I have nothing to say.
So I will leave you with a photo of Loch Ness.
I have nothing to say.
So I will leave you with a photo of Loch Ness.
Maybe we can pause the world and escape to a little cubby hole. Maybe we don’t even need to pause it. Maybe it can carry on without us but we would be content because we are not needed or required to help turn its magnificent cogs.
I suppose we don’t really need to turn its magnificent cogs. I suppose if we didn’t, the world would carry on as usual, and it would be exactly the same. But our little nooks would slowly vaporise away and we would be mere wisps on the fringe of it all struggling to find a parting in the heavy, stampeding traffic that is trundling along.
And it would be very hard to get back in.
And everything we worked for would be gone. Snap. Crick crack. Like a click. Or a tock.
That is why we need a holiday. To refresh and recharge our tired little arms, to carry on turning our very own special cogs.
Mine included driving all around this Island I call home. From the south to the topmost North. I only have four days left before I have to set the record player again and fall back into the stressful mess that is my real life.
The worry, the anxiety, the terrible marriage situation where the in-laws and commuting to work suck all the life out of my husband so all I get is an empty moody shell, the awful living situation, the nomad-like bouncing from house to house everyday, the exhaustion, the feeling of not finishing half what I set out to do by the end of the day because I do not have any private space for my work – aaaah!
I don’t want this peace to end. I really, really don’t want this peace to end. I could cry because I so desperately hate it back at ‘home’. But it will end.
I will find the Loch Ness monster (that’s Nessie, apparently), I will enjoy the scenic beauty of mountains and water and views and bagpipes for the last four days and squeeze out
All images are credited to my husband – he takes the good ones. 🙂
“Jack of all trades, master of none”
Or in my case, ‘Jane of all trades, mistress of none”
Because I am not.
Interesting, that is. I think it comes from having a despicably short attention span, brought on, no doubt, by an addiction to social media.
I am good at many things, but have not mastered one thing in particular. Although at this moment in time, writing seems to be the only consistent thing in my life. I do love to write. I also love to read.
I just don’t love to learn new and interesting things in a dogged manner, thus rendering me acquainted with a great many topics, just not knowledgeable about any of them.
“Oh, have you heard about so-and-so?”
“Yes. I read about him.”
“Oh really? Tell me more!”
“Um, I’ve only heard about him, to be honest.”
Because I didn’t bother to read anything more about the topic even though it interested me and would have probably made a great conversation. Same thing with a great many other topics and ideas. I don’t follow through and see it to the end. Because I am lazy and like to hipetty hop from one topic to another in an erratic manner.
For example, halfway through writing this post, even though I was on a roll, I opened a new tab to check YouTube. I really didn’t need to, but I just did, and I forgot what else I wanted to say. I keep doing this, and all my work is lacking in concentration and focus as a result. This is also the same for my conversations and human interactions. I am terrible at it, and think I am terribly un-interesting.
Anyway – the feeling of being boring makes me feel terribly insecure. Which is a vicious cycle because when you feel insecure you are not your usual happy, chirpy self and you become an awkward wallflower, fading away into the background and feeling upset that nobody wants to talk to you.
Alternatively, you try too hard – and that flops too.
Feeling insecure stops a person from achieving their full potential.
I know who I am, but sometimes I can be maliciously insecure. That is, insecurity has a malevolent hold on me. It catches in my throat and turns my attention away from life and liveliness and makes me cloudy and moody and complainy.
So I have learnt that I need to ignore my insecurity and focus really hard on finding that place inside me where I am happy and carefree. When I have found that place, my true self flows out and it quite often surprises me.
You see, you have to be less self conscious – and also less self aware. Don’t fret, my dear. Smile even though you hate your teeth, throw your head back and laugh genuinely – show that mouth to the world. Don’t edit your laughter, it sounds forced. Relax. Breathe. Enjoy the sun and the rain and look for the silver linings in everything.
If something displeases you, ignore it, and find the pleasing factor inside it. Everything has a pleasing factor.
Alternatively, play the glad game. That is a good game to play. Let us hail Pollyanna, and make life a happier place. There.
Today I am in Edinburgh.
They have a festival going on, which means the city is alive. It is heaving with folks and activities and music and throngs and mummers and minstrels and bagpipe blowers and Chinese people and ice cream and glorious sounds and sights everywhere.
Edinburgh is one of the most beautiful cities I have visited so far in my life, and I have visited a fair few.
