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Family

Just how powerful can a haiku be?

Old age and illness

Are not things that are fun to

Be a part of. No.

One grandma and one

great aunt and one step grandma

Are all so.. Ending.

And endings are so

Bittersweet but mostly they

Suck. Life gets harder.

I remember when

I am with them.. Being small

And full of happy.

I can remind them

Of happy for a while but

Then we remember..

Time and we are lost.

Dementia and cancer will

Win in the end. But

The end is not a

Day or a date or a time.

It is a concept.

Sometimes I wish that

Concepts would fuck off and leave

Us with the happy.

I sit with grandma

And I don’t know who I am.

She’s roaming inside.

I hold her paper-

Hand and see right through to blue

Veins and gnarled old bones.

It’s like holding air.

Are you there Grandma? Can you

Remember any..

Thing? Your cheeks are so

Sunken, is it hard to breathe?

Did your eyes open..

Today? Will you o-

Pen them tomorrow? You are

Dissappearing now.

Hello auntie, how

Is your day? Did you have a

Good sleep? I love you.

I know you look like

You’re there but you lost some parts

Along the way. Thoughts.

Remember when you

Were evacuated and

The Americans..

Gave you sweets? War was

Not so bad when soldiers brought

Candy, remember?

Tell me again how

You were born in a bucket

One Sunday morning.

_

I love to hear how

You lived, all eleven of

You. I am proud to..

Be a Family

Such as ours. You weigh less than

A child now. Going..

_

Backwards. Time reverts.

I love you, I love you I

Tell you. Remember?

Hello my other grandma,

Not blood but family still,

You look so sad, now.

Cancer, they said, is

Back for the third time and this

Time it will claim you.

What do you say to

That? Hello cancer, come take

Me when you’re ready?

_

Months, they say. You sit

Staring at the end. I love

You. Remember that.

_

All in your eighties,

Quietly fading and I

Weep for youth gone by.

I weep for your lives

And the coming of concepts

And the passing years.

I hold my children’s

Hands and walk them through the days,

And we talk of time.

But mostly we laugh

Because if we can’t stop time

We can play with it.

Family is all.

I didn’t know that I thought

That until I did.

Creative Writing

Suffer Little Women – a story

votes for women poster

A fictionalised account of the final days of Mary Jane Clarke (1862-1910)

 

18th November 1910, London, England: Parliament Square

Mary marched proudly towards the square, a colourful sash striped in purple, green and white adorned her bodice, its tail flirted with the ribbon from her bonnet, both jostling for freedom.  She stepped in time with the others, booted, skirted-warriors marching to war, bandoliers stuffed with dignity, purity and hope. They held no weapons, save their tongues, their notions.

Their deputation was a wave of indignation storming the House of Men, House of Cards, House of Parliament, old stones wrapped around old ideas.  The streets were lined with spectators, the gates of Parliament blocked by rank upon rank of policemen.  They met in solemn confrontation.

‘Let us pass.’  Elizabeth Garrett Anderson demanded at the head of the deputation, ‘we have come to speak to Herbert Asquith.’

The ranks stood fast and silent.

‘We are here in peace, we demand to be heard.’  Emmeline Pankhurst added.  A ripple of agreement from the deputation. ‘Move aside, let us pass.’ The front line of women edged forward, determined.

‘Push them back – we’ve our orders.’ The police ranks held together, like a shield-wall and marched forwards, edging the women backwards.  Somewhere along the frontline, war erupted.  Shouts of indignation and fear heralded a wave of assault as truncheons rose and fell, fists pummelled and boots kicked.

Mary cowered, should she hide behind the others?  Should she run, should she fight?  She caught sight of Ada on the floor, shielding her face from a torrent of abuse.  She saw, through the throng, Rosa May in her invalid chair, crutches raised in a joust, charging the brutal ranks, ramming the enemy.  Mary saw her thrown from her chair, tyres let down.  Run?  Cower?  FIGHT!  Mary reeled as a stony-faced policeman punched her in the face.  Blood dripped from her nose, she wiped it from her lips.

Mary looked around her at a sea of sisters united in dispute, at their defiant, beautiful faces, her heart sang of ancient warrior souls and she raised her voice above the hum.  ‘Freedom from oppression!’ she cried, ‘Give women a voice!’ She aimed her words at Parliament, hoping to catch Asquith’s hidden ear.

Cries all around rose up “We want votes for women in the King’s speeches!”  “The Bill, the whole Bill and nothing but the Bill!” “Carry the Bill!”  “Votes for Women!”

Spectators stared.  They offered no support.  ‘Votes for Women!’ She yelled at them.  Their eyes flicked away. ‘Get back home to your children!’  they cried, ‘Harridans!  Harlots!’.  Were they female voices?

