Love Letters #39

Have you ever sailed into a horizon of clouds?

A giant mass of faded blue puff, rising in the distance like a manifestation of a nightmare storm. It’s England, though, it isn’t real. It won’t turn into a tornado; it is too benign for that. It is still, like a painting, a wall of such exquisite detail, as though some artist in the sky painted every stroke with tender love and care.

Every shadow, articulated.

The road winds in and out, up and down ahead, and the sky around the faded blue cloud is an ombre of colour, from the palest blue, to a bright and sundry pinky yellow.

The trees begin to silhouette themselves, but it isn’t quite twilight, yet.

And the clouds billow in the sky as though fuelled by some ferocious fire, only not so bitter, not so black, not so violent.

Still, like a photograph.

A still moment in time, as the sky transcends daylight and becomes that sultry, mysterious mixture of day and night. Not quite here, not quite that.

I love those clouds. Those clouds that don’t quite know what to make of themselves, that take on the hues of the ever-changing sky, shrugging on the colours and exploding in every emotion. So ominous, yet so safe. So surreal, yet so familiar. So strange, yet so reminiscent of thousands of autumnal evenings, throughout the centuries.

And always, always, a fresh wonder to the eyes.

Advertisements

On the Introduction of a Lady

Lady Pinky-Moe was born on a cloudy day at the bottom of my grandmother’s garden. She was born amid a glass of delicious, satisfying berry juice and the chirping of birds, the screeching of crows, and the deliriously haunting sound of the leaves swaying in a ferocious wind that was significant of the sad departure of the last dregs of summer.

It was cold, the day Lady Pinky-Moe was born. Cold, windy, grey.. simply divine. You may be thinking that I am slightly off my head by saying that; how could it be ‘simply divine?’ you wonder, ‘if it is utterly cloudy and grey and cold?’

Well, quite simply, dull days have a magic of their own. The magic of this day was the leaf-shaped glass that held the satisfying berry juice, clouding up as the biting wind chilled the drink to a perfect temperature, sweet on the tongue and cold down the throat. The magic of this day was the sound of the swish of the bright pink skirt as the lady stepped out from behind the white rose bush that leant against the old ebony fence right at the back of the garden. The flash of bright orange as her scarf was blown about her face, her smooth black hair waving in the wind as she straightened up, looking about her in a confident manner. The magic was in the way the line of trees behind my grandmother’s back fence were whipped about by the wind, whispering to each other, creaking and groaning and then rising in a chorus of psithurism. When I turned my face to the sky the fresh breeze was accompanied by little flecks of rain.

When she saw me in my little blue checkered dress, the glass of berry juice loosening in surprise in my hand, she darted forward sharply and grabbed the glass from my fingers.

‘Well, now. You don’t want to spill this delicious drink, do you?’

‘No -no.’ I said, completely awestruck. She was beautiful, and so elegant. My nine year old mind struggled to comprehend how she managed to be so commanding and kind at the same time. And she was talking to me. Never mind she stepped out of nowhere. To me she was real.

Her eyes were sharp, stark, large. Her hands were gloved, and she had a loud voice which she used to air her many opinions about all sorts of matters.

That, ladies and gentlemen, was Lady Pinky-Moe, named by the childish version of myself and the name had stuck against my whim, as names are wont to do.

Wuthering Heights

What is a ‘wuther’ exactly, and why are these Heights Wuthering? Is it some kind of present-tense form of ‘wither’? Do the Heights of this home ‘wither’ in agony because of all the pain, heartbreak and madness that has taken place under its roof?

You need look no further, dear reader, for I have the answer right here, quoted from Emily Bronte herself, ‘Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr Heathcliffe’s dwelling, “Wuthering” being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather.” (Wuthering Heights)

I first read Wuthering Heights when I was a wee tot of ten years old. I was at the age where I had mercilessly devoured all the normal, nice children books my parents had bought in bulk from charity shops at 5p each and filled my bookshelves with. I was tired of goody two shoes Enid Blyton characters and children playing detective.

I was living in a country where English books were a rarity, and you could only find really expensive recent editions. I loved old editions. Recent editions do nothing for me. They look like they’re trying too hard to appeal to the children of today who care only for how a book looks, who are only interested in something if it matches the technicolour of the TV cartoons that a lot of them are constantly glued to.

I like my books with plain, faded covers and yellowed pages that are well loved and smell slightly musty.

