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Posts Tagged ‘memory’

IMG_2745As I sit here in this garden, staring out at the sea, I realise with some disappointment the perfection of the world can only ever be approximated by the descriptive eye. Blue does not describe the sea today, nor any day, nor grey nor green. It is too approximate. The fancy writer can borrow from the artist’s pallet, attempt words like cerulean, indigo or cobalt, but these suppose the reader is familiar with such flowery synonyms and anyway they similarly fall short of being definitive. We also have teal, turquoise, beryl, utramarine, aquamarine. I take a chance on Beryl, but find it comes in two shades – one blue green, like I imagine a clear tropical ocean, and the other closer to sapphire and how I imagine the cold Atlantic on a sunlit winter’s day.

This is a warmer blue, a mid-blue, I suppose, but threaded with sinewy bands of a paler hue, tending towards – all right – towards aquamarine. These bands are also of a finer, smoother texture than the wide expanse of mid-blue which is finely stippled with the grey of wavelets. But in the time I have taken to describe it, it has already changed, a pool of something paler in the broad sweep of the bay opens up as the waters steadies, and the tide slackens. It will be different again in a moment, and in a minute, and in an hour as the light changes and this July afternoon deepens towards tea time. There will never be a moment or day when it is the same as it is now, this moment in time.

On the horizon, gliding south, seemingly on the line between sea and sky, there is a coaster, long and low and white, a handful of pale pixels in the great scheme of things. The sea, this same sea, will be different out there as it butts up against the clanking, rust streaked hull, a different dynamic to the passage of a ship and the turn of water and the way it catches light.

A writer might as well just say the sea was blue, or perhaps grey, if it was that sort of day. More useful is to accept the transience of the moment, its indescribable nature, and instead to read the sea for emotion.

Warm and languid, that’s the North sea on this sunny afternoon, under a long hot, clear skied bake of sun. Just now a pleasure cruiser out of Scarborough, bobs into view. It’s white, with Britannia bunting hung from fore and aft masts, Union Jacks fluttering. It has a jolly, perky feel about it. But when we feel the scene we have to realise we are seeing ourselves reflected in it and that once again we are failing to see the beauty of the world as it truly is, with acceptance and abandon.

I have never seen as many varieties of birds as I have this afternoon, just sitting here in the sun. I have a handful of names for birds but my vocabulary, such as it is is entirely inadequate. I resist the camera. I do not want to capture them for later classification. I try not to want to know their names in case it robs them of their  beauty.

And then we have the scent. To a former anosmic, the reintroduction of scent into the world is a dramatic thing, nothing short of revelatory, and one simply must know the source of every scent as if greedy to restore lost memory. It has a sweetness to it, like a freshly mown lawn, but drier somehow, a little dusty, damp and warm – though how scent can be dusty I do not know. It’s the wheat, I think, the vast expanse of it, like a straw coloured foreground bowl that contains the sea. The wheat is stagnant, stupefied by the heat, animated only by squadrons of wood pigeon that over-fly it in number. It is hauntingly aromatic – haunting in the way it triggers memories of childhood summer dusks at play in harvest meadows, memories forgotten until now, in passing.

Four thirty and the shadows lengthen to a few yards. The eastern face of the house affords cool and shade now. And though I continue to write, to scan my lines, I am not thinking of anything, desiring nothing but the eternal elongation of this moment.

But I suppose I shall have to be thinking soon about what I want to make for tea.

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greenbelt

My walk home from school was more pleasant than my walk to it. The meadows were darker on the way there, more restless and brooding, but brighter, greener, fresher on the way back. Thus the land reflects emotion, amplifies it, responds to imagination. To know the land for long enough is to have it become a part of who we are, mirror to our mood. To know buildings is not the same. It is only in the land the spirit of place can dwell, and when the land is gone, covered over with the built environment, the spirit dies.

There was a little brook by the roadside where we used to stop on the way home from school. I remember it as a dappled oasis, a stream full of little stars and reward aplenty for the indignities suffered during the school day. I remember too the faces of my pals, hear the echo of their voices, feel the mood of joyous play.

The brook has gone now. It was a nuisance to grown-ups, and is diverted through a culvert, buried beneath the entrance to a housing estate, as indeed every meadow along that mile long route to school is similarly built upon, the spirit of place expunged by “development”.

In similar vein my childhood bedroom looked out over the green of the Yarrow Valley, a place of quiet contemplation and leafy walks, to which I am still regularly drawn. To lose oneself in the quiet of a moving meditation is to envision the land with a magic others cannot see or feel. The romanticism of past ages touched me there, rendered me sensitive to dimensions beyond sight and ordinary knowing, and it’s to that place I owe my writing. But like my little stream of stars, there are rumours it too will soon be gone. Others say the rumours are false, but I’m unsettled by them all the same, grown cynical and lacking trust in my old age. Housing has encroached so much in past decades, it seems a natural progression for them to take what little remains here. 

I remember coming up from the river once, crossing a particularly lovely stretch of meadow. I was brooding on a girl I knew – or rather a girl I wanted very much to know. It was a glowering dusk, and against the skyline there was a huge, wind-blasted tree, sculpted by centuries of leaning against the prevailing wind, and there was the gentle curve of a hill, very feminine in outline, and a hint of thunder in a hot wind that rendered the leaves restless – all of this a perfect mirror for my mood. The meadow too was dewy, my footsteps forming a lone trail, lightly drawn as if upon a silvery veil, reflecting the fragility of the moment. It was such a long time ago, but whenever I return I am reminded of that night, the way my imagination connected, and how the land spoke.

