Bell tent

An off-white circle rising to a point above me, like a private heaven. The wooden pole stands tall and firm in the centre, holding up the sky.

I’m half awake, seeing the pink light of dawn on the canvas. The film of dew coalesces and runs down each crease – little mini-rivulets.

It’s damp, cold. The duvet is almost sodden where it touched the tent wall overnight. I clear my throat and sniff, feeling the heaviness in my chest.

Long, lazy lying, feeling my bladder grumbling with gradually increasing intensity.

I stumble up, pull on yesterday’s clothes and a pair of wellies, and unzip the door. Stooping out onto the wet grass, I smell the damp, yet still warm ash of yesterday’s fire. I poke it with a stick, throw on some kindling from beneath the tarp, and fan it briskly with a plastic plate. First, a reluctant reed of smoke rises, then orange flame. Hopefully that will catch while I wander off to pee in the hedge.

Frosty the Snowman

My gloves are far from watertight, and rapidly soak through with molten handfuls of snow. Kneeling in mounds of it, rolling lumpy, cylindrical balls of it, stripping the ground bare to reveal tracks of surprised-looking grass. Long stains on the trouser knees.

The cold and the wind ice my red ears, haunting possibilities of earache, neglect of scarf or hat. I will assemble a tentative figure of snow, structurally unsound, repeatedly re-built, but eventually upstanding. A couple of sticks and a handful of stones.

Gathering a tin bowlful of snow, mixing with hot chocolate powder in the kitchen, tastes disappointingly watery, and yet repeated year on year in some kind of denial.

The smudge, oily, of coal on my hands, pressing in a row of jacket buttons. It smells faintly of tar and petrol.

The saccharin Christmas carols on an American LP – imagining choirs in artificially snowy shopping malls of neon-lit cityscapes. At the end of Side A, the needle rhythmically hisses against the track end until a grown-up goes through to lift it, gingerly, with the delicate lever. Next up: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.


Sitting on the embossed velvet stool on Christmas Day, craning my neck to read the words as Mum played. Good King Wenceslas Looked Out. Or “last looked out” as I always thought…

The mince pies smell of pastry and sweetness and alchohol, and roast goose and sprouts from earlier linger.

It’s cold in the hall here – why no fire or stove through this end, I never understood. I hunch my shoulders against it, and eye the circular, whirring fan heater with longing.

The piano stool contains a couple of generations of sheet music, damp-smelling and dusty Beethoven, Mozart and Bach, along with USA-based Christmas Carols from before the move. Apparently Alice & Laura flummoxed the congregation in Oxford by launching into a solo of Away in a Manger with the American melody.

Some undisciplined guest has dropped pie crumbs on the keyboard. I moisten a finger and lift them off. The pastry dissolves butterly on my tongue.

Playing myself, I feel the wide stretch as my hands endeavour to reach an octave or larger interval, and can almost hear my brain grinding as it interprets the upcoming chords. Is that noise my hypocanthus growing?

Moving the piano from house to house has been a sweaty, scary task. Both my body and the instrument too precious to damage, but so likely in practice to be.


Of course, Narnia. Feeling garments change to branches change to snow. Hearing icy winds blow, and that abrupt disorientation on stumbling out into another, parallel, slow-time-moving world. The taste of Turkish Delight, the witch’s bribe. The warming liquid that’s not quite hot chocolate, and that satisfies so deeply yet so profoundly incompletely as to become an insatiable addiction. The desire felt in the pit of the stomach, and the absolutely unspoken underlying sex of it all.

Girls riding a lion, faun’s kidnapping, sinister queens tempting young boys with sweets and drink. Power and death.

But now… rickety self-assemble hanging rails from Argos lift a few pounds from an undiscerning pocket and begin their short span of life between assembly and skip. A brief and non-illustrious life.

Or, acres of laminated chipboard pass through the great Ikea machine, plastering the walls of fine houses who should know better with birch veneer and blandness. Guilty.

The moths. The holes in my new sweater, or not so new, since lying unwashed in the wash basket for a year due to my inertia around hand washing. Nature will overcome.

The nightmares Luke had around monsters emerging from wardrobes. The buzzing in my ears waking me from dreams as if messengers from another world are urging me to hear.