from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Saturday, 15 December 2012

the dark of the year

I'm a little preoccupied doing a last readthrough and edit of my next novel, due at the publishers' next week. I wrote this in 2001, and haven't looked at the manuscript in years, and what I have written is not what I'd write now, but it's still, I think, a 'good book'. Nonetheless, it can be a bit cringe-making looking back at one's old creative output. I'm pleased, though, with the strength of the foot and mouth scenes on Dartmoor at the heart of it (if 'pleased' is the right verb for such a painful subject). It's also good to be concentrating on my own creative work a little. 

Here's the brief synopsis (the working title is The Burning Season):

'Take two brothers. One secret. A woman. Two lovers. Add in two deaths, and the trauma of foot and mouth on a small Dartmoor hill farm. Under such pressure other older secrets emerge, with devastating consequences.' (Published by IDP, 2013.)

And talking of my own creative work, I'm utterly delighted that an essay of mine on our relationship with the natural world has been longlisted for the inaugural EarthLines essay prize. (I'm equally delighted that there are a couple of better-known names on the list too.)


It seems to become darker earlier in the day than I can ever remember this far south. The hard hard ice – on which last week I skidded halfway across a dangerous junction, even though I was travelling slowly and the ice wasn't visible – has given way to floods of rain again, and the telltale green stain from our borehole water that coloured my hair a few weeks ago is back on the basin. We're still waiting for water test results from the lab.

Seems to have been a year of waiting for test results. After my op for a suspected carcinoma at the base of my throat we waited to hear; it turned out, it seems, to be benign, despite the pronouncements of two GPs and two specialists. That means the op was unnecessary – I would kind of have preferred not to have a 9cm scar so visible, but then it's been good for my vanity to have to let that one go. Then there was my heart and the results of the ECG – inconclusive, but at least the consultant backed me in my desire not to go on warfarin. And mostly I'm doing fine. Now the dog has two rows of stitches – maybe 5cm on her head and more like 15cm on her back. And those lumps, too, it seems were benign. The poor thing, though, is still getting appallingly severe facial spasms from the neurological disorder she had last year; sometimes they shake her whole body. And there's nothing I can do except hold her head until they pass.

And our petty little individual lives – how we identify with the 'me' who suffers, the 'me' who doesn't like this, the 'me' who craves that; and how we forget to look at the stars, the sunrise, the rest of the world.

And still the new flowers on the japonica, the new catkins in the lane, the early-flowering cherry I saw the other day – how can they offset the atrocities and tragedies that happen over and over at our hand? How can they compensate for those small children lost to a violent desperate man yesterday in America, the innocents wiped out in a drone attack* or rocket fire, the lab animals cut open, the de-finned sharks chucked back into the sea alive, the massacre of Taiji dolphins? And now the British government has not only given the go-ahead for fracking (extracting gas from surface shale, with the associated risks and environmental costs), it's also offering tax-breaks to the multinational companies involved. And yet – and yet – try as we might we haven't quite destroyed the natural world, and the sun continues to rise without our help and despite our interference. 

* see George Monbiot

So the daily small miracles have to compensate, in order for us not to lose hope, not to give up. We have to remember the beauty, the goodness, the small acts of kindness. We have to remember we can be different; we don't have to be run by our reptile brain; nor our mammalian brain alone. 

As we move towards the shortest darkest day here in the northern hemisphere, and our own inwardness (it's the 'cave bear' time), we have to hold, too, the reality that soon, soon, we will be turning back towards the light. 

And maybe, even, maybe, humanity too is moving towards whatever the critical mass is to where we can act more from the heart, and less from the spleen or the solar plexus. Maybe. And it may be a long haul, of course. But perhaps our time is that of 'nekyia', the descent to the underworld – doing the 'night sea journey', in Jungian thought; a necessary precursor to the collective breakthrough into light.


  1. An interesting post. Fracking has been much on my mind for a long time and more so recently with the decision to allow it to start again. It seems to me there are a lot of secrets hidden about the process and the chemicals used and I have a nasty feeling that some sort of assumed short-term gain will probably result in long term damage yet again to this beautiful planet. I love it that you can see positives, and really wish that I could too!
    Enjoy the festive season!

    1. Thank you, Angie. Yes fracking is I think a big precedent. Once again money winning out.

      Positives: well, it isn't always easy, is it? But it's that or go under, I sometimes think. And the world isn't all misery and despair – it's just that the news media focuses on the hard stuff and rarely mentions the good, so we get a biased sense of it all.

      The things I mentioned really are dire; and still there is beauty, and still there are kind people, and still there are acts of mercy...

      And midwinter greetings to you.



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