Politicians stared down from lofty balconies, dainty drinks in crystal glasses, disdain set hard on their cold faces.  Mary watched a police helmet roll past her boot, flattening a deputation rosette, hopeful colours smeared with mud.

A leering, angry face appeared before her, rude hands grabbed her breasts, pinched and twisted.  Mary cried out in pain, around her, male hands groped female flesh, lifted skirts and tweaked nipples.  What was this fight?  How could women win against manmade law and manmade aggression?

Long skirts bustled round blue trouser legs as women were marched away, arrested for boldness.  The crowds turned away, spectacle observed but unwitnessed.

The press called it Black Friday.  Yes, it was.  Black for its implications:  Black for fear; black for aggression; black for repression and suppression of progression and equality; black for the gender war; black for the shadows male leaders cowered in and black for the shame on their cheeks as they turned away; black for brutality and black for a hundred innocent women marched to jail.

 

23rd November 1910, Brighton, England:  Mary Clarke’s residence

‘You must rest Mary, don’t go out tonight.  They can manage without you.’  Sylvia fussed around Mary, adjusting her hat, re-tying the ribbons.

‘Fiddlesticks, Sylvia, it’s my party, my women.  I won’t send them out on their own.  There will be arrests tonight, mark my words.  Pass me that toffee hammer, would you?’

‘What if you get caught Mary?  You’re not well enough for prison now, not after Friday’s march.’

‘Well, if I’m caught this time, I may just pay the fine.’  Mary shifted in her chair, wincing as her corset rubbed her ribs, bruised deep blue and purple as they were, yellowing at the edges, black along her arms.  Mary thought the black days were far from over, something had shifted in the campaign, something dark had been unleashed and a shadow hovered over them all.  A portent of storms to come.

‘What time is it?’  Mary asked as she fastened the lightweight hammer to her belt.

‘Oh please Mary, just this once, don’t go.’

‘Nonsense Sylvia.  Deeds, not words, remember?  We can’t back down now, a hundred more of our number are in prison!  They beat us and threaten us, take our freedom!  But we are not weak and feeble, we will not be silenced.’

Mary accepted help with her coat and she and Sylvia stepped out into the bracing Brighton evening.  A salty, seaweed-tanged wind whipped at their faces.  Mary and Sylvia marched arm-in-arm to the Royal Pavilion, exotic minarets soaring into the starry night.  Moonlight filtered down through trees and dappled flickering shadows on a crowd of eager, defiant faces.

‘Well met, ladies!’  Mary positioned herself carefully under the boughs of an ancient elder tree and faced her party.  ‘For those of you who survived Black Friday; for those of you who were there in spirit; for those behind bars tonight; for those on hunger strikes – let us raise our voices higher still!  We have a natural right to equal say in our society!  We are humans, we bear men, suckle men and raise men, we love them and nurse them and nurture them and they say SILENCE! We will not hear you!  And we say YES YOU WILL!  Who put them in charge?  They granted themselves the right to govern – we let them build a society that we are denied a voice in.  We are in this world together.  We will be heard!’

‘Hear, hear!’ Chorused a Parliament of Amazons.

‘Let us not surrender our will, let us not be forced into submission!  If they’re going to send us to jail, let us not be mauled and manhandled first!  Who’s ready to fight back?’

A rousing cheer.

‘Deeds not words ladies, deeds not words!’  Mary flourished her small toffee hammer, holding it aloft so it caught a shaft of moonlight and glinted in the darkness.

Relays of women streamed out from the shelter of the elder, hammers neatly hidden along their sleeves.  Their mission was simple, make the government hear them, consider the Bill, allow them the vote.  Allow them!  As if women needed permission to vote!  This inequality had gone on long enough.  They walked through the streets of Brighton, silent in the shadows until Mary gave the order.

‘Now!’

Flick, tinkle, crash.  Toffee hammers on window glass.  Angry righteousness, genteel fury.  So many women injured and brutalised on a peaceful march, a hundred imprisoned!  Those men must truly be scared to have responded so violently.  The suffragettes had agreed to stop the hunger strikes and window-smashing campaigns in exchange for the Conciliation Bill.  Tinkle, tinkle, crash.  A Bill that Parliament wouldn’t hear – one point to government, stakes-raised.  All down Western Road they marched, hammers and stones smashing shop fronts, window panes, door panes.  Tinkle, crash, crash.  If militancy was all that would get them noticed then this was their war-cry!

‘Votes for women!’

Lights blinked on in upper windows, house by house, dark silhouettes loomed and rough voices cursed down at them.  Mary bent to pick up another stone and hurled it through a haberdasher’s window.  She was triumphant.