Today that same perfect curve of skyline is broken by the jackknifed outline of houses, and there are these possibly pernicious rumours that speak of ripping up the meadow, as the houses move yet further south into this still glorious belt of green. I have watched the inexorable march year on year with a mixture of profound regret and puzzlement. Can it really be that, like my childhood stream of stars, it will be gone? And why do so few of us value it so much, when others value it so little they can blithely trade it on the market and dig it up.

Developers talk of greenbelt as if its preservation is an encumbrance, a distraction from the target to build and monetise an otherwise unproductive resource. But uninterrupted green is important too, its value intangible of course, at least in terms of pounds and pence, and if all we have left is a quarter mile belt around our towns, sufficient only as a place we take our dogs to defecate, we have already lost too much.

Of course there can be no permanence in the material world. All things must change; we all grow old and die, and sometimes the storms will come and fell the mighty oak, known and loved by generations. Likewise our footsteps, traced across the dewy meadow, will be gone by morning, lost to a new dawn. But let them be dissolved by sunlight, taken back into the eternal memory that is the spirit of the land, not obliterated by the ignominy of several thousand tons of brick and concrete.

 

 

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scent-of-a-womanFirst of all I apologise for my last post. If any of you were feeling down when you read it, it will have done little to cheer you up. I can only say it was the result of a workaday Monday morning at the year’s back end. I read the poem to my son and he said it was impressively bleak. He also said he didn’t like the poet at all – far too depressing on an empty stomach – and was appalled when he learned it was me.

So, I’m glad to say I don’t feel like that all the time, that just as there need be no firm reason for a decline in spirits, it can take equally little to restore a sense of buoyancy.

Take Sunday for example. There is a donut seller on Southport pier. A few years ago, I could not smell the donuts. Indeed, I could not smell anything. I could push my nose into a bag of the freshly fried little things and smell nothing. On Sunday though, I caught the scent of them even from the road as I drove along the promenade, and they cheered me. Ah,… donuts!

Perhaps it was the wind that carried the scent – it was a fresh day, cold – but the scent of those donuts rendered at once last Monday morning’s poem of measured misery a distant memory. I bought six. It’s one of life’s little paradoxes that even the most heavenly scent emanates from sources that in excess are bad for us, but on occasion we simply don’t care. I carried my bag of donuts to the pier’s end, their scent mingling with a brininess of the wind and an incoming tide. Heaven!

Less wholesome,  was the scent of blocked toilets in the cafe in town. I had called for coffee after my blow on the pier. The cafe was empty. I didn’t linger, yet years ago I would not have noticed the maleficent odour and would have sat down quite happily, in all ignorance. Instead, I followed my nose along Lord Street, enticed by the scent of restaurants, pizzerias, more coffee shops, then an impressive waft of perfume from through the doors of Beals.

There was more perfume from the girls in the crowds on the street.Ah, the scent of a woman!  Indeed on days like these I am in an ecstasy of perfume and can happily follow one trail after another. I realise this is not a good defence against accusations of stalking, but I am also fickle – the lightness of a daytime perfume, or the sultry heaviness of evening,.. girls, you can still warm the cockles, but it is your perfume that sets them on fire. I politely decline all other charms.

Scent opens up the unseen dimensions of the world. It’s impossible to say how extraordinary this is unless you have lost your scent, say for decades, then had it make a recovery. The health professionals I consulted offered little hope. But there’s good information out there – people who tried things and said: this worked for me. You can usually tell them apart from the charlatans by the fact they don’t want any money in exchange for this information. Alpha Lipoic Acid has worked for me. It’s just a food supplement, and it took a while, but it’s gradually opened up a door to a greater experience of the world once more.

I return to the car, return to it’s familiar scent. Yes, the familiar scent, the multilayered scent of place – impossible to label as one thing or another. I can’t define the scent of my car at all. It may be the carpets, or the vinyl top, or something leaking through from the battery in the boot. It smells, dare I say, manly, spicy, a little oily but with an acidic, almost citrus tang. And this is odd because for the first twelve years of its life this little car was owned by a woman. There were lipsticks and little perfume bottles lost down the backs of the seats, and Duran Duran CDs. Yet for all of this purely physical detritus, she seems not to have left behind much of an olfactory impression at all.

I massage my nose with fingertips while I think about this, bring back some feeling after the cold of the air, and as I do so I smell the shaving cream I used that morning, also the hint of an aftershave transferred from the fingers of my gloves – Kuros – an aftershave I wore so long ago I no longer recall the occasion. Yet there it lingers in the pockets of time, waiting to trigger the unexpected – memories of a girl I used to know, and who had a particular liking for that scent – so much so, she would borrow it from me. It would render her weak, she said.

Ah, when the scent is sharp it is a revelation.

When it’s missing from your life altogether, it’s not funny.

Sunday scent and the day feels warmer.
Pity’s Mondays round the corner.

We’ll end it there.

 

Graeme out.

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