Tuesday, 6 June 2017

This Is It

I should have posted this entry in April, but although it was the very first thing I wrote for Writing Mums, I put off recording it, because I knew it was also the first piece I wrote on grief. It was tempting to edit it, to reflect the fact that the sun did come out again. But instead, I left it almost intact, as a snapshot of loss. I added one word - "perhaps" - listen out for it...

The film was taken on the Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway, a short sail away from Bowness-on-Windermere. 

Text below...

 We had moved to the fresh-faced coastal town on the day after April Fool’s Day, not wanting to tempt fate any further.  Five months and one day after my father’s death, and spring seemed hopelessly far away; we were still deep in winter. But I was absolutely certain that just around the corner, just over the hill of this uneven path was a straight, downhill section, where we’d be bathed in sunshine, and life would start again in earnest.

For the first few weeks, the wind blew with a force so insistent I wondered if I would ever get used to it. Was it normal to have to hold onto walls to get round corners or for holes to be blown through your pyjamas on the washing line? But each gust seemed to sandblast more sadness away,  sending it crashing into the North Sea.

When the long-awaited spring came and quickly bloomed into a blazing summer, the visitors started to arrive.  Among them, my sister, struggling to get over a chest infection, and I tried to persuade her to stay longer, to soak some more sun into her thin skin. I let her sleep in my own soft bed, cooked her favourite foods and we warmed our hands over plans for this new life.

As the summer sky deepened into a blue I’d never seen in Scotland before, the days were spent entirely on the beach, rediscovering the joy of digging channels into the sea with my small, dogged son. We returned to the house only to watch the tennis, and were back on the beach so quickly, passers-by shouted out the result to us, assuming we’d missed it.

My sister came back from a week in Paris with a pretty ring on her finger, and we tumbled over each other, getting ready for a wedding at the end of the summer.  I took charge of some of the preparations, designing invitations, ordering French napkins, because the chest infection didn’t seem to be getting any better – if anything, it was getting worse, and the doctor advised hospital to see if they could get it under control.

As my sister started to fail, the dresses and tablecloths started to arrive in the post, and the sweet invitations hit doormats all over the country.

The doctors tried this, and then they tried that, but by the middle of July, the family had started looking at each other with horror. On Lifeboat Day, our house was surrounded by music and fairground rides and cool beer tents, but I was glad of my sunglasses, and no-one else but me knew that my legs were newly made of concrete.

The long distance to Glasgow melted to nothing as I went to and from the hospital, where each hour felt like a minute as the time screeched away from me, from us.

On the last day of July, I sang our old family lullabies to my now sleeping sister and said everything I needed to say to the nearly-closed eyes.  Later, the nurse closed those eyes and switched off that which was switched on, and my sister’s song was complete.

And so now I’m back by the sea, starting again, waiting for the bend in the road, the crest of the hill, for my world to open again. But the days are impossible and I rail against time wasted staring into nothing, hours spent just keeping squalor at bay. I make mistakes all the time, lose things, miss trains, leave my passport behind, and I think, “This is not the path I was supposed to be on.”  I play a record my sister and I loved and I hear a grotesque howling, just like the noise my sister made when she knew what was happening to her, and then realise it’s my own crying. I put the record away and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to listen to it again. Looking in the mirror is an exercise in despair –rosy apples have turned to mouldy plums, and I know what my friend means when she grabs my cheeks and says, “Oh…your poor face.”  Every other day I come across the wedding clothes and fabric and I am convulsed anew each time.

I keep hoping that next week will be different, and while things are sometimes easier for a few days, there are still potholes and speedbumps on this shitty road and I don’t see any signs pointing to the right path.

Yet, after a while I start to ask myself why I have been so unusually lucky over my blunders. Why, when I miss the train, the railway company lays on a free taxi home. Not once, but twice. And why the flight attendant pretends I don’t need my passport to board the plane.   It takes months for me to realise that the face that I can hardly bear to look at is the very thing that is drawing the kindness out of these strangers. And maybe it hits me, finally, that there is not going to be that downhill stretch any time soon. That my family is mostly old, and that the leaves will continue to fall from that tree; some of them will go at once, noisily, in an unnatural gust of wind, and others will just drift gently down, making little sound, but forming a heap big enough to cover hedgehogs and other small creatures.

