Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Shine on, you crazy diamond

Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun.
Shine on, you crazy diamond.
Now there’s a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky.
Shine on, you crazy diamond.

        We can’t run away from who we are. Before The Blondies erupted onto the scene, I was a vehement supporter of nurture versus nature. Now… it’s not so clear cut. I can hope to direct them in certain ways, I can encourage or gently steer them away from things, but for the most part, their personalities were fairly strongly rooted, long before their first word or first steps. The Boy is me, in so many ways. Same sense of humour, same love of sleep, same stroppiness, same sensitivity.

      I never really thought The Girl and I had much in common. She’s a girly girl, but she’s also confident, tough, never seemingly dented by people around her. Plonk her in any new situation and she’s off and running. I’ve long wondered where her confidence comes from, and enviously hoped some of it would rub off on me. Not a hope in hell. We are chalk and cheese. In personality, looks, and temperament. Or so I thought.

     I suppose I didn’t want to see it. It’s not something I like about myself. It makes me an absolute fecking nightmare to deal with at times, as those closest to me would quietly demur to my face, whilst thinking ‘Christ, YES.’ It’s the passion.

     The problem with me is that things tend to be all or nothing. I’m rarely halfarsed, except when it comes to housework. When I like something, I go all out, full throttle, air-punching, racing for the prize. When I’m down, it’s not just feeling a bit meh. It’s a stormtossed sea of pounding waves and angst, a little ship caught in a whirlpool and pulsing with St Elmo’s Fire. You’d think that the years of beige might have knocked it out of me. In fact, it seems to have made it worse, as though all the years of not feeling anything just dammed it up, and now it’s burst forth like Bardabunga, all the more stronger and uncontrollable because it was suppressed for so long.

     That’s my excuse, anyway. And The Girl has it too. There’s no middle ground in her life. She’s either twirling around like a fairy with a pet unicorn that farts glitter onto rainbows over waterfalls, or she’s a vengeful banshee, shrieking and hurling death and destruction on an unsuspecting, undeserving, and unprepared world.

     It’s a problem. Because I know how much I annoy people with the extremes of my personality. And um… now I understand why. The Girl doesn’t get the best of me, as a person. It’s hard for me to admit, but it’s true. I should be better with her than I am. I should be able to anticipate the oncoming storm and make the necessary preparations. But I don’t. Because I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to admit it. I don’t want to concede that the thing I like least about myself has been passed on to my daughter.

     And there’s more than that. Being passionate about things means you’re forever disappointed by those around you, when they don’t seem to share your enthusiasm. When you put as much of yourself into something as The Girl and I do, it matters. We care about it, about how people react. And when people shrug, or don’t seem interested, or ignore it, it stings. And in my case, it turns inward, it reinforces a sense that I am that unworthy creature I always believed myself to be, and I retreat into an inner storm. I put up a wall between myself and the world, aloof, distant, wary, unwilling to engage, until something new comes along and the dark clouds pass.

    That’s me, though. The Girl is not such a tender and easily bruised character. More robust, self-assured, and positive than I could ever hope to be, she’ll shout down the world if it disagrees with her. I hope she stays that way. I hope she doesn’t start to take it personally when people aren’t as enthusiastic and excited about things as she is. I hope she continues to be herself, to love things with brio, to hurl herself into life and care only for her own opinions. Diamonds are formed under intense heat and pressure, and when the rough edges are taken off, they shine for the world to see. Shine on, you crazy diamond. You’re as beautiful as you feel.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Repeat to fade

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

          Let’s get one thing straight. I don’t always cry in churches, ok? Not always. Just, erm… a fair bit. It’s not my fault (it is).  

     The exception to the rule is Salthouse. Salthouse has never made me cry. It’s not the most beautiful church in Norfolk; it’s not the grandest, or the most significant. But I had as close to a religious experience as a confirmed, dyed in the wool atheist is ever likely to have in St Nicholas church and from that day on… ‘my heart has left it’s dwelling place, and can return no more.’ It will always be special to me.

     ‘The crude graffiti, representing ships…’   It made me laugh when I first read it all those years ago, and it’s still making me laugh now. You can hear the tone of disapproval, see the pursed lips, the bridge of the nose pinched between thumb and forefinger as the writer is forced to admit that, yes, horrifyingly, some utter wretches (choirboys, doubtless) desecrated this sacred, hallowed place with   GRAFFITI. Utterly despicable. How could they, what kind of child, down with this sort of thing, careful now, etc. That guidebook was written in 1953, but you still see that kind of attitude around now.

     Not me. Never me. For one thing, although, yes, some of it is fairly basic and simplistic depictions of ships, some of it is incredibly intricate, and must have taken hours and hours of painstaking effort. Look at that. The detail is just phenomenal.

     And even the simpler carvings have a beauty all of their own. This one is my favourite. I can almost see the horizon behind it as it sets out on a voyage, leaving land far behind.

     But it’s not just what it is; it’s what it tells us too. Like the guidebook says, Salthouse was quite different, back then. Now it’s separated from the sea by marshes. But once it was a major trading port, with a wide channel that saw tall ships sail. This little village was once rich, important, it mattered. How many people set sail from here, looking back to shore? For how many people was Salthouse the last place they saw? For how many people was the tower of St Nicholas a marker, both of departure and arrival?

     Then, slowly, the Mayne Channel silted up over the centuries, trade moved on, Salthouse didn’t. Sic transit Gloria mundi... And left Salthouse behind, poor, plain, obscure. When the Victorians and Edwardians descended on Norfolk for seaside holidays, they stayed further down the coast, at Cromer and Overstrand. They didn’t venture that little bit further to a desolate little village, huddled around a green.

     And it stayed that way for a long time. Even as far back as twenty years ago, it was still very little, a dot on the map, a place to drive through, rather than to, for most people. But now, it’s very different. North Norfolk has been tweeified beyond belief, and at weekends, the village is a veritable showroom of black 4x4s, parked nose to tail around the green and up the narrow lanes. Women in skinny jeans and pristine Hunter wellies accompany men in waxed jackets and tweed caps, taking over the pub and cafĂ©. These new incomers come not to trade, nor to worship, but to be seen. They don’t delve further. They wax lyrical about how perfect it is, how untouched, how unmarked by time, but they don't see what is around them.

      Because if they were to venture just a little further along, up Grouts Lane, to the church of St Nicholas, they may find something that makes them question history as they were taught it at school. That it’s not just an inevitable, chronological roll call of kings and queens, of armies, of governments. That lots of monuments and statues can be very impressive, but beauty can be found in something as simple as a few lines.

      And those simple few lines represent something real. Maybe they were drawn by villagers, hoping for a loved one to return. Maybe they were drawn by sailors, ahead of a new sea voyage, or maybe they were drawn as thanks for a safe one, maybe some of it is choirboys after all… But it’s a marker, a reminder of people and places, of events unfolding, unfurling, and people we will never know or understand. Even just initials and dates are a reminder of those in whose footsteps we follow, who in turn were following the people who came before them.

      And maybe, these new visitors might realise that time isn’t a straight line, stretching from that year to this, but a spiral that bends, and loops, and keeps moving, but also curves around itself. People and places rise, fall, then sometimes rise again, just like Salthouse has. That it’s popular now precisely because it fell into obscurity for so long, and is now so unspoilt. History repeats itself… repeat to fade.  

     And who knows what the future holds for it? Who knows how fashions will change, where the crowds will move on to next, when this new channel will seal up, leaving Salthouse in obscurity again? But what won’t change are the church, it's ships, and the sea.