It is stunning because it combines magnificent natural beauty with ancient, wondrous architecture – alongside a light modern touch. There are mountains pale blue in the distance, an ocean glittering under the sunny sky, and castles and gothic spires rising and falling in a cascade over the city.
Cobbled streets are so steep – but you barely notice the climb because your neck is craned upwards at the stone walls and jutting rocks and trees growing seemingly over roofs – at the coloured shop fronts and flower falls and steep, steep steps leading to wonderlands.
There is so much to see. Too much to see, that you are twisting your neck to manic proportions for fear of missing anything. In fact, I know I missed a lot.
Edinburgh is a stunning city. No wonder the Scottish want their independence. They have Edinburgh, they don’t need us English!
Carts groaning under the weight of neatly stacked piles of oranges, watermelons, mangoes, bananas, honey dew melons and tangerines.
The tarmac is coated in fish slime and rotten fruit, flattened together into the ground under thousands of car wheels, mixed with scraps of material and mouldy bread.
The stench of horse manure and animal merges with the stink of open dustbins. A rickety monster machine of a rubbish lorry trundles by, leaving in its wake the fetid scent of hell.
The wind surges through the market, and the smell of animal is replaced by the warm aroma of freshly baked bread. Turn your head the other way and a cart piled high with strawberries, sweet perfume wafting over the stalls, trundles by.
Reaching the end of a street, after squeezing in between tightly packed stalls stacked with dresses, underwear, pyjamas, scarves, and gleaming jewellery, and a pungent fishy smell greets you like a sudden jolt against a foul, transparent wall. The road underfoot is awash with bloody water, melted ice, and rotten fish cast away from the gleaming silver piles on crates. A stray dog sniffs beneath one of the carts, while a donkey raises its massive head mournfully, tethered to the front of a cart piled high with sardines.
Shouts from all directions, each vendor competing in price and voice. Shoving a fish before you as you pass by, with brown, work-worn hands.
A man juicing oranges at the far end of the street, and it’s hard to discern whether the oranges smell of fish or not. The street opens out into a wider plaza where vendors selling gleaming teapots and baking dishes spread their ware next to vendors selling all kinds and colours of olives and pristine mountains of vibrantly coloured spices; scarlet paprika next to sunset turmeric and deep olive cumin.
I was trying to buy a dress. My father told me not to speak in my Arabic because they would know I was a foreigner and raise the price. So, silent, I allowed the woman to pull several dresses over my head, one after the other, each more richly decorated than the last. Her voice was high, and she was talking to me but I found it hard to understand her rushed accent. I didn’t want to try on anymore dresses. The sun was beating down on my head and my scalp was beginning to itch. The noise around me swelled and filled my head so I found it hard to think, and listen to all the voices around me. People shoved past me in the narrow alleyway where the woman selling the dresses kept pressing dresses onto me. I looked helplessly at my dad who was shaking his head at me, as if to say, ‘stop now, we’re going, say no.’
I really wanted a dress, though. He wanted to leave the market, it was getting too much and he didn’t like her insistent attitude.
Finally I was ready to go too. This was getting ridiculous. Why was she making me wear the dresses. I didn’t want to wear them, I wanted to look at them. I know my own size for goodness’ sake. My dad didn’t understand. He thought I wanted to try on the dresses and he was getting cross, thinking I didn’t need to. He was getting pushed further and further away by the throng of people pushing through the slim spaces between the carts.
I felt like I was drowning in Moroccan dialect and dresses and misunderstanding.
‘I don’t want to buy a dress.’ I told the lady.
She bundled one into a bag, pushing it in my face. I glanced helplessly at my dad; she hadn’t understood me. His face was turned away, his jaw set in the way it does when he is cross because I haven’t listened. It’s not my fault. Help me.
Then it happened. The heat, the noise, the fish infiltrating my nose and surging through my brain, the dirt, the surreal difficulty of shopping; everything has to be bargained, don’t speak your Arabic here, feeling lost and confused, dogs and donkeys, bloody fish guts and orange juice, stray cats that look like they are the spawn of satan with their oblong heads and extra long fangs…
I burst into tears.
Not just regular tears. No. Uncontrollable, unstoppable tears. My dad was furious. The shop lady bundled me into a chair and dried my soaking face with her hands, palms rough from work, and kissed my cheek. I was dimly aware of the crowds that had gathered around this strange girl who started crying for no reason. My father managed to elbow his way over and tell the others to stop crowding over me; I was fine.
In response I had my face in my hands. I didn’t want to cry but the heaving in my shoulders carried on of their own accord. Like there was an invisible force inside emptying my system like you would empty a leak in a boat. And it kept on filling up, the more the tears spilled from my eyes.
