1 July 2014

Just Off to Throw a Pot

Display courtesy of Ian White, Doreen Burgess and G and K Malin

Once, years ago, I was approached by another mother at my son’s school. 

‘You should volunteer for the kids’ activity next week,’ she said.

‘What activity,’  I asked.

‘They’re going to be doing ceramics.’


‘Yes. Didn’t you say that you did pottery?’

Well.  Pottery.  Poetry.  They do sound similar.

Ever since then I’ve liked to think I’ve been busy with all manner of crockery, out in my potter’s shed in which a mess of words gets thrown at a wheel then grappled with and smoothed into a serviceable object – now a rustic jug, now a knick-knacks bowl, now an earth-hued goblet ringed with blue.  And as the objects come off the production line, they are placed carefully on shelves according to type, and length of creation.  

Occasionally, people passing by press a curious nose to the window, others enter and engage in polite conversation, yet others handle the goods with long consideration and nearly make a purchase – just like last week when my collection My Shrink is Pregnant came joint second in the Pighog Pamphlet Competition.  

My Shrink, so nearly off to a new home, has gone back on the display case, but much closer to the door.  

And I keep at it, am back at the wheel, hands dirty from shaping wet clay, ears cocked for a shuffle of feet of a prospective customer at the entrance way.

25 April 2014

Inking the Heart

Recently, my heart began to speak loudly to me.  

I thought it might be attempting to shed its fetters, spread its wings.  

Doctors thought it might be acting up and certainly needing investigation.   

Last autumn I consequently underwent a perfusion test, which consisted in putting my heart under drug-induced stress.  The results indicated possible problems in two areas.

No, I was told by my amiable consultant as I sat in his room in early January, there was nothing I could personally do for my heart other than take the prescribed statins, the beta-blockers, the daily aspirin, and fix an appointment for an angiogram.  But in the weeks before the planned procedure - when a catheter would be inserted through the femoral artery then fed up to the heart, allowing the release of dye to show any narrowings or blockages - I felt I owed this vital organ the courtesy of paying it closer attention, and gleaning what metaphors it might conceal.

And so I tuned into my heart’s rhythm.  I posed questions of it, and hushed my chatter in order to listen for answers.   

I went to the Alpujarras mountains in Spain for a week in February to drink in pure light and spring air.

I visited a skilled and gentle healer in whose presence my heart quietened.  

I reflected on what might represent the opposite of fear, and then endeavoured to dream this antidote into all of my cells.

I wrote songs that had been brewing for years.

I sketched pictures of hearts in healing shades of blue.   

I scribbled words in notebooks.   I considered how any heart bunged with memory and emotion might come to sag, misshapen as a Christmas stocking.  

I acknowledged how the twin agents of sorrow and guilt could not so much whistle through a heart as leave gluey thumbprints all over chambers no longer  pristine and correct, where the  femme de ménage in this case, me – may not have exercised her duty to the full. 

And finally, mentally prepared for the possibility of the insertion of a cardiac stent, I showed up a couple of weeks ago at my local hospital to submit to the medically advanced probing and inking of my heart.  

On the huge screen beside me, the lightning strikes of my coronary arteries revealed themselves -  jagged, beautiful, breathtakingly visible.  'They all look fine,' said my consultant.  

So, am I out of the woods?  We are none of us ever out of the woods.  Am I fit?  My programme of fitness commences.  Is my heart all right?  I hope so – now that I have heard it, paid it homage, dipped buckets in its well, and seen the breathing imprint of its internal rivers.

14 February 2014

An Abiding Passion

Mr Darcy wrapping paper from Jane Austen house

In addition to the I Love Mr Darcy wrapping paper pictured above, there were three important things I brought back from Jane Austen's house in Chawton, Hampshire, when we visited a couple of weeks ago on a drizzly grey unpromising day - much like the one outside right now - to find welcome respite in the solid and genteel red brick house, which was the author's home for the eight years before she died.

The first was that sense of excitement tempered with frustration when attempting to infer, imbibe and inhale a life whose artefacts and props are situated all around.  Everything was tantalisingly close - there was the very table she wrote at, there were the letters penned with quill in her assured script, there was the quilt sewn with her mother and sister from scraps of fabric salvaged from their dresses.  And I waited and hoped, merely by dint of walking the same floorboards, that the spasm, the jolt, the judder of inspiration and genius would manifest itself in my own cells.

