Above and beyond

I entered a mountain writing competition last month run by the John Muir Trust.  The theme was ‘The day a mountain changed my life’ so my entry was probably a bit low key, but what can I say, that’s my style. (Actually, it’s a rewrite of a post I did a while back on hiking in Snowdonia, but from a more inward-looking perspective.)

It must have been 6am when I unzipped the tent, or thereabouts, judging by the grey light that draped across the mountainside. The two bodies that were crammed in next to me lay motionless, matted hair sprouting from the tops of sleeping bags.

I slipped on my boots and staggered out into the cool air. Whether it was the noggins of whisky from the night before or the rolling view that made my head swim, I couldn’t be sure and I headed for a nearby rock to steady myself.

As I gathered my wits, I became aware of the shrill calls of sheep bouncing about the horseshoe curve that enclosed our camp. I spied their white shapes, shuffling across the farthest reaches of the slopes, as though they were all trying to outdo each other in their quest for the next tuft of grass.

My gaze travelled further down the valley towards a golden light that had only just broken across a neighbouring peak. From there, I turned my attention to the sky and watched how the clouds mingled together; reforming and reshaping as if the day was still busy sorting itself out.

After a few minutes, it occurred to me that not a single thought had passed through my head about where I was and what I was doing. In this environment, there was no need to figure things out or analyse the situation as I was so used to doing in my day-to-day life. It was enough to just observe and be in the moment.

But more than that, everything that was happening before me seem to make perfect sense. This was life in its most fundamental state; the shifting forces of nature, adapting, renewing, destroying and replenishing in one continuous, majestic display.

Just then, a muffled groaning broke my trance as the camp began to stir. Rich poked his head out of the tent and we exchanged mumbled greetings, but I didn’t feel able to convey what I had just experienced, at least, not in words.

I looked about the ridgeline, knowing we would soon be up there as we made our way to the top of Snowdon and beyond. The thought left me with a sense of trepidation and awe as I anticipated how many other breathtaking scenes we were likely to encounter on our expedition. Then, with a growing light, our day began.

Tower block lights

Night after night we’d criss-cross the centre like a knitted sweater, connecting up places with thread. Then we’d pick a colour and chart a course through the night and in our heads to find the perfect setting.

Passing through the heights of Kingsdown, we knew every one of those tower block lights, twinkling with promise. Then we’d dip down to Park Street, not quite our scene except for a few sidestreets in between where the shirts didn’t go.

In the old town, we discovered bars where possibilities resided. The tunes were different, Bacardi Breezers didn’t feature and black wasn’t only for metal kids. Late nights, not fighting, but trying to find a sense of belonging was our commonality.

Weekends were spent on Gloucester Road, sitting in coffee shops before we knew what real coffee was. All the way down the stretch, we felt like we were keeping it all in check, clocking changes when a shop rejigged its name or a familiar figure no longer looked quite the same.

Sometimes we’d end up in St Andrew’s park, but I never went for that daytime lark, the air stiff with smoke and the sound of beer cans under foot while kids flew past their grans on bikes. Curiosity might push us on to the cusp of Montpelier, where, like tourists, we’d stare over the allotments and into the east, its neighbourhoods infamous and out of reach.

Occasionally, when the city got too much, we’d head up to the Downs and over to Ashton Court. Mess about in trees and talk awkward stuff on the grass, before wheeling it back down through Clifton, insecurities surpassed by the breeze and our expertise for shortcuts.

Success (and a special offer)!

Dear readers

I am pleased to say that I recently gained a qualification in proofreading with the Publishing Training Centre. As I’m just starting out (and it’s nearly Christmas), I’d like to extend a special offer to fellow writers and authors to proofread your work for free!

This is strictly a one-time offer while I find my feet. If you need a fresh pair of eyes to look over what you’ve written, please get in touch (providing its not a full length novel – I’m talking articles, short stories or a couple of chapters).

Hope this is of help to some of you.

This place has a name

It was only a matter of time before it all came down. The last time I walked through was on my way to town. Up the mossy steps and across the walkways, into strange spaces layered with paintings.

But then came the great reconstruction. Hoardings went up sharing brash statements about what’s to come once the work is undertaken.

And it got me thinking that something is amiss, the way plans come to pass. Before you know it a block’s pulled down before anyone’s thought to ask: is this what we want for our city, the place that we call home, what would I like to see and feel when all is set in stone?

