“A gift to myself at mid-life: a few years out of doors in daytime in this town I’ve taken root in…Having stripped of salary and status I determined to become a woman who took up space with her notepads and rucksack, unburdened, for a while, of concerns over productivity and appearances.” Song of Ourselves
Putting Down Roots (Rake’s Progress, Volume #4, April 2017)
Rake’s Progress offers a contemporary look at the world outside – gardens, plants, flowers, people. I write for Volume #4 on how a vandalised tree helped me put down roots in a town far from the West Country farming community I was born into. The essay is accompanied by an original drawing – ‘Wounded Chestnut’ – by the sculptor David Nash.
By contrast, our lives here felt frangible, thin. For all the bright blooms of family life – fridge photos, book-lined walls – we were no more deeply rooted than top-weed. So we did what other town-dwellers do when a hunger for husbandry takes hold: got an allotment, joined a community orchard, became stewards of the public field opposite our house… Our question a lump in the throat still: how do you belong to a place you weren’t born in?
“What a moving, subtle, lucid essay this was to read” Robert Macfarlane, author of The Wild Places
The Outdoor Swimming Society (OSS) is a worldwide collective of swimmers that share the joy, adventure and experience of swimming under an open sky. I was invited to write about the first year of my long-distance writing endeavour – a mile of writing on scrolls of pool-length paper – and the depths it sounded in the lives of others.
I admire a man’s stamina and pace: How fit he is! He points to some marks on his thigh. Injections. Has multiple sclerosis and it’s gaining on him fast. I look at the people in the pool and get a feeling akin to the bends: The pressure of so many lives in a patch of blue just 150ft by 75. Their loves and losses.
“This is beautifully written…and I’m looking forward to reading more from #WildPatience.”
“Beautiful tribute to swimming & @wildwomanswims1 by @lidowriters“
Laps of Longhand (Oh Comely, Issue 32, Aug 2016)
Oh Comely is a British bi-monthly with highstreet distribution which describes itself as a ‘curious, honest and playful independent magazine. It’s a place to meet strangers, hear their stories and look at life differently.’ In this 6-page feature, I was asked to write on the deep oriental influences at work in my Wild Patience mile of longhand (with images of me by project photographer Steve Creffield). The closing line of the essay was used on the spine: Here is a pen, I say, and paper. Use them. Write me how it feels.
The only essentials after my near-death were pens, paper and a park bench. Poetry. I travelled through time and space; landed in the east of 500 years ago, a thousand. Kenko, Bashō, Po Chü-i — a world away from fast, mass-produced culture. Even the titles of their work a balm: Fishing in the Wei River; Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel; Essays in Idleness. I began to write outside and attract lost souls, as they did.
True Tales from the Old Hill (Frogmore Press, Dec 2015)
A collection of ‘exceptional new life-writing…which reveals the mysterious and unknowable forces at work in our lives, in our family histories, in our minds and bodies, in our souls. In other words, stories that sound like fiction.’ My account of a birth, death and near-death – The End Is No End – was the opening tale.
It was a blighted time. During the two years when the grandmother who raised me was not-dying at the far end of Devon, I was up here in the town I’d taken root in, not-conceiving, not-working and not having an affair (that is to say, I was channeling all my attention into an intense, sexless friendship with another lost soul and away from my good husband, whose quiet kindness couldn’t balm the scorched earth feeling I lived in now I had put her away).
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My response to an act of vandalism, which led to my becoming an accidental performance artist. A tale of stewardship, it was reprinted and given out as a Christmas story to the 2000-strong membership of Baxter’s Field Company in Lewes.
My reaction was slower taking shape and came from a primitive place not tapped before, cocooned in books as I am. Some act of equal and opposite force was needed, but what? An answer came immediately I asked, with strange and compelling logic. The railings that ran the length of the field and my road – intricate, gone brown and brittle – I would paint them. By myself, on my knees, for as long as it took. Rebuke, reparation. An act both silly and serious.
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The French psychogeographer Annie Ernaux writes that “It is other people – anonymous figures glimpsed… – who…reveal our true selves through the interest, the anger or the shame they send rippling through us”. On that principle, this was my selection of recurrent themes overheard in talk during my three years spent out of work and out of doors in daytime.
Now. I sat in this same café a month ago talking quietly with a friend about the communal life of the Apostles. But we were different, weren’t we, talking in lower tones than this out of consideration for others? Or it may be that all talk, however whole-hearted, is ridiculous if overheard and written down. An experiment for another time, I decide, for balance: To have myself recorded, without my knowing, in conversation with my children, my friends. Have it handed back to me so I must confront my own little tune sung from street corners and coffee shop tables.
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I contributed a photo-essay to this ‘Mappening’ organised by Adam Whitehall from the University of Sussex – a timed drift, in the psychogeographic manner, around Lewes on a morning in April 2015. Participants set off from a single start point and moved alone through town, making note of sights, sounds and sensations along the way. A highly-enjoyable experience if you get the chance to join one in future.
12:40 School Hill: Where the Old Go 4 – House of Friendship Inside a man of great age is piecing together a jigsaw with painstaking care. His hand hovers, shakes. The jigsaw reveals a red car, low to the ground, top open, racing through the sort of butterfly- & flower-rich hedgerows that have been lost in his lifetime, and mine.