My father had a bookshelf filled with classics that my parents were dubious about sharing with us children. William Golding was too deep for us. The Mill on the Floss was “not for your age, yet, Len”, Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Grey was definitely not suitable subject matter for sensitive minds. And Wuthering Heights? Good fried grief.

I read all those titles and more hiding in the corner between my desk and the metal framed window, the heat of the sun beating outside and warming my bedroom walls, even though the air conditioning was on full blast. If there was somebody in my room, I snuck into my wardrobe (I was small then, I fit perfectly!) with my reading light (2 dirhams at a bazaar) and read till my eyes were sore.

It was in the wardrobe that I became acquainted with Emily Bronte’s Catherine and Heathcliff. It was wildly abhorrent, yet so enticing. I kept waiting for the redemption of the characters, for them to come together at last, in harmony, their misunderstandings put to rest. No such thing happened, and desolation began to peer at me through the final pages.

I thought their story was wildly romantic, and was devastated at the deterioration of Catherine and her thoughtless choices. The depth behind these choices were lost on me. I was only invested in the surface emotions. I didn’t understand why she was pulling all the feathers out of the pillow, I only knew that pulling feathers out of pillows was a fun pastime, and if Catherine did it, then my own secret pulling was justified.

Never mind I wouldn’t dream of justifying such a thing to dear Mother.

Inspirational Cake

Here is a statement.

Cake is inspirational.

I say this as I lick the last remnants of the strangest and perhaps the most delicious cake I have ever eaten from my lips.

It was small, and arrived in a box. It was coated in a soft, luxurious film of glossy chocolate, and on top lay five single curls of the same, arranged to deceive my eyes. When the sharp knife slid down right into its core, and a small slice was gently pulled out of the whole, a golden brown substance oozed from the middle.

Once on my place, a cup of cinnamon and apple tea steaming beside me, I examined it. It was very brown, and I realised the little moist smudges within the cakey texture were dates. A date cake, then, coated with chocolate and filled with…?

I let my fork sink into the cake, taking a sizeable chunk along with some of the golden cream, and closed my lips over it.

An explosion in my mouth. Sweetness, solid cake, my mouth enriched.

First the dates. Not bad at all. Then the chocolate. Finally, swirling its fingers over my tongue, caressing my tastebuds, a surge of.. salted caramel?!

What an odd combination of flavours, but how well they worked together.

Immediately the exhaustion evaporated, I settled back to really enjoy this slice. Immediately my brain fizzled into action. I no longer felt lethargic. I washed my cake down with the deep warm cinnamon tea, the perfect balance to the overwhelming sweetness of cake.

Cake.

The perfect high note to a day filled with lows.

9342ccc84714f1cefc2efd9f0dd3bbf2.jpg

Levi Wells Prentice (1851-1935)

I long for a past I didn’t live.

I was watching some old adverts from the 1950s, and as the scratchy music saturated the room around me, my retina display screen flickering with the erratic film of times of yore, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of deep sadness and great nostalgia.

I felt as though I belonged somewhere, and left it a long time ago, and these jingles reminded me of a time I was a part of, and yet missed.

It was so strange.

You see, I was born in 1994, the turn of the century. I would say I am a millennial, if even that, right on the cusp of one generation and teetering on the edge of the next.

I grew up with dial-up internet connection, satellite TV and the iPhone revolution. Of course, we didn’t have any of these things, because my parents had old fashioned notions about technology. My mum still thinks she doesn’t need a mobile phone, and laments days of yore when she could do what she wanted without somebody being able to get a hold of her whenever they wanted. It works swell for me, I am an anxious person and I need to check on my mother’s safety, much to her vast irritation!

Of course, there were aspects of my life that were still very reminiscent of times of yore. My grandmother’s kitchen was time capsule, not changed since 1971, and her habits and ways were very much what she had been brought up with in the 40s and 50s. Can you believe she was born in 1935? Before the second world war? My own Nana? The thought fills me with wonder. My mother was a70s – 80s teenager, and the pop songs of the time were what she sang when in a good mood. Songs I never heard but knew off my heart, so when I did hear them I was pleasantly surprised and suddenly sad.

‘Video killed the radio star, video killed the radio star’ over and over when she fried eggs or mopped the kitchen floor. I heard this song throughout my life from her own mouth, and then last month when I was watching Take This Waltz (directed by Sarah Polley) – the song played in one of the scenes, and I had to pause it, sitting up in shock. Hey, this is an actual real song!

