Waves of a Different Colour

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I don’t have a photo that can illustrate this post. I find myself wanting to describe something that I haven’t actually seen in real life, but it’s an image that is so vivid and powerful that it comes to me again and again, and I find myself carried away by it every time. Bear with me and I’ll try to describe it – but it needs some introduction, and some pictures to serve as a backdrop.

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A friend of a friend of mine lives in the south east of England not far from the coast where the sea on a good day is the colour of dirty bathwater, and is often more like the run-off from a pottery workshop. The waves are opaque, and beige.

As children my father took us sailing in the Thames Estuary where I remember grey mud, cold water, and wet feet. It was not something I enjoyed, but later I came to know the sea around the Isle of Man, where the water was so clear I could peer over the edge of the sailing dinghy and see right down to the seabed many metres below, past waving forests of weed. Later still I discovered the extraordinary colours of the meditterranean, turquoise and cerulean, ultramarine and purple and hundreds of variations in between. One hot summer in the Bristol Channel I watched seals from only a few feet away while clambering over rocks on Lundy island, and gazed in awe from the top of the cliffs at a huge basking shark languidly making its way along the coast in water as clear as air.

This friend of a friend (who I have never met) recently spent a holiday in Orkney. It was the first time she had been there and the sights and sounds, the smells, the whole experience of the place filled her with such overwhelming delight that she came home filled to overflowing with vivid memories. The weather had not been all that good, she said, but that didn’t matter; she was out every day. The islands are positioned just where the Atlantic and the North Sea meet off the north west tip of Scotland and the coastline could not be more different from her southern home. She talked of the colour of the sea, and watching seals swimming in the surf. “The waves are like green glass” she said, “and I saw a seal, under the water, right inside a green glass wave”.

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I can’t explain why when I heard this it was so immediately present in my mind. It couldn’t have been more real to me if I had actually seen it for myself, and it’s stayed with me now for more than a week, washing through me like a sensory memory and transporting me into realms of pure pleasure.

I know I’d feel differently if this were a real memory, something I had experienced and seen, because part of the wonder of it is that I’ve been given it as a gift, and it’s extraordinary that it’s possible for this to happen. Even more special is the fact that it’s come to me from a distance, not at first hand or even second, but from a third, so I know that at least one other person has been carried along on this wave just as I now am – a Mexican wave that’s visible only to those who feel it.

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My best wishes to everyone who will be celebrating Thanksgiving later this week, and thanks to all the writers, photographers and artists who give me so much pleasure through their WordPress blogs with images and ideas every bit as powerful and memorable as a seal in a green glass wave.

 

The Scent Of Roses

Wartime, in a northern town in England.

In this grey, cold city a young woman is away from her family, far from home because the college where she is studying has been evacuated away from the danger of the bombing raids that are concentrated on London and the southeast of the country where she lives. She is in the company of friends and is enjoying her studies, but all the same she misses her home and her family.

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In a town near London my grandmother is standing amongst the rose bushes in the garden of her house, separated by hundreds of miles from her daughter. How do you reach out to someone you love when she is hundreds of miles away, when there is no way to speak except by letter, when you can’t hold her in your arms, or smile at her across the table, or make her a cup of tea? When you miss the sound of her voice – singing, usually – or the noise of footsteps in the hall and the door opening and closing as she comes home? My grandmother, smelling the scent of the roses, has a thought and going indoors she finds a biscuit tin and some pruning shears. Later she will get out brown paper and string.

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The next morning my mother receives a parcel in the post. It’s large but not heavy, and although she knows who it’s from by the spidery handwriting of the address she can’t guess what’s inside, so she is already smiling as she undoes the knot in the string and then carefully unwraps the paper. She opens the lid of the tin.

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She smells the scent of them before she sees them, the fragrance wafting out and around her and filling the room. Bending forward she holds them up to her face and breathes in deeply, smiling, and then shuts her eyes as she breathes out slowly, slowly, seeing her mother in the garden with the shears, choosing the flowers, clipping them carefully, tenderly laying them in the box. She is filled with thoughts she can’t name and flooded with love.

