#31 Travelling

In my mind, the dark roads had already unfurled themselves ahead of me, the broken white line flickering to my right. I had begun to lean into corners that unspooled from the dense night beyond.

So, when the journey was aborted by a stomach bug, that particular anticipated experience was severed from this time-stream. Last night’s midnight-run from here, through Wales to Pembroke Docks was left hanging like an ellipsis. To be continued…

Mastering the disappointed child-within is decorous, and necessary. As my mother would gladly attest, I’m predisposed to sulk. This last-minute cancellation of our motorbike trip to Eire is prime sulk material, I could (un)happily use up this kid-free week in a heavy funk. Yet, somehow, I won’t. The ferry can be re-booked, there are refunds on the air-b-and-bs. A bumble bee is surveying the lemon balm, and my sweet-heart’s foot is resting against me.

Next year _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

#30 Marta

Raton. Rrrrrrrrrrrraton, Spanish for mouse.

I can’t pronounce it, my lips/tongue/mouth don’t know the way of forming the sound.

Marta laughs.

Quack, miaow, woof. Animal sounds are the same in Spanish, which is useful as- right now- they form the only shared language between Marta and me.

 

Yesterday, I was so tired. The weekend I’d been anticipating for so long was over, and now it was just me and my fatigue. J and I took a train to Whitstable to visit an old friend. We ate (plenty of oysters) and drank copious amounts. We caught up,  broke bread, laughed, lounged.

There had been a malaise that fell on me towards the end of Saturday night. Gin-fuelled, undoubtedly, gradually I slumped into a wordless sinkhole, and detached from J. It hurt her. I pulled myself more-or-less together the next morning, but I was left with the consciousness of dark silt in the depths of me, threatening to billow up with the next change in current.

 

Marta is my daughter’s Spanish exchange student. I had to retrieve her from school Monday lunchtime. She was crying as we drove away, and she phoned her mum as we headed to B&Q. When we got out, the trolley I chose was unco-operative, causing Marta to chuckle. A woman from B&Q came across to help me separate a different trolley from one with which it seemed to be coupling. More chuckles. I needed some manure and shears and, as I searched for them,  I gradually managed to draw Marta out on the subject of her garden at home in Seville- quite large, no orange trees. We got the manure – caca de caballo. Smirks.

Back home we set about making spag bol. Turns out, Marta is an excellent sous chef. She made quick work of the pepper, garlic and onion, though the latter drew yet more tears. I offered her a taste of tea. Slowly, without either of us really noticing, trust was being established; the sense that, although we couldn’t communicate about anything more significant than nouns or the films we liked, the tone in which we communicated, the way we  inhabited our shared space suggested that we both meant well.

Later, after my daughter came home, we took a turn around the town. Keynsham of an evening is something of a ghost town, certainly compared to the Spanish evening promenades (passegiata in Italian). What we did come across, helped draw Marta further out of her shell. Two boys sprinted downhill in the park, away from a bin they’d just set light to. We went down to Echo Bridge and presented Marta with the acoustic wonders. We jumped, clapped and shouted a cacophony of reverberations. She was delighted.  There was an old woman drinking cider by the river, whose dog (a white, cutesy teddybear fluff ball) followed us, ignoring its owner’s calls. Marta seized the initiative and the dog, and returned it. She wants to be a vet. As we walked up the hill towards home, my daughter found a broken egg at the base of a tree. Gaviota, seagull. Marta picked up the fragile shell and unravelled it as we walked on.

We got home and the girls watched a film while I filled my newly prepared pallets with topsoil (to be raised beds). By the time it was time for bed, we all knew each other a little better and I was feeling more recovered from the lapse of the weekend.

Marta had come to feel safer and more able to be herself once she felt that my daughter and I understood who she was. The ingredients had been:

  • mispronunciation
  • animal noises
  • slapstick comedy with supermarket trolleys
  • caca de caballero
  • cooking
  • echoes
  • a little white dog
  • a seagull egg

 

Last Saturday night’s existential angst was a momentary forgetting of who I was. A slow-burning chain reaction of:

  • gin
  • tiredness
  • disorientation (J and I rarely spend time with others for long periods)
  • mild envy/the acknowledgement that my friend (and his girlfriend, with whom we were staying) are home-owners and materially better off
  • lack of a sense of belonging (my friend’s mum and dad live close, he lives in a town he grew up in, always bumping in to long-established friends with whom he maintains a mostly easy, regular socialising existence)

 

Marta recovered herself gradually, by establishing an understanding between the three of us of who she was, while (simultaneously) discovering who we were. Not only that, but we cared about her well-being and actually wanted to know who she is.

