Dear Domnique and Richard,

Where shall I start, I promised you a CD so many months ago now and the playlist hasn’t stopped forming and reforming its self in my head as the time goes on and my story evolves and there is more and more to tell you and more and more distant is that sense of having arrived that swept  down the mountain and sat so snugly by my side for my whole stay with you last spring.

There was some promise of coming back to the farm in the autumn but now here we are are, autumn has been and gone ( in London at least) and I find myself very rooted here in Brixton, in my own little clearing,  so these songs will have to visit in my place. Rest assured I think of you both and the woods, the streams, the forest garden, the donks, the mountain , and your heart warming hospitality on  a regular basis! So, without further ado, assuming there’s been enough sunlight on the solar panels of late to power your hi-fi, play this and turn it up loud!

  1. Prelude  – Bonobo
  2. Little Yellow Spider – Devendra Banhart
  3. Iris  – Dabe toure
  4. Islands – Cat power
  5. Something on your mind   – Karen Dalton
  6. Soon it will be cold enough to build fires – Emancipators
  7. Towers- Bon Iver
  8. Ragged Wood – Fleet Foxes
  9. Knee deep in the North Sea – Portico Quartet
  10. Goodbye England (covered in Snow) – Laura Marling
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I found this on our office door last Friday

I between sentences breathe

Spaces into space

That between words are

Slowly anatomised

First just moisture, then dust speck, then

Like cardigan fluff, silk scarf or clear button

Vigorous notions, unfinished sentences,

Held formaldehyde around me

Until such time as

Giddy and curious they

spill themselves around you.

make

Life of the shapes

You leave when you slip out of your shoes,

Or pick up the newspaper.

A poem inspired in part by  Phillip Pullmans idea of ‘dust’ and his creation story in His Dark Materials. But rather than a ‘this is how life began’ creation story, it’s about how unspoken ideas are formed and brought to life between people. I think. or something along those lines!

A nightswim at the Ponds on Hampstead Heath becomes the stuff of myth when you live in South London…not for the fear of cold waters or getting caught but for all the public transport it takes you to get there. An hour long journey is not all that conducive to the spontaneity usually involved in jumping into cold dark waters. But last nights murmurings of coulds, maybes, might we, shall we, transpired into my housemate and I on our way to the heath at 9pm on a sunday night, from Brixton. 

When we got there it went something like this, clothes off slowly, waters edge slowly, toes slowly, knees thighs tummy slowly in, then out, then all the way in, we’re in, still in, still in, then out, fast, clothes on fast!

A true nightswim, all to the backdrop of a starry, moonless, breezy night. Canada Geese slept on the jetty topped with grey fluffling goslings, insects hummed (and yes, traffic hummed too in the very distance) but best of all, a nearby owl twood to the tweets of a distant owl as we lowered ourselves off cold railings, that surely is what nightswimming most deserves.

Kate Rew of the, Outdoor Swimming Society, says that getting into fresh water has a way of returning you to yourself and I think thats true and when it’s freezing cold it has a way stripping you right down along the way. Half of me is jetsam now.

some pictures from a recent, unplanned backstreet walk from Oasis Nature Garden in Stockwell to Battersea power station, down to Nine Elms dock and the Tideway houseboats and back along the river to Vauxhall. I’ve been reading up on what is happening with the development of the power sation here, and have also heard rumours of Peregrine Falcons nesting in the chimneys in the past though I don’t think there are any there this year. I stumbled across the barges and houseboats by accident and really enjoyed taking pictures of them (tho I only had my less than adequate phone camera with me). The tide was so low that most of the boats were nestled into the muddy riverbed. It was facinating to think that across a few hours the boats and floating walkways would rise up several meters with the river.

I step out onto Shaftsbury Avenue but I’m not really met by the Shaftsbury Avenue I stepped in from 8 or so hours ago, I am met by birdsong  and colossal stripes of clear sharp morning light draped across the empty road where I now stand. Is it past home time, or is the rest of London still dancing? It seems no one has got up to go to work this morning apart for the Costa Coffee staff.  I feel timeless, for a moment, and then I am re-orientated by a plumage of clubbers bursting onto the pavement and disappearing down into the tube station. The tube is open, it is officially the next day.

I have not only lost sense of time but also lost sense of place, of myself in central London. The building I just stepped out of is a disused bar in a disused church which had housed a friends birthday party for the night (or morning more accurately).  The building is an ‘empty space’,  if all the world were a city than this would be it’s wilderness and I’m pleased to have stolen a moment in its short autonomous  life before being  scrubbed clean and told what to do. (The building that is, not me, though at this stage in the morning I would welcome both)

