Thursday, 26 February 2009
Embarrassing moments. Embroidery. Enid Blyton.
Embarrassing moments... well, in the spirit of honest sharing there’s no time like the present to release those skellies from the dust and cobweb coated cupboard (lol). I’ve had my fair share of embarrassing moments in my topsy-turvy life but I’ll just share a couple with you here. Brace yourself!!! I must have been about 18 yrs old when I went to a ski resort in Virginia (I was completing my first degree at VCU at the time) and I was a novice skier, that is to say, I couldn’t ski an iota. But I was persuaded to take a Beginner's Lesson that day and I ended up in a class with about twenty kids aged between 5 and 10 (honest). I was the only ‘big person’ amongst all those little kiddies. Anyway, I went along with it – thinking how hard can it be to slide on the white fluff? To my horror, as I took my first ski-steps – I slid, lost my balance, and landed on my bum. It wasn’t a delicate and dignified Jane Austen topple (well that’s what I imagine her fall might be like). No – my fall was ungainly and awkward; definitely more Gerard Depardieu (no offence, Gerard – I do like you as an actor). Then I had to get myself back up on my feet engulfed by the laughter of the kiddies. I’ve never been so embarrassed. To top that day of embarrassment off, when it was time to be airlifted on the ski lift... as I stood in line waiting for lift-off and went to sit on the seat of the ski lift (when it arrived) – I missed the target by a mile. Yep – you guessed it... for the second time, I landed on my backside AGAIN. Humiliating! Not surprisingly, I’ve never been skiing again and to this day I still can’t ski an iota (chuckle). BUT my most embarrassing moment must be the time I wet the bed at the grand ole’ age of 19 or 20. Yep – you read it right – I wet the bed AND (it gets worse) someone was in the bed with me at the time. Too embarrassing for words... cringe cringe cringe... (lol). Thank goodness the boyfriend at the time was good enough not to make a big deal about it. And before you ask, no – I don’t suffer from any unfortunate bladder problems rather it was a case of being bladdered up with booze after a heavy night clubbing. I’d had way too much to drink and used the loo in my dreams. Hmmmm... thank goodness for the beautiful phrase of life coined ‘I grew up’ - I'm such a different person from the girl I used to be (chuckle)! Embroidery... In the last year or so I’ve started doing lots of crafty stuff such as embroidery, cross-stitching, knitting, and creating collages, card and jewellery making. I also started my first scrapbook a few months ago and I’m really enjoying that. I’ve had fun hosting some cool ‘Craft & Chat’ socials and also attending invites of others. I find these crafty circles very therapeutic, almost meditative, and a great source of inspiration. Enid Blyton... I was going to go with Epitaph for my final E-word but decided on Enid Blyton – the author who opened up the realm of imaginary worlds to me. I read and loved most of her books which kept me sane by giving me worlds to escape to during my boarding school years. My favourites were: The Wishing Chair series, Famous Five series, Mallory Towers series, The Magic Faraway Tree series... I just loved Moonface and the Saucepan Man...
Fear. Feet. Ferdinand.
Fear... of one thing or the other... I have lived with fear most of my life. I am afraid of many things. Some irrational. Others real. As a child I was afraid of the dark and would creep into my younger sister’s bed at night (she's a year younger). To be honest, right up until my early twenties if I was in a room alone, I would always sleep with a light on. These days I am now well over my fear of the dark. Another big fear of mine is that of heights. So if I’m on the sixth floor of an apartment block I would not be comfortable on the balcony. Saying that, I’d be happy to look at the view from the window. Biggies... as with regards to my fear of heights are walking across bridges, especially if they are crossing over a major motorway and thrill seeking rides. I’m absolutely no good with fun-rides. Anything that dips, swoops, slams or dunks from any height is NOT my thing. Well, I could go on and on in terms of my fears and phobias which include the physical, emotional, spiritual, etc – but I’ll spare you the details... after all don't most people live with one fear or another? Feet... I’m a UK size 7’s and not only that, my feet are broad and flat. Unfortunately, I have my father’s feet (perhaps, that’s part of the reason for my earlier oaf-like fall). Anyway, I digress... I dislike my feet because I’ve always viewed them as unattractive and unladylike. Matters weren't helped by the fact that it was always very difficult to find decent shoes to fit me in Israel (where I grew up) and I hated that. In my thirties, I have come to accept them. But I remain evermore a FLATS person, never HEELS. Ferdinand... the name of my first true love (age 22)... always special and never forgotten – even after all these years... funny that!?!
Sunday, 22 February 2009
A brother and sister visit their elderly mother in a nursing home.
