John Constable (above) Image below courtesy of Chris Ceaser
Imagine an English country lane, in an era before articulated transported, when to own a car is the privilege of a few and tractors are the size of an average 4 x 4. It doesn't matter where you are going, the venue isn't that important, but you make concessions to stepping over the threshold and smarten up before leaving the house. The bomb raids are a receding memory and the idea of an appointment with destiny now has a positive charge.
The sky is a fragile blue, the air sparkles with expectation and the idle boasting of cuckoo-song.
A little girl, no more than five years old and nicknamed Marigold by indulgent elderly folk, is walking hand in hand with her father and skipping one-leggedly to keep up with him. He wears a belted tan tweed coat and a trilby hat in the matador style. He is drawn to the flamenco, though nothing in his demeanour indicates that. He likes Moorish women and sings snatches of Carmen in the airier margins of his days. Ahead, the lane is straight, leading to a cross-roads where the newly-invented 'cat's-eyes' have been installed for safety in the dark. Even rural highways have vision!
The lane is flanked by grass verges, sprinkled with spring flowers, celandines and ladysmocks, daisies, buttercups and dandelions, violets in the ditches. Marigold's father wants to know her favourite flower.
“Poppies,” says Marigold, though they are not in season.
“But bluebells are restful and they have a nice scent. Don't you like bluebells?”
“Yes,” says Marigold.
“I like poppies,” says Marigold.
“What's your favourite colour, then?”
“Red,” replies Marigold.
“Not red, surely. Blue. Blue like your eyes. The blue of the sky. Blue is peaceful. Blue's my favourite colour.”
Marigold is conscious of having grieved her father in some minor but not insignificant way. “Well, I do like blue...and purple...but I like red best.”
The child is innocent of wars and bloodshed, of the poppies of Flanders fields. But red reminds her of Little Red Riding Hood and The Pied Piper of Hamelin, pillar boxes and Santa Claus. She remembers her crimson crayon that slicks onto an image with a satisfying sheen. It is the one she treasures most. Crimson. She loves the word, which she has heard in a book of fables. It catches the light like silk velvet; it glistens and has a compelling, resonant texture.
For Marigold knows by instinct what artists have known down the ages, that red vibrates with energy. A dash of red, a diminutive figure in a lacklustre landscape, can bring the whole picture to life, even without Monet's orgy of scarlet, or Caravaggio's sin-conscious carmine. Under stage lights, red dots painted at the corners of the eyes will help them to glow at a distance.
And to this day, Marigold likes to put on her glad-rags and cheer the universe with pepper redness and pomegranate subtleties.
John Singer Sargent (above and below)
Some literary quotes:
As soon as I turned the key I saw it hanging, the colour of fire and sunset, the colour of flamboyant flowers. ‘If you are buried under a flamboyant tree, ‘ I said, ‘your soul is lifted up when it flowers. Everyone wants that.
Jean Rhys (Wide Sargasso Sea)
But I looked at the [red] dress on the floor and it was as if the fire had spread across the room. It was beautiful and it reminded me of something I must do. I will remember I thought. I will remember quite soon now.
Jean Rhys (Wide Sargasso Sea)
I have dreamed in my life, dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they have gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind.
I've got on red shoes...
I've got on red shoes..
For ever, good bye!
Alain Fournier (Le Grand Meaulnes)
Red is the great clarifier - bright and revealing. I can't imagine becoming bored with red - it would be like becoming bored with the person you love.
For wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.
A good book is an event in my life.
Stendhal (The Red and the Black)
Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white;
Alfred Lord Tennyson
Fan the sinking flame of hilarity with the wing of friendship; and pass the rosy wine.
There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.
Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Acts 2: 2-4
She is stark to the bone,
gaunt in Gethsemane,
like fibrous lightning
honed by tungsten winds
against inconstant skies,
still tall among her peers,
still proud among
the juvenescent hazel sprigs
and serpent's tooth brambles
straining for sunlight,
frantic for foliation,
unwooed by warmth.
Today, no budding veil,
no wedding weeds,
digits frost-bitten to the half-moons
in wicked winter's dogged
It had to come, this severance,
after long years of arms outstretched
to draw unruly progeny
to her gnarled and knowing bosom,
covering with wisdom's mantle
errors of riotous exuberance.
What flowering of Grace!
She is a skeletal shrine
and, two springs ago, shared
a beneficent transfiguration.
Despise not my vintage years,
she said, for Nature arrays me
as no other tree in Holy Week.
Remember me when you are sad
and stranded in the wilderness
between two ways, unseeing.
When sap shall fall and powers fail
and soured earth receive my leaves,
my legacy is ever Blossom.