A hand grabbed Mary’s shoulder, she spun around to find a policeman staring down at her, chin strap cutting into the baggy flesh of his jaw.  ‘You’re coming with me, love.’

Love?  What did love have to do with this?

‘Constable’, Mary complained, ‘you have arrived so swiftly!  We have barely made an impact.’

 

27th November 1910, London, England: Holloway Prison

Mary clutched the coarse, itchy blanket to her thin shoulders and shivered.  Physical fortitude eluded her.  Her sisters called her frail, her mum had called her resilient.  Mary knew how to endure – she was tougher on the inside.  She sat on a thin mattress on a cold metal bed-frame in a cold, empty room where iron bars covered a tiny, high window grimed with decades of dirt.  This was Second Division:  Solitary confinement; no access to reading or writing materials; no visitors for a month.  She was on her own with nothing to distract her, save her thoughts.

It had been four days since any food had passed her lips, four days since she had demanded First Division status as a political prisoner.  No, they’d said.   Churchill’s rules.  Pah!  Pompous little man, scared of propaganda.  Mary smiled.  Their campaign was working, she was sure of it.  Why else go to such lengths to silence protestors?  She must go on with the sacrifice.  Four days of quiet torment and strengthening resolve were taking their toll.  Her lips were cracked and bled when she stretched them, her eyelids were heavy and her thoughts tumbled one into the other.

Second time in Holloway, second hunger strike.  She knew what to expect.  The harder they fought for their rights, the harder the government fought back, it was a game of surrender now.  Who would give up first?  The male leaders thought they would win, that it’d be easy to silence a dissident group of angry females but they couldn’t find the right woman to break.  The cause wasn’t rooted in a person or a class, it was not to be found in a house or town.  It was rooted in the hearts of enlightened women and unbreakable.

Mary hugged her legs and rocked herself, reminded of her mother comforting her on the rocking chair as a child.  So strong, her mother had been, so passionate and righteous.  She remembered walking hand in hand with her mother into suffrage meetings, ten years old and scared of the crowds.  She understood those women now.  Understood her mother, too – now it was too late to tell her so.

The cell door swung open so fiercely it banged against the wall, showering plaster to the floor.  The warder marched in, some strangers, one dressed as a doctor.  She had wondered when they would come.

‘No.’  Mary said, determined.  ‘No!  I will not eat.  No!’

They grabbed Mary’s arms and wrists, pulled her off the bed by her hair and shoved her roughly onto a chair.  Helpless as a lunatic, Mary struggled for freedom but her frail, starving body was no match for those brutish arms.

‘No!’  Mary wailed.  Pain ripped through Mary’s skull as they forced a tube up her nostril, jabbing it relentlessly, the tube scraped her nostrils, the soft space at the top of her nose, below her eyes.  Her brain exploded with pain as the tube jabbed at the back of her mouth, scraped her throat, jabbing, peeling, burning.  Mary tasted blood and bile, she retched and retched as inch after inch of tube filled her throat.  Acid rose from Mary’s stomach and bitter vomit filled her mouth.  They held her tight, pinned to the chair.

I am strong, she thought, I am woman.  I am Mary Jane Clarke, daughter of Robert Gould and Sophia Crane, sister of Emmeline, aunt of Sylvia and Christabel, leader of women, voice of a generation.  I shall endure.

They wiggled the tube, flicked it, pinched her nostrils shut to speed the liquid flow along.  Suffer little suffragette.  Blood, bile, acid and milk churned in her stomach, her throat, her nostrils.  They wrenched the tube back out, inch by painful inch and left her there, crumpled.  She slipped to the floor.  Mary vomited over and over, until dry heaves took over and exhausted she fell asleep where she lay.

 

30th November 1910, London, England: Holloway Prison

Would they come today?  Mary looked fearfully at the door and listened to the sounds of Holloway; moans and cries; distant clatters; bangs and scrapes.  It was better than silence, she supposed, but still – each layer of sound thumped new horror into her heart.  Was that the squeak of a feeding cart?  Was that the tread of a warder?  Something savoury and sulphuric irritated her nostrils and tugged at her stomach.

A spider scuttled busily across the cell-wall and up to the window frame.  It walked easily past the iron bars and set about building itself a trap in the corner of the window.  Silk flowed freely from its dark little body, shimmering and flowing in an intricately woven web.

Marriage had been like that for her – a beautiful trap that had promised so much and delivered nothing but misery.  John had been a brute and a lousy husband, he blamed her for their lack of children, she blamed not wanting to share his bed.  She’d bought her freedom from him with a legal divorce but had to live with family to get by.  She could have settled with any of her relations, she supposed, but none of them were so close to her as darling Sylvia.  Some trials held hidden rewards.

