A Place to Disconnect

The internet, with its ability to free or enslave us, has changed the way we relate to money, and its ability to free or enslave us. We can work online from anywhere in the world as long as it has an internet café. We can even use BitCoin, the fastest-growing and stablest currency in the world, and one that is (almost) completely digital.

The internet has changed the way we relate to people, mediating our exchanges by way of social networking sites or chat apps and converting personal conversations into freakishly ungrammatical bursts of hyperbole. Now we can have the pleasure of video calling anyone we want to talk to, and witnessing their downcast eyes while they observe the pictures on screen, of us, also with our eyes averted.

The internet is also, I am realising, changing the way we think of place. Websites are, we assume, places to connect, meet, share, download, learn. It seems to be a word that pops up frequently online: Google’s Places for Business for example. Forums are another virtual meetingplace; the word refers back to fora, “a public square or marketplace used for judicial and other business” in Ancient Rome. Foro in Spanish has a general meaning of ‘capacity’, or the number of people you can fit into a place.

There it is again! And even if the word is not physically present, it is thought; because we’ve only ever known things to happen in a place, as most of us are not prone to conducting our daily basis on the astral plane, therefore whenever we ‘do’ something, there is the assumption that we must be doing it somewhere. In all our 58 million year history on earth, we’ve never had to deal with this concept of placelessness before, of carrying on an ordinary life in the depths of the void.

Nelly and Smudge.

Nelly and Smudge.

I am writing this with a little black-and-white furry bundle on my lap, two kittens abandoned by their mother and rescued by my best friend. The mother had abandoned them; one sibling had already died when the other two were taken, soaked in pee and sticky-eyed, out of the cardboard box they were born in, wrapped in a bit of hessian.

These days it is especially heavenly in this valley: the intoxicating smell of orange blossoms; poppies, sorrel, hundreds of kinds of wildflowers pepper the green; the sun is at its most benevolent, warm enough to get a tan but not so hot you roast. So when the kittens got their first look at the outside world they gazed with hazelnut-shaped blue eyes in wonder at the blue of the sky they had never seen, the sun they had never felt directly, the landscape and colours they would not have known existed.

They were badly dehydrated; I’m back to a newborn baby sleeping schedule to keep them pipette’d with Pedialyte. They’re washed and suddenly adorably fluffy. But mostly they are sleeping, if not on me, wrapped in an old towel, or in a box next to some stones heated up on the woodburner. They are still too young to be able to walk or lap milk out of a bowl. All they are wanting is warmth, stroking, contact. Cold means death; touch is life.

And so I return to this double falseness in the thousands of sites online that promote themselves, or are simply thought of, as ‘places to connect’. There is no place to actually meet or feel the presence of another person, let alone any touch being really got into. What can that connection boil down to? The flinging of scraps from a digital diary out into space with the confidence that other pods floating around this vast emptiness will be able to find and see them.

I am also understanding more now about why cats are the way they are. They like to be scratched or stroked on the forehead, on the ears, and all down their backs, because this is what the mother does with her velcro-coated tongue when they are still too young to see or move about on their own. The world is still a blur beyond the edges of the hedge, or cardboard box, or airing cupboard. The look of bliss is enough to signal that this is what they need, not only as babies, but as adults if they are domesticated.

The internet cannot produce this look of bliss, because in no way, and at no time, is anyone ever really connecting. There are words that are flung out of passing spacepods that might reflect the light or resonate for someone in another. But they are no substitute for the warmth of a gurgling stomach, an embrace, a kiss.

I fear that we are becoming a generation of emotional lepers, only capable of throwing out an emoticon instead of really feeling and sharing an emotion. It is easier, less painful, less raw, and less dangerous. Not having to deal with another person’s emotion means you can sink into the protective swaddling of your own ego, where the wounds can only fester.

In a more obvious way, internetic events are anachronistic echoes of real events. Information is a means to an end, and so the internet is a wonderful means – the kittens’ lives were probably saved by information found instantly online – but the information alone does nothing. Only when it is put into action, by a person, in a place, is it of any use. You have to get up in the night with a pipette to save a cat’s life – and even then you need something else, grace perhaps. The email won’t do it for you.

The void is filling up with scraps of information, some of it valuable, some of it poisonous, most of it junk. The trouble is now not how long it will take to get the information needed – we have spiders that find and select the information when we ask them to – the problem is using it appropriately.

Calendulas.

Calendulas.

The more time I am spending outside, finding herbs, sowing vegetable seed, planting trees, engaging my hands and eyes and feet with what there is around, the more perspective is opening up to me. A river from a distance, with all its tributaries, could just as well be a leaf close up, with all its veins. There is a sense of utter bliss, unlike anything I could receive from a screen, or even from a book.

