I regularly talk to an old friend on the landline, a really old friend. He’s 91 and lives alone. He doesn’t have access to the internet. He says things now are worse than they were during the War. And he says it with feeling. Gloom pours down the phone line. I replace the receiver with a heavy heart.

It’s so unfair. I haven’t suffered badly this year. My house is warm and light. There are plenty of lovely walks round here. I’m in good health. I live on a pension (no need to worry about my job). I’m half of a couple, so there’s always someone else in the house to talk to, or moan about Boris.

Still, there are huge absences. Children. Grandchildren. Friends. And listening to BBC News is like adding weights to the lid of a cosy coffin. Best not to put the radio on. Best not to watch TV. Best to stay safe. Stay well. Hide until it all goes away.

But the public anxiety’s like fog trying to get in the windows. What can we do to counteract the gloom?

I’ve got into the habit of counting my lockdown blessings, some of which are a bit weird (spoiler alert). 

Often I’ve found myself guiltily happy, since I’ve done better than many of my friends, some of whom are not just isolated, but also ill or depressed. One has died. I miss her.

Anyway here’s my list. If you have positives of your own, please add them in the comments box. Help to offset the dark.

Good things from the year of C

I’ve learned to make butter by shaking double cream in a large jam jar. Now I do this regularly. And I went back to making cakes. GREAT cakes.

I found some mung beans at the back of the cupboard. They must have been (no pun intended) there for years and years. The good news is that if you soak them in water and leave them in the dark overnight, and then bring them into the light and wash them gently three times a day, they still SPROUT. So we’ve had quite a few Chinese stir-fries with home-grown bean-sprouts. Strangely satisfying.

After a bout of sciatica, I began to do breathing and stretching exercises every morning. Lovely. So good for me. And walking every single day, sometimes as many as three walks. I limited desk work to three hours. So now I’m fitter than I was. More energy too (though alas not for desk work). (Yes, the sciatica gradually went away. It was a message.)

I started listening to science podcasts while doing the stretching exercises. Marvellously educational.

Sat and read. Sat and read. Sat and read. Sometimes sat in the sun and read.

Decided to stop drinking my two glasses of wine a night, not least because it was starting to become three. Discovered Marks & Spencer’s alcohol-free G&T, an oxymoron in a can. After this, all sorts of mocktails and juices. Discovered I’m much calmer without my alcohol fix, and apparently fewer migraines. Definitely better sleep.

With the help of the sewing scissors, I removed the wires from my bras. What have I been putting up with all these decades?

I have learned to jog, though only for short stretches. I have finally experienced that endorphin kick other people talk about. Yay! 

Masks are a pain, but they help prevent chapped lips. Most useful. Also going through the freezing cold vegetable aisle in Aldi is much warmer when wearing a mask.

Cleaned the whole house for the first time in years. Poor spiders. I have even cleaned the windows! We can see the trees properly. And I’ve finally cleared all the weeds off the concrete block paving in the back garden. It almost looks respectable.

I’ve begun to talk regularly to my cousin Wendy on the phone. We’ve never really known each other, though we were born only a year apart. But now we do.

I have walked through the trees every single day. I started in spring, then summer. Then the amazing autumn golds, swishing through the leaves. Now the bare winter woods. Already fresh green spikes of grass finding their way through. I didn’t know I liked walking in the rain.

New breakfast: oatmeal porridge every morning (so much better than the kind made with oats).Learned to love maple syrup. Good on the oatmeal porridge with a little cream (though my other half will only eat salt).

Good grief — I haven’t had a head cold in a whole year!

I have practised the ukulele in the conservatory with rain beating on the roof. My time keeping isn’t very good. I bought a metronome. I practised the ukulele with two metronomes: the rain and the actual metronome.

In all our twenty-three years (or nearly) together, my other half and I have never spent so much continuous time together. By some miracle, we still get on well. We were sorely tested in November when some pipes burst, and the repairs dragged on for weeks and weeks (still not finished). Adversity can drive people apart; it can also bring them closer.

I used to see my two grandchildren every week. I took it for granted. Since March, I’ve seen them only four times in all. But each time has been the quintessence of joy.

