Oh, the disappointment that comes upon a happy wanderer when awoken from a dream! She was there, so vividly, where house martins had added mud nests and their carefree joy to the aged splendour of coffee coloured stucco, beneath the solemn tolling of the Euphrasian Basilica’s bells, and the notes of choir practice spilling over the polished cobbled paving beneath the Sacristy window.
She saw and heard the returning of the colourful fishing boats and the ancient, creaking shutters bleached silver, dishevelled on rusty hinges, rendering their seeming-permanence miraculous.
And – just as it had been since 1951 – the battered blue bicycle leant against the wall, no longer going places, basket now bright with garden flowers, energetic pedalling having given way years ago to sunlit evenings making embroidered shawls on the doorstep, geraniums glowing as buttercups might at her chin, beneath a deeply wrinkled concentration.
Clear too in this reverie was the small glass of something or other beside a basket of chocolate brown bread and olive oil on the little outdoor table, and needles in the orange pin cushion. Yes: in tonight’s gentle evening breeze this quiet, embroidering, sometime cyclist was recognised again as mistress of her universe.
But the heat? 32 degrees, perhaps. One didn’t feel heat like this in dreams. Heavens – and she meant ‘thank heavens’ – this was no dream! Wide awake, our chief travel writer Becky Buckley was actually, here and now, standing right in front of her old Croatian friend – who, in familiar broken-English, looked up from her craft-work and called to Becky – as she may to you – ‘welcome back to Poreč.’
How now brown cow newly
before me on the brow of
For a moment your great
sandy head was that of a
watchful lioness and awed
at forty-five miles an hour
I was suddenly driving red
dust tracks in Africa
Until snapped back to the
morning’s reality on the road
Aye. Red dust gave way
to grey tarmac. Cumberland
bloomed. This was not tundra
For a moment my own great
sandy head is mildly
embarrassed by the watchful
vividness of my colourful
imagination and I concentrate
brake, slow, park, going
And then I find myself again
in a wondrous seat of art and heart
shared creativity and growing
Marvellous. Graced. Extra-ordinary –
a pride of lions and lionesses in a
little village hall. We write
meditate, laugh, cry, articulate
enumerate – watchful eyes and ears
on the brow of many a glorious hill
and – exactly where we’re
meant to be – thee and me
quiet and still
(where no one draws breath, and you’ll have heard it all before)
Guess what Norah? there’s going to be
meringue! – ‘a nest of strawberries and
blueberries, raspberries, and rhubarb
coulis.’ Aw thump! Grandpa’s ratted and
Mam’s anxious and Granny’s weather-worn.
God, it’s hot isn’t it? Our Paula’s
nice fascinator’s wilting. Not my
choice of flowers! Who is going to
sweep up all that confetti? Verger
prefers white rice for a white wedding
‘e says. Confetti’s as daft as top
hat and tails when us lot are out in
us t-shirts and jeans, normal. Like them
bridesmaids on the hen night full of beans
and planning a dead rude speech to make
all them others screech. And now the Best
Man’s sweating. He’ll faint in a mo’ what’s
the betting? But his partner’s brought him
posh mineral water and the guy
with the camera says ‘stand in t’ shade’
which won’t make for good photos here or
at the Reception. Got any coins
for the collection? No, love. I’m broke
Hope it’ll be the old vows. We was
at the Methodist’s last weekend and
their vicar can’t half shift the trifle
Aaaaah ha ha! You know, like, worra mean?
You mean ‘obey’ and all that in them
old vows? Well, you know what? You can get
stuffed! Ey up, ‘ere come the eyelashes
Green velvet smoking jacket svelte and warm and treasured since Cambridge the pool of light that quickened the grain in his oak desk was as much a portal for him into other worlds as was the oak door through which he entered his library at every opportunity
Sometimes the desk supported the console of a racing carriage and at others the cockpit of a spaceship from the pen of Leonardo da Vinci and at others still the pool of light upon the desk resembled that upon the spectacles of a tiny Rumpelstiltskin or the chestnut hair of Lydia the one and only he’d ever truly adored
And his pen added a carrot-nose to a snowman fashioned by his father and the slowing
pace of his seventy-five year old legs was rejuvenated as his pen pointed brighter than candle flame into the archives of an always fertile mind
His eyes could appear as blank black discs in a handsome patrician visage when observed at the desk from eventide street window but only because there they gazed inward, remembering, rejoicing resurrecting realities borne of fairy tales of wingéd truth
First word she’d scratched on slate. Shaping her days and dreams, she loved sound, colour and stone better than her name. ‘Yes love – our Cornish sea be turquoise.’
Daddy held Anna’s hand tightly on clifftop walks. Her enthusiasm made her careless, he said. ‘So does yours,’ she told him, at his funeral, on her fifth birthday. ‘You an’ Sharkey an’ your stupid fishin’ in the turquoise in the storm.’
Years later, Sharkey’s lad proposed. ‘Nah,’ she said. But then she saw his ring.
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.
When I drove west, gladly
listening, and writing,
the sun chased a cloud
across the face of
gargantuan Blencathra –
quietly present and glorious
And it dawned on me that
that life-giving source
and chase would do precisely
the same in a little
community gathered around
equally gargantuan –
quietly present and glorious