Ysella Sims

Letting story speak


The moment was there and gone. I thought that I could return to it, but when I tried, the grass was scratchier, the sun’s heat had tipped beyond comfort, the swallows had ceased their busyness.

Earlier, I had sat up on the high ridge flanking the courtyard, the one Glen carved out of the red sand last spring during lockdown, still in my pyjamas and hugging a first cup of tea. My hair and face were bed-rumpled, my head fuzzy from a night at the kitchen table with new friends, listening to travelling tales and feeling the world edge one degree closer.

The winter had stretched on, a cold, rain-drenched May adding to our collective sense of confinement. All spring, people had shivered in pub gardens, clutching hot water bottles and asking for blankets. But up on the ridge, in the new warmth of the sun, it had felt as though life was starting again.

A passerby on the lynch called a hello to me up on my perch, from the gate. His little white dog strained at the lead, sensing the cat, watching from the back doorway as the swallows bobbed back and forth to the shed, their beaks stuffed with mud from the millenium green pond margins. Swifts screeched past like speedskaters, fewer than last year, but here nonetheless. A gang of four hurtled by as a fifth appeared, out of the blue, eager to be part of the chase. In the mornings and evenings now, up in the village, martins, swallows and swifts sickle and swoop over the bend of the wires, making you feel you’re on holiday.

The world is vibrating with life. I barricade the catflap at night to stop the cat’s prowling, knowing that she can sense it too. At my feet ladybirds beetle up stalks, ants busy in and out of the bank, bees flit between stamen, their pollen sacs brimming with dusty, egg-yolk-yellow pollen. A slow worm has emerged from the damp and dark at the roots of the hydrangea at the back of the house to warm himself on the stone in the courtyard. I put my hand out and watch him coil around a stem of cranesbill, fixing me with a black, unblinking eye. He stiffens, cool and smooth under my fingers. This is the time of year that the sun reaches the courtyard, drawing it from its sulk into a beaming bride, bleached white by light and the confetti-like flowers of the vast hydrangea climbing the walls. Its umbelliferous, lace-cap blooms buzz with bees and hoverflies, drifting its sweet scent into the open windows where it is trying, once more, to climb. Today the courtyard contains the avocado suite in which Peter bathed his son in the 70s. After all my complaining, I am sad to let it go. But it has gone to a new life in a rental property in Witheridge, collected for free, by a canny farmer.

Back when he’d made the ridge and pathway, Glen cleared the scrub to plant carefully chosen grasses, sedums and thrift. I look for them now, without success, amongst the spread of black horehound, with its tainted smell, thick and unknowable, the mallows, devil’s hawkbit, and realise that there is no controlling this garden; it is wild through and through. It might even be taming us.

The wayfarer tree has flowered on the front bank, the delicate pink dog rose, the rhubarb and custard coloured honeysuckle, spilling over the wall. Our native hedge is flourishing, although dangerously close to being swamped by all the rough meadow grass, speedwell germander and cow parsley snapping at its heels. Either side of the path, herb robert, cranesbill, cuckoo flower, yorkshire fog, great brome, hedge woundwort, scramble; all weeds by any other name. I love them. Except for the bitter docks, which are endless. The new pond looked like pea soup until Anne’s pond weed cleared the water, like a miracle. Each day I peer into its depths for signs of life, to find only find dense black clouds of wriggling mosquito larvae.

The hawthorns in Eddy and Amanda’s paddock, the verbena, honeysuckle and rugosa lining the footpath along Furlongs, have been an array of sweetshop pinks. Alison’s fields, usually filled with sheep and lambs at this time of year, have been let to hay. They have been filled with fescues, grasses and buttercups; real meadows. Cut and baled just as the weather broke, the dogs wound round the field when they discovered the return of the blank space, giddy with freedom. They looked how I felt going back to Exeter to perform live for the first time in more than a year, this week. To be in a room with other people, to hear their words and feel their friendship was intense and exhilarating. Afterwards, I ducked into an empty, striplit takeaway and, going through the new routine; checking in, sanitizing, masking up, bought some chips. I walked back to the car in the dark and drizzle, eating them, hot and spicy from a paper bag, watching the glimmer of lights on the wet road, feeling that life was good.

This morning I took my shoes off and walked around the newly cut field barefoot, feeling the scratch between my toes and inhaling the sweet smell of sun-dried grass. For a moment I was a child again, doing cartwheels on my grandmother’s lawn, remembering the smell of wet lilac and tarmac after rain.

In other news…

I’m very excited to be able to tell you that we are starting up our own imprint, Sandrock Press. Our first hatchling, in our fledgling venture, is a pamphlet of my poems. Called you are here, it is available to buy directly from me, or here. The Sandrock website is still under construction, but we’re really looking forward to helping authors publish poetry, fiction and memoir, soon.

Here’s the blurb:

‘The Bere Peninsula lies at the tidal end of the Tamar Valley, as far west in Devon as it is possible to venture. Made almost an island by the rivers Tamar and Tavy, it is a place of wild beauty and challenging isolation, of hardship and hard work, dynamite-shocked copses and flower‑filled verges.

In these poems of people and place, Ysella Sims charts the routes of belonging in a new home there. In poems that are as sensuous as the water’s lap she maps its woods and waters, abandoned mine shafts and narcissi-lined lanes as she explores the link between internal and external landscape, memory and identity.’

£5 each plus £1.50 p&p (First Class)

Get in touch for p+p rates for multiples and international shipping

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