Clouds, floating grey asteroids in a changing gradient of green, blue and yellow. Van Gough, Money, Degas could not have painted a sky like this, a picture in transition. God, You know beauty like no other. Thank you for the glorious display, the shocking beauty of the sky, like glaciers bathed in warm sun – think marigold, maybe a tangerine before it is ripe- with dark fissures for clouds. Is this the stretching plain of dawn or the falling curtain of night? My grandfather said today that never in history had the clouds been this way, and never again will the pattern be the same again.
Sand dunes, mountains with pot holes. He’s skidding along the slopes, his tiny feet plodding and skipping over death.
A little girl piles onto an ever-growing bucket of sand, a castle in it’s own right. “Cover the seaweed, cover the seaweed”, she chants with a rhythm and inflection that births a jingle.
Pink sun-hat on her head, she grabs at star-shaped biscuits the with little crabby hands. Hand to bowl, smash to mouth and repeat.
The young leaders: “guys!” They keep digging. “Guys listen!” They pat at the walls of the trenches they have dug. “Guys listen to me!” This time exasperated. “Let’s dig a third hole, right over there!” He gets started and the others nod.
Another girl whips her head around to her friend and says “I’ll show you where to go”. She jumps into the sea without looking back to see if anyone is following.
He wades in tentatively. Stares as the sand suck at his feet. Forwards, a cool flush, backwards, the liquid rolls.
A watering hole. A puddle surrounding the pipe. Good for washing hands and feet, he’s discovered.
Things flow downstream. Just dig a line towards the sea and pour water from the very top. Watch as it flows like a viscous substance. Slurred, languorous.
Little boy follows the trail, the dip in the sand. It must lead somewhere, it’s a path after all.
Dark barley grains, black almost. They must be collected and separated from the lighter sand. How else does one layer the cake?
From time immemorial, the fetching of water. To the sea they go, and back to home base. Used for building. Used to refill the temporary well, the water mysteriously disappearing underground.
Only 2% of gingers in the world and they’re all congregated in London. You’d swear it was at least 34%. Although they comprise a substantial portion of the population, London teems with diversity, bearing the unmistakable face of globalisation.
London presents the historical backdrop on which the modern man walks: Ed, adamantly against Brexit (and sadly, his grandparents), gets on the Tube and sits next to a tanned Australian. He catches a little Italian in his ear on the way to work and eyes Hindi on the menu for a plate of steaming samosas during his lunch break at Borough market. He wonders whether it used to be a train station (it wasn’t; the market’s been around for 1000 years). After work, he rides a bike past St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Monument for the Great Fire of London, and finds himself flying through the East London markets where hijabs and crates of all trades abound. Vegetables, pyjamas, fake handbags, check. Home at last, he calls his Chinese-born-French girlfriend and greets her with a few lines he’s picked up from his colleague. Ed is a happy Londoner because he doesn’t have to lie about being culturally conscious when interviewed.
If you’re not bilingual, you’re probably biracial. Or maybe you’re a Briton through and through; it doesn’t matter. You’re not special for being different. Or perhaps you are- but so is everyone else.
But what about the rituals? What about tradition? Well, there’s Sunday Roast and Day Drinking and Drinking At All Times. Coffee and tea are not opposed. You’ll see friends, waiters, hobos, crouching with their smokes, men with stiff quiffs and absolutely no bins anywhere. The bins were my greatest disappointment; I will not be returning.
Just kidding. The weather determines all.
I thought: gorillas. Or guerrilla warfare. The kind you must shield your ears from. Laughter like bombs going off, cackles and obnoxious shouts of jubilee. I flinched at every sound, ears turning inwards, conch shell cochlea spiralling towards a fine point.
Overwhelmed by my own discomfort, I could not see the beauty and triumph of the moment: a revolutionary shout. A carriage of black people, celebrating themselves and their togetherness; rowdy, group effervescence. The football stadium kind, when your team make the goal and boy, you’re so proud. When it’s girls night and yes it’s really about the dancing. When the Theban women gather for three nights with their baskets and torches to revel in the magic of womanhood.
“It was kinda cool. I thought that this must have been what it was like for Rosa Parks”, she said.
What an insightful thing to say, I thought. What an awesome picture. With that, my anger cooled, my heart glad.
In the morning, there can be no Taylor Swift. She is banned. I will take a dose of Thrupence, a gentle waking, the tinkle of wind chimes. My husband needs to know to cure me with morning sex and a bit of coffee to nudge me into existence. A good roommate knows to leave me quietly on the bed, Bible on my lap.
An apple in the morning is the ticket to swelling in the belly- straight to the second trimester. Lunch feels like second lunch. Will this ever pass? Will there be good in the world?
I will yet praise Him. Ah, there it is. The lamp switched on; I am loved. I walk with a small smile for I have inherited the world.
[Hong Kong post]:
Thankful that there was only one other person in my Muay Thai class when my body was processing the alcohol, so I wouldn’t have to kick the bag a hundred times as we usually did in a group effort. So I didn’t have to vomit. Thankful that I had an extra hour before class to drink a Pocari Sweat. Although it reminded me of chlorine and nausea and high school P.E.
Thankful someone got off on the same bus stop as me so I didn’t have to yell at the bus driver.
I just locked myself in the shower with a fart. I let the water run along the grime on my skin from the oily glares of men on the streets of London, men on bikes risking their health insurance. Craning necks out of car windows- about to break. What a time to have small boobs!
