We are removed


Here we are, in the middle of nowhere, installed with all the rubbish we couldn’t get rid of before the removal men came, and the three friends who weren’t consulted about whether the move was all right by them.

Needless to say, the last few days were horrendous, the move was horrendous, and the next day, when the stuff arrived, was also horrendous. As usually happens (to us anyway) we hadn’t finished packing when the men arrived. Things left out until the last minute, were thrown in unmarked boxes and may well never be found again. They were naturally the most important things, important documents, gadgets, indispensable kitchen equipment, and remember the dog nail clippers? Of all the things I never thought I’d need…

We had emptied one room entirely so we could lock the animals in it out of the way, and to stop the cats jumping ship. They didn’t like it at all, and by twelve, things were degenerating badly, so I decided to take Finbar out for a walk. I should have stayed at home. While we were saying goodbye to a group of friends we met, Finbar was set upon by a fighting dog, kindly liberated by its acid head owner to get in a bit of practice. Luckily the vet could deal with him straight away. He really needed stitches for the teeth holes in his back leg, but there was no time, so he was stapled back together instead and dosed up with antibiotics.

He had bled all over the carpet on the landing, but that was really the least of my worries. We had just discovered that our stuff was being delivered the next day, not following us to the house as we had assumed. We ransacked the boxes not yet embarked and retrieved some bed linen, but our clothes has all been loaded, the medical and bathroom stuff, and the food. Even the cat food. Especially the cat food. The cats were not best pleased. Our first night in our new home was not what we had been expecting.


The following morning, the removal men, local boys, turned up as promised, and all was going well until we realised they were expecting to be fed and watered at lunchtime. We hadn’t been fed and watered ourselves, but if we wanted our stuff unloading intact, we didn’t have much choice. Our wine cellar was unearthed and I set to making a meal with the bits and pieces of edibles that gradually came to light. It was a very odd experience as you might imagine. The chef was a wiry middle-aged man with very few teeth, extreme opinions and not afraid to air them. The second in command also middle-aged was tall and gangly and looked very like the cartoon character, Lucky Luke, and about as talkative. The youngest, barely out of school, a man mountain of a lad with the hairiest wrists I’ve ever seen, didn’t drink anything. Not even water. He said he only ever drank milk, and that only occasionally.

After lunch, and a lot of wine down the hatch, they went like a dream, putting the wardrobes back together, reassembling beds and making lavish presents of cardboard wardrobes for the attic, and a long strap ‘to tie that bloody dog up with’. The chef was afraid of dogs.

Attached as we were getting to our friends, we were still glad to see the back of them and begin the monumental task of unpacking. We’re still surrounded by boxes, but we’ve opened enough to find the essentials like clothes and cat food, so there’s no rush. All the utilities are functioning and the weather is glorious. The cats love it, especially the barn and the attic. Finbar finished his antibiotics yesterday and had already pulled out the staples all by himself saving us the trouble of finding a vet to do it, then he promptly went and had another accident.

Last night he went out for a pee rather later than usual and ran into a couple of foxes just outside the door. He went after one of them and disappeared for ages. I was frantic. We went out with flashlights, calling for him but there was nothing to be seen, and no sound. Utter silence and darkness. Eventually he came trotting back up the road, his legs and face bleeding. A fox was barking, with uncontrollable laughter I expect, in the copse at the top of the neighbour’s field. He’s out of action today, limping, with his pads ripped to shreds and a hole in his muzzle.

The children are coming over on Sunday to help us settle in and drink a bit more champagne. I hope the weather holds. We haven’t got any heating sorted yet. We’re on a very steep learning curve, but we’ll get there. I might even remember how to drive. Eventually.



Letting go

Now that it comes to handing over the garden we made from not much to another couple, we worry what they will do to it. This haibun is for Colleen Chesebro’s Tanka Tuesday challenge, using Magic and Fairy as prompt words.