How embarrassing. What a weakling I must be. Look at that western girl, can’t deal with our markets.
I don’t know why it happened. I wish it hadn’t. I wish I had been more sturdy and strong and capable and not given into myself. I’d tried so hard to stop it but it just kept rolling over me, a waterfall of pent up emotion that I hadn’t even known I’d been harbouring.
I don’t think it was the market, though. I think it was something deeper, more menacing. Something I have been suppressing for a long time, and this is the first time it has reared its ugly head.
Here is a quick list before I am whisked away.
1. Cockroaches are the bane of my life.
2. I was terrified of them growing up in the Middle East.
3. Morocco is infested with them.
4. How do I sit in a poor person’s house, and smile and laugh and be polite, and eat the feast they prepared for us so kindly and generously, when my toes could be touched by a giant scuttling cockroach at any moment?
5. I saw five in the span of half an hour. Big shiny scuttling armoured brown creatures.
6. I want to go home.
7. I also don’t want to go home.
8. Yesterday we visited a family who live in the slums. Under corrugated iron roofs, her home was magnificently decorated in drapes and gold material. It was fabulous and meagre at the same time.
9. Today I watched some children play on the street. So carefree and happy with so little. A group of babies chortling over an empty yogurt pot. Then they chased each other and one chubby little boy had a plastic string caught on his ankle and trailing after him, and he was laughing and chasing after all the others, noticing the plastic but too anxious to catch up with his baby friends to care until he eventually tripped and fell on his baby face. It was hilarious, my dad picked him up and dusted him down but we just about died laughing. He was fine. Bounced right back up and laughed and carried on running with his baby friends. Tough little babies, you know, not soft and squishy and sensitive like our ones back in England.
10. My donkey friend? He still lulls me to sleep. EEEEawww. EEEEEawww. EEEEawww.
I’m flying to Morocco tomorrow and of course I am scared.
I am scared of the plane.
I am scared of what will greet me there.
I am scared to leave my husband.
I am scared for my mother.
I am scared for my father.
I am just an anxious scaredy cat. But you know what, y’all? I am a grown ass woman and so will have to just suck it up and enjoy myself.
I shall meet my paternal grandmother, who lives and flourishes there. I shall explore and wander around a country that I have only been to but once before, but which is rich with part of my heritage. I shall try to learn the dialect, and try to cook the dishes. I shall go to some Moroccan baths, of course. My father tells me the baths make dirt crawl out of your pores like insects, and you feel so light afterwards.
After hearing that, my body now feels gross and heavy with clogged pores full of insect-dirt! It needs a Moroccan bath!
It will be mighty hot so I have packed only the coolest of garments. I am looking forward to getting some pure Argan oil, and exploring markets and gardens.
My father tells me how he used to walk to the seaside, and buy fruit to sell so he could afford to buy books. He was pretty poor back then.
Anyway. I am excited. Let’s not ruin it by worrying about rubbish that may never happen. And if it does happen, well, we’ll cross those bridges when they come, won’t we.
(That’s what my mum always says).
I have also scheduled some posts to go up while I am away, because the place where I am going is remote and there won’t be any internet for some time.
1040 miles away.
Have we ever been that far apart?
Oh yes. Twice, I think. Once for two weeks. Once for a day.
It’s been two days.
Next week, I will be the one to get on a plane. For three weeks. THAT will be the longest. I will enjoy myself, I know, but I will also be aching to get back to you.
I seem to be spending all my time waiting. That isn’t how one should live life.
Embrace the moment, they say. I don’t want to live my moments without you, though. I feel as though a part of me is missing and if I am left to my own devices too long, it haunts me and creates a lump in my throat.
So I am keeping very busy. Not that I have a choice, of course. In the small moments before my eyes close at night, I feel alone and empty. No warmth to snuggle up to. Nobody to put my arm around in the pitch blackness because I am afraid of the dark.
I sleep on his pillow, because it smells of him, of course. I close my eyes and bury my face in it, pretending it is his T-shirt. He isn’t so squishy though.
When you come back, I am going to cover your face in kisses. Please come home safely.
Walking down the street with his hands in his pockets. He always cleaned up so nicely. His hair slicked back, his face tidy and trim, his suit brushed and straight with the crease in the trousers, shoes shined up to perfection, like brand new, reflecting the street lamps in their gleaming glory.
