Coxswains waxed string. Grooves in a wax block preserved like scratches down a back. The sort of string you wouldn't squander. I have a clatter of shells from a County Down beach with the tops knocked off. Like ossified calamari. I thread a few on my ring finger and they clink nicely. They'll make good wind chimes for the back door, I think. I have the string for that job.
Aubergine & lime (2)
I found another. In The Tropical Ravine at the Botanical Gardens. As a child I had no trouble at all imagining slick and sticky creatures lurking licking. Slobber dripping, down the drenched brick walls. Giant knackered goldfish with a chewed fin or an eye-out kick off. And limp under dank pods. Whilst the punkawallah pulleys great lush leaves in slow waves. Tropical brutes, bores. Tiffin and tea-dresses.
Creightons Garage Belfast 30th December.
We wait all year for the pause, the great silence. The poinsettia still has leaves. I have yet to pen a single resolution. Shall we ring in the new year with creme eggs then? I am depressed by the churn of the seasonal experience. When do we get to breathe, reflect, luxuriate?
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Running time 10 secs
Jumping rabbit holes and anthills I churn down a tufty hillock. Accelerating to a halt. Stoop over to do up a shoe. I'm startled upright by a tall girl who just bolts past. I twist in time to grin. She goose-steps fast young limbs like a pony, tail swishing. Penelope Pitstopping with long thighs and high knees, gamboling elbows. I'm pleased about that timely lace that prevented a race. Then resist shouting after her ‘hey you there shorten your stride!’ or 'stay away from cads and rogues!' I run off. Thinking about earnest young women who’d sooner throw themselves around an empty field on a Saturday afternoon.
What would I do with this startling autumn day if I were wholly free and that sky was like that? Fetch my hair into a top knot. Fancy the floorboards sandy. Eager, bowl out the door?
Would I put on this old French blue Oxford shirt? My fathers commandeered. Winsome with the stiff big Napoleanic collar and splat of white paint on the placket and there's a speck on the yoke too. Roll the sleeves up fat past my biceps as if I were Hemmingway in a fishing boat. Or Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy pruning roses. In girlish leggings slip on filthy plimsoles. I'd paint. A whole wall that Bowler Hat. A signature one in the fashion. Running down and along the skirting not stopping at the architrave or even the flush door or knob. Concealed like we were at the back of the cinema or in a side room of the louvre. I'll laugh, to go to the bathroom tonight 'I'll need the Cigarette Girl to show me out!'
I'd put the garden away for winter. Bundle the hose and loose buckets into the shed. Fork compost over the rasberry line. One last weed. Something for lunch that asked for lots of chopping and the last of those late chillies. Shovel my reading glasses back up my nose with the heel of my hand and sniff. Then after, I'd write about something.
We were fine when she left here?
Imagine growing up without the internet. All that exposure. All that access. You can't even begin to explain it. Three weeks on a waiting list for an authoritative tome, your dissertation depending on it. And the scribbling. Reams of secret anger biro'd in angst. My god the dog-eared spiral-bounds. Rows of skinny black and reds. Moleskines once you could. The wailing; 'my world is ending!'.
"I burnt all mine" She says. "Sure we only ever wrote about things when we were unhappy. We never catalogued the good stuff". Oh. I know that. I can't bear to open mine either. But until I release the entire archive to a museum at least google can't crawl it.
Skills are lost. In a serious meeting, someone wraps a cleft fist around a pen as if it's only her third time. Mentally everyone in the room adds a rubber creature on top and a shock of cheap pink fur.
Who's that man, stop all the clocks? We forgot Auden for a minute in our gins by the fire. Both fond and afraid of the approach of a new year. Reluctant to pull the plug much in the same way I hate to end a day. Reluctant to concede nothing more might be extracted from it. It's a time to take a measure of all relationships, you know 'The Seasonals'. Recalibrate re-catagorise nurse gins and debrief.