Now and then, I feel unsure of who I am.

The things I do- the writing, playing the accordion, motorcycling, rambling- are partly about defining my self to myself (and those around me). It’s probably the same for all of us. Most of the time, the way seems clear- just keep doing the things you do, try your hardest, help others; smile. But from time to time, the energy required to just be can just suddenly wane and the ground beneath you falls away. Thankfully, this Saturday night, I was with one of my oldest friends and the woman I adore. I was given time to resurface and gather my senses. It’s not always the case. In the future, when the walls close in, I will try to remember how an eleven year old Spanish girl pieced herself together with the simplest of words, echoes, an egg and a little laughter.

#29 Watercolours

Side by side, we sat and painted the view out the window.

Sunday afternoon ebbed toward evening.

Shadows that outlined the frames  shifted through aqua pura greys to Bayou waters.

We had planned to cycle down to the river to paint, light rain gave us the excuse not to.

A gentle weekend. Rapture is probably best left untranslated, but there were good things to eat:

All from the same, excellent blog. Make the Snickers.

Before breakfast on Saturday, we spirit-leveled, top-soiled and repotted my horse chestnut into its new, 230l pot. There was an established ants nest among the roots. The trunk is almost as thick as my wrist. Only one leaf fell from the entire plant.

It looks very happy SONY DSC After breakfast, we read and watched the frog-poles experiment with their new legs in the pond.

We bought some food, a sugar thermometer, then had a pint at the Jolly Sailor at Saltford. We stood with our pints on the floating jetty and watched a group of sensible-looking students muster the pluck to try the rope swing that hangs from a huge ash out over the Avon. We wanted someone to fall…

The graceful one whose slight frame flew Tinkerbell-like over the water?

The heavier-set lad whose lower torso appeared to collude with gravity?

The hesitant, beige-wearer who dithered on the bank before half-heartedly swinging back and forth?

None fell. It was disappointing.

We had the last of the mackerel from Falmouth for dinner, then made the homemade Snickers. Make it.

On Sunday, I marked exam papers while J read. Or vice versa. Then, as the weekend threatened to begin its decline, we found our paint sets and settled to an hour or so’s looking at something SONY DSC SONY DSC

There is the chestnut.

Now the week is already Tuesday, and I am alone with a day to do some writing. Before I start, I wanted to bring the things I cherish into focus,  a deep breath drawn in.

Now to begin.

#28 The garden

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My daughter took this photograph a few night’s back. It’s useful because it is me as I am, here and now.

The bonfire that lit me is ashes, but I’m stood in the same place. It’s just started to rain, there is that sense of electricity, the scent of it has risen into the air. Although it’s nearly sundown, I’m waking up. I’ve been waiting for this moment for hours.

My daughter has just berated me for stealing her pillow. She has been tucked into bed, but opened the window and yelled, well within earshot of my Polish neighbours two doors down who are having their usual summer evening smoke and chat. The neighbours stopped their chat, I went back inside. By now, she’d found the pillow I didn’t steal, but she’s still angry. Just angry, no reason. Grudgingly, huffing, she went back to bed.

I am supposed to be doing some other writing, but gave myself a break to water my garden, which has now given way to this.

This is my horse chestnut

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It is over 5m tall, and about that many years old. I grew it from a conker from my garden back in Eynsham, Oxfordshire. J and I repotted it a week ago Sunday into a half sherry barrel that is too small. I will order a more suitable one here: huge pot

The 230l one should do the trick.

I love repotting plants.

This is one side of my row of pots

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Five lavenders, strawberry trough/lavender, rosemary, and a young birch sapling.

This is the other side of my row of pots

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Horse chestnut, two lavenders, scots pine, ash, rocket, willow, hazel, blue tub of rocket, olive, french marigolds (not sprouted), willow/lavender, mini Christmas tree, lavender…

The young ash has thrown up its first leaves of the year this week

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I’m very proud.

The plants are all in pots because I’ve moved three times in the last five years.

The plants might represent several aspects of me:

1. I made mistakes

The first of the three moves was to move myself and my daughter in with a girlfriend. It lasted three months before she found out I was flirting with someone online.

It is the worst thing I’ve ever done.

I’ve tried to reason out why- maybe it was a result of the damage done in my own divorce, the unfaithfulness of my wife. Maybe it was some need to not be instantly, entirely merged into someone else’s world. As likely is that I am not perfect, that I am capable of baseness and cruelty. It’s been three years and I’m still feeling guilty.

