Issue #71 March 12th - 18th, 2004
The beauty in the way that we are living (installment 6)
The long lost diary of Miss S L Gleaden (part 21)
A Walk in the woods
Adventures in Wales
Once upon a time, me and my friend from Liverpool went to Caernafon to buy a pint of milk, with a Japanese girl asleep in the back of my car. After being chatted up in Welsh, I was in a good mood and we had Placebo and David Bowie alternatively supplying the soundtrack as we drove away. As Michiko hadn't been to Wales before and as I was bouncing around with the joy of having seen her sob her heart out at the sight of the beautiful Llanberis, I was of a mind to drive and just drive. Therefore, I handed her a book called 'Scenic Cymru' and said 'Pick a place'. I figured the milk wouldn't go off this late in the evening.
She'd flicked through and eventually came to a picture of Bardsey Island. She wanted to go there. Oh dear, we can't go to Bardsey, because it's a protected place for birds, but we can look at it. She wanted to do that, but she was very tired (having had a thoroughly Syd Barrett education the day before, to which she'd been exposed to for the first time. She'd arrived from Japan with long hair and an overly polite, shy demeanour; we sent her back with a New Model Army jacket, her head shaved; and the sort of knowledge they never test you in English classes in Tokyo. Anyway, back to the point...), so she lay down and went akip.
Eric and I sang our way out of Caernafon and turned right, thinking that that was a good idea when trying to get to the tip of the Llyn to see Bardsey Island. By the time we were singing 'Every You Every Me', we were passing Harlech Castle; so we stopped, turned around, actually read the signposts this time, and eventually turned left onto the Llyn.
Gwynedd as a county can be weird. Gwynedd at twilight with an overweight druid, an over-excited witch and sleeping Japanese tourist can be downright weird. None of this prepares you for the Llyn Pensinula. Quick guide for those who have never set foot on it - it the bit that looks like a miniture version of Cornwall, sticking out of the top of Wales; it's got towns every now and again on the outskirts, but the centre rises up into mountains. All the locals speak Welsh as their first language and the further along it you go, the more you become convinced that it's not entirely in the same dimension as the rest of Britain. That it's not in the same century goes without saying.
It was going dark by the time we found Abersoch (for the first time), so our hippy dreams of seeing the sunset over Bardsey suddenly had a deadline. Despite the lack of a map (we were following my mental map, which is always an interesting experience for all concerned), I was confident, so we set off in the direction of the sun on the basis that we were all going west.
It was very dark by the time we found Abersoch again, having had an adventure with a suicidal cat, who we decided was probably an otherworldly messenger after it kept turning up miles away from where it was last seen; then proceeded to walk in the middle of the lane and suddenly stop to look at us, right in front of a turning. We took the turning.
It was dark in the pitch black way that you only find in the countryside by the time we found Abersoch again and we decided it would be nice to get to the tip of the Llyn by midnight. There was a meeting and the conclusion was unanimous - Brian Molko is lovely, but it was time for the heavy artillery. We put Bowie on.
This time the otherworldly messenger, Placebo hating cat told us the right lane to take - a very timid lane, which had never been there before and it led us into Brigadoon... I mean Aberdaron. Aberdaron isn't always there. It must appear more frequently than 100 years, because I've found it again since and I don't think 100 years passed in the meantime. It might have done, because I don't actually own a working watch (they tend to die on me within weeks), but I doubt it.
To be continued...
The beauty in the way that we are living, installment six
Let me do my work each day; and if the darkened hours of despair overcome me, may I not forget the strength that comforted me in the desolation of other times.
Aproximately half of Max Ehrmann's "A prayer"
"Shall we go for a drive by the sea?"
I nearly fall off my chair. We disagree a little just for tradition's shake (it's cold, the car is small and there are four of us) before we whole-heartedly agree (it's nearly her birthday after all.) So we get our coats, shoes and mobile phones, a mixtape and a chocolate bar and set off in what I think is a southbound direction. I only think so cause I know the sea lies south of Athens, but we could be going west for all I know...
