Sunday, 31 January 2021

31 Postcodes - Poem 31


Bird’s eye

Who knew this river city space 

would be our long-term lockdown home,

with all these hours to sit and stare

whilst still aware that others don’t 

have time to wipe a sweaty brow, 

or tears that won’t stop falling.

We hunker down, adapt our skills,

and look for news that doesn’t come,

as pigeons swoop their grey through town,

so odd with all the people gone;

they miss the pies and chips and things,

the seagulls just keep calling. 

We climb the Law to see our strength,

the ceiling’s high, the jackdaws too,

the view has questions, hear it sing, 

like ‘what would Michael Marra do?’

We stumble on towards the wise,

the fort is burning, falling.

RF 2021

We moved from our Montrose home in 2018. In some ways we hadn’t meant to stay there such a long time (14 years – a long time for me to be in one place) but our daughter was in school and doing well and we didn’t have a better idea so we stayed put. She was due to finish school in summer 2018 so a few months before that we finally put suburbia up for sale. It took a little while but eventually someone wanted it and we moved into a city again (Dundee, in September 2018). We knew this city pretty well (Mark had been working here since 2002) and we had always fancied having a go at living here. As cities go it is really striking – the river, the hills, the coast – and it’s a good size (not too huge, not too small). So far, even with all the lockdown business, we really love it. As Leeds was when I moved there in 1989, Dundee is at one of those points in its history when people are trying to make it a more stimulating, attractive, interesting place to live. Of course, opinions will differ on how that should be done, how much should be spent and on what exactly, but this isn’t the place for that discussion (and we’re new here…). I do know that Dundee is one of those places that many people feel passionate about – it has a special history, a special outlook, a dryness to the humour (all of these things encapsulated, I think, in the work and talent of one of its most significant musical sons, Michael Marra). I saw him perform a few times in Montrose and once in Dundee in 2009. He was brilliant and, like many others in his class (Nina Simone, Gil Scott-Heron...), what you might call painfully wise. 

In Dundee we’re back in a flat again (for the first time in a while) and it’s even a ground floor one (part of of the building in the google photo above). I’m sure I once swore I’d never do this again (feet above your head and all that) but somehow it’s OK. We’re up on the hill, we have some views and I’m old enough (and, miraculously, mostly chilled enough) to be not too bothered by others’ noise (in fact I even sometimes like hearing the noise of others’ children and generations above us and next door). And do I ever, upon hearing all the little footsteps and other chaos, just put in my headphones or pick up a book or a coffee and smile to myself? Why yes, I believe I do.  

We didn’t intend to move house on exactly the same day in 2018 that the new V & A museum opened in Dundee but we did. Luckily we didn’t get caught up in the traffic jams that accompanied the grand opening/concerts etc. and neither did our furniture. At the end of a long day’s moving we fell into bed but then suddenly heard a lot (and I mean A LOT) of banging. At first I thought ‘man, that neighbour at the back really knows how to bang their garage door shut, over and over’ but eventually we realised that it had to be more than that. We got up and went to the front of the house … just in time to see the very last lights of the huge, the-like-of-which-has-never-been-seen-before firework display and lightshow that had been put on to celebrate the opening of the V & A. We heard it was fantastic.

And then we had a year and a half of doing everything we could to enjoy the benefits of city life before the Covid days began. It’s a strange time to be in a city just now – so much of what makes cities tick can’t even be wound up. I walk through the city centre and seeing almost everything closed is such a strange sensation (like a really long Xmas Day – and I’m not the biggest fan of Xmas). For someone who’s spent so much of her adult life worrying about crowds and crowded spaces it’s a gift in some ways (to not have them) but it’s one I really didn’t want. Usually if I have to get a train anywhere, for example, I spend far too much time worrying beforehand about whether the train will be packed or not and what I will do if it is. At the moment I watch the almost empty trains sail by the city and long to be in one (an empty train is my idea of heaven!). I love travelling – I just (still) really struggle to do it in crowds or packed spaces so all this empty transport is like the biggest tease. I also wonder if, post-pandemic (whenever that is), I will be so desperate for change that I will move on from some of that old crap in my head and not be so weird about crowds (it’s pretty tiring and tiresome…) but it’s only a fleeting thought. Again, I’m old enough and chilled enough to not worry about it too much. Most of us have something that bugs us about ourselves. It could be worse.