A sour smell hung in the air. Though similar to the tell-tale odour of charity shops that I frequented – here, it felt intolerable. More stale somehow. I tasted the mucus rising to my throat. It took every ounce of willpower to stop myself from covering up my nose with my hand. It wouldn’t do. And I didn’t want mother to imagine that I thought it was she that stank. I fidgeted with my handbag, fumbling for a stick of gum while Aaron began to make small-talk. I popped the Spearmint in my mouth and started to chew. It was our first visit to Cedar Lodge Nursing Home, on the leafy-side of Erdington. ‘This all looks very nice, mother. You settled?’ I heard him ask as my mind wandered, taking in the space. It was a simple room. On one side of the window, slightly ajar, was a washbasin; tucked beside, stood Mother’s folded-up wheelchair. Next to it: a desk where the posies we’d bought from M&S now rested; and a chair, that I’d earlier pulled out to sit on. To the far side: a narrow high bed, where mother sat propped up in a C; and an armchair, which Aaron had decided on. Fleeting, I noticed the strawberry hue to his face. I knew he needed a cigarette. Mother was in full flow, chatting animatedly: ‘… the garden is so therapeutic… lovely to see the bluebells in bloom…’ I heard her say. Above her diminutive head, a Van Gough replica of The Olive Trees. I knew the painting well having studied it in great detail at Leeds Art College. Such delicate beauty weaved in its artwork of swirling trunks and branches; a voluptuous epitaph, I’d written in one of my assignments. Beneath the frame, a sharp contrast; mother’s gnarled features. Mother had been handsome, if not a sterling beauty, once. But the good looks had long faded over the course of eighty-nine years. All that was left heaped before us; her leathered frame, her thin smile. Instinctively, I reached across and stroked her hand, caressing her fingers, a mangle of knots. Fingers that had held mine on the first day of nursery, wiped my tears on my wedding day, and cuddled her grandchildren. Fingers, that no longer clung to the tresses of time.
A slight irritation crept into my voice during Lauren’s phone call. The appointment had been booked. We were to travel down to visit our mother. It’s not that I didn’t want to see Mother but the time scheduled simply hadn’t suited my timetable, and I’d been forced to take the afternoon off. Lauren and I travelled separately. We met in the lobby of the Cedar Lodge Nursing Home at 2. Visiting hours are between 2 and 4; apparently, the residents – as they call them – need their rest before dinner. As we settled into our hour with mother, I thought she looked rather well. Perhaps, a bit frail, but that was to be expected at her age. I propped her up on the bed using four pillows, and then buttoned up her cardigan. I offered to make her a cup of Tetley just the way she liked it: weak, milky. ‘Water will do me fine,’ she declined. So, I filled up a glass, found a straw, and helped her with the drink. She took several sips before giving up. I placed the cup on her tray, and made myself comfortable in the armchair at the foot of her bed. Since her stroke, conversation with Mother has been a challenge. As usual, Lauren left me to do all the talking. I asked her, if she was settling in well. That set her off. She went into her ramble, which now sounds like a muffled slur, and it’s bloody hard work listening out for the few words or phrases that still make any sense. I nodded and grunted a lot, while Lauren remained quiet. I knew she had a lot on her mind. Marianne’s divorce was taking its toll; she and her three children were lodging with Lauren for the foreseeable future. It was a difficult situation. I understood why she just sat there with a vacant gaze – that is, until she leant over and took mother’s hand. It was at this point, I realised I was gasping for a cigarette.
Tuesday, 17 February 2009
C: Chinyere. Christian. Cats.
Chinyere... is my middle name. It means ‘God’s Gift’. In the Igbo language, Chi = God and Nyere = to give. Apparently when I was born my father wanted me to have the longer version of this name which is ‘Nkechinyere’ (which literally means 'what God gave') however my mother insisted that she wanted a shorter version so it would have to be ‘Nkechi’ or ‘Chinyere’ – both very popular Nigerian names in Igbo culture (as popular as Catherine used to be once upon a time). Because of history (the missionary movement and the colonisation of Nigeria) often Igbo names are Christian in meaning. Christian... in a generation where a faith stance comes across as extreme and overzealous, bordering on being ‘not politically correct’, I confess that I am a Christian. I was raised an Anglican in a nominal way (attending Christian schools, church, Sunday schools, etc.) – but it wasn’t until I was 21 when I decided to take my Christian faith seriously and made that commitment. It hasn’t been an easy path with regards to the practical outworking of my Christian faith in my personal and public life. Many times it has felt as if my journey with God rather than being smooth has been full of twists and turns – ‘two steps forward and ten steps back’ – as the old saying goes. However, the older I get the more important my relationship with God becomes. So in spite of the times when I struggle with huge doubts (over what I believe and why I believe what I believe) I know that truly without God I would be nowhere. Simone de Beauvoir, an author and philosopher I admire in many respects, once said: ‘God has ceased to exist for me’ but in my experience ‘I cannot exist without God’. So in short – being a Christian (in terms of having that personal relationship with God) works for me. Cats... I’m more of a cat lover than a dog lover. I do like dogs and have looked after them for friends in the past but they are such hard work. I love the independent spirit and mantra that cats espouse: ‘spruce, sleep, scoff...’ (lol)!
