My thoughts escaping
My thoughts escaping, Oil on Canvas 100x80cm €3200
available at the doorway gallery
Travelling abroad even for a very short time, often has the effect of changing our perspective. Allowing us to see the familiar differently.
I noticed the smell of our house when I walked in the door, as if I were a stranger. I noticed how some parts of my home have been allowed to become unseen and that they now need attention (and probably won’t get it). I noticed little changes in my kids, even though I was gone so short a time it seems unlikely they could have changed that much.
I read a short piece by Michael Harding this morning (below) that reminded me that when we travel and talk to people who don’t know us, everything is open. They see us as new so, in a way we do too and when we return home it’s like we still have our new eyes. At least for a few days.
I’m trying to make mine last.
An admission of Irishness in an English country garden
I met a woman on the flight to London.“I love flying,” she said. “I go over to visit my brothers every August.” We were lucky that no one sat in the middle seat because she was quite large, and I’m not small, but we had a pleasant chat and she offered me wine gums at regular intervals.
As we crossed the Irish Sea she told me that she had spent her childhood minding her grandfather. He lived alone, and when he had a stroke she was designated to keep him company. The man lived on one side of the mountain and the little girl lived on the far side, about five miles away.
So she would walk to his house in the evenings, make loaves of bread on the fire, bring in turf and wash his clothes, and in the morning she would cook something in a pot before going to school so that he could take his dinner at 1pm. That was dinner time. If you didn’t eat your dinner at 1pm it might imply you had no dinner. It might imply you were poor. And the man who lived on five or six scraggy acres with a single cow and a few hens refused to call himself poor. He was a king, dispossessed of some forgotten kingdom.
No parents for weeks
When the little girl was finished school she would sometimes go to her own house first, eat her dinner, which had been made at 1pm, and then walk back up the hill towards her grandfather, to begin the routine all over again. But since it was shorter to go straight to her grandfather’s house, she skipped going home, and so weeks might pass when she didn’t see her parents.
When the big snow came in 1947 she was with the old man, and the snow came in the keyhole and was frozen in the lock. She had a pitchfork in the house to dig her way through the snow to the barn each morning to feed the cow. She cooked her breads and went to school and tried to sit close by the fire in the schoolhouse. Then she walked the long journey back as the snow began again.
In late spring that year, when the snow had gone, she got a bicycle. And 70 years later she could still remember the exhilaration of cycling down the hills and travelling at high speeds.
As we came down from the sky at Gatwick, she glowed and whispered, “I love flying.”
I was heading for a garden party in Kent the following afternoon. When I got there, the sun shone on small open tents beneath which burgers were cooked, and slices of pork sizzled. There were flagstone pathways meandering through the flower beds, and nooks and crannies where people could hide away at garden tables and chew burgers, drink wine and talk about David Cameron.
A lady from the provinces told me that, when she came to London as a student, she was so poor her mother posted her an envelope containing a pair of knickers and a £5 note.
Her point was that she had to work from the bottom up to achieve the grandeur and wealth she now enjoys, and that young people nowadays don’t know how lucky they are.
As the sun went down and the music started on the decking, which reached out like the prow of a ship across the garden, a cluster of women began dancing with each other in a circle.
Nearly all the guests were English. I was sitting under a huge oak tree, beautifully pruned over the years so that it grew straight up into the clear, starry heavens. I was relishing the wine, food and sedate sunshine of a very English garden.
An elderly woman with a red lambswool shawl over her shoulders sat on the bench beside me. “That tree you’re looking at,” she said, “that was planted 200 years ago, to commemorate the battle of Waterloo.”
I said nothing.
On the lawn a man was assembling a telescope to look at the moon, and two or three of the children were watching him.
The lady beside me had long fingers and grey hair caught in a loose bun at the nape of her neck. She spoke confidentially, as if we were spies exchanging important information in a dangerous milieu.
“You’re Irish?” she asked.
“Yes,” I admitted. “I go home tomorrow.”
“Such a pity,” she said.
“Not really,” I replied. “I love flying.”