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Sixty years later, I am in the northern town that is my home, many miles from the town of my birth and feeling, not for the first time, lost and very alone. The grey sadness that descends on me from time to time has settled this time like a cloud and the world feels like a dark place. I speak to my mother on the phone but we cannot meet, and she can’t hug me as she wants to. I can feel the love in her voice, but we are both familiar with this darkness and know how love just has to wait it out, as I know that hers will, with the unconditional compassion that is motherhood.

A few days later, a packet arrives in the post. It’s small and not very heavy, and I can see from the label where it’s from but I still don’t know what’s inside. I open it and find bubblewrap protecting a small beautiful blue glass bottle, the maker’s name in etched glass on the side and for the first time in many days, I smile. I am still smiling as I read the label and unscrew the curved black cap, and take a sniff. The scent of roses, the essence of rose in its purest form. Rose Absolute, one of the most difficult essential oils to make requiring thousands and thousands of rose petals, one of the most precious and expensive. One that I have always wanted and never had. I close my eyes and take a longer, deeper breath of it, and breathing out slowly I feel a warm sense of peace, and almost imperceptibly the darkness fades. It still weighs on me like a shroud and cuts out the light, but the weight is less and for a moment or two the first glimmer of light has given me hope. I can feel the love there, even if I can’t yet let it in.

When we speak on the phone, she tells me the story of the roses that arrived by post in the biscuit tin.

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I have kept this little blue glass bottle on the table beside my bed ever since that day that it arrived in the post, and whenever I undo the cap and breathe the scent of roses the three of us come together, my grandmother, my mother and me, across time and space. We were all of us writers in our way – of journals and poems and letters – but no words could ever have been as eloquent, or could have connected us in this way, nor would they have brought with them such a flood of love, as did the scent of roses.

About Turn

I confess to being an unorganised writer.
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This blog was not planned, the way a website would be. It grew out of personal ramblings and compilations of photographs and sprouted like an untended garden, unevenly and without a clear focus until I began to recognise it for what it was. Only then did I start to publish posts, and its unstructured beginnings are still evident today.

Time for a little housekeeping. Jamie Wallace at her Suddenly Marketing blog wrote a post recently called How to write an About page – 5 steps to get it right that really got me thinking. Even though I am not marketing anything I recognise the need for focus and clarity, and for the courtesy of offering enough information for a reader to feel welcomed. It’s also nice when you visit a blog or a website to be given a bit of orientation and a sense of what else is there. This sort of clearly thought out advice is just what I need from time to time and I pondered long about it before making a few additions to my About page.

Any thoughts?

The Art of Giving

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I learnt a long time ago that hanging on to things doesn’t work, because it simply doesn’t get you anywhere. You seem to stop yourself and everything else from moving, and all your creative energy grinds to a halt. On the other hand the more you can let go and give, (within reason), the better things flow.

I’m taking part in a community art event in Leeds this summer called Papergirl. The project is really about the the art of giving – and in this case, giving art. It started in Berlin, in 2006, as a response to a ban on displaying art publicly in the form of posters and since then has spread to cities all around the world. It’s very simple; after the Papergirl Leeds Exhibition later this year every single piece of work submitted to the show will be rolled up and handed to members of the public by papergirls (and boys) on bicycles at the Papergirl Leeds Ride event.

I love the idea of creating and giving away. It’s refreshing and liberating – and giving away like this in such a sweeping, random way makes it feel quite different to the feeling of making art for someone you know. I like the way that the work will fall unexpectedly into people’s hands like snowfall or leaves in the wind. Does it matter that the work may not be appreciated and end up discarded, dumped into the nearest waste paper bin? Not really. Or not to me, anyway. It’s a wonderful exercise in letting go. And the spirit of this event is actually just as much about receiving as about giving – it can be quite thought provoking to be freely handed something that’s been thought about, crafted, and created. It’s been a good opportunity for me to create something in a different way and I like the feeling that I am sending these thoughts and images out into the world where they may sink or float. They may possibly find a home, or they may perish without a trace, but I have launched them into the world and they go with my best wishes and my love.
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Message in a Bottle

