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Monday, May 7, 2012

OLD BOTTLES AND OLD FEELINGS



After waiting ages I have finally got a camera again. I start to take some pictures of the different layout at home, now we have re-arranged things downstairs.

I really enjoy taking these pictures and am soon swinging the camera around and finding perfect images framed on the view-screen. I love the ease - simply point and click and with a single tap the images are uploaded and ready to view. It really is all too easy these days.

An hour or so later and Robbie has uploaded my efforts onto his laptop which is already compatible. For a moment we stare at the screen in silence.

'They're blurred' I say, dismayed at my own spectacular lack of talent. I hadn't even bothered to check the review button such was my utter belief that I would effortlessly capture all the beauty I see around me. Somehow I thought...never mind.

'They are still really nice darling', Robbie always makes kindly comments about my attempts, gently encouraging me even when faced with something of dull mediocrity.

Then he says that he thinks it's a shame that the sewing tin was left open on the sofa in the last one.

I'd left the tin there deliberately, thinking it looked more real and would show life as it really was. But first I'd artfully arranged the lid to look as if it was just spilling off whereas life as it really was had sent it half-way across the sofa, mostly hidden under a cushion.

An hour later I'm in the car and heading off to my father's new house in the centre of Cirencester. It's Sunday and the streets are virtually vehicle free and I speed smoothly along like soft honey. I'm in the old part of town where the streets cover the remains of the original Roman pipework and above are solidly inhabited by glorious 17th and 18th century houses. Everything is the colour of warm sand, its fingernails are manicured and it exudes the calm quiet balm of wealth. I park up and walk across to my fathers house. I push open the front door calling out and he comes through, back bent, his grubby cream cable-knit jumper displaying a few more holes than last time. His back is now painfully doubled over so that he always moves with a deep stoop and slow caution.


He is in the process of moving in, his first house move since my step-mother died 5 or so years ago. He is bringing one chair a week, until the official removal date, along with his elderly collection of alcoholic beverages which he seems to be shifting bottle by bottle. A lot of these bottles haven't been opened since the 1960's or even earlier. Long lost fragments of my parents early drinks tray, split in half when the lawyers moved in and never again drunk from. They are undrinkable anyway. I've already checked online and even though most of the sites agree that the alcohol in them will protect one from stomach upset, the floating crystals and grainy thickening of the liquid are off-putting enough. But my father keeps giving them to me. One at a time.


'Got something for you'  he says.

Sitting on the stairs is a bottle with a Christmas wrapping and home printed label bearing the legend ' Raspberry Gin - fermented at Hillies Cottage Christmas 2000'.  Christ. I remember these and I'm surprised my father still has one. It was produced at home, by my brother Jeremy and my friend Lavender when they used to live together. It had looked dodgy when they first created it and now it looks positively lethal. The liqueur is a vivid and soupy looking vermilion and three-quarters of the bottle is filled with putrid looking raspberries the colour of bloated and gangrenous toes.


Jeremy and Lavender were always doing stuff like that, virulent tasting herb-infused oils or the children's marmalade made from unwashed hands and tangerine pulp. The unforgettable home-crafted toothpaste roughly pessel and mortared into a gravelly existence, all produced at the decrepit Hillies Cottage kitchen and wearing the unmistakable whiff of botulism.
I suggest to my father that none of this alcohol he keeps passing on to me is actually drinkable any longer and he looks at me like one would a petulant and spoilt chihuahua. 'There's absolutely nothing wrong with it, its perfectly drinkable' he says, making me feel as if I'm being precious. I end up taking the bottle anyway. It can sit on my drinks trolley with the 1950's Tia Maria that he gave me last week. That one has a crumbly well-wedged cork and a brownish frog-spawn-like swill that appears when you shake the base.

Then he tells me that he is getting closer to his latest woman friend. I smile and say how pleased I am for him but inside there is a Greek chorus of voices commenting without harmony. I keep this to myself. I feel as if I'm still processing his marriage to my step-mother 40 odd years ago. He has a sense of urgency about him these days, at 83 his time left is limited.

I drive back home and look for something to photograph on the way. I want to take photos of cows and I have plenty of favorites' to look out for.

I pull over and I'm soon standing by the edge of a field snapping away. The cows, some distance off, are trapped on the other side of a fence and I have to squint to see them in the images I've taken. I wanted big fat cow faces with large wet flaring nostrils and inscrutable gobstopper eye balls. But of course I'd forgotten that to take that sort of picture I'd have to get close to the cows and I'm scared of them. I'd no more stand next to a cow than I would a tiger. 
At home Robbie and I upload my latest photos.

'They're lovely darling' he says, 'even if the cows are quite far away you've still nearly got all of that wonderful tree in'.

We eat lunch and talk about my father's news.

Writing later I remember a time in the late 1970's on my birthday living off the Rue Oberkampf near Montmartre in Paris. My father had booked a deluxe suite at the Hotel Crillon with my step-mother. I was living with a Romanian acrobat on the run from his countries securitate in virtual squalor. A grimy flea-ridden boarding house barely held together by a couple of drunken cleaners and a crotchety transvestite receptionist. My father and step-mother had taken me out for supper and given me a large boxed birthday cake decorated with white and blue icing, tiny candles, a butter-cream filling and scattered with little gold discs, a motif designed to resonate amongst 'with-it' teenage girls. The cake seemed over the top, it was a lovely thought but utterly out of place especially considering the daily reality of the life I was living, sometimes only able to afford the cheapest skinny baguettes occasionally padded out with thin pieces of milk chocolate. The cake came from a world that I wasn't a part of.

After supper my father paid a cab to take me back to Monmartre and as I got out at the other end the birthday cake slipped out of its box and hit the pavement, splattering royal icing and scattering the candles. But I didn't ever tell him.

The thing about my relationship with my father is that it is based on image. We communicate under the fine veneer of politesse, never venturing too far off into the woods. The very worst thing would be to confront emotional issues. He will often refer to what he calls the two tragedies in his life, one being my step-mothers death and the other when my mother left him. There is never any mention of how it might have affected anyone else.

With my father you photograph the sewing tin with its lid arranged in a pleasing manner or you don't photograph the tin at all. Maybe I'm just the same.

2 comments:

  1. Just lovely. Including your photos. This piece was a wonderful addition to my sublime Sunday morning.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much and so good to hear that!

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