Sunday 25 December 2011

At Christmas, in Red and Gold

Travelling miles
down highways,
tunnelling through light
and clouds
and tree shapes -
all to see you,
all to see you.

the rush of things,
an anointing
from the king of kings;
a candle lit
from skin to skin -

old flames, new flames,
we rise against sin,
we rise,
to raise a Son.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2011

Merry Christmas from Brisbane, dear readers. Nearly New Year - the Year of the Dragon! I am downing my cups of sunshine at the rate of knots, and thanking each of my lucky stars for Rituximab, for my family, for light and love and laughter.

Sunday 18 December 2011

Travels of Earthworms

So there we were, having just eaten dim sum at the architecturally stupendous innovation of the new Marina Bay Sands, and just as little Rafi had fallen snugly asleep, the rain came. Buckets chucked down by gleeful gods, having an early New Year's Eve party. No time for umbrellas! How to get home? Singapore Metro tube and ordinary bus: nothing seems to faze Dr Tayabali, who is leaping about the place, taking strides the way he used to when we were children and he would playfully walk at twice our length pretending to get to the end of the lane faster than us so he could get to hospital before we got to school. But he always doubled back. Dad, you really are something. Causing quite a stir in Kuala Lumpur, with that white stick, which has been named Malcolm but is also sometimes called Michael... Dad can't quite decide...
I am of course in Aunty heaven with the little munchkin-pudding-scruffles who is unhappy about teething, but happy about ousting me from his bedroom. The King must have his own way whenever possible. It makes life rather more peaceful :)
Divided between my two brothers in Singapore and Malaysia, I have never felt so snugly balanced and centred. This is exactly where I am supposed to be. Nothing matters except for the sound of the bulbul in the morning, the fall of bougainvillia, gulmohar, even poinsettias festively decorate the houses, the taste of sugarcane juice, chicken rice, and strange fish at the hawker centre...
Who are you? I ask the self in the mirror and no response is forthcoming. I just fluff up my hair, do a sunny twirl and become one with the day. Writing up a business case for the next approval for my monoclonal antibody therapy is awaiting me, but I wave to it carelessly. I'll get to you, I say. Eventually.
We Cambridge earthworms barely ever leave the quiet dark corners of birch trees and cups of Yorkshire tea. But for now, Asia, you better watch out, you better not cry, better not pout, I'm telling you why, the Tayabalis have come to town, the Ta-ya-balis have come to town!

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Sing Sing!!

Many hours of flight later, I found myself in King Rafi's bedroom. He wasn't wildly happy about being relegated to another bedroom but in the morning, all was forgiven.
Look who's here Raf!!! It's Granny and Grampa Tayabali!!!!
p.s. did I forget to mention?? We're in Singapore!!!!!!!
Expect words like HOT and SUN and HAPPY followed by lots of exclamation marks :) And more special surprises awaiting upon each morrow....

Saturday 26 November 2011


The tide turns:
this wilderness is my domain,
transcending images
to ascertain
a single truth
amidst the lies;

there are no lies,
only whens and whys;

We don't belong
this family of I's,
We live to die
in peace and strife,
Our tragic lives
are alibis.

We fear to seek
the deeper still,
in case we fall
and falling fail,
to fulfil the telling
of our tale.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2011
for dverse poetry prompt 'wild';
Matisse, 1916, The Piano Lesson (Time intersects in this composition; in the open living-room window of Matisse’s house at Issy-les-Moulineaux, outside Paris, his son Pierre practices the piano. A candle sits on the instrument, illuminating a triangle of lawn. In the bottom left corner is a representation of one of Matisse’s sculptures, Decorative Figure (1908), while the severe “teacher” in the opposite corner is actually a representation of the painting Woman on a High Stool (1914). Precise geometry and elusive illusion!)

Sunday 20 November 2011

The Last Leaf

image of a last leaf courtesy A. Vesthaug, in Norway
Leaf poised
shimmering slightly
attached so lightly
she is not quite
for the fall.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2011, for dverse

Our chestnut tree is in full blossom. It is covered with leaves and is even more beautiful than last year. Anne Frank, 1944.