D: Dad. Depression. D-grade.
Dad... or should I say ‘father’ as ours is a rather awkward, formal and distant relationship. I have never had a warm relationship with my father. Aside from the fact that my father travelled a lot with his work with the UN he can be a hard man by nature. He ruled his roost (our home) with harsh words and discipline not dissimilar to an Idi Amin style dictatorship (no exaggeration). The sum total of our relationship (or non relationship as the case may be) – is that ‘he barks and I bite’. Inherently I suppose I do love my father and I’ve always yearned for a closer bond with him but years of unforgiveness and bitterness due to perceived wrongs on both sides have done nothing to bring us closer as 'father and daughter'. Hence now even as an adult I feel unable to relate to him as ‘dad’. Oh - how hard it is to claw back lost time and relationship. Depression... I struggle with periodic bouts of deep depression in my life. Depression (and, indeed mental health issues) runs in my extended family although I don’t know the specifics as the African culture is still very hush-hush on such matters. How I cope with my depression? Not very well... and often with the support of: friends, meds and/or counselling. At the moment, I’m basking in a ‘good spell’ – HUZZAH!!! D-grade... yep – I got this in my Chemistry ‘O’ level. In case you are trying to work out my age (lol), I was among the last year group that did the dreaded ‘O’ levels at a UK secondary school. I took 9 in total and failed Chemistry twice (with a ‘D-grade’) much to the disgust and disappointment of my parents who had been keen for me to pursue medicine or pharmacy at university. They had great dreams for me as a doctor (chuckle). To say the least, I wasn’t a strong scientist in school and I remember always getting the experiments wrong (accidents with the Bunsen burner, test tube leakages and breakages, if anything blew up I was right at the centre of it all... hee hee!) and man did I panic when it came to all the equations in Physics. The only science subject I did alright in was Biology. Incidentally, at that level, my strongest subject was Religious Studies. My weakest was Maths – even though I scraped a ‘C’ in it – don’t ask me how on earth I managed it! p.s. In those days, anything below a ‘C’ was considered a fail at worst, or at best something to be ashamed of... unlike the perspective of results today where a ‘D-E-F’ grades are considered passes at GCSE levels! In many ways - the world has really changed... (lol)...
Sunday, 8 February 2009
Friday, 6 February 2009
It is our special place. Our meeting place. He stares up at me from his two-storey bungalow and I peer down at him through my third-floor window. He is Arab, the son of a local farmer. I am African, a diplomat’s daughter. It is 1980’s Israel. We live in Ramallah on the West Bank of the city. Under Jerusalem skies I have never heard his voice. We have never spoken to each other. Only our eyes and the gestures of our hands have communicated our friendship – so rare, almost sacred. Every evening, after our family meal, I retreat to my bedroom to rendezvous with him. He is always there. On time: watching – waiting –wanting. With a shy smile I wave, tapping gently against the pane. He presses close against his window, grins and salutes back. He is older than me; eighteen or even twenty. And he smokes. Whenever he lights up I tell him off with a stern expression and a forceful wag of my index finger. On one occasion, I even took the liberty of drawing him a picture of a furious looking heart. It resembled an enlarged pea, crayoned in black. A black heart. When he saw the image, he threw his head back and laughed (out loud), and proceeded to light a cigarette. But then he paused, gave me a quizzical look, and without taking a single puff he stubbed it out again. My pout unravelled into a ripple of chuckles. How absurd it was to think that he could ever have a black heart. His brown eyes tell a different story. They bubble with laughter as if his face is bursting at its seams. Sometimes we play a game. We breathe moisture against the window and trace letters to each other. Once, he wrote: I-B-R-A-H-I-M. That’s when I first knew his name. At other times we fill our hour without games or words. We do nothing but undress each other with our eyes and our thoughts. This evening, as he has done many times before, he writes: C-O-M-E.
