Monday, 15 April 2013

On WASHING Days...

... particularly on April washing days like this; when I stand at the sink, hands as red and furrowed as the antique faces of babies, and I can look up to a sky so heavenly blue that if I were to reach up and drag it down and were to bury my face in it I would smell the wax crayons of God; and amidst that sailor boy blue the proud castles of cumuli, boil and bluster, cauliflowering the almost spring heavens. It is on days like these that I hear loudest the call of the my childhood imagination - so real I could have dreamt it only yesterday.

Perhaps it is the sight of washing billowing before the galleon-ing wind and the walks I had with Mum, down the Green Lane that squeezed its way between the long narrow strips of back-garden terraces and allotments. A silent no-man's land; a furtive quiet place from which other worlds could be spied through gaps in fences. It smelt of compost heaps and midday lunch being cooked and the smouldering bonfires of weeds. It was filled with the sound of dogs barking and their wet-nosed snuffling and most of all, the wild tear-filled wind played among the washing, pegged and propped, like a clipper's sails.

Mum was never happier than when she had pegged out her beaten but clean army of washing on the line after a morning steaming in the kitchen, until the condensation ran down the windows and walls like rain and the air was sliced by the sharp smell of boiling handkerchiefs and washing powder. And I was never happier than when, tilting like Don Quixote at the ballooning sheets and bedspreads, I raced through them feeling their coldness trickle down my face and Mum calling me in so as not to get her washing dirty and we had jam on our bread while the radio played.

But for some reason, what calls to me the most is a couple of pictures from a book I have long since lost. They are of towering clouds in a powder blue sky (a washing day sky) and in those clouds was a whole town, with shops and lampposts and a sun that shone yellow. It seemed to me that all the men in it were avuncular uncles with bald heads and wide smiles and they wore old fashioned Sunday suits. The type of uncle who made sixpences appear from inside your ear, even when you knew that there were no sixpences there, because you had checked. And the women all looked like the Queen, when she was young, and wore long dresses that swept along the red-bricked pavements. There was a friendly red dragon in the picture too. I assume he was friendly; he had big smiling eyes and a head shaped like a Labrador.

I say assume, for, as I recall, the book had no covers. It was just a few stray pages and so it had no story. It was like me, without beginning or end. Just as I, one day, found myself alive in a world of sun and colour, noise and scent, this world within these few pictures, just was. And it was those pictures that captivated me and it was in them that I found my stories beyond words.

From 3 to 30 I read very few words, I immersed myself in the pictures. I inhabited them, I explored behind every wall, every hedge, and over every beckoning, windmilled, church-spired, horizon. I played with Janet and John, and Dick and Jane outside their world of words. Lanes were adventured and streams raided for sticklebacks and pirated treasure. I read pictures with the skill of a textual critic and hours could be lost over just one page. Sometime ago, I bought a secondhand copy of one of my most favourite childhood books, a Ladybird book about a mountain adventure. I opened the cover and began to read the unfamiliar story that lay beside the oh so familiar pictures. A little while later I found myself, once more lost in those pictures. The story remains unread, but the pictures await for more adventures.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Easter SUNDAY Morning...

... quite early, and the street was as still as the ghost of sheep on the high hill. But dawn had broken. Oh lord, how it had broken, sending splinters of light into the victorious, ringing, bird-carved, air. Even though snow still lay as white as sea foam on Sunrising Hill and lay under each hedge, ribbed, like the bare, bleached bones of ship-wrecked schooners, the sun had risen high; higher than the turbulent rooks and higher than the breath that billowed in clouds of steam from my ragged body.

I walked abroad in the slumbering village, and as alone as a blushing, rib-full, Adam, beneath a sky of thrush egg blue; as blue as the cornflowers of summers past. Down Main Street, past Quo Vadis. No curtains twitched, though the garden hedges bristled with song. The occupant of each house slept warm and deep under the soft hills and folds of their duveted wildernesses. Jackdaws wheeled and laughed among the sleeping bones of the old oak on Fourways Corner to see the sun beams of that beautiful morning trying to prise their honeyed fingers through the neat, new shutters of the Old Shop and its cymbal playing tin monkey. A blackbird stood as proud as your mother (should she see you now) in the middle of the road. The sun warm on her back. She watched me pass with beetle eyes, a harmless spirit in her eternal eden of sun and ice.

Only two other souls were awake. The vicar who, with knitted brow, played with whirling fingers the organ of the braying heating pipes in the village church. Climbing down from one of the Jacobean, dark oak pews, he fussed some dust into the morning air as the sun poured like Eucharist wine through the great east window and stained the altar cloth crimson and blue and, oh, such golds. Does he know that, when no one is looking, the faded saints and the firemen in their smart blue serge climb down out of their stained glass windows to ring out the hour on the faithful old tenor? Or that, in the church tower (made of rough brick and cobwebs and prayer), the stone angels play hide and seek with the umbrella-winged bats, piping and squeaking, in the belfried dark? Or that, behind his back, at every Pentecost, the yews in the churchyard burst into flame and that tongues of fire dance upon every shaggy branch?

The other is the runner who outruns the dawn, red faced and breathing out dragon's breath, down past the village hall (built in 1929), newly painted, and then past the Post Office, bursting with wool and flowers and unlicked stamps, and on past the shuttered tearoom. But not even he can outrun my nose in this impudent north-easterly wind that has been sharpened by the claws of polar bears, and the clash of icebergs, and carries down these whistling streets the sound of Saami bells, and shamanic gongs and the deep green waters where the blue whales sing. Past the Peacock, smelling of booze and laughter and last night's ashes. Down Saddledon Street to blow on my fingers and the sweet smell of the cattle barn on the frigid air. The old dog at Herbert's Farm snuffled where foxes loped, loose-limbed and laughing, under the frosted thatch and snow and dreamt of the days he ran wild and free over Orchard Hill. A woodpecker drummed out his exuberant life among the sighing trees. The morning whistled and trilled.

As I returned home, my hand on the garden gate, the Park Keeper opened his front door and roared out his approval to the triumph of the morning.