Ash

Alec

Sunday’s are my making days. I sit in my studio, radio on and give form to my ideas. This morning someone is talking about an ash tree. He has felled one and intends to use every last bit of it. And he watches and relates as wheelwrights, wood-turners, toboggan and tool handle makers work their magic. His prose is gorgeous. He talks of the smell of the wood, smoky when cut, its colour, creamy and lists its ancient usefulness. I respond to such focussing-in on the detail of life. He talks about his bouts of depression and how he takes himself off to the woods when it strikes. There is such self-loathing, he is saying, that I cannot work. I need to find out his name. Read more of his work. I tell him of it during our afternoon walk. Was it Richard Mabey? he asks. No, I say, it wasn’t. I’ve read Mabey’s work and attended his talk during Bath Literature Festival. But they have much in common. Both writers of the natural world, both self-confessed depressives. Perhaps it is part and parcel of being sensitive, I muse. Yes, he says, it probably is.

In The Psychiatrist’s Chair, Professor Anthony Clare is describing his guest, Yehudi Menuhin as serene. Yes, Menuhin says, probably for I cannot tell you how happy my childhood was. I cannot tell you how happy. Do we not have words for it? For happiness? Tell us do. And later, days later, in The Listening Project, Syrian refugees converse. Much of it has to be translated. The translators voices are wooden, stilted. And yet, as I listen, a warmth, a humanity begins to come through. I forget, we forget, do we not, that they used to have lives like ours. There is a student, a male nurse, a housewife. One of them yearns to work for the UN. One of them cries over the loss of her home. They are as you and I. War has been done to them. Imposed upon them. They just want to go home. To go home to a home that once was home.

I have to think of a hungry dog, Jude is saying, shutting her eyes and pausing in her relentless showing of our merchandise to the blip, blip machine at the till. She has just told us that her mother is in hospital. It’s some kind of bacteria, she says, we all have it under our skin. It’s called something like streptococcus. That’s it, he says. I couldn’t enjoy my Christmas meal, she says, I was too worried. They’d gone to The Starling Cloud. We went last year and the meat was dry. So we booked for the earlier sitting this time. How was it? I asked. Awful, she said, resuming the conveying of food, we shan’t go again.

The local milkman drives a pick-up truck. He drives past me as I make my way home. The milk bottles, lodged in blue crates, rattle in the back.

I made a start. There is magic in the starting, Goethe said, or something like it. Five hundred words. It is a start. It is enough, for now.

We didn’t know it was a Bank Holiday. He calls me from town. Everything is shut. No wool, no hemp powder, no seaweed. Can it wait? he asks.

No rain today. The sky is still white. I walked in moonlight this morning. Is it beginning to get lighter? The Norwegians have a word for this time between Christmas and New Year, Alex Lester said, though I didn’t hear what it was. I just want everything to get back to normal, he says.

I hear him laughing. He is on the phone talking to a friend about another friend. He boxes and coxes with these visits, groaning. I wanna stay home with you, he says. I know, I say, I know.