Friday, August 30, 2013

Blackberry Picking

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
for a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
sent us out with milk-cans, pea-tins, jam-pots
where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
we trekked and picked until the cans were full,
until the tinkling bottom had been covered
with green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
with thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
the fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
that all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.

Seamus Heaney, 1939-2013

Monday, August 12, 2013

As you lay in awe on the bedroom floor

I was very keen on the Smiths in my teens and bought every record. I plastered pictures of Morrissey, carefully cut from the NME, all over my bedroom door. I saw them live at the Edinburgh Playhouse in 1986, just before The Queen is Dead came out, and on the day of its release I went to Virgin in Princes Street, Edinburgh, to buy it. It had just been delivered and my copy came straight from the box – had it been unpacked they would have noticed it and claimed it for themselves because, as I realised when I examined it in Princes Street Gardens, heart bursting with excitement, my copy had been signed by Morrissey in gold pen. It’s hard to describe the elation I felt and this was my most treasured possession for a long time.

I left the UK for Hong Kong in January 2003 leaving behind the house I shared with J, which even then I instinctively knew I’d never enter again, although there was no set date on Hong Kong and I possibly thought we’d be back in the UK after two or three years. In the attic of that house in North London went all the books, clothes, records, personal papers and photographs for which there was no room in our two suitcases. From time to time I’d wake in the night and feel anxious about what was in the attic. What if the tenants raked through it? What if the house burnt down? 

But ultimately I clearly didn’t care enough about any of it to go back to retrieve it on any of my visits to the UK and so there it all lay for nearly 10 years until the house was sold last year. I asked the estate agent to arrange for the stuff in the attic to be cleared out and put in storage – something that was surprisingly difficult to do from so many miles away since they wanted me to be there in person to sign for the storage unit. The man with a van the estate agent found said there was “a lot of rubbish” in the attic so I blithely gave him carte blanche to throw out anything that met that description.  

What I should have done was specify what I did want to keep; because in a  small cold storage unit in West London, courtesy of the kind and wholly last-minute emergency assistance of my former father-in-law, I found a lot of books I will never read, some I will, and very little else. Amongst the things that I know I’ll miss: hundreds of photographs from the days before digital; an old jewellery box full of adolescent treasures; all of my teenage diaries (read ‘em and weep!); a first pressing of Tigermilk by Belle & Sebastian; and my signed copy of The Queen is Dead. And it’s nobody’s fault but my own.

Friday, August 09, 2013