Our cherry tree seems not to have noticed that it is nearing the end of November. Every day I watch the leaves. Even the fastest leaf shimmy seems but a playful game, not a determined detachment. Last night I dreamed I was at the top of some stairs, but had a choice as to my descent - choose stairs and painstakingly make my way down, or jump. I decided to jump, but gravity didn't exert her usual force. I found myself magnetised to the parapet wall, stuck there, shifting uneasily, sliding a few inches, but the deciding force was my mind, keeping me upright. I didn't want to fall, but I couldn't change my direction. I had to jump. It took ages, and so much energy, so much concentration. And then finally, I jumped.
Did you hear the story of Anne Frank's tree? In 2007, a hard won battle was fought to preserve the horse chestnut, even though fungal disease had entered the trunk. A steel construction was built to prolong the life of the tree. The case garnered much media attention. And then, on 23 August 2010, gale force winds blew down the tree. Change is going to come no matter what we do, but boy, do we fight it!

(This is a video clip of Emma Thompson, opening the Anne Frank Tree in the Anne Frank House, a year before the fall. She wanted to celebrate Anne's sense of humour and her girlhood, so she paired a sombre black top with a bright pink skirt! Anne would have approved of Emma Thompson, don't you feel?)

Monday 14 November 2011

The Moving Game (for Angelina)

from Magpie Tales
I move myself
from room to room

No pawn
I am the Queen

On the board
on the ball

I decide
when I fall

And when
to begin

the game

© Shaista Tayabali, 2011

A poem for my sister Angelina, who has been forced by back ache to take a temporary back seat in the musical chairs of her daily life. Heal well, girl. The music plays on, and you will join the games soon enough.

Friday 11 November 2011

The Magic Exhalation

So, according to trusty, reliable Jonathan Cainer, reader of the stars, today, Armistice Day, is also a symbol of rebirth in the magic of numbers aligning. 11.11.11. Apparently, Mars is about to leave my sign, pointing to a moment of exhalation. Does Mars explain my hectic activities this year? Perhaps. But don't we all exhale in autumn? And yet my cherry tree is still leafed! I am watching it every day, drawing my own inconclusive conclusions from the bright teardrops determinedly, bravely, hanging on. I read this the other day, in one of Adriana Trigiani's books,
Autumn is my favourite time of year; it seems to say "Let go" with every leaf that turns and falls to the ground and every dingy cloud that rolls by overhead. Let go. (So hard to do when your nature tells you to hang on).
Mars and Jupiter, eclipse and numerical alignments aside, I think I can let go this year. I made many dreams come true, just by hanging on. One of my sweetest achievements has been the music of your friendship. I spent years in isolation thinking I was alright... I had books! But as Anne of Green Gables discovered, it is the friendship of soul mates that really gets you through. Books aren't hollow, but they just aren't enough. And I am glad I lived long enough to discover that truth.
When the leaves do finally drop, and pool outside my window, I shall let them go, each and every one, and embrace winter, knowing that before they sink fully into the damp earth, each leaf will carry with it one of your wishes, and shall return in spring, to fulfil them.
In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary. - Aaron Rose

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Making Light in Shadows

I was recently asked by the Cambridge Lupus UK chairwoman to 'talk to the press', so last week, over a luscious mug of crème brûlée latte, I was interviewed by the editor of the Cambridgeshire Journal for the local newspaper. A very lovely Cambridge English graduate herself, Alice Ryan put together the following piece...

In the Shadow of the Wolf

"Looking at me from the outside, you can’t see anything’s wrong,” says Shaista

Shaista is one of thousands of people in the UK battling lupus – a vicious disease in which sufferers are attacked, without warning, by their own immune system.

SHAISTA Tayabali appears to have it all. Petite, pretty and fiercely bright – she has a first class degree already under her belt, and has just begun an MA – the Cambridge girl seems to lead a charmed life.

In fact, behind the smiling public face, nothing could be further from the truth. Although it wasn’t diagnosed until her late teens, Shaista has battled a vicious and ever-changing autoimmune disease – lupus – since she was a little girl.