Where was Sylvia now?  Mary hoped that Sylvia had escaped in time from the window-smashing campaign in Brighton – she’d asked her to return home as soon as any policemen appeared, but the trouble with the Pankhurst’s was that they were so single-minded.  Please, oh please don’t let Sylvia be locked up in here!  Mary thought grimly, I can bear this for both of us.  I must.

 

9th December 1910, London, England: Holloway Prison

A loud blue-black fly protested its innocence as its legs stuck fast to the spider’s web.  It struggled furiously and shouted vociferously in its angry-fly voice.  The spider looked on, still and patient.  He could wait for the fly to exhaust itself.  Mary was exhausted.  Not once had she consented to eat as she sat trapped in her cell yet no ears had heard her pleas or granted her reprieve. Over and over again, Mary endured the tube, the chalky, eggy milk, the vomit.  She grew weaker than she’d ever felt before, her body betrayed her, it was so needy and broken.

Mary longed for her sisters to gather round her and boost her spirit with their tales of freedom and justice.  Mary burned like her sisters but her body was consumed faster than theirs, perhaps her fervour burned brighter.  Poor, old militant Mary!  Fever burned on her brow, she shivered, though her blood boiled.  Mary imagined Emmeline’s cool hand on her forehead, soothing and inspiring.  ‘Is that you, Emmeline?’ she called to an empty room, ‘Our tactics are working on them, Emmy-dear!  We have proven how determined we are!  Effie?  Did you come too?’  Mary sat up and looked blearily around the lonely cell.  Confused, she lay back and closed her heavy eyes.  Dreams and memories dragged her down to blackness.

 

24th December 2010, London, England:  Mary’s brother’s residence

Happy Christmas, Mary!  Freedom for a gift.

Mary had walked out through the open doors of Holloway prison two days before, free but not a little broken.  The sun had welcomed her with a weak winter smile.  Two days before Christmas Eve and a festive fever had burned in her like hope.  Helpful hands had helped her walk to a waiting car and escorted her to a welcome luncheon in the capital.  Kind, of course, to celebrate her freedom but standing had been an effort and talking had drained her.  Food, of course, not the enemy now, had been impossible to swallow.  Those same kind, well-meaning hands escorted Mary to Brighton straight from the luncheon, she’d rested in her chair at home for barely an hour before helpful hands propelled her frail being to an evening meeting with her peers – so proud of her, so admiring.

Yesterday, Mary had arrived back in London at the heart of her family, they gathered round her in protection.  Mary had survived political torture, again!  The fight burned in her, she could feel it hot behind her temples, burning in her throat.  Mary was angry and overwhelmingly tired.

She picked at her lunch, dry and hard to swallow with her ravaged throat, she sipped her wine.  Perhaps she’d had over-much.  Her vision swam and blurred.  She dabbed her mouth with her napkin, pressed it into the table as she stood, heavily.  She swayed a little as she stood.  Mary excused herself and walked out to the hallway, relishing the cool draught she found there.  She climbed the stairs heavily, frail as an old, old lady.  Her bed, when she found it was soft and inviting.  Mary lay down, her head throbbing fiercely, she pressed her eyes tight shut, massaged her brow.  Her arms felt heavy, she let them go, surprised at how quickly they descended to the bed.  A flash of red flame shot across her eyes.

*

Emmeline excused herself from the table and followed her sister upstairs.  She found her sprawled on the bed, palms open like a supplicant, her face a blank mask of relief.  Emmeline clutched her heart and howled.

‘My dearest sister! My poor, dear sister!  Oh Mary, they have torn you from me.’

Emmeline closed her sister’s eyes with a gentle finger and thumb and bent her own head forward to pray and weep.  As she knelt there, sorrow dragged her down, she thought of her sister, her mother, her son, all gone in this Black year.

‘How many more will have to die for the cause?’  she asked.

Emmeline resolved to campaign harder.  The fight had gained a martyr and a flaming sword.

Not the End

Creative Writing

The Wire – A poem of Ravilious and war

Wire in war takes on shades of brutality.

That which in peace will build a fence or mend a tool, in war becomes a weapon.

Yet it is just wire.

With intent to pull flesh from human skin and harm the soul within.

See this wire, tangled and barbed, heavy with inert threat.

Sharp, cold metal provokes and warns

Come not here!

Distant smoke, cordite drifting landward,

White of eyes and grey of gunpowder, grey of gunmetal, grey of ruined flesh.

No men, no laughter, no whisper.

Dirty, ash-flecked wind whips and whistles through your hair, thuds against your skin…

…rattles barbed-wire like old bones tumbling.

Warships on the horizon – blank-eyed, steely warriors squinting at the shore.

Steel grey.

Mud brown.

Heartless black.

Smoke white.

And yet..