First blossom and bluebells, May Day, 2013
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In the wake of my recent post about being a twinless twin, the shades have stirred and many half-forgotten episodes have come home to roost. Puzzling situations, branded in memory at the time, have fallen into context. In a way I can't adequately convey, it's as though the curvature of my life has a clearer perspective and the tapestry so far is filling out. The tension between having and not having, between instinctive completeness and bereavement has been, and still is, an underlying theme in everyday matters as well as prominent events. Perhaps nowhere does this cut to the bone as in the conundrum posed by my first published novel in 1980, Dreams of Gold: 'Were Life and Death two sides of the same coin?'
But let me close by recalling a comic incident whose symbolism will not be lost on the literary-minded.
Around the age of three – I measure the events of those days by the first time I was a bridesmaid – my mother took me to a charity sale in a neighbouring parish. I don't remember much about the room in which it was held, just the criss-crossed forest of supports under the trestle tables piled high with artefacts, clothes, knitting wools, ceramics, which formed an uninviting landscape above my natural sightline. Mother studied the displays, weighed up the merits of this item and that, moved on, debated some more. Meanwhile, I was jostled among the coats of bargain-hunters, ears buzzing with the hum of voices, and grew vexed and bored and couldn't wait for it to be over. Then, like a gift from heaven, a most intriguing shape hove into view. I couldn't take my eyes off it. An elephant! It stood about 18” tall, made of khakhi-coloured tweed, with a soulful leather-button gaze that I could swear was appealing for a home with us. I pointed it out to my mother, but was dismayed to find the animal receding over my shoulder as she pulled me along.
I have never wanted anything so much in my life as I wanted that elephant! What inspired the desire, I can't exactly tell, but the tale of my origins was no secret. It was part of the legend given to relatives. Without buying a thing, Mother made to leave. By now, my distress was tearfully evident. I begged and pleaded for that stuffed toy, inwardly half-resigned to not having it – the bias of child-rearing wisdom was to resist whims and wants for fear of spoiling, and also there wasn't a lot of disposable income around in that decade after the War. What prevailed with her, I will never know. She did have her mellower moods, but was in no sense an indulgent parent. I was conscious even then that the request was too spontaneous, too 'off-the-wall'. But she relented, opened her purse and, joy of joys, 'Edward' was handed over! My tears evaporated. The universe was in equilibrium.There was much hilarity on the bus going home about fares charged for elephants.
let me ride on his back and resided between the sofa and an armchair
at the end of play. Eventually, after much pummelling, he became blind and his eyes ended up
in Mother's button box, a treasure chest in which I loved to forage
among the pearl and glass, ivory and bakelite, brass from her
brothers' naval uniforms. Years later, and about to be married, I
rediscovered them and sewed them on to the pocket tabs of my new
'going away' coat...as a talisman, I guess. We sometimes perform
rituals we barely understand in our straining for karma. No, all in
the garden wasn't wonderful, but by a miracle of Grace, I have
survived intact, with a shining faith in what
can transpire from our griefs and reverses. This, surely, is the purpose and meaning of Life as far as we can know it.
I regret that I don't remember the passing of Edward, but I expect our in-depth conversations are recorded somewhere in the ether.
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The word 'dream' shimmers with nuance and promise as no other. From the inspiration to succeed, the nocturnal roaming of the soul through weird and wonderful spaces, the hypnagogic visions on the brink of sleep, the imaging of hopes and memories in daylight hours, to the very nature of our human existence. Both Eastern and Western religions subscribe to the notion that life is a dream in the mind of God...with an ample measure of somatic pain, no doubt.
Edgar Allan Poe was dismayed at life seeming to be 'a dream within a
dream', evanescent, intangible and shrinking into meaninglessness as
fast as the silken grains of sand through his fingers, others have
seen it as the shadow of a subliminal reality that binds immortality
into our unique experience. It is as though the spirit is endlessly
turning the earth, sowing and reaping, until the outer world reveals
a transformation. Dreams can turn what is ordinary into something extraordinary. As Robert Browning observed, 'A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's Heaven for?'
He who robs us of our dreams robs us of our life.Virginia Woolf
All human beings are also dream beings. Dreaming ties all mankind together.Jack Kerouac
He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it.Douglas Adams
Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.Louisa May Alcott
Sleep is the best meditation.Dalai Lama
What if you slept? And what if, in your sleep, you went to heaven and there plucked a strange and beautiful flower? And what if,when you awoke,you had the flower in your hand? Ah, what then?Samuel Taylor Coleridge
A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.Oscar Wilde
Recounting the strange is like telling one's dreams: one can communicate the events of a dream, but not the emotional content, the way that a dream can colour one's entire day.Neil Gaiman
Moments before sleep are when she feels most alive, leaping across fragments of the day, bringing each moment into the bed with her like a child with schoolbooks and pencils. The day seems to have no order until these times, which are like a ledger for her, her body full of stories and situations.Michael Ondaatje
Sorrow compressed my heart, and I felt I would die, and then . . . Well, then I woke up.
