Hidden for millenia, parent and child from the palaeolithic age found in a cave in deepest Turkey and now in the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations in Ankara. They probably have more ‘visitors’ in a day now than they had in their entire lifetime. But is it okay?
Loving with a love that has left behind
all thoughts of whether the packaging
is crumpled and faded.
Living on life’s see-saw, still smiling
when it jolts to the ground hard, not only
when you’re lifted to the sky.
Still finding a smile when your child
has woken every night for three years.
Pretending that the burnt round the edges
soggy in the middle meal, made
by a loved one, is nectar.
The open mind and heart of one
In the comfort in their own skin
accepting of who they are,
right here and now.
Loving kindness, that smile again,
when it meets the eyes of a soul
who rarely speaks to another,
never mind smiling together.
Which of you have ever hitch-hiked? I have. And loved it. But that was way back when. When The Faces had not long lost their Small, flowers were still in our hair and I spent my summers picking strawberries to save for a Transistor Radio with – wait for it – EARPHONES! so I could listen to Radio Luxembourg under my sheets. Kim and I would walk along Topsham road; look at the road signs and think, Torquay today? With no map or any idea where it was, we would sit on the edge of the road with our thumbs out wearing hotpants that barely covered our whatsits, and surprise, we never had to wait long for a ride. We saw a lot of Torbay that year and it certainly beat walking the ten miles to Exmouth as we’d done the year before, desperately aiming for Pink House Corner, the landmark where we had broken the back of it.
Most often our lifts were lorry drivers who happily shared their sarnies, Spam or cheese with red sauce on white bread with margarine. Better though were the couple of times where we struck gold with travelling salesmen, who took us to roadside cafes in flashy cars. Any car was flash to Kim and I though, neither of our homes had vehicles. Torquay’s sea front stretched a mile or so to the harbour and then just a choice of two streets up the town via the dazzlingly tacky amusement arcades, ice cream parlours and chip shops. It hasn’t changed much, apologies to any Torquastas reading, but apart from the gloriously expensive Ilsham Marine it’s all a bit predictable isn’t it?
A couple of years later I saw an article on what was then Westward TV about a tiny place in Dorset – Whitchurch Canonicorum, telling the tale of a shrine to St Wite http://www.darkdorset.co.uk/st_wite Why this particular tale pushed buttons I can’t think but I just had to go and see it for myself. My chosen victim, no companion, on this saintly search was my best friend of the time, Sue Leichman, who disappeared from my life shortly after, possibly with a morbid fear of what I’d drag her into next. We got a ride on the A35 but must have walked a good way from there into murky Dorset. I vaguely remember a tiny church and trying to find a way of stretching the time we spent there to justify the effort involved. I have no idea how we got home again. To be honest I can’t ever remember how we got home from any of our adventures, I ‘m just grateful.
I don’t think I went hitching many more times after that, but back then it was exciting to see how far we could get for free. It was commonplace then to see people on the side of the road looking hopeful and it’s sad that the majority no longer feel safe to try.
In the late 1990’s I was driving towards Southampton and ten miles out on a grim, damp morning I saw a young woman on the side of the road with a sign saying London. I slowed to check her out. She looked about seventeen and really cold and scruffy, of course I had to pick her up to make sure no-one worse did so. She threw her backpack in the boot and before she touched the seat I could smell her! I opened my window wide and put the heat on full. Her hair was matted, her clothes raggy and she looked malnourished. She walked from Fairmile to the main road. The old A30 that is, and she had spent a month in the trees with Swampy and the other environmental protestors trying to prevent the construction of the new A30 bypass. We parted company before too long, I took the low road and she the high for London, but it was an interesting experience and insight into their treehouse and tunnel life.
A friend told me recently that she picked up a man hitching to near her home town, a total stranger and she a lone woman. Others had criticized her and questioned her sanity but she said she could tell that he was okay. How did you know? I’d asked. She couldn’t give a precise answer, she just did, ‘Sometimes you just instinctively know.’ Apparently it was an enriching journey where the stranger shared all sorts of anecdotes of his travels around the UK, always by thumb and cardboard. Hitching is largely gone, but not forgotten.