2. I need moments of calm

I usually water the plants after working-out in the evening. For the last four months, I’ve given up weights and adopted this programme: Medicine ball workout Maybe I’ll write about that another time, but it is good, despite the fact several of the exercises make you look like a bell-end. In between sets, I like to fill up the watering can, then get close to the plants and carefully water them.

There was a toad amongst the strawberries once

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Beautiful creatures. Orwell wrote an essay (Some thoughts on the common toad, 1946) in which he describes the toad’s eye:

…the toad has about the most beautiful eye of any living creature. It is like gold, or more exactly it is like the gold-coloured semi-precious stone which one sometimes sees in signet rings, and which I think is called a chrysoberyl.

3. I want a future in which I can plant my trees into the ground

I keep the plants in pots because I am too selfish to leave them to whichever tenant moves in after I leave. I  love my plants, particularly the saplings, and want to sustain a mini arboretum which increases each year. Medium specimens of all my favourite trees. One day. One year, I will buy a house, or we will build our own, with some land into which I will plant the trees, the lavenders. Their roots will sink deep and they’ll flourish.

My plants will go with me wherever I go. I provide for them, they grow and provide me beauty and joy. My children too.

My hopes are the same. For them to come to fruition, I will ground their roots in endeavour, nurture their growth with clarity of purpose, honesty and humility.

 

To everything there is a season,
a time for every purpose under the sun.
A time to be born and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to lose and a time to seek;
a time to rend and a time to sew;
a time to keep silent and a time to speak;
a time to love and a time to hate;
a time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

 

 

 

 

 

#27 A moment of sadism

The students sat in a grey classroom. Ignore the fact that it is actually painted light green. It is almost square, filled with utilitarian grey rectangular desks, and the students are doing exam practice. The effect produced is of a grey room. The students have being doing exam practice for the last three months. Solid. Outside the classroom, there is a corridor that surrounds a sunlit quad, and in that quad, a mother duck has nine ducklings. While the class warmed up to a Monday morning’s study, the caretaker came into view through the glazed door and opened another door onto the quad. He had slices of bread in his hands, which he broke into small chunks and threw to the duck and her ducklings. There was a frisson. Somebody pointed out the ducklings were outside. The sweet, trilling whistles of the ducklings seeped into our room, seeming to beckon us to them. It was a natural thing to do, to go and see them. Even the lads, normally so inscrutable and resistant to emotion, were itching to look. I stood up and opened the door. “Come on, let’s have a quick look.” The teenagers did not need the normal cajoling, and hustled out of the room. A light wind frisked through the corridor, the sound of the ducklings was distinct and clear. We clamoured against the windows of the quad and gazed out at the gentle scene. A mother with her young- nine trembling clusters of brown and lemon curd-coloured feathers. A powder blue sky hung with armadas of billowing clouds. Sunlight on every surface. For about ten seconds, we were free. We had been absolved from the monotony of exam prep, our minds tethered to the prescriptive tasks, the cramming before the final judder of the educational conveyor belt. In two weeks, the class will be spat out and left to fend for themselves but, for now, a moment of respite and shared wonder. ”Get back into class, there’s exams to be prepared for!” A voice of authority. The deputy head. It was uncanny that she had managed to glide unnoticed toward us, like a graceless nuclear submarine. Strangely, our moment of wonder had provided the perfect smoke-screen behind which she had got within range, then loosed her salvo.

#26 Nothing special

I don’t have to teach until 12:05.

I’m having a semi-productive morning but, most importantly, have time to do things calmly.
I walked to the post office to post my screenplay to a competition. The air is fresh today after yesterday’s rains, there is sun amid clouds. In the alleyway by the car-park, nettles are flourishing, pink flowers are erupting from the stone wall. There are bluebells, cow parsley.

It is good to recognise the woman behind the counter at the post office. Keynsham isn’t the most exciting town to live in, but there is something anchoring in having familiar faces around. She knew me too, and smiled at the envelope

screenplay

It was £15 to post recorded delivery, £10.15 to post unrecorded. I had £10.20 on me.

5p change.

Fingers crossed.

As I went home, an elderly man walked towards me, leaning on a shopping trolley/walker. We caught eyes, smiled, exchanged good mornings, and smiled again. I felt a little joy well up. Simple things. The wind was gentle and pools of blue sky passed overhead.

I got home, made coffee and looked at the drawing my son had done yesterday

Jem's sketch

The bottom row is a series of caves going underground. Each one, apparently, has an air-lock.

I had time to email his teacher to thank her for teaching him to write. I only see him fortnightly, each time I notice an improvement in his letters.

Time to iron a shirt and get going.