Tangled in the blackest wire, clumped with sea-tossed scorn,

Canary yellow and cherry red like the promise of a Summer afternoon,

The drifted boat, tilted and beached upon the wire.

Tossed away, tossed out of the greyest sea.

There, amidst the shuffle-skidding pebbles,

Beside the shushing grey waves and speckled foam,

There, enshrined in seaweed and salt and captured in a barbed embrace,

An empty boat,

Grasping wire

And no man alive to see

Or wonder

Where did the rower go?

Inspired by ‘Drift Boat’, Eric Ravilious (1941) and ‘The Wire Fence’, Eric Ravilious (1935).. from innocent to deadly, Ravilious’ change in perception as he is engulfed in war. Even wire becomes brutal.

For all those missing in action.

Biography: Annalie Seaman, mother, archaeologist, writer and curious soul.

Archaeology, Travel

Forest Archaeology: a love story

Two initials carved into a tree, lovers making promises they may or may not keep. We’ve all seen them.

A 💕 H forever..

N ♥ L..

We may have made our own, one dreamy-day gone by. But how many of us have done this? (see photo).

The photo below is of a tree in Friston Forest, on a hill above the meander of the river Cuckmere as it winds out to the English Channel.

A hefty iron chain and padlock tied to the trunk of a tall tree. The chain has been there so long that the tree has started absorbing it. The padlock is held fast in the tree bark, folds of bark have grown over the chain where it joins its twin trunk. The growing tree is squeezing its way out of the love-chain, squeezing up and out like a jeans-belt holding in a festive-seasons worth of indulgences. The tree has rolls.

One day, this tree will completely absorb the chain and carry on growing up and out, with a rusty chain of hopeful love nestled in its core. If the tree is ever chopped down for lumber, some curious soul will doubtless discover and ponder at the hidden message locked tight in the knots of the trunk.

On the outer rim of the padlock:

LOVE ALWAYS

Scratched into the metal.

On the front face of the padlock:

B. G.

Their love story is older than the new growth of the tree. Has it endured, I wonder, as well as the chains of proclamation that are slowly disappearing as growth rings on the life of a Friston Forest tree?

Learning, Travel

We just met a NASA Scientist!

It was Herstmonceux’s Astronomy Festival this weekend. We went yesterday and blew our minds.

As a society, we talk about quality time. We want to spend time with our families learning about each other, having fun together and bonding. We squeeze these moments into our frantically busy lives and wait for the satisfied feeling to hit us, asking if this is the moment that feels like quality.

In my experience, quality is fleeting. It depends on how much attention you put into your moments. Whether you’re fully there or distracted by planning or regrets or communication with people you’re not with.

You have no choice but to be fully present when you and your entire family are thrilled to buzzing point about the endless possibilities of space exploration.

The word astronaut comes from the Greek for Star Sailor (Astra = Star and nautical = navigation by sea).

Star Sailors.

People who sail through the stars as ancient explorers sailed the seven seas, guided by the stars. The spirit of exploration drives humanity like nothing else.

I saw the sun and moon through large telescopes – in the day time. The surface of the potted moon seen through the lens of a star-gazing device is something legendary. We know what the moon looks like. No big deal. Except – yes, it is. Each crater, each mountain, each valley has a story to tell. Ancient lava lies cooled on the surface.

Moon dust is similar to volcanic basalt found on earth. Scientists are experimenting with volcanic basalt (ancient earth dust) from Germany to see if moon-dust bricks could be constructed on the moon. Wow.

We stepped into a tiny, inflatable planetarium with a very happy and very knowledgable guide to the universe – Jasper. Jasper is one of those rare people with the power to enthuse from the depths of their own enthusiasm.

Mars, Venus, Jupiter? Sure, let’s visit them from inside a tiny dome and gaze up at their ethereal surfaces.

Mars – we’re visiting there soon, there might be water and where there’s water, there’s life.

Venus – too hot to touch, the Russians sent a rocket there that lasted just over two hours before it melted.

Jupiter – a swirling giant with an ever-growing number of moons. We’re visiting Europa soon – it’s ice crust hides an ocean larger than earth. Where there’s water..

I love the inclusivity. “We’re going exploring” – we’re star sailors by proxy because we are part of the human race. “We’re” exploring the stars together.

Lucky us.

The edge of the universe? Sure let’s visit – we go as far as the human eye can see – a vastly distant star and behind it we see billions of galaxies holding billions of stars. Beyond those galaxies is the beginning of time. Wow.

Black holes? Black holes in the blackness of space – with stars orbiting them, drawn in by their massive gravitational pull. Black holes swallow other black holes. We haven’t looked inside one yet because of spaghettification – yep, it’s a thing – the gravitational pull of black holes would pull at your feet and your entire body would be stretched like spaghetti and you wouldn’t survive your trip through the event horizon. In theory.

