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It is a perfect Indian summer’s day with blue sky and sunshine to frame the pylon. This now shorn meadow is a piece of my favourite urban wild landscape. Like a Constable painting, green blue and ochre contrast with one singing pixel of red. The abandoned scarlet sleeping bag – left by a recent tent dweller – a hint of dystopia. Yet this is a place of refuge for me. I come here to expand my chest, to ruminate. It is the place I imagine being scattered if I am cremated. It’s local, easy to visit and natural enough to elbow out the encroaching pressure of east London.

Ten clear glass bottles wait for the milk van/person. They arrive next door with turquoise/pink foil tops. Milk drunk, they will be collected, washed, re-used. This normal part of my childhood is now an out of the ordinary labour of the environmentally conscious. I remember Blue Peter appeals and saving our silver milk bottle tops. In our house normal/British Rail/builders tea is now abnormal. We sip our herbal uppers/downers, fruity or spicy. For cereal there’s a tetra pack of coconut/almond.

“If there is ever to be any real peace on earth, all people need to relearn and re-establish the now diminished and hidden arts of Grief and Praise, for one without the other is not possible.” Martin Prechtel’s uncompromising and passionate message rubs off the page. His words seduce with rowdy charm. He urges us to shake off our avoidance of grief, to embrace life through praise, to recognise the consequences of the “unmetabolized war grief of past generations”. Ideas grown in hot dry New Mexico land amongst sage, marjoram and lavender, taking root in a very English garden.

Nearly blind and very deaf, Pickle lives by his nose. Increasingly it feels as though he has entered another realm – barking at an empty corner of the room, or startled by the unseen. At this moment, it is as though he is receiving a direct transmission of light. He sleeps on pink fluff while the light beams in. Our steady love and his devotion continues.

I have learned to look beyond the wallpaper at the care home. This wing – built in 1975 was last decorated when wallpaper borders were in fashion. It is a place outside time, where aesthetics are not the priority. “Is this real?” my friend asks regularly. I find it hard to answer this question. Yes in a practical sense, but perhaps not if all life is illusiary, philosophically speaking. He has sometimes asked me to describe the wallpaper as a way to gauge whether we share the same reality. What matters here is doing what’s needed, kindness, but mainly being. Our society values doing. I come here, witness how when doing is stripped away, being, kindness and love take centre stage.

I love the coming of our weekly veg box. I love the feeling of virtue that arises as I unpack the glorious array of earthy colours. I have read the list, made choices, added extras, but is still surprises me. This time a magnificent Romanesco cauliflower arrives – a ziggurat of vibrant green crenulations. I want to paint it, to wear it, to venerate it, and then to roast it. “Why can’t we have normal vegetables like other families?” the pizza eater asked.

I often listen to Cariad Lloyd’s chatty podcast. She talks to comedians about grief and death. At the Podcast Festival I watch a live recording of ‘Grief Cast’ featuring Keemah Bob, Jenny Bede and Tom Parry. Cariad is personable, asks questions which invite saying the unsayable in a very natural way. In response we laugh at the pomp of social norms around death, share dark tales of funeral meets lavatory humour and demystify the secrecy around the process of death and dying. Afterwards I play at interviewer, re-wind the questions in my head.www.cariadlloyd.com/griefcast

 

This is a brilliant book about life. I gallop through the seventeen brief encounters with the fragility of the human body in Maggie O’Farrell’s ‘I Am, I Am, I Am’. It’s beautiful words capture pivotal moments in her family life. Something happens, or doesn’t happen, but each recounting of an intimate incident leaves me catching my breath, counting my own lives and lucky stars.

Usually the documentarian, this time I am under scrutiny. Our smiles mirror through the lens. I wear only one silver ring, my fingers often marked by ink. The words that waltz and foxtrot daily in my head unexpectedly tumble out in torrents. I am excited by the problems behind the enquiry. How do we welcome in mortality? How can we reclaim a deeper knowing of the cycle of life and death? What is the most effective way to change our relationship with grief? My unbridled ideas pour out, some of which may snag on the researcher’s hook to be reeled in.

We saw ‘Fleabag’ in the muggy dark, holding hands at the local screen; my first time seeing live theatre at the cinema.  Long after we have laughed and cringed at the subsequent two TV series, this is the original monologue. It is darker, funny yet bound with grief and shame. A metaphorical rummage in Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s underwear drawer. The tiny strappy ‘Agent Provocateur’ type stuff uncomfortably nestles with big knickers and woolly tights. While she sits or hovers centre-stage on a stool, the technology of live broadcast reveals every artful twitch and grimace of her face. A whole slew of emotions play out between her mouth and eyes, while we gasp.