Thursday, December 30, 2010

This is the end of the year...

Thinking about the year that's past, i wrote a very up beat account of it.

Which is strange in a way, because this year I seem also to have been exposed to so much evidence about the folly of government.

The implacable cruelty of the aging process.

The devastation caused by cruelty and greed.

But I stand by this: this HAS been my year.

This is the year my beautiful daughter got married. To a beautiful man, with a beautiful ceremony, in a beautiful place. And I was so happy being parent of the bride...

This is the year my other beautiful daughter got a job in journalism, and a beautiful flat in Brixton, and settled down there with her beautiful man.

This is the year my Every One was performed at the Lyceum, and made many people cry there...

And my Princesse de Clèves was broadcast on Radio 3, and she gave me huge pleasure...

And I worked with a certain Mr Chekhov to adapt The Seagull for Theatre Alba to perform very beautifully at the Edinburgh Fringe...

And rewrote my Tree of Life in the hope that next year it will flower and flourish.

This year Nick Hern Books published my translation of Yerma, and she came in time for Christmas; and I got to ‘C’ in ordering my bookshelves, and what a lot of books I seem to have written.

This year I became a fellow, and a jolly one, a creative one too, at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at Edinburgh University, an oasis of free thinking, and loved it there, and started writing my Tree of Knowledge to celebrate the wonderful Mr. David Hume.

This is the year I also filled in the forms, and a Certificate of Gender Recognition came in through the post, and so I became officially female, and this moved me: moved me profoundly.

Also this year I filled in another form to get money from the Playwrights’ Studio Scotland to develop a new play with a lovely actor (David Walshe) and a lovely director (Susan Worsfold) and discovered I could improvise in character, and act too, and almost certainly could have all along, if I hadn’t been made to feel so ashamed.

And then wondered what to do with the joy and the anger and regret with all that.

And yet another form this year gave me ten thousand pounds to turn God’s New Frock and Jesus Queen of Heaven into a piece of poetic prose; and I found a lovely agent to help me publish it.

This is also the year I turned 60, and collected my bus pass, and my winter fuel allowance, and can claim my state pension.

And the year I meant to have a party, but didn’t, because I had a play on, and celebrated in the most unexpected way instead...

... by falling in love, and staying in love, and living in love...

... and I can’t write about that, or describe my dearly beloved and beautiful lover, because my heart is too full.

But I know something else about this year, the amazing year of two thousand and ten:

this is the year new life began.


Sunday, December 19, 2010


For one thing there were four of us. Five including the dog.

For another we couldn’t find any camels.

We tried yellow pages, we tried Mr google, and we even tried those scrubby postcards you sometimes see in newsagents windows. Tess, being an alternative type, went to look in Real Foods. She thought that might be the place because hiring a camel would be ecological.

We found cars for hire, lorries for hire, vans for hire (sometimes with a man attached), motorised tricycles and skate boards for hire. But no camels. Not for love or money.

Mr Google told me how many stomachs the various models had, and how much water they could drink, and whether one hump was better than two (depending on the desert) and we might have got into a discussion about that only Phyllis said one she didn’t think the plan was to go anywhere near a desert, her being allergic to sand, and two there was no point worrying about one hump or two when there were no camels to be had of any kind at all.

Except possibly in Timbuktu.

Which was a bit beside the point, May said, and besides what was the point of having bus passes if we didn’t use them and Phyllis said that was all very well but where we were supposed to be going? Ethel, being biblically inclined, said it was easy, the book said follow the star. Which star said Phyllis and Ethel said the one from the east. I said, but there aren’t any stars (it being daylight), they must have just travelled by night then.

They had to said Phyllis, them being in the East. It’s hot in the East, she added and was just about to tell us about her holiday in Jordan and how she got sunburn in a very embarrassing place when May said so we’ll just get the 26 bus then.

But how do we follow the star said Ethel, and how will we know which one said May and just said the bus arrived and it had a star on the side advertising the panto.

So we all got on, and Phyllis grumblng a bit because she knew we were all going to Portobello, we always went to Portobello, and it was selfish of us, her being allergic to sand, but the dog was happy.

When we got there we went to the machines, and I won 69 p on the penny slides and the dog ran about barking and we went off and had chips and red wine, it being wednesday. and started to wonder about myrrh.

Gold we could understand, and Phyllis had seen a programme about frankincense on the discovery channel, but not myrrh.

We were having a nice time, we were, a nice time, it was just like any other nice time and weren’t we ever going to find something a wee bit different. And wasn’t that what they were about, the wise men, i was thinking, when I got a text come in and it was my daughter, and she said

“It’s started”.

So off I went to the Royal and i got lost on the way in, i was that agitated, but once I found my way there I knew what to do, and she’s a good girl, sensible and brave, and her poor man so very concerned, but it was fine really, and sooner than you can think there she was.

A baby girl.

My first grand-daughter.

And we know it’s not so wise these days, with everything so uncertain, but I’ll help with her and there’s no harm in bringing a wee bit more love into the world.

And Phyllis had knitted her a scarf, and May brought bootees, and Ethel brought a story book and the dog wagged its tail, and there was a bright star over everything.

So we didn’t need the camels after all.


Monday, December 13, 2010

This is a story for Advent.
I imagined it as one of these advent calendars - with a little door to open for each day of the month of December...