But first, before the sea, there is Pireas. This, if I'm not mistaken, used to be a seperate town that served as a port for the city Athens. Today it is a city the size of my hometown (a million inhabitants, that is) squizzed between Athens and the sea, about which I know nearly nothing. Tonight it is dark, empty and exciting, alternatively industrial-looking and picturesque in that uniquely Greek, half-hearted way. I sing along to the mixtape, we eat the chocolate and drive -taking seaside roads and following cable lines through strange neighbourhoods I never suspected they were there and almost getting lost- in near silence or maybe that's just the way I feel.
I stare and stare out of the window, almost anxious to take it all in, feeling like a little girl in a big world which in its turn feels slightly intimidating but also just right. I break the silence in my head by saying out loud that maybe I'll stay in Athens for a long time, long enough for me to learn about all these places, and remembering that I can, in a way, conquer all this makes me feel better. Soon afterwards the road we have taken brings us back to my neighbourhood and I say thank you, goodnight, and go back in to listen to the song about Saturday smiles a few more times before I go to bed.
As I walk uphill to yet-another bus stop I feel in love with Saturday afternoons and every little thing you can break them down into: the sweet mix of the faint tiredness and coffee-induced hyperctive-ness, the smell of my half-washed-away-by-light-sweat-and-city-smoke perfume, the sunshine, the feeling of leisure in the air. As I walk I make films of the things I see in my head which makes me realise how much I forget to see most of the time. It also makes me dizzy, but in a good way. Things still aren't fine but for a moment it doesn't matter very much.
At the bus stop, waiting for yet-another bus, I realise that the Tidy-ups' "spring is coming closer and summer will be really nice" is turning into a mantra.
The Long Lost Diary Of Miss S L Gleaden
The diary of Miss S L Gleaden had peacefully travelled the world with the dippy but loveable adventurer. Its life had been interesting and slightly unpredictable, but no matter where it was S L Gleaden provided a safe corner in her rucksack. Until that is insisted that the pair should part company catapulting the diary into a whirlwind of bizarre and slightly random situations and as a result it found its way into the hands of the Rosemary Hill an English nurse who had emigrated to New Zealand in the mid 1980s. This was shorltly followed by a whirlwind of bizarre and slightly random situations which lead to Rosemary Hill Losing the Diary. Undeterred she travelled to England in search of the Explorer herself.
Rosemary Hill watched buildings and cars turn into trees and fields as the train hurried her out of London towards what was once the fourteenth wealthiest town in England. She was pleased. She had managed to get a seat by herself with a good view out of the window and she felt happy to sit daydreaming as the scenary rattled by.
Her daydreams faltered and she began to watch the other passengers on the train. Excited Children playing eye spy, the young student with a bag packed full of dirty laundry, but the passengers who fascinated her the most were the old couple eating sandwiches.
The woman was handing her husband sandwiches out of an old battered sandwich box. They looked like they were on their way back from a picnicÖ either that or they hadn't had much in the house when they had packed that sandwich box. They didn't really say much. Rosemary watched them for a while thinking it must be nice to be in love with someone you know so well. To be in love with someone despite knowing them so well.
At 2.47, as instructed, Rosmary Hill had rung the St Jospeh's to be told that the Headmaster was still unavailable to speak to her but she would be most welcome to come to the school in person on Thursday and meet with him. The secretary had explained that due to some faulty batteries and the unforgiving nature of the 25 hour clock the whole school was approximately 26 minutes behind itself.
"We should be caught up by Thursday though. None of this would have happened if it wasn't for that meddling girl of course." The secretary had said.
The phenomen of the 25 hour clock had intrigued Rosemary Hill since the first time she had read about it on the St Joseph's website. She had spent hours trying to work out hour the system would work but it baffled her completely. It puzzled her how much the secretary seemed to dislike S L Gleaden who was obviously some kind of genius.
"I don't mean to be rude but you don't seem very fond of Miss S L Gleaden." Rosemary said.
"No, No, of course I didn't dislike her. What is there to dislike about her? Very charming and a real dreamer. That was the problem though, she was perhaps a little too charming. Somehow always managed to persuade the Headmaster to go along with one of her mad schemes. He'd spend 5 minutes with her and turn from a sensible English gentleman into a crazy daydreamer."