Theres an inbuilt revulsion to lust in the eyes, uninvited. Intrusion, violation. So different from the relish under the hot, hungry eyes (like glowing coals) of the good looker across the bar. The ephemeral power in arresting his attention. No, the wolfish hoot of a predator makes me small. I lower my head, tail tucked behind my legs. I want to disappear so you can’t have me at all- not so much as a wispy silhouette.
Why can’t I wear my shorts, my body hugging skirt? Why must I wear turtlenecks in the summer? We brace not from the chill of night but from the assault: “nipples!” he bellows. “Wow you’re hot, where are you from?”, “Chinese!”, “Japan!”, “can I hang out with you guys?” A whistle. A scuffle and a greeting: “OII!” When we walk away, we are “fucking rude”, lips tight, fist clenched. It could be worse. Boy, it could be much, much worse.
Tongue like a viper. I haven’t spoken to a quick witted male in so long I’ve forgotten how to flirt. I think I might be flushing. I’m particularly taken with ‘darling’ and ‘my love’, even though that’s what bartenders and fathers do. The English have a way, don’t they, even when they’re ginger and not particularly good looking.
I had a crisis moment. She said something that could have been sarcastic. She wasn’t. I used to be able to tell, easily. The Brits are superior.
“I love colours but only if they’re black”. She said Jesus did Jewish magic and that she had Wicca friends. Went to a festival for druids and witches. Believes in communism and disagrees with old fashioned social categorisation. Gender fluidity, unidentifiable sexual orientation, a child of the 21st century. She thrived in Catholic school- the parties were wild. I listened but I was two strikes away from saying “don’t talk about politics and religion on a first date”. I hadn’t seen her in so long, it might as well have been our first meeting.
I missed the train by one minute. One. I ran/ jogged to the station as fast as I could in my sandals, slap slap on the concrete. I had to focus on retracing my steps from the station but was distracted by the sun skimming over the sea, the belly of a boat nestled in the streaks. The sky a dazzling blue.
It was getting dark- the first time I’ve been anxious on my trip. What would happen if I missed the stop? Would there be a last train home? How will I find my way back from the station to the house when I am blind to streets in daylight? My stomach lurched when the guy spoke through the speakers overhead, horrified by the thought that I might have been on the wrong train. Romsey. Thank God! I scrambled out and saw my grandad on the bench, waiting for me. As we walked home, he said “I know you would have found your way back, you’re a big girl, but I do feel a little responsible for you”. I nodded in gratitude, hushed into contemplation of the child I still very much am.
The first thing that caught my eye was a crate of wine bottle carcasses. I’ve been drinking every day since I got to the UK and I have never once been bored. It is not the wine I like so much as the leisure with which it is associated. We talk about French etiquette, Tom Hardy, the future of agriculture (apparently we’ll be farming vertically, skywards), things I know nothing about. They take pleasure in blue and white china tea sets, in sparkling water with a slice of lemon in it. Dorset’s red cheese and peppered crackers after dinner. It is never too much trouble.
I am so beside myself; it’s been perfect. I’ve been so present on this holiday. I mean, I am never thinking of being elsewhere, rarely dipping into the past or the future. Rarely in need of anything or anyone. I feed on my family’s love of culture, history, art, and good food. On my grandparents’ wisdom. I am so FULL.
Photo of New Zealand by my grandfather.
I am tucked in the middle of a queen-sized bed in my favourite black bralette. Family Guy is running in the background and in front of me is a scenic painting of Norwegian mountains. I have a glass of water beside me, a cup of tea, a bowl of jelly beans and a dry-fit hiking hat I told my granddad I liked. That hat has been to the untouched underbrush of New Zealand, the snow tipped French Alps and the coves of Mallorca.
Grandparents love to spoil their grandchildren, especially grandchildren they don’t see often. Love pours out of their eyeballs, like dew drops by the bridge of their noses (they’re not crying, it’s just something that happens when the glands are tired). “Let me get you coffee!” said my grandma. “Let me get these tickets for you” said my grandpa. But the best part of it all is that time with them is sacred. Momentous. The fact of your existence is already a joy and you are an exquisite thing to be learned and absorbed. They get the gist of you, the husk, your knack for the arts a red pin in your profile. Your favourite colour, a pair of killer heels on a card when you had a phase for fashion illustration. A photo of a dog, a cut-out from the newspaper, something they think you’d like. Being around them is so plainly satisfying. There’s so much to learn from these wizened souls, the ripples of influence forever expanding from their ancestors to your parents and now to you. We carry each other in one way or another, the memory of you ingrained in the way I pay close attention to harmonies, enraptured. In the way my desk mirrors the clutter in your kitchen, a projection of the sparks in your mind.
The older generation knows that tomatoes are picked from trees, not grown in baskets. Grandparents raised in the countryside have a special appreciation for the world that moves without us, like the scuttling of hedgehogs at night and the turning of leaves from lime to amber. They are in wonderment of the Earth, the ancient trees, the land that gives and gives us life. The carpeted floors of moss, the gentle trot of speckle-breasted does by crystal streams. Life all around us, nudging us into humility. Beautiful without even trying! And you see how they used to think the gods were everywhere.
I walked through the fields, weeds tickling my ankles. In the dust from which I came, I thought, horse poo trailing my Nikes. Out sprung a blackberry bush, and I picked at them with fervour, bearing the sting of nettles on my hip and hands. Not to fear, they grow by Doc leaves, I remembered my dad once said. I rubbed the leaves on the swollen bumps and the pulsing in my hands abated. The Earth provides. I went home, boiled the blackberries and made dessert. The Earth provides.