1.The day comes when the man knows he must leave.
 Leave his wife. Leave his hungry children. Leave everything he has ever known. Leave his village and look for work in the city.

2. In the beginning everyone feels the most intense joy. She does too. The death sentence given by the doctors has given the whole family the most intense sense of how precious the love is that they possess for each other; and then, by what felt like a miracle, they all had been given extra time to enjoy it.

3. The boy lies awake in his iron bed far from home.
The boy’s blankets are grey. His uniform shirt is grey. The shirt he will put on when the bell rings to wake him in the cold morning.

4. On the second day, the man reaches the main road which leads to the city. Day and night, huge lorries thunder past. The noise stupefies him. He is choked by the dust.

5. Her friends all come to see her. So many friends! There was a queue at the entrance to the hospital ward and her elder daughter would manage it. And the mother would say to everyone who came: “This is everyone’s worst nightmare. Dying of a brain tumour. But I tell you: it’s not so bad. It’s not so bad as you all imagine”. 
And there is a fierce joy about her that profoundly touches them all.

6. The boy lies in his iron bed in a row of identical iron beds in an unheated dormitory named after a famous general. The boys compete for a polished shell case from the first world war. The dormitory is very cold. This is because he has to learn to be brave.

7. The noise gets louder and louder. There are the lorries and the music coming from the roadside workshops and food stalls. And people’s voices have to be so much louder to make their voices heard. It all confuses and bewilders him.

8. When they let her out of hospital it is a kind of victory parade. She is so happy, so happy to be home again. A friend had brought her lilies in the early stages and she had wondered which would last longer. The lilies or her. 
But she’d lived to see the lilies faded and thrown into the bin. 

9. The boy cries often. In secret, where no-one can see or hear. He is not very good at being brave. The other boys make a list for Santa. They ask for Meccano and model cars. They are excited. He feels sad and doesn’t really know what to put down.

10. In the village he knew everyone. And everyone knew him. Some he liked. Some he hated. Some he feared. A few he loved. But loved or hated, feared and enjoyed, there was a web of knowledge there that upheld him.
He did not know this at the time.
But now on the road no-one knows him. And he knows nobody. And step by step he begins lose his sense of his self.

11. She was restless at night. They had to sleep apart. The husband felt as if he had already lost her. 
She couldn’t walk up the stairs any more. Balance gone. So she would crawl up on all fours, crawl up them in the dead hours of night so she could be in the top room. In the top room, in her chair, and see the stars.

12. In the end the boy writes down what he knows he is meant to. He will get a toy car. But it’s not what he wants.
He cannot say what he wants. He cannot even tell himself.

13. The closer the man comes to the city, the thicker the crowds become. The louder the noise. It is a kind of continuous roaring that utterly annihilates him. He cannot think. He can scarcely breathe. He knows somehow he must join these roaring people. Like them, he must jostle and shove. But he is weak with hunger and dazed with confusion and he does not have the strength.

14.Somehow the brain scan had found its way into the house. A big plastic image like an x ray inside a big brown envelope. A thing of horror: an image of the tumour that was destroying her brain. And they are helpless. Helpless in the face of it. All of them possessed by dread.
She keeps crying for her daughters. She doesn’t want to lose her children.

15. The boy discovers the source of his unhappiness. It is a girl he secretly feels himself to be. He can tell no-one. He is too shamed. Almost as soon as he has uttered his desire, he tries his utmost to suppress it.

16. The man is curled up in the rubbish in an alley. It is there he dies. There is no-one to bury him. In the distant village, his family will never learn what became of him. Life will go on. After a while the scavengers tip his body into the river.

17. One night she lets out a terrible scream. She is unconscious, thrashing about, her breathing horribly laboured. Her husband phones an ambulance. “Status epilepticus”, the doctors say. “We’ve had to put her on a ventilator.” “She wouldn’t want that”, the husband says, “Take her off it, please.” They tell him: “There’s a fifty fifty chance she’ll die”.
“Do it. Please do it”.
They turn her off the ventilator. She lives.

18. The boy has grown up now. He lives as a man. His mother has died. He feels utterly and completely alone. Shyness torments him. His secret eats away at him.

19. The river carries the body downstream. As it carries everything else. The silt it deposits is the source of the country’s fertility. The country called Bangla Desh. The corpse it carries is one of many. It drops it on a mudbank where it is torn apart by dogs.

20. She falls unconscious just before Christmas. Her younger daughter says “Dad. Dad we’re still having Christmas. I’ll do it” she says “I’ll make it happen”.
And she does. She gets the tree, and decorates it, and puts out the Nativity.
As they always did.
And they put up a little tree in the bedroom where she lies dying.
And they all sit and make a toast. 
To life. To loving.

21. Years later, living as a woman, by a miracle the widow met a new lover. Their love was fragile at first, because it was always threatened by the past.
But at night they lay in the upstairs room the woman loved, and at night they would lie in bed and see the stars. 
It’s love, they say, it’s love that moves the stars.

22. It was me who encountered the man. I was in a boat, on the great river, and in the distance I saw the body on a mud bank. And the dogs around it. 

23. I was the boy in the dormitory.

24. I was the husband of the mother the tumour killed.

25. And now I am the lover. Looking out at the night sky filled with stars.

Jo Clifford. Advent. 2010.


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