I like rituals on the 31st. Perhaps a trompy run along the tow or a crunch over pebbles. A novel front to back by lunch. Maugham. Amidst the debauchery of a 1920s pestilent provence in China I was inspired mostly by one scene. They stabbed at each other. Jabbing forks into choleric salads with set jaws. Perhaps I should find myself a husband set for a foreign posting. Pick out 20 cotton dresses and order whole tinned hams.
Hope he drags me into the jungle and races me to the cholera.
The brief asked for our best shot of 2011. Lazy I thought. I prefer the restrictions of a theme. I cannot supply my best shot of 2011. Perhaps the light was fortuitous; I'm pleased with this one, fond of that at one time; that worked quite well. The best I can do, is do better in 2012. Best foot forward. Pledge only to deal with well-meaning folk and avoid scoundrels. Vow not to commit a thoughtless act, have a careless or hopeless thought. Reach for the hand of him beside you and step into it together with cheerful expectation.
They all came. Merry to see the boys marry.
His parents would not come.
His lot came mind. One, two three, four, five huge brothers grinning from up the country in matching suits. Guffawing and happy, proud chests bursting no bother. How far they've come, I guessed. But his parents, hearts like walnuts deprived of a bride they refused to bear witness. Bereft of a blessing in spite of the shrieking, through the candle bokeh I caught a faraway look in his eyes. Still a long way to go boys.
We did everything just the way grownups would have. Why didn't it work?
That was some winter tutt the walking wounded. Frost seared the ivy stares forlornly at fallen comrades, casualties of an impossible cold. Bitten hard a pretty holly stone dead in his pot. The lemon pine gave up the ghost by christmas. Some staggered as far as March too, but a bitter death rattle proved the final insult and saw them off. Short of space I decide the sweet pea can jostle with the late daffs, tickle his ankles when he's up. Last years sunflower trunks jammed in deep provide a handy climbing frame. And a good tank-trap for the cat from down the street who is wont to visit and dig.
2010 rushes up the beach. Here, teetering at the edge I am on the pebbles before the tide or the sun. I make time stop by pretending to think about nothing.
The seaweed is frozen. Hands of leather shards wave at me. Piped in white icing like driving gloves.
Select shells. That one, no that one, something to mark the day. A habit. Like when we were small sneaking salty treasure into pockets. Oh for goodness sake put them down, what do you want those for?
A girl races towards me brandishing a fist of keys. A hole is discovered in my jacket. Laugh, then look back silently at the rapidly gaining tide. A lucky start to the year. I'll have to get some more shells. They should have snipped holes in our shorts pockets, we could have stuffed them with shells to our hearts content.
I'm thinking about everything and the tide is high. Time starts again.
Autumn and her bounty is knocking at the window asking to come in. Would you just look at those colours? Barely kissed by Photoshop. It's the Nikkor 50mm opened wide up at f1.4 They say that lens has a sweet spot somewhere around the f4 mark but I think the sweet spot lies somewhere between those beetroot veins and the oblong radishes from my Fathers garden. Committee has decided carrots need a little more effort. There's talk of a deep sandy pit for next season. (They'll like that apparently) Leads me to ponder if fishermens front gardens are as famed for their carrots as their broken lobster pots.
I'd hidden the knife away for over a decade. All our lives it had featured heavily during the Saturday Production of Granda's Ulster Fry. He made his own soda bread and potatoe bread and wore an apron which used to make us giggle. Afterwards I'd sit as close to the fire as I could without smarting. We'd play cards Jack Change It and alternate the channels between black and white movies and the racing. Arsenic and Old Lace versus Aintree. I had a good grasp of form and always advised him sagely on where to stick the shilling each way. I was allowed to play with the button tin and the boys werent allowed to wear his hat.
