I have northern hands. They are my grandfather’s on my mother’s side: squared off, sturdy, safe?
I see my grandad spinning a knife on the polished dining table after tea – the bone handle spinning, silver plated SHEFFIELD slowing, slowing, ready to point out the person who would be doing the washing up.
My grandad always did the washing up. And peeled the vegetables.
I do the same, but I don’t spin a knife.
I have his hands and they are northern, Lancashire hands, worn in with the good earth and the pit dust of somewhere like Newton-in-Makerfield. I have the hands that he was yet to grow into as a boy, walking through the Queensway Tunnel under the River Mersey with an uncle the night before it opened in the summer of 1934. I have the hands that dovetailed joints and played ludo and grew vegetables and wrote a PhD about the infinity of numbers. I have those hands, and the stories that lie in them, and I’m grateful.
My mother has them too.
I happened upon an excerpt from this poem taped to the wall of an office that I visited yesterday. I have done a rather bad thing, by cutting and pasting sections of the text because the whole poem, written as it was after Eliot’s taking up with the Church of England, contained many religious references which – for me – interrupted the flow. I have therefore confined myself to the ‘ribbon roads’ and ‘a thousand lost golf balls’. Sorry God, if you are reading, but this is a secular blog.
‘…And now you live dispersed on ribbon roads,
And no man knows or cares who is his neighbor
Unless his neighbor makes too much disturbance,
But all dash to and fro in motor cars,
Familiar with the roads and settled nowhere.
Nor does the family even move about together,
But every son would have his motor cycle,
And daughters ride away on casual pillions…’
‘…Will you build me a house of plaster, with corrugated roofing,
To be filled with a litter of Sunday newspapers?
And the wind shall say: “Here were decent godless people:
Their only monument the asphalt road
And a thousand lost golf balls.”
When the Stranger says: “What is the meaning of this city ?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?”
What will you answer? “We all dwell together
To make money from each other”? or “This is a community”?’
I might not really like Christmas, or the snow, or doing my assignments, but that doesn’t mean I’ve tipped over into unremitting doom for the festive period…
When I was a kid we used to visit my Nan and Grandad in Camberley, Surrey. They lived on Everest Road, only notable for once having a real rabid dog down the road when my mother was young and now for being, coincidentally where my cousin and her family live, albeit just round the corner.
It’s all army accommodation and they had a 4/5 bedroom house with a Mayan terraced garden that backed onto a wood.
In this garden my Grandad grew fruit: gooseberries, raspberries, blackcurrants maybe. All soft, shiny baubles the birds loved to nick which meant that he, in turn, could curse the birds, but not really. He also grew a money tree and had a yoghurt well; I think that’s it (I may need a collective family memory on that one).
Anyway, the point being that at the house at Everest Road, in the bathroom, there was quite a wide expanse of dark grey to black lino that was flecked with a mess of fine white squiggles and splodges. I used to sit on the toilet and stare at the floor and see faces and shapes in the random patterns and on every visit I would try to re-find all the faces and shapes I’d remembered from before, plus perhaps some new ones. I can’t remember what they were now, but it is a habit I can’t seem to stop. Not that there’s any lino in a bathroom to stare at any more, but there’s still sea and clouds and sand and sky and, currently, an awful lot of frozen ice.
That’s why, in the absence of anything seasonal to say, and the complete failure to send any Christmas cards to anyone I care a figgy pudding for, I thought I would share a couple of hearts I have spotted this year whilst I’ve been out. They aren’t allowed to be manufactured ones, they just have to be shapes I find when I’m looking hard, and when I’m not.