About alicemit_user

Alice Mitchell is the pen-name of Alison Mitchell born in 1951 in West Yorkshire. . Her married name is now Harrop and she lives in North Wales and is recently retired from her professional occupation as a medical doctor. . . Her first novel (Instead of Eden)won a Betty Trask Prize and was published in 1985. by W.H. Allen. She is currently working on a mediaeval historical novel. She is also a member of the Llandudno Writers Circle. She is a Guardian reader, animal lover and Pro- European .

Beginnings

Beginnings

In the beginning was darkness,

Or so we are told.

But then came the Big Bang:

Fire, gas, maybe even brimstone

Rolling together under tension

Forming a thunderclap in the void.

From something?

Somewhere,

Sometime.

 

I know my beginning was seed

Meeting an egg,

In someone.

And now I am strangely here,

But not for long.

Must I too then go to nothingness

When my time is done?

Or shall I become

Part of another Big Bang,

Somewhere?

Somehow,

Some other time.

Over Wenlock Edge

OVER WENLOCK EDGE

 

The wind whispers along Wenlock Edge,

Then, growing in force,

Whips through tall trees

In a giant green wave.

 

The old escarpment curls and breaks,

Tumbling its woods down below,

Into a green sea flecked

With sunlight instead of foam.

 

How fortunate that Nature chooses

To wear green;

So soft on the eye,

So full of infinite shade:

The new green of spring,

Ripening too soon to lush summer,

Mint and sage, lime, fern and emerald moss.

The leaves of blackthorn, bramble,

Alder, rowan and slender new ash.

Leaves weave their  wattled archway

Over my walker’s path.

 

The forest parts at Major’s Leap,

Where Mary Webb’s heroine

Was hounded to her death,

Still clutching the fox in her arms.

 

A patchwork of fields,

Now “Gone to Earth”,

Stretches far over the plain,

To Haddon Hill on Long Mynd.

 

But at this time of year,

Green fields become corn,

Green leaves take on a touch of autumn,

Turning brown and crinkly …

 

And soon will fall.

Downsizing

We are downsizing.  Such a neat turn of phrase!  The reality is somewhat different.  It means I cannot possibly squash all of my belongings into a smaller space and I have to be ruthless.  I start packing cheerfully enough.  It’s relatively easy to weed out unworn clothes which no longer fit, once I have accepted I will never be a size 10 again.  Surplus bedding isn’t a problem either, though I do keep the single sets for when the grandchildren visit (they haven’t arrived yet).

It becomes trickier when I start on what might be referred to as the “non-essentials”.  There is a Japanese lady I heard speaking on Women’s Hour who recommends only keeping that which is really needed,  or  brings you joy, I daren’t even count the number of books I own.  Do I need them all when you can look up anything on the internet today?  Am I going to read the novels again in my old age, with failing eyesight? Probably not.   But can I get rid of any?  Emphatically not!

I’m not too bad on CDs but only because I have kept several LPs from my vanished youth. Then there are what I euphemistically call “my ornaments”.  I’m not really an ornament person.   But I seem to have been given or inherited quite a few.  The trouble is they all have sentimental value. Unthinkable to ditch the huge and truly fearsome face mask my son carted all the way back from Fiji, under his arm, at the end of his gap year.  Nor can I throw out the china figures of animals and people that belonged to my deceased mother.   My mother in law was keener on coloured glass and my husband wants to keep that.  And I had a great auntie who hand painted plates rather well, including a pretty little green, cream and gold coffee set with tiny cups, which we never use.

We also have prints which remind me of places once lived in or visited.  No matter that they aren’t that good or won’t go with the décor.  At this rate, I am never going to have a minimalistic and stylish house with a single white orchid in a black vase on a white table.

Then the photographs really trip me up.  Those in frames are heavy on graduation and wedding days and will obviously stay.  But I am strong on albums too. Yes, I know you can keep everything online now.  But it’s not the same, somehow.  It gets worse.  My father took loads of slides which need to be viewed on a screen and my father –in-law thought he was very modern in taking cine-films.  Social and family history!  These have been in the garage for at least ten years, waiting for us to get round to digitalising them.