Constantly in and out of hospital, she has fought high fevers and unbearable pain, almost lost her eyesight and twice come close to death.

She has taken innumerable tablets and suffered all manner of side-effects, from vomiting to hallucinations.

In short, she’s been to hell and back.

“Angry? Are you kidding? Yes, I’ve been angry. At times I’ve been angry like I could put my fist through a window . . . but I’m not so angry any more.

“Lupus is Latin for wolf. From the moment you’re diagnosed, there’s this kind of metaphor you have to take on: it’s as though you’re living with a dark, shadowy creature that can attack you any time, with no warning at all.

“What I’ve realised, over the years, is that you have to find a way to distinguish yourself from all of that – to remember who you truly are.”

Affecting more than 30,000 people in the UK alone, lupus is thought to be more common than leukaemia, multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy worldwide – yet most people don’t even know it exists.

Far more common in women – 90 per cent of those affected are female – it is an autoimmune condition. Described in simple terms as a ’self-allergy’, lupus causes the immune system to produce antibodies which, rather than protecting the body from bacteria and viruses, attack the body’s own tissues.

Lupus can affect any part of the body, any time. As a result, the symptoms are characteristically wide-ranging: pain, fatigue, raging fevers, eye problems, kidney problems . . . the list is seemingly endless.

Currently there is no single test to confirm a patient has lupus – and there is also no cure.

“The reason I’m doing this interview is to raise awareness,” explains Shaista. “It’s an invisible illness: looking at me from the outside, you can’t see that anything’s wrong.

“And no-one’s really heard of it. I’ve had people say ’At least you don’t have Aids or cancer’ and that’s true, I don’t. But, because they haven’t heard of lupus, they don’t seem to take it seriously.

“When people say things like ’Just have fun!’ or ’Can’t you just shrug it off and be normal?’ . . . that ignorance is hard to cope with. I don’t want people’s pity, but I do want their respect.”

Shaista now knows she has had lupus all her life; her mother suffered from various unexplained allergies during her pregnancy, considered an early sign of the disease.

“The first time I ever really had symptoms was when I was about 9; they are usually triggered around the onset of puberty. My family lived in Bombay then. I started to get these mouth ulcers:  10, 12, 15 at a time – great painful pits inside my mouth and throat.”

Doctors diagnosed a vitamin deficiency, so Shaista was prescribed a course of vitamin injections.

All seemed well until, around the age of 11, she was struck down by what she now recognises as a classic lupus ’flare-up’: swollen glands, swollen joints, sky-high temperature. Thanks to antibiotics, the symptoms abated and, again, Shaista’s health returned to an even keel.

When Shaista was 15, her family decided to relocate to Cambridge. “There were riots in Bombay at that time; there was a lot of political unrest,” she explains. “I was just at the point where you have your own friends, you’re finding your own identity . . . and then we moved. It was pretty devastating, to be honest.

“I remember coming here and it being so cold and dark! Every year, around this time, I get deja vu.”

Going on to study first at Sawston and then Hill’s Road, Shaista excelled academically and soon made friends. But, on returning from a holiday to India at 17, she was again felled by a bout of illness – including another uncontrollable fever.

Antibody treatment has “totally changed my life” says Shaista
Antibody treatment has “totally changed my life” says Shaista

Taken into Addenbrooke’s, blood tests showed something was seriously awry. Eventually, Shaista was given a diagnosis: lupus. “I’d never heard of it. I was told to carry on as normal – go off to university, as planned – and just take these medications. Of course, when I got home I Googled it. One of the first things I read is there’s no cure, which was pretty horrible.”

Taking up a place at York, reading English Literature, Shaista was given a tablet usually used for anti-malarial purposes. Being hyper-sensitive to drugs – another symptom of the lupus – she experienced terrifying side-effects, including hallucinations.

“I tried to get to class once, but I spent the rest of the time in bed. I was so ill . . . it’s a very, very painful disease. It’s a down-to-the-bone kind of pain. And the fatigue is not something you can really describe. I was having these hallucinations, seeing horrible things.”

