An evening with Julie Carter at George Fisher, Keswick, 24th August 2018 at 6pm
Blur of blue, green and – mainly – orange. Familiar whistling, unfamiliar ratchet being tugged, clanking, several times, followed by coughing sounds, more whistling, humming and whirring, coming and going. All topped by a clean fresh scent on the air that I’ve loved ever since.
Pale blue, white, and grey. Solid. Heavy. Handsome. Noble addition – even if the large hook was disconcerting and responsible for small-boy nightmares about a certain infamous pirate. More whirring and clanking. Like a wooden mallet inviting a bell.
On the same day: Dad’s first petrol-driven Flymo. And Mum drove a brand new Kenwood Chef.
Thoughts become words and words become sentences. Sentences become books and books become a library.
In our town it lay quietly behind the post office and slowly became my second home.
Familiarity with its shelves became a Dewey decimalised memory palace of sorts. Later libraries fuelled flames of rich possibility.
Insidiously, perniciously, they are being inexorably, uncaringly closed. The shallow suburban avarice and deadening, uncalloused hands of our politicians knowingly engineer these crimes.
Our men and women of Westminster, epitomising Eliot’s ‘Hollow Men‘, steadily unpick the delicate fragments shored against our culture’s ruin in the name of their bleak austerity.
A gold rimmed invitation asked Mr and Mrs Johnson to visit the Queen on Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia. Replies to Kuala Lumpur please. It was quite clear my brother and I were not invited.
Mother wore a long dress and white gloves. Father bought a suit and tie.
They left us standing on Kuching’s waterfront, waving our homemade Union Jacks amid a sea of blue uniformed schoolgirls.
But we went for lemonade and ice cream afterwards, with other undesirable missionary children, and agreed, on balance, that we had had the better time of it.
Don’t get me wrong – dry days were fun. We went beach-combing for jerry-cans, glass buoys and cowrie shells. We slashed paths through the woods with scythes.
But wet days were glorious. We holed up in Granny’s onion shed, oblivious to the rain teeming down outside, playing shove-ha’penny with green-stained tuppence bits. We painstakingly decorated empty wooden boxes, her monthly order of Turkish cigarettes from Fortnum and Masons. Tiny brass hinges yawned open and inside the crumpled tissue paper breathed camels and spices, deserts, weathered dark faces and hot dusty leather, and stole you away to another world.
Most infants owned a Pea Shooter. I remember calling at the small general store opposite our infant school to purchase a halfpenny worth of grey peas, ammunition required urgently for the first playtime break.
With no paper bags until a later delivery, I was happy to improvise and had the peas wrapped carefully into my clean handkerchief.
Our teacher, having noticed most boys using their coat sleeves on which to wipe their noses, had urged us to always carry a clean hanky and it was on this fateful day he requested we prove we had taken his advice.
In my exuberation, I snatched out my lovely clean hanky, without a thought for my recent purchase, to see dozens of my much needed “grey farters” explore the whole of the classroom floor.
for MW – during and after corporate meditation
I used to love to walk to school on sunny Spring mornings. The quieter hours still possessed of the mossy, dewy scents of the night – mildest of breezes softly stirring the trees of the park, and dappled light – already suggesting the new dawns that would awaken the synapses of my ever dawdling, day-dreaming brain.
Yes. I have long thought myself familiar with the colours of the spectrum; that I could name them, that I could assign to each a musical note, that I owned favourite orchestral symphonies of light.
But every new day brings surprises – and the sometimes primal response that mists our sight with tears of yearning, or recognition, or unknowing, or delight, or prayer, or a sense of the most exquisite new openness to the charism, the gift of the Universe offering her provision – the ultimate and eternal grace of Love.
And I was surprised indeed by the glory and the colours I encountered in Barcelona’s great Temple of Light. In La Sagrada Família I mistily knew myself a member of the one great and ‘Holy Family’ – the Universe herself. No single one of us ever fully cognisant of the glories of creation’s rainbow – while each of us is graced with ever-changing experience of hues and colours as yet unnamed.
I remember pillow fighting with my brother, with whom I shared a bed, being told by an anxious mom, not to break the wall mounted gas light mantle.
I remember swapping some old clothes for baby chickens from the handcart of a rag and bone man.
I remember mom and dad letting us keep the chickens in the back room of our terraced house, picking them up and placing them inside the hearth fender boxes when they became inconvenient.
I remember refusing to wear some of my Granny’s shoes to senior school after she had died, they were a good fit, but my pride let down my struggling mother very badly.
