Monday, 22 September 2014

Tove Jansson's Summer Book in an Indian summer is a treat indeed. Her island in the Gulf of Finland comes through in tiny luxuriance on this third reading; every stone, every path and plant, the warm and prickly relationship between the grandmother and the granddaughter, the questions they ask each other, the many ways they avoid replying. I first read it when I was clearing out my father's house after his death, staying up the road so as not to have to try to sleep at the scene of such exhaustive anguish. The second time, at home, I read it for itself, for the grandmother and granddaughter and their playfulness, their questions, not to avoid my father or to quell him. This third time I read free and clear for all of us, daughters and grandmothers, aunts and mothers, islanders, who occupy a scrupulous territory and spend time figuring how to say so.

Monday, 15 September 2014

After a Cork Italian dinner (ravioli quite good; salad vinegar best used for cleaning windows), I dreamed we were going home from the beach carrying a leather-bound book. Sections of the book detached in the wind and clusters of pages bundled out across flatlands behind the dunes. I gave chase, ending up in a café with huts nearby, one of which was occupied by a young woman. I needed to pee; there was a queue; when I finally got in, after the pleasure/pain of a long deferred pee, I saw through the slightly open window my father smoking a joint. As I left, shielding my face, I heard my father say, That looks like Judy. I went into my new friend's hut, locked the door and crouched down on the floor. It's my father I said, I just saw my father, that's why I locked the door. Wait till I tell you about mine, she said. After her tale I stood up and there outside the window my father stared in at me with a face neither his when younger nor his at all, so blank you couldn't say was this fury, contempt or terminal incomprehension.

I needed to read the apple and walnut chapters of Roger Deakin's Wildwood after that, sitting in the evening sun, leaning up against a pine tree. I needed to be in the fruitful, honeyed centre of the world, that is, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, bringing in the harvest, standing under ancient trees, or reading about Roger Deakin doing so, then going to find an apple in Garravaghstan, where I live.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Glenmore, a few miles outside Cobh

This is where I began my Irish sojourn forty years ago today-ish in the large recessive house just behind the beach, which, as a look through the front door told me when no one answered the bell, entirely resembles my memory of it. My instincts in choosing it, or rather a wing of it, were infallible. On the brink of starting my own, I needed to know a house, someone else's house, that had settled into itself and would stay there: a muted runner down the hall, brass signs on the doors announcing Drawing Room, Dining Room, a table lamp lit by the phone.

Was the oil refinery there in 1974, perhaps smaller, is that what I saw when I went down to the beach – a generous word for a short stretch of rock, grit and seaweed – overwrought with the move I'd made? For the first few weeks, lying on the beach, sitting on the grass that led down there, I was sure I'd left something behind, something crucial. Brave quiet days, Quaker, like the family who lived there, Bill, Daisy and their children, plus Aunt May who collected carragheen moss on the beach, and Aunt Lilian who regularly forgot her dinner on the stove. There was a foghorn, now silenced, I think.

I packed a sandwich, a bottle of redcurrant cordial, and I'd need a book, perhaps. Not the French Romantic poets whom forty years ago I was unwillingly rereading in order to teach them (not my choice). What else did I read? Four Quartets? Too portentous. 'Garlic and sapphires in the mud.' 'We are here to pray where prayer has been valid.' Passionate but too discordant for a harbour beach in September in 2014, even during an Indian summer. Between the acts, my copy dated forty years ago.  That will be atmospheric reading candy. I must have bought it before I came here, in a rush of defensive purchasing including a dark green sou'wester and Tommy, A rock opera.Virginia Woolf could have stayed here. No oil refineries then. No uncertain smells. No discarded beer cans or poisoned small fry among the seaweed. She would have retreated to the beach and amassed yellow shells and blue glass, as I did. She might not have picked watercress from the stream that flows into the beach, into the sea, a little way east of here.