Archive for April, 2009

Learning Lessons

April 27, 2009

Sometimes belly dancers look like they might work in a library.

I learned that last week.

And tried not to let my jaw drop.

And structural engineers like dainty little ballet dancers.

I learned that too. (And felt mildly foolish for my solicitous encouraging of her project – “Oh well done!” – which, on hindsight, must have sounded maternal and patronizing).

Life’s a melting pot of unexpectedness and myriad colour.

Like the kiln – as big as a bed and blue – which rested solidly in the corner of the studio where we worked. Cold cutting glass emerged mellow and warm. Sharp corners smoothed to invitingly voluptuous-glossy roundness. Bold colours fused softly-hued: blues and silvers and greens. Blood reds and rose pinks. Hot oranges and balmy yellows.


I was anxious before I went.

Can I do this? I fretted: learn something new? Is it even the right thing to be learning? For me? Now? At this stage in my life? What if I hate it? Prove incompetent in the face of creativity? Is it self-indulgent? A waste of time and money?

When you’re a metaphorical million miles away from the reality, ideas frequently seem blindingly brilliant. Up, close and personal and when your vision’s cleared and you’re on a train bound for Crewe and that reality is hastening towards you at the speed of light (or at least an intercity East Midlands train), your confidence evaporates.

In the end, though, the apprehension was unfounded.

Because I did learn. Not just that belly dancers can look like librarians and structural engineers like ballerinas. I learnt how to cut silver, mould clay, fuse glass, string beads, set a tiny olive coloured stone into the metal heart I had created so that when I polished it and watched with satisfaction and a spreading child’s smile as the mirror-shine evolved, the tiny gem winked encouragingly.

But I learned something else too. Something much more important.

I discovered that, despite the nerves and the intervening years between my last classroom experience and this one, despite a careworn self-assurance and the worried grappling to clutch at lifesaving (and certainly sanity preserving) straws, despite an innate shyness exacerbated by Outpost living, some bolder part of me was given the opportunity to unfold.

I surprised myself. I laughed a lot and loudly, asked endless questions, made dozens of mistakes and enjoyed every one. And some latent self confidence bubbled to the fore. Because I could do it: I could learn to do something new.

Which just goes to show: you really can pluck a quite different recipe and garner the necessary and make new jam.

There is something deeply, deeply satisfying in knowing that.








Time is going too quickly.

Spring is racing towards summer. Carelessly, heedlessly.

Mum says there is more blossom than she remembers this time last year; that much of it is premature.

That shouldn’t be out until at least June! She exclaims, gesturing a tumbling violet.

The dandelion (dent de lion, lion’s teeth, I learned that last week too) clocks have quickened. Yellow flowers giving way to feathery heads so that Hat already knows she’ll be married in the afternoon: at three.


The rape has tossed bright picnic rugs across green fields.


This time last year Mum was steeped in black gloom. No amount of blue sky and sunshine and quick-breathed Spring gusts could blow densely gathered greyly-sagging cobwebs away.

This year is different. This year she is well.


I don’t know if that’s because the sky is bluer and the sun brighter.

Or whether they are bluer, brighter because she is well.

It does not matter.

All that matters is that Depression is not darkening her quick-approaching summer horizons.




April 18, 2009

My son swims silently up to me in deep green water strung with copper weed which gets tangled in my hair so that for hours later I will be picking bits from my scalp along with granulated sugar grains of white sand.

He grips me about my waist and surfaces, laughing at  my spluttering at the unexpectedness of it.

When I try to do the same though – when I try to take him by shark-like suprise – he turns to face me and smiles through the glass of his mask.

How did you know I was here, I ask?

Your bracelets, Ma, he explains, ”I can hear them jangling under the water”.

I wear nine  thin silver bangles on my right arm and two bronze ones. The latter are snake bracelets. Hat gave them to me. To protect me, she explained, given my penchant for treading on same.

Ah yes. I say.

When my son was small he said the sound of my rattling bracelets, as I tiptoed (somewhat uselessly given the jangling) around the house at night was reassuring. It meant, he said, that Mum was close by. Now he says the noise serves as a warning and gives him time to collapse the game he’s playing on his laptop and replace it with an English essay which he squints at earnestly.

I had not considered my whereabouts was always so easily traced, even under the pillowing weight of cool jade and cobalt blue water.

I ask my husband, ‘does the sound of my bangles bother you at night?’ I ought, perhaps, given we have been married for twenty years to have asked sooner, ‘are you aware of them?’.

‘I was once’, he said, ‘not anymore though’. Unless I am not there. Like now. For then he cannot hear them. Sometimes silence is very loud.

On my right hand I wear a heavy silver and aquamarine ring.  It was my grandmother’s. She was given it in India by somebody whom she had befriended, been kind to. 

I wonder if that’s why I have chosen silver to pot as new jam

I’m in England to do a course to learn how to work with it.

