Got up at 4am and found it was still dark. A few weeks ago it was bright at this time. As the light slowly opened up the view from my window I could see cloud low on the hills. One of those overcast rainy days ahead. Since coming to stay in Wales I have become inordinately preoccupied with the weather.
And no wonder. I made a salad last night using mizuna and rocket leaves, delicate and abundant from the garden. It tasted of nothing. Mouthfuls of green herbiage, tasteless as tissue paper. What the herbs need is a month or two of blazing sunshine, days of heat to get in those sugars and colour and develop the aromatic oils. And all they will get is the notion of sunshine. Not unlike me, all pasty and fat and Welshy.
Off to the market town yesterday, driving through rain with Paul. Happy to be telling him about South Africa. Once we were sitting in the room, all 33 of us happy recovering types, a young woman spoke up and said she had been thrown out of her dry house for drinking and needed a cheap rental. Sympathetic atmosphere but she had no fewer than four rings and studs through her lower lip and it sounded as if she was crunching cutlery. How maddening to have somebody around clattering knives and forks each time she opens her mouth –
After the meeting we chatted in the kitchen as the washing up was done and then wandered up to the cathedral gardens. Cloudy and grey, the towers and arches towering above us stern and lovely. Ate a large slice of blueberry pie and listened to P and M recite their favourite poems like old-fashioned schoolgirls. P, grey hair but snapping eyes, enunciating John Masefield and rolling the words around like an incantation as we sat there amidst stone planters of yellow petunias in a cold easterly wind.
Quinquereme of Nineveh from distant Ophir
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedar wood, and sweet white wine.
Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the tropics by the palm-grove shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.
Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Firewood, ironware, and cheap tin trays.
I mentioned the old Alfred Noyes’ poem Highwayman and both of them launched in on the chorus. The road a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor and the highwayman still riding riding riding up to the old inn door. Aware of Paul exasperated at my side, spooning up his blueberry pie and amused by a lurking pigeon. A young man, a newcomer, sitting on the bench nearby, smoking and completely excluded by this quoting. Another era.
‘Ha!’ said P, after some direct questioning. ‘That’s who we are then: CIA. Catholic, Irish and Alcoholic.’ Sensing Paul bristle beside me, who has worked hard to lose that giveaway accent. I am not Irish and not particularly Catholic (but does one ever relinquish that love-hate relationship with the Church?) although I accepted the designation with a smile.
And later, thinking about identity and politics, I sat watching a BBC4 programme on the Romany gipsies with their secret language and rambling ways, a way of life with caravans and poaching and horse fairs, that is vanishing, almost gone. For me the gipsies are romantic, the way that people in the First World see the Khoisan as romantic, as desert nomads. childlike, dancing in skins with bow and arrows. Over in southern Africa, i see a form of cultural genocide and tragedy.
But I was very sleepy after supper and kept dozing off in front of the television, missing bits of the gipsy history. Glad when finally, I could turn over in bed, murmuring good night and easing into blackness. Another sober day, another day of connecting and growth. Sliding off into sleep filled with gratitude and unafraid of the dark.