I find the internet horribly addictive, especially sites like YouTube or Facebook, or even Wikipedia, where new information is added by users all the time. This design website sums it up quite well: http://huttonbrown.wordpress.com/2013/04/11/are-you-addicted-to-facebook/

The volume of information online is paralysing. My head feels like a million hamsters are ticking away furiously to keep up, and then where does it all end up going? The pressure it creates has to be vented by watching something truly stupid online for a giggle. And the cycle begins again.

gate

Oh I am tired of all this information. Let’s go to the garden instead.

A Place to Disconnect

The internet, with its ability to free or enslave us, has changed the way we relate to money, and its ability to free or enslave us. We can work online from anywhere in the world as long as it has an internet café. We can even use BitCoin, the fastest-growing and stablest currency in the world, and one that is (almost) completely digital.

The internet has changed the way we relate to people, mediating our exchanges by way of social networking sites or chat apps and converting personal conversations into freakishly ungrammatical bursts of hyperbole. Now we can have the pleasure of video calling anyone we want to talk to, and witnessing their downcast eyes while they observe the pictures on screen, of us, also with our eyes averted.

The internet is also, I am realising, changing the way we think of place. Websites are, we assume, places to connect, meet, share, download, learn. It seems to be a word that pops up frequently online: Google’s Places for Business for example. Forums are another virtual meetingplace; the word refers back to fora, “a public square or marketplace used for judicial and other business” in Ancient Rome. Foro in Spanish has a general meaning of ‘capacity’, or the number of people you can fit into a place.

There it is again! And even if the word is not physically present, it is thought; because we’ve only ever known things to happen in a place, as most of us are not prone to conducting our daily basis on the astral plane, therefore whenever we ‘do’ something, there is the assumption that we must be doing it somewhere. In all our 58 million year history on earth, we’ve never had to deal with this concept of placelessness before, of carrying on an ordinary life in the depths of the void.

Nelly and Smudge.

Nelly and Smudge.

I am writing this with a little black-and-white furry bundle on my lap, two kittens abandoned by their mother and rescued by my best friend. The mother had abandoned them; one sibling had already died when the other two were taken, soaked in pee and sticky-eyed, out of the cardboard box they were born in, wrapped in a bit of hessian.

These days it is especially heavenly in this valley: the intoxicating smell of orange blossoms; poppies, sorrel, hundreds of kinds of wildflowers pepper the green; the sun is at its most benevolent, warm enough to get a tan but not so hot you roast. So when the kittens got their first look at the outside world they gazed with hazelnut-shaped blue eyes in wonder at the blue of the sky they had never seen, the sun they had never felt directly, the landscape and colours they would not have known existed.

They were badly dehydrated; I’m back to a newborn baby sleeping schedule to keep them pipette’d with Pedialyte. They’re washed and suddenly adorably fluffy. But mostly they are sleeping, if not on me, wrapped in an old towel, or in a box next to some stones heated up on the woodburner. They are still too young to be able to walk or lap milk out of a bowl. All they are wanting is warmth, stroking, contact. Cold means death; touch is life.

And so I return to this double falseness in the thousands of sites online that promote themselves, or are simply thought of, as ‘places to connect’. There is no place to actually meet or feel the presence of another person, let alone any touch being really got into. What can that connection boil down to? The flinging of scraps from a digital diary out into space with the confidence that other pods floating around this vast emptiness will be able to find and see them.

I am also understanding more now about why cats are the way they are. They like to be scratched or stroked on the forehead, on the ears, and all down their backs, because this is what the mother does with her velcro-coated tongue when they are still too young to see or move about on their own. The world is still a blur beyond the edges of the hedge, or cardboard box, or airing cupboard. The look of bliss is enough to signal that this is what they need, not only as babies, but as adults if they are domesticated.

The internet cannot produce this look of bliss, because in no way, and at no time, is anyone ever really connecting. There are words that are flung out of passing spacepods that might reflect the light or resonate for someone in another. But they are no substitute for the warmth of a gurgling stomach, an embrace, a kiss.

I fear that we are becoming a generation of emotional lepers, only capable of throwing out an emoticon instead of really feeling and sharing an emotion. It is easier, less painful, less raw, and less dangerous. Not having to deal with another person’s emotion means you can sink into the protective swaddling of your own ego, where the wounds can only fester.

In a more obvious way, internetic events are anachronistic echoes of real events. Information is a means to an end, and so the internet is a wonderful means – the kittens’ lives were probably saved by information found instantly online – but the information alone does nothing. Only when it is put into action, by a person, in a place, is it of any use. You have to get up in the night with a pipette to save a cat’s life – and even then you need something else, grace perhaps. The email won’t do it for you.

