The swirl of a Mr Whippy 99 and the inviting sweep of the cliffs contrasted roundly with the dry square pointedness of my primary school classroom.
Padding along cliff paths, humming the tunes a handsome chap from the beach mission played on a glorious accordion, I was aware, even at five, that I learned more readily, lived more fully, when my own imagination was afforded space and acres of time in which to fly free, to be on pilgrimage, to wonder – or as students of Zen have long noted, simply, NOW, to BE.
The roar of cascading waves was for me so much less jarring than the stern calls to attend to multiplication tables, or incomprehensible, ill-experienced ‘comprehension’. The throwing of sticks for deliriously happy dogs – spaniel ears flying in the wind – was altogether more fulfilling than the jolt of the schoolmaster’s cane cracking the old mahogany desk – bouncing inkwells – or the chalky calves of his dark pin-striped three-piece suit.
Rock pools and small fishing boats taught me most about oxygen and marine life, hard work and skill, navigation and perseverance. The ancient church (in my case) at Pistyll, with its straw-strewn floor, spoke to me silently of the music of incomprehension, of all that may not be wholly apprehended, and of the bardic pilgrims who had come and gone before.
Colourful kites were my professors of aerodynamics. The aforementioned accordion my teacher of poetry, soundwaves, wind and joy.
They are lying in the hissing grass on a gauze green day above dappling sun mist. The past behind them like healed grazes on a flawless skin, a picnic together, an unknown future shining.
Winged beast am I in mortal sandwich.
Crunching darkness implodes. Reddish light. I bite.
I am wingless rising up to incredible light.
A faint echo below.
“There was a bloody bee in the lunchbox. I’ve bitten it. It’s bloody well stung me”
Eternity buzzes at me.
Bite versus bite, I am in effortless flight.
A free bee.
ii What to write?
Blue spots. I think they were called full stops once. Lines and squiggles called words. And I – sat here, in a room of friends and strangers, and the not-knowing that comes from that.Yet I am so full of words, overflowing at times, when I get going, so to speak.
I teeter along this line of knowing and not-knowing like the man in the film who walked the high wire between two skyscrapers in New York. Did you see that film? The drop was awesomely unimaginable. More unimaginable than the still point, but he was never still. Like Rilke he was circling and circling. And so I circle. Words that are only ever an approximation at best of anything I really want to say. Yet I am in love with them. Is it possible to love and be light, to land lightly, to balance and rebalance, to find the point of stillness here, now for whatever wants to arise, for the simplicity of that which emerges?
The film finished and he did it. He crossed the gap with all that space beneath his feet; he crossed and the story never ended and he was written about in books and feted and even this film was made about him. Speaking about how we all wobble around the still centre, balance and rebalance, live, settle, love, get over the unimaginable.
So what was I trying to say with these approximations of reality? It was something about the blue spots. I think they call them full stops.
Generations ago, someone sawed the legs in half.
Lower. Easier for breastfeeding the baby they said.
She had bought it a new red cushion. Shiny satin.
Comfier to sit on, they said.
She had polished it, lovingly, using only pure beeswax.
No noxious fumes for the baby they said.
She practised sitting on it, imagining the swollen kicking mass that was her belly as a sweet suckling infant.
Good to get more rest they said.
The baby was born dead. She wept. She felt like her heart had been sawn in half.
The low chair, the nursing chair wept with her, tears trapped in beeswax.
A much loved Mungrisdale Writer sets forth his feelings
Confessions of a married man
I am a happily married man of many years and wish to confess an incestuous relationship with my new mistress. The affair has been rife for almost a year, my feelings are passionate, I write to her most days even if only in my thoughts.
My yearning for her disrupts my daily routine and affects the very rhythm of my life, but I am not a fool, I realise she cares little for me, she has many admirers both male and female, she is indifferent to whether I please her or not, she cares not for the agony I suffer searching for the perfect word, sentence or phrase just to please her.
We meet now every two weeks on a Thursday morning in a remote village, away from prying eyes other than those of other lovers using the same cover. I always do my best to impress her, but I always encounter others far more capable of holding her attention.
Whether she responds to my affection or spurns my future advances, my love is undying; her tentacles have a relentless grip.
My mistress is “Creative Writing” – our hideaway is Mungrisdale Village Hall.
The initial lines in italics are from A Fortunate Man by John Berger
The doctor listened once more to her chest. She lay back exhausted. “I am sorry”, she said, not as though it were an apology but simply a fact. He took her temperature and blood pressure. “I know”, he said, “but you’ll sleep soon and feel rested”.
Then they were both quiet. The gulf maintained by spoken language cannot be bridged without silence. The communication of this sort of knowing is beyond the definitions confined in words.
For the doctor to be the reassuring presence is also a gift because, for a few moments, he finds himself reassured too. All the ifs, buts and worrying unknowns of his own life need to stop at times like this.
Solid, quiet moments in which what is real is truly respected. The reality of the frail and frightened old woman, whose bed is a sea of clutter in a musty, uncomforting flat. The doctor knows that she cannot find peace but is undeterred in his effort to bring some. Until all practicalities attended to, he gently takes his hand from hers and takes in a breath for himself.