Carl Sagan talks to us from Earth’s recent past – like the light from a star reaching us after it’s gone – as we glimpse a tiny speck of light captured in footage on Voyager 2.

That “mote of dust” is our home in the vastness of space and all the people we love, all the 7.5billion people walking about on its surface are suspended on Earth, in space.

The NASA Scientist – Christopher -has travelled over from Pasadena, America. He sits inside one of the giant copper domes and waits for questions.

What does he do at NASA? He measures quasars. How much patience does he have with the children and their questions? Endless.

They want to know how to deal with space junk, how to make new materials from elements on other planets and how to find new life in the solar system. They want to know if there are aliens. They want more info on black holes. Spaghetti.

They’re told to keep questioning the universe and to invent equipment and tech for future star sailors to use on the endless voyage into the cosmic unknown. Could they go into space? Today, anything seems possible.

I want to know what there was before the Big Bang. Well if you get the chance to talk to NASA.. he smiles at me and says “oh, you’re coming in with the big one.” Yep, that’s me!

He says we have to look to theology or philosophy for that answer. Science doesn’t know.

He asks whether time exists. If time began when the Big Bang exploded and is travelling with the energy from the blast: will time stop when the energy from the Big Bang runs out? Would time then reverse?

If you play that model of the universe out in your mind for a while, it starts yo-yoing back and forth. Leaving you with the question:

If time can go forwards and backwards, what would happen when time met it’s beginning. Would it explode in a Big Bang?

We met storm troopers and astronomers and beautiful people and we thought incredible thoughts and walked out of the Observatory on astral clouds of giddiness.

Quality.

Mind blasting quality.

Family, Travel

Drusillas Park: Alfriston zoo and playground

I promised a post about Drusillas Park. Here it is!

I love it. Literally. We come at least once a month – though it’s been once a week during these Summer Holidays. Some people I mention it to pull a face and say something like “oh the poor animals” or “zoos are so cruel” or something similar. Like visiting the zoo actually endorses cruelty to animals. It doesn’t.

The Drusillas animals are well loved, well fed and well cared for.

There’s an eight week old baby Macaque – we’ve visited him every week since he’s been born. Yup, he’s that gorgeous! He’s called Mango. Mango the Macaque! He cuddles his mum and tries to walk and climb and jump and peers out of his enclosure at all the crazy humans wandering round his home. He’s utterly contented. So am I when I stand gazing at the little Macaque family.

The baby Common Marmosets are nearing adult size but are still notably young – as are the Rock Hyraxes.

The baby Coatis are also up and about, climbing precariously around the branches of their habitat. The South Downs frame their view of the world, across sweeping fields of potatoes and sweet corn.

I haven’t caught a glimpse of the baby Kookaburra yet but I’m holding out hope.

For there to be baby animals in the zoo, the adult animals must be happy and contented.

Last year’s squirrel monkeys – everyone should spend time in their life watching baby squirrel monkeys – are full of fun and vim and tearing about the treetops.

I read an article in the National Geographic yesterday about Red Pandas being fertile for 24 hours once a year. Last year, the Drusillas Red Pandas gave birth to two healthy babies.

They’re doing something really right!

The young Spectacled Owls have tried to breed two years running, maybe next year they’ll figure it out.

The new ant eat eaters, Olivia and Diego are a treat to observe, as are the flamingos, the Lar Gibbons and the meerkats.

The capybaras are a sight to behold as are the beavers and otters.

The capuchin monkeys are a must-see along with all the other marmosets and monkeys and who couldn’t gaze in wonder at a party of ring tailed lemurs?

For my children, the fun never ends. They’ve been going for five years – with more frequency in the latter years – and their learning opportunities are endless. The outdoor play and soft play provide hours of exercise and temporary friendship and thrills and they’ve both learned to rock climb there.

I could extol the virtues of Drusillas over and over.

Actually, I’ve just convinced myself to go. Perhaps we could fit a couple of hours in later today..

Travel

Alfriston Camping

Alfriston Camping Field – Pleasant Rise Farm. A field, toilets, showers, washing up sinks and water from a tap at the end of the hedge. A tent, airbeds, duvets, blankets, food without a fridge, a gas cooker, plastic plates, a kettle, table, chairs, games and books.

Sure – the airbeds started sinking a few hours after they’d been inflated; sure – the tail of a hurricane whipped us as it flew past; sure- rain and mizzle (misty drizzle) found us and toyed with us; sure- there’s nothing perfect about camping – and not looking for perfection is a reminder that we don’t need to look for perfection. Life is what it is.

