Tuesday, 22 March 2011


The old Swan pub has been scrubbed. Its stick-on lettering removed. But I can still read the word S W A N where a lightness of the brick contrasts with the dark soot surround. The building is screaming light, escaping like sweat from pores. Loud music beckons then rebuffs out the open windows into the dark road; the stream of headlights that keep appearing and tipping past where the road glows from the tail ends disappearing far up ahead.

Black clad men sway and lurch dangerously into one another propped up in the shell of each other’s arms, their white shirts showing as the black yawns open from their dishevelled bodies.

There are soft furry animals in the street. Children dressed as bears, cheetahs and birds. Others are in elaborate silk, chiffon pink, white and blue party dresses. There are boys as fire-men, policemen, beggars and in combat camouflage with painted on moustaches on their soft downy upper lips.

I stagger around the cellophane wrapped and bound platters of sweets and presents carried at arms’ length by women walking earnestly towards opening front doors. Children pour in and out from the cracks of these buildings. They linger in groups, watching other groups up and down the street. The air is full of whisperings.

A small boy in dull everyday clothes walks beside his mother carrying a violin case by his side.

I am early. The lights are ablaze above the table decorations. My plastic bag is tucked away under a chair- the presents will not reveal themselves this evening.

I am an outsider. I feel foreign. My neighbours have not yet arrived. I leave hastily. Get on my bike and begin to cycle through the myriad streets of colour, sudden noise eruption and festoon.

There is an old man sitting on the wall opposite the library just before the light junction with a dry pulverised face and a clown’s wig of multi coloured curly hair on his head.

As I continue to cycle the colour begins to drain away until it is just an everyday Sunday evening and the bike is carrying me to a place I know so well that I am there without thinking. I pass a woman whom I think I know, smile and go past. The gates as I knew I would find them are closed and locked. There is white opaque plastic on the other side of the gates cutting off the view. In a gap between the plastic I peer. Where once there were buildings there is rubble. Where once there was a garden the rubble like a thick uneven scree from a deserted sea-less beach covers the ground- a new sediment. Even the contours of the landscape have been altered.

I remember for instance the gradual decline of the land so that when the rain came it sifted downwards watering but never clogging the roots of plants and trees that over the years had been dug into the soil one by one.

The land now is perfectly flat. A total erasure. Only the one nut tree at the far end remains beyond the circumference of a looped fencing that now demarcates the given area of the new development. An orange digger rests up on top of the rubble its shovel face poised mid-air tilting slightly.

I wonder if sections of the path still remain leading directly up to the nut tree. I can not tell from here. In the final plans evidently the tree was ringed to survive due to a long-standing preservation order or something like that. All else seems to have slipped through the net. Beyond that tree there is a thicket of Japanese knot-weed, a scourge for most gardeners but for us, with a garden of hyper-sensitive Autistic children affected by the sharpness of undiluted light and our own sensory volatility, it was a blessing to have this leafage that rinsed out and mediated cruel brightness. There we built a toilet- a hole in the ground with a loo seat on top and a tent-like structure around it. Edward would sit inside that tent looking out between threading fingers and the woven branches that supported the sacking from Brazilian cocoa bags and still smelt of chocolate. That was before they begun to smell of mould.

Peering through the opaque plastic into this levelled ground I feel a kind of lightness- an aeration slipping through my skin- as if the molecules shifted slightly from their oaring. As I turn I see the hair-dresser in the shop window where I used to get my hair cut, looking through the window back up towards me. His scissors are poised in the air above the head of a seated woman.

I cycle to the local park past the neat rows of newly planted spring flowers. I sit on a bench by the side of an artificial pond. Between me and the pond a looped path runs. Two swans are in the water their necks curving and un-curving, dipping down and up again, their tiny heads like single eyes on the end of a bendy string. My face feels blank- numb; scrubbed of all affect. People pummel past. We are blinkered- protective.

The Japanese Tsunami was one week ago. I have been transfixed by pictures on the news and in the web, of whole towns laid to waste; people sifting through soggy belongings. The little girl who had found her white party dress unscathed still on its hanger even as the house that surrounded was flung high and smashed to pieces on the surge of a great wave. She sits on a chair on the foundations of her house petting the dress resting on her knees. Her father stands by her side. The voice of an English girl over-dubs her Japanese voice.

“I only wish I could find my two kittens. That is really what I would like to find now more than anything else in the world”

A girl on a bicycle sweeps past me. Suddenly I take her in fully and find myself smiling. A woman on a bicycle follows behind. She smiles broadly. Something dissolves. I cannot put my finger on it.

I head back to the party. They sing loudly- lecture me on the need to light candles on a certain night. I ask if the open heartedness at the root of this Jewish practice can extend-To the Japanese for instance. It is left hanging.

The girls are all chatting and laughing, looking at pictures on a digital camera together. One girl is holding and stroking a wig dyed two shades laughing hilariously as if holding a volatile feckless animal. It is the wig belonging to one of their mothers.

The woman next to me has red rashes up her hands. She gave birth to her tenth child two years ago. The child climbs up on to her mothers’ lap from the ground where she has been running back and forth by herself. Her body is lurching forward as if she would take to the air.

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