Wednesday, January 24, 2007

At 7 this morning my children were throwing snowballs at the windows and front door. Yes! At last, it had arrived. Just when I was wondering if we'd ever see it again. We listened hopefully to local radio for news that their school was closed, but it was running normally, so their plans for sledging had to be abandoned.

By midday, most of the snow had gone from the streets but the downs were still hanging onto it. They were transformed. I walked up past the racecourse and on bridleways through the fields, delighted that even if this is the only day of snow we have, I had the opportunity to see it all laid out, patterned by sheep, birds, dogs, footprints and mud, by the hollows that escaped it, by the patches under trees that remained green and strips of scrub that interrupted the white together with yellow gorse flowers, hawthorn berries and blue stained sheep with mottled brown faces attempting to graze.

Only the digital photos I took are proof of how this morning looked. The sea was flat, barely a wave. As if there was no way it could even compete, after the storms of last week. The sea had its time. Today the downs and the sky.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

At this time of the year, mid January, my father used to stockpile holiday brochures and ring me up asking my opinion on a Nile cruise or north Africa. He'd travelled all his life. Some of my earliest memories are of watching flickering cine film of impala jumping across a screen he put up in our living room to give us some idea of his latest trip to Kenya. His photo albums were full of palm trees and views across astonishing bays - he was an aeronautical engineer. But when he retired he missed moving around, missed work and suffered in winter from the absence of sun.

These are desperate months and I give into sleep. I'm happy to be in bed by 9 in winter, sometimes to read until the book falls out of my hand and I jolt awake for the seconds it takes to turn off the light and take off my glasses. When there is sun you have to take advantage of it. Yesterday was glorious. I was moving plants in the front garden, putting two Christmas roses by the fence behind a mock orange, dividing Michaelmas daisies and lilies, shifting bluebells around and turning the soil over, pulling out the ever-present bindweed and ground elder. There were two flowers on the winter honeysuckle, sweet and strong as the orange blossom I remember in Marrakesh years ago, when I fell asleep in one of the palaces, the scent was so comforting and woke up to locked gates and a stork nest high above on a chimney.

My son has a theory that the month you're born, or the time of year anyway, determines your tastes and personality. My birthday runs up against the most depressing day of the year at the end of this month. But who'd want to live in la-la land all the time? Surely it's the expectation of spring that makes winter and by the end of summer, aren't we ready for a change?

I'm astonished by how many bulbs are already showing and wonder if we'll have the shock we've had in other years of an freak preview of summer followed by snow. My children have been brought up not understanding the need for thick wool coats, boots, scarves and gloves. They've grown up in an almost mediterranean climate, so different to my childhood, my memory of walking on the frozen crust of two feet deep snow in Ascot.

One year I wished for snow on my birthday, though, and it happened. I woke to a heavy grey sky and as I opened the curtains it was already falling. This year I'll be at the Barbican listening to John Adams' 'On the Transmigration of Souls" performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Sometimes the old year doesn't quite want to leave and the new one's a bit nervous about settling in too quickly. So at this time of year you can feel as if you're looking around for the end and not quite finding it. Like when you're nearly at the end of a notebook and don't want to waste the last few pages but there's always more than you think and days go by before you can put it in the box with the others and start a new one.

So the old year hangs around in much the same way. Needing to be seen out properly, to have its own meaning, its own stamp. It went surrounded by three parties in the street - champagne, red wine and a cup of tea. It was the year of the Unilever leadership course I worked on, of a long stint for Creative Partnerships in Hastings, of some fascinating workshops with Gatton Park in Surrey, working with painters and a potter.

2007 is a little blank so far. I have given up many of my regular workshops, hoping there will be some new challenges. This month I'm working with the LSO over two weekends. My work for the Open University continues and my manuscript for a new collection will have to be ready by March.

Uncertainty, though, is the excitement of being freelance - I don't know what will come in and when and despite iffy finances, I can't imagine any other way.

I went to the launch of the new Poetry Review the other night. On the train to London a group of guys were celebrating with champagne. The smell of it in the carriage was tantalising, corks shooting from window to window and bouncing off heads! No champagne at the launch but there was red wine and a reading by David Harsent.

It was at the Poetry Society in Betterton Street, but it's so cramped. Some of us think nostalgically to the old days when the Poetry Society was in Earl's Court, a grand and rather tatty building, wonderful for readings, not a sweaty and unceremonious little cellar that makes poetry apologise for itself. At Earl's Court it felt as if poetry was still allowed to be outrageous, maverick and drunk, instead of speaking Arts Council language.

On the other hand, it could be my soapbox inching itself into these lines and it's time to end......