His gaze searches mine and I drown in a pool of deep longing. Bottomless. My breathing is shallow as I long to be in his reach; to feel his breath on my skin, to succumb to his fingertips, to taste his lips. Except I am only fourteen. In the last two months or so, I have been tempted with the idea of sneaking out of the house to spend an hour with him. Even thirty minutes. Even five minutes. Five minutes caught up in his embrace. In my dreams: we are on a raft navigating through the strident seas and storm. It is here that I find him. I thread my fingers through his tousle of chestnut curls, and wrap my hands around his stomach, placing my head on his strong back. The bluster sweeping around us goes unnoticed. He turns and collects my trembling limbs in his arms. After holding me for a while, he lies me down on the wood, and runs his hands along the smoothness of my skin; the plump of my cheek, the hollow of my clavicle, the ridges of my ribcage, the swell of my thigh, down to the tautness of my calf, foot and toes. Just as he is about to start on the right side of my length, he drops a kiss on my forehead, then always – at that precise moment – a sudden squall tips our raft, tossing us overboard. As I scramble in the water all I see is the sparkle of splashes in the moonlight. I manage to hold on to the raft. I strain to find him. I don’t see him. I drift... drift into the deep. On the other side, I awake to his letters: C-O-M-E.
It hasn’t happened because I am terrified. Frightened of my fiendish father. If I am caught, I will be punished. I will be whipped with a cane or a belt, the reward for such disobedience. Even now, I can imagine my father bearing down over me with the cane in his hand, running the stick under my nose with the taunt: Smell it. Smell it. This is what I’ll use to scourge your skin, a dark anger flushing his demeanour. Or perhaps the buckle will teach you a better lesson, he’ll bark, disappearing into the bedroom he shares with my mother to retrieve a long leather belt with a succulent steel buckle. If he is in an amenable mood he’ll give me a choice. Through his gapped teeth, he’ll hiss, bamboo or buckle? If I am caught out of the house my mother will be of little use. She offers no source of comfort or protection. My mother is a weak reed spun by my father’s savage streak. Feeble, her cowardice masquerades in the silhouette of co-conspirator. My whole being aches to break free. I long for freedom from my father. His cruelty is a constant in our lives. It lingers like the stench of a rotten carcass. I spin back round to the present. And I see that Ibrahim has written: T-O-M-O-R-O---8-P-M. Against all common sense, I start to nod. It begins as a slow movement, and then it is forceful. Determined. Adamant. Resolute. I want to spend time with him. I will C-O-M-E.
I do not tell them I am going. I leave the apartment with the stealth of a burglar and the covertness of a spy. I glance at my watch and make a mental note. I have an hour before I’m discovered. I’ve told my parents – who are now engrossed in a re-run of Magnum P.I. – that I’ll be busy with my schoolwork for the next couple of hours. But I know my mother. She’ll come checking up on me in an hour’s time. It is her way of control. I walk steadily down the stairwell, deciding against the old-fashioned elevator which serves the six-storey building. It creaks when you slide the door open, groans when it comes to a halt, and growls between floors. I emerge from the apartment block and notice his outline under the street lamp. He motions for us to meet at the top of the street. There, there is a stone shack which operates as a general ‘nik nak’ store although it is now locked up for the night. Beyond the store, it’s a dead end. Apart, that is, from a rocky and thorny lane leading to the back fence of a Jewish settlement. We stroll up the slight slope separately. Both of us: walking on the pavement on our sides of the street. At the top, we make our way to the back of the store and find ourselves in a narrow space; hemmed between the walls of the store and a wall of prickly bushes. With only the light coming from the stars I feel the slight strain while my pupils adjust to the night cover. We face each other, saying nothing. He edges nearer to me, and says with a heavy accent: ‘You come.’
For the first time, he is looking down at me, and I am looking up at him. He reaches over and takes hold of my hand, strokes it as if it were a prized Persian kitten. The gentleness of his touch, all I can do is smile. Eighty days of waiting for a moment to connect in an intimate way and all he chooses to do is to caress my hand. Suddenly, we hear the sound of a lone car pulling up on the street side of the shop. He pulls away – instinctively. There is something wrong about our need and desire, even though, I cannot put it into words. I flinch. I am about to spin and sprint off – a wounded buck; but he grabs hold of me and draws me into his chest, into his strong support. I sink in his warmth. Comforted; a tingling sensation soars like the rising heat of rich hot cocoa layered with marshmallows. ‘No. No...’ he whispers again and again into the cavity of my ear, nibbling gently at my lobes. ‘I want but we can’t...’ he says abruptly, and pulls away for a second time. I understand, yet I’m hurt.