Photo ©Ronald Saunders


Where did it go the magic in this plot of earth, for centuries breathing between walls built by men? When did it decide to shrink back to the core, to draw in its roots and ravel up the climbing tendrils of growth? Dry now, black loam sucked grey and listless, it bakes in the sun, littered with shrivelled leaf and the careless refuse of hands that never gardened, never used a hoe or a spade. We tried, feeding it with compost and watering the dusty crust, but our tender gestures came too late. The deepest roots are failing, flowers falling and leaves spotted with fatigue. Soon there will be a swimming pool here, and plastic grass for sun loungers.

I never thought it possible to kill the spirit of the earth with neglect.


Dust blows in the wind,

dog barks behind a window,

cars flash past, sightless.


Selling up

I saw this prompt yesterday on the Real Toads blog but was too wearied by our first week of house visits to reply. Waiting, trying to breathe calmly before the next onslaught on Monday.

Room with laptop

I sit in this room,

in a bubble shot with rainbowed fish and fur,

scented like the rose.

Beyond, behind, above,

the house, my house stretches,

desert dry and unfamiliar,

a foreign land,

unnaturally tidy,

sparkling superficially,

prowled by visiting avid-eyed sharks and the blandly curious.

Strangers touch and poke,

to see if the glass is real,

the doors open and close as they should,

are these knotted boards really woody wood,

and I hunch among waving fronds of gentle sea flowers,

hiding from the sharp twitches of displeasure or greed

that storm the placid ocean of my house,

waiting for them to leave.

Wallflowers and drinking troughs

When I first started to write, I was living in Paris. What emerged were stories set mainly in London from where I had just moved, Yorkshire, where I grew up, and Ireland, the place of family holidays, memories, roots and history. They were about first loves, family, children— I was in the throes of starting my own family—and my first serious thoughts about what makes us what we are.

In Wicklow ©Harald Hansen
In Wicklow ©Harald Hansen

We moved from Paris to a quiet corner of Picardy. In the walled medieval town, 1.8 kilometres long and less than a kilometre at its widest point, there were 81 historic monuments. You tripped over historic monuments. Many of them were inhabited; many more were in ruins and in the process of being reclaimed by nature. Wild boar, deer, red squirrels and pine martens wandered into the gardens along the ramparts, mistaking the town for an extension of the surrounding woodland.

 Laon: Palais de Justice
Laon: Palais de Justice

My writing turned to Paris, the most recent part of our history, but was tinged with the light and textures of our new home. It was only today, walking past a clump of pink snapdragons growing out of a crack in the pavement, that I was put in mind of the way the walls of our old home were covered in yellow wallflowers (Christine Matthews). I remembered the soft, golden light, the wilderness that had crept up to the grey stone ramparts of the town, and the way we used to watch for signs of spring in the dark loam of the garden.

©Christine Matthews
©Christine Matthews

The south is different. The light is harsher, the heat thick and heavy. Flowers grow everywhere, on window ledges, balconies, around the trees by the roadsides. Hollyhocks push their way out of nothing, in the tiny cracks between house wall and paving stones, lining entire streets with their cottage garden prettiness. Saplings sprout out of old guttering, buddleia from the damp cracks behind drainpipes. Pansies, Jerusalem cherry, all kinds of mallow grow wild—bright, cultivated things, pretty but tame.


Looking back on how my writing has changed, I can see the influence of environment, and I wonder how I will be writing in ten years time. We absorb, possibly without even being aware of it, the light, the sounds and smells that surround us. The atmosphere shapes the way we see things, alters out state of mind. But it takes time to distil, in my experience at least. I don’t write about the immediate, but the immediate past, the sights and sounds that have been shunted into history because of a change in the immediate, the humdrum and banal.

I have started to wonder about those things that are now history: the walks along the coast at Dingle, or the Hill of Howth; holding laughing babies up to the fountains in Paris parks; taking small children to thrash through the goldenrod to paddle in the ruins of the royal cattle’s drinking troughs, or watch lizards disappearing into the wild wallflowers.

All those things found their way into my stories. Do we have to change, move on, keep our senses ever open to new experiences in order to find inspiration? Or do we reach a point where we go back to the beginning again in our writing, and recall, with hazy inexactitude, those golden summers and crisp winters receding into history? I’d like to think so.