Returning to Cambridge, and in Addenbrooke’s once more, Shaista’s condition deteriorated still further. “The doctors told my parents to prepare themselves. They said ’We can do no more’ . . . I could have died. My body stopped responding to anything.

“The fevers go on and on and eventually, because you’re so dehydrated, everything just starts to shut down.”

Gradually – she was in hospital for almost two months – Shaista rallied. But it was then doctors noticed serious problems with her eyes: glaucoma.

“I almost went blind,” she continues. “Over the years I’ve had so, so many eye operations. The last one included a scleral graft, using donor tissue, which is really quite rare. That was painful and scary – but nothing like as frightening as the thought of going blind.

“After the operation I developed an ulcer on my cornea. Out of everything, that was the absolute worst. I just wanted to die. I begged and begged and begged: I said ’I’d be great as an angel. Please let me out of this body’. But that didn’t happen. And, somehow, I did get better.”

Despite her ill health, Shaista was determined to do a degree. Her ambition was to study at Cambridge University but, because of her illness, she had to give up her place at Newnham. Instead, she opted for a part-time course at Anglia Ruskin, spread over four years.

“I spent most of my time in bed with a high fever,” says Shaista. “By then I was on a chemo drug – I was on it for nine years. Lupus patients are treated with a lot of drugs originally designed for another disease; there aren’t many specialised medications.

“It made me really sick. Sometimes I just couldn’t keep food down, so I got really thin. I had vasculitis in my fingers and I’d been diagnosed with fibromyalgia too. But I was determined to get a first, that something good would come out of it. And, after four years of work, I did graduate with a first.”

Shaista, who has just embarked on a creative writing MA, says keeping journals and penning poetry has helped her cope. “I have hundreds of journals. It helps me to know that what I’m writing down is real. It’s the only way for me to stay sane!”

Latterly, Shaista has also been writing a blog – – which now has followers across the globe. And she also plans to publish a memoir in the future.

During her university years, Shaista lost a relationship to her illness too: “It didn’t stand a chance; he couldn’t deal with the illness. I don’t even pursue relationships now. It would take something extraordinary – someone extraordinary.”

Shaista spent the year after her graduation tutoring GCSE and A-level candidates. But then, yet again, her health nose-dived, and she ended up in hospital for three months. Again it reached the stage where the doctors could do no more.

“By then I was 30 and I thought ’Either I’m going to stay to really stay, or I’m going’.”

Requesting immunoglobulin treatment – essentially a dose of good antibodies, which she’d had once before in her teens – Shaista turned a corner. Once well enough to go home, she began lobbying for monoclonal antibody treatment: periodic infusions used to stimulate the immune system.

“I wrote the Primary Care Trust a very emotional letter. This treatment is expensive, but it’s life-changing. I’ve been having it for the last two years and I haven’t got vasculitis, I haven’t had any high fevers, I’ve been able to start my MA. If you added up the cost of my various hospital stays and all the other treatment I was having before, I think it’s well worth it.

“I went to Addenbrooke’s for an infusion this week and I was walking around with a big, stupid grin on my face: this treatment has totally changed my life.”

Shaista says her battle with lupus has put an enormous strain not only on her, but her whole family – especially her mother. “To see your child getting ill time after time – and not being able to do anything – has been pretty horrendous.”

Taking up meditation, Shaista says she’s learned to live in the moment instead of worrying what the future holds. “I’m in my 30s and my friends are getting married and having babies; I don’t know how I’d cope with all that – I’m still very fragile.

“But I am getting on with my life and enjoying it. For me, writing is a big part of that. You have to find a way to laugh, a way to be happy – a way to remember yourself.”

