Yesterday, Frost

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Yesterday

I took the little guy on our first solo outing. Drove down the hill into town (when I am very strong and brave and the ice has all melted we will be able to walk down, but walking back will be an effort), got the pram out, browsed some shops, walked to the harbour that was milky with melting ice, and stopped for a coffee and a piece of carrot cake on the way back. Felix slept while I was in the coffee shop, so I had time to write in my journal, and read the novel Dad posted over for me (Five Bells by Gail Jones – I am very much enjoying it).

Walking around town I passed many other mothers wheeling prams. They are everywhere here. It is strange to think I am as inconspicuous as any of them. I see them differently now, and wonder about the little clouds of thought that trail after them, and what whole worlds they are pushing about in hooded carriages.

It was so nice to sit in the coffee shop quietly with my sleeping son. I used to go out for coffee all the time in England, but I do it hardly at all here. It really is quite expensive, but sometimes it’s worth it. I remembered sitting in a coffee shop on my own in Australia just over a year ago, seeing other mothers with babies and feeling shocks of pain and yearning, coupled with a mute and bewildered acceptance. And now here I was, his sleeping face more beautiful than the snowy park outside the window.

I wonder how much my experience of this time is coloured by the loss that proceeded it. If anything it makes me treasure it more, although I could not imagine treasuring it less. I still occasionally feel a weird and uninvited envy towards friends’ uncomplicated first pregnancies. But I do not think of it often. It is like a shadow, a dream. There and not there. Part of the story.

Confinement

Such an old-fashioned term. But at the moment it’s just about right. It was a lovely day today, really. Plus 3 degrees, which feels so, so warm. It had rained over night, and the trees were rinsed of their frost. The sun shone through hazy blue patches of sky and the bare tree-tops reminded me of England. But as soon as Michael got to work, he sent me an email entitled ‘ice’, which read: ‘Don’t go out under any circumstances. It’s too slippery even for crampons.’ Which was fair enough, as these three-day forays into the positives only succeed in turning our sloping driveway into an ice-rink. And all the footpaths, too.

So I washed the floors, and baked rosinboller. (My recipe wasn’t as fancy as that one. I got it straight off the sultana pack. But check out that blog! She lives in a much prettier part of Norway than I do. And has a cute baby boy. And I think I might be clicking back over there to try out some of her other recipes…) Over the weekend I had a serious craving for hot-cross-buns, so I bought some yeast and sultanas on Saturday morning. When I got home, though, I discovered it would take several hours to make them, so I made scones instead. (Which were amazing, by the way.) Anyway, today, having the whole day to myself, I thought I would have a go at the boller. It’s the first time I’ve tried cooking with yeast on my own. (When I was a kid, Mum and I would do it all the time.) And it worked! They rose! The living room smelled all warm and yeasty as they sat in the windowsill. They were very nice, though next time I’ll have to add more spices. I ate four of them straight out of the oven. Michael liked them but said the scones were better. But now I’m thinking of all the other things you can do with yeast…

I’m pleased with the photo I took today. I’m getting quite fond of this bump of mine. It is nice to feel round and full of life. (Also if you’re planning on getting pregnant I recommend being extremely tall. You get much less squashed.) 38 weeks tomorrow. When I see photos of myself not pregnant it feels like that’s not really me. Right now, this is me, and I am grateful for these few last weeks. I like that I am looking out of the window, and that the windows are full of light but that you can’t see through them. I like the crib stacked in the corner behind me, with my maternity bag inside it and a box of baby things. And for me, the photo is strange, because the room is reflected in the mirror, and it is all the wrong way round. Everything is stilled in the strange light. It captures perfectly this deep breath, this pause, this readiness. This quiet, hopeful time of looking straight in the face of a future I cannot yet clearly discern, and saying, despite this, yes. Yes.

December

December arrived yesterday with frost and sunlight. The sun caught in the harbour was too bright to face. I turned my eyes away and pointed my camera in vaguely the right direction. This morning, the scraping-of-ice-off-the-windscreen kerfuffle was the hardest yet. Worse still, by the time I left work it had to be done again! And the ice was inside as well as out!

I kicked myself for not taking the camera to the kindergarten this morning. The trees were covered in thick frost all day long and looked like Christmas decorations made of glass. I watched a pink streaky sunrise over a white world. By the time we made it outside at three the sun had already set, but enough light lingered for an hour of playtime on the frozen sandpits and crunchy grass, the small hill perfect for sliding down head first.

Whales and worlds

Today the light was soft. Sunlight hazed through billowy clouds, gilding the edges of the harvested fields, getting caught in the golden trees that have already started losing their hair. English weather really. Most mornings, frost glitters on everything, and once the mist clears, the sky is blue as ice.