I am sure that there will be golden spots on this road, plenty to rejoice in, always, even if it’s not where I thought I’d be. But it’s probably time to start drawing the map, finding directions for this way in life.

So this is it, this fork in the track through the woods.
This is it.

Perhaps, this is it.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Wuthering Sunday

It's become a standing joke in the Moller family that just about all my Mothering Sundays - since becoming a mother - have been blighted in one way or another. The worst of them, of course, was when my beloved mother-in-law Mollie died before dawn broke on my second crack at the whip. 2017 was supposed to be the first perfect one - until a virus knocked out the smallest of us, so we had to cancel our plans to see my own mother. Undaunted, she's invited a bunch of folk over to hers for dinner - and we're squinting at the final episode of Gilmore Girls through the sunshine. (Coffee and doughnuts on the side, of course.)

I wrote this on Mother's Day in 2014, and took this picture of our trip to the beach. The photo paints a better picture than the film, which shows much more typical Dunbar weather. The star of March's film is my washing, appropriate for today, since motherhood means doing 50 billion loads a week.  You can see why I never have to iron my sheets. Not that I really would iron them, but I'd feel bad looking at how wrinkled they were, if their every crease weren't blasted out of them by our North Sea wind.

Most of us have mothered or been mothered in some way at some point in our lives, and so in that spirit, I wish you well today, and hope the sun is shining on you as brightly as it is on us. Even if we have had to close the curtains to see the telly better.

Wuthering Sunday
Halfway through the 40 days
This one, I'm told, is meant for me
A pause in the usual round, perhaps
A posy tied tight with his green love
Friends' pictures paint a different day
Posted quickly, flushed with pleasure
Sunlit blooms flank wine in flutes
As manly hands grip the wheel for once
Lunches out, or tea for two
Handmade cards, crepe roses drooping
They all squeeze together to say
This day is for her; just this, but hers
My day starts with the thump of a head
Regretting too-long birthday cheer
And my stomach shakes a violent no
To his offer to break my fast in bed
Emerging from our blanket, warm,
We set out with the beach in mind
But fog obscures this day of sun
And the sea says north with every roll
The sky heaves blind into the waves
Which take their hue from his father's face
Still to emerge from a softer bed
A line to say he should not yet
And here against the dragging grey
Burns a small yellow candle, straight and true
Hopping from rock to pool to sand
Then lighting our way home again
I put match to paper, then to wood
And we retreat behind the fringes
To eat and watch some hundred dogs
A first for those wide eyes, not mine
It fizzles out in bangs and shouts
This day of mine, just for me
My hands lift up the smoothing iron
As the light of my life is doused, for now.

Monday, 13 March 2017

February...in March

Image result for vintage funeral

Last month passed me by in a blur of fever and coughing, so although I wrote February's instalment a couple of years ago, I've only just managed to get enough puff to record it. It was a strange experience to revisit my stricken self. When you're in that dark tunnel of grief, it's hard to imagine the light at the end, but the sun comes out eventually, and now it's hard to imagine that it was ever a struggle to see it.

There is only one star in this month's film, and if you're not a cat person, you might prefer to listen without looking. Stampy John Moller is almost two years old and already the finest napper in his field. Watching him doze and take his morning bath is good for my soul; I hope he soothes you, too, if you're ever feeling fretful.

The text is below the video. Let me know what you think.