By Alice Ryan

Thursday 3 November 2011

Guerrilla Poet

The Urban Dictionary describes Guerrilla Poetry as an infiltration of a public place previously unprepared for the 'attack'. This is the example given:
Two young women walk into a Starbucks, one distracts the barrista while the other whips out a book, chants the words of "Ozymandias of Egypt" in her guerrilla poetry attack on the crowd and then they are both gone into the morning chaos.
At the hospital yesterday after long hours of infusion, I wrote a poem on an autumn leaf. I thieved a bit of sellotape and attached my leaf to the wall space between lifts.The traffic that presses those buttons! People would be sure to read it! I stood back. I had been seen, unfortunately, and a dour orderly informed me that someone would remove it 'for hygiene reasons'. I felt my guerrilla-ness deflate a little. The lift doors opened and she was gone. I unstuck my leaf, and re-taped it, to a bright blue board near the lifts. It was empty, except for a sign that said ACT. Bright yellow leaf, velvet ink board. Take that!
Ok Ok, it isn't remotely on the scale of bursting into a coffee shop and reciting 'The Ancient Mariner' but it's a start, right? The road home from the hospital looked like it was smiling...
But my cherry tree, when I did get home, was positively ablaze with laughter!

Sunday 30 October 2011

Dear Doris

You smile in your sleep,
delicate hands flutter by
your cheek,
You graze your own chin

The nurses call out your name -
You smile as sweet
and sleep on.

Your grand daughter visits,
she calls you Nan,
she tells you of her day,
she rubs cream on your hands,
She wishes you would wake
when she calls you Nan,
but you smile as sweet
and sleep on.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2011   (The Rocking Chair image by Rosalie Scanlon)
for the Call and Response prompt at dverse poets ... this poem is dedicated to a patient on the stroke ward. She was in the bed next to mine, and I wished I could have known her. But she had long left this place. Where had she gone? Where do stroke patients go? She seemed peaceful there. It seemed a shame to disturb her, but when you can see someone in physical form, they seem present, and it is so difficult to not want to communicate, to call them back, to long for a response.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Missing the Leaf, Craving O'Keefe

I lost the morning
to an angry thought -

Bright leaves whistled by
without warning.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2011
Does that ever happen to you? When I lose the light this way, I try to recover it some other way. When the flat fenlands become too small, I try to imagine Taos, Albuquerque, Coyoacán. Skies like I have never seen, hot clarity that inspires this petunia
and this canna
Mind you, O'Keefe doesn't exactly look happy in her portraits, but who said anything about happy when you are astoundingly groundbreakingly talented? When Alfred Stieglitz cannot get enough of the very hands you use to create each singular sky flower, photographs them endlessly? When you are busy hooking the New Yorkers of the 1920s out of their skins and transforming their inner lives? Well? Would you rather be Georgia O'Keefe or enjoy Georgia O'Keefe? There's a movie out... tell you what I think, after....

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Black Rose

Bright red whorls
can be found
at the base of the stem
where the thorns are -
the scent is sweetest,
strongest there;
the petals are softest

I place the rose
beneath my pillow,
tender, as though
my own heart
breathed there;
my heart beats
safely there.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2011
for the diverse poets
art by Alan Armstrong

Off into hospital this morning for an autumnal round of IV medication. I am taking the black rose with me for courage. Haut les couers!

Wednesday 12 October 2011

A Ball in Autumn

I have been doing a heady amount of reading over the past few weeks as you can imagine... but am taking a quick break from the serious stuff to join in the revelries over at Willow Manor, where the cyber Autumn Ball is in full swing, and I am extremely late indeed!

But it isn't just the reading and writing that has me late.. I just don't know what to wear!!! First I thought, a sari...
but I want to dance, and I am not sure I will be skillful enough in a sari, plus since I'm late I may as well make an entrance in colour!

Barefoot to maximise the moves to the blues and the straining sax and the velvet chords of the Beatles and Joni Mitchell, Billie Holiday and Madeleine Peyroux, as they harmonise through the Manor House...
There is only one man I want as arm candy....
because he'll read me poetry after, of course, and he can tell me all about Audrey Hepburn and I won't feel even a smidgeon green eyed...
In fact I'm tempted not to go to the ball at all... ;) but my arms are heavy laden with these birds of paradise, this cherry brandy (gifts for the hostess) and my feet are itching to dance...
So au revoir, mes amies, I shall return when fireflies are bustling away from the sunrise and my books call out to me again. Until then, watch me fly!