There was an old, abandoned tennis court we tried to play on – grit from the deconstructing ground surface made us skid and slide as we hurtled the little green balls around the semi-fenceless, unloved space. Except we did love it – while we played. There’s something about camping that strips away your preconceptions about how things aught to be. A space for playing in – no matter how unkempt – becomes just that. Somewhere to play.

A space to wash yourself or your dishes becomes a haven- thank goodness we have access to water-from-a-tap. We remember how lucky we are and we feel lucky.

I love how everything has a solution when we’re camping: life simplifies around us.

The children make friends instantly – die hard BFFs – and disappear into the woods. Their laughter rings round the whole field. They find a rope to swing on so they swing on it; though their hands hurt when they hold the stick; though they fall off endless times; though their legs are bruised and scratched; they play on and on. They play with mud and discarded things, they laugh and explore.

I tend house and revel in the simple chores: boil the kettle, make the beds, prepare the food, tidy our space. I sit and look at the sky, the field, the hills, the trees. I hear the kettle bubbling, birds singing, children playing and people talking. I get out my books or magazines or my crosswords or notepaper and read or puzzle or write and sigh – deeply contented.

We climb a hill, over wild flowers and long grass to the summit where the view rolls around us, green and lush. Horses and cattle graze, bees buzz by and we pluck blackberries – ripe and juicy – from the bushes.

Some days, the wind and rain drive us in so we play card games cross-legged on the floor. We loaded a couple of devices with movies before we came and David Bowie croons to us about magic and tears as the Goblin King toys with the stolen babe while Sarah fights her way through dangers untold to the Goblin City.

We pop out to the zoo (see Drusillas) and a beautiful medieval house and garden (see the Clergy House). We visit a fourteenth century pub and the village church, we find the village store and walk along the timber framed street, surrounded by ancient beauty. We stop to admire a dragon figurehead reclaimed from a ship wrecked at the Battle of Beach Head in 1690.

We cross the river Cuckmere and down to a tributary where a pair of swans nestle and a heron flies over our heads. I lower the children from a bridge into the shallow waters of the rivulet and watch them splash and explore, “can we stay here all day?” They ask. Can we stay here forever? I think.

Pack up day comes and my cousin comes to help us end our retreat. We stuff and roll and squeeze our camp-life into bags and load the car for the journey home.

A sadness pervades as we drive away, we’re leaving paradise and we know it. We’ll come back next year we promise each other. We drive through the field, saying goodbye to the rope swing and the haunted tennis court, we say goodbye to the idyllic village as we drive through and out into the farmland beyond.

We are renewed and rejuvenated and pleased to be home where the fridge is cold and the mattresses stay plump. But we are already yearning for a field and a tent and a wide blue sky.

I’m not so sure we can wait till next year…

Travel

Herstmonceux

Castle, Observatory and Science Centre.

I’ve never been inside the castle. The 15th century moated castle houses an international study centre within its walls and you have to time your visit right to gain a peek inside. The gardens are fabulous.

That is where we didn’t go this weekend. We went to the Observatory and Science Centre next door. I last visited there a couple of years ago and a couple of years before that and a couple of years before that. It’s one of those places.. visitable every now and then but pace yourself. Of course, you need children to go there with, relatives or borrowed children count.

I had – been there with other children – and enjoyed their reactions to the hands on experiments. But there’s something so special about seeing your own children light up when they identify a constellation or explore electricity or suddenly understand earthquakes.

There’s a woman in a lone observatory down by the castle who beams light into space to help the satellites figure out where they are in orbit. She can tell where active volcanoes are on earth as the heated air from bubbling lava rises out of the atmosphere and registers on satellite sensors.

There’s a man in the Science Centre who knows an awful lot about space and Isaac Newton and stars and telescopes. He gives a mind blowing tour of the old Greenwich observatories; moved to Sussex after the last war so astronomers could view far off lights without the glare of inner city neon.

There are things to press and squeeze and pick up and spin and build and inspect and learn and I enjoyed every minute. My children enjoyed every minute too.

My husband wonders if he’s too old to learn about the wonders of the universe as seen through a rather large telescope: No, he’s not.

We joined, as members for the year. The cost of a family membership for the year is less than a family day pass to Lego land. In an age where family entertainment, days out and pastimes are often based on deep pockets, it’s a good reminder that our lives are what we make them. Yes, we could spend all our time at family fun parks watching the children whizz around but I prefer to join in with their learning Journeys – the children’s and their dad’s – and mine.

We’re looking forward to spending many more days together there exploring the wonders of science and astronomy.

It dawned on me as my small children grew in heart and mind that we should ignite our children’s love of learning far beyond what is expected of them. It dawned on me again as we watched them soaking up scientific ideas with delight and enthusiasm. They can fuel their own interests – follow their curiosities and genuinely enjoy discovering what the world is about.