Rosemary had smiled and secretly thought that maybe the transformation was for the better.
It was dark as the train pulled into Colchester station. In a daze she went outside to look for a taxi. "It's the easiest way believe me" the secretary had said. "You could chance your luck on one of the local buses but if fancy arriving in one piece you'd be better off getting the train to Colchester and then a a taxi."
By now the jet lag was beginning to strike Rosemary willingly paid taxi driver to take her pre-booked bed and breakfast in Lavenham and a small step closer in discoverving the truth about Miss S L Gleaden.
to be continued...
I don't know why, but I started the day in a very nasty mood. My ill temper stuck inside me like a worm that can't escape from a rotten apple. I wish there was a grumpy pill I could take, instant happiness without a hangover. I had some errands to run and as I was marching out the door, my eighteen-year-old daughter had the audacity to ask me where I was going. "Out," I mutter cantankerously under my breath. Then, I tripped on the doorframe, nearly flying into an icy snow bank. I felt her smile nail me squarely between the shoulders.
Anyway, I'm out doing my running around like gerbil with a toothache (do rodents go to dentists), when I decide to pick up some martini materials. Perhaps the booze will snap me out of my bitchy mood. As I'm driving and trying to find a pick me up song on the radio, I realize I need two more martini glasses. Four are ideal: two in the freezer, and two in the hand, a perfect rotation. My financial situation demands frugality, so I head to the thrift store in my neighbourhood, hoping to find the necessary jewels. The store is in a banal strip mall tucked neatly between a liquor store and a bottle depot (irony is not lost.) I enter the store, but to my displeasure I can't find any martini glasses. A nice coffee mug with "Microsoft University" plastered on it catches my eye, but the thought of greediness lingering in my cupboard makes me gag. I move over to the used book section. I gasp a sigh of relief. Ah yes, books, a soothing intoxicant.
My bargain book-hunting eye snags a small paperback. It's tiny and stuck between two massive self-help books; the new age books are so glossy and new they've never been opened. I pull a delicate novel from between the two monsters, holding it in my hand like a precious bottle of twenty-five year old scotch. "Holy shit," I say to myself, "it's a first edition paperback of James Baldwin's "Giovanni's Room." I can't believe it! (I think about the unread first edition hardcover of "Just Above My Head" that lurks in my bookcase imprisoned behind glass doors.) I look at the book. It's smooth and black and it's more like a "pocket book," rather than a paperback. The book dates back to the sixties where novels were placed on a rack in the local neighbourhood drug store, the days before mega-conglomerate book stores (too organized, no musty smell.) There's something bygone about the gem in my palm. I gently open the front cover and see the asking price of twenty-five cents. That's even cheaper than the original price (sixty cents won't fetch a conglomerate coffee these days.) I actually have to debate whether I'll break a twenty. It doesn't take long to decide.
I walk to the front of the store to pay for my newfound prize. I am so excited, a minute film of sweat bounces from my palm to the book. In the line up is a mother with her two small children. She is obviously a newcomer to the country because she's shy and not confident with her developing language skills. She struggles linguistically with the cashier, who at least doesn't yell at the immigrant (volume doesn't equal comprehension.) The mother finally makes it clear she needs someone to call her a cab. "Does anyone know the number?" floats around the line up like a plastic bag in a windstorm. I feel the book in my hand when suddenly I am poked in the ribs. "Hey, I'm worth more than two-bits, aren't I?" Mr. Baldwin asks. Then out of nowhere I shout, "I'll give you a ride home. No need to call a cab." Smiles all around (I caught the bag.) The mother asks; "table?" She says the word with the false precision of an English teacher. "Sure," I say. "We can take the table as well," sounding equally pedantic. Mr. Baldwin thanks me.
So I take the kids, mom and the new table home. Language is unnecessary for direction because the mother just taps me on the shoulder and points when I need to turn. I am happily carting the table from my truck to her door, when she whispers, "may God bless you." Then I hear her little boy, who has picked up English quite well, shout "I really like that man, mommy." Mr. Baldwin agrees.
