Thursday, 29 October 2015

The Tough Trough Tragedy: Halloween 2015

I knew that there was something wrong.
Why do we do that?
We know that something is wrong but don’t want to seem silly and somehow that is more important. We do things even when there is a voice in our head shouting not to do it: fear of looking foolish overrides self preservation.
I never knew till then just how strong that desire to fit in was.
I am not what other people would call conventional.
Got purple hair, a half sleeve tattoo of skulls and mermaids, a pierced lip.
Did I listen when people said not to dye my hair or get inked or pierced?
Clearly not.
Did I listen when my instincts told me something was horribly wrong here?
Clearly not.
I was lucky, in a way.
I survived, anyway.
But the others didn’t and that is impossible to forget.
I’m here, alive, but I’m stuck with those images for life.
I lost one finger and my peace of mind.
I suppose you want to hear about it.
Everyone does, like it was something awesome that happened.
It was different; I understand the novelty appeal, I suppose.
So okay, I’ll tell you about it.

Firstly, the first thing I think is important to mention, it was a beautiful autumn day. The sun was hot, a last blast of summer heat, and there was an edge of salt-chill in the breeze, a reminder that winter is coming. 
It makes you glad to have had the summer, but still look forward to the snuggle of winter nights. And the air smelled kind of spiced, a mix of damp leaf and pine and cinnamon. 
It reminds me of apple pies, that smell. And toffee apples. 
But anyway, it’s important because everyone was in a good mood with the changing weather. 
We were having a lovely time doing not much. Kicking up fallen leaves, and no one actually said look at those colours but we were all in the middle of these bright reds, oranges, yellows, deep shiny browns, it affects you. It isn’t jewels but it might as well be. Better than precious. I think. More precious. A moment in time. Thinking of that is almost happy, even now. The spice scent of autumn, the fire colours. Sunset colours. 
We watched the sun flame the horizon: that night the horizon was fuzzed with trees. I love the sunset with any edging: sharp buildings, a haze of sea, those crosshatched tree lines, the rolls of a desert. That night it was trees, part leafed deciduous and part pine, the heavy needled sort that looks a bit like a chimney brush.
Night scent was more salt, damper, thick with bonfire smoke.

I’m trying to think now, whose idea it was.
It wasn't a bad idea. It was a brilliant idea.
We would take a large bucket to the water’s edge. Do our apple bobbing with the dark tidal water.
Because - I forget you weren’t there, you don’t know. Behind the tree line was a beach.
We were upriver, a short way, not far from the sea.
The water tastes salt there, not that you would want taste it.
Salt and river mud: there’s a crisp flavour that won’t catch on.
Anyway, I’m digressing. Because now it starts. The feeling that something is wrong.
I remember it’s Old Bob who starts with the story.
They killed a shark here he says.
We are drawing dark water into a bucket and the torchlight bounces off the water surface.
It’s unnecessarily dramatic.
Blamed the sea monster for a spate of missing persons, Old Bob says. Wasn’t never him, Old Bob says. He wasn't a stickler for grammar.
Wasn’t never, we said back.
We were laughing at the story.
But the water was beyond dark, that night.
There was something about it. I want to say evil but that’s lazy, it’s not quite how it was.
Something compelling. Sort of fascinating but the idea that it was wrong began to wriggle, maybe like bait wriggles. Compelled like fish.
Killed a shark, Old Bob repeats. Speared it open and found no trace of any people.
Not until they followed the shark that somehow, having been gutted, leapt back into the water and led the fishermen to a pile of submerged rocks.
The shark disappeared, presumed deceased.
Under the rocks, the missing people, decidedly deceased.
Smugglers, they think, had done them in.
I don’t know if that’s true.
All the found bones were buried ashore.
Several buckets, we took.
And by now the moon had launched a full reflection on that stretch of deep water.
We carried the buckets back to the house.
Filled up the old trough there.
Dropped in one apple each.

The old trough is made of granite. No one is disappearing through solid granite.
No one should, anyway.
The moon’s face lay amongst the apples.
Here is where I realised that I felt uneasy.
Under the surface, something lurked.I couldn’t see it, I just knew it.
It made no sense.
Why, and how?
And what?
Solid granite, the old trough. Solid.

Anyway, do you want to know who was there?
It’s too late to get to know them really, of course.
But I knew them and I want to remember them.
Tell their stories.

Old Bob was not old in years. He just didn’t speak much and he was kind of yokel. He knew all the stories about local stuff, like he knew about the shark and the missing people. He knew random things like Mrs Knerley had thrown a wrench at her husband and broken his collarbone, because he’d scratched her car. She has a vintage car and wears her hair up in a scarf, 50s style. Old Bob worked in the garage, and he was a good listener. People told him stuff and he would just add it in to a conversation even if it didn’t entirely fit the theme. The randomness was part of his charm.