The void is filling up with scraps of information, some of it valuable, some of it poisonous, most of it junk. The trouble is now not how long it will take to get the information needed – we have spiders that find and select the information when we ask them to – the problem is using it appropriately.

Calendulas.

Calendulas.

The more time I am spending outside, finding herbs, sowing vegetable seed, planting trees, engaging my hands and eyes and feet with what there is around, the more perspective is opening up to me. A river from a distance, with all its tributaries, could just as well be a leaf close up, with all its veins. There is a sense of utter bliss, unlike anything I could receive from a screen, or even from a book.

I find the internet horribly addictive, especially sites like YouTube or Facebook, or even Wikipedia, where new information is added by users all the time. This design website sums it up quite well: http://huttonbrown.wordpress.com/2013/04/11/are-you-addicted-to-facebook/

The volume of information online is paralysing. My head feels like a million hamsters are ticking away furiously to keep up, and then where does it all end up going? The pressure it creates has to be vented by watching something truly stupid online for a giggle. And the cycle begins again.

gate

Oh I am tired of all this information. Let’s go to the garden instead.

A Place to Disconnect

The internet, with its ability to free or enslave us, has changed the way we relate to money, and its ability to free or enslave us. We can work online from anywhere in the world as long as it has an internet café. We can even use BitCoin, the fastest-growing and stablest currency in the world, and one that is (almost) completely digital.

The internet has changed the way we relate to people, mediating our exchanges by way of social networking sites or chat apps and converting personal conversations into freakishly ungrammatical bursts of hyperbole. Now we can have the pleasure of video calling anyone we want to talk to, and witnessing their downcast eyes while they observe the pictures on screen, of us, also with our eyes averted.

The internet is also, I am realising, changing the way we think of place. Websites are, we assume, places to connect, meet, share, download, learn. It seems to be a word that pops up frequently online: Google’s Places for Business for example. Forums are another virtual meetingplace; the word refers back to fora, “a public square or marketplace used for judicial and other business” in Ancient Rome. Foro in Spanish has a general meaning of ‘capacity’, or the number of people you can fit into a place.

There it is again! And even if the word is not physically present, it is thought; because we’ve only ever known things to happen in a place, as most of us are not prone to conducting our daily basis on the astral plane, therefore whenever we ‘do’ something, there is the assumption that we must be doing it somewhere. In all our 58 million year history on earth, we’ve never had to deal with this concept of placelessness before, of carrying on an ordinary life in the depths of the void.

Nelly and Smudge.

Nelly and Smudge.

I am writing this with a little black-and-white furry bundle on my lap, two kittens abandoned by their mother and rescued by my best friend. The mother had abandoned them; one sibling had already died when the other two were taken, soaked in pee and sticky-eyed, out of the cardboard box they were born in, wrapped in a bit of hessian.

These days it is especially heavenly in this valley: the intoxicating smell of orange blossoms; poppies, sorrel, hundreds of kinds of wildflowers pepper the green; the sun is at its most benevolent, warm enough to get a tan but not so hot you roast. So when the kittens got their first look at the outside world they gazed with hazelnut-shaped blue eyes in wonder at the blue of the sky they had never seen, the sun they had never felt directly, the landscape and colours they would not have known existed.

They were badly dehydrated; I’m back to a newborn baby sleeping schedule to keep them pipette’d with Pedialyte. They’re washed and suddenly adorably fluffy. But mostly they are sleeping, if not on me, wrapped in an old towel, or in a box next to some stones heated up on the woodburner. They are still too young to be able to walk or lap milk out of a bowl. All they are wanting is warmth, stroking, contact. Cold means death; touch is life.

And so I return to this double falseness in the thousands of sites online that promote themselves, or are simply thought of, as ‘places to connect’. There is no place to actually meet or feel the presence of another person, let alone any touch being really got into. What can that connection boil down to? The flinging of scraps from a digital diary out into space with the confidence that other pods floating around this vast emptiness will be able to find and see them.

I am also understanding more now about why cats are the way they are. They like to be scratched or stroked on the forehead, on the ears, and all down their backs, because this is what the mother does with her velcro-coated tongue when they are still too young to see or move about on their own. The world is still a blur beyond the edges of the hedge, or cardboard box, or airing cupboard. The look of bliss is enough to signal that this is what they need, not only as babies, but as adults if they are domesticated.

The internet cannot produce this look of bliss, because in no way, and at no time, is anyone ever really connecting. There are words that are flung out of passing spacepods that might reflect the light or resonate for someone in another. But they are no substitute for the warmth of a gurgling stomach, an embrace, a kiss.

I fear that we are becoming a generation of emotional lepers, only capable of throwing out an emoticon instead of really feeling and sharing an emotion. It is easier, less painful, less raw, and less dangerous. Not having to deal with another person’s emotion means you can sink into the protective swaddling of your own ego, where the wounds can only fester.