The second was a reminder about discipline.  Jane's day habitually went something like this: piano before breakfast, writing throughout the morning, a two-hour walk in the afternoon through the gently undulating countryside, then sewing and conversation - if not the occasional writing - in the evening.  Of course, any artist worth their salt understands the need for discipline and the necessity of 'showing up at the page' (as Julia Cameron of The Artist's Way would have it.)  Indeed, Jane's own prescription for dogged perserverance is clear.   'I am not at all in a humour for writing; I must write on till I am', she said in a letter to her sister, Cassandra.  But as I placed a hand around my own throat to drag myself away this morning from a discussion about the benefits of kiwis and cucumbers on Spanish internet television, (ostensibly both educational and linguistically stretching) I envied her life without saturation levels of distraction. 

The third was a lesson about passion and commitment.  No, I am not necessarily referring to Mr Darcy, or the need to marry for love - although those themes may be appropriate for Valentine's Day.  This very day, a ring once owned by the author has been returned to the Jane Austen house in Chawton.  Bought at auction last year by the American singer Kelly Clarkson, its export from this country was prevented, allowing time for sufficient funds to be raised to buy it back.  As far as we know, it was not a ring given to Jane Austen from a suitor, but the determination shown by admirers of the author to keep the piece of jewellery here - not to mention a sizeable donation by an unknown benefactor - are testament to the esteem in which she is still held.  It is appropriate that, as far as possible, her objets should be kept at the very spot where Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion were birthed, and Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey were revised.  This is the work of the Jane Austen House Museum, which receives no regular government funding, but relies on donations, public admissions, and sales from its shop.  Their passion for and abiding sense of  Jane Austen as a pioneering writer, as a keen observer of mores, as a woman breaking new ground, linked with the absolute necessity of keeping her actual bricks and mortar home open and available to the public, can only be celebrated.

22 January 2014

Why I (Sometimes) Wear High Heels

Shoes from Yo Amo Los Zapatos

Things are sodden here in the south of England after the rain we've been experiencing.   Someone in the sky keeps turning on the tap.  The full regalia of wellingtons, galoshes or indeed fisherman's wading boots would have been preferable at the weekend when I went squelching through mud that oozed over the top of my normally serviceable walking boots.

Indeed, the wearing of anything as ridiculous as heels was furthermost from my mind - until I  got back home, washed out mud-dribbled socks, then looked at some of the Facebook photos of a couple of new South American friends to the A Woman in Goggles band page.   Clearly, they were shoe crazy, having posted nothing but pictures of exotic footwear from Yo Amo Los Zapatos - the Spanish language version of the Shoelovers website.  Curiosity won out and I clicked on the mouse to see what all the fuss was about.  And there in its splendour was all manner of vertiginous walking gear - beribboned, bestrapped, bebuckled, and impressively beheeled.   

Somehow, I've never completely subscribed to this Woman-as-Shoe thing, witness the sorry contents of the wardrobe.  Let's see, I must possess something approaching close to (ballpark figure) three pairs of high-heeled shoes.

But.  However.  Still...

Why I Wear High Heels
To look taller, of course:
create plinths for my legs
so they can masquerade
as objets fashioned by Bernini;

to shock complacent feet
out of jam-like spread,
streamline them
and keep them on their toes;

to seduce my gait
away from its forward intent,
teach it to rock to the lateral
in a slow pendulum sway;

to click in a tight secretary skirt
down the waxed corridors
of the Johnson Building,
Racine, Wisconsin, circa 1950;

to liberate the calligraphy
trapped in stilettos,
inking circles and swirls
on wood as I dance;

to gain vantage over hedges,
whose shadows hide
the ploughings left
by serfs in their fiefs;

to lift into the burl
of the west wind,
bump the top of my head
on the underside of wings;

and every night,
removing high heels,
to stand down,
find the earth once more.