He climbed into the boat with eyes wide and fearful and then squinted towards where he knew his destination should be, far across the lake. Grateful to lower his pack from his head – it was so heavy that it felt as if it was pushing him into the earth – he tucked himself into the driest corner he could find and used it as a seat. A middle aged woman sized it up and silently daring him to complain she deposited her abundant bottom beside him. Once they both knew she had won, she took some bread from her bag and passed him some and even though he’d had some rice before he left the village, he would never say no to food.
The boat started filling but it was the first of the day and the ferrymen knew that once it was three quarters full, it was pointless waiting for more passengers. His mother had woken him early to have the best chance of getting to the other side ahead of the crowds. He had the garments she had made and was taking them to the market, on his own for the first time. The ‘All To Jesus’ engine fired up and they gently steered a path through a flotilla of similar boats, still moored, as they left Yeji. The ferryman looked skywards, said a prayer and sang along to the gospel music that was blaring from the beach. Others joined in, but the boy was too shy, so he pretended to check that his pack was secure. It was going to be a scorching day, and the boat boys raggy vests were stuck to their bodies already. They were bailing out the pool of water, which threatened to drown the crated chickens, with small metal pans. He was only a little older than them, but he thought himself too grown up to chat or play their childish games. He believed that he had an important job to do, the start of his new career as a market trader. They turned away, and made percussive sounds with their pans until the ferryman shouted they were out of tune.
The woman beside him delved into her bag again and brought out a stew pot wrapped in cloth. As she unwrapped it, a smell so pungent flew to his nostrils that he reached in to grab himself a Kenkey, she slapped him hard.
‘You have Cedi? Give me Cedi I give you Kenkey,’ she knew he had no money and planned to give him the leftovers, but first she sold nearly all to the other passengers who gathered round the pot and dipped into spicy pepper soup. The remainder she shared with him, ‘Because I know your mummy and your big mummy also.’ He thanked her and said he would help with her bags on the other side.
With everyone’s bellies sated the boat gradually fell quiet in the heat. He began to think of ways to shelter from the sun. He’d seen slit eyed tourists from across the world going around the big City with umbrellas over their heads. They didn’t want their skin to go dark, especially the women, who seemed frightened even to have the sun smile on them. Maybe mummy could stitch a cover for a boat like this he thought, and then the ferryman could charge more to keep his passengers cool. He decided he would price some white cloth and tell his mother his idea. He was so absorbed in how they would spend the riches his ferry umbrellas would bring, maybe he would go back to school, or just work hard to become a big man, that he didn’t notice the noise at first. And then everyone was shouting at once.
‘What is happening mummy?’ he asked the stew pot woman.
‘Shush boy, keep your head down and pray, they go rob us.’ He felt spice burn as his food rose in his throat, so it was true; pirates had left the ocean and were on the lake now.
Two men, heads wrapped like Bedouin, one wearing a traditional shirt, the other a T shirt emblazoned ‘Chelsea’, boarded the boat with machetes in their hands and ordered them to open their baggage.
‘You, give me your watch and get on your knees,’ the Chelsea pirate demanded of a westerner. The boy made himself as small as he could, watching and listening. He saw them drag a tiny child from its distraught mother. The one man, with scars on his arms and a bird skull strung around his neck, spoke tenderly to the baby, smiled as he pinched its cheeks, and then looked at everyone in turn, before throwing it towards his own boat. The mother screamed as if her heart had been torn from her body and it seemed like they all held breath until another man caught it in his arms. The boy looked for a way to help.
‘How much for the baby?’ ‘Who has money to keep it from drowning?’ Angry voices broke as people argued and pleaded with them to have pity on the mother. ‘This child may fall in the lake if no-one has money for me.’ Pockets were opened to find Cedi, goods were offered and all the time the pirate looked at the westerners.
‘Give me Cedi 500 and we will leave in peace,’ the voice coarse and demanding.
‘I don’t have that much, only . . .
