Happy or unfortunate, life’s coincidences.
One of two girl children born to a nurse trained in the techniques and philosophy of Sir Truby King, assiduous and purposeful attention watched over my infant years. It’s a significant thing, being the child of a Trained Nursery Nurse. All those lectures and notes, all that systematic method, drawn together and focused with the force of a heavy woman’s stiletto heel upon parquet, into the life of a casual and unsuspecting baby.
It didn’t suit my sister – lively, vivacious, active, curious, truthful – but it did suit me.
Swaddled, I was laid down in my pram under the trees; and there I lay, content to watch the pattern of light and shade. Given a postcard to entertain me, I was sent to rest on my bed; and there I lay, looking at it in detail and at length, then watching the sun light filtering through the pink flannel lining of the white candlewick curtain, listening to the cooing of pigeons in the boughs of the Scots pine outside the window. Told to sit nicely in church I watched the interplay of light through stained glass onto polished pews – the dark amber golden wood, the scars of age, the dancing random colours. Told to play quietly, I sat on the path and watched the ants hurrying busily between their small kingdom in the grassy verge and the sunwarmed concrete with its dust and inconsequential detritus of dead leaf and bark fragments.
Throughout my childhood, I watched and listened and thought. At school I gazed through the window at the distant poplars, watched the dust in the sunbeams or the trickling of rain on glass. I looked at sunlight and leaves, wooden window sills and painted glazing bars, doorsteps and hinges, bath taps and flowerpots, happy and absorbed.
Then I became a mother and everything changed. In that moment I became a responsible being, my life re-cast, characterized now by unremitting activity. My dormant volcano of rage, its eruptions triggered only rarely in childhood, leaked molten lava. Always, always, I felt guilty, tired and inadequate. I progressed from there to the imperative also to earn a living. In this, too, I was ill-equipped. There are few occupations for those primarily fitted to lie on their backs and watch the clouds blown by the night wind across the field of stars.
Living simply eases the demand for output and enhances the opportunity to think, to watch, to listen. So I did that.
But eventually, in this last decade, it dawned only gradually upon me, I had lost the ability to see. So preoccupied had I become with the inescapable necessity to do, to organize, to respond and to invent ways and means, that my mind had become taken up with looking for – looking at relegated to dilettante decadence. Laziness.
But I am inching my way back. Sluicing out the guilt of responsibility, looking and looking and looking until at last things are beginning to reveal themselves to me again. I don’t have to go far. Just stay very still and concentrate into the sharpest indigo third-eyed point. Then I see.
Shaft of sunlight falling across a cushion on an old armchair by the angle of the chimney breast.
The colours of the cushion in the light.
The texture of the embroidered cushion cover.
Sticks and the light and shadow of the white painted wall.
The clumps of mint and chives growing at the edge of the grass.
The Victorian brick wall at the back of the log store.
The apple blossom opening.
The glory of a first rose.
The ardent red of new leaves in spring.
The meandering of the path, a dry river.
Nostalgic rusting metal, silvering wood, of the old garden seat and table in the long grass.
The lavender swarming close up the side of the little Russet apple tree and the old chimney pot where we grow mint, alongside.
The rich glaze of a pot.
The juxtaposition of colour, texture, form, in ordinary household objects.
The masculinity of tweed, leather, metal. Grey blue, worn green, golden brown. Syrupy liquid brown that pours out and mingles inextricably with sunshine. Glad brown. Warm. Friendly. Comforting.
Ashes. On Indian stone.
Utensils handled and worn.
Architectural forms. Cool green and white. Austere shapes. Dim corridor light.
Moss and violets growing over and around damp stones.
Violets at the path’s edge, where earth accumulates at the foot of the wall.
A foxglove rooted in the crevice where the painted housewall meets the path.
Weeds sprouting opportunistic, softening the cracks in the concrete, beautifying, returning what is manmade to the Earth. The silent determination of growth.
Air bricks in this old house, and a small audacious weed.
Tiled path, decayed.
A lantern suspended from stairs.
A discarded brick-pink towel on a sage-green carpet.
The clean distinctiveness of separate household objects.
Sunlight on the wall.
On such feeds my soul like a browsing goat. Chews the cud, yellow slot eyes closing in the warm sun. This is what I came here to see. It takes time.