I know….I said I was going to have two weeks off to re-charge the batteries. But it seems to have been dusk for a week, and I’ve changed my WordPress name, and it’s autumn, and the garden’s full of spider webs. And my poetry friend Kim Moore is packing up, ready to move house. They say that the three most stressful things you can do are moving house, starting a new job, and going through a marriage break-up. Years ago, I did all three in a three month period. Moving house was the worst. But eventually you come out the other side, and things are new all over again. The thing I liked about my new house in the first Autumn of a new job was the cobwebs on the wrought iron gates, with a misty slanting autumn sun, all jewelled with dew or bright with early frost.
They get a bad press, spiders, those clever, industrious weavers of delicate, intricate webs. I’ve never really understood why. I even like the way they come into the house to let you know a thunderstorm is on the way. I think Arachne got a particularly bad deal, too. For a lot of this year I’ve been re-reading the Greek myths, via Ted Hughes’ retelling of The Metamorphoses and Garfield and Blishen’s The God beneath the Sea. I’ve developed a deep dislike of the Greek Olympians…..their casual cruelties, amorality, childish jealousies, vindictiveness, their appalling sense of entitlement. Maybe it’s coincided with a growing loathing of Cameron and his self-aggrandising coterie. The assumption of entitlement. The arrogance. I’m haunted by the story of Echo, entirely innocent, doomed to wander stony wastes, tormented by the nonsense told her by the stones of cold mountains. All for an Olympian whim. And Arachne, the craftswoman who had the temerity to challenge a god.
Ah well. Anger does none of us good. All I meant to do was to say how it is that the new WordPress name is The great fogginzo’s cobweb. I’d been musing via Facebook on the fact that I just can’t be doing with the word blog. Like many IT compressions and elisions it’s ugly. It sounds ugly. Blob, slug, gob, bog…you can make your own list. But what the poetry-focussed posts I follow do is make delicate webs of connections, they entice, they trap so lightly, they wind you in. And so on. Much more interesting. From now on, I shall insist on calling them cobwebs. I can’t claim any originality for this, much as I’d like to. That’s down to another poetry friend, Maggie How (they do well for poets in Cumbria). Thank you, Maggie…onlie begetter. I shall do my best to live up to the challenge of all those associations of intricacy and craft.
Now. Moving house. I’ve lived in a succession of older houses, on each of which I’ve spent inordinate amounts of time in renovationg and restoring. Each of them had, at various points in their history, been modernised…old fireplaces ripped out, mouldings chiselled off, bannister spindles replaced with frosted glass. I know many friends with houses that have benefitted from benign neglect, with all their original bits and pieces just requiring TLC. My mate Nick has a house in France where all the doors still have their 100+ year old original fittings, and I’ve spent happy hours cleaning up brasswork, the insides of locks, ebony doorknobs. It’s maybe not something that fills everyone with joy. But it does me. There we are.
Anyway, our house is not only curiously aligned because of mining subsidence over the years (not a right angle in the place) but had also been lovingly made ‘contemporary’ by the lovely man I bought it from. He was intensely proud of all his improvements. And they took some getting out. His trade was engineering. And he liked fixing things with unfeasibly large nails and hefty bits of ironmongery. I did a lot of restoring, and invariably felt guilty about each job as I set about it. I don’t know whether this poem has exorcised the guilt, but it’s as close as I can get to sharing how it feels…and to warn against ‘going back’.
Don’t look back
Clean the house and leave it neat.
Label all the keys and pay the bills and go.
I’m thinking of John Butterworth
and all the things he found hard to leave.
The cocktail bar, all quilted Fablon,
fairy lights and shelves in frosted glass.
The vinyl-covered settle, the mirror tiles.
The hundred-year-old pine he covered up
with plywood, mitred mouldings, thick
coats of creamy gloss. Flushed doors.
His garden. All the shallow terraces,
the measured rosebeds, the little paths,
the couch-grass-tangled rockery. The koi.
All his DIY got crow-barred, some got burned,
some shifted to the tip. Rosebeds, terraces
and paths grubbed up, grassed over.
Two winters of hard frosts left John’s koi
white-belly up, and stinking in the thaw.
He came back, years later,
just to say hello.
I showed him round my house.
I couldn’t meet his eye.
So, there we are. Sorry, John, but that’s the way it is. I’m as sure as I can be that Kim Moore doesn’t share any of my enthusiasm for power tools and woodwork and what have you, so it’s probably the case that she’ll not feel as conflicted as I do whenever I have to leave a house behind. There’s my blood under those coats of paint. But here’s my best wishes for her move and her new house. I wish nothing but happiness for her and Chris. As far as I know, John Butterworth never lived in their new house.
Spread the word. The word is COBWEB.
I think I really will have a week off next week, and then, who knows……………………………..