‘Your wife, get her wallet and give me all you have. Hurry the child is getting heavy and will fall soon.’ The mother threw herself on the westerner who got to his feet and handed over the cash. A jerk of the head signified that his shoes were wanted too; they were swapped for the child and the boat roared off into the heat haze. ‘Quick, quick, we must go fast now’ the boy found a voice, ‘Of course we go fast, far away now and we go Water Police’ the ferryman replied, cranking the engine up. The boy watched intently as the distance opened between the two boats, ‘Look now, they have stopped’ he said, they squinted at the pirate boat that had indeed stopped and seemed to have trouble starting again.
‘Is this important?’ he asked holding up a length of hose and a chunky bolt.
‘Boy, how you get that?’
‘I pulled it when everyone was shouting and screaming.’
‘They go nowhere now less they paddle, is a long way to land, you go grow up like big man, give him palm wine. Hallelujah, praise His name.’
And the boy was blessed.
Julie Abbott had fallen in. The pool was packed with wet, white bodies like a bucket of angler’s maggots and she’d fallen, slithered on the bottom and choked on the piss-polluted water. Hands soon found her tummy and took advantage of her vulnerability to let fingers rove into the elastic of her yellow shirred cotton costume, tweaking it, fumbling and pulling it aside to invade her in the chlorinated wet. She struggled but was grabbed by a constrictor arm so firmly that the other was free to carry out its rotten work. Her head was thrust clear of the surface but her body was ground hard onto a solid seat of muscled thigh, her first inhalation was of cider tinged breath through teeth that seemed wonky to her stinging eyes. In the midst of the raucous din she heard her friend’s worried voice,
‘Jules, Jules are you okay?’
Julie was released abruptly, her pseudo rescuer vanished into the throng leaving her snorting a mix of pool water and mucous back out of her nose and with a confused sense that something strange had happened.
‘I’m getting out Carol’, she coughed, ‘I feel a bit sick cos I’ve swallowed some water and grazed my knees on the bottom, I’ll see you in a bit’.
That was Julie’s first attempt at swimming in the City baths and several pubertal years passed before she returned. As a fourteen year old she was a pupil at a girl’s grammar school who ordained that everyone should achieve at least a grey swimming certificate. She had a vague unease that she couldn’t quite account for, but it was strong enough for her to plead menstruation for three weeks in a row and get away with it. For those three weeks she had sat on the balcony to watch, but that day for the first time she was alone. She heard the groan of the stair door closing, thought it was another girl skiving off and didn’t even raise her head from her comic when someone sat beside her. When a male voice said,
‘Fancy a kiss?’ her skin prickled like nettles and she turned and looked into the eyes that had appeared in her sleep many times. In a flash she understood, she knew at last what had happened all those years ago, there was no doubt.
He grinned, exposing a furred tongue that flicked downwards towards the folds of his chin, Julie’s belly churned and her vision distorted with images of nearly drowning mixed with a real fear of the man beside her.
‘Go away I’ll tell’, she tried to shout but it came out as a croak that ebbed away under his hog laugh,
‘Ha ha ha, what? I saved you, you would have drowned! Bet you’ve never been kissed, come on you’ll like it, have a try’. He was right, most of her friends had boyfriends, and Mandy Davey had gone all the way. Her memory had been of someone old . . . but . . . he wasn’t really was he . . .?
‘How old are you now then, sixteen? Sweet sixteen and never been kissed? I’m twenty four’, he must have read her mind. ‘I’ll buy you some chips and a cola float at Wimpy after or come back to mine for a gin, my flat mate’s away it’ll be just us’. She decided that maybe he wasn’t so bad. As he reached out to grab her she noticed ginger curls on the side of his hands, she thought it strange that he had soft hands and not the rough arms of her nightmares. And then his mouth was on her, he swallowed her with a gob so wet she felt she was dissolving in his spit. She wriggled but had no strength compared to his toned swimmer’s biceps, she couldn’t breathe and his tongue was deep in her throat. With his hands tugging her blouse, she remembered the same feeling of breathlessness in her nights of fantasy with a pillow, a Jackie mag and her David Essex posters.
Something happened down there inside her, she was aware that she was making a noise but it was muffled with the splashing of normality and the lifeguard’s whistle. He pushed her, fingers probed where they’d never been and weren’t meant to go, it hurt. Panting she pushed back harder.
‘Stop, stop, hold on a minute I’ve got to meet my friend or she’ll come looking, I’ll come back.’