When I was in a museum once, a song from 1904 played over and over again, scratchy and faint, and I stopped and stared at a wall for five minutes because I felt as though a rope had suddenly jerked me back through the curtain of time, and I was in a place I had never been, but ached for. I wanted to stay there forever, but at the same time I wanted to run far, far away.

I ache when I watch those old adverts. It’s so strange. What is this phenomenon?

When I scrolled down to see the comments under the video, I noticed quite a lot of other people felt nostalgia for this time too, despite never existing then and never experiencing it.

My husband scoffs at me, he has no time for the old, he is always looking ahead at what is new and innovative and what the future will be. But I seem to be a sad little ghost peering in through cloudy windows at years gone by, straining my ears to hear the voices of decades past. I want them so badly. I don’t know why, or what I want, but I want those sounds, that scratchy record player, those brown shoes, the clatter of forks, the dull brown wallpaper, the 1960 Cadillac, the haze of cigarette smoke, the jingles, the streets, all of it.

My logical mind tells me that this, here, now, 2017, is my time, just like 1962 was their time, and forty years later this will be vintage nostalgia; but I do not see it like that.

And I know I am not the only one who feels this way.

Its the strangest thing, because I am certain I would not particularly like life back in the 1950s. Men were incredibly sexist and women did not have many chances in the world, life was more difficult, and the economy was trying to recover from the Great Depression.

However, I know there were good parts too, else the elders wouldn’t want to talk so much about it.

What do you think? Do you ever feel nostalgia for a time you never lived?

bf0b07983e7aca65aeae6f5874e5969f

When the Sun Rises

Sunrises, in the silence of a morning.

Birdsong, and sleeping windows. Fresh breeze, footsteps echo. Why do they echo so early in the morning?

Why does everything seem louder, somehow?

And goodness, why does the world feel so fresh, when only a few hours earlier the atmosphere was simmering in the drunken, filthy haze of a long, lived-out day?

IMG_2229

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

I just watched this film and didn’t quite know what to make of it.

I usually enjoy films like this; sweet and romantic, with vivid imagery and significant conversations.

This one fell a little flat, somehow. Maybe it was because I grew up in the Middle East. One of my closest friends at school was Yemeni. I was submerged in the Arabian culture, and even met plenty of bedouins.

The thing that stands out about these people is that they are intrinsically tough, but a lifestyle of riches and ease has made them softer. Their natures are harsh, but they are the most generous, warm and hospitable people I have ever met. The desert folk are certainly not as affectionate as, say, the Lebanese or the Syrians, or even the Moroccans. However, they have a charm of their own, a charm which is years of strife in the heat and strong family connections and a deep sense of self-less generosity.

Salmon fishing in the Yemen is a story about a sheikh who wants to bring salmon fishing to his people in Yemen, a scientist who strongly opposes the absurd notion of taking British salmon to a torrid country, and the young woman who works for the sheikh, and plays a large part in persuading the scientist (Dr. Alfred Jones) to help make the project happen.

Essentially, this is a love story. The story of a scientist in a dead-end marriage, a young woman who has promised herself to a British soldier whom she barely knows, and a sheikh intent on changing his homeland to make it better for his people and join the tribes together.

Growing up in the Middle-East, the whole tribe thing was very much a real situation. My husband, who also grew up there, bore the brunt of it. He went to an all-boys government school, populated by the sons of bedouins, and if you looked a certain way, or talked differently, you were bullied. If you were friends with a boy with that particular surname, then the boys of another surname would harass you and attack you. He was called ‘Bush’ because he was white, and came from England, and the boys hated ‘Bush’ because Bush bombed other countries. He had to survive by mocking them and their ways, and learning how to fight. Only when he fought them, was he accepted as their equal. It was ultimately tribal, and small boys learned from older boys who learned from their parents.

On the girls side, it was less violent and more catty. It was more bragging about how many princesses they know and who’s mother was friends with which princess. If a girl was from a revered tribe, the other girls would treat her royally. For me, it was disgusting, and I wanted no part of it. For that, I was made to feel like a ratty little girl from the slums who sweats. Ugh, how could she sweat?! How undignified. Look at her, let’s ignore her because she is not as pretty as us and her hair is not straight. Look at her uniform, and my goodness, she uses the same school bag every year?! That was honestly the reason why a lot of girls shunned me or looked down on me. They all followed fashion trends when it came to accessories and because my parents were British and working class, they didn’t see fit to waste money on a new bag when I already had a perfectly useful one. So while all the other girls had their gleaming, satin trim Lulu Catty bags, I walked in with my square pattern, solid bag coloured a drab brown.