Have only filled the car up with petrol three times since March. More money to spend on coffee, poetry, and presents to post to the grandchildren.

The sky has been more beautiful this year than I ever remember: crisp, and clean, and clear. No vapour trails. Just amazing cloud formations. A free show every single morning. Never the same twice.

We have lovely neighbours. 



In the olden days, before there were radios in cars, folk travelling on long journeys used to sing. As a child, I always liked story songs best. Our family of four used to rattle out Clementine and Walzing Matilda with gusto. Walzing Matilda has a ghost in it and ghosts are always good. I think of Clementine as our mother’s song, Walzing Matilda as our dad’s — I never learned all the words to Walzing M. because they were so mysterious — jumbuck and tucker bag and swagman. But it was great hearing dad sing it and joining in the chorus..

At bedtime, sometimes an adult would sing to my sister and me to get us off to sleep, especially our grandmother on dad’s side (we called her ‘Nanny’). As I get older, her songs draw me back, and I wonder about the world they came out of — music hall, perhaps, or old 78 records. Where did she first hear them? Inside what kind of life? How did she know all the words — because she did know all the words, and once I did too, and so did my sister, who had a fabulous memory. As we grew up and were assailed by contemporary tunes, the words started to disappear.

It’s a very strange thing about being a granny-age yourself, though. You find yourself losing some bits of memory while other bits come back, like an onion unpeeling and rediscovering itself. Snatches of those old songs keep coming back to me in bits and pieces, phrases and flashbacks. Thanks to the wonder of the web, if I can remember even some of the words, I can find recordings, I can even find (what a joy!) all the words.

Here, for example, is one of Nanny’s favourites — ‘I wouldn’t leave my little wooden hut for you‘. And she often sang a lullaby — ‘Sweet and Low’, the words of which are by Tennyson (we were injected with poetry without knowing). I can hear her quavery voice now, and since I’m the age she would have been then, mine quavers too.

She liked strongly sentimental songs. Her repertoire included ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’ and ‘Sonny Boy’. And she particularly liked (and we did too) ‘If those lips could only speak’, which I’m betting she knew in the Peter Dawson version I’ve linked to. It’s a music hall song and she told us this song was based on a true story — that the woman in the beautiful picture in a beautiful golden frame was shot by her husband in a hunting accident. Did she invent this?

But the song I loved best was one I could never find, and mum sang it. I thought it was called ‘Eileen Orr’, and I always remembered, and loved, the tune, and some of the words — but with gaps. A few years ago I looked for it on the web and failed to find it.

But this week I looked harder and there it was, in several recordings on YouTube. Where did our young mother first learn this song? Lord knows. Her version, as I remember it, was not wholly true to the Percy French lyrics. I think she did sing ‘Eileen Orr’, not the proper name in the Irish song, which is Eileen Òg

Eileen was the Pride of Petrovore, not (as I’m sure my mother sang and we sang with her) the Pride of Pethragar. 

The villain of the story should be ‘the hardest featured man in Petravore’ — not, as we sang, ‘the ugliest looking man in Pethragar’ — but we would never have understood ‘hardest featured’ — maybe she changed it. I’m sure we sang: ‘Eileen Orr, sure that was what her name was, / Through the Blarney she was also famous’. 

In fact, the official version goes:

Well Eileen Òg, that was what her name was
Through the Barony her features made her famous

In whatever mode you sing it, it’s a beautiful song, a cracking tune, and some of the lyrics are terrific. Boys oh boys, it’s where I first learned how cannily words can fit to a rhythm and how utterly satisfying it is when they do. 

And ‘Eileen Òg’ is a story, sad and funny. To think that some of its words have been ringing in my head all my life and now — by some miracle — I find people still belting it out, making new recordings, passing it on. Cathy Jordan’s version is a delight. I’m singing along at this minute. Eileen Òg — sure that was what her name was! 



Christmas is not so O-come-all-ye-faith-filled these days. I note a great many llamas on the cards this year. Things change. 

I don’t mind the llamas, even the ones in Santa hats.

Over half a century ago, I was one of a generation of children who spent quite a lot of time in a church around December 25th. But we were not as faith-filled as you might think.