Mona was random too, I guess that’s how I like my company. But she was The Loud One. That girl could barely breathe quietly. She had an exuberance, that’s why people liked her. Oddly, if you told Mona something, she would not repeat it. She was loud and discrete. Her taste in jokes was dubious. But she laughed so loud it was funnier than the joke anyway. Her clothes were loud, she liked to clash colours and prints. Anyone who mocked that was in for an amazing backlash. Mona would trash them for being boring and they would not get another word in.

Sully was the one we all wanted to take care of. Neglected by an alcoholic mother and an angry, mostly absentee father. He was skinny, big eyed, twitchy. Had self harm scars, self depreciating humour. But he could sing. His voice was like all of the love he should have had. And he dressed nice; quirky, sort of a modern vintage look. Striped shirts, waistcoats, a hat. Wide ties. Pocket squares. He rolled his sleeves up neatly. It showed you that he was working on getting a full quota of self esteem. He didn’t feel sorry for himself.

And there’s me, the survivor. Purple hair - I already told you that. It’s hard to describe yourself because it’s how you think you are, not maybe what the outside sees. I think I’m fairly quiet but not afraid to be the first up to dance. I haven’t grown out of climbing trees. I work in a greengrocer’s. I go surfing. That is me, I guess, not grown-up by conventional standards but having a lovely time being alive in a way that the 9-5 career minded people forget about. Not all of them, just a lot of them. At least my friends remembered to love being alive. Think about that, because if you’re not loving living, you are wasting it. Not the same as avoiding pain, I should point out. I hurt now, because I’m grieving. But circumstances pass, don’t they, and you grow from them. Even terrible things can grow your soul. Resilience grows.

The old trough. That’s what you want to know about, not my philosophy.
How the water was trembling and so dark, and slippery, and the apples pale, haunted, like drowned faces, and the moon was quivering there, trying to warn us.
The granite had lost all the warmth of the day. There was room for three of us to crouch over the edge; that’s why I’m here. I had my phone fully charged. Old Bob had left his at home, Sully didn’t have a camera on his. Mona had forgotten to charge hers. I said I’ll film it, so I helped tie on the blindfolds. The water looked horrible: like it was going to do harm. My hands were trembling but I still tied scarves around my friends’ faces. Why didn’t I say something?
Mona was saying how nervous she was feeling, and we laughed it off.
They were there, at the edge of the trough, leaning over, mouths open, saying, it’s cold, it feels weird, and then - something, something snapped up out of the water, something ghostly, and way too big to be in the trough and I leapt forward to grab them away because they were blindfolded, I leapt forwards into something like a freezing mist. I dropped my phone, I wasn’t thinking about the phone then, but I lost the footage. So I can’t go back and see what that was. I can only remember; it was cold, and sharp. It took my finger cleanly off. See the edge there? Like a sharp knife took it, a sharp, slightly serrated knife. I could see Mona, Sully, Old Bob, disappearing down: they were pale like the apples, they got smaller, fainter, absorbed into the dark, and there were others in there too, in whatever abyss just opened up in front of me. I put my hand in and felt solid granite. They were gone. I was there, missing a finger. Sully’s coat was neatly folded on the ground.
Where did they go?
I think they’re in the water. But there’s no real explanation, is there?
I’m just a crackpot now, an oddball with a story no one can prove or disprove.
The missing persons’ cases go unsolved.
I work at the greengrocer’s and I still surf. Unless I get a bad feeling, then I stay on land.
I never mistrust my instincts now.
I’m wary of making friends because the loss is so painful, but, you know, I still love this life.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Lessons In Leaves

Michaelmas is long gone and no one has told the blackberries up here. I wasn’t about to let on. Under stripes of cloud and sun, a fruit feast is plucked, is popped, piece by piece, in to a thirsty mouth. Cut stalks noisy under walking feet, fingers tinged purple; from fields to moors over the river, I spy out. I shall traverse this open ground, I announce, whilst the air holds dry.
But into the small woods we are drawn, Dog and I; her by scent and me by leaf.
Sometimes we see more, standing in shade.
Structures in bright relief.
Dog can easily follow the path as it tunnels under fern and bramble. I follow, stumble, trousers caught in thorny twine.

No less happy - this is adventure. This is story living, story making.
We become what we live, so we should live with care and abandon.
In the light, to stride, to acknowledge happiness.
In the shade, to know the light shines through.
To be of structural interest.

Leaves are falling, as we head home along our winding lane.
They land lightly, drift in a breeze, coloured warm.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

It Is Beautiful

In the polytunnel.
Draped in sun, I am sitting.
Contemplating on this, sitting, listening.
Absorption happens.
Bird chatter, scent of damped soil warming.
How the sun has dressed this lawn, in beaded rainbows.
Even Dog gives in to the bliss, lolls her head on the doorframe.