In a more obvious way, internetic events are anachronistic echoes of real events. Information is a means to an end, and so the internet is a wonderful means – the kittens’ lives were probably saved by information found instantly online – but the information alone does nothing. Only when it is put into action, by a person, in a place, is it of any use. You have to get up in the night with a pipette to save a cat’s life – and even then you need something else, grace perhaps. The email won’t do it for you.

The void is filling up with scraps of information, some of it valuable, some of it poisonous, most of it junk. The trouble is now not how long it will take to get the information needed – we have spiders that find and select the information when we ask them to – the problem is using it appropriately.

Calendulas.

Calendulas.

The more time I am spending outside, finding herbs, sowing vegetable seed, planting trees, engaging my hands and eyes and feet with what there is around, the more perspective is opening up to me. A river from a distance, with all its tributaries, could just as well be a leaf close up, with all its veins. There is a sense of utter bliss, unlike anything I could receive from a screen, or even from a book.

I find the internet horribly addictive, especially sites like YouTube or Facebook, or even Wikipedia, where new information is added by users all the time. This design website sums it up quite well: http://huttonbrown.wordpress.com/2013/04/11/are-you-addicted-to-facebook/

The volume of information online is paralysing. My head feels like a million hamsters are ticking away furiously to keep up, and then where does it all end up going? The pressure it creates has to be vented by watching something truly stupid online for a giggle. And the cycle begins again.

gate

Oh I am tired of all this information. Let’s go to the garden instead.

The Crowd

Cast out from lamps
of tinkering minds
shadow beings with leathery hides
are shuffling round, pressing buttocks
against unsuspecting skulls.
Green pearly feathers tickle
horns catch on chandeliers and
large-flippered beasts get stuck
in revolving doors.

Fresh-escaped from the cage of our ribs
a menagerie of unvoiced thoughts
have come to crowd polite events
house parties
Halloweens
board meetings
kitchen rota discussions
netball club
bad dates at Pizza Hut
– weddings border on stampedes –
or at mother-in-law high teas
shopping trolley skirmishes
the headmaster’s office
or gym class with
that pompous girl with perfect teeth
whose smug, corrected grin you cannot bear.

So bears emerge to scrape the chairs
and blow their noses, wheezing
in the jostling hairy void your
prim diplomacy creates.
Five tonnes of pink-feathered guilt,
a beaked embarrassment, some
supercilious wombats
huff and ruffle and frill
between us, clear as day to those
who won’t give in to nerves
and look away.

“Hello, meet Germaine here, he’s
my knowledge of your infidelity
enfleshed.”

“How very strange! This is Bonnie,
she’s my thought of you being a
jumped-up petty criminal
with appalling
taste in kipper ties
expressed in fur and claw.
So soft, but gracious!
The fleas are big as mice.”

Sometimes I see a man
surrounded by a murder of crows
dark thoughts wheel round
enclose the pillow of light
constricted in his heart.
Or it might be a woman
with a circus of monkeys
hanging from her fragile twigs
snatching lollipops and
pinching passersby
tugging her left and right
and all she’ll say is “Christ!
I’m feeling nervous.”

So thoughts leap out into
palpable blockages in our paths.
Amid this jungle I think
I’ll swim with swarms of
honeybees, flock with Monarchs
in buddleia thirst
or find a cloud
to pass the time wrapped in
and give the crowd the slip.

Is She Dreaming? Or Is She Dying?

Aside

Farewell, Rambinos.

It’s been a pretty intense time on the El Cura ranch. The heat of August soared to 46 degrees centigrade (that’s 115 Fahrenheit to alla y’all), and while some of us were metaphysically dying in the heat, three of the sheep we are looking after on our house farm-sit literally died from it.

The first one I found in the bunker underneath the alberca/swimming pool. It was dusk, and I had left Caveboy with my parents to take down to the Sufi watering hole for iftar (yes, there were actually people fasting from food and water in this heat). Usually I give the sheep food (hay or ‘forraje’, dried herby grass, plus oats and water) at sundown, and put them into their shed to keep them safe from wild dogs.

But while counting them up, I kept trying to make them add up to eight, and getting confused at only finding seven. Cavegirl was meanwhile yawning and rubbing her eyes, hungry and dinnerless, but nevertheless determined to ‘help’ me. I was in a rush to get to the iftar meal, and ended up running up and down the hectare of land looking for the last lost lamb.

Finding the prostrate woolly figure of the poor beast under the swimming pool sent me into a state of total panic. What the heck…?! My husband was away working at a festival in Portugal, I was on my own, my kids needed to eat…in a mad flap I ran about looking for the right course of action. OK, ring the sheep’s owners…and then what? The only sensible answer that came back was to go have something to eat and wait for morning.