The pavement was shining with the mist of rain that floated down upon the town. Heels clicked and shoes scraped with the faint gravelly echo of damp street sand. The evening twilight descended upon the world, combining with the golden glow of the street lights to create a surreal dusk stillness, when the streets emptied and families sat around dinner tables, and shops were empty and dark behind their shutters because shop keepers had long gone home.
I stared. Thomas? No. It could not be. Impossible.
But it was, and he was!
He whistled a little as he walked, his step jaunty, and my heart ached. I loved his whistle, his cheery, melodious tunes. His whistle meant he was happy. He turned quickly into an alleyway and vanished.
I peered into the darkness of the alley, squinting a little. It was like a cavern, swallowing up all light, so I couldn’t make anything out. What was in there? Should I follow?
My footsteps sounded loud on the pavement, so I bent over and slid my dainty heels off, holding them by the straps by my side. I followed him.
I heard his whistle, faint, further down. So I hurried, further and further and I still could not see him.
I froze, my toes curling inwards on the cold, damp concrete beneath me. My eyes focused in the gloom; the brick walls on either side of me were illuminated by the faint lights out on the street; they were glistening.
His voice was so clear, as though he was standing right next to me.
‘Thomas?’ I said again. The whistle sounded again, even fainter, and I knew then that the voice I had heard could not have come from Thomas, his whistle was too far away. Or was it?
I jumped. It sounded right in my ear. I looked around frantically; nobody. Nothing. Just the damp concrete and the strangely glistening walls. My heart beating wildly, I tried to shake off this panic that rose within me like bile.
There is nothing to be afraid of, just carry on, it is not real.
I could not do it. My fingers clutched my shoes as I turned and raced out of the alleyway, the long rectangle of light from the street ahead of me looking so far away, every hair on my body standing on end, screaming at me to go faster faster get out of here before I am grabbed.
Finally I burst into the light, as a car sailed past me on the road. A gentleman walked across the street, head cast downwards. Lights twinkled at me in the shiny, shiny, post-rain twilight world.
I glanced behind me and shivered as I walked hurriedly, still barefoot, along the pavement. It was not Thomas. It could not be Thomas. Not my Thomas, at any rate.
It was not real.
I write you from the depths of this ship. My cabin is fairly tight, four beds confined to a space not even wide enough to fit my length. But it is alright, the boys are friendly, we all await the end of our journey nervously. What will the war hold in store for us? I have spoken to some boys who have already been on the front line. They are cagey, and I heard one telling the the lieutenant that it was hard to remain cheerful about it all. I know they don’t want to terrify us with horror stories, and so we carry on. The closer we get to our destination, the more sombre everybody becomes, but we mask it with our jokes and tales of women and joy, and we smoke and smoke and smoke. Write me, Amelia, keep me updated, all the time. Fill your pages with tales of home.
26th April, 1927
My Dearest Petra,
I am writing this on a warm day in April. It’s the blossoming month, and I am looking forward to summer when you and I both can enjoy a glass of lemonade on the promenade…
I couldn’t write anymore, my fingers shook and itched uncomfortably, and the words spilled out of my pen in a scraggly, scrawling mess. It was jittery and wrong.
I dropped my pen on the pristine white tablecloth, and glanced around me. The hotel restaurant was slowly filling up with people, the murmur of their voices rising as shining cutlery clinked and domed dishes were brought through by meticulous waiters brandishing cloths.
Would I ever enjoy a glass of lemonade with Petra on the promenade again? Petra with her long curly hair, gleaming ringlets of honey dropping across her rosy face. Petra with her soft, caressing hands and large, innocent eyes. Petra with her almost too-wide mouth, her slightly plump, curved body.
The last thing she did before I left was tuck my collar over my cashmere jumper, so that it sat neatly. Her eyes were focused on her work, as though it were a tremendous task of great importance. Perhaps, to her, it was. Then she touched my face, looking into my eyes.
“Be good, Tom.”
I watched her forget-me-not dress ruffle wildly behind her as she huddled inside a large grey goat, her arms folded against the furious wind that flew in from the ocean behind her. My carriage trundled away, her figure becoming ever smaller and darker in the distance as the waves crashed madly against the sharp, black rocks so close to the looming towers of the fortress she called home.
Oh I do like to be beside the seaside
I do like to be beside the sea
I do like to stroll upon the Prom, Prom, Prom
Where the brass bands play
So just let me be beside the seaside
I’ll be beside myself with glee
And there’s lots of girls besides
I should like to be beside
Beside the seaside, beside the sea.