Speaking of the garage, I notice there are still several boxes storing stuff belonging to the “children”.  They are in their mid -thirties now with (admittedly small) homes of their own.  Time for an ultimatum!  But could I really put them on the tip?  After all, my son assures me old copies of “The Beano” are quite valuable now.

I have to admit to the Japanese lady I am not doing awfully well.  I am suddenly consumed with guilt.  If I don’t sort it, someone else will have to, on my inevitable demise, and I know what that’s like.    Overwhelmed by it all, I decide to go and have a lie-down or practise Mindfulness, Japanese style.  If that doesn’t work, I can always read a book for distraction.  After all, I do have sixteen boxfuls!

Musings from a Third Ager: London

Samuel Johnson said: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

I’m not exactly “tired of London”, and definitely “not tired of life”; however, I do find London tiring these days. But then Johnson wasn’t beset by the same kind of noise and traffic.  There would have been both, of course, but it wasn’t coming from diesel fumes that get on your chest and the air wasn’t rent by screaming sirens.  I still like to visit – both of my children live here, after all — but am always glad to come back to the cleaner, fresher and gentler atmosphere of North Wales. I’m not sure I can actually manage “all that life has to afford” either, on my pension. Certainly not a house or a flat.

The first time I realised I was looking older was when a young man gave up his seat on the tube for me.  He was an Eastern European so probably considered me a “babushka”, as I definitely wasn’t pregnant.  I was grateful for the seat. Then another young man (Asian this time — is there a theme here?) insisted on carrying my suitcase up the steps from the platform.  I was grateful for that too, especially as he didn’t run off with it as I secretly feared.  There is a deceptive amount of walking involved in going to London, and struggling up steps with a case crops up only too often.  However do the disabled manage?

Back home, I am decidedly less grateful for being called “dear” or “sweetheart” by all the shop assistants.  I may have grown a moustache, sprout a wiry (grey) hair or two out of my chin, and my neck has sadly “gone”; but why on earth does this mysteriously  make me everybody’s lover? And why do they imagine I won’t mind?  In my former profession, I always asked someone what they wanted to be called — or began formally with a “Mr” or “Mrs”, sometimes interrupted by a “Call me Brian”, or whatever.  Today, even the youngest of employees assume we are on first name terms from the off.  I fear it would be churlish and seem unfriendly to object.

Whilst delivering election leaflets recently (I won’t tell you for which party, but it’s not a nasty one), I was met by a neighbour who said I needn’t bother, as she had already decided to vote for that candidate.  Gratifying news.  But then I asked if her father, who lives with them, would like one to read?  The response was: “Oh, he’ll vote how we tell him to vote!”  Excuse me!  Doesn’t the poor man have a brain?  No, I didn’t say that, but I think I should have!

Many younger people are kind and considerate, like my young men on the Underground.    But whatever happened to respect?  Please don’t assume we all in the early stages of dementia, once we retire!

 

About Alice Mitchell

Alice Mitchell is the pen-name of Alison Mitchell born in 1951 in West Yorkshire. Her married name is now Harrop and she lives in North Wales and is recently retired from her professional occupation as a medical doctor.

Her first novel (Instead of Eden)won a Betty Trask Prize and was published in 1985. by W.H. Allen.
She is currently working on a mediaeval historical novel.
She is also a member of the Llandudno and District U3A Creative Writers Group and a contributor to their magazine.
She is a Guardian reader, animal lover and a Pro- European member of the Labour Party.

Crossing the Dee

            Her chest felt tight and tired and she was breathless at the top of the stairs. Rushing again. Should have taken the lift but it was so slow. Now the train was late and she needn’t have rushed at all.

