in a room with another person

Clattering keyboardI’m in a room with another person.  The other person is (like myself) reading.  (Unlike myself) reading a book.

Not watching the tele.

Not streaming a YouTube mix.

Not listening to a radio channel on a mobile phone.

I can hear the sounds of this room.

This room with another person.

First and foremost, a little too assertively I must say, the clatter of my keyboard as I write these lines.

Second, every so often, the swish of a page being turned.  That swish which includes the memory of a very pale brown paper; its gentle roughness like the tongue of a lover.

In the background, meantime, the tick-tock of the clock.  (You do know even battery-powered clocks can tick-tock their way through the day, if you listen hard enough.)

In the kitchen, down the hall, the gentle and occasional clack of implements on pans.  The shush of water as it pours out of a recently boiled kettle.  The distant laughter from the sitting-room of a happily engaged young adult.

Punctuating the quiet now, two offspring begin to momentarily bro-convo the silence away.  They have fulfilled a familial obligation as the snow fell heavily.

They need to let off steam just a bit.

(As that kettle recently suggested!)

The noise levels rise a little.  The keyboard no longer so assertive.

The marble-like falling of frozen peas into the empty cazuela.  (This is a bilingual household, by the way.)

(Just so you know for future reference.)

For some reason, I need to doublecheck the word.  I get a reply.  But the book-reading continues.

The light of my hard drive flashes Christmas-like on its nearby cardboard box.

White.

Intermittently.

It only needs the silent night of a Christmas tree.

Meanwhile, outside all this unexpected, uncalled for and yet entirely welcome quiet, the embrace of slushy sleet – becoming sodium light-tinted white – serves only to collapse the outlines of an evening like this.

In a room with another person no one can avoid treasuring; in a flat with three other people none of us can avoid loving; at the end of a hall too crowded by any measure; in a space where books invade our ability to resist (their) final temptation.

All we need to awaken from the foolishness that is modern life is to remember the ancient sounds of reading.

Everything else will then silently fall into (its) place.

December 26th 2014

apart from being together before midnight

Before midnight on Christmas Eve 2014

It could be any midnight.  It just so happens it’s the midnight that serves to divide Christmas Eve from Christmas Day.

We’re a four-fifths Spanish family, estranged – sadly; inevitably – from the Spanish side.  But whilst the mother and children are entirely Spanish, the father is half English and half Croatian; and whilst the Croatian and English sides have also had their problems over the years, the love for place and time has never been lost in either case.

Neither, for that matter, in the Spanish context; although reasons plenty are there for the situation to be quite otherwise.

It was a long wait tonight.

As it’s now 12.09 am, perhaps I should say it was a long wait last night.

Middle son was doing a nine-hour shift.

We couldn’t in all honesty not wait.

We couldn’t in all love not resist the temptation.

He was grateful for us finally waiting.  Of all of us, he ate the best.

Hardly surprising, after a nine-hour shift.

The three children, no longer children, men and women in their own gorgeous right, laughed and joked and had the best of times.

The parents were a little tired after the day’s running around – but oh so grateful that the family was together after a challenging year, and at its tail-end.

We count ourselves lucky to be together.

More than anything, being together counts so much.

There’s not much left, actually – apart from being together.

“Apart from being together…” – well … that does sound weird!

An oxymoron sort of weird.

A pleasurable weird.

This sort of stuff, this sort of pleasure, this kind of delight in silly wordness … it comes of living between cultures.  Of being neither one thing nor the other.  You’ll see yourself, one day you’ll see, if you ever have the honour of living between cultures yourself.

In the meantime, just delight in being together before midnight …

Even as you never forget that apart from being together before midnight, there’s little else which offers so much love.

The end of the post

midday before christmas

Her house is always clean, tidy, neat and nice-smelling.  Her parents’ house – her adoptive parents’ house – always smelled of old people; they were, after all, old at the time.

She is now their age, as they were then; I am now beyond fifty myself.  But she keeps a beautifully ordered house.  Welcoming but ordered, all the same.

That is more than can be said of my own sad home.

I am never sad when I visit her.  I visited her last some years ago, even though we live close by and I walk past her house quite often.  I lament this situation, and find it difficult to understand.

Today, my task – not at all onerous in any way –  was to take a bottle of wine and a card.  I stood outside the front door and shamefacedly rang her landline on my mobile.

It had been such a long time, and the houses always look very similar, and since there was no car in the drive (there hasn’t been for quite a while), there was little to help me identify her place.

I remembered when I was a kid the grand cars she had.  She had a Daf, if you remember; the one with that automatic transmission.  Later, her brother bought her a convertible Saab.  I think it was a convertible.  It was a Saab, anyways.  Another wonderful vehicle.

But today, a midday before Christmas with bottle in hand, there was no car to mark the spot.

No car to help out.

So I phoned on my mobile phone; she metres away on the other side of the wall.  She confirmed the door number.  I rang the bell, a little stupidly.  And there she stood; a little older, possibly wiser too – though I think she has always been wise.

A strong woman, never given to compromising her principles.  Far too good and true for a world which has never known quite how to accept her.

They say of her – all of them: brothers, friends, acquaintances, nephews, nieces, children – that she’s losing her memory.  And yes, she does forget stuff; but I’d be inclined to believe that it’s more when she’s uncomfortable and distressed – that it’s not the moment, certainly not now, to medicalise or diagnose.

She forgets a lot of what life threw at her: the moving up from working- to upper-middle class, and then the falling away her principles made inevitable.

We talked about those times, this midday before Christmas.  I saw the vivacious and frankly attractive person the world has rarely cared to acknowledge.  And if it has ever acknowledged her presence, it has been to see her – in her disruptive humour and love of life – more as a threat to be denied a place than a woman to be treasured and supported.

So.  It’s true she’d start a conversation and need reminding where we were; but on reminding, she’d remember how to continue.

An example.  She asked me, when I entered, to take a Christmas card to a neighbour across the road.  I left it on the piano and said I’d take it when I left.

When I was about to leave, she reminded me I’d already taken the card, and so I had to remind her I hadn’t but was going to.  That was when it struck me: she’d remembered, in her short-term memory, the memory she was supposedly losing, what she needed to remember, only that; and had forgotten what she knew someone else would remember on her behalf.

She was mimicking, quite brilliantly, a computer with a life’s worth of hard drive.

Time to clear out files and bumf.

Time to make space for vivacity’s march.

I read something the other day – don’t know if it’s true.  When we remember something, we remember not the event itself but – rather – that last time we remembered it.

Isn’t that a crazy idea?

Can’t you go an amazingly long way with that?

I have, anyhow.

It was lovely today, this midday before Christmas, shooting the gentle breeze with a gentlewoman this century rarely sees any more.

I feel privileged and ashamed at the same time: privileged to have known her; ashamed I have not stood up for her more.

But perhaps, in truth, people like her don’t need to be stood up for – except inasmuch as we do so out of respect.