I drive home happy not because I did a good deed, but elated because I did the right thing (so many missed opportunities.) As I walk in the front door, I notice my mood has dissipated like morning dew burnt by the sun. The liquid rises invisibly to the sky to make rain on another day. I apologize to my daughter and give her a big hug. I tell her my afternoon story and show her my new book (I wish I could forgive like her.) I scrutinize the inside cover and realize it's not as valuable as I had thought, but the deed and the story hidden in the bargain price makes the book invaluable. Mr. Baldwin nods.
A Walk in the Woods
We go walking through the forests, looking for mushrooms - or that's the excuse! Mostly it's a pretty day, there's a scintillating autumn chill in the sky that's turning palest baby-blue and we don't fancy being in town. So, tea in flasks, flasks in bags, bags in car and on out to the hills. (Of course, we both know there won't be any mushrooms, there having been no rain and the ground hard-baked clay and hot. But distant memories of days spent foraging, plastic-bags bulging on the way back, and then to the fancy restaurants in the tourist-town nearby, where delighted chef's had pushed fist-fulls of dollars into your hand as they seized the bags with gleaming paws and beating hearts... well, it's something to tell other people.)
Today is a new forest though - at least to us. I've known about it for a while, but never one for doing things alone, I'd waited to find someone to come along - and there was you. We drive into it through the rusty old gate with no "no entry" sign, hanging wearily from its post. We meander through the contoured roads - not too far, because I'm wary of not being able to find my way out again. In a nice sunny spot, where a wide fork in the road creates a gap in the dense canopy above, I park the car, we take our things and walk. It is so quiet! The sort of silence that is not disturbed in the least by the twittering of birds, the murmuring of wind through the trees, the chirruping of insects and the sound of drying needles under our boots.
The forest is of course not natural - this is not a naturally woody area, and the pines, though planted in regular rhythms make me think of a Canadian forest; though without the grizzly-bears, as you are relieved to point out to me. Our eyes are not on the ground, though we both carry bags. You also have the tea; I heave the blanket around with me. The morning-chill is all but gone, and stray shafts of sunlight through the trees adds to the heat of walking. Soon you suggest we take a break. In fact, we have not gone so far, but that is what I too want to do. The pines have drained the soil of any nutrients to sustain undergrowth, and it is the work of a minute to find a level spot, clear it of dried and fallen branches, and flop down on the tired blanket. As if to silently signal our intentions to each other, we both immediately discard boots and socks. Then lie back and take turns to drink from the flasks one cup. Isn't it lucky that we both have our tea the same way? Marvellous!
We talk about this and that, and when we see again, the shade has shifted completely to the other side of the tree. Looks like mushrooms don't just spring up like that, you say, and I think that it's the wittiest thing I've ever heard. I repeat it silently to myself, over and over, until you kiss me, and then I'm too busy kissing you back to think about how cute you are anymore. You stop to drink some more tea, and then I'm thinking that again. It doesn't last... soon you are back to kissing me again.
I suppose I could say it's the heat, but then there's the wink that says I'm lying just a little, but anyway, slowly clothes start to strip themselves. Honest, I'm not sure how it happens, but I can't remember you or I having much to do with it! Next thing we know though, there's the dogs! And dogs with collars too, sniffing down around the bend!
Giggling, we give the game away as they come around the corner, but at least everything is covered as it should be. "They" are an elderly couple - they pay us the courtesy of ignoring our presence altogether... or is that the faintest smile I see around their mouths, in the shiftiest little glance that I manage to turn their way? I think it must be, because before disappearing round the corner in the path, they link hands and slip into step beside each other.
The sun could not be much brighter, and we no longer trust each other quite so much... to stay out of trouble at least, so we giggle and giggle and play as we gather everything and make sure the cigarette-butts are picked up and such. Then I too take you round the waist, and we skip back up the hill to where the car is gleaming now in a sun that is just starting to yawn at its desk and streeeeeeeeetch...
We stow everything in the back and I kiss you once, quickly, before opening the door. The car takes, and is ready to take us... where? Anywhere! But I don't really care, because I have found my flower, and she is drowsing with her head upon my shoulder as we drive and drive and drive... and the whole world opens up before us like the moon jumping up above the trees.