I have been doodling with some new pencils by Derwent called 'Inktense'. They look like ordinary colouring pencils but then you paint over them with a wet brush and their colour intensifies and when it dries it is permanent. Lots of fun. I have been browsing through a book of ancient mandalas from Tibet and China and Japan, and found some of the details quite inspiring.
Where was the werewolf
When we needed him?
Off playing with Barbie dolls
With his sisters
And here we are, blind as bats
And branded as witches
Not a spell working
To free us
He alone had the ear of the master
Learnt all the words
Hunted out the scorpion of sorcery
Then used it
For heart breaks,
And the resurrection of a pet rabbit.
At first, it was just
one blackbird. Its song moved like liquid silver through the large
leafy trees in the darkness of the park. Andrew lay in his solitary
bed listening and staring out at the orange-brown sky. It was the
very end of the night and London had stopped moving for a moment.
Another blackbird started up further away.
Then came other
sounds; footsteps of a lonely walker roaming the streets; a taxi
driving down the road, its engine rattling from years of service.
In the dim London glow he could see his notebook, pens, glasses on
the bedside table..
Normally, Andrew would
have snapped on his light and written copious notes; about the birds’
territorial whistles in the dark; the sense of space, distance,
destination. He lay there as the almost visible precious moments
slipped away. It was as though a glacier was slowly moving down his
The birds continued to
sing and through the hours, slowly, the darkness lessened, became
grey. Cars began to move. Soon the roar of traffic drowned out all
birdsong and footsteps.
Andrew reached for his
glasses and swung his legs out of bed and into his slippers, glanced
at the half-filled suitcase and sighed heavily.
Flying was for birds.
To rise into the air in a roaring metal canister … He walked over
to his window. He was level with the tree tops, bird land. Looking
down with tired eyes he watched commuters walking steadily in the
grey light. A plastic bag by the hedge floated in the draught. Up,
up, like a jelly fish, it went over the hedge and into the park.
On his desk, as though
mocking him, were his two slim volumes of poetry. He stared at them,
wondering how on earth he had managed to write so many words. His
notebooks were gathering dust and he'd even forgotten his passwords
for the computer.
He glanced at his
reflection in the tarnished mirror. Although approaching middle age,
he had a young looking, pasty face, having spent most of his life
indoors. His body seemed boneless. His grey eyes were hidden behind
heavy, dark framed glasses, which acted as a shield, protecting him
from the outside world.
Methodically he packed
the remaining few things and on impulse, grabbed a framed photo of
his mother and father and himself as a child. His father stared out
of the photo, starved and black like a crow. The Rev. John James
MacIntyre had lived within the walls of his Bible. Looking at his
father’s face he wondered how it was for him, now that he was dead.
At the funeral, six
moths ago, he had thrown the earth on the coffin and stood by his
grieving mother. Then he had walked away, to feel the light spring
rain fall on his shoulders and breathe the soft Scottish air. John
James MacIntyre had gone to meet his Maker. Andrew hoped He was a
nicer God than his father had lectured him about throughout his
He should have felt
relieved that he could no longer disappoint him, but instead there
was a cold, deadly anger knifing through his chest. He found he
couldn't write and his dreams were of black dark places that pressed
At least his work kept
him busy. He was popular. His slim volumes got him invited all over
Europe, to lecture on the making of poetry. In fact it was because of
a two week stint he had done in Lisbon University a few months ago,
that he was packing and flying today.
One of the students had
encouraged him to take the momentous decision to leave Battersea for
an extended period and had recommended her mother’s holiday
cottage, ‘somewhere lovely’ in Alentejo, south of Lisbon. He
could rent it for the winter. The English department in the
University had offered him part time work over the winter term. So
here he was, flying south. Like a migratory bird, he thought.
When he arrived in Faro
and stepped off the plane he was welcomed by warm air and a
brilliantly blue sky. There were palm trees and people in shorts and
tee shirts. In his trusty corduroys and tweed jacket he felt a bit
instructions he caught a train from Faro. It rolled through the
country in a north westerly direction, stopping here and there at
empty stations, giving a little sigh before continuing on through a
wild looking, burnt-up landscape. Andrew noticed a lot of tortured
trees, dry river beds, and brown hills, occasionally blackened by
recent forest fires, and a few straggling villages, or settlements
that clung to the hillside, their whitewashed walls glowing in the
bright sun. It looked so alien.
At his stop he climbed
down from the train and lugged his suitcase and briefcase towards the
exit to find a taxi.
An old couple, both very
small and wrinkled, dressed in black, followed behind him. Between
them they had a cardboard box, roughly pierced and tied with string.