Quite a lot has happened in the past two weeks. I had my last day of my summer job of proofreading and newsletter writing. Finishing up was actually a bit sad. We made a seriously brilliant newsletter though.

I held a two week old baby. She was beautiful.

I got back from the UK yesterday, a five day trip that started with an essay exam in Leeds, continued through a packed two days of catching up with friends in Leeds and York, and culminated in a lovely weekend involving curry and beer in London with my brother and two cousins and their wives. Family is just the best.

I also squeezed in an exhibition on T.S. Eliot and Faber and Faber in the British Library (did you know, there was only ever one Faber but they thought that two Fabers sounded more distinguished). Seeing type-written letters between Eliot and Pound and Stephen Spender and a whole host of other poets was just cool.

And on Tuesday morning I went to the Turner Prize exhibition with my brother. Probably not quite worth the eight quid but fascinating all the same. My favourite was a partial whale skeleton that you could only view through slits in the wall so that you were taken aback by shocking details and strange angles. It was called ‘Leviathan Edge’. The artist had also reproduced Brancusi’s Bird in Space sculptures in coal dust. My brother preferred a different installation involving an atomized aeroplane scattered on the floor like a desert landscape, and wall sculptures made of a mix of plastic and powdered brain. Actually both installations seemed to be about trapped flight, and movement, and time…

Speaking of flight, that’s what Michael’s been doing – brushing the sunset with his wings. He’s in the States for a conference (and other things), but I couldn’t join this time because of commitments.

I got home last night to a fat package covered in stamps with whales on them. It was a copy of the brand new Macquarie Pen Anthology of Australian Literature, which my Grandma very very kindly posted to me. Another world, more than a thousand pages long. I can’t wait to get stuck into it.

I’m happy to be back – happy to be at the kindergarten, and to have two days a week free now for writing. Let’s see where it takes me.

Goodbye Feb

I cannot believe it’s the end of February. That’s two months best over and done with! The snow has been pretty. But I can’t wait until I can wander blithely along a footpath again without the very real danger of slipping on the silly ice. Bring on May, I say. May here is just the best. I’ve checked up on my handy back-blogging of weather, and it snowed in April both last year and the year before. The first birch leaves didn’t appear till mid-late April and the trees along the river were even later. I guess spring happens all of a sudden… But at least at half past five now it’s not quite dark. The sun has set, but the light lingers. And the only way is up.

March will be a blur anyway. Hopefully a productive blur!

Ice crystals

I took this on the weekend. Not sure the past three days could be accurately described as my most productive days ever. Have put aside my loathed theory chapter for now (just wish it was less flimsy), and am getting back to one of my poets. Hopefully keeping feelings of hate and wretchedness at bay. (My poor books have even been copping it – I’ve been yelling at them when they hide on the shelves. Of course they’re always in an obvious place but with a different coloured spine than I remember.)

Today it is snowing, again. The sky is falling and falling.

Now quietly – as quiet as the cold – I will crystallise the last words and paragraphs into stars and pathways, and it will be enough.

A Sunday drive

This afternoon we drove up along our regular summer cycling route, marveling at the icicles cascading over the rocks on the side of the road, and the little green islands in the middle of the frozen lakes. At the end of the route, we got out and had a stroll. I can’t believe I swam here in summer – just about where I’m standing. There were little ducklings bobbing around. And waterlillies.

The conditions were perfect for cross-country skiing, as fifi suspected, and the lake provides a surface about as flat as you can get. We saw a couple of guys out and about, getting a helping hand from their dogs (surprisingly effective).

I’ve never walked on a lake before. Occasionally we’d come across a crack, which was less than reassuring. I have to include this photo too, because of the lovely snowy trees in the background. It hasn’t snowed for days but it’s been so cold that it doesn’t melt at all.

I’ve taken the weekend off the thesis because yesterday my brain was dead. I can work through every other weekend it seems, but not every weekend. So… one last final push before I fly to England. M’s off to Sweden for two days now, and I’m hoping this will be my most productive week EVER. But this weekend was so nice. Just like the best sort of holiday.

Brrrr

minus14

This is the weather forecast for today and tomorrow. As you can see, sunshine, with a delightful temperature range of between minus five and minus fourteen. (Here’s the weather website.)

The town is still covered in snow. It is soft and dry and light, like dust. I tried to make a snowball the other day and it wouldn’t stick together but came apart in my hand. It’s fun to kick up little clouds of it.

Last night I came back from the gym with wet hair without putting my hood up. We only live across the road, and I was warm from exercising. As I climbed the steps to our little flat I thought – what’s that crunching sound? Agh, what’s that twiggy thing stuck to my head? My hair had frozen, in all of one minute.

