The first Christmas I remember, I was four. My dad was working on a project in Malawi to develop coffee production for those with smallholdings. My mother took me and my brother out to Africa for the holidays. (This is not the only hot winter I’ve experienced, but it was the first.) We stayed in a resort – the four of us living in the same room. I slept in a camp bed at my parents’ feet. My brother was across the room against the wall. Each morning, my mother would take us children into the dining room for breakfast. Dad was already at work. There was a table covered in glass jugs, each filled with a different coloured liquid. I was fascinated by the flavours of these juices. Grape was my favourite. I loved the dark maroon, the various layers of taste, which ended on something I couldn’t define, and seemed to represent the ‘blue’ component needed to gave the drink its purple depth. In my mind, the rest of the dining room is empty, save for an elderly gentleman in a safari outfit who is always thrilled to see me and my brother. He always manages to draw us into some exotic, new tale.
On Christmas day, I am involved in a production of Noah’s Ark. I play a lion. My face is painted. A black circle shines on my tiny nose. Strips of yellow and orange tissue paper have been glued to a length of string, looped under my chin and tied at the crown of my head. I am in my blue bathing suit. My belly protrudes with a happy innocence.
A photo lies on the desk beside me as I write. I am not looking into the camera, but stand side on, scratching my back. The fluffy end of my tail is just visible, poking out from behind my left knee. I can see the shadow of the person taking the photo. I assume it’s my mother because Dad does not appear in any of my memories of Malawi.
The only other man I remember – apart from the safari storyteller – is Saab. He was in charge of children’s entertainment on the resort. A wiry, young man as dark as an aubergine. Noah’s Ark was his mastermind and, in fact, he appears in the top right corner of the photograph. It is just the bottom half of him – his dark, lean stomach, and a pair of black shorts. His body is painted with the marks of a tiger.
I remember him leaping and moving on the stage – the fascination I felt for the way he had turned his body into something else, something quite feral and unpredictable.
In my most vivid memory of all, I am crossing the lawn to the stage at the dress rehearsal. There are the thick, stubby blades of tropical grass, but something else too: the lawn is covered with pine needles – though I wouldn’t have known what they were then. I walk, barefoot, and every so often catch myself on a sharp point. The distance to the stage becomes distressing with these unseen perils. I am upset that I’m not wearing my flipflops, frustrated at my helplessness.
I find winter in this country vivid. Running along the towpath the other morning, the river was an astonishing spearmint green. I think the dark emerald of algae had mixed with the reflection of a bleached sky to throw up this new and fresh shade. The water moved in a languid way – the icy temperatures, making it thick and sluggish. The current showed in clear ripples on the surface in the way that the skