towel hung on long nails that seemed to have been hammered to the very soul of the room, defying time and wear. The wood floor with its pinkish blush, soft, inviting. Pictures showed a young man in a blue shirt mirroring the room’s comforting hues, and a young woman in pink, reflecting the floor’s. It was all so perfect; no need for words really though she gave me two – “it’s yours” – and I sank in believing it was forever.

No one tells you then that forever is ungraspable; forever is fantasy; forever is a wish, a hope but it’s not permanency. Forever, in truth, is only as long as it can be and sometimes it’s gone too soon. Years passed like the landscapes in Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem that she always read me, even when I was thirty-two; “faster than fairies, faster than witches, bridges and houses, hedges and ditches”. I recited it to her once, just four days before that final visit and I noted the faint flicker of remembering, of connection, though I could never match her reading, never bring that sense of speed and movement and gasping fun to it.

I emptied her home with a detached calm that belied rising panic and agony; how could I do this to her? Give me all the logical reasons in existence – I’m sure her voice would have been in there too – but there was no logic, no reason or belief that could break the tearing, renting ache as I dismantled it all. The Room was last, demoted to “The Room” in a vague, but lukewarm, attempt at lessening the blow. It was all I could do not to lie on the cosy bed of my childhood, close my eyes and never waken, but she deserved more than that of me so I took it apart, piece by agonising piece, until it was done. By then it was a bare room, just a room, and said “goodbye”. I suppose I could have kept all the component parts but, somehow, it would never have seemed right; those things belonged to my past now and marrying them into my future would not cool hurt’s flame. I kept just one thing, just one small and enduring reminder of all she had been, all she was and all we had shared. She knew I’d done it; I knew she knew I’d done it but we didn’t dare tiptoe toward that desolation. It was the only time of pretence between us, though our eyes shared the truth in quickly grasped snatches, gone before they had chance to arrive.

She’s been gone more than a year now; anniversaries and special days have all passed by and I’m told the platitudes every bereaved person comes to know. Gran has gone and with her the anchor that kept me safe; held onto me when no one else was there. I don’t see her standing next to me or hear the wisdom of her words though, just occasionally when I brush my hair with the old hairbrush, I am back in that sky-blue haven, enveloped in her love, and strong again.

© Liz Mackenzie
6 October 2017

(The painting I chose to write about was Van Gogh’s Bedroom)

 

Liz’s Tea Towel

Virtual Tea Towel Museum

Liz is a longstanding friend of mine.  I have known her for more than 22 years, both as a work colleague and as on of my best friends.  We have shared many holidays, days out and experiences, both happy and sad.  We are a good team; our skills and deficiencies balance out.  She can drive (and manoeuvre a caravan) and I can’t; she can cook and I can’t.  I can load a washing machine, deal with the bins and deal with dead animals; Liz can’t.  That’s what friendship is all about.  I, sort of, knew that this Guest Tea Towel was coming up.  I wasn’t sure how it would happen but I knew it would be a ‘lump in the throat’ job.  I knew it would be long.  I knew I wouldn’t have to edit it in any way.  Here is Liz’s Guest Tea Towel, the unabridged version:

IMG_0418This might…

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Tentatively I reach for my pen …

It is, in fact, not a pen but a keyboard that I reach for; tentative is, most definitely, the word however. I have not planned what to write. I don’t know how it will come out. I don’t know if I will publish it or save it or delete it. Here goes.

Through a passing comment to a fellow Twitterer about how writing can, I think, help with expressing thoughts and feelings, I had a few gentle exchanges, culminating in my giving a link to “Meltdown and Botanics”. I then read I am that Girl 007’s Life, Strife & Muses piece entitled “Betty’s Granddaughter”. (I am that girl)

That got me thinking. Why am I not writing anything? Why the drought for nearly a year? If I’m claiming it’s so helpful, why am I not doing it? Questions, questions. If I go back to Meltdowns and Botanics my reasons become obvious to me, if not to anyone else who does not know what happened next. How could it be that I had ‘lost’ my words? I had a plan. I’m good with a plan; I need a plan. Sometimes, though, plans don’t happen because you can’t work out how to make one, or whatever you plan is dulled – like trying to cut bread with a plastic knife when you’re really hungry and you end up accepting defeat; you’re beaten. Was that how I felt? Is that how I feel? More questions.
Let’s go back a bit. My last post was a year ago. On that occasion it was inspired by a combination of the Brexit referendum result and a day out in Southend, ending up going through Shoeburyness. Prior to that I’d been with my plan; the Meltdown to Botanics plan, combining a love of photography and creative writing. There had been bumps in the road but, largely, it was going well. I had purpose amid the chaos of enforced change. I had a plan.
Then, January 2017 dawned (there was more before this but that’s another story). A new year; a new start? A new year; yes. Then death crawled in; it spread its tendrils where they were least expected and took my mum. There; I’ve written it. It’s said. I’m reminded now that I begun a poem in the three achingly long weeks between her death and funeral. Began is the word as I never quite finished it though I will try to now.
Death is so final …
Death is so final
And yet …
I hear her
In Wogan’s Floral Dance
Singing along to the
Twinkle-eyed prance.
Death is so final
And yet …
She’ll be at the oven
Baking her bread,
Time in her hand
If not in her head.
Death is so final
And yet ..
She’s remembered in
Apple pies, puddings and cake,
Dream them on empty nights
Before you must wake.
Death is so final
And yet …
She’ll be there
In the Autumn leaves,
All childhood innocence
Soft as a breeze.
Death is so final
And yet …
Is that really so?
Or are memories and mannerisms
Stored up in others
To touch when you go?
I’ve chosen these 2 photos of my mum because she looks content in both. The one on the left was from the early 1950s; the one on the right late Autumn 2016 – still crunching through the leaves even with a Zimmer frame, with her handbag (so proud of that Radley bag) over her arm and her ‘smart’ coat on.
There’s more of this story to come but I’ve made a start …

From Brexit to Bragg (Billy, that is)

 

Watch the news unfolding
Fireworks exploding
Smashing to the ground
Their spent out litter –
Now who’s a quitter
Today? It’s just not ok.
Where do we live?
The road to disarray.

Remains cry and wail
They’ve lost their sail
And leave just bitter
(And I don’t mean beer)
Today. It’s just not ok.
We’re en route
To unindependence day
(Please don’t cheer)

Heading off to Southend
Normalcy be my friend
1930s artists
Are surprisingly bewitching.
Community for unity
And even nice people
Today, so that’s ok.
In all this disarray.

Cliff lift abandoned
Pier train is cancelled
Desolation mocks
Solidarity’s hand
On which we depend
When in Southend
Yet, it’s ok, today
Come the end.

Driving rain, driving cars
Could I maybe be on Mars?
Shoeburyness is calling
As beach huts sit pretty
On shell sand
They are just grand.
So it’s ok,
To be here today.

Mind’s 80s memorabilia
Song and verse snatching
I’m sure it’s Shoeburyness
Could it really be so catching
To be here
On Bragg’s A13?
If you know the song
You’ll know what I mean.

So at risk of plagiarism
With apologies to Billy
I’m sure his verse was
Never quite so silly as mine.
Yet it was thrilling
And political (if not all the time)
And his A road, his okay road
Is sublime …..

© Liz Mackenzie

 

If you want to listen to Billy Bragg’s A13, Trunk Road to the Sea – here it is on YouTube