Afterward sitting in the car, typing in injection batch numbers to the notes, he glances up. Now himself needing a glimmer of hope. A hope that he had helped. Another glance at the laptop, two more visits and surgery starts at 3 o’clock. Best be off.
The new electric bell rattled the beeswaxed oak panelling all the way downstairs. I knew it was you. Always did. Hot already. 10 o’clock. Adults and children alike paddled gratefully in the fountain in the Square. You were just up. Dinner guests hadn’t left until past midnight. Monsieur Herbin shuffled past your gallery with a pair of baguettes under his right arm and Madame Léonie leaning on his left.
Light blue cotton dress sort-of-a-day, you said, and I knew you’d choose the apple blossom scent, scanning the room for a missing sandal, morning air beckoning you to tall wide-open windows. You could smell the coffee below. ‘Love some,’ you said, ‘and isn’t the lavender gorgeous? And the pine?’ And – for the thousandth time – ‘Can we walk in the forest?’ Ah, mignon, I’ve always adored you. Of course we could walk in the forest.
Wild strawberries and bilberries on the forest floor are still your favourite breakfast, just as later they’re supper for the wild boar – some of whom have long been your friends, though you’re always respectfully cautious of each other.
And even when you’re a bit fraught the forest birds call you out of yourself: Black, Middle Spotted, Great Spotted, Lesser Spotted, and Green Woodpeckers, Bonelli’s Warblers, Short-toed Treecreepers, Nightjars and Hobbys. ‘He doesn’t really love me,’ you’d say, a tear in one eye whilst the other was pressed to the viewfinder of your treasured little camera.
‘Rubbish,’ I’d retort, ‘all men are the same. Just not very good at showing it.’ ‘There, got him!’ you said. ‘Pierre, or the woodpecker?’ I laughed. ‘Silly! – the Middle Spotted: captured in my little Kodak Box.’ And I loved to hear you laugh like that – indulging the ever-so-slightly imperious tone you’ve always used with me.
‘He doesn’t though, you know: Pierre, I mean. He doesn’t. We argued again. And I’m not even sure I love him. Not really.’ ‘But I adore you, you old softie,’ I’d say. And we’d hug, tightly. And you’d grin, and dab your bright brown eyes, flicking tousled sleek black hair, running on ahead. And I’d jog along after you, always slightly out of breath, tripping now and then over roots and branches, loving every shining hair on your beloved and beautiful head.
And you married the handsome Pierre twenty-five years ago today. Your fine English grandpere captured the two of you, in eight black and white frames, with your own birdwatcher’s Box Brownie. Coffee, of course, and fresh baguettes, ham, cheese, wild berries and ice-cream for the wedding breakfast. And all these years on I love you still.
‘Do you remember?’ you ask. ‘You mean my first walk in this forest? Oh yes, my darling, of course I remember. Half a century ago. Monsieur et Madame – ‘Come, let us walk a little along the forest path’, they said: ‘we have woodpeckers, and treecreepers, and little Anna loves to skip on ahead in here.’ I loved you already, my Anna. And just before we got to the first bend of the dark brown forest stream beneath the warm-scented lime green canopy, they asked me if I’d come. And I said, ‘Mais oui! Oui, oui, oui! Certainement, Monsieur, Dame.’
And they smiled, at each other, and at me. The Monsieur adjusted his pocket handkerchief. Madame twirled her little parasol. And there, and then, mignon, they appointed me your own delighted ever-loving Nanny.
My name is Georgia, and I am in the desert at dawn. I love this place, the silence, the smell of the desert sand and the wind in my hair. I am alone here. The distant hills not yet touched by the sun are dark and brooding. The sky is cerulean, fading to rose. It is still cold, but soon it will be too hot to walk here, so I must hurry to find what I am looking for – bones – bleached white by the sun. I have just found a little skull with antlers, and I will paint it against this dawn sky. I paint to show you beauty in unexpected places.
The dawn light is giving way to an azure sky as hard as the bones I have just found with holes in them. I will paint them against the fierce sky to make fine abstracts.
The sun is beginning to burn my face, the wind has gone, and I must leave this wild place, but I will be back.
My name is Georgia. Georgia O’Keeffe, remember me.
I wake with a thud in my guts, and flip through the pages of a brain dull with sleep: parents, fine, son, fine as far as I know, husband, not quite fine, but I’m fine with that. I roll over and try to catch the picture now melting away; spilling across the road and dripping into the drain. I reach out and grab what I can: an angry baby in a high chair wearing a grubby nappy, a handful of £5 notes lying on the table, another adult who can’t be seen and, in the distance, a wail of anguish. I think that we are trying to flee something or someone, and I am in that controlled panic that lingers into wakefulness. With a thudding chest I shut my eyes and try to gather back the warm covering of sleep, but it too has slipped away. And a blade of sunlight cuts through the dark, returning day into the room.
I close dry, tired eyes and move blindly towards a wall of bare back, nuzzling, seeking comfort, and find none.