In the leaden and bruising days following the death of my father, I wondered where I would find the necessary carapace to survive his funeral unwounded. Each thing I suggested was quickly dismissed until I proposed that I do one of the readings in church. “As long as you don’t cry!” I was told.  My brother-in-law-to-be laughed, “Imagine crying at a funeral…”
And so I printed off my part of St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and practised till I was hoarse, and more importantly, could get to the end without my voice faltering.
On the way to the Requiem Mass, I focused on the reading, holding my head up, which had the added advantage of not letting any wayward tears spill over. I’ve been to a lot of these affairs, starting in the back row and gradually moving forwards, as my relationship to the deceased grew closer, always holding that brutal first row in my sights, knowing that its cold front would reach me in the end. And so, finally, with the best view in the house, I looked towards the lectern, not the dark, polished wood which held what remained of my father.
Up the deaf, carpeted steps to the microphone, and I started reading the letter quickly, so that the words wouldn’t hurt me. But once I realised I wasn’t going to waver,  I let my gaze slide over the assembled ranks.
“Love is patient and kind.”
Is it really, I thought? Not always.  Not judging by the last few days, which had left me almost skinned alive.
“It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”
You could have fooled me, I countered, silently.  And yet my husband, both patient and kind, was undoubtedly thinking, “I hope she’s listening to this.”
I thought I might giggle when I got to the bit about being a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal, but I didn’t. And nor did I cry.
I don’t think I let one tear go during the whole day. I went as far as to say that I had really enjoyed the huge send-off.  The end of  a long, fruitful, good life is not a time for weeping and wailing, we all said.
A few weeks later, we packed up and moved to a town by the sea, where I decided it was time to start taking my son to church, to try and give him some of the comforting faith I’d enjoyed as a child.  Both of us like the hymns best of all, and we check the numbers as soon as we sit down, look them up in our hymnals and mark their places so we can join in from the first line. I couldn’t have told you which hymns were sung at my father’s funeral until they started singing them at Our Lady of the Waves. I would think, “Oh, great, I love this one,” and join in lustily, a rare chance to use my mediocre voice.  And then a few lines in, my voice would collapse and then I would find myself sobbing, utterly undone, scrabbling for tissues and hoping the wobbling cello and reedy recorder would drown me out.  Things only got worse, when a few short months later, my sister joined our father,  and since our hearts were too sore to choose anew, we decided to use all the same readings and hymns again. My brother-in-law-to-be, who never did get to make it legal, asked if I would do the reading again, and I said yes, thinking it would  be the only thing that would stop me from lying on the floor of the church, beating the marble with my fists. That by speaking out, I could avoid speaking in.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres.”
But love didn’t protect my sister, and I’m not sure I can trust in anything now.
I still couldn’t tell you what the other readings were, or most of the hymns we sang.
I only know them by the way they reduce me to dust when I try to sing them.
We sit upstairs now, in the very back pew, so that no-one can see.
There is one that I’m sure of, because I’ve looked it up in the funeral Order Of Service, hurrying past the photos that stop my breath.
I know that we sang “Be Still, My Soul.”
Which is either ironic or entirely appropriate;
for my soul, of course, is anything but still.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

11th January 2016

The first instalment for 2017 dates back to this time last year. I wasn't sure why the date in the title was the 11th rather than the 10th, until I was reminded that we didn't hear the news until we woke on the 11th.  Some fiction, some fact, some over-reacting, possibly, to the first of 2016's worst moments.

The star of this month's film - the atmospheric Binning Woods. You can have a humanist funeral among the trees, with your body laid to rest beneath the carpet of leaves and earth.

Some very beautiful small friends are the co-stars - sustained by chocolate buttons and leaping.

Text below as before...

11th January 2016

Above the neat white line that is Seagull Terrace, the last shreds of darkness are melting away when the news starts to leak from the row of radios.

Today, there’s only one story.

The fat housewife at number 4 clasps her hand to her mouth, and her small son looks up from his porridge as she tries to call the news to his dad upstairs. But her throat fails her.

His dad heard the news ten minutes ago. That’s why he’s still upstairs.

By now, the radios only know one singer. And there’s still just one story.

She starts to sing along...there’s a st…and stops. 20 minutes later, the gold paisley scarf she’d wound round her neck to chase away the rain is a wrinkled, damp knot and no longer capable of chasing anything anywhere.

Her son’s spoon drops as he watches her dance...crumple...dance…fold.

A million breakfast bowls turn pale and salty, and his dad stares at a screen and makes some rapid calculations.

69 minus 52 equals...


His dad tugs at his collar as he adds up the lines and the tokes and the puffs and the shots and he wonders just how many it takes to make 69 the last line of your song.

Did we stop…?

At number 6, an asthmatic teenager looks in disbelief at his bald, bellied uncle’s hands shaking and wonders what that exotic streak could ever have meant to a cab driver from Musselburgh.

I thought he was imm…

I never thought he’d...

The radios keep playing, and though the middle-aged suits’ voices falter, the songs pile up, each wireless wave washing fruits of the sea ashore. One last harvest, a tip of the hat we never saw coming.