Nuances of place is heavily underrated, developers don’t see because there’s no money to be made from it. Even when it’s included in the literature, which inadvertently contributes to the decline of what’s being pitched to you.

Luxury apartments in the heart of the street art scene, but in reality it’s being ripped apart by JCBs while men in hard hats and suits watch as the fruits of their labourers plays out.

Why can’t we take the rough with the smooth, no need for every last pock mark to be removed, renovated? It seems like some things are better left unregenerated.

For this history isn’t medieval or wartime but my-time. The paintwork and the street corners are part of a time-line that speaks of the most subtle feats of human endeavour.

Pavements beat bent and broken from stomping children, trees like grandparents leaning over parked cars pushing their roots up to make bike ramps.

Streets where the graffiti is a landmark, plotting a course to a destination where ancestry and intention is lived out.

Conversations over a rusty gate, the flaking paint dropping with the years it takes for bonds to grow so strong that they might just pass over to the next of kin.

These things weren’t prefabricated, but grown from a thousand imprints, thoughts and visions pressed together in a coalition so deep and intricate most would miss it. Except the ones who seek to add their own.

A house to call home

This is my second attempt at poetry and is on the subject of housing. I couldn’t think of a decent title and probably need to work on my formatting, but I enjoyed writing it. As before, any comments, likes, not likes or cheques in the post are welcome.

“Can I help you?” asks the man in the shirt and tie. I look at him and think, well, can you? Can you cut house prices by

40%? Can you force developers to build actual affordable housing that isn’t like stacked containers, replicated in their thousands?

No, I want to say. You can’t. Because what I’m asking for is about as fantastical as the Gallagher brothers being reunited in a musical.

But is it really so far gone, to want to buy a place to call your own and stop pouring cash down the blackhole called Rent, leaving you at the mercy of an agent, just in it for the payment that wires its way to the landlord in some far and distant land?

Hand in hand, they eliminate the dream. Another investment opportunity taking precedent over any sentimental notions of a house to call home.

Where it’s just the latest postcode, a borough on the brink; open up another branch, tell people what to think.

It’s up and coming, vibrant and edgy and every other buzz word. 75% already sold before foundations have been laid down.

In this town, speculation is king.

The thing is, I’m not looking to make an investment or increase my portfolio. I’m looking for a home like the one I grew up in.

A place where I can fill in the cracks and paint the walls, think about which pictures would look good where, so a gallery of our history can emerge.

To take satisfaction in every weed I pull out, and watch the spring seeds sprout, each year a little more like something to be proud of.

To stick drawings on walls that gently curl at the corners as the months go by, find accidental dents in the worktop that make you say “that was when…”

To know the worn banister, smoothed down from hanging and climbing and sliding, and pat its trusty newel post that’s held a thousand coats like a faithful hound.

There doesn’t seem to be much of this thinking around, or perhaps its just that others are keeping their dreams close to the ground, wondering, hoping that the day will come when a place to live isn’t a commodity and its not an oddity to want a place to call your own without looking to sell before it’s even halfway a home.

No fixed address

This is one of my first attempts at poetry. I decided to give it a try after hearing the talented Hollie McNish perform her poem Megatron. It’s a new way of writing for me so any comments are appreciated. (NB this poem has nothing to do with giving birth or is anywhere near as good (as Megatron or giving birth!))

I’m having a midlife crisis, or perhaps I’m just indecisive. Because at 35, is life passing me by or is it just expectation telling me a lie?

That by now I should be getting somewhere or got there already, my career path on an upward arc, the angle holding steady. 

A profession they like to call it or an occupation, you know, the thing that defines you when having a conversation.

You can see it in their eyes when you get asked the question, and answer that the thing you once studied isn’t included in your present direction.

That actually you’ve changed your mind, multiple times in fact with no fixed interest keeping you on track.

Why does it have to be that we are tied to one address, frowned upon if we move about and take up temporary residence?

What’s wrong with not following a single road, why can’t we veer and take in the view, stopping off if we feel like it and learning a thing or two?

Just don’t do it for too long, or else you’ll end up: what? No chance at being the CEO, stuck in a place that ambition forgot?

House prices are a joke, they say pensions no longer exist. Why take the trouble to grind the same old stone, who’s system is this?

So here’s to the indecisives, the start stoppers and the unsures. The ones who still don’t know, but continue to grow in several directions.

The chancers, the samplers, the in and outs, the toe dippers and the skimmers, the what’s it all abouts.

There might not be a mortgage receipt to show for it or a five star CV, but experience is golden and the memories are free.