Sunday 9 October 2011

Stopping Ghosts By Byron's Pool

In The Orchard by emka, trek
For over a week, there has been a Lighthouse Festival in Cambridge, celebrating all things Virginia Woolf. I attended a lecture held at The Orchard in Grantchester, the corner of England where time stands still (at ten to three, and there is always honey still for tea). In Grantchester, your heart could stop, and you would lay down happy, all sorrows long forgot, and dreams fulfilled, even if they were not.

Rupert Brooke
The lecture was on the Bloomsbury group - you know, the disreputable 'lived in squares, loved in triangles' lot - Woolf, Bell, Keynes, Strachey, Grant, Carrington, Forster, and on the outskirts Rupert Brooke. The lecturer was wonderful, and each illustrated detail of their lives and loves shimmered against the gold and green of the apple boughs outside the Tea Room. We were promised tea, and we had tea, finally outside on the green canvas deck chairs. And I thought of Dawn, my friend Dawn, who promised she would never be very far away, and clearly could not resist autumn in The Orchard. A couple seeing me all alone (a young woman! all alone!) engaged me in conversation and then led me across autumn leaves down to Byron's pool. (That sounds dodgy but I assure you they were delightful). Rupert Brooke, described by Yeats as 'the handsomest young man in England', wrote the following lines about Byron's skinny dipping adventures in the poem that has immortalised Grantchester...

Michael Sowa, The Little King, from Magpie Tales

'I only know that you may lie
Day-long and watch the Cambridge sky,  
Until the centuries blend and blur
In Grantchester, in Grantchester...
Still in the dawnlit waters cool
His ghostly Lordship swims his pool'  

I felt the ghost draw near, and then we saw Byron's Swans, majestic and moody, and I thought of Brooke, writing these homesick lines in Café des Westens, Berlin, in the spring of 1912, dreaming of King and country, aching for a piece of green England, while around him, Germany gathered itself for war.

In Cambridge, the ghosts are everywhere. I don't mind them at all.

Sunday 2 October 2011

Flying on a Heatwave, in October

This cornflower blue sky
these corn yellow wheat fields
this blushing pink skin
of cloud -

this is it.

 © Shaista Tayabali, 2011

I tried to photograph the sun today, the green and the red and the gold of it. I tried to capture the inexplicable flying elephantness of it - the unexpectedness of it, this heatwave in autumn. To you reading this in the heat, there is nothing surprising. To you in the cold, you are trying to recall summer gone by. To those of us in England, settling in for months of grey, hooray hooray, until next time, hooray!
first photo courtesy htc, second via Tess Kincaid for Magpie tales

Monday 26 September 2011

Peace Bombs in this Hellish Juggle

A few days ago, I read about the Secret War the CIA carried out on Laos, during the 60s - cluster bombs dropped every eight minutes, every single day, for nine years. Farmers continue to pick exploding bomb material out of their land. A local artisan discovered a way to repurpose the explosive metal and make spoons. A former fashion merchandiser discovered the artisan and proposed designing bracelets. She calls the bracelets peacebombs. You can buy them, wear them. The bombs still fall.

I wanted to write a chirpy post about my exciting news - I started my Masters degree in Creative Writing last week! All weekend I bashed away at 265 pages of Defoe's Moll Flanders, patiently watching her skitter from crime to (unreliable) penitence - and feeling really rather chuffed with myself. And then, today, after class, as I was shuffling along a corridor (packed with students going the wrong way), I came up against a chap herding everyone away from the main entrance.

Bomb scare. Newmarket Road cordoned off. Buses, taxis, peace of mind - all a Hellish Juggle. I felt my small bubble of light sink. So much for fictional foes. Two friends I made last week seemed entirely unperturbed, and quite rightly got on with the business of choosing a place for lunch. I found it harder to let go of the hapless rucksack causing fear, of the seeds that are sown every time suspicion is cast upon a targeted group.