I am about to get on the tube when the uniqueness of this no-mans-time strikes me and I suggest to my Brixton bound friends ‘Lets walk home, the light is incredible, lets at least cross the river’. And so we do. We pick a bridge, it’s a toss up between Westminster and Charring Cross and Charring Cross wins in the end. It seems everyone still gets a kick out of crossing the Thames, particularly south londoners, perhaps it’s the affirmation of a boundary, you cant argue with a river, you’re defiantly in south London now.  Perhaps it’s just that it’s a beautiful river and this morning is no exception, she is glistening, in a murky sort of way.  We take a moment on the Southbank side of the bridge to look downstream, East, straight into the blustering winds and morning sun. The tide is low and from our vantage point on the footbridge the river now seems far away and almost outshone by the silvery stretches of beach on either side. There is no hurry, there is conversation and silence, and wind and stillness and then there are two geese! I hear them before I see them, not overhead but from bellow!  A single honk echoes under the railway bridge behind us. The pair swoop up and settle on a large concrete support just below me, they’re not Canada Geese I know this much, they’re bulkier and mostly grey.  They too stand and look downstream, as if like us planning the best route onwards, I envy them for I imagine that they’ll carry on a lot further into the sun and along the river then we will, when at waterloo we’ll  turn south and find a bus no doubt.

‘You shouldn’t live in London’ my companion claims, matter of factly, watching me watch the geese.

‘Why not’  I reply. ‘I wouldn’t get excited about geese in Totnes would I? cup of tea and bus home?’

Here is Sunday morning, the kitchen still and empty but with the reassuring ghosts of the previous evenings socialising still lingering. The smell of fresh coffee suggests a breakfast just had and the running shower upstairs suggests a breakfast yet to come, but for now I’m alone. That is apart from the cat, in her favored position, motionless in front of her catflap gazing out at the drizzly garden, like some grandma by a window, looking out for birds. Here is Sunday. The table tidied, the tulips in place. I plug my i-pod into the hi-fi and measure out flour, water, salt, yeast. I’m new to breadmaking and spent january perfecting a malted rye, which I’ve gotten bored with before perfecting, so this morning I try out a simple wholemeal bread. The kneading is my favorite part, this recipe calls specifically for ‘firm folding and heel-of-hand pressure, not manic voodoo-dough-hatred’, I appreciate this reminder and firmly fold the dough for the duration of three Tunng songs when it comes together perfectly (for once!) into what looks like a promising loaf-to-be. I can see how bread making becomes addictive, it’s simple sensory pleasures, repetitive motions, attention to detail, the feeling that you’re doing something ancient, something wich has been done millions of times, by millions of hands before (O.K, also true of tying up your shoelaces but I am exercising my poetic license).  Here now is dough, firmly enfolded, sitting under a teatowl by the radiator, waiting to rise.

Yesterday I visited Kew gardens for the first time and while wandering through the glasshouses I was met, unexpectedly, with a great sense of nostalgia. I was taken right back to the gardens I played in as a child in Jeddah! Giant Neems, Acacias, Rhododendrons, Palms and the smell of dates fallen and fermenting in the sun, the little banana tree by our back gate, small shiny brown seeds popping out of pods and me scraping those seeds up to add to a mud pie.

If I was ever to write an autobiography I would set the whole thing in gardens and gardens alone, luckily I don’t actually intend on ever writing this personal history through gardens but I have dug out an old poem I wrote in honour of our garden in Jeddah.

Garden Wall
You were there when we arrived
Dressed in dead rhododendron and dust
You held our tree house on two sides
Shedding layers like a weak wafer
You left crumb piles on the beds bellow.

You were there, still, when we left
Dressed in full bougainvillea and
Home to several strays
Your holes, perfect ant’s nests.

That day we wondered,
If we had asked you, would you have followed?
Garden wall? And now
If I was to call on you, would you come?
If I was to call out ‘Wall, make me a garden’

Would you find whatever it was that I loved
And hold us in your concrete hug,
Garden wall.

I took these photographs of rockpools in Devon several years ago and the skin-like surfaces sparked a thought. Years later, when I saw a man sitting alone on the still, silvery stretches of the North Norfolk coast at twilight,  not a rockpool in sight, I couldn’t help but scribble that thought down.

Taken

He fell asleep on the shore where there were no rock pools but where rock pools were craved. The new tide lingered moonward and his feet stared bare at the ocean. They waited until he was still and then, gently, they gushed the tide at him. Pumping brine inquisitively around him, measuring the arch of his back, the space under his neck, the salinity of his sweat, the weight of his head against the sand. At first, they took him softly, small green fish found a home of his ankles, seaweed slipped between his toes and his skin slowly slimed. If they sensed him waking the sea would shoosh him back to sleep. It wasn’t until the tide slacked seaward that they claimed him with full force. Barnacles to his cranium, kelp to the scalp. Muscles, cockles and whelks worked fast, welding together his toes, ears, eyes. Limpets locked themselves to his knees and sea anemones, hungry, gentle, fed on what was left of his softness. He lost all sense of human as the tide pulled away his last salty tear and left him there, two hundred thousand years older, with a sinewus suck and drag of the sea in place of his breath.

Found: posted on the side of the bus shelter down Ceaders Road. Makes perfect sense, no!?