It’s ok not to feel ok. Sometimes I can’t remember who I am, or which character I’m supposed to play. Sometimes the weight of being anything at all sits heavy in my chest, pinning me to the concrete killing floor of my own self doubt. Sometimes the relentless self pitying makes me sick to the stomach. Sometimes it’s too much effort to pretend to care. Sometimes I hide away. But it’s ok not to feel ok.
I’ve just got home from a brilliant holiday in Japan. On the long flight home I wanted to write something that encapsulates the beauty and serenity of a wonderful, fascinating country. Mere words can’t ever really convey the sense of a place, but I’ve done the best I can.
Tokyo was brilliant, but I had to go and spoil it.
Somehow I blew my cock off on a futuristic toilet.
I pressed a button to wash my bum and play a cheerful tune,
But I’ve always been a clumsy chap and, oh my word, kaboom!
My little man became detached and blasted through the ceiling.
At first I sat in stunned silence, and then I started squealing.
I watched it from a window as it sailed through the air.
I never had much anyway, but now, alas, I’m bare.
Like a squishy pink bullet it raced through the sky,
As usual, barely visible to the human eye.
It bounced off a lamp-post and lo, how absurd,
It was plucked from the air by a hungry bird.
My lavatorial misadventure in Japan,
Left my nethers smooth and shiny, like an Action Man.
These space age techno-toilets look flashy and fun,
But you need to have a PhD to safely wipe your bum.
The wind howled over the moorland like the slow scrape of a bow across a detuned cello. Focused by the steep valley it raced through the barren peatland, collecting a wall of brackish mist that soaked the tiny figure clinging to the cold rail atop the dam. She stood there often, finding hidden melody in the scream of the rusty steel balustrades under the assault of the upland gale. Like everything else about this place, the cruel sound was the product of an ongoing tussle between man and nature. She gazed down the sheer face of the concrete dam into the black water of the loch, and found strange comfort in the tumult.
Every place had its own music, from remote wilderness to great metropolis. The song of the loch was a new composition, a raw punk thrash in the midst of a baroque dance suite. The loch was new, excavated in the 1960s to feed a hydroelectric power station. They’d taken the decision to abandon the tiny village to the waves, residents young and old evacuated to the surrounding hamlets. Progress, they said, but the song of the village faded quickly as the evacuation began. It ebbed to nothing before she had learned the words, leaving fragments of primitive melody that tumbled around her mind in the years that followed.
It was those scraps of half-remembered melody that drew her to this place time and time again. She had tried to join the dots herself, reimagining the tune in her own fashion, but each failed attempt galvanised her resolve to rediscover what had been lost. Every year she came to this place to search, standing on the dam and trying in vain to penetrate the cacophonous triptych of wind, water and the perpetual churn of turbines deep within the hillside. Last year things seemed different. Last year the roar of the loch seemed dimmer, quieter. Last year she felt the pull of home more strongly than ever before.
It had been a particularly long, hot summer and the surface of the water slowly shrank back from the intense gaze of the sun. The growing shoreline revealed concrete walls and stone gabions, a crude facsimile of the granite-walled tarns that dotted the surrounding hills. Concrete gave way to mud that in turn dried and cracked. Ominous grey forms were revealed by the shrinking surface, forms that gained stunning familiarity as the days passed. It was no Atlantis, but the long-gone shapes of the fallen church tower and the crumbling wreck of the village hall were unmistakable. Ghosts of a vanished past. The ghosts of her youth, of endless summers and the faint smell of pipesmoke. In the blazing heat of that summer the hardship of the intervening years had melted away. She spent many happy afternoons at the loch shore, mudlarking and humming the song of home that flooded her mind once again.
The rain soon came and the village was lost to sight once more, the lilting refrain replaced by the distant drums of rising water. There was soon no trace that the village had ever existed, but she kept up her vigil, hoping for the waters to shrink once more. Now she stood alone, one year later, sheltering from the elements in the shadow of a concrete watchtower. Its naive brutalism was a sharp contrast to the stonecutter’s handiwork that shaped the homesteads of her childhood, now lost in the black, forbidding deep. She used to mourn for the loss of the past, but she hadn’t felt the weight of grief since that last perfect summer. She now knew that the music of a place never truly dies, but sometimes it gets lost in the chaos.
She sang the song of the village softly as she turned away from the dam and walked into the setting sun.
I’ve been lucky enough recently to lend a hand with some woodland management at a small community woodland in Coventry. My brilliant friend Anna, who wrote the management plan for the wood, asked me if I’d like to write something for the noticeboard by the entrance. I fed some ideas in (mostly by pushing acorns up my nose) and this is what came out.