Dead sheep number one buried, I thought my turn as sheep-sitter was already looking pretty bad, when a few nights later, just as I had just got my kids to sleep, I heard a tremendous clattering and baaing going on in the barn.

Still in my stripy PJs, with a pitifully small bicycle lamp in hand and a swell of trepidation in my chest, I crept out to see if someone was trying to steal the animals, or a dog was eating one of them alive.

But the most peculiar thing confronted me. One of the lambs (a full-grown ewe, really) was lying on her side, running like a stabbed bull. Her hooves scraped the wooden sides in a hollow, futile gallop; her teeth were grinding, her head thrown back, eyes swivelling up in white-striped terror, foam frothing at the side of her mouth.

Stunned, but strangely set into pragmatic mode, I went back to the house in search of Bach’s Rescue Remedy, the only thing I could think of that might calm her down as it has done a hundred times on my tantruming kids. It did the trick; the gallops started coming in waves, interspersed with peaceful lulls in which she panted in a a paralysed trance.

I also did the other thing that comes to mind when trying to calm my kids down, which was to sing them the last few chapters of Qur’an in a lullaby voice. Slowly the gallops became less insistent, the pauses for breath a little more protracted.

I started wondering what on earth was wrong with her; I was reminded of an experiment on cats I’d seen a film of in which scientists had removed the part of the brain responsible for paralysing the body during REM sleep. Sleeping cats were filmed acting out physically all of the actions it was obviously dreaming about – running, biting, hunting. The thought crossed my mind: Is she dreaming? Or is she dying?

Despite the puny LED light shed by my torch, what struck me about the musty, dung-perfumed atmosphere of the scene was its primordial, almost Biblical nature. How many times must this have happened in the past, in exactly the same way? The other sheep were absolutely calm now that their shepherdess was there (oh, how naïve sheep are!) and carried on munching their hay blithely. Meanwhile, her legs became stiffer and stiffer – presumably the root of the Spanish expression for ‘kicking the bucket’, ‘estirar la pata’ (to stretch out one’s leg). Perhaps that’s where’ kicking the bucket’ comes from too.

It was abundantly clear now that she was dying. A powerful peace descended on us, and I was overcome by the sensation of what people describe as an angelic presence, in that way that precedes the verbal formulation of it being angelic. In my tearful, sleep-deprived state I felt almost as though I was witnessing the birth of Jesus, in an anachronistic barn that had landed on the wrong continent in a malfunctioning time machine.

I finally left her to her dying stupor, and somehow the peculiarity of the experience ebbed to the sort of stoical acceptance worthy of a weather-beaten peasant farmer, or even, perhaps, a sheep. The lamb had been born in that barn, so it seemed kind of sensical for her to die there too. Life and death are, after all, both threshold experiences, opposites ends of the roll of film but double-exposed, different panoramas both taken with the same lens.

“Only ewe….”

Now slightly inured to the visceral, animal vision of death – this time, according to the vet, it was caused by septicaemia – I was better prepared (though pretty dismayed) to see another lamb wobble dangerously on his feet as he came down to the barn a few evenings later, collapsing as he arrived. I had to grab him under the belly and hoist him into the shed to be able to close the door, but he stood there in a daze, not rooting around int he boxes of hay like they usually do.

The kids were picked up by their dad at 10pm that night; I had to get him to heft all 50 kilos of the poor beast out of the shed onto the cool ground in the light of the car headlamps before they went (much appreciate it, ex-Caveman). I then put on my gingham lycra campesina superhero outfit and sprang into action, making phone calls and racing into town to find rehydration salts.

En route I co-opted a few friends who gave me packs of salts and sugar, and another who obligingly came down with her son at 11 pm to help lift the lamb’s head up while I shoved a syringe of salty sugary liquids down its throat. Over a litre went down in 40 ml doses, sometimes trickling out straight away as he had lost the strength almost to swallow. His teeth chattered against the plastic of the syringe; a heavy fever had already set in. He lolled his head back, panting, dragging his legs back and forth across the grass, making straw angels in the dirt.

At midnight we all withdrew. There was nothing else to do, short of sleeping on the manure-imbued earth beside the barn to keep watch over him, but I’m afraid I couldn’t muster up the saintliness for that. In the morning I went straight over to see if he was OK, but he was exactly where I’d left him, immobile, eyes dusty and frozen, his oily wool coated in icy dew.

Dramas aplenty for one week, you might think. But no, this is the Alpujarras, land of pirates with green moustaches and hippies selling balls of enchanted mud in the market – anything that can go weird, will!

So two days later, due to various bureacratic headaches, and probably a truck-driver who has just now decided to go on holiday, the carcass of Rambino number 3 is still lying under a plastic window blind on the edge of the land, rotting (I am waiting for the campsite next-door to start complaining of the stench). Yes folks, now is not a good time to come and visit Cavemum.