Of course, as I grew older, and my little enemies became my very close friends, because bags no longer mattered and deep down, these girls were wonderful and had deep, understanding personalities. I am still in contact with a few of them and they are some of the truest friends I have ever had. I learned that tribal feuds were very real, but also not as nuanced as the days of yore because everybody’s lifestyle had changed.

The point is, of course, that Salmon Fishing in the Yemen portrayed a glorified and unrealistic Arab sheikh. Even when they were speaking with each other, I had to laugh. Every man had a different dialect, and some were speaking Standard Arabic, which is like Shakespeare to desert-folk. They only use it for poetry and when they recite the Qur-an. Literally nobody, ESPECIALLY not a bedouin, speaks like that. I know I am nitpicking. I know. But for me, it dimmed the magic of the story somewhat.

Then we move on to the story itself. The plot was actually wonderful. It was a story of survival, faith, a merging of cultures, acceptance and ultimately, of course, love. If you took the love equation out of it all, the story would have been magnificent. However I think the filmmakers tried way too hard. They romanticised the sheikh to an absurd level. I found it hard to buy his character, namely because it was a version designed to fit the Western ideals of good and bad. It wasn’t true to Yemen or the Arabs.

I felt there was no chemistry between the lead actor (Obi Wan in the prequel series! Ewan McGregor) and actress (Emily Blunt, who is brilliantly beautiful, I have to say). I didn’t see why they had to fall in love, they basically had nothing in common and certainly nothing real to talk about. Blunt’s character was grieving for her army boyfriend throughout their ‘courtship’, so falling for Dr. Jones seemed vastly inappropriate and exceedingly uncomfortable, especially when her boyfriend was miraculously found alive. Dr. Jones said some dubious things to him, and it really didn’t go down well for me or add to his character. Not to mention that he was already married!? I didn’t like how he left his wife, sending her a text saying ‘it’s for the best.’ That was cruel and harsh. If there had been a real reason to be so horrid, it would have made sense, but to me, marriage is sacred, and one could at least make a show of trying, rather than scarpering at the call of the first attractive young woman. It was ridiculous and cheap.

To be honest, I didn’t feel invested in the story. The dialogue was dry and tried too hard to appeal to emotions, ultimately failing to convince me of anything.

I heard this film was based on a book, but frankly I have no interest in reading it. Who knows, it might be brilliant, but I just didn’t buy it. I hate that sometimes other cultures are ‘Westernised’ to fit into the Western ideal or understanding. They are romanticised and made to seem ethereal and magical, when in reality they are just other people living their lives just like we are.

1bb6361b9aa96455517517f7f7cc8b0e.jpg

Scream

A scream.

Into the world.

Through the curtain of air and atmosphere that surrounds the physical form of a life. Our bodies are vessels that carry a whirlwind of emotion. Our bodies are purely things, and we are the life that hums through our cells.

Vibrations through the earth and through our bodies and from our mouths to our ears, all the way to our minds.

A life is only a life because other lives are living to see it so.

The classroom was lit with four tubes of florescent, cold, white light. It’s harsh blue tone filled corners and silently combatted the deep, dusty yellow that filtered in through the layers of dust on the window. Dust that reappeared the moment you cleaned it, settling sleepily into the damp smear your cloth made on the glass, so that the next time you cleaned it would be hard and clumped to the glass in that stubborn, Arabian way.

The teacher, in a sari and bright pink lipstick wrote words on the board with a fading whiteboard marker, and I was disinterested. English as a second language, in a class full of second language speakers. English is my native tongue. I think in English. My mother speaks English and my father lectures non English speakers in the art of speaking English, and the nuances of phonetic English, the harsh science of linguistic English. I was bored out of my skull.

A blank paper on the desk in front of me. Ridges created by pens digging deep into the wood, small signatures of years of educational boredom. I pick up my pen and start to scribble. A shape forms under my pen, the lines scratchy as the pen tries to deviate and follow the texture of the desk beneath the thin paper.

A figure, with a long, skeletal face. Large, black oval eyes, the scribbles in circle formation to fill the holes. No pupils, just blackness. No nose. Jutting cheekbones, and a mouth open wide. A pair of hands, with long, bony fingers, on the cheeks. A hood, covering any hair, and the sleeves hanging out over the thin wrists.