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I’ve been publishing posts during the last few weeks from an Android phone. Not from choice, you understand, but from necessity as I am without a computer and an internet connection, and now and again this has led to some false starts and accidents; this post for example got itself published before I’d written anything but the title and required some frantic scrabbling about before I could retrieve it and get it back into a draft. So my apologies to anyone who received notice of it only to find a non-existent entry…..I’m new to all this and I find it exciting but alarming as I grapple with the shock of the new. I am after all a grey haired old thing, even if a dapple-grey.

Having said that, I find it nothing short of miraculous that I can write and insert photographs and publish everything – and all this from a small thing I hold in my hand and which doubles as a camera and numerous other things as well. It all seems like magic to me. I have to remind myself that this is quite normal technology these days, and that just about the only thing this tiny device can’t do is to beam me aboard the starship Enterprise.

Writing blog posts has always felt to me a bit like sending out a message in a bottle. I think it’s part of its appeal – not knowing who might read it and where they might be, or even if it will be read at all or rather sink without trace. It’s all about saying something from the heart and then letting go, in the hope that perhaps it may mean something to someone somewhere – but this remains an unknown, an uncertainty, which I like. I think this is how it should be.

If posts are the messages, WordPress is the ocean, and I’m as grateful for that as I am for the ocean itself. I’ve sometimes retrieved and read messages that have been written, or so it has seemed, especially for me – words that have spoken so clearly with me in mind that I’ve exclaimed out loud.

Thank you all for what you write, for taking the time and for writing from the heart, and for sending them out into the world. Your messages are getting through.

Love, and Never a Word Spoken

One afternoon not long ago I fell in love with an emu. It was at the annual fair, where the showground always has displays of animals – mostly horses and cattle – but sometimes some more exotic creatures.

In the centre of the animal enclosure was this enormous bird, corralled in a pen with no label or sign-board to say what it was or give any information about it whatsoever, and I gazed at it in wonder. Taking photographs simply wasn’t enough – I took out a notebook and started to draw, and became totally engrossed.

It was huge – a great feathery mound on massive, powerful legs which for most of the time were folded underneath it, supporting its extraordinary bulk like two perfectly positioned brackets, and the more I looked the more I found there was no part of it that didn’t fascinate me; the tail feathers were amazing, almost like fern fronds as they emerge from the growing plant, all crimped and crinkly, and its feet – I held my breath in awe when it finally rose to its full height and came over to inspect me, and I could see the huge scaly toes tipped with horny claws, and the soft squashy pads of the heel of the feet that looked as if they could run very fast over any terrain, and do horrible things if used as a means of defence.

The thing about drawing, rather than just looking at something or taking photographs is that after a while your awareness of everything else drops away; standing in that busy showground I could have been completely alone with that bird, in the middle of nowhere. And then something else happens; you’re drawing something, and you begin to feel that somehow the boundary between where you end and it begins is somehow blurred, and there’s no longer a profound distinction between the two of you. Which is when I realise I have fallen in love……

We live in a culture dominated by words, and learn and inform ourselves constantly by reading, talking, and thinking verbally – in fact so much so that we believe we can only understand something, or know something, or learn about it, by using words. This is so utterly untrue, that when you get used to the idea of letting go of verbal thought and instead start to understand in a non-verbal way, you realise how narrow and restricting it is to think all the time in words.

Of course drawing isn’t the only way to step aside from thought and immerse yourself totally in something so that you are in a different world of understanding. I know people who do it by gardening, and others who play an instrument, or listen to music, or walk in the woods, or play with their children. There must be hundreds of ways. Every day in the park, I watch people walking their dogs who are finding this kind of connection, and there have been cats, and dogs, and horses, and even guinea-pigs who have given me immediate entry into joyful, wordless love – there’s no other word for it. Thankfully I know that for me, drawing is always a reliable doorway into the non-verbal part of my mind, and I need this doorway – to get into this other way of thinking, of being in the moment.