And to top it all off, in the midst of that bubonic hum, together with my new friend Ricardo – a seriously cool old man from the mountains who doesn’t bat an eyelid at this sort of thing – I helped sheared the remaining five sheep this morning…with my kitchen scissors. Actually he used my kitchen scissors, I used my sewing scissors; I had to wash off the greenish lanolin with Ecover afterwards.

Shearing a sheep by hand is quite an amusing experience. Pinning them down is one thing; one of the feisty mamas carried Ricardo halfway across the land while he clung onto its collar for dear life. Then we had to tie three of its legs (leaving one free so it can still breath alright), and get to work snipping away a two-inch deep layer of wool so dense and encrusted with mud and God knows what else that it seems we were chopping up a very unsavoury hippie’s foam mattress. Twice a sheep protested by spontaneously pooing all over the mounting heap of wool.

It took an hour and a half, during which time we bantered about life and drugs and divorce and farming and Kenya and brain tumours and all sorts. Nothing like a tough physical job and a conversation with a weather-beaten man of the earth to set you right. After a vigorous cold shower (my gas bottle is empty), I left for the market feeling on top of the world,remembering why I was drawn to a life on the land in the first place. It’s real life, in all its shiny, delicious, stinky, hilarious glory.

Well, I have blisters from the scissors on my writing hand, but one thing’s for sure, it’s going to make for good material. (Writing material, I mean, not fabric. I don’t think I’ll be washing that wool to make felt with anytime soon.)

The Tiger and the Radio

A tiger stalks the cemetery.

He sniffs the stones, orange lichen
encroaching like ripples in water that
do not disappear but marl the granite
in a vivid quilt of living-on.

A radio buzzes in a distant house;
puzzled gentlemen are arguing over
what to call the Zeitgeist.

The acronyms are rude, the monikers
clumsy or just plain incorrect.
One says: “The whole idea is to
catch what’s real for us right now
and make a home for it inside a name.”

The tiger spies a grasshopper
springing between Josaiah Phipps
(May His Soul Rest In Peace Evermore)
and Mary McStephens (Beloved; Gone
But Certainly Not Forgotten).

A cub again, eyes sharp and green,
he tenses and pins the insect flat
against the grass with a paw as broad
as a china plate.

But his paw is too wide, the claws
set so far apart that when he tilts it
and splays them, the grasshopper
leaps off to land on Isobal Mulligan’s
memorial carnations.

The tiger loses interest and skulks off;
the sound of the radio scrambles on, their
argument unresolvable.

Fifty souls whose names have been
effaced by rain and wind
turn their faces and listen to
the grasshopper rustle away,

and they smiling at the sound
receding into oblivion
like them.

The Cure for War: Sheep

Synchronised Sheep Judging. Not to be confused with synchronised swimming.

My new man (what shall I call him? Cavepainter?) and I were recently offered a housesit, with a small piece of land, three German milking ewes and five lambs to look after. The prospect of milking sheep every morning brought visions of pigtails, clogs and frilly aprons to my mind, so of course, like any sane person, I jumped at the idea. Who wouldn’t want to make their own yogurt?

Little did it matter that nobody in my family can tolerate dairy products. Hey, so what? We’ll adapt! Like cows whose milk changes flavour when they switch to hay in winter, we would likewise develop new, more resilient, farm-type moral fibre! These campesinos are made of tough stuff! And isn’t there meant to be all sorts of goodness in raw milk?

There was a small catch to this equation, which I didn’t think through very well. The principle issue here is that sheep are notoriously difficult to milk – and these ewes in particular are known for being quite feisty.

The trick to milking, so they all said, was to open your thumb and forefinger over the top of the teat, then – once the udder is massaged and the milk is dropping – close your thumb and forefinger, then each successive finger, a little like a slow flamenco hand movement. There is, however, another, rather peculiar aspect to the technique , which I shall detail below.

First: Offer the sheep some oat grains in a bucket to keep her occupied.

Second: Straddle the ewe, back to front.

Third: Tie one of her back legs firmly to a post.

Fourth: Place bucket under udders.

Fifth: Still straddling the sheep, lie down on her, head to tail. Yes, that’s right. You lie on top of a moving animal (which is thankfully padded with about four inches of wool) whilst blindly squirting the milk into a bucket hidden out of sight beneath. It would be quite hilarious were it not for the fact that your face is effectively buried in a raggedy sheep’s bottom. (Stop laughing!)

Sixth: Remove small bits of straw, flies, and occasional bits of poo from the milk using a strainer. Repeat frequently as your sheep will begin to buck when oats run out and may knock over all your hard-squirted milk.