More than ever, none of us know what will happen next. This is not a time for making plans so whether we will stay at this postcode for anything more than a few years is hard, or even impossible, to say. We like it here. We may stay, we may not. I don’t find moving generally upsetting or difficult (as I know some do). I find it exciting to be honest – there are so many places in the world to explore (and that doesn’t just mean obviously ‘exotic’ locations – the village next door can be exciting too, just because it’s different, and people have had to acknowledge this more because of lockdowns, I think). I also know that my feelings (about homes and moving) are a privilege because they come from a place of safety and being loved and cared for. A lot of this project for me has been trying to take a look back at my particular journey so far (the ordinary and the extraordinary – most of us experience both somewhere along the way) and a lot of it has reminded me how much of mine has been enjoyable (even if I didn’t necessarily realise that at the time). I’ve also read enough accounts, listened and watched enough documentaries about refugees and what seem like some people’s impossible journeys to know that difficult times means different things to different people. Some images from TV of the past few years live long in my mind – people stuck in terrible conditions in Calais, people risking their lives at sea, and one picture that’s stayed with me from something I watched years ago is that of a group of young men, mostly from Afghanistan, just sitting in a railway hut in Serbia. They had been there a long time and they were cold, abandoned and forgotten and with nothing to do but just sit there. They were waiting for countries to let them in, waiting for borders and minds to open instead of close (and some of them were still there in 2020 according to this article). And, even if many of us haven’t experienced anything like this so far, we could all be in that position one day and we should do what we can to support those, here and elsewhere, who don’t have the security of any kind of healthy home (never mind holidays). It’s hard to do much without a safe home: it’s essential, fundamental, basic.

And here I am now at the odd stopping point that is the end of this project. It’s the last day in January 2021 and this is the end of my Fun A Day Dundee project for this year. I know this one hasn’t exactly been anyone’s idea of ‘fun’ (I did ‘fun’ last year) but it has been a great exercise for me in terms of writing and doing something a bit creative. Mostly my work these days is aiding others’ creativity and it’s been good to see if I still have anything to offer up from my own well, as it were. I appreciate all the lovely responses on here and on evil Facebook, evil Instagram and the merry madness that is Twitter (I really only put these posts on the latter because poet and former blog friend poet JoAnne McKay isn’t on any other platform and her comments are total quality). Creativity is such a simple thing, in itself, and this felt good to do. I’ve learned I still have a memory (bit of a shocker), and that I still have friends and love (likewise) and a roof over my head (even if that roof is a couple of floors up with another family in between). Most of all, I’m still alive, still breathing, and still looking around me now and then and wondering ‘what the hell is that?’ and sometimes ‘can I eat it?’ It’s OK. It’s more than OK.
Here’s a pic of me in 1970 (aged 3) outside my first home (left) and then just yesterday outside our current home. As you can see I am now, and have always been, a fashion icon:

If you’ve enjoyed following me on this project please feel free to pass the blog link on to friends and family or anyone else you think might like it. They might want to start at number one (it’s back here, 1967, just outside Darlington in Co. Durham, England). Thanks for reading everyone and here’s to Fun A Day Dundee 2022!

This poem is part of the annual Fun A Day Dundee project where participants try to do something creative every day for the month of January. You don't have to be in Dundee to take part and there are other Fun A Day projects around the world. People post as much of their work online as they want to (largely on Instagram but it can be elsewhere too). In January 2020 I wrote a 31-word poem and posted a drawing to illustrate a word of it every day for a month (more info here). This year I am posting a whole poem a day (one poem for each of the 31 addresses I have lived at, covering the period 1967-2021). Videos of the poems show the places remembered in the poems but were taken from recent Google Street View. The videos are on my Instagram, maybe elsewhere too. Use the hashtag #fadd2021 on social media to see other people's online contributions.


Sheila MacFarlane said...

AMAZING! Well done !

Rachel Fox said...

Thanks, Sheila!

The Bug said...

This has been so much fun! I can't wait to see what you do next year.

And thanks for showing me how to find Joanne - I've missed Titus! :)

Rachel Fox said...

Bug - you have an unusual sense of fun, I suspect! Thanks for following all this...