          There was a fine mist of rain on the platform drifting in from the sea. She was able to stay dry under the iron-girders of the arched roof, but it was a shame the mountains were shrouded in mist. She wanted them clean, bright and spectacular as they could be, above the valley with the merest curl of dragon’s breath cloud along the river before the sun burnt it away.

She felt nervous and could feel her heartbeat straining against her ribs with more than effort. Would she recognise her grand-daughter after fourteen years? She didn’t even know what they liked to call her. Not Virginia Rose, that was for sure. You couldn’t keep that up for long. There had been no photographs since the baby ones. She didn’t even know whether there were any brothers or sisters.

Of course she would have to tell her parents. Probably should have done so already. But the letter had only arrived this morning. Plenty of time, said her daughter’s waspish voice inside her head. It’s eight o’clock in the evening now. What were you thinking of?  That’s so typical of you!

She had been thinking how wonderful it would be to see her again. What is more, she had been asked not to tell by the girlish hand on the pink scented paper. It had all been planned secretly.  But she’s only fourteen, the voice persisted. Practically grown up these days, from what Ellen read in the newspapers. There was no changing of trains -well, at least not once you got to Euston. Ellen realised she was making excuses.

It seemed that her grand-daughter did know about her then. The annual cards and presents had not been in vain. No thank you letters though. She wondered what excuse her daughter had given for the lack of contact. Infirmity?  But then surely they would have been expected to visit? No, it had to be a darker reason. ‘Not a nice person or ‘didn’t want to know’. ‘Alcoholic’ was probably the most likely, given Ellen’s fondness for a drop of whisky.

She had of course very much ‘wanted to know’. But relations were broken off when Ellen remarried .Not that they had been very good before, ever since the teenage years and the divorce.

The monitor showed another twenty minute delay. She would barely have reached Prestatyn yet. The names of the stops on the coastal line ran through Ellen’s head like a litany. Whenever she made the trip herself, each one increased her sense of relief at returning. She had moved here when her second husband died seven years ago. Until then it had only been a holiday destination.

Everyone said it was a dreadful mistake. Not the remarriage. ‘They’ had been moderately pleased over that, after so long alone. It was the relocation. Retirement, bereavement, and a house move out of the area where she was known. What on earth was she thinking of? They’d give her six months at most. The seaside wasn’t the same in winter, you know.  No, thought Ellen, it was much to be preferred, but she had the sense to keep that thought to herself.

There were worse things than loneliness and she longed for the peace of the sea and the mountains where she was less well known. Not to have to answer any more questions. Especially about V.R. She had surprised herself by telling such brazen lies about her grand-daughter. Made up a whole curriculum vitae in fact. Visits away were fabricated with the greatest of ease. But it was hard to disguise the fact that none were ever returned. Everyone else seemed to have such perfect families, talked about their grandchildren all the time, even went on holiday with them….

So she had crossed the Dee. Just as her grand-daughter was doing tonight. Like hundreds of others seeking escape and refuge in Wales. She didn’t know the reason for this particular flight but, if the girl was anything like her mother at fourteen, she could imagine the sparks beginning to fly. Well, she could provide a safe refuge for a little while. A holiday in Wales, just as Ellen had always imagined, despite the lack of any response to her approaches as the years passed by. Even after her husband died.  And the worst thing was Ellen had no idea why.

In the end she had to stop wondering and thinking. The only way she could bear the pain of yet another Christmas faced with the blank wall of silence was to put photographs away and try to pretend it had never happened and there was no Virginia Rose and never had been. No soft little baby she had once held in her arms with awe. No clean smelling baby skin and damp curls after the joy of bath time. It was not entirely successful, of course, but easier with new friends – well, acquaintances, really.

Still, the local History Society, Bridge Club, and Ramblers’ Group were congenial enough. Hill walking was out now though, after last year but Ellen thought herself reasonably content. What else could she expect anymore?