Yesterday was the first frost. The first new moon in the tenth month.
I had stood indoors, where the sun streamed in, where it poured through an old glass bottle-stopper; the facets of it spread a party of light on the wall.
I knew the physics of the trick and remained in thrall.
Everything is illusion, coloured by perception.
And lit, by design or accident, by this thrall.
From us, through us: it matters not.
Absorb, and surrender to the trick. It is beautiful.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Owl's Answers

Yesterday I walked in the small woods. Up the steep slips of fallen leaf.
Found myself under a dome of tree cover. Something about it caught my attention - the circularity, the floor of dark leaves, when the rest of the woods is strewn with fern and bramble.
There was only the sighs of autumn leaves to be heard, high above.
I raised my eyes, un-expectant, to where an owl was asleep.
Yellow eyes opened: we stared at each other.
I willed it to read my questions. I have much to ask. Time paused. Then the owl flew.
I clearly heard the brisk rustle of its feathers.
I had never before woken an owl.
I walked out of the cut field into redemptive rain.
Just before home, the rain stopped. Out of the hedge, two ripe strawberries were gathered.

In the night, bad dreams came. In the morning nothing factual remains, only the fear.
Had the owl answered my questions? I hoped not.
I went back to the small woods.

Today the sun shone, the owl was not at home. Dog sprang a deer out of the hedge.
A pair of wagtails swung on a wire, singing.
Butterflies, everywhere, and one dragonfly. It sits on a dead twig, flaunting its shimmer.

These are the answers, I decided.
Because what do these wild things know?
They live vulnerable every minute.

Uncertainty is a wisdom. For the consciously thoughtful, circumstances are insubstantial, except as ways in which to practice an adjustment of attitude.

I eat warm blackberries and follow Dog: she traces after the deer. We go up the slope of the field, the long slope, steeper than it looks. The same angle as the small woods.
We see the summit, aim for it.
Walk and walk, because an analogy makes most sense when it has this physical presence.
We do not quit, so we get to the top.
Somewhere the owl will be snoozing, and it will not worry about dreams.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Roots And Twigs

Ida and Dennis at West Bay

I just wanted to listen to the wind and the fat trunked ash.
The branches, leafless all spring, all summer; in autumn there is nothing to drop but weathered wood.
A tree surgeon is booked. A gap in the skyline is coming.
Ivy shimmies on the bare shoulders of our old giant. It stands where it has always stood, where once it was supple in the breezes that fly the length of this river valley. Solid seeming, patterned skeletal, neural, calmly falling to pieces.

Seasons turn. Change comes. Unplanted, we make our paths through obstacles, and according to which view we seek. The roots of people are moveable, nourished by dreams.
8th September 1925, Burnley, Lancashire: a girl is born, a first child. Her name is Ida.
Four more children follow her into this family. Through the 1930s where work and food are scare, she looks after this brood while her parents look for work. Things are shoeless, hungry. Two of her sisters take ill: they die.
1939: war brings opportunity. Ida joins the Women’s Land Army and is posted to Fairfield House in Honiton, Devon. She learns to drive a tractor. She loves this rural life. She swears to be back.
1947, Burnley: Industrial Lancashire is brightened in love. Ida marries Maurice.
They run a bakery, then a draper’s shop. Ida has an eye for a good property. They move a lot. They bring with them their daughter. Maurice is an engineer. They move house more and more and now have two sons. An opportunity arises to move to Devon. Maurice builds the petrol station there, in Uplyme.
1963, Uplyme, Devon. Ida is 38 and widowed. Cancer takes Maurice away.
(So I don’t get to meet my grandfather at all. I get born in 1970, and my parents follow the rural idyll too. We all move to Cornwall. This dream is linked.)
I am never permitted to call Dennis my granddad, but he is my granddad. Him and Ida meet at a dance in Uplyme Village Hall. They move in together, settle eventually in West Bay.
A combination of Barley Wine and Alzheimer’s makes for some interesting years.
My famous, pub fighter Gran! Later, the maddest woman in all of England still living in her own house. Always, my poor mother.
Dennis passes first. Swiftly, into the night.
But twilight comes for Ida too, a gentler disintegration. Anger is lost, and although language and acuity go with it, a happiness is found. She is a child without responsibility. She sees the sky, the flowers, the seasons flow through the tree line.
She leaves this life of 90 years, closed in a tiny box.
My memento mori includes a stuffed red squirrel and a gold tea set.
The sense to listen to trees.
The grit to keep making my path.

My parents, my little brother, my uncles, me,  and my Gran