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I between sentences breathe

Spaces into space

That between words are

Slowly anatomised

First just moisture, then dust speck, then

Like cardigan fluff, silk scarf or clear button

Vigorous notions, unfinished sentences,

Held formaldehyde around me

Until such time as

Giddy and curious they

spill themselves around you.

make

Life of the shapes

You leave when you slip out of your shoes,

Or pick up the newspaper.

A poem inspired in part by  Phillip Pullmans idea of ‘dust’ and his creation story in His Dark Materials. But rather than a ‘this is how life began’ creation story, it’s about how unspoken ideas are formed and brought to life between people. I think. or something along those lines!

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I step out onto Shaftsbury Avenue but I’m not really met by the Shaftsbury Avenue I stepped in from 8 or so hours ago, I am met by birdsong  and colossal stripes of clear sharp morning light draped across the empty road where I now stand. Is it past home time, or is the rest of London still dancing? It seems no one has got up to go to work this morning apart for the Costa Coffee staff.  I feel timeless, for a moment, and then I am re-orientated by a plumage of clubbers bursting onto the pavement and disappearing down into the tube station. The tube is open, it is officially the next day.

I have not only lost sense of time but also lost sense of place, of myself in central London. The building I just stepped out of is a disused bar in a disused church which had housed a friends birthday party for the night (or morning more accurately).  The building is an ‘empty space’,  if all the world were a city than this would be it’s wilderness and I’m pleased to have stolen a moment in its short autonomous  life before being  scrubbed clean and told what to do. (The building that is, not me, though at this stage in the morning I would welcome both)

I am about to get on the tube when the uniqueness of this no-mans-time strikes me and I suggest to my Brixton bound friends ‘Lets walk home, the light is incredible, lets at least cross the river’. And so we do. We pick a bridge, it’s a toss up between Westminster and Charring Cross and Charring Cross wins in the end. It seems everyone still gets a kick out of crossing the Thames, particularly south londoners, perhaps it’s the affirmation of a boundary, you cant argue with a river, you’re defiantly in south London now.  Perhaps it’s just that it’s a beautiful river and this morning is no exception, she is glistening, in a murky sort of way.  We take a moment on the Southbank side of the bridge to look downstream, East, straight into the blustering winds and morning sun. The tide is low and from our vantage point on the footbridge the river now seems far away and almost outshone by the silvery stretches of beach on either side. There is no hurry, there is conversation and silence, and wind and stillness and then there are two geese! I hear them before I see them, not overhead but from bellow!  A single honk echoes under the railway bridge behind us. The pair swoop up and settle on a large concrete support just below me, they’re not Canada Geese I know this much, they’re bulkier and mostly grey.  They too stand and look downstream, as if like us planning the best route onwards, I envy them for I imagine that they’ll carry on a lot further into the sun and along the river then we will, when at waterloo we’ll  turn south and find a bus no doubt.

‘You shouldn’t live in London’ my companion claims, matter of factly, watching me watch the geese.

‘Why not’  I reply. ‘I wouldn’t get excited about geese in Totnes would I? cup of tea and bus home?’

Yesterday I visited Kew gardens for the first time and while wandering through the glasshouses I was met, unexpectedly, with a great sense of nostalgia. I was taken right back to the gardens I played in as a child in Jeddah! Giant Neems, Acacias, Rhododendrons, Palms and the smell of dates fallen and fermenting in the sun, the little banana tree by our back gate, small shiny brown seeds popping out of pods and me scraping those seeds up to add to a mud pie.

If I was ever to write an autobiography I would set the whole thing in gardens and gardens alone, luckily I don’t actually intend on ever writing this personal history through gardens but I have dug out an old poem I wrote in honour of our garden in Jeddah.

Garden Wall
You were there when we arrived
Dressed in dead rhododendron and dust
You held our tree house on two sides
Shedding layers like a weak wafer
You left crumb piles on the beds bellow.

You were there, still, when we left
Dressed in full bougainvillea and
Home to several strays
Your holes, perfect ant’s nests.

That day we wondered,
If we had asked you, would you have followed?
Garden wall? And now
If I was to call on you, would you come?
If I was to call out ‘Wall, make me a garden’

Would you find whatever it was that I loved
And hold us in your concrete hug,
Garden wall.

I took these photographs of rockpools in Devon several years ago and the skin-like surfaces sparked a thought. Years later, when I saw a man sitting alone on the still, silvery stretches of the North Norfolk coast at twilight,  not a rockpool in sight, I couldn’t help but scribble that thought down.

Taken

He fell asleep on the shore where there were no rock pools but where rock pools were craved. The new tide lingered moonward and his feet stared bare at the ocean. They waited until he was still and then, gently, they gushed the tide at him. Pumping brine inquisitively around him, measuring the arch of his back, the space under his neck, the salinity of his sweat, the weight of his head against the sand. At first, they took him softly, small green fish found a home of his ankles, seaweed slipped between his toes and his skin slowly slimed. If they sensed him waking the sea would shoosh him back to sleep. It wasn’t until the tide slacked seaward that they claimed him with full force. Barnacles to his cranium, kelp to the scalp. Muscles, cockles and whelks worked fast, welding together his toes, ears, eyes. Limpets locked themselves to his knees and sea anemones, hungry, gentle, fed on what was left of his softness. He lost all sense of human as the tide pulled away his last salty tear and left him there, two hundred thousand years older, with a sinewus suck and drag of the sea in place of his breath.

For a few early hours yesterday morning, the snow covering my little corner of south London lay surprisingly untouched, all was landscape again. Little white mounds of  hibernating  commuter cars lined my street,  pavements lay un paved, edges, form, material forgotten. Or at least to me,  as I indulged in this momentary  wildness outside my front door. Human things, all covered up by a natural thing. This, quite simply  is what most enthrals me. Things that seemed so solid are so very quickly gone, although I’m aware they are hiding below the surface,  it pleases me to think of them as just ‘gone’.

I like to think of the snow cover as a regolith (although perhaps  not technically so, a regolith being ‘the outermost layer of loose, hetrogenous material covering solid rock on a planetary body’. For the record, I am entirely uncertain of whether fallen snow is heterogeneous or homogenous). Yesterday morning the snow was the outermost surface we had to work with and make paths through, to some extent less influenced by the constraints of path, pavement, roads, driveway, crossings, pot holes and markings that would normally govern our movement. for now, we can experience our everyday environment differently, perhaps more driven by our own desire – to walk in the sunny spot, to take the shortcut, to not slip on the ice! In honour of this I walked down the middle of the road as that’s where I get the best view.

Rahima Fitzwilliam Hall

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