Well, I say fear, but finally, when I did find a working bus, a huddle of sixty-somethings were discussing The Bomb thusly: "There was one of them a couple years ago, werenit? At Christmas, in Marks n Sparks? They got nuffin' be'er to do init?" "But Newmarket? Wot's in Newmarket??"
"Nuffink, init."

So there's nuffink in it. Init?

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein next... oh dear. If I start to write villainous fiction, you will know why.
'Hellish Juggle', quoted from Moll Flanders.

Friday 23 September 2011

Blade of Green

Give me just this blade of green,
beneath the scorching sun,
Give me just that trilling bird,
his dainty perch, his last of the summer fun;

Give me just this daily breath,
this curling autumn sleeve,
Give me just this barefoot right,
my fingers on a blade of green.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2011

Painting: Daniel Garber, Tanis, Oil, 1915

Friday 16 September 2011

On Being Stood Up

What is it about waiting for a bus that makes you assess and analyse your life with toothpick detection? I am early for the 3:17. Not unbelievably, embarassingly early, but early enough. Sensibly so. And yet, what is it about waiting for a bus that draws an energy of pity from passing cars? Like they know I've been stood up before I do.
I kick at an autumn leaf (not its fault, poor thing), I study the slats of the Vine Cottage roof with PhD intent, until a nervy face in the window warns me to back off. I smile at a small cross little girl who is sucking her thumb in the comfort of her mother's Fiat Volvo, but even she shakes her head, like she knows.
I hitch my handbag a little higher and think murderous thoughts about that weatherman who claimed rain, but isn't that the sun snickering at me behind a pathetically spineless cloud?
3:22. I whip my head around at every sound; every vehicle on God's earth sashays past me, some don't even bother with the up-and-down look of pity. They just move straight on to reflected humiliation. Get a life! they seem to suggest. Get a car! Walk! Do something!
What is it about waiting for a bus that slows time right down to the wettest and thickest of crawls?? In a small village that only contains a telephone booth library and a fish and chips, you stand out when you are stood up.

I grit my teeth. I breathe. I start to walk home, with dignity. I will not under any circumstances, run, even if... just if... that bus shows up now.
Drawings: Kev Anderson at and Helen at PomPom Illustrations.

Saturday 10 September 2011

Words, Cake and Champagne

The white butterfly is dancing madly outside the newly painted display windows of the Cambridge Writing Salon. The other women writers hunch over laptops around the edges of the room, cups of tea, water, cupcakes strewn in friendly careless clusters. I am sitting in the centre of it all. Aside from a creator of speech bubbles for illustrations, I am the only one old-fashioned enough for pens and notebook. (Fortunately no one has had a look at my notebook; it is perkily titled Silly Old Bear and each page has craftily woven images of Eeyore, Tigger and Pooh...).
Pooh and the butterfly notwithstanding, I still feel very Bloomsbury. A rather terrifying mannequin in the picture window, faceless in black velvet and mock Tudor ruff, maintains our dignity to the curious passers-by. How diligent we must all look!

Before the diligence, we were given a talk by the charming, effusive and gallant Tim Hayward, Guardian food critic, editor of Food and Knives - an incredibly literary food magazine, new owner of Fitzbillies Café in Cambridge, and father of delightful curly mopped Liberty (who I sweet talked into signing my Pooh notebook. Well, why should her father do all the autographing?).

According to Tim, the creative life of a writer unfurls most gloriously when we are open, flexible to changing our minds, and able to maintain some kind of balance between pride and humility. The humility lies in this: as an artist, what you are about to create does not yet exist. All that exists are the possibilities.

Pride came in spades at the end, when, sans Tim, we were all women again, and champagne was uncorked, more cupcakes (provided by Miss Sue Flay) were untidily scoffed, and a chummy sort of camaraderie sprang up, neither competitive nor wall flowerish. We were equals, the nine of us, and it was quite perfect.

Saturday 3 September 2011

The Book of Longing

I have made an art
of the Book of Longing

In it I have placed
the keys

beneath the memories

between the leaves.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2011
Images from art stores on google.