The mouth releases a scream, loud and raging in my head. A scream to rattle the obstinate dust on the windows, a scream to make my sari-wearing teacher stare at me in shock. A scream to explode from my lonely soul and shoot through the thick air around me, humming with breath and eye contact and whispers and heartbeats and sweat and particles of skin and life. 

I don’t scream. I let my picture do it for me. I put my pen down and stare at my scream for a long time, until the black lines of my drawing start to pop out starkly on the white paper, and the light around me dims in my vision. Until my eyes are watery.

timthumb.jpg

Sunshine and Cactus

IMG_2843

 

I think sunshine has a habit of making everything look better, and feel better, and sound better, and taste better. Here in Britain we live under a perpetual cloud. The winter sky is characteristically overcast, gloomy light turning everything into monotone. When the sun finally does manage to beam her face down at us, once the relentless clouds have given her the stage for a moment or two, the world is suddenly flushed with colours I never knew existed!

Wow, grass is THAT GREEN?! 

That tarmac is looking particularly handsome today!

My goodness, I never noticed how very pink those roses are.

Oh, glory days, this doorstep is the most gorgeous russet I have ever set my eyes on. Peonies nodding in sunlit breeze. Gleaming black railings against the stark white of a Kensington building.

Everything has a humming vibrancy when the sun comes out.

n.b The photo taken above was actually in Spain.

Divide, and Conquer.

I went to London yesterday. I think there is a lot that people don’t understand about the world. A strange amount.

We were on Oxford street the majority of the time. I wanted to traverse Hyde Park and go on some boats because the sun was out. I wanted to trawl through a museum or two and have a gander at the Wallace Collection.

My friend wanted to shop in expensive department stores so shop we did. We entered Selfridges through the main doors because that is what Harry Gordon Selfridge would have done. I stared up at the magnificent building and the stunning front displays and imagined I was back in the early 1900s and the only department store was this magnificent display of architecture. Once inside I was transported to a world of glamour and excessive riches. Me in my glad rags. My ‘Sunday best’, as it were. I felt so drab and out of place. But it was euphoric, too. People treated me nicely because they wanted me to buy things. They showered me with samples and did a makeover on my face in the hopes that I would walk away with a bottle of expensive foundation or a Hugo Boss perfume that comes with a free bag.

I didn’t buy anything, of course. I am going to Morocco in early June with my father again, and my sister, and I am saving every single penny for that trip. We managed to find £60 return flights, and we will be staying with my father’s family so there will be zero hotel costs. But I do want to bring back things like Argan oil and clay tagine pots and some nice harem pants and maybe some summery tops. And those things are far more precious to me than factory made dresses costing a thousand pounds.

YES. A THOUSAND POUNDS.

Ok, not that much. But £550. For a sequinned gown. It was beautiful. But goodness.

They also do personal shopping! With champagne! Fancy that.

I really enjoyed my day out. I smelt amazing and had free expensive makeup on. And there were so many people to watch and observe and simply be stunned by. Affluent teenagers showering their credit cards on gleeful store clerks. Also the salesmen were so flirty. Telling me I had lovely skin and smiling and flourishing their wares at me. If I had a frivolous nature I would be charmed into bankruptcy!

It was a beautiful day. Marred, of course, by the devastation in the country. Everybody was on edge. Policemen manned every corner; I’d never seen so many in my life. Red alert, as they say.

I still felt safe, though. And happy. We are very lucky. Very very lucky and blessed. We have so much food and so much choice and so much affluence. We have organisation and kindness and order. We have security and care and effort. We have unity and consideration.

In other countries, they don’t have this. They have terrorists raining bombs down on them daily. Purging them from their homes. Sending them scattering in the wind under an ideology so warped and twisted from its origin of peace that nobody is sure of anything anymore.

One thing is certain, though. One thing. Behind all this aggression and cruelty is a lot of hurt. That is why it is so important to fight this hate and tragedy with kindness. KINDNESS.

For e.g., don’t torch a muslim place of worship. Don’t attack a muslim woman in central London. These people didn’t do anything to you. These people are hurting about this senseless horror just as you are. I saw so so much kindness on the news. I saw people opening their homes and businesses for those in need. Blood donor centres were overflowing. People travelled from all corners of the UK to offer a helping hand.

People care, you see? Some don’t. of course. Some are calling for the final killing of all muslims. Some are calling for the deportation and the banning of muslims. Some are attacking muslims and plotting their revenge.

If we hate our own people, Islamic State have succeeded. They have succeeded in dividing us, and that is how they can conquer.

 

 

Assholes.