Animal/Vegetable/Mineral Tag

Papaya, you deliver pleasure with your juicy flesh. Your perfectly ripe, too sweet-ness is matched with the tang of lime juice. Over-ripe, you become sickly. Under ripe, green and firm, I feel cheated. Unless you are shredded in sweet, spicy sauce and sprinkled with chopped peanuts. Behind your yellow unpromising skin lies your gorgeous flesh. Not pink, not orange, but on the cusp where salmon meets sunrise. Cut in two you make a six pointed star, bursting with black seeds. Or longways for vulval symbol of abundance. Any sense of not-enough is banished by the joy of your taste. I slurp and squelch into your intimate parts. Bowel mover, your casket of seeds eaten whole rid the gut of worms. You are ‘papaya’ to me now, but I still recall our first meeting. Nervous, shy 8 year old, I am presented with ‘paw paw’ by my parents’ old friend in the ‘Robinson Crusoe’ in Tobago. Overwhelmed by the strangeness of everything, I discovered that fruit grows on trees in strange shapes and unfamiliar colours. Picky eater, even then it was love at first bite.

We stand in a South London garden, on this cold bright day. Back to back gardens are sandwiched between two terraces of houses. We burn sage and drink mulled cider and apple juice. We stand a little awkward at first, despite the warmth from the cider, but willing. Bunched together between raspberry bush, which is pinned to wall on the east, and the thin afternoon sunset, which leans over the wall on the west, we make shadows. To wassail means ‘to wish you health’. Wassailing is usually carried out on the new or old twelfth night (5th or 17th January). There are different traditions, sprung from Anglo Saxon ones. They involve cider and singing, with an exchange of blessings, walking either from orchard to orchard, or house to house. Today we have been invited to reclaim this old custom that connects us with the seasons. We offer our ‘wassail’ to the apple tree in this garden as a simple acknowledgement, in return for its benevolence later in the year. This is done by pouring a libation (drink poured as an offering) of cider, mulled with apples and spices at the base of the tree. Then we doff our hats and sing. We sing to the cherry and rowan trees too. It’s a short, rousing refrain and it feels good. The youngest member of the group is particularly delighted. We sing once more for good measure.

Oh little apple tree
We have come to wassail thee
Will you bear some fruit for me
When the season changes.


Post menopause I hear phrases like ‘bone density’ with alarm. In my head I play back my mother’s mobility story, the uneven steps from orthotics to stick, then sticks, to walker and eventually wheelchair. I try to remember when it began. Over the last few months I have been experimenting with elastic stockings, ice, turmeric, magnesium, ginger, needles, massage, supplements and exercise. The word ‘arthritis’ has become a spectre. I find I am ignorant of the facts, the differences between osteo arthritis and rheumatoid. I vow to experiment with leg weights. I groan as I stand up from the comfort of the sofa. I fantasize about putting my feet up. Tonight I steal the cabbage leaves from tomorrow’s menu to prepare a compress. It is elegant in its simplicity. It does make me feel better, not least because I am taking action that increases my hope. My moods run in tandem with pain’s visits. Tonight I shall wear the delicate light green of crinkled cellulose.

I am watching the aging process progress at a rapid rate for Pickle. He is sixteen, an octogenarian Jack Russell. Sometimes he stands looking bewildered and we wonder what is going on in his head. He is deaf enough to ignore the postie, the slam of the front door and fireworks. His sight is obscured by terrier whiskers and cataracts. He bumps into furniture, the glass partition at the vets, and occasional lamp posts. He is on his ‘last legs’. All four are stiff. He falls up steps and is grateful to be carried up full flights of stairs. I notice with anticipation the collection of memorial thank you cards on display at the vets for the animals who have recently expired. For me the death of a pet is painful because I load them with so much love. Each pet becomes a recipient of my boundless affection. In return they are loyal, generous, reciprocate in their own way, and accept the weight of my emotional projections. It is precisely because there is only body language between us that their death is for me so hard to bear. I can’t explain the process to them, we can only feel. For now, Pickle’s shiny black nose twitches at the smellorama of our daily outings, and he lifts his muzzle with joy to take the air on bright days.