From it came the sound of baby chicks, peep-peeping. The woman had a
head scarf and a straw hat over her head. She clutched a large
umbrella, which Andrew thought strange in this heat, but when they
reached the curb outside the station and they all stood blinking in
the sun, waiting, she unfurled it and cast a welcome shadow over
them. Soon the sound of an approaching motor made them look
hopefully along the road and a black and green Mercedes taxi came
roaring round the bend. It parked in front of them, pumping out loud
accordion music. Andrew, being first, went to the driver and showed
him the address he had written on a piece of paper. The taxi driver
looked at it and then at the old couple.
He said something to
Andrew and beckoned the old people. Andrew watched with a mixture of
rage and shame as the driver got out and and ushered them into the
back of the car, talking loudly all the time and gesticulating,
waving his hand out towards the hills.
The driver came over to
Andrew wearing a clownish grin and shrugging his shoulders. He
patted Andrew on the back to reassure him, and pointed to the clock
above the entrance to the waiting room. He held up his hand and
spread out his fingers and counted them. Then he leaped into his car
and zoomed off, leaving Andrew in a cloud of dust. He stood,
mournfully, watching the dust settle on himself and his luggage.
Here he was, outside a deserted, rather derelict station somewhere in
Alentejo. There was no village that he could see, just the road that
the taxi had taken, and the hills, and those tortured, twisted trees
that grew everywhere.
Andrew hoped that he
understood that if he waited here five minutes the taxi man would
return. He looked up at the clock. It said eleven o'clock.
Sighing, he left his suitcase on the curb and wandered back towards
the station. The silence seemed to hang in the hot air, now that the
train and the taxi had gone.
His footsteps echoed as
he walked through the archway that served as a waiting room and the
way through to the platforms. The station must have been built at a
time when trains were the way forward, in the nineteen twenties,
perhaps. Andrew looked at the verdant art nouveau tiles on the walls
as he wandered around. It was a large building, with many windows
and doors, all locked and shuttered. The ticket window was a blind
eye, the glass dusty and lined with a piece of old cardboard with
some faded copperplate script written on it.
The waiting room had a
wooden bench with names scratched out of the varnish, ('Amo-te Ana'
and 'Benfica'). A timetable had been selo-taped to the wall above it.
Andrew glanced at it and found that it was current, - that is it was
for this year. Trains passed this station twice a day – once going
North and once going South. He wandered ouside and found an enormous
palm tree full of sparrows standing guard next to a dilapidated
concrete building which turned out to be a toilet.
Andrew walked back to
his suitcase with a feeling of growing tension. The clock still read
eleven o'clock. After waiting ten minutes he realised the clock was
not working. He began to wonder if he had understood the taxi
driver's hand signals. Going back through the waiting room he glanced
at a pay phone that hung on the wall. Was there anyone who could
He looked along the
train tracks that went off into the hills, and felt as desolate and
deserted as the station. Abandoned was the word that came floating
into his head. He imagined he was in a film set where something very
unpleasant was about to happen, and he, the innocent tourist, was in
The sound of lots
of small bells drew his attention to the other side of the tracks,
past a decaying warehouse. A flock of sheep and goats were moving
through the trees, followed by a man wearing a sleeveless sheepskin
coat. The shepherd walked with a steady pace, his colours merging
with the herd and the landscape. A dog ran alongside. The sound of
the bells was light and musical. His shoulders relaxed as he
watched the herd pass behind a hill, their bells diminishing, and
then he heard the honk of a car horn. His taxi had returned. The
clock still read eleven.
The journey felt as long
and twisty as the music. The taxi man drove with scary confidence,
waving to tractor drivers and flashing his lights at passing pick-up
trucks. Andrew sat in the back lurching and gripping his arm rest,
trying to keep his eye on the horizon, as though at sea.
Eventually they turned
onto a dirt track. Relieved at the change of pace, he looked around
the valley. There were two small, round hills through which the road
twisted. On the summit of each hill grew a shrub. An image of
breasts with nipples flitted through his mind. In fact the whole
landscape had a very feminine look; curvaceous. Andrew licked his
lips nervously and glanced at the taxi driver, feeling rather
embarrassed by this unexpected thought.
When they passed between
the mounds they reached the top of a wide valley surrounded by more
soft hills. The sun was low on the horizon and for a moment there
was a shining strip of gold which he realised must be the sea. Then
they descended into the next valley.
Finally they stopped by
a tall hedge of brambles and he was ushered out. The driver wrote
the fare on the dusty paintwork. In London, a journey this long
would have cost a small fortune so he gave the man a generous tip.