‘What come to my place? Good girl I’ll look after you, you’ll see, be as quick as you can.’
It’s been a busy summer of craft fairs and shows. Before we shut down for the winter my friend Lindy and I have a final few manic weeks and have been busy making jewellery. As usual Lindy has made most of the beads, my role is designing and making necklaces – and I like to think that I’m pretty good convincing people that they need to treat themselves!
So for the possibility challenge I thought I’d show you the raw materials,
A stage along the way,
For someone who doesn’t do boats and knows nothing about them, this has been a boaty summer. It began on a glorious April day with a short trip across the Tamar River in Plymouth, Devon on the Cremyll ferry with my lovely daughter in law and granddaughter.
One of the best things that Plymouth has ever done was to buy the Cremyll along with Cornwall Council, for fifteen minutes you have the most wonderful view of the Sound, Royal William yard and the spectacular coastline.
The boat was full of day trippers who like us were heading for Mount Edgecumbe Country Park, on the Rame peninsula that’s actually in that foreign land of Kernow.
Plymouth is a bustling city with little charm having been badly hit in the blitz, but stepping onto the ferry really is another world.
Everyone is excited to be going on a mini holiday to the countryside, the ferry ride is less than five pounds for a family of four and the destination has acres of grounds and gardens to walk, picnic and relax for free!
My next boat experience was crossing the Dardanelle straits, which both connect the Aegean to the Sea of Marmara and also separate Asian turkey from European Turkey. The Dardanelles have been an important stretch of water throughout history and strategically relevant in the Crimean and First World War After an emotionally moving time in Gallipoli I crossed to Canakkale on a large boat where I’d foolishly chosen to sit upstairs for the best view and nearly froze in the draft for an hour. Soon after landing my travelling friends and I reached the site of the ancient city of Troy but that’s for another blog.
Ten days and around eighteen hundred miles and I’m back at another ferry port, this one takes me back to the European side of Istanbul. It’s a large ferry this time with lots of strange chunks of metal, cables, ropes and good strong coffee. The view in all directions is amazing and it’s a real thrill to arrive in a cosmopolitan city I have waited so long to visit.
Later in the day it’s time for a cruise on the Bosphorus, we are just a few on Edim, a posh boat that had the capacity for fifty people with a bar and café. We cruised along one bank beside painted wooden houses, stylish restaurants and clubs frequented by Istanbul’s’ glitterati.
Pootling along for what seemed like hours, the waterway was busy but with space enough for everyone it was quiet and relaxing. The size of the city became apparent from the perspective that the water gave, I lost count of the number of domed mosques and minarets.
Some of the grandest buildings were foreign embassies, palaces and military colleges. The Bosphorus was a lovely place for a relaxing cruise, next time I’ll go by night.
In August I had a brilliant day out with friends in Gloucestershire, a couple of hours on the train. Gloucester Dock, a very ‘Gentrified’ area has the prettiest of canal barges, well maintained with shiny bright paint jobs. I’m very curious about who lives here and just what they are like inside. I imagine it’s like being in a wobbly caravan,lovely in summer but a bit bleak in winter especially if the canal froze.
A complete contrast for my last boats of the summer, on Exeter quay where there is a working boatyard. It’s one of those places that look out of bounds and until last year I had only stood at the gate to peep, until one day a man said that it’s public and okay to go in. It looks like a very male environment until you see pots of geraniums flowering their little heads off. A very sensory place with smells of engine oil mixed with oily fry-up, sounds of oars, hammers, rap and classics and boats of all shapes and sizes. I’ve watched this one
develop and now it’s nearly completed it may be gone next time I go down. I’d love to see it hit the water.
This one saddens me, the council have deemed it rubbish and an eyesore.
An official letter is pinned to it stating that they will dispose of it unless the owner removes it by a date that has now passed, and they will charge for doing so. Someone has been working on its restoration, just not as quickly as the council would like, it’s a massive money pit of a project. I talked to one of the boat owners and he said that the mooring fees had been paid and apparently it’s a trawler, obviously very old. Who knows what its history is?I believe it would be beautiful once done, surely the purpose of a boat yard is to mend and build boats? Bureaucracy drives me mad.