‘I better go...’ I mumble.
‘Miriam, please see me again.’
‘Next Saturday. At this time.’
‘I’ll try...’ I say in a low voice. How I’ll be able to slip away to see him, I’m unsure. But I want to see him before I return to England.
‘Please, come!’ he pleads.
In the days that follow: around my chores; completing the rest of my holiday homework, a history project on the Tudors; and fiddling with the goldfish in the fish bowl; we meet each evening. From our glass bowls we laugh and flirt, viewing one another like a TV screen. His goodbyes always end with: M-I-R-I-A-M---C-O-M-E.
Saturday morning. I’m brimming with excitement at tonight’s tryst; beside myself with imagined and anticipated pleasure. All day I keep busy with nothing. A strange restlessness lurks within me and I’m not even able to concentrate enough to fill the blank pages of my diary. It has been three days since my last entry. I try and get into the book I’ve been reading all summer; Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. However I soon abandon the idea because as I perceive the words on the page they appear to be gobblety-gook. In the end, I potter. That is until I hear a collision. It is around 5 o’clock when the crash that is unfolding sounds. A cacophony of: screeching metal, shattering glass, and squeals. All this: right outside the front side of our apartment block, on the main road. From the balcony, I hear the commotion, the shouts of onlookers. My mother is busy with the laundry and I hurriedly make my way outside to the scene. On the ground, I see him first. Sprawled, a few paces on the raised pavement. At the sight, my mind descends into confusion. It is as if a jigsaw puzzle has been scattered on a table. Or the wires of my brain have been short-circuited. Nothing makes sense. As I continue to push through the clucking crowd I hear the far-off cry of a siren. Then: I come face-to-face with the offender. My father’s maroon Mercedes which rests smashed against a lamp post. The windscreen is shattered in the pattern of an intricate web, and my father is arched over the steering wheel. In the haze that follows my mother arrives on the scene. We, my mother and I, are rushed off to Mount Scopus hospital with my father strapped in. He is barely alive. From the ambulance: through the window, through a blur of tears, I see Ibrahim’s body being covered with a single white sheet.
By Catherine Mark-Beasant
Monday, 2 February 2009
Sunday, 1 February 2009
A: African. Acting. ABBA.
African... as some of you know – my roots are indeed African, Nigerian specifically (Igbo tribe), even though I feel about as African as I feel Japanese. For many reasons, I have always struggled with my African identity and I have always felt quite disconnected and discontented with my African heritage. An alien of sorts! Acting... well, I did my first AND LAST acting course last spring. It was a beginner’s course which I took up for two reasons (1) to boost my confidence and (2) to try something new. The culmination of the 12-week course was an experimental play titled: Schreber’s Nervous Illness... where I played one of many patients in a mental asylum (lol). ABBA... I’m a mega FAN! And, yes – I have the ABBA gold album and yes I have watched Mamma Mia on big screen (and I was singing along to all the tracks).
B: Boarding school. Black pudding. Birmingham based.
Boarding school... I hated my boarding school years (I was shipped off from 11–16 years). I especially despised my first school, Queens Park School in Oswestry. The uniform was awful. Everything was a hideous BROWN or thereabouts (beige shirt, brown pleated skirt, brown and gold tie, brown cape, brown shoes and straw boater) – I hated how the brown against my brown skin made me look like a ‘brown penguin’ (a huge deal when you’re eleven). The next school, Kent College for Girls in Pembury, was a better place (mind you - anywhere would have been better than QPS), and thank goodness the uniform was a bit nicer in the shade of blue (striped blue and white shirt, blue skirt (not pleated), blue tie, blue blazer, black shoes and black hat (not boater – thank goodness!). In hindsight, of course I gained lots from my time at boarding school but if I could do it over again (and, if I had a say in the matter) --- I wouldn’t. I think boarding school is a place where you either ‘find yourself or lose yourself’... in my case, I think I lost myself somehow! Black pudding... YUK YUK YUK – enough said!!! Birmingham based... that’s Birmingham (UK). I’ve been living here for the past five years after having lived in London for about eight years. Both great cities in very different ways... what I especially like about 'Brummie land' is the contrast of ‘old and new’ in terms of the city's landscape and architecture although Birmingham remains a city at the height of its redevelopment. Anyway, here’s a poem I’ve been playing around with in the last couple of days...
Birmingham in January
Lattice cranes crane
through rancid gloom
to reach Birmingham’s
They hover over
derelict rustic brown
dusted around the stale
From the narrow boat,
I look upward in search
of a glimpse, or a whisper