It sounds pretty yucky, and I have to say that the smell of a sheep shed (or, more specifically, a sheep’s bum) is not especially alluring, and perhaps might even be described as, in the language of today’s youth, ‘gross’, but you know what? I’m down with the peasants. They might be bow-legged and dwarfish and lacking in numerous very useful teeth but good Golly, they work harder than any city slicker I’ve ever known, and those perpetually brown faces are just as wrinkled from the sun as from smiling.

What do they get out of it? The work is repetitive. The hours are long. It’s not glamorous, or well-paid. There are numerous shepherds and goatherds living in my neck of the woods; apparently, to supplement the little they earn selling milk (1 euro a litre), they actually earn a wage from the government (Note to self: check facts before publishing online).

Drivers in the Alpujarras are eternally at the mercy of the herds of goats and sheep that routinely plug up the one-lane tracks, slowly scrambling up either side of the path, nibbling at grass as you inch through their hordes until it seems as if you are forging a very goaty-smelling, hairy river.

However, when Cavepainter (no, still not quite there…let’s just call him Love-Man) and I first went to this house to learn how to milk the sheep, we found ourselves almost stupefied with a sense of peace. Later, my mother told me that when a person is on a farm a hormone is supposedly excreted in their brain that makes them feel peaceful.

Well, there you have it, folks. That is why the shepherds are so happy. They smell of lanolin and manure, they are eternally scruffy, they are on the bottom rung of the economic ladder, but they know what peace is. Even if it does mean having to lie head to tail on a vigorously oat-snuffling beast for an hour every morning.

Ah, the countryside. At least we’ll have plenty of cheese…

The Cure for War: Sheep

Synchronised Sheep Judging. Not to be confused with synchronised swimming.

My new man (what shall I call him? Cavepainter?) and I were recently offered a housesit, with a small piece of land, three German milking ewes and five lambs to look after. The prospect of milking sheep every morning brought visions of pigtails, clogs and frilly aprons to my mind, so of course, like any sane person, I jumped at the idea. Who wouldn’t want to make their own yogurt?

Little did it matter that nobody in my family can tolerate dairy products. Hey, so what? We’ll adapt! Like cows whose milk changes flavour when they switch to hay in winter, we would likewise develop new, more resilient, farm-type moral fibre! These campesinos are made of tough stuff! And isn’t there meant to be all sorts of goodness in raw milk?

There was a small catch to this equation, which I didn’t think through very well. The principle issue here is that sheep are notoriously difficult to milk – and these ewes in particular are known for being quite feisty.

The trick to milking, so they all said, was to open your thumb and forefinger over the top of the teat, then – once the udder is massaged and the milk is dropping – close your thumb and forefinger, then each successive finger, a little like a slow flamenco hand movement. There is, however, another, rather peculiar aspect to the technique , which I shall detail below.

First: Offer the sheep some oat grains in a bucket to keep her occupied.

Second: Straddle the ewe, back to front.

Third: Tie one of her back legs firmly to a post.

Fourth: Place bucket under udders.

Fifth: Still straddling the sheep, lie down on her, head to tail. Yes, that’s right. You lie on top of a moving animal (which is thankfully padded with about four inches of wool) whilst blindly squirting the milk into a bucket hidden out of sight beneath. It would be quite hilarious were it not for the fact that your face is effectively buried in a raggedy sheep’s bottom. (Stop laughing!)

Sixth: Remove small bits of straw, flies, and occasional bits of poo from the milk using a strainer. Repeat frequently as your sheep will begin to buck when oats run out and may knock over all your hard-squirted milk.

It sounds pretty yucky, and I have to say that the smell of a sheep shed (or, more specifically, a sheep’s bum) is not especially alluring, and perhaps might even be described as, in the language of today’s youth, ‘gross’, but you know what? I’m down with the peasants. They might be bow-legged and dwarfish and lacking in numerous very useful teeth but good Golly, they work harder than any city slicker I’ve ever known, and those perpetually brown faces are just as wrinkled from the sun as from smiling.

What do they get out of it? The work is repetitive. The hours are long. It’s not glamorous, or well-paid. There are numerous shepherds and goatherds living in my neck of the woods; apparently, to supplement the little they earn selling milk (1 euro a litre), they actually earn a wage from the government (Note to self: check facts before publishing online).

Drivers in the Alpujarras are eternally at the mercy of the herds of goats and sheep that routinely plug up the one-lane tracks, slowly scrambling up either side of the path, nibbling at grass as you inch through their hordes until it seems as if you are forging a very goaty-smelling, hairy river.

However, when Cavepainter (no, still not quite there…let’s just call him Love-Man) and I first went to this house to learn how to milk the sheep, we found ourselves almost stupefied with a sense of peace. Later, my mother told me that when a person is on a farm a hormone is supposedly excreted in their brain that makes them feel peaceful.