Some woodlands have always existed, ancient beyond memory and stuffed with old magic
They are the origin of a thousand stories, the muse for countless poetic thoughts
But all woods were young once; even the oldest magic had a beginning
The desire to plant trees lives within us all, oft suppressed by the strain of modern life
Yet sometimes delicate bubbles of inspiration reach the surface, faint echoes of our arboreal past
Once, in the bluest of moons, these echoes take root
Such a moon adorned the sky over Counden as the end of the century drew near
The need to plant trees grew in the hearts of the people, the old horse paddock a willing host
Ideas merged into hope that stirred into action; Wedge Wood was born
She was no pedigree but a much-loved mongrel, a motley selection of species and hues
Trees were planted with ardour, oak beside cherry whilst birch neighboured pine
Barely five acres, a modest new smudge of green on the city map
Years passed and the trees grew tall, engaged in an unending tussle for sunlight
Paths were found by fearless explorers, two-legged and four, as the community embraced the wood
A host of birds and beasts took up residence, bringing with them the seeds of a new enchantment
These seeds grow fast in the right conditions, but are stifled by boredom and neglect
Today unseen wood sprites work hard to nurture them, a volunteer army rich in lore and skill
Coppicing and thinning, laying and pleaching, each act of woodcraft providing kindling for the magic to spark
Wedge Wood is still young, yet already her pull is felt by those who cherish her
The runners and dog walkers, ramblers and amblers, painters and poets
For the worth of a woodland lies not in its size or age, but in the joy and awe it inspires
This woodland belongs to all who take solace beneath her shade
Dog with a job
Earning his keep
No time to stop
No time to sleep
Dog with a job
Works at the border
Sniffing for drugs
Dog with a job
Works on a farm
Herding the sheep
Guarding the barn
Dog with a job
In a hi-viz vest
Rescues lost hikers
She’s simply the best
Dog with a job
Patient and kind
Warning the deaf
Guiding the blind
Dog with a job
Joined the police
Catches the bad guys
Who breach the peace
Cat with a job
Oh no. Oh god no
Why is the barn on fire?
Is that shit in the toaster?!
We should probably call an ambulance for that blind man, it looks like the car hit him quite hard
Cat fired from job
A bit of daftness inspired by my friend Griffin, the dog in the photo. Many thanks to Sarah for letting me use the picture (@sarah_hobbs_illustrates on IG) and to Michaela Collins (@mcscaninephotography on IG) who took the picture. Dedicated to the hard working dogs who make the world a better place – you’re all the goodest boys and girls.
Heartsick and weary I prowl the darkest holloways of my mind’s undulating terrain. A slow creep along the sunken lanes and hedgebanks marking long-forgot ways, the beauty and optimism of the celestial swathe concealed by sombre murk. A hopeless search for reasons where only ghosts remain.
My thoughts are mired deep in mud and mulch, wet and cloying. My companions are the low beasts, eyeless and scuttling. A downward spiral, an oblique trajectory.
Endless paralysing black, until finally a glacial, viscous dawn.
I’m a banjo in a string quartet.
Banana on a pizza.
I’m a fart in a rose garden.
A penguin in Ibiza.
I’m a squirrel with a law degree.
I eat my soup with chopsticks.
In the winter I wear hotpants.
I invite wasps to picnics.
I’m a claustrophobic hermit crab.
I’m forty-nine shades of grey.
I’m Savlon on your fish and chips.
I’m different, but that’s ok.
The lovely platypus sketch is by my talented friend Sarah. Check her out on instagram @ sarah_hobbs_illustrates
An old oak bench stood beyond the ruined pillbox, long forgotten and lost amid the marram. The old man sat there often, his regular perch a polished oval within the lichen-encrusted wood. Precious few ever noticed him, but that day I did. I saw him staring sadly across the bay, a faded photograph clutched tightly in his arthritic hands. I saw bright tears tracing a haphazard path down his weathered cheeks. I saw him silently talking to a companion unseen.
The tattered picture barely held together, glossy paper turned to fragile vellum by years of adoring study. The girl in the photo was beautiful, wide-eyed and happy. I asked him about her. They were in love, he said, long ago, before the bombs came. Nearly half a century past, and yet he still thought of her every day when he performed his lonely vigil. He never loved anyone as he had loved her. As he still loved her.
We exchanged the briefest of nods as he shuffled away. I took his place on the worn seat, continuing his solemn watch as I drifted into a reverie, mind filled with wistful notions of love, time and loss. Footprints in the undulating dunes were the only sign that the old man had ever been there, but the thoughts and feelings of that day still remain.
Existing can be tough. Being a functioning human and getting through each day is a challenge, yet if you’re reading this you’ve succeeded. Every single day you’ve achieved a thousand tiny miracles that have made you the person that you are today. It’s one of those things that you’re programmed to take for granted, but it’s worth pausing to think about. You’ve made it, however much the odds were against you. However black some of those days and nights seemed, you’ve won.
You’ll win tomorrow too, whatever it brings.
A long drive west, chasing the sunset to the horizon. I blink back tears that blur my vision, red-faced and breathless. My heartbeat is ragged and broken, a chaotic oscillation on the cusp of ruin. I’ve driven this road many times, but this journey is different. I’ve left you behind.
The others thought that we were the perfect couple. Young. Beautiful. Fun. No, not fun. Not any more. I remember the beginning, the hand-holding, the way I could hear the rich timbre of love in your voice. The way our hearts and bones seemed locked together. I hid myself away from the slow dimming of the light, the fading of that fierce glow that once consumed us. You changed. We changed. The love went from your voice, replaced by cruel barbs amid a sea of disinterest. We exist, where once we lived. My hopes and dreams, once so real and tangible, now seem far-fetched and distant. I’m still in love with the idea of you, but it’s not enough. Not anymore.
Motorway gives way to minor road. Minor road gives way to the stony track to the coast. The yellow dog barks joyfully, his shiny eyes gazing at me in the rear view mirror. He’s excited by the sounds and smells of his favourite cove, but I like to think that he knows that things are changing. I park on the crunchy shingle, and we’re soon walking along the shoreline as the sun drips celestial fire on the darkening skyline. The dog bolts into the churning brine as I sink to my knees, overwhelmed. My fingers score the wet sand as my head sinks to my chest, body wracked with savage sobs. I never realised that freedom could hurt this much, or feel this beautiful.