Archive for May, 2009


May 19, 2009

Have you ever considered that a bedside table reflects the nature of the very person who climbs into the bed beside it every night?

Not just their preferred reading material. But the people they are.

My own is testament to the hopelessly untidy individual I am. Books and magazines are piled high so that my glasses and nightime bottle of water teeter precariousy atop a backlog of the Spectator and a literary wish list.  And my morning cup of tea battles for space so that I must extract required reading with consummate care.

I am rendered perpetually frustrated that there’s so much to read, so little time; when I do fall into bed, I only manage a page or two before stealing sleep begins to mix up the words so that they start to swim out of the field of my vision and far, far away from my diluted concentration. I know that sleep is close then. A sometime insomniac the feeling of impending unconsciousness is always delicious.

I have just finished Michael Greenberg’s glorious, sad Hurry Down Sunshine. I wept. Mental illness, in this case bipolar disorder, is a cruel thief of lives. And light. And sun: the word features often in the stories of those stalked by Black Dogs and similar beasts: the poet Gwyneth Lewis paints a vivid picture of her Depression in Sunbathing in the Rain. There is, inevitably, a book about madness at my bedside.

Madness or something approximating it, or translated as similar, or deviating from the Norm (whatever that is?): I’m reading William Fiennes beautiful, beautiful Music Room now. His imagery takes my breath away. He paints a before-the-storm summer afternoon ”sultry and close, the air thicker than usual, planes trawling through it like swimmers”.  And he describes his brother, whose brain was scarred by persistent seizures, and his unique view of the world: the cafe, he said ”was a palace of knives. ‘My heart sunk’, he said, after the plane took off. ‘Didn’t yours?’. And I think: what perfect observation.  What perfect, perfect articulation. For a man mosty institutionalised.

Beneath that is a book on OCD – obsessive compulsive disorder. A tome. I pick out the bits that are relevant to what I need to understand. I flick through pages seeking the pertinent words and phrases and skim the rest. It’d be too overwhelming otherwise.

And then there’s the Good University Guide 2009.  To prove – lest the job of ascertaining exactly who I am is left entirely to a study of my bedside table – that I’m trying to be responsible. And normal. Ish. Amongst all the literature on almost-insanity.

My diary lies sandwiched between a copy of Vogue (purchased in a rash moment of insecurity, to prove I am a real woman and like shoes too) and The Week (so that I feel more In Touch). Every year January is tightly filled in, my language careful and considered. By mid year though ”Can’t remember what I did today, haven’t written since Easter …”. I’d like to be a real diarist. Simon Gray’s Smoking Diaries. Next on my reading list. It’s here somewhere.

There’s a torch (for powercuts), my mobile phone (for same: the screen serves as useful illuminator when the torch’s batteries go flat), a bedside lamp whose small head is angled towards my pillow.

And a vase of paper flowers crafted by Hat almost a year ago. She placed them there shortly after we moved house. Their colour has faded a little and they don’t stand with the same newly folded and starched A4 erectness that they did once.

But they are very lovely.


You Know You’re Home …

May 12, 2009

You know you’re home

…because of the way a rising sun bleeds a deep scarlet high up into the clouds where you’re British Airways suspended and reminds you you’re African dawn bound, because of the way it collapses to powder blue with just the trace of pink blush too quickly for you to catch it on camera.

… Because bloody Im-Precision Air demands you pay for excess baggage on 4Kg. And with a cursory glance at the scales and absolutely no indication of any kind of a calculation knows just how much you have to pay. Too much: more than you have in your purse. They accept the little you do have. Which leaves you with precisely (the only precise thing about the morning) nothing to buy your hot, cross, tired daughter a coke when your flight is delayed. And then they refuse to issue you with a receipt; they tell you that the paltry amount you have tended will not cover the paper it is written on. Even though it would have bought a generous round of cokes for every other hot, cross, tired passenger in the Departure Lounge when take-off is, predictably and with no explanation why, delayed.

… Because the dogs smile broadly at your arrival and – needily – will not leave your side for days.

… Because there is no rain, only highbluewhite skies as we tumble into our African winter – a misnomer; it is merely mildly less hot than our summer. You’re still in shorts. With sheep skin slippers early in the morning so that bare feet are protected from cold stone floors. It’s an unusual combo. But then again so are Ugg boots and capri pants a la Sienna Miller.

… Because you’re swimming again. Not at dawn. The water is too African-winter-night-time icy for that. Late in the evening when it has warmed just a little but not so much that you swim any way but as fast as you can so that soon you are breathing hard and your arms ache from ploughing through vodka-on-the-rocks clear water.

… Because when you go shopping you don’t dawdle down wide throated aisles wondering, and wandering, aimlessly at the 55 different breakfast cereals on offer. You just buy what Kaidi has – Kellogg’s Cornflakes – and hope they aren’t stale.

… Because you cannot hear the early morning departure of commuters. Only the insistent cackle of indignant guinea fowl and the melancholy hooting of trains as they rumble by distantly.

… Because you can see the night sky. The sputtering glow of a thousand stars bright against a deep velvet night whose richness has not been leached by a neon glow, because you can watch the moon rise: amber, honeyed it slides up and hangs all night like a reading lamp so bright you wonder who left outside lights on.

… Because even though you promised yourself you wouldn’t feel lonely, you do. Even though you told yourself that five weeks of Busy, five weeks of Total Immersion in the Real World, Five Weeks of Social Feast would sustain you through impending famine, would render you gracious under the scrutiny of barefaced isolation, it doesn’t.

How could it: it only reminds you what you’re missing.

So you pour yourself a very cold beer and you watch the sky and you smile at red eyed shrikes gorging on voluptuously plump, pink-fleshed guava and you Count Your Blessings like your mother taught you to.