Tuesday, 25 January 2011

on margaret atwood

so it turns out that for a weekend at geo's i don't actually get any cycling done - saturday morning because it's just too foggy, sunday he gets up too soon and generally because my post puffer belly altho increasing in size thru lack of activity isn't healing itself as quick as i'd like and i'm having to take it a bit easy.

but what we do manage is to buy geo a new boat and various pieces of kit to go with it. of course the sea is flat as a dish and as perfect as you could wish and equally of course i have the bike as opposed to the kayak and no gear but isn't that always the way of it. on the way back loch awe presents itself in a transcendental calm, so clear it's like looking into another realm. naturally i nearly crash the car!

and, being that we haven't seen each other in an age we do that thing we should do more often - buy a load of food in, cook it, have a few drinks, blether nonsense. all the food's been caught here, scallops, haddock, mackeral, salmon. geo takes care of the scallops while i finish off a destructively good fish soup followed by a navarin of fish.

and what do we talk about? geo's brain isn't working as it should and fixing it is worrying him. there are relatives and relatives of friends who have become suddenly frail or in care. we  talk about a dawning feeling of finiteness. in between we have a musical accompaniment of 60s french pop tunes, klezmer music, dancehall, the stooges and margaret atwood. margaret atwood's name comes up as part of a discussion around will self's book of dave which geo is currently ensconced in. you should read some margaret atwood i say. and before i have to explain why i haven't read the novels i'm recommending there's her voice. and she says...

Instead of this, I tell
what i hope will pass as truth.
A blunt thing, not lovely.
The truth is seldom welcome,
especially at dinner...

(from The Loneliness of the Military Historian)

at which we both burst out laughing as we have spent so many meals together where geo listens with horrified fascination as i tell him, as i have today, about a wound so big i could've stuck my hand in and played that person like a human glove puppet. the difference being that at geo's table these little day to day truths are never unwelcome.

we break open the vodka. i almost never drink now and when i do i'm most at ease doing it in geo's kitchen. he has a tiny wee shot glass for me, which is as well as there's not much vodka. which is as well as if i tried to drink it like i used to i would fall over. and then she's there again. this time Death of a Young Son by Drowning. we pause and listen again. no laughter this time but we both like the word bathysphere and we both like the hands, glistening with details.

on we go, listening and talking. he observes he thinks, certain changes in my viewpoints. i tell him i am not so sure but i am happy if it is so. we make plans for making his will. and mine. tho he feels his need is more pressing. i tell him he is full of shit. he says i can only tell him this because i am such a dick. we wish we could be out on the sea but the van is broken and t cannot come over. we concoct an elaborate plan where i will race t across scotland, me cycling and her on public transport and then we will all catch the seaplane but then we realise we will get stuck in glasgow. a city where romance surely goes to die. discuss.

we meet his mum in the street. she appears to recognise me but i know she can only do this because geo has spoken to her on the phone a couple of hours before. she looks like margaret atwood's much older sister. i do not tell either of them this. she asks if we have been to church. i say we have enjoyed the service, sang many songs. she gets the joke but the alzheimers has robbed her of the spark of response. she must be off for some tea she says. take care you boys she tells us and becomes part of that small but precious community for whom we are still and always will be daft young laddies.

we listen to Morning in the Burned House. aye, says geo, she's all right this atwood woman.

i return home and discover that, according to the blog stats, the most popular post this week is margaret atwood. i had not realised when i posted it that progressive insanities of a pioneer was quite so popular. or in another version of events margaret atwood is addicted to googling herself, spending the last of the evening obsessively checking and rechecking where she may be found and how often, in between penning plans about keeping prison farms open in order to save the birds, big cats and other sundry creatures. it seems no less likely than her unbidden and much appreciated performance in a kitchen in oban. (in fact what she has been doing is posting about cats. t being a lover of cats i cannot but post the link)

once i revisited the house i grew up in, or at least became aware of myself as a person. it's still there, unburnt, but not my house. i remember the house next door which also did not burn down but i will admit, i did set fire to. i remember the beating i got for that like yesterday...

Morning in the Burned House

In the burned house I am eating breakfast.
You understand: there is no house, there is no breakfast,
yet here I am

The spoon which was melted scrapes against
the bowl which was melted also.
No one else is around.

Where have they gone to, brother and sister,
mother and father? Off along the shore,
perhaps. Their clothes are still on the hangers,

their dishes piled beside the sink,
which is beside the woodstove
with its grate and sooty kettle,

every detail clear,
tin cup and rippled mirror.
The day is bright and songless,

the lake is blue, the forest watchful.
In the east a bank of cloud
rises up silently like dark bread.

I can see the swirls in the oilcloth,
I can see the flaws in the glass,
those flares where the sun hits them.

I can't see my own arms and legs
or know if this is a trap or blessing,
finding myself back here, where everything

in this house has long been over,
kettle and mirror, spoon and bowl,
including my own body,

including the body I had then,
including the body I have now
as I sit at this morning table, alone and happy,

bare child's feet on the scorched floorboards
(I can almost see)
in my burning clothes, the thin green shorts

and grubby yellow T-shirt
holding my cindery, non-existent,
radiant flesh. Incandescent.

(from the collection of the same name.
find it and read it!)


Titus said...

That is some read.
Off to find the Atwood now!

swiss said...

entering fire. collected 1965 - 1995. you can't go wrong!

Rachel Fox said...

Lovely detail. And you can be a daft young laddie as long as you like I think.

swiss said...

it's as well i'd intended it! lol

Titus said...

Got the collection itself for a skinny £2.30. In hardback! Some shelf-wear...

swiss said...

if by some weird chance that is not the best £2.30 you spend this year not only will i be shocked but i will refund your expense!

Roxana said...

this is so well-written and so touching... i read it as a story on its own, not just a swiss post (whatever that 'just' might mean :-)
i am always deeply touched by the profound humanism which lies at the core of your stories, your approach to life, though protected under layers of cynicism and sentimentality mockery :-) (which makes it all the more powerful)

i am also always struck by the way your stories reveal the vulnerability of human beings, with such delicate yet uncompromising honesty...

swiss said...

cynicism, sentimental mockery? moi? that's just the scottish coming out in me! lol

i don't know, it struck me very much this weekend that it's the simplest things that mean the most - warmth, food, company of friends. much was discussed re montaigne and his effects obviously! thanks....