Haven’t blogged in forever because life’s been a wee bit all-consuming over the summer – what with renovations, caring duties and so much to worry about/organise. But things have been shifting and easing for a few weeks now and this morning at 8 when I took George to work, the weather seemed to be making a point.
The view that met us as we stepped out of the front door and onto the steep grassy bank where our cottage sits, made our jaws drop. The fen that usually yawns its way out to the lazy River Ouse had disappeared. I say fen but its more floodplain than fen, and has been since before humanity started controlling the local landscape, draining fens, sluicing and staunching the water, and building houses in places they shouldn’t. Nowadays water from as far afield as Bedford is channelled down here in wet weather, to protect houses and infastructure at risk of flooding. As as a result of this, we flood several times a year. By we I mean the people who live in the cottages on the riverfront, where the, lets-call-it-a-road (really unmarked track) gets covered in 6-12 feet of water on a regular basis. By flood I don’t mean the water comes into our homes, it stops about 4 feet below. As the water never comes into our houses, and as we all have common law rights to leave carts, coaches and now cars at the nearby pub, none of us really mind this, and we quite like it when the river ‘goes’ and our houses stand on the edge of a vast grey lake. Anyhoo, as me and George went out this morning, the road, the fen, the river the floodplain – all were gone, totally invisible, lost in the deepest greyist autumnal mist that I’ve ever seen here, and I’ve see a fair few over the years.
Usually when the mist falls, either first thing in the morning or last thing at night, it hangs low and you can still see out over the fen because it stops about 6 feet off the ground, hovering in a sheet that only exists in a shallow layer. And sometimes, it’s much less thick, and you can even see through it, to cobwebs draped in smoky wisps over rushes and grasses that some mornings seem to have been spun overnight and cover every living thing as far as the eye can see. And sometimes when the mist is thin like that, the cobwebs catch tiny droplets of water and sparkle even in the darkest light. But not this morning. This morning there was just thick grey, impenetrable mist and even the car, just ten feet away on the road below, was a barely perceptible ghost. George looked down, at the cobwebs on the grassy bank under his feet and said what a shame it was we couldn’t see the fen cobweb display – on what should have been the first of the autumn.
I agreed, but feeling not very whimsical, commented that I hoped driving visibility would be better when we got out of the village because it would be like navigating through Granny Dot’s mushroom soup. He said it would be better once we got away from the river which he reckons makes everything damper/cloudier and therefore worse visibility wise. He was wrong. Everything was soupy all the way there, and for me, all the way back again. Which got me thinking.
In the summer, as I’ve tried to navigate my way though the mushroom soup of having two vulnerable, sick and/or dying relatives to care for, who don’t necessarily always get on and who can be quite cruel to one another and the people around them, I’ve found it impossible to see any further than a few feet/days ahead. I think that has been because I sort of know what’s coming, and haven’t wanted to really look any further, because it scary and upsetting and a bit of a nightmare. So I’ve kept my thoughts reigned in and uber controlled, kept my imagination under lock and key. Which has been a total block to writing. I guess I’ve been afraid of where stories might lead me. But not seeing something, or not looking at it doesn’t mean its not there, as this morning’s mist illustrates, and maybe gearing up to dealing with difficult, even heart-breaking problems is about staring them in the face, not obscuring them in metaphorical mist.
Writing for me, since I started doing it in 2015, has been a solace, a therapy, a safe place, so I guess even in the days I was most afraid of doing it, I knew I had to get myself re-engaged sooner or later. I guess that’s why I signed up to attend the last day of the Flash Festival event this year. I’d attended none of the others but decided I really should screw my courage to the sticking place and rock up. And I’m so glad I did. It was packed full of guided writing opportunities which I did with trepidation at first, then something like gusto, and over the week that followed, I polished the three stories I’d written, to enter into the festival Bake Off comps. A week after subbing, I was delighted to find out I’d won one comp, and come second in another, which meant both stories would be published in the festival anthology and that I’d won two free entries into the Bath Flash comp. Not wanting to miss out on that, and feeling not too scared by the flashes I’d written at the festival, I started drafting a flash for Bath too, and, just like that, my self-imposed writing block was a thing of the past.
But back to the mist. I haven’t really written here about the worst of what the summer held for my family and friends because it’s still on-going, and its not time to tell those stories yet, and some of them are not my stories to tell, but what I’ve realised is that I don’t have to stop writing entirely to keep my emotions at bay. I can keep some things cloaked in an autumnally misted part of my mind whilst I write about something else.
As I sit here tapping out these words in my safe, writing place, the sun has burned away the last of this morning’s haze and the horse chestnut and copper beech trees are standing clear and bright in all their autumnal technicolour whether I want to see them or not. I know that’s a metaphor for summat or another, so I’m going to drink it all in as I post this photo of me, Dad and R Les, who I love through the mist and back. I took it when I went home to Bolton a couple of weeks ago. I love my Bolton family and I’m so grateful for how they received the publication of The Naming of Bones, my memoir-in-flash that features them all. For anyone who’s read The Naming of Bones, this was a bit of a Waltzers moment for me. I’m posting it here as a happy happy memory that I can gaze on again and again and again and again, whether I’m in full-on mist mode, or sky-bright sunshine.