In the winter, under pressure, feelig the undertow of the future it’s easy to forget to play. I swap my fun for serious, suppress the silly. Rubbing my feet brings me back. Playing a tune, letting my hips move, opening my jaw to let a laugh spring out gives me back the present. “What’s in the veg box this week?” I ask. “One organic cat,” I reply. She knows how to play. She loves to stretch out, to follow her pleasure. Shelly plays mouse. Box plays house. I follow Ginger Girl’s trigger happy paws. I marvel at the simple fun to be had with cat in pursuit of pretend mouse.

I have fallen in love with a rose quartz crystal bowl. It is the colour of strawberry lolly sucked to the thinnest diameter just before it splinters. Within its structure are bubbles and markings, part of the unique qualities that create its resonant sound. It is played with a suede striker once to initiate the sound. Then by winding the striker around its edge it brings a note forth. This particular bowl plays its very individual note just below F Sharp. I feel the sound knock against my chest. I catch my breath. It makes me want to cry. It costs far more than I can afford, but I am drawn in, captivated. I had not expected the different notes to be so particular. I had not expected each bowl to feel so individual. I had hoped to bring this element of expanding vibrations into the work we offer. Other bowls sit on the shelves with more flamboyant polychromatic sheens. I remain entranced by the deep rose bowl. I leave without it. Again I want to cry.

Visiting a friend, I see their garden gratefully swallows every morsel of food waste. Nature reappears inside the house as blousy perennials set on tables in vases. A bunch of celery sits on the kitchen table. Plants are revered inside and outside for taste and beauty. The allotment, tended regularly rewards the gardener with organic produce. This one small bowl of compost is the key to a whole set of domestic priorities and a productive eco system.

We first saw ‘War Horse’ at the National Theatre in preview in 2007. I cried then at the flyer, (the image seen here on the programme). I honked my way through the show. I saw it again in 2013 and for the third time tonight. The piece has tightened up since I first saw it, but it still made me weep. This run at The Troubadour in Wembley ends on the 23rd of November. Michael Morpurgo’s original book, an ‘anthem for peace’ as he puts it, is anchored in research to tell a simple ‘boy meets horse’ tale. Through this personal story, he opens a window onto the carnage, confusion and hardship in active service during the First World War. Nick Stafford adapted the book as the bones of the production, which was then fleshed out by the Handspring Puppet Company to create illusions of twitching muscular horses, and even a tank. ‘War Horse’ is a grand spectacle using theatre’s best visual sleight of hand – puppets, lighting, smoke effects, animation (of Rae Smith’s loose drawings) and human choreography to move the audience. Using the horse as the vehicle, the show paints an allegory of loss of innocence. The music, which ranges from its folk opening song, ‘Only remembered for what you have done’, through pastoral to bombastic amplifies the emotional surges. The Armistice was signed 100 years and a day ago. This feels a fitting grief ritual to acknowledge the loyalty of our animal kin during the horrific trauma of war. At the end of the show my white poppy came unexpectedly to light.

Hanging just out of reach are yellow quinces. Their skin is tattooed with spots and marks. Neither round nor pear shape, they have character. I see the pattern of branch, twig and leaf against sky with William Morris eyes. Not palatable raw, they are recommended for jams, jelly or ‘membrillo’. Andy drops by to discuss practical things, and in his hand a jar of his homemade Quince Jam with Star Anise – a well timed gift.

They see me with dogs, pram and often a man before I see them. “Arrrrhhh, arrrhhh, arrrhhh!” They fly down from high territorial perches – the pylon, oak tree or planes by the Old River Lea. The first wave announce my arrival with more calls, then hop from foot to foot excitedly on the ground. Two or three stand on top of the goal post in a row. Their heads bob down and up again with each call. I bring suet or seeds and sometimes a special treat like popcorn. They are especially fond of pasta. There are around 30 crows in my regular crowd, but when the whole ‘Marshes Murder’ come there are up to 120 birds. I welcome their smart beady-eyed corvid appearance. Feathers – some tatty, mottled, a little threadbare – swoop in, take sudden flight if I move too fast. I welcome these shape-shifting portents of death and change. I come most days and in the cold months they bless my offerings with their community and their calls of acknowledgement “Arrrhhh, arrrhhh, arrrhhh!”