When the taxi drove off he was left standing by his long shadow on a
dusty road in the middle of nowhere.
A yellow dog came out of
a large clump of ivy, barking and wagging its tail. It made its way
down toward him and his suitcase, still barking. Relieved to see any
sign of life, Andrew made friendly noises towards the dog and patted
it, at the same time looking out for any more signs of life.
“Shut up!” A loud
voice came from the same clump of ivy.
The dog stopped
immediately. With tail between its legs it scuttled back. Andrew,
who if he had a tail felt it would be well tucked in also,
straightened up and turned towards the figure that was walking down
towards him; a small, curvy, woman with a mass of brown curly hair,
wearing mud-stained jeans and a loose tartan shirt.
“Welcome to Tres
Ribeiras” Her voice was softer now. She gave a brief smile. Her
hand shake was strong, her hand warm.
‘Louisa’ she told
him. “Honey” She pointed to the dog.
“I'll show you the
house. Follow me.”
She turned and pushed
aside the overgrown branches along a bushy path.
Andrew walked behind the
woman, looking at her hair. It was very like Emma's but darker. She
looked almost too young to have a 22 year old daughter. He felt he
should say something, but her back was like a wall.
He followed her towards
a small, white building that was half-consumed by a huge
bougainvillea. The dog ran along side, sniffing his suitcase and his
trousers. Andrew stopped to smell some long, white, trumpet-like
flowers which hung over the path. Louisa gave him a quick piercing
He inhaled the strong
'They only smell in the
Andrew saw that she had
dark blue eyes.
The patio was so
overgrown with twining branches and leaves that it had a green gloom
to it, almost as though it were underwater. She kicked away some
fallen bougainvillea flowers and opened a glass door which led into
the kitchen. Briefly, she showed him how to light the gas water
heater and then she stood in the doorway and pointed towards the big
clump of ivy.
“I've got a stew on
the go. Come over when you’re ready.”
Andrew stood in the
kitchen after she left and looked around his new home. The rays of
the setting sun shone through the doorway and lit up the clay tiles
on the floor. The whitewashed walls glowed.
The room was simple; a
sink, a cooker, some wooden shelves with plates and pots and pans on
them, a table with four wooden chairs. Bookshelves filled with old
paperbacks lined the opposite wall and a wood burning stove squatted
next to an old well-worn leather sofa. He tentatively sat on the
edge and looked around. He could see a field on a hill through the
window, with trees on the top. He got up and went through a door
which led into a corridor with two bedrooms and a bathroom at the
He chose the nearest
bedroom, his mind in a whirl, and put his suitcase down. He opened
the window and lay down on the antique iron bed, just to rest for a
moment, to get his bearings. What was he doing here? Six months
felt like a very long time.
Some bells interrupted
his growing feeling of dread. Not the sweet tinkling orchestra that
he heard at the station, but louder, bigger bells. He listened for a
while and then got up and looked out the window. A small herd of
hairy, red-brown cows were looking over the fence at him. They were
chewing and staring and nodding their bells. Andrew closed the
window. Their baleful stares were too cruel. He was not ready for
such frank curiosity.
Suddenly it was almost
dark. He drew his hands up and down the walls by the door of the
bedroom, looking for a light switch. He moved into the gloom of the
kitchen and repeated the action there.
By the front door he
found a small niche. In it there was a candle and a box of matches.
There were no light switches. There was no electricity.
With an unpleasant
feeling of tension in his stomach he put the candle on the table and
decided to find Louisa’s house before it got so dark he would not
be able to find his way. He could see the clump of ivy looming
darker than the approaching night and he headed off in that
direction, holding his arms out in front of him to ward off any
surprises. Some bushes rubbed and swished against him as he went
blindly down the path and then he saw a chink of light to the right
of the ivy, coming from the open door of a tiny, stone house.
He climbed the steps
that led onto a cobbled area in front of the house and stood in the
doorway and knocked. The source of light came from a large open
fire. It was the only light in the room. The dog, which was lying
in front of the fire, looked up at him and gave a friendly wag. A
cat climbed out of a child-sized rush-bottom chair and came over and
wound itself around his legs, tail up and shivering.
addressed the house generally, a questioning inflection in his
A muffled voice came
from behind a blanket hanging on the wall to the right of the
“Come in. I'll be
He moved cautiously
towards the fire where a huge tree trunk was smouldering behind
smaller, blazing twigs. On either side of the fireplace were two
small chairs and in the middle of the room stood a kitchen table and
two ordinary wooden chairs.