I remember delivering newspapers on my bike in a very strong wind which blew and turned my paper bag inside out, and I remember watching all of the newspapers wave goodbye very merrily
H is for handle, which is OK to touch as we leave, but screamingly hot on our return. It belongs to the white Renault 4, parked beneath the house between concrete stilts.
We check under the car before getting in, making sure there’s no cat, dog, or sleeping snake to be run over. The curved chrome handle on the door is smooth and slightly cool to my hand. I put my towel on the seat, flap some mosquitoes out and slide a window open.
The road leaves town and heads across open country. Mum parks on waste ground next to a sign with large red Chinese letters. Andrew and I hurry on wooden boarding across a stretch of oily black water dotted with water lilies. When we are safe on the other side we argue.
‘Nothing is bottomless, how can there be no bottom to the water?’
‘The bottom is the rocks on fire in the middle of the earth!’
‘What would happen if I fell in Mum? Would I go down and down forever?’
‘You could swim. That’s why we’re here.’
‘But there might be some horrible monster with great big tentacles that lives in there that would pull my legs down and down forever!’
We run to the pool, Olympic sized, with concrete diving boards that stretch high into the blue sky. I push through the turnstile while Mum pays. My dress comes off the minute Mum is at the side of the pool and I am instantly ready to hunt for treasure.
The water suffocates with its warmth. It’s as if there is nowhere for my body’s heat and sweat to go but back inside me. Water presses against my eyes while I search for pieces of eight, it gets up my nose when I do racing turns at the side of the pool. When I get bored of swimming widths and collecting coins I walk daringly round to the diving boards and bounce gently on a low board a few times. I jumped off it once, honest.
Some days families sit on the grass around the edge and the ice cream kiosk opens to sell the only choc ices in town. The chocolate cracks and breaks between my teeth and cold cream floods my mouth.
The sun dries me and I pop my dress back over my swimming costume. This time the car handle burns my palm. I snatch at it as quickly as possible. The damp skin on my bottom sticks and slides on the hot vinyl seat. We lean out of the windows for air until Mum parks in a shady place beside a bakery. We follow her in to watch while she orders three white loaves to be sliced and bagged. The blades come down like guillotines, leaving perfect even slices. She hands us a loaf as we leave and we tear into it, pushing slice after slice of the warm bread into our bottomless stomachs.
So H is for Hot really, the car handle, the water in the swimming pool, and the bread.
It had been talked about for weeks. Discussed at bus stops and ruminated over in queues at the Post Office. Digested with the collection of milk tokens from the Welfare Hall and been the main topic of conversation after Sunday morning mass. And now the day of our Street Party had finally dawned, but there was still hours to go before I could put on my blue sailor dress with its big white collar and new red sandals.
At last I stood ready, fidgeting under mam’s hands while she plaited my hair. We walked to the village hall and took our place in a long line of women, some men and lots of children. Inside there was row upon row of trestle tables with long forms for us to sit on. Each place setting had a Union Jack flag beside it.
When we were all seated an army of women descended upon the tables carrying plates of sandwiches. I’d be lying if I said I remembered the food but the fillings were probably staples such as egg, fish paste and perhaps SPAM. There would have been scones, jelly and ice-cream and I’m sure cake of some description. The food wouldn’t have interested me too much, as I was there for one thing only, and that was the silver crown.
My recollection of how the afternoon played out is a hazy blur, but one thing has stayed in my memory for ever. I’d been told that every child was to receive a Coronation mug and a silver crown, and that was all I could think about. Councillor Barnes, who owned the Fruit and Vegetable shop on Front Street, stood by the main doors and handed out the trophies as we left. I was almost shaking with anticipation, so when it was my turn and I was presented with a Coronation mug and a silver penny, my disappointment knew no bounds.
Even my four year-old self knew the value of a penny, silver or otherwise. It would buy 2 half-penny chews, 4 Black Jacks, 1 stick of liquorice or 1 hard sherbet lollipop. I thought the crown was for my head, just like Her Majesty the Queen and I was inconsolable. However, I still have that crown today, so somewhere along the way I must have come to realize the value of its worth.
‘Trevor West was a remarkable man: a Trinity academic, mathematician, Senator, Junior Dean, sportsman and sports administrator, historian of the cooperative movement, peacemaker and governor of Midleton College, Cork … West was crucially involved in the administration and development of sport in Irish universities, as well as contributing in a significant way to the Northern Ireland peace process … The Bold Collegian is a collection of more than twenty-four essays by notable contributors including Mary Robinson, Sean D. Barrett, Charles Woodhouse, Ulick O’Connor, Professor John Kelly, Dean John McCarthy, Iggy McGovern and Michael West, a fitting tribute to a much-loved legend.’