© Katie Griffiths

2 January 2014

A Coat, a Wig and a Roving Star

Having being born the day before the traditional Epiphany, squeaking in just before the Twelve Days of Christmas are officially over, I’ve grown up being aware of stars and wise men out wandering.

And while I can imagine The Magi at this time of year on their singular journey, busy looking towards the heavens, my own eyes seem to be more firmly on the ground tracking wise men.  Any wise man or woman.  The kind of person on whose door you can rap, who will invite you in, speak in riddles you must untangle, ladle out warming broth, sit and listen to your woes, dust you down, then set you back on course, clearer and more focused.  

I realise that wise people rarely heave into view looking like Gandalf and more often come across your path heavily disguised – often in the garb of a person you’re too instantly prepared to dismiss.  I thought of one yesterday as I was cleaning the bathroom for visitors.  In fact, I think of him every single time I wipe down a basin, and hear his voice saying: immer fliessend, Katie, immer fliessend.  He was a barrel-bellied Croatian gastarbeiter in the Hansa Hotel in Wiesbaden, where I was a chambermaid for the summer I was nineteen, and he taught me everything I now know about turning round a bathroom in minutes – especially, although not necessarily economically, by keeping the water continually running while swooshing around the taps with a cloth.  His words, which were originally meant simply to communicate a knack, have transformed over time into a nugget of wisdom,  and the instructions immer fliessend, meaning always flowing, have become a mantra in my head, not just about water in a basin, but about a way of living that aspires to be easy and fluid rather than rigid and stuck.  

Yet I am still drawn to the notion of a wise and wondrous magical character, stepping out of the gloom attired in home-spun but mystic raiments.  As you can see in the photo above, I’ve laid out his/her coat in readiness (a Kashmiri embroidered dressing gown that my mother brought back from India when she was twenty-seven) and I've provided a flowing mane of hair and a hat graced with the proverbial star.  We used these props in a recent You Tube release of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star reworked by the A Woman in Goggles band.

For this traditional song of looking, wondering and seeking is nothing if not a song for Epiphany.  

And the pictured clothes are waiting to be inhabited and spring to life.


22 November 2013

Mildly Indisposed

I’ve not been around much lately.

That’s because I’m writing my second novel.  It feels like a dose of the flu.  You know when you need to take yourself off to bed and allow things to run their course, getting up only when you need to go to the loo or trudge bleary-eyed and sore-headed down to the kitchen for a crust and a cup of tomato soup?

It’s just like that.  I swear this novel is the heaviest cold ever.  I want to treat it and only it, snuggle down into it, let it sweat itself out, let the aches and pains remain behind closed doors, confining it, nursing it, ignoring all phone calls asking if I have recovered yet.   

Maybe this is exactly as it is meant to be.   Never surfacing until the indisposition has passed.  Refusing all temptation to rise from the sickbed and flee the house.  ‘I don’t go out for lunch,’ said A. S. Byatt simply, sternly last year when talking about the discipline of her writing life to students of Creative Writing at Roehampton University in west London.   I happened to be in that audience, cheering on one of my former star pupils, Haley Jenkins (watch this space                                                                                
Haley, that’s for you).  As Haley’s guest, I accidentally found myself ushered into the ‘Green Room’ beforehand.  Suddenly, A.S. Byatt, that giant of modern English literature, was standing at my side.  Fortunately, no one had mistaken me for her agent, her sibling, or her distant North American cousin – unlike the time I was for ten minutes the wife of the late, and much missed, poet Michael Donaghy

On that previous occasion, I had arrived extremely – and uncharacteristically – punctually at the school where he was due to give a reading.  As he went off to prepare for what turned out to be a scintillating and inspirational evening of poems recited from memory and flute playing, I hung around in the foyer - all too matrimonially, apparently.  I found myself being introduced to all manner of people by the Head of English.  Thinking this was extraordinarily attentive of the school’s staff to a person who had just blown in off the street, I lapped it up until the moment the head girl herself was summoned before me, and I heard the unmistakeable words: ‘and this is Mrs Donaghy’.

‘No, no,’ I said, flattered, but hugely embarrassed, ‘I’m just…’

I was just… what?

And I am just….what?

Just holed up, to be honest, the novel brewing like fever, and still tetchy, grumpy, indisposed…