Except that now she could imagine a teenage girl at the carriage window looking out with fresh, young eyes.  No doubt she would have the earphones of an I-Pod in situ. Nevertheless, she could hardly fail to notice the widening sweep of the Dee estuary, with the train suddenly running terrifyingly close to the silky grey water. The tide would be in, covering the mudflats where thousands of waders foraged. The rain had stopped; there were gaps in the clouds so the biggest black ones would be flushed and red-bellied from the setting sun. Hilbre Island and the West coast of the Wirral would be mere grey lines blurring into each other into the distance. She might just glimpse poor Richard the Second’s ruined castle below the lines at Flint.

Then she would pass the old ship with its rusting, rodent nibbled funnel and brown stained hulk that had been marooned at Mostyn Docks for so many years. The gas flame would flare briefly at the point of Ayr and she would catch sight of the wind turbines far out at sea. After that it was all green salt marsh pocked and patterned with pools until the moon swung up over rows of mobile homes next to the sand dunes. And next the curve of the Bay, twinkling with lights along to Rhos Point. Once around the headland and the train would pick up speed again towards The Junction

Ellen began to feel the cold seeping into her bones and shivered but here it was at last: the Holyhead train, three hours out from Euston, with its row of carriages presaged by a search beam, snaking around the bend. She jumped to her feet.

The train came sliding in. Came to a stop, oh so slowly. The doors opened with a compressed burst of air. Passengers began to alight in a stream which seemed it would never end. Except it did. There were others waiting and embracing. But there was no lone fourteen year old girl.

Ellen walked up and down in agitation, peering in through the murky windows. There was no-one even remotely likely. She asked the guard if he had seen a young girl travelling alone. He shook his head, blew his whistle and waved his board, anxious to be off. Asked her to stand back, if you please.  She stayed on the platform until the last of the carriages vanished into the growing dark and she was quite alone in the silence. Then she sobbed uncontrollably but there was no-one else to notice a slightly stooped woman with grey hair on the cold and empty platform.

 

The rain started again, driving back over the cob, more forceful and heavy now, slanting in from the channel and soaking the floodlit stone walls of the castle. She put the gas fire on when she got in to her cottage.  Summer didn’t seem to be what it used to when she was a child. Her answer phone was winking. She poured herself a generous measure of whisky.

The message was curt and from her daughter.  Her speech was rapid and staccato, as if she wanted to get it over and done with as soon as possible.  Ellen had to re-play it several times to make sense of it all.

“Thought I’d better ring. In case you were worried or did something dramatic like calling the police. Ginny not coming after all. Safe at home. Alexa’s mother rang to apologise for the cancellation of sleep over in case Ginny had forgotten to tell her. Not forgotten at all in fact, but deliberately omitted to mention! It was just another of her ‘running away to Wales to see her secret Grandma ploys after a row. First time she had ever written a letter though to their knowledge, or at least put stamp on and in box. Sorry about that”. (That was a first).

“Anyway they’d finally had to promise to take her on a weekend trip to Wales to calm the waters. Probably a good idea as she could see for herself then that it was cold, wet, wretched and unromantic, with nothing but sheep around.  Naturally they would stay in a hotel.  Was there a decent one in Llandudno? (!) But a meeting might be arranged”.

Ellen took a deep breath and poured another whisky. The constriction in her chest was easing. The drink was more pleasant by far than the heart spray which always gave her a banging headache. Good for VR!  She smiled. Of course they hadn’t said when they would come. But she knew that her once beloved grandchild would make it here in the end, one day, either with or without her parents. She just needed to keep herself alive in the meantime.

 

 

END

A View from Venice

It was dark when we arrived.  I was nervous about finding the hotel but need not have worried.  The pre-booked, shared water taxi was ready and waiting at the quayside by Marco Polo Airport, even though the flight had landed early.   Six of us climbed aboard.   It turned out we were all couples celebrating a special birthday.    Forty, fifty and my husband the oldest at seventy.  The engine sprung to life and, rather disappointingly, the boatman closed the glass doors to save us from the spray.   But there was a swell in the blackness of the lagoon and we bumped along, riding over the wake of other vessels.