Children have a way of getting round the hugeness of religion, side-tracking it with their own take on things. Irreverence is a great asset when it comes to staying sane—though irreverence, too, is learned.

My maternal grandmother, who died when I was three, used to say (I know because my mother told me) ‘There’s an end to everything. Two to sausages.’

And my maternal grandfather, not famous for wit, allegedly said to my father at his wedding (it may have been part of a speech): ‘This is the end to all your troubles, son. The front end.’

Then there was my close friend Jenny Green at school. She taught me a lot about subversion. At our school, everybody was issued with a hymn book. We had to make brown paper covers to keep them clean, and re-cover them annually. We carried those books dutifully to assembly each and every school-day morning. On the front cover most of us had written, as expected, HYMNS. But Jenny (oh how I admired her cleverness!) had written HERS.

Our favourite Christmas carols (all to be found inside HERS) were the ones we could subvert. Lord, how we need to subvert! 

(It is one of my favourite features of poetry too: sending the reader off with one set of expectations only to find the poem has overturned every one.) 

Our Father which art in heaven, Harold be thy name (one of my grandfathers was called Harold).

This very morning on the radio I heard a church choir singing one of our all-time favourites—’The angel Gabriel from Heaven came’. It has an undoubtedly beautiful tune, and lovely words too. But that’s not why we liked it. We liked it because of the gravy.

The best kind of subversion is liberating because it undermines everything but nobody knows you’re doing it. So shepherds washed their socks by night, and the Virgin Mary in that beautiful carol was not ‘most highly favoured lady’ but ‘most highly flavoured gravy’.

On Christmas Day, we even got the gravy. 

Remembering Jack


Since my early twenties, I’ve owned a little brooch, a gold ‘true love knot’ dotted with tiny pearls. My mother gave it me, but it belonged to my father’s mother, and was given to her by her first boyfriend Jack. Jack went off to the war and didn’t come back.

So that was the end of Lizzie Wray’s boyfriend Jack’s story. I never knew his second name. 

Meanwhile, Annie Wray, her younger sister (my great-aunt) also had a boyfriend who went off to fight. He was called Hamlyn Radford, and he went to France and did come back. He came back because he was shot through the chest in 1916. He survived that, and mustard gas, which he told me had made his hair fall out. He was indeed entirely bald.

Lizzie married someone else: Joseph Curry. And when her son to that someone (my dad) was ten, that husband died too, though of natural causes. And she married for a second time: Harold Essex (I have a silver lapel button with a tiny photo of Harold inside it). 

But she kept Jack’s brooch, because I have it now. I’ve just cleaned and polished that little eternity symbol for the first time in nearly half a century. It seemed appropriate on Remembrance Sunday.

But recently something else happened. I was going through photographs of my mother’s (she died at 91 in 2015) and I came across a yellowing card: a sort of postcard with an embroidered panel, and the lacy panel has a flap, beneath which something presumably once went.

The card is marked and dirty. You couldn’t wash the embroidered section because it’s firmly fixed to the paper frame. Should I keep it or ditch it? I was in the mood for throwing things out. Then I turned it over and saw the handwriting (I have never noticed it before). It says, in faded letters, Yours Jack.

Do you ever feel as though you’ve had a little nudge? As though someone, not here, is sending a tiny hint that you should pay more attention?

Of course it could be any Jack. Any Jack could have written this on the card. But he’s also dated it, and the date is 26/7/17.

Does that mean he was killed at Ypres not long after? Maybe. 

In tiny print, I can see the card announces its provenance as Paris, though the red, white and blue of the embroidery makes me think it was made for the British. I always assumed Jack had bought the brooch in England and gave it to her before he left. But perhaps he bought it in France and posted it to her. Either way, I think the brooch may once have been pinned to the card, and may have sat beneath the flap that says BEST LOVE.

Who were you Jack? How old were you when you died? What was your second name? You might have been my grandfather – or at least somebody’s grandfather – had you only survived.

All the people who might have known about my grandmother’s first boyfriend are long dead, and Jack even longer. I would have shared this with my sister, but since last year she’s gone too. So here’s to the memory of Jack. To Jack, and all the other Jacks.