Well, there you have it, folks. That is why the shepherds are so happy. They smell of lanolin and manure, they are eternally scruffy, they are on the bottom rung of the economic ladder, but they know what peace is. Even if it does mean having to lie head to tail on a vigorously oat-snuffling beast for an hour every morning.

Ah, the countryside. At least we’ll have plenty of cheese…

The Cure for War: Sheep

Synchronised Sheep Judging. Not to be confused with synchronised swimming.

My new man (what shall I call him? Cavepainter?) and I were recently offered a housesit, with a small piece of land, three German milking ewes and five lambs to look after. The prospect of milking sheep every morning brought visions of pigtails, clogs and frilly aprons to my mind, so of course, like any sane person, I jumped at the idea. Who wouldn’t want to make their own yogurt?

Little did it matter that nobody in my family can tolerate dairy products. Hey, so what? We’ll adapt! Like cows whose milk changes flavour when they switch to hay in winter, we would likewise develop new, more resilient, farm-type moral fibre! These campesinos are made of tough stuff! And isn’t there meant to be all sorts of goodness in raw milk?

There was a small catch to this equation, which I didn’t think through very well. The principle issue here is that sheep are notoriously difficult to milk – and these ewes in particular are known for being quite feisty.

The trick to milking, so they all said, was to open your thumb and forefinger over the top of the teat, then – once the udder is massaged and the milk is dropping – close your thumb and forefinger, then each successive finger, a little like a slow flamenco hand movement. There is, however, another, rather peculiar aspect to the technique , which I shall detail below.

First: Offer the sheep some oat grains in a bucket to keep her occupied.

Second: Straddle the ewe, back to front.

Third: Tie one of her back legs firmly to a post.

Fourth: Place bucket under udders.

Fifth: Still straddling the sheep, lie down on her, head to tail. Yes, that’s right. You lie on top of a moving animal (which is thankfully padded with about four inches of wool) whilst blindly squirting the milk into a bucket hidden out of sight beneath. It would be quite hilarious were it not for the fact that your face is effectively buried in a raggedy sheep’s bottom. (Stop laughing!)

Sixth: Remove small bits of straw, flies, and occasional bits of poo from the milk using a strainer. Repeat frequently as your sheep will begin to buck when oats run out and may knock over all your hard-squirted milk.

It sounds pretty yucky, and I have to say that the smell of a sheep shed (or, more specifically, a sheep’s bum) is not especially alluring, and perhaps might even be described as, in the language of today’s youth, ‘gross’, but you know what? I’m down with the peasants. They might be bow-legged and dwarfish and lacking in numerous very useful teeth but good Golly, they work harder than any city slicker I’ve ever known, and those perpetually brown faces are just as wrinkled from the sun as from smiling.

What do they get out of it? The work is repetitive. The hours are long. It’s not glamorous, or well-paid. There are numerous shepherds and goatherds living in my neck of the woods; apparently, to supplement the little they earn selling milk (1 euro a litre), they actually earn a wage from the government (Note to self: check facts before publishing online).

Drivers in the Alpujarras are eternally at the mercy of the herds of goats and sheep that routinely plug up the one-lane tracks, slowly scrambling up either side of the path, nibbling at grass as you inch through their hordes until it seems as if you are forging a very goaty-smelling, hairy river.

However, when Cavepainter (no, still not quite there…let’s just call him Love-Man) and I first went to this house to learn how to milk the sheep, we found ourselves almost stupefied with a sense of peace. Later, my mother told me that when a person is on a farm a hormone is supposedly excreted in their brain that makes them feel peaceful.

Well, there you have it, folks. That is why the shepherds are so happy. They smell of lanolin and manure, they are eternally scruffy, they are on the bottom rung of the economic ladder, but they know what peace is. Even if it does mean having to lie head to tail on a vigorously oat-snuffling beast for an hour every morning.

Ah, the countryside. At least we’ll have plenty of cheese…

Climbing

The muzzled wolves have
ceased their baying
distracted by juicy
bones thrown down
by poet’s pentips

On
the other side of the
hill we creep
footfalls as soft as snow
hearing the crunch of
Another’s approach
crisp crackling in
dry tindersticks
urging a fire
to flush out
all the beasts

We near the peak
hearts banging the
drumskin of chests
night phosphorescent cloud
drifting apart unveils moon
like hands from eyes
made bold with curiosity
throws silver light on hikers
emerging from our private horizons
seeking the rendezvous we’ve waited for
since we first were blown into the
brittle glass vials of bodies and lost
the warmth of that Friend’s lips

Now reunion is calling

We climb
at a breathless pace
but the One we
ache to meet
comes to us

running.