Cold

We got back on Monday night. It was freezing. I have never been in a house so cold. The sheets were crisp with cold, even our clothes in their drawers. The floor was slippery. The toilet seat burned. We put the heater on in our bedroom and shut the door, and snuggled in with extra duvets, fleeces, thick socks and make-shift hot water bottles.

There we are, fluffing our feathers.

It was so cold that our refrigerator and freezer had decided there was no point staying on. Which meant it was warmer inside the freezer than out of it, and all our food had defrosted. I kept the fire going all day Tuesday and once it warmed up a bit it kicked into gear again. Also the pipes under our shower are broken.

It’s been regularly -10 for the past couple of weeks. Tomorrow, for the first time in ages, the forecast inches up to a comparatively toasty +5. It is with great reluctance that I turn my attention towards my phd for one final push. I walked to the harbour this afternoon, but the sun slid behind the islands all too swiftly.

Chimneys and words and packages

Here’s another view of the Bingley chimneys. And the semi-frozen canal. The ducks promenade around here much as they do in Halden. The thesis chugs along. I reckon I’ll get it finished in early February, or possibly late January. I got my chapter one (extension of intro) nearly written. I felt like I was juggling so many balls so beautifully, and then I tripped and dropped them all, and couldn’t fathom the energy to pick them all up again. But it is nearly nearly there. I have sent it to my supervisors and will meet with them both individually this week – one tomorrow, and one on Thursday.

Over the past couple of days I’ve been getting back to the first chapter I wrote – the one that’s always caused me the most trouble. I still feel like I’m somewhat awkwardly hanging my argument on my textual analysis, rather than boldly using my textual analysis to advance my argument. The problem with this poet is that he says one thing and then he says the opposite – it’s really hard to pin him down. Anyway, pinning poetry down isn’t my ultimate aim, is it?

My technique this weekend has just been to write the paragraphs that need to be written, without wasting too much time about whether they fit on page eight or page twenty-eight. It’s been working, this close attention to detail, but I’m beginning to feel like printing it out and coming up for air. Tomorrow.

Vic has been a great encouragement. She keeps reminding me that I love this stuff, really.

And it is nearly Christmas which I am very very pleased about. Michael’s coming over to the UK on Wednesday, and we’ll have a few days here before heading across to Germany on Sunday. Good good good. (He’s had some horrible adventures in Norway this week – the valient snuggle-car does NOT like the cold. It got frozen, snowed under, and refused to get going in the Oslo airport carpark, but it’s ok now. I think in winter we’ll keep it to the temperate south from now on.) And oh – Mum and Grandma – all your parcels/cards have arrived in Germany safe and sound! Thank you thank you thank you! Apparently the postman was very excited to be delivering parcels from Australia.

More ducks and more snow

This morning, the snow was thick and powdery and it creaked when I stepped on it. I made new footprints. It snowed all night and most of the day. When it stopped, I watched two magpies making a nest in the tree outside our window. Black and white, like everything else. They fussed with the twigs.

I hurried off to the harbour to see if it had all gone white. Only some of it had, but it was still quite a sight. Snow is a novelty to me. Not much of it where I come from. This afternoon, as it fell thick and fast, I stood by the window, entranced. The fat flakes moved as the air moved – you could see the wind! The flakes fell down and up and sideways. I watched them filling up the landscape, covering the flat shapes. Like colouring in, but opposite.

Feeling restless this evening, I scrubbed the bathroom. It’s just this weather – you can’t stay out in it long. You can’t ride your bike. (Comfortably, anyway.) But – how lovely it was, this afternoon, to feel the article begin to make hesitant sense, the tree branches by the window plump with snow, as bits of sky twirled and tumbled for hours.

Ice and Fire

This is a memory. But it’s a pretty young memory, so I thought I’d write it down. Also, ever since it happened, I’ve been wanting to write about it, and have written about it, in fragments, in emails, but here is the space to tell it properly.

Three or four weeks ago I was out on my regular ride along the lakes. It’s actually one enormous long lake, but it seems like lots of different lakes, because you keep reaching it at different points through the pine forest. On my way out, as I passed a sandy shore of the lake, I noticed a crinkling, crunching sound, sort of like the roar of the sea, but different. I didn’t think much of it. But on the way back, I saw it. The ice on the lake had begun to melt, and washed up around the shore in glittering shards. The fragments rubbed against each other in the movement of the ripples, and made this incredible sound – the sound of water, and ice, and sunlight.

I stood there for a few moments, and then went on my way. That evening, we lit the wood stove in our apartment. We left the door open for a bit, to watch the fire sing, and surge, and crackle. And that’s when I noticed. It was the same sound as the ice on the lake. I had not known that sheens of flame and ice crystals spoke the same language.