Beyond the confines of classroom, beyond imposed restrictions and testable knowledge.

Amid the copper-green domes, lush vegetation, flint brick walls and landscaped paths; within the beautiful Sussex countryside among wood and Field and marsh; there is much to enjoy; much to learn.

As the nights lengthen and evenings arrive earlier and earlier, we’ll be heading down to the Observatory to peer through massive telescopes at the unbound universe.

I for one, can’t wait!

Entertainment, Travel

Danny Baker Live: oh so funny

I am surprising myself Day-by-day lately.

Danny Baker! Who? That bloke from the radio – mates with Chris Evans and Gazza. Talks about football. I supposed I could yawn my way through his live show and daydream about something or other.

My preconceptions were way off.

Friday night. Good Time Charlie’s Back. Decent view from the balcony. I sit back and hope for a few laughs.

Instead, I am drawn into a world of cockney dockers and costers, on a Bermondsey estate in the sixties as a young Danny boy grows up in a strong, loving, hard-working family.

I have never before met such an engaging and authentic story teller. Danny blends fact and fiction into an autobiography of sheer delight and enthusiasm. He paces the stage for the entire show – back and forwards, back and forwards, using photos from his life to prompt each new story – each cherished memory.

The entire audience is attuned to his every word. Danny is mesmerising and fascinating. Seeing the world through his eyes is beyond refreshing. It’s illuminating.

He retells each coincidence, each event in his life and each chance encounter that propelled him forward into each new adventure. And the people in his life who he counts as friends are people we’ve grown up viewing from afar.

Elton John, Roger Daltry, the Sex Pistols, Ian Dury, Michael Jackson.. I’ve barely scratched the surface.

It’s clear throughout his engaging narrative that Danny has spent his entire life enjoying people and them enjoying him.

Was it coincidence that led Danny at the age of 15 to work in One Stop Records and spend his days listening to American imports serving and advising the likes of Jimmy Paige?

Was it coincidence that he co-developed the first punk-rock fanzine with his one time schoolmate and helped raise punk from obscure to cool?

Was it coincidence that from there he wound up writing for NME and travelling round the world from party to concert to party reviewing the freshest music scenes, befriending talented artists?

Was it coincidence that he was selected to star in a tv show about London life and from there become propelled to radio broadcasting?

Danny says the gods were playing with him – giving him a lucky life.

I think that Danny is very probably one of the most engaging, humble and friendly men on the planet and I would defy anyone to witness his live show and not to fall a little in love with this candid raconteur.

I think Danny made his own luck.

Four hours later, I walk bleary-eyed from the theatre and head-full of Danny Baker’s stories, make for Home.

John Lennon? Bumped into him in New York and gained a brief interview.

Paul Weller? You’d never confuse him with a ray of sunshine!

Danny Baker? You have another new fan.

Archaeology, Learning

Plumpton Roman villa: Archaeology in Sussex

It was a teaching day yesterday. I had a glorious day out at Plumpton working on the villa and teaching a new group of people about archaeology. There’s so much joy in teaching, learning and discovery.

It’ll never fail to fascinate me that I can touch with my hand something that hasn’t been touched by anyone else for nearly 2000 years; my fingers can trace the grooves made by the Potter or the tile-maker and finger print to finger print, the years fade away.

There’s a humanness to Archaeology that defies category.

We study the objects that humans made and used and left behind. We learn of people’s cultures and lives and find what’s left of their humanity. And in this fleeting passage of time that constitutes human life, we can pause and reflect on how lives were then and how lives are now and see the changes that time and ingenuity have wrought on humankind.

It’s not all prosaic, this gathering of artefacts and blisters. It’s searching for structures and features in the soil, it’s looking for the echoes of past civilisations in the soil; broken things and rusty things, shiny things and once-loved things. It’s hard, dusty work. It’s digging with trowels and mattocks, shovels, buckets and wheelbarrows. It’s sweating profusely in a 29 degree heatwave while teaching and remembering the joy that brought me here in the first place. The joy that set me on this journey 16 years ago.

In this blistering heat, the desire to feel connected to the past- to learn what has never been learned before – must outweigh the desire for human comfort. We spend the day outside of ourselves, learning how to see the past, how to record these echoes of humanity.

We learn of our own human-ness as we search for traces of past human-ness in the soil. We learn about ourselves and our essential natures.

We suspend our regular pattern of days and set aside our worldly concerns. We are – for a brief and precious time – aware of the importance of human life and we grant ourselves the perspective to view thousands of years of human life – generation upon generation of lives – without fear or pity of our own mortality but with reverence and awe.

There are days in each of our lives that remind us who we are. Yesterday was one of them.