The straight-shouldered silver widow at number 8 lifts the receiver and punches in the number of her favourite grandson, the one who used to slip her silk scarves under his grey school jumper when he thought she wasn’t looking, and put on concerts in the garden for her neighbours until their sons began to jeer from behind the fence. He picks up on the first ring.

At number 10, a heavy-browed 12-year-old pulls her stepfather’s guitar towards her, detuning it with her awkward grasp. Cross words are bitten off before they leave his lips when she asks him how to form the chord of G.

At number 4, the fat housewife wipes her face with a knitted hat and starts to tell them about the shy, brainy boy in her class who used to pass her cassettes with the tabs punched in so she couldn’t record over them. The home-made-best-of compilation a long-since-lost friend slipped in her pocket as she set off to conquer the world from a midnight fume-choked bus station.
And how she used it to teach 300 Japanese schoolboys to say ch-ch-ch…

The day is suspended in its own arc; a fortnight of rain fizzes away, a diluted sun in its place. Born into his world, they emerge for a walk, stepping unsurely into a world without.

When night falls again over the red-tiled roofs and whitewashed walls of Seagull Terrace, her son wonders why they’re all outside, heads tilted towards the stars. The row of radios stays tuned; tomorrow, fresh disasters will spill from their speakers, but just for one day, no matter which way they turn the dial, there’s only one story.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Winter Time

Just squeezing into the last days of the year, is December's instalment. Fans of Tom Waits will probably know why I wrote this poem - or maybe they won't...but this is the song that set me off.

In ever darker times for people around the world, there are still some very bright spots, and the stars of this month's film are enough to put a smile on the gloomiest face. Take a bow, Dunbar's Christmas lights! Our festive brilliance is funded and organised by local traders and townsfolk - none of your tastefully coordinated themes for us. I'm never sure if I prefer the lights advertising the nuclear power station, or the butcher's lights which depict a chicken repeatedly having its head chopped off. 

Thanks for watching - the text is below...

Winter Time
Things are pretty lousy for this calendar girl,
blue eyes once bright now greying at the sides -
dragged down by tears both wept and those
held back with the bravest of her frowns.
The lips that used to pout and kiss, blow smoke
into the eyes of a hundred cross-eyed sailors,
have blurred and wandered somewhere else
and her lipstick doesn’t know where it should go.
Polished and rosy, plucked from the tree
her cheeks as firm as they were round,
till this blight crept in and swapped the apples
for plums that are only fit for jam.

The famous tits that got her lifts and
bags carried up three flights of stairs,
they grew too big for eyes to linger
And now their daily catch is crumbs.
Summer no longer bares her legs
and the point of skirts is lost in time.
The jeans they once called lucky, discarded
as the weight of loss has settled on her hips.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Remembrance Sunday

In which the Mollers take a trip to the North West of Scotland, staying at the Camping Coach on the side of Loch Awe and making our first crossing to Iona, where we laid some red roses at the final resting place of John Smith. I met John Smith a couple of times, though I doubt I stuck in his mind. He stuck in mine.

Look out for Peter acting super sad to mark the gravity of the occasion...

Tuesday, 11 October 2016


The city's hold on me had already started to weaken when my son was a baby, and I spent most of my days pushing him round the parks of Glasgow. One particular autumn, the changing colours along Kelvin Way seemed more striking than usual, and I was so bewitched by them that I took them home with me and put them into my first poem.

Topping the bill this month are the October skies and Carey Lunan's flute. Carey sings and plays with one of my favourite groups, Firefly Fortyfive, who, in their own words, play "traditional and contemporary folk, country, pop, rock, 70s, fitever..." I'm particularly fond of their song The Parting,  a poem of Colin Will's which they set to music.

Lochend Woods in Dunbar take the place of Kelvingrove in this very short film, and eagle-eyed viewers will spot that the cat with the walk-on, walk-off part is not my own dear Stampy John.

Text below, as before...


The goldspun brighter autumn days
Are grabbing all the limelight
Their sequinned hoofers
Falling in the sunshine spotlight

But the warmest corner of this heart
Is reserved for those deaf grey, dead grey days
When the lead in the sky smokes into your ears
Before the first frost starts pinpricking at your nose

Then a single flash of orange
Burns among the flatter browns
As though someone lit a lamp late
Within a dark still crackling afternoon room.