I dream my painting and I paint my dream.Vincent van Gogh
I came to the conclusion that unrealized hopes, even small ones, were always wrenching.
You know you're in love when you can't fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.Attr. Dr Seuss
Do I dareDisturb the universe?
T S Eliot
Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and with eternity.Paul Coelho
The luxury of being half-asleep...exploring the fringes of psychosis in safety.Ian McEwan
Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Dreams are excursions into the limbo of things, a semi-deliverance from the human prison.Henry Amiel
You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.C S Lewis
Final word to funny man, Tommy Cooper. (I remember hearing him say this on stage.)
Last night I dreamed I ate a ten-pound marshmallow, and when I woke up the pillow was gone.
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The Old Vicarage
This post has developed from a conversation with orna B Raz who is interested to hear about being a twinless twin.
Lent, I've thought a lot about loss. It's that time of year. Last
year's palm leaves scorched to soot. Last year's thorns not yet
camouflaged with burgeoning leaf. Dead wood snapped in autumn gales
not yet encrusted with copper-green lichens, or host to oyster
mushrooms. Redundant nests awaiting tenants. Dispassionate skies,
dark as pewter. Slicing winds and not the merest rumour of a thermal.
But it's always a sad time of year in ways I struggle to explain, despite the facts. These words will give shape to something invisible whose effects are as tangible as those of a severed limb. There were things I knew before I knew the reasons for them, fixed impressions not based on evidence, spoken or actual, but so taken for granted that they seemed routine yet jarring at the same time.
My April birthday makes me a dyed-in-the-wool Arian. Jump in at the deep end. Sink or swim. I made it into this world from a better place, I'm sure, with a vague sense of mission. There was something I had to do. Get back there, retrieve something lost. Earn space on the face of the planet. Life is a gift we must do our utmost to treasure in order that lemons become cordial. I think the anguish of birth was so traumatic that memories are imprinted from some of my earliest days. You see, I made the journey here, but my twin did not.
They were years of austerity, the nation for all its courage and grit, shell-shocked, hustled to its feet after not one, but two world wars. Perspectives on life and death were not as they are today. The moral code of stiff upper lip and shouldering your own burdens, not speaking openly about trials and tragedies, getting on with it, was the norm. Everyone had suffered in one way or another. There was a singular pride in not indulging grief. You dealt with what was before you and put the rest out of sight and, yes, out of mind. Was that unhealthy? It's not easy to answer that, as this account will show. But for all our present day insight and empathy, the western world does seem less mature.
I was born in a rambling Victorian vicarage which had been turned into makeshift nursing home during WWII. It was shortly due to close. In fact, mine was the penultimate birth and would have been the last if I'd not arrived two weeks early. My mother had been told by her doctor that the signs indicated twins. There was no Ultrasound, no amniocentesis, so, after a complicated delivery which required ten days of rest, she was sent home to get on with her life, grateful to have come through, and with a healthy baby. She never mentioned the absent one, at least not to me, until she was in her late seventies and a widow.
There were conspiracies of silence about many things, of all shapes and shades, when I was growing up, so that functioning in a vacuum, being blind to certain factors that impinged on daily life, seemed part of the human deal. I suppose this is not uncommon and was especially rife after the war when quite a number of children were fathered by American GIs billeted upon British wives and families, or else by POWs quartered in the district. Thus the loss was despatched, couched fluffily in an ensuing comedy which became the narrative of events.
Gender roles were clearly defined at that period. It was unthinkable that fathers should attend the birth of their offspring. It was women's work and as natural as shelling peas. After a nail-biting day and night, my Dad telephoned the nursing home from a public call-box to be told that a bouncing daughter had been born in the early hours. “Not twins, just a little elephant,” quipped the doctor. I weighed seven pounds.
My poor Dad, a logical man, overcome with the news, clutched faintly on the receiver, fully convinced that the medic had said seventeen pounds!! He was the butt of that joke for many a year, though he took it in good part.
Ironically, the elephant in the womb became the elephant in the room. It wasn't just that it was a taboo subject, by mutual, tacit consent. It was as though it hadn't happened. This may seem like a fine distinction, but the domestic dynamic had changed beyond what was demonstrable and reasonable in the circumstances. It introduced a ghostly dichotomy that is an integral part of who I am. This is played out in small matter-of-fact ways when making choices and evaluating opinions, down to a sense of deep emotional and spiritual cleavage from where, and with whom, I belong.
I feel we're called upon to justify our space upon this planet, if only by goodwill and the care and support of the fellow creatures who cross our path. We didn't ask to be born, but Creation has called us into being and invested in our uniqueness for the benefit of all. While there is a metaphysical pressure to live for two, my instinct is to take up as little space as possible in trying to achieve that. Throughout her life, my mother impressed upon me that sacrifices had been made on my behalf, though I was never quite sure what they were, and this may have induced a free-floating guilt that is near impossible to shake off. It did not occur to me until after she died that the chillingly offhand moods which had been so perplexing might have erupted from a primitive form of suppressed grief. I was the child who had gained life at the expense of the other.
