My neighbours have moved out. There were around six or more tenants living next door with a cage full of gerbils in an absentee landlord house. They’ve vacated a month after their “last ever party”, which I knew would be a killer because there was a knock at the door on the day and it was the first we heard about it, and someone sheepish handed our lodger Ben a bottle of red wine and a note. We didn’t know their names though I always said hello.
This week I’ve been at sea again in my mind…at the London Boat Show and at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich to see the ‘Turner and the Sea’ exhibition. It was a Boat Show full of memories and forgotten dreams: the first time I went was ten years ago for the announcement of the crews for the Global Challenge 2004-5 yacht race . We found out who would sail on what boat in ‘the world’s toughest yacht race”.
Between the dull P.D James sequel to Pride and Prejudice adaptation and wonderful Sherlock rerun I saw ‘The Whale’ starring Michael Sheen.
This is the link to the BBC The Whale adaptation webpage.
The Whale is based on the true story of a whaling vessel, The Essex, stove with intent by a white sperm whale in 1820, and sunk almost before before poor Captain Pollard returned in his open row boat from chasing another whale which he would have boiled down in ‘blankets’ in a try pot to produce barrels of precious oil.
We are a sensitive age and the program came with a health warning that some people may find scenes disturbing. From 1750-1850 Nantucket was a prosperous center of the whale trade, providing spermaceti oil to fuel candles and oil lamps across the globe. Sources of energy are often disturbing, no less today as demand increases and in laptop glowed rooms we discuss fracking and off shore wind farms. Whaling was the bloody work behind the lights of the glittering ball rooms in Paris. The cost was great and cruel but there is yet always a consequence of profit and power…it’s much easier to condemn a distant time and practice.
“if you can’t be by the sea, bring the sea to you”.
As a temporary concession to living in the city I arranged all of my sea themed books on top of a spare flat surface (a storage dresser) in my studio: the ‘Sea Bookshelf’. It’s a joy to look up from my desk and see the beautiful dust jackets containing an ocean of sea myths, histories and lighthouse stories.
I’m no scientist but I know that the weight of water is very heavy. I swam 400 meters in my pyjamas for a Gold Swimming award. The Sea Bookshelf is always expanding. Oceans of sea books sit all in a row on top of the dresser higher and higher. Why didn’t I ever consider the health and safety implications of this?
Yesterday I bent down next to the dresser, and in a nutshell, the Sea Bookshelf imploded against the ‘Bruno Bear’ ceramic lamp I had foolishly used as a book stop. The Bear Lamp nearly brained me but missed me by a seagull feather of a millimetre. It could’ve done some serious damage to my head as it chipped off a corner of the dresser and smashed the lamp into hundreds of pieces.
Researching my writing projects this year has put me onto some great novels and expanded my fiction horizons.
Novels that have changed the way I think and write in 2013 include:
Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund
The Terror by Dan Simmons
In the Heart of the Sea by Nathanial Philbrick (a story about the Essex whaling boat)
and now the Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey.
I’m learning to write the same way that I read: on a bus, in a train, on route to somewhere and in-between everything else.
This week I’m feeling Eeyore. Our whizzbit lodger Henry will be leaving us tonight after a week that has nearly broken my health; and yesterday I fell off my bike under cover of night in slow motion when I was crossing the railway tracks after gig rowing as it was very wet and slippy on the path.
I gathered myself off the floor where I had skidded and the first thing I did was look around. If anyone had run over and asked if I was OK I might have cried because a strange thing had happened to me, but as it was, there was no one, and I was in fact not only fine but saw immediately that it could have been much worse. I cycled off feeling a little sorry for myself and shaken as it would’ve been terrible if I’d fallen into the water the other side.
My partner D____ says that we can have a cozy weekend in front of the fire, and enjoy a silent night house between the undefined time when Henry returns his keys, and the undefined time before Ben comes back from his travels and I enter the next round of lodger roulette.
“Would to God these blessed calms would last. But the mingled, mingling threads of life are woven by warp and woof: calms crossed by storms, a storm for every calm.”
Moby Dick p570 Ch 114 The Gilder
A storm was coming and my partner D____ and I hastened to Beer for a snuggled weekend to watch the sea from the cozy glow of the warm house and pub.
Yes, we were expecting rough seas and the need to ‘batten down the hatches’ but we were keen to be near to the elements. October is my favorite month to be on the pebbled beach. The cool and fresh breeze blows worries from my frown, and a sea of swell is often unfamiliar disturbed brown water: but it’s warm enough to stand and watch. As the curls of sea roll and tumble, over and over moving rising constantly, I breathe deep and it pulses breathing rhythmical time.
Remember that you’re on my side? Even if I may have crossed a line. I’ve been irritated into a state of volcano bubbles – almost too agitated to blog. I’m OK now. Just a blip.
Yes there are sides. There are hundreds of sides, hundreds of footsteps through the threshold of the home and the past lives in the present. John Fowles echoes:
All pasts are like poems. You can derive a thousand things, but you can’t live in them.
I’ve been thinking about the past lives of my house. It was built in 1895. It was a draper’s shop on a busy parade of shops opposite a cake factory. The living room was upstairs above the shops, with a beautiful iron fire stove with a plate to boil the kettle, and I stop and smile and remember that I’m just one of many fussing homeowners trying to relax at the end of the day by the fire. This house has seen families pass through and it doesn’t care if my walls are smudged with hand prints or the bedrooms house lonely souls hiding from the world watching TV on glowing laptops.
Henry is a pain because he ticks all of the ‘piss me off’ boxes. He’s just trying to stay out of the way and do his thing.
His thing drives me up the wall.
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.(1984 George Orwell)
I may be in a funk. I’m wondering to myself how I feel about this year…But then who doesn’t find themselves facing an existential dilemma every Friday afternoon? This week I spent a few days of warm sun in Beer followed by chilly ears in Bristol. I watched a woman swim in the sea and then went home and switched on the central heating. I was suddenly irritated that I wasn’t that woman in the sea.
It’s hard to relax when you invite people into your home, but if you don’t? You make a massive rod for your own back.
Everyone has different ways of living, none is right or wrong: but it’s when you get a glimpse behind a closed door into someone’s home that you realise how territorial and protective we are of our personal space. The very place where we should be relaxed, a safe bolt hole from the rest of the world, is sometimes as tightly controlled with rules as those environments that are out of our control. There has to be joy in sharing my home, or I will be lost!
On the yacht race I noted that as the 10 month race went on, our team, a small boat community of 18, established more and more rules as we went along to make sure that we all knew how to behave. We chose these complicated rules and obediently policed them ourselves. It’s a strange thing that people seek out the safety of rules in new or fearful situations so that we understand the boundaries, and can enforce them on others.
I’m starting to understand the mirror reflection of my own fabulous neurosis, and thinking how they often backfire.