Hello sweet readers, let me tell you about Claraland…
After my nephew Gavin and his wife, Amanda, came to visit us some years ago with their three children, Oscar, Clara and Heidi, we started to refer to our home and garden as Claraland. And it stuck.
So let me tell you about the Grace of God in Claraland, because this is about my beloved partner John, whose given name in Hebrew means God is gracious. He’s also known as Dad, Da, Grandad, Dadi, Poppajohn, Uncle John, Captain America, Mr. Cook, Cookie and Urchin. And Beethoven’s Batman.
We’ve lived together for thirty four years, four months and one day and we’ve shared a path through the joy of births, birthdays, engagements, weddings, anniversaries and moments, as well as through sickness, rage, sadness, suffering, funerals, bereavement and moments. It’s a wild, quiet and worthwhile life we share.
John is the heart of Claraland. He’s my very own Man in the Moon: reflective and content to move through darkness. He’s my Morning Glory and my Midnight Sun, creating comfortable places for people wherever he can.
He’s like the standing stones of Wigton, where we circled and prayed in the rain, with a silent herd of damp cows gazing at us in compassion. Solid, wet, grey, sheltering stones, ancient in their wisdom and rust-green with lichen .
John loves moss and even paints walls with yoghurt to grow it.
He has laid stepping stones in our little garden, of different shapes and sizes, where fairies and short people can dance from one to another . He built the sturdy frames and arches that secure the roses, wisteria, honeysuckle, clematis and jasmine. And it’s John who prunes, clips, strims and deadheads and I nip in and out, like a starling in a car park, with seeds, plants and a watering can. That pretty much sums up how we live life in Claraland. A duet of a dance.
There are some night-sky moments when I discovered he could name all the constellations we could see – and another where, standing together high over Manchester, the stars and the city lights were so clear and bright they seemed to be all one, the same backcloth to our stage. Clouds are John’s love in daylight – their shapes and shapeshifting are his muses – his shade from a hot sun and part of his weather-telling.
We spend quite a few hours in hospital waiting rooms these days. Once he’s settled in, taken in the layout and atmosphere of the room and how comfortable I am, John will take out a little sketch pad and start to draw. He must have a series of hospital waiting room images and his pencil is a lead magnet to people sitting around us. Sometimes they watch and wonder, too shy to intervene. Once, in the Genetics clinic in St. Mary’s, I watched a young boy – he must have been about eight – leave his seat next to his mother and come and stand beside John, watching the pencil working. Slowly and intently, with all the wonder of childhood, he sat down beside John, gazing at the hand and the pencil tip, completely in the moment.
Claraland is full of paintings and sketches. We are the curators of secret and hidden galleries that John occasionally opens for a visitor – more often for those visitors he loves. He’s an observer who senses genuineness. This always warms him. His silent observation can be a bit disturbing and it’s as if his role is not to be a physical part of what’s going on. I often see the child called John, separated out, learning the hard way how to observe and deciding what to do with it.
He loves sunsets. Here in Oldham we have long evenings in the summer and autumn and there is a time of day when John disappears. It is a special kind of light that draws him and he melts into it. You might know the kind of light I mean, it’s mellow – as if the whole world is lit by candlelight. John and that light are one.
He sings to express himself, but only in public – not in Claraland. He’s a good listener too, looking for the gaps and chances to transform any crap he hears into something positive. He fixes holes where the rain gets in and shares his tools with his youngest grandson, who makes more happy holes. There’s something of the carpenter and the shepherd about him. I don’t mean like a shepherd working a sheepdog, but more like the one I apprehended on the Ring of Kerry near Valencia when I was nineteen. He loomed up out of the thick Atlantic sea mist, a grey figure in a long wet coat with a wide-brimmed hat, carrying a crook taller than himself. It seemed he might have been standing there with his sheep all night long, ready to be near with a helping hand in that soaking April lambing season.
John is the much-loved father and stepfather to our six children and I know that when I shuffle off this mortal coil, they will watch over him and always be his friends. They know the lovingkindness of the artist and inventor, who can guide a small team of family elves to create wedding flowers fit for Titania and Oberon or share his motorbike and helmet with curious would-be riders.
You’ll recognise when we are one and when we are separate if you walk through a wood and notice how the trees’ branches and leaves intermingle, but how their roots are in their own space. The roots lie in the same earth and the branches reach up to the heavens. In our old age, the dry leaves are beginning to fall all around our feet, but in our life together, we’ve planted a few trees: a Lebanese spruce, a Kilmarnock willow, a silver birch, a larch, a eucalyptus, a rowan and roses and hawthorn galore.
John’s a north-countryman. The moors are his vision of the road to the wider world, to light and to escape. He loves to come back to them and lives near the city knowing they are there to guide him away. The heather’s in bloom at the moment and the bog-cotton is sleeping.
How can I ever thank him for his lovingkindness? Thank the thinker… think the thanks…I love him so much.
Beside his fabulous neck and bum, the thing I love most about John is his smile. When he gives a real smile it shines out on the world like the shine of a newly-cut diamond – with all it’s many faces lit up. That smile sounds like the peal of bells across the fields in the early morning. And I look down at my feet, wet with dew as I walk on through the water-meadows.
This home rolled in the eye of the storm
With its contents whirled and scattered
and its chatter stilled.
‘Til its outward aspects turned inward, to gaze
on what Love really is.