Andrew felt like a giant
in the tiny, windowless room. The walls were lined with shelves,
randomly laden with jars and books. Some bunches of dried plants and
strings of onions and garlic hung above the fireplace. He felt the
fumes of burning pine and cooking food flood round him, penetrating
Louisa came through the
blanket dusting off a bottle of wine with her sleeve and shaking her
mop of hair.
“It gets very dusty
under the bed, but it’s the best place to store the wine.” She
tossed her head. She had fluff in her hair, a cobweb, perhaps.
She told him to sit,
indicating the tiny chairs. He lowered himself onto one and watched
her move around looking for the corkscrew and going to a dark shelf.
He heard the pop of the cork and the chink of glasses. She worked
with her back to him preparing the table.
“Emma told me that you
make your own wine” he said.
The cat jumped onto his
“Yes. Last year was a
She turned holding two
stumpy glass beakers full of dark red wine and he took one, then she
went and sat on the other little chair and put her elbows on her
knees. She cradled her glass in her hands and sipped, tasting the
good year, looking into the fire.
Andrew held the thick
glass in his hand. It looked like a mustard jar, he thought, and
then he too sipped. A taste of cupboardy velvet coated his mouth; it
was very pleasant; blackcurrant, slightly spicy. He closed his eyes
and savoured the taste. When he opened them again Louisa was staring
intently at him, her face lit by the flames.
“That is a good wine,
a very good wine” He declared. Louisa nodded in agreement.
The dog gave a little
groan and moved away from the heat. The cat jumped off his lap and
sauntered out through a round hole in the bottom of the front door.
Louisa put her glass down and picked up a wooden spoon from beside
the ashes and used it to take off the lid of a three-legged pot that
stood in the fire. The room was filled with the smell of smoked
sausage and garlic which bubbled loudly. Andrew stared at Louisa
leaning over the fire, stirring the small cauldron.
“It smells good!”
He tried to keep the surprise out of his voice.
“Yup, I think it’s
ready to eat.”
They moved to the table
and she ladled the stew into wooden bowls. With strong steady hands
she lit a candle, and then holding a large solid-looking loaf against
her, she drew a sharp knife through it to produce a couple of chunky
Andrew was used to
eating on his own and hated small talk but he found himself trying to
open the conversation again.
“What brought you to
Louisa just shrugged,
mopped up her plate with the bread.
“I like the sea.”
“Had you visited
before? Did you know what it would be like?”
“No, I just wanted to
go south, to somewhere warm, with an Atlantic coast.”
“Emma seems to have
Louisa shrugged again.
“She was lucky. The
natives here are friendly.”
They drank the wine,
finished the bottle. Louisa darted through the blanket and came out
with another bottle and a large bowl made from the bark of a cork
tree, filled with walnuts and apples. They moved to the low chairs
by the fire with the bowl between them and the wine bottle glinting
in the firelight.
Andrew stretched out his
legs in front of the fire.
“When I was a child we
went up to Scotland every year for our summer holidays. Stayed in a
bothy in the Highlands with an open fire. We burned peat and spent
the days walking and bird watching.”
He stopped talking for a
moment, remembering how it seemed impossible to see the lark in the
sky, and the unnerving thought that it was desperately trying to
distract him from its nest, which he never found. And the cloud
shadows, how quickly they flew over the mountains, giving the
“I am Scottish. I was
born there.” He told her. “My parents moved down to London when
I was two, but I still feel Scottish.”
Louisa sat with her
elbows on her knees, her chin in her hands and stared into the fire
while he talked about Scotland, then she poured them out some more
“I have Scottish
connections, too” she said. “I moved to the west coast, near
Oban, when I was twelve. My mother and stepfather bought a house and
started up a bed and breakfast business.” She hesitated for a
moment, considering whether to continue.
“The bed and breakfast
business didn’t suit me.” She gave a bitter laugh. “And I
never felt really welcome there. You know? No cousins over the
hill, no aunties on the islands. I missed that family feeling. I
moved back to England as soon as I could.”
“Did you find it
there?” Andrew asked.
“That family feeling.”
“I have Emma” she
replied giving him a sharp look.
They sat and listened to
the empty nut shells burning in the coals, both lost in their own
thoughts. His eyes began to droop. It was time to make his way back
to his house. He asked for a torch, and then remembered to ask about
Louisa got up and went
to a shelf near the door and picked up a storm lantern and gave it a
shake to hear if it had any paraffin in it, then lit it.
“No electricity” she
told him as she handed over the lantern. “But there is a solar
panel which will give power for a light…”
“Do you know if it can
charge up a laptop?”
“I should think so.
I'll show you how to set it up tomorrow.”
She opened the door and
pointed him in the right direction.