My parents decided on a hyphenated name. Rose-Marie. There was no such tradition in the family, but I suspect that a coupling of this kind answered the spirits. However, on the day of the registration, my mother changed her mind. For some abstruse reason, she decidedly did not want her daughter to be called Rose (as was inevitable in the real world) so Rosemary was instead written on the certificate. Rosemary Joy. It failed to stick. Well into adulthood, I was informally called Rose, except at home, and it seemed so naturally to morph into Rosy that I kept to it. It was like a gift of identity whose roots are clandestinely entwined.
In the shadows of the psyche, where no one else treads, Marie has been an angel presence from time immemorial. I don't actually name her, except in now describing the alter ego, or phenomenon, she is. I don't even think about this often, but have never been able to shed the formless grief of her going, which, at times, is intense and quite inexplicable in wholly rational terms. In infancy, I talked to her as a matter of course. As a three-year-old, I noticed the sad pain in the middle of my chest, exactly where Benjamin, my teddy bear's squeak-box had worn through his fur, and marvelled that he was feeling it, too! Even now, the way I go about decision-making and debating issues with myself sometimes strikes me more like an actual dialogue than an evolving stream-of-consciousness. When a conclusion is finally reached, it is seldom other than firm. There is another dimension at work.
Where does all this leave me? I suppose it is a major cause of 'drivenness'. Wherever I am and whatever I'm doing, there's a feeling of needing to be elsewhere doing other things. In order to keep focus, it makes me doubly obsessive about achieving goals which, incidentally, don't usually tally with what an observer might expect. In the past, I have crammed much into my days to the point of serious exhaustion. Family and social responsibilities aside, I have run a gallery and a music agency, have written several books, trained as a singer, performed in hundreds of concerts and a fair few operas (in the chorus and minor roles). I have attended artists' courses, plus others in antique furniture, silver, the fine arts, the Baroque era. For many years, I taught Scripture. 'Jill-of-all-trades, mistress of none,' I hear you say. Well, that is undoubtedly true. All I ever wanted was to be was a ballerina. Folk pressed my parents to enter me for proper ballet school, but the stage was anathema to their beliefs.
Another source of misgiving has been friendships. I've been forever blessed in finding good friends and have not always reciprocated with the degree of enthusiasm they deserve, at least in terms of relaxed and regular socialising. The main reason for this is the distraction, the anxiety amounting almost to panic when the contemplative sessions from which creativity arises, are displaced. I've written of this before, but it's not altogether about the demands of research or writerly application and absorption in Story, it's where I am closest to Marie. I am never alone. I know this sounds crazy, but it's as though she will die if I don't make this breathing space and I shall become disorientated.
It must be stressed that there's nothing eerie about it. My other half is a presence just over the shoulder, a breath's span out of sight, the whisper of something I might not have thought of. She is the frisson of electricity when I eclipse the essence of her. Does she ever see through my eyes? Do I see through hers?
Strangers sometimes think they recognise me. They mistake me for someone else, or I remind them of a person they once knew. We twinless twins like to think we are individuals, but I smile and wonder which of us they see and whether the capacity for mirroring extends beyond the context, out of time and mind. One weird thing that does keep happening is that when I spot a person who strongly resembles someone I know, they will acknowledge me or greet me like an old friend. It could be in the native character of the catching of the eye. Or not. Occasionally, in the past, I have used homeopathic Argentum Nitricum, beloved of performers for its calming effects. In its chemical form, it's used as the silver backing to mirrors. I began to notice on those days an increased frequency in the experience described. There is much at our fingertips we fail to grasp.
To the end of her days, my mother refused to hear me called anything but Rosemary. Maybe it was a deep-seated need to keep a homogeneous version of the legend intact, to slay the elephant, or an impulse to control identity and reduce it to something she could cope with. This was so challenging that, in full possession of her faculties, she came to deny she had a daughter at all. The presence and absence are curiously interchangeable. It's how I know death doesn't have the last word.
As The Twinless Twin Support Group says, 'Once a twin, Always a twin. You are not alone.'
Just once in a blue moon, the mist thins and all slots into the twilight picture, the whys and wherefores. And one day, the light will shine and melt the veil and the long, stumbling journey of separation will be over.
Who knows? Perhaps Marie is doing the dancing in a parallel reality, wishing she had written poetry or explored Georgian history. It cannot be denied that particular music haunts most powerfully and excruciatingly of all.
My poem, In Memory, which is included in THE TWAIN, Poems of Earth and Ether, attempts to describe the experience of being born as a twinless twin.
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