After about half an hour, the boat slowed to enter the calm of the Grand Canal and the night rewarded us now with the sight of chandeliers lighting up mediaeval palaces.  The warmth of bars and restaurants spilt out onto paving stones.  No roads but footpaths, steps and bridges everywhere across the network of small canals.   We took a short cut, put-putting gently through one of these before re-emerging at the water bus stop of Ca Rezzione.  Last off and trundling our cases behind us, we turned down an alleyway into a small, dark piazza dominated by a Baroque church.  Two tall figures in cloaks and hats stood with their backs toward us in front of a brightly lit shop window.   The shadow of a huge Great Dane stood beside them.   When they turned, we saw the glitter of eye masks trimmed with silver feathers.  It is “Il Feste”: that is to say Carnival Time and St Mark’s Square will be alive with costumes as well as pigeons.  Just around the corner, alongside another small canal, we find our hotel.

Next morning, welcome sunlight returns.  The air is a little hazy but a nearby bell tower cuts it cleanly with its ringing. How to describe Venice?   It is unique, for sure, whether you love it or hate it, and, as my husband said wonderingly, “just like the photographs”!  We spend ages leaning on the big, wooden bridge over the Grand Canal at L’Accademia, taking in the pinks, creams and terracottas of each stuccoed palace and arched colonnade. We watch the skilful manoeuvres of vaporetti, barges and gondola ploughing up and down blue-green water.  A sudden invasion of Chinese tourists on a flotilla of water taxis causes more adjustments to the criss-crossing and considerable horn-blowing.

There is a flag waving demonstration outside the Academy.  We learn, from an intelligent young man with good English, that the protest is against allowing cruise liners to moor in the Grand Canal.  Apparently, the Minister of Transport who is proposing this, and engaged in a dirty deal, is due here on a visit to the gallery shortly.  We give the young man our blessing and wish him luck, then go inside.

Here there are wonderful ceilings and oil paintings by Titian, Tintoretto, Bellini and many others whose names I instantly forget though the deep rich colours and characterful human figures remain with me.  Later, the Doge’s palace stands out, with its vast rooms, mind-blowing ceilings and wider paintings though the phrase “troppo grando” eventually comes to mind.  I wonder if I am alone in disliking the interior of St Mark’s Basilica?  To my mind, it seems overbearingly sombre and gloomy, compared with the delicacy of the exterior.  I prefer the light circular space under the dome of Santa Maria dell Salute across the water.  This was built to give thanks for the ending of the plague in 1630 and glows with little red lights and luminosity from the usual racks of prayerful candles inside.  But then there are so many churches in Venice, so many Scuoli, so many piazza and everyone must have a favourite.

The evening has grown misty but this only adds to the magic.  An orange ball sinks slowly behind the dome of dell Salute and the water of the lagoon slaps moored gondola next to the grand hotels with their wooden jetties and barber-like poles.  Gondoliers with be-ribboned boaters congregate in a group for cigarettes and laughter.  A band of musicians arrives along the Piazzetta and there is impromptu dancing. Yes we have covered most of the “top Ten” attractions, seen the Rialto, the galleries and museums and food markets, but it is this atmosphere of Carnival which we will remember. Saturated with Art and Culture, we subside gratefully into backstreet trattoria to drink red wine and eat flavoursome pasta.  Viva the Republic of Venice!

 

It was dark when we arrived.  I was nervous about finding the hotel but need not have worried.  The pre-booked, shared water taxi was ready and waiting at the quayside by Marco Polo Airport, even though the flight had landed early.   Six of us climbed aboard.   It turned out we were all couples celebrating a special birthday.    Forty, fifty and my husband the oldest at seventy.  The engine sprung to life and, rather disappointingly, the boatman closed the glass doors to save us from the spray.   But there was a swell in the blackness of the lagoon and we bumped along, riding over the wake of other vessels.