Thats Granda's Good Knife. Said my brothers, surprised to see the familiar old bone handle on my chopping board. And the place could be coming down with Sabiers and Sabatiers but none would be sharper than same. I think the curve of the blade is from all that sharpening. I desperately didn't want to let it go, but I gave it back to my Mother recently as a present.
Look. Daddies good knife. She said to her brother visiting. Our Kieran chuckled, a dry man at the best of times. 'D'you know where that knife came from?' It was dropped by a couple of chancers Granda chased over the back wall and down the entry.
Here! I wonder if he checked if there'd been any murders in the vicinity before he wiped it on his apron and started prodding sausages. I don't think it's real bone anyway.
The Ham Ho's will be convening later. The five ho's round mine for seven. There'll be wine. We go way back, to a time when a carry-out and a bop at the Crescent still seemed like a Good Idea. It's more G&T's than Getting On Down now, but the craics ever mighty. Moniker earned after a previous AGM. Cock-a-tails in the Merchant then adjourned to the Cloth Ear for a half-time soak-up. The Bird ordered Boiled Ham Hock, an unfortunate lapse in judgement attributable to a Long-Island-Iced-Tea-Too-Far. It arrived looking like a skinned cat that had been warmed next to a radiator. Ham Ho'. Rare. Ruurrr in norniron vernacular.
This Joy Luck Club are gassing away in Borneo. Some men in an alarming boat took us out to a water village on stilts. The Boy wasn't keen to be fair.
There was an irascible history teacher Mr Bennett Up At The Convent. He was fond of accusing a particularly unkempt or unruly girl of resembling the Wild Man Of Borneo. This wild man sounded perfectly exotic from the vantage point of our privileged hill in Ballynahinch. And then one day I found myself in Mr Bennetts Borneo. I didn't spot any wild men. Just some lovely ladies having a jaw.
Fed up with the relentless gurning lately the comms spike bursts the sky and it bleeds all over Cave Hill. Which puts me in the mind for a pink dusk. And I remember one with a rather yellow wall attached. 'Her and her yella wall n all'
On the drive back tonight I pass a man in navy surf shorts with big white flowers on the corner of Sandy Row. 'Hope you get the weather you're expecting' I smile to myself. Brave in Belfast where you'll earn yourself that for sunglasses on Royal Avenue. Passremarkable, this caustic town. So we are.
Meanwhile in sailor town crew rush to cabins, frisbee rubber waiting trays onto bunks and rip off velcro epaulettes. The Fillipino laundry have pressed a centre crease into their going-out jeans but nobody cares at The Boat Yard. If you've been to sea you've been to The Boat Yard. Like The Orient in Sydney. Everyone says Why go there everyone will be there it'll be just like the crew bar and then everyone goes there. But it's not like the crew bar because the ranks are in their going-out jeans The Great Leveler. And sure where would be the fun if everyone wasnt there. Those that can, go further along Highway 7 to St Lawrence Gap. The Gap. Fish restaurants that would make Vigo revolt Barbados Finest humid fillet steaks $100 dollars a chewy slab before fries. Before we knew better (Yellow reggae bus up the west coast for Fried Green Banana. Kit-form Cubre Libres that come from under the counter in quarter bottles and cans only. Ice and lime if you're lucky. Old men that wont let you pay in the Speightstown Cafe.) Before we knew better we did The Gap either side of a christmas leave. I choose the hotel for sentimental reasons, The Coleraine or Craigavon or something like that. Sandy concrete and old wood it's perfect. No tv or aircon and that lovely yellow balcony. The nights are resonant with The Nasal Americans baying for the debauchery of Cozumel. They ought to go to the Boat Yard, but nobody tells them.
We laugh. The best night we have is chewing the fat and two dollar hotdogs with boys by a filthy smoking cart in the middle of the street.
Margaret O'Hare is a fine art photographer in Northern Ireland. Commercial photography with a creative edge for practical application. And the hotel was called The Rostrevor. Funny that. It's been done up now what a shame.
- St Lawrence Gap, Barbados