I crumpled up the piece of paper, and pulled a postcard out of my pocket instead. It depicted a painting of King’s College chapel of Cambridge, the magnificent face of the building illuminated by bright sunlight. The paint strokes depicting the water and the vivid, grassy bank were flawless. I fingered the sharp edges of the card for a few moments, before taking up my pen.
It’s beautiful here. Exams are looming up ahead, and the boys are keeping their noses to the grindstone, believe it or not. As am I, in fact. Terribly sorry I haven’t written in a while, too much going on, last year of Medicine and all that. Looking forward to summer and lemonade on the promenade. Keep well.
I surveyed it. One of the lines was smudged where the side of my palm had accidentally rested on the wet black ink. I was acutely aware of how cold the note was. I was careful to omit any references to the both of us, together. She would hurt, I know, but it would harden her, this uncertainty, and when I returned she would be icy but hopeful. I slipped the postcard into my pocket, and left the restaurant.
“Be good, Tom.”
Her words echoed in my brain as the beautiful lady walked up to me. She was nothing like Petra. She was glamorous and tall. A simple country dress would not do for her, she wore expensive jewels and silk scarves. Her hair was glossy and glorious, piled at the back of her head. Her curls were neat and carefully arranged, and dotted with tiny, glittering diamonds. I took her hand and placed it in the crook of my arm, and we both walked into the ball together. I murmured a scathing comment about the event, and she bent her head over my arm in silent laughter. I knew how to charm girls like her.
“Be good, Tom.”
Had her voice been hopeful? Was there a tinge of fear to it, as though she knew, long before anything had happened? I lay in bed all night thinking about Petra, until the dim light of predawn filtered through my drawn curtains and threw being to the dark shapes around my dorm. Clothes strewn over the floor, books and papers scattered all over the desk. I didn’t want to get up, but I hauled my tired body out of bed anyway.
I threw all my clothes and books in a jumbled heap together into the open trunk by the door, and by the time I had finished, my curtains were struggling to hold back the bright morning sunlight filtering in. I pulled them to, and allowed my room to flood with the warm, golden rays of June.
I washed and dressed, and dragged my trunk down the stairs and out into the courtyard, where my lift to the train station awaited me.
On the train, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the postcard she had sent me. It was a grainy photograph of the seafront in summer, the beach dotted with folk too far away to see clearly. It was an image of happiness and hope.
On the back her charming, curly handwriting took up every inch of the card, written as neatly and small as possible. She did have quite a lot to say.
2nd June, 1928
Things at Cambridge must be extortionately different from home. I do hope you do well, darling, and I do look forward to your return in the summer. Three years since I last saw you, and you barely write me, you naughty thing. I did know you wouldn’t though, so don’t feel too terrible about it all. Just come home and we shall catch up like the old days. I think Katie and Morgan shall be home too, and we can all get together and it will be like nothing has changed. I do know it has, though, dearest. I am not going to delude myself it hasn’t, and I can tell you it hurt quite a bit at first. But I am a big girl, now. I have some good news to tell you when you get home, and shan’t hint at it at all except to say William has been around quite a lot recently. He’s helped Mama tremendously and she says she doesn’t know what we would have done without him.
Lots of love,
I leant my head against the window as the landscape sailed past. The clouds were scarce, and the morning sky was a deep blue. The window was warm where my forehead rested on it, in direct sunlight. Summer had truly arrived. My stomach growled a little and I realised I hadn’t eaten since, well, the day before yesterday, when the card had come through.
Lemonade on the promenade.
How could I have written that? What was I expecting, that she would await me at home, ready to welcome me with open arms after I had spent three years gadding about Cambridge? I was expecting that. That would be the sort of thing the Petra I knew, or thought I knew, might have done. Perhaps I hadn’t known her at all, and all those years of friendship blossoming into romance had been taken for granted in my mind. I knew she adored me, and that made me brazen.
I hadn’t really taken the time to really know her. Had I?
September 13th, 1925
Have arrived safe and sound, so don’t you worry. Went in for registration yesterday, and met one of my professors. Mighty eccentric old fellow, but mightily clever to boot. You would thrill over the library here, my dear. Crammed with books, and many gardens for you to read in, although probably not as winter arrives in full force. You’re a seaside gal, though, aren’t you. I’ve made a few friends and they have come round for games a few nights. Mustn’t make too much of a habit of it, though, and remember what I’ve really come for. I want to make an honest man of myself for you, darling, and can’t believe it’s only been eight days since I left you by the wild sea. It feels like half a century. I will write more when more happens, but for now sleep well my dear, and write me lots about everybody and everything you do, for I am dying to know.