I am quite hopeless with my hands. Rolling pastry defeats me; I avoid it except at Christmas time and then I scowl crossly at mince pie making, and the dough sweats anxiously at my frustrated and impatient touch.   I am hoping silver will be more compliant, forgiving.


I hope my fondness of it, my familiarity with it, will make the learning less difficult. I am plunging deep and far from my comfort zone. Amongst people I have never met. And a long way from home.

It’ll be fun, says Hat who looks tall and composed. Taller. More composed than I remember. And I smile.

She’s usually right. And she is wearing, I notice, a new silver bracelet of her own.

Old Rope, New Jam

April 10, 2009


The sea isn’t blue.

Its hues are touched by the paintbrush position of the sun and the lengthening and lowering of tides.

Now, right now, as I write early morning with a first cup of tea at my side, I am staring at sea glazed silver by a sun that leaves a burnished wake upon the water’s shallow surface; the tide is seeping out. The sand island rising slowly.


By mid morning the island will be wholly visible and the water around it will be dappled jade and aquamarine and turquoise and aquarium green and gin clear at lapping edges. It’s only blue beyond the reef. Deep, dark cobalt.

And as the tide rises with later afternoon winds, white horses will gallop across the ocean but bolt before they reach the beach. There may be rain which will blow heady sea scents through my window and stain the water slate. Sometimes the azure blues or the hot whites or the glowering greys of the sea stretch to link hands with the sky and you can’t tell where one ends and another begins.

I have tried to capture the ocean’s changing moods and shifting shapes and softly morphing colours with my Canon. I was seduced, by the commercials of my childhood, to believe Canon Can. It can’t though. Not always.

Yesterday my son and I tipped into the water with aqualungs. I haven’t done that before. I spied a moray eel almost as big as myself and curled crossly between coral heads. And the crocodile winking eyes of manta rays that thought I could not see them buried beneath the bone white sand at the bottom. I breathed as I had been told to. As you would on land, the instructor said. In. Out. In. Out. Slowly. Don’t be alarmed by all the bubbles, he said, there will be lots. There were. Accompanied by the reassuring wheeze of my regulator. In. Out. In. Out.

It’s a long time since I have done something I have never done before. It’s a liberating, empowering sensation to know you still can.

A family of dolphins attached themselves to the boat on the way home. I wished Hat was with me. Have you ever seen a dolphin, she has asked, I’d like to see a dolphin, she has said. There was a baby that stuck closely to his mother’s side and mimicked her dives so that we could see his small snout alongside hers; the slickly glossed arch of his back bent in perfect synchronization with mum’s. Their dance about the bow so flawlessly choreographed that there were no shrieks or whistles to order an errant performer back into line. Silently, perfectly, beautifully choreographed. Flashes of white beneath a cerulean surface that broke as polished grey.

I took a picture for Hat. I’ll send it to her – even though it does not do the spectacle justice – and try to describe the experience, one of peace juxtaposed peculiarly against sheer exhilaration. I hope she won’t mind that she missed it. Another time, I will say, I promise. Mum assures me she is happy, she met her classmates, the invisible ones, no longer faceless strangers. As if she went to school with them every single day, said Mum. Which she does. In a way. I have bought rainbow shoes, Hat told me in a text message. Rainbow shoes to wear to meet her old-new friends.

One day this will be our home. This little place beside the sea. It was my husband’s mother’s, grandmother’s, my children’s great-grandmother’s and grand-uncles. In times of turmoil this small family has come for cover here. To swim, to eat mandazi (which we buy from a mama who arrives bearing them in a bucket on her head) and mango for breakfast, fish and chip and too much Heinz tomato sauce for lunch, to sleep, to read, to lick our wounds or count or blessings or simply to watch the sea. My children’s dad grew up on the same verandah I sit on now. He played cards where we do every evening. Transient African lives – for the nomadic spirits here touch all our souls – need anchors. I think this is ours.

And our responsibility.

I know nothing about marine conservation. But those who do are willing to share their knowledge. It’s about communities and sustainable fishing and education, they say. It’s about reminding visitors that spangled lime-green and fiery-orange star fish as big as dinner plates will not look like that once plucked from their ocean beds and displayed on mantelpieces back home. Death will dull their brilliance. And make them smell awful, I add. Visitors drop their quarry quickly then, and sheepishly.

Are you using a spear gun? I demand of a young lad who dives beneath the surface after a furtive glance around.

Yes, he admits.

Not here, I say and I indicate two buoys, not between those, I gesture.

What did you tell him Mum, demands Amelia who urged me forth (taunting Call yourself a conservationist?!) and then dove beneath the surface before I opened my mouth. Marine protection is all very well providing it’s not some woman spelling it out to a fellow teen who may just guess she’s your mum.

Go mama! She says once we are safely out of earshot of anybody in the sea.

I walk later on a beach ironed white smooth by high water, white smooth and perfectly clear of the flotsam and jetsam tossed up by waves. No bottles or plastic bags, no discarded thong-less flipflops or old rope.

Just new jam.