Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Time travel

“The past inserts a finger into a slit in the skin of the present, and pulls”. Annie Dillard observes this happening in ‘A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek’ (incredible book). She’s so right. It pulls in unexpected ways. Thumping laundry today, my ipod on shuffle (I’m not a very authentic Wapishana washerwoman), I inadvertently enter a time machine for a tinted tour of my past. Tinted because my life slow-motions before my eyes with a personalised ‘favourites’ soundtrack.

First I’m in China, sitting in my concrete living room wrapped in a quilt looking out at the sandstorm. The sky is beige, the sun green, the overall daylight effect flat white. I am listening to a tape of James Taylor, a recent introduction by the brother of the man I am falling in love with. “Sweet Baby James” indeed. Suddenly I’m a schoolgirl, final year. The last sister has just left home, so for the first time in my life, I have a big bedroom to myself. I have a single of Marillion’s ‘Lavender’ on repeat on the record player. A long arm reaches, lifts, drops again and again. I am knitting, my fingers are cold, adult life is beginning to beckon. And then without warning I’m at Cambridge Folk Festival, seventeen years later, marvelling in awe and disbelief at the percussive violent genius of Rodrigo y Gabriela. The smells of cut grass, the Saturday Guardian and damp blanket provide an odd but pleasing counterpoint to the raw duende seducing its way off the stage. As if the ipod is concerned for my blood pressure, the next thing on the menu is the voice of Garrison Keillor. I’m in a big 4x4 on snowy freeways from Chicago to Washington DC. B is driving and we are VERY late because the hired 4x4 leviathan had been impounded when we parked it next to a fire hydrant (invisible under three feet of snow, but apparently we should have known...) and he spent the whole afternoon amongst the poor of Chicago pleading, paying fines and queueing to get it back. Keillor calms us, solves and satisfies and sets the world unchangeably in order (sorry Larkin!). We get there in the end; fifteen hours driving through seven states, arriving with fifteen minutes to spare. And then suddenly, the time machine lifts and drops me into Chopin, and now I am lost. I am six years old, sitting on the hall floor. It’s Saturday. My mother is teaching at the School of Music. My sisters are at Orchestra. There is only a reverberating radiator and a thin wall between my dad and Chopin, and me. “Aaaaaagh!” vociferates through the wall as a bum chord sounds, followed by a specially violent correct one: the pure distilled sound of frustration. Because more than anything else, my father wants to capture Chopin, to cradle the music between careful hands, like cradling a baby who can’t yet hold up her head. Ah, the responsibility! The lovely terror!

I switch off the ipod after that. The skin of the present should only have to tolerate so much tugging. I return to Aishalton slightly dazed, bulging with the riches of my past, to find the dirty linen of the present requiring my full attention.


  1. Oh wow. I'm going to have to revisit this post in a day or two to let it all sink in. So poetic and evocative.

  2. Incredible. You are a wonder. Love you

  3. Hi S. Again your writing strikes out the tottering skittles of an addled mind. Lovely. I know that Marillion track and also had a stacking record player for playing my singles. The Wurzles and Gary Newman were often on repeat I am embarrassed to say

  4. this is so wonderful, you write these memories with such precision. Garrison Keillor has become such a restorative to us hasn't he! Remember your tape of Stevie and Sarah singing 'It was on a starry night' followed by Keillor saying his thoughts about home? It still gets me every time.
    luv u lots

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