You are currently browsing the daily archive for December 9, 2007.

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This bead angel was made by one of my daughters from a bead kit bought one Christmas in Perth, Western Australia.  Friends who had recently emigrated from the UK gave us three wonderful weeks of stupendous scenery. 

We flew up the coast over million acre farms of appropriated land and watched dolphins playing at Monkey Mia and sailed out on a catamaran to find manatees.  We drove out for a couple of days deep into the red sandy outback in our Land Cruiser, throwing up paprika clouds behind us, and tested its pulling power on dunes to reach the mile-after-mile of white sand on deserted beaches.  We watched the sun set at the Pinnacles as our friend ran naked between the stones, and we canoed in the lagoons down at Margaret River. 

I arranged for us to spend a day with an Aboriginee Education Officer, one of only three in Western Australia charged with educating everyone from the police to school children, and he pleaded with us to tell people outside Australia about the plights of the Aboriginees.  We went to an exhibition in Perth which told us about the attempts to breed the Aboriginee out of mixed race children.  Three generations it took.  

In true Anglo Saxon style, we went to the Pantomime, since it was Christmas, though nothing like a Christmas we had ever known.  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, it was, featuring “Real Dwarfs”.  As the dwarfs came on stage children in the audience shouted “there’s a dwarf” and in the interval they formed long queues to “kiss the dwarf”.  It is an unreconstructed place, Perth. 

My husband would happily have settled there for life, in this heavenly mecca for recreation.  He would, however, have found himself alone since in Perth I would not even have been allowed to sit at dinner with men but would have been consigned to the women’s end of the table to drink wine whilst they drank beer.  Men there have nothing to say to women.  Instead they talk about how much grunt their vehicles have got, or “dob” on each other for breaking the many petty rules and regulations, or they water their lawns or wash their cars.  Not all of the men, of course, but more than a few.

While we were all staying at Margaret River our friend’s mother died suddenly back in our home town.  It was a poignant time, too, of sharing loss and counting the blessings of our friendship.  We miss them.  They have a wonderful life there.

When Elder Daughter first started school, I used to go and help out in the classroom occasionally.  I noticed how much of the newly qualified teacher’s time was taken up by a small number of boys who knew very little in comparison to many of the other children, quite a few of whom could already read.  One boy in particular did not know his colours.  His mother was tall and blonde and thin and decorative and vacuous and disinterested and I resented the amount of teacher time that her son took up because of her neglect.  I saw her waiting at the station with her husband on Saturday.  To begin with I saw only a beautiful floor-length grass green coat.  The bodice was fitted and the skirt lapped around her ankles.   I coveted the coat.  Her hair was invisible under a grey cloche hat which had an intricate silver brooch of a lizard attached to one side.  Her face was dramatically made up, her flattened skin contrasting with vivid red lips.  She looked stunning, especially surrounded by hordes of men waiting to catch the train to an away football match.  She looked around her, took some chewing gum out of her mouth, and ground it into the paving stone. 

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 The new London terminal for Eurostar was opened by the Queen on the 6th November 2007.   St Pancras station is and odd mixture of Britishness and something much more European and refined.  The soaring architecture left me marvelling at Victorian design.  The skeletal station roof is like being inside the ribcage of an dinosaur.  So ahead of its time and so contemporary.  Looking up at its beauty is a statue of its most loyal protector, the poet, John Betjeman, a briefcase at his feet, looking rather down at heel.  The station is so new that everybody has cameras and most people eschew the towering kissing couple, where they are supposed to congregate, for the everyday Betjeman.  Smiling people queue to pose in front of him and couplets from his verses are set into roundels in the concourse.  A long crowded champagne bar stretches between him and the platform filled with the young and the old, the smart and the workaday.  When did British train travellers ever drink champagne on the platform before?  Happy prospective travellers sit in an indoors outdoors kind of way in comfortable box pews, watching other happy travellers, as their happiness bubbles up inside them and the sharp nosed trains glide into the buffers.

 Catherine Deneuve or is it Ivana Trump?  One or other of them strides on heels like pins across the marble.  Thick blonde hair is swept up into an immaculate chignon and the dark tailored clothes continue column like from shoulder to feet.  Her eyes are hidden behind dark glasses though it it December and raining.  She carries nothing.  A glorious younger man accompanies her.  Olive skin, dark hair.  On the other side a porter pushes a luggage trolley full of brown and gold luggage.  I wondered how she had found the porter and who she was, but I realised that I no desire whatsover to be her.

We wandered round a exhibition of sculpture by Matteo Pugliese.  All of his male figures disappear into the surface on which they are displayed or are emerging from the surface, depending on your outlook. We disagreed about his work.  For me it represented survival, perseverence, pulling oneself out of the quicksand, the triumph of endeavour, overcoming.  For my husband the works represented suffering, torture, emprisonment.

Returning from Brussels, we watched out of the train window as the entrance to the Tunnel came up to meet us.  Parallel rows of ten foot high wire fences ran along the tracks on either side, immigrant-no-man’s-land between, rolls of barbed wire fixed on top.  Every bridge was reinforced with more fences and more wire.  There were floodlights every few metres and cameras that could see everything.  These fences were in France but they are to keep people out of Britain.  A guard had stopped his van near a fence.  He was standing next to the fence, with his back to the train track, urinating. 

Lola Button and Elder Daughter were looked after by their favourite stable girl and her boyfriend.  He is a young paratrooper and leaves for his first tour, a six month tour of Afghanistan, in a few weeks.  Lola Button told us that they spent some of the evening looking at videos of the paratrooper proudly shouldering his machine gun, dismantling it, put it back together again as fast as he could.  He is so proud of the Army.  He has a picture of him with Prince Charles that he keeps in his car.  My husband said he wished he had the sort of experiences our daughters have.  I am very worried for the paratrooper and his girlfriend.

 

Belgium has a particular smell.  It smells of waffles and chocolate, combined.  I’ve tried to tease the waffle smell out of the chocolate but they refuse to separate.  The smell is most pungent at the shafts that exit from the underground metro stations.  It’s a smell that creeps over into France a bit too.  You catch whiffs of it in Paris in the Metro.  I thought about other countries I’ve visited and most of them have smells.  France, for example, except for the wafflely bits, smells of bad drains.  As in Belgium, the smell is worst in underground train stations, but it can be found in almost every house, leeching out of the sinks and the lavatories.  In French houses the smell is generally mixed with Javel water, a liquid bleach.  The combination of ripe Reblochon and Javel and drains is very evocative of France and quite overpowering. 

Greece smells of the crushed leaves of warm oregano in sun-baked mountains.  India smells of sandalwood.  Sri Lanka is a two-faced combination of rancid butter from the butter sculptures that decorate hotel dining rooms and which makes my nose wrinkle and wince just to think of them, and the heavenly smell of frangipane flowers.  I decided that they were all new smells, smells I hadn’t smelt before I smelt them for the first time and so they were locked into my memory of the country forever. I couldn’t summon up a smell for America or for Australia or for Egypt, though I tried. 

England smells of cut grass, Wolf’s ears, damp churches, sugar beet being boiled to make sugar, clean washing dried outside on the washing line, basmati rice cooking, oranges covered in cloves, old fashioned Buff Beauty roses, river mud, stale beer.  Washing never smells the same in another country.  I like the smell of my home.   Lola Button says her friends like her smell so much they come and sniff her.

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