After about half an hour, the boat slowed to enter the calm of the Grand Canal and the night rewarded us now with the sight of chandeliers lighting up mediaeval palaces.  The warmth of bars and restaurants spilt out onto paving stones.  No roads but footpaths, steps and bridges everywhere across the network of small canals.   We took a short cut, put-putting gently through one of these before re-emerging at the water bus stop of Ca Rezzione.  Last off and trundling our cases behind us, we turned down an alleyway into a small, dark piazza dominated by a Baroque church.  Two tall figures in cloaks and hats stood with their backs toward us in front of a brightly lit shop window.   The shadow of a huge Great Dane stood beside them.   When they turned, we saw the glitter of eye masks trimmed with silver feathers.  It is “Il Feste”: that is to say Carnival Time and St Mark’s Square will be alive with costumes as well as pigeons.  Just around the corner, alongside another small canal, we find our hotel.

Next morning, welcome sunlight returns.  The air is a little hazy but a nearby bell tower cuts it cleanly with its ringing. How to describe Venice?   It is unique, for sure, whether you love it or hate it, and, as my husband said wonderingly, “just like the photographs”!  We spend ages leaning on the big, wooden bridge over the Grand Canal at L’Accademia, taking in the pinks, creams and terracottas of each stuccoed palace and arched colonnade. We watch the skilful manoeuvres of vaporetti, barges and gondola ploughing up and down blue-green water.  A sudden invasion of Chinese tourists on a flotilla of water taxis causes more adjustments to the criss-crossing and considerable horn-blowing.

There is a flag waving demonstration outside the Academy.  We learn, from an intelligent young man with good English, that the protest is against allowing cruise liners to moor in the Grand Canal.  Apparently, the Minister of Transport who is proposing this, and engaged in a dirty deal, is due here on a visit to the gallery shortly.  We give the young man our blessing and wish him luck, then go inside.

Here there are wonderful ceilings and oil paintings by Titian, Tintoretto, Bellini and many others whose names I instantly forget though the deep rich colours and characterful human figures remain with me.  Later, the Doge’s palace stands out, with its vast rooms, mind-blowing ceilings and wider paintings though the phrase “troppo grando” eventually comes to mind.  I wonder if I am alone in disliking the interior of St Mark’s Basilica?  To my mind, it seems overbearingly sombre and gloomy, compared with the delicacy of the exterior.  I prefer the light circular space under the dome of Santa Maria dell Salute across the water.  This was built to give thanks for the ending of the plague in 1630 and glows with little red lights and luminosity from the usual racks of prayerful candles inside.  But then there are so many churches in Venice, so many Scuoli, so many piazza and everyone must have a favourite.

The evening has grown misty but this only adds to the magic.  An orange ball sinks slowly behind the dome of dell Salute and the water of the lagoon slaps moored gondola next to the grand hotels with their wooden jetties and barber-like poles.  Gondoliers with be-ribboned boaters congregate in a group for cigarettes and laughter.  A band of musicians arrives along the Piazzetta and there is impromptu dancing. Yes we have covered most of the “top Ten” attractions, seen the Rialto, the galleries and museums and food markets, but it is this atmosphere of Carnival which we will remember. Saturated with Art and Culture, we subside gratefully into backstreet trattoria to drink red wine and eat flavoursome pasta.  Viva the Republic of Venice!

 

 

Llandudno Out of Season

Climbing the Orme:

Pastel hotels curve

Like wedding cake slices

Along the promenade.

The wind is wild,

Flinging waves onto pebble

And battering hunched figures.

I see white turbines:

Spindle sharp, far out,

Whilst feathery palms

Stream townward fronds

To ugly brown statues.

Alice sends a Victorian postcard

From Fish n’ Chip cafes.

But there are:

No trams

No cable car

No parking;

Out of season.

Some have seen Northern Lights

But for now it’s clouded,

Only star – studded

With pantomime thrills

In the entertainment powerhouse.

 

March 2016