If I were to wish anything for my own grandchildren, and for all the other children in the world, it would be for human beings to find a way to stop making war, to put all that behind us. Isn’t war the single most stupid thing an intelligent species could ever make?



There’s something special about small poems – the ones that slip into your head so you can take them round with you invisibly….       

I find washing up with a poem in my head particularly satisfying. Poems are also good for dusting, polishing, hoovering, and long walks over the hills.

If I’m cross, and don’t want to speak about it, a bit of a poem will do it for me. Usually the end.

For example  – ‘we should be careful of each other, we should be kind / While there is still time.’ That’s Larkin, of course (the end of ‘Mowing’). 

Or ‘In Nature there’s no blemish but the mind. / None can be called deformed but the unkind’ from Twelfth Night.

But a whole small poem has a special something, like a little fish alive and wriggling.

This one has been following me around lately. It’s by Elinor Wylie (from Angels and Earthly Creatures, 1929) and full of grief, though doesn’t leave me feeling exactly sad. More moved by a sadness shared.

Perhaps, in fact, it’s a love poem, rather than a grief poem. Or perhaps they’re one and the same. Because whoever it was written for – there they are in the poem about their absence! 

In fact, there they are forever, or for as long as this little poem slips into people’s heads.

Little Elegy

Withouten you
No rose can grow;
No leaf be green
If never seen
Your sweetest face;
No bird have grace
Or power to sing;
Or anything
Be kind, or fair,
And you nowhere. 


 When life circumstance throw us into disarray, it seems there’s a natural human instinct to create order in a corner of the chaos.

So when sirens sound and bombs are imminent, someone may linger to make the bed, or clear the table, or put another piece of the jigsaw into place.

An ambulance is called, and the caller—never mind the chest pains—packs her overnight bag neatly, each thing in its proper place. These things matter.

A violent storm in autumn whisks leaves off the trees and the next day human beings scurry out of their houses, sweeping them up, pushing them into sacks and wheelie bins and compost heaps. Pointlessly. There will only be more.

And in this house, faced with more than one serious illness in the family, it seemed time to organise the boxes of books under the stairs, though other, more important, responsibilities were looming.

You see, we have one room packed with pamphlets upstairs: from here Matt does the packing and posting out for orders, reviews, competitions. In this room, he also has the acetate sleeves, the padded envelopes, the compliment slips, the review slips, the flyers, the newsletters, the postage stamps and customs stickers—everything carefully in its allotted corner—even to the safety pin with which he pricks each acetate sleeve around a pamphlet to let the air out so it will lie flat in the envelope. (This room was a bedroom once.)

In another upstairs room (my study) more books and pamphlets are in tottering piles on a small chest of drawers. Boxes of toner are stacked in one corner, two more boxes of books, reams and reams of paper, white and coloured. The envelopes of poems for the July reading window are filed on the floor, as are a number of other papers waiting to go up the ladder into the roof. (Don’t ask about the roof.)

But downstairs, under the stairs, there are far more boxes, and when there’s a new delivery, as there was on Friday, yet more boxes go there. It’s almost impossible now to get under the stairs, and frequently we forget what’s there—or believe a box of books is there that isn’t—because we’ve sold them all. Periodically, I do a recce, involving dust, heaving, reconciliation and a new floor plan. That was what happened yesterday. it’s tidier now with a outline of what is where. Some things have been carried upstairs and restacked in other stacks. Publications can be pinned down, their geography (for the moment) fixed. A degree of order has been established in one corner of our lives.

It struck me, while under the stairs heaving boxes, that individual poems are doing much the same thing. Many of them arise from a some kind of maelstrom and attempt to establish their own bit of order. They grapple with problems. The ones I like best creep around the problem describing it from one angle or another rather than solving it. But description is in itself a sort of solution. It puts things into place. it creates a floor plan. The more meticulously it makes its measures and phrasings, the more satisfying it feels.

Poetry likes patterns and patterning. It doesn’t have to be rhyme and metrical form, but in the grimmest circumstances those features come into their own. They solve nothing; but they resolve something. (I’m thinking this morning of Anthony Hecht’s More Light! More Light!, the least consolatory of poems, and yet … )

While under the stairs I was thinking about Andrew Marvell’s ‘Bermudas‘, which has always struck me as one of the oddest of poems. If the singers are pilgrims, why are they in a rowing boat? What happened to the Mayflower? Where exactly are they going? There’s something so surreal about it all, and yet delicious. “He gave us this eternal Spring / Which here enamels everything, / And sends the fowls to us in care / On daily visits through the air”—I like its rhyminess and chime-iness. I find the boat of singers both ridiculous and charming, whatever their sense of entitledness. What they really are is workers. It doesn’t matter what they sing (though singing about delights is preferable to singing about despair) so long as it keeps the rhythm going, keeps them going wherever they are going:

 This sung they in the English boat
 An holy and a cheerful note:
 And all the way, to guide their chime,
 With falling oars they kept the time.

And then the poem suddenly stops. Just like that—no warning at all.

But we can keep going. We have established a measure of order and pattern under the stairs and we can keep going. A ‘momentary stay against the confusion of the world’, as Robert Frost has it. The reading window is open and poems are welcome, especially from rowing boats and subscribers. There’s plenty of space on the floor.

Some of the books under and beside the stairs

On Windows and Fish

The reading window is open. The envelopes are stacking up.

So not much from me this week. Instead I’m reading poems and baking cake. The cake is for the HappenStance Winterfest event at the Scottish Poetry Library on Wednesday. Last night I dreamed I was there and the reading part went all wrong because we had a poet who wanted to read but who wasn’t on the programme and I couldn’t even get him to begin his poem, let alone end it. So there was much panic, the time management at such events being a delicate matter.

But in the end he read something, and Andrew Sclater did some stuff, and Gerry Cambridge did some stuff, and I thanked everybody.

And then I remembered that although I’d brought the cake and the crisps and the juice and the white wine and the red wine and the serviettes and my notes, I had forgotten the books.

So the rows of seats were full of lovely people who had arrived for the books to be launched and there were NO BOOKS. 

A great relief to wake up and go and read some poems. Pencils sharpened at dawn.

Stuff Christmas shopping. I have other fish to fry.

Why Writing a Poem is Like Making Crab Apple Jelly

Each year the apples take longer to ripen than you remembered.

The apples are so lovely on the tree. Why pick them at all? Full colour photo of small red crab apples on the branch. The apples gleam. Between the leaves a brilliantly blue sky.

Some people like their jelly very sweet. I add the juice of a lemon

A little dark fruit in the early stages (a few blackberries?) may improve the colour.

The juice must be carefully strained. You can’t crush it or rush it.

When you add sugar and bring to the boil, you need to skim off the froth.

You’re aiming for the perfect set.

There is a ritual for testing the set. (Modern technology is not required.)

Each batch of jelly should have a title, with labels on the jar.

The jars of jelly should be stored in a dark, cool cupboard.

You can enjoy it all yourself, or you can share.

Other people’s jelly is good but rarely as enjoyable as your own.

You are only as good a jelly-maker as your last jelly. 



1. Crab apple blossom can cross-pollinate most other apple trees.
2. The BBC Food recipe works well.


Dreams and Rejection

So I’m dreaming and in the dream, I’m thinking, this dream wouldn’t make a good poem because it’s stuck.

Dreams like stuckness. They take it and put it in a giant symbol.

In this dream I’m on a train. This train is luxurious and very fast and packed with passengers. Among them, there’s me and my sister Louise. Louise has pushed my heavy suitcase into a luggage space somewhere and we’ve moved up the busy train to find a seat. But actually we’re not sitting, we’re standing and chatting.  

Before I expect it, I see the train’s approaching my station and I don’t know where the suitcase is. Louise goes off to find it. She doesn’t come back.

I don’t know where she is. I don’t know where my suitcase is. I have my handbag but NOT THE SUITCASE. I can’t get off the train without my suitcase.

The guard’s slamming the doors shut again – bang, bang, bang – and the train moves off with me still on it. Louise hasn’t come back.

The train’s carrying me in the wrong direction. It’s carrying me south and I want to be in the north.

Somehow I’ll have to get back. I go in search of my suitcase. There’s a small child following me who wants to play, so I have to hide in one of the toilets while the child disappears, and then creep out again.

Finally, I find my suitcase! It’s a dirty-white colour, and even heavier and larger than I thought. I can hardly drag it out of its space. How my little sister ever manage to stow it?

Louise reappears. We’re very glad to see each other though she doesn’t say where she’s been. My huge suitcase is blocking the aisle. We’re chatting and I realise the train has stopped. It’s sitting beside a platform and I should get off and wait there – wherever it is – for a train going the other way to take me back to my own station.

But the suitcase is too heavy. I can’t get it past the seats and into the corridor. The guard is already slamming the doors shut again – bang, bang, bang – and the train’s carrying me further and further away from where I need to be. The train is travelling south. I need to be travelling NORTH. Get me out. Get me out.

So that was last night’s dream, or part of it. The business of not being able to get off happened three or four times because I was trying to wake up and couldn’t manage it – and that’s why, in my sleep, I even began to think of dreams and poems, and what the symbols might mean, because I knew I needed to get up and WRITE THE BLOG.

In fact, I never did get off the train. I just, in the end, managed to wake up.

And what about the suitcase? You don’t need a psychoanalyst to work that one out. The symbol explains itself. It works at more than one level. I didn’t come up with it consciously. It sought me out. 

Poems often do something not dissimilar, especially those poems that seem simultaneously obscure and easy to grasp. I like dream poems (though many editors don’t), and I’ve written a number. I’ve even blogged about them before, here.

But what makes a dream like a poem? I think it’s the combination of symbol and powerful feeling, so not just any dream will do. It has to be strongly felt.

Here’s the background to one of mine, written after a poem had been rejected by a worthy magazine. This poem popped up, of course, beforesubmittable’ was dreamed up.

I know I urge other people to send poems to magazines. I tell them not to be put off when they come back, it’s something you have to go through. But the truth is I hate it myself. I hate the brown envelopes coming through the letter-box. More than anything else, I hate the fact that I hate it! Grrrrrr. I hate picking up the envelopes and feeling how heavy they are. If pretty heavy, that means ALL the poems have come back. If a bit lighter, maybe the magazine has taken one. Or even two! And if very light – could it be, could it be. . . ? And why do I even care?

Anyway, in the past I have often managed it: the sending out of poems and the dealing with returns. But it used to take me 48 hours for the cold feeling associated with rejection to go away. I thought this feeling was completely ridiculous but I still felt it. And the feeling did go away. It would gradually fade over the first day and night, and disappear completely in 48 hours. (Only 24 these days for ‘submittable’.)

But once I had a more complicated rejection. One of the editors of a magazine had liked one of the poems in the brown envelope but suggested I change a line. So I changed the line and sent it back cheerfully. Alas, another of the editors opened the envelope and must also have seen the poem before. This person did not like it, and returned it immediately with a snippy comment about it being no use sending in the same poem twice, they did remember them.

I was not just rejected. I was enraged and wounded. I was so full of injured rejection that I wrote a letter explaining how truthful and honourable I was and sent it to the unjust editor. I dreamed about the whole thing that night, and also wrote down the dream as a poem. I’m going to include it here, because it’s in Unsuitable Poems, which has now been out of print for years. (I may have to do something about that, if I can just get time. But the suitcase is so heavy. . .)


And then I woke up. . . .

You were extremely red in the face
and when you opened your mouth to speak
you made no sense at all, you were obviously pissed
first thing in the morning and I told you so.
Did you care? No.
You said they’d slipped something into the soda water,
it wasn’t your fault
and in any case you were never drunk before nine,
I should know that, and then
I had to marry the man who picks up litter round here,
the one with the funny hat.
I didn’t particularly want to do this because
I didn’t think marriage was a great idea and in any case
he was already married and had six children
but he was still keen and it turned out he was
the editor of a poetry magazine called Trash
and he told me not to be so stupid because
                                    I was only dreaming
and so I woke up except I was still dreaming and
in the dream I had woken up and was writing a poem
about the dream, another dream poem
for Kevin’s magazine Trash
and it was going to be wonderful, like no other
                                    dream poem
had ever ever been, and then I woke up
and bugger me—is this a poem?


Jacket of pamphlet Unsuitable Poems, HappenStance's first publication. It is blue and centred has the title at the top, in lower case, and the name of the author and the press ad the bottom, quite small. In the middle is the graphic of what Gillian Rose called 'the foetus tree'. It should a tree with a serpent wrapped round the trunk. The serpent has a woman's head - she is grinning -- and round breasts with large nipples. Where the tree might have round fruits, instead you can see they are more like eggs with small black human foetuses inside. Great tree.

Relationships? It’s complicated.

My grandmother had a fairly close relationship with a piano. I have an intimate relationship with an Imac.

It is possible, perhaps even probable, to love a machine. I’m sure my computer has altered the way I think. Not necessarily for the worse. Just another tool, or instrument, like the washing machine or piano.

You know this is true when the machine dies, as it did for me this week. My own fault. I decided to install a new operating system: it wasn’t expensive. From what I read online, it wasn’t complicated or risky.

Except it was, and I should have known. It wasn’t a terrible disaster, or anything. I only lost about two hours’ worth of work. Fifteen years of production and human interaction was saved on a back-up drive and re-installed on a new machine, and I do like new machines. They smell so lovely, and are wondrous in their magical ability to do all sorts of things.

But the effect it has on the brain is weird. To begin with, I was almost nonchalant about it all. That was because I was in shock. Then I went back to my very old laptop and managed to do a little of the work I needed to do, and (because with HappenStance time is of the essence) bought a new Imac. I used a credit card and the Bank of Scotland fraud people phoned me to check I wasn’t a thief, which shows how long it is since I bought anything on credit.

Then four days with no computer, during which time I realised how much of my life was sitting waiting inside the little black external hard drive on my desk. Perhaps it’s possible to save too much. Perhaps we should let more go.

Then the new machine came and I began to discover which recovered programs wouldn’t work properly and why. Back to trawling through online discussion groups, always a mixture of horror and fascination for me. Fascination because of the wonder that all these people are there all the time swapping stories and information and helpful ideas. Horror because each one, at some point, tips into terminology that’s a foreign language.

However, I did work my way through a set of suggestions to make Creative Suite work again, after one of its files was corrupted in the hand-over, and something must have worked because the programs are now accessible again. Microsoft Office was more complicated. Apparently I am the only person in the UK to have purchased a year’s supply of software for one machine as a one-off purchase, and then (during this week’s crisis) software for another on a monthly payment basis. The technology wouldn’t install, and so I became implicated with online chat, and phone calls. I online-chatted my way, with different people, in different organisations, through:

  • Microsoft Office not downloading
  • an email address that wouldn’t work
  • I-photo that was there but couldn’t be located.

The online chats and phone calls on Friday lasted till 11.30pm. I was chatting with someone in Jamaica, then someone in the Philippines, and then I think someone in Ireland, though he could just have had an Irish accent.

How astonishing it is that these great conglomerate organisations offer this kind of assistance! I know it’s all in the name of making money out of us – but still. The guys who help (and phone calls became involved too) are kind and charming and intelligent and global. Something humbling about that. And they’re not full of nasty hype. During one phone call, I apologised for being stupid (this stuff does make you feel stupid, and slow). My helpmeet said that on the scale of stupid, in these kind of phone calls, I did not rate very high.

The process of changing all the information, vast swathes of my thinking over the last fifteen years, from one machine to another, involved flashing lights and clicking, and soft, reassuring little engine noises. Most efficient. The new machine is humming softly now in the background. Tiny clicks, familiar as my own heartbeat. The keyboard is soft and new, and the letter M is visible again. The printer is producing documents that look a little different, but it is talking to the Imac, and they’ll learn to get on.

But I have a funny sensation somewhere in my head, a slight disorientation. I feel as though I’ve been poured from one body into another and the world has been re-set. I feel as though I’ve been reprocessed. Re-incarnated, even. It is extremely strange.

ps On Friday afternoon, the door of the washing machine broke. This will be fixed on Tuesday. It hasn’t interrupted my concentration at all.

Picture of a 21-inch current model Imac, showing desktop picture of spectaluar mountains with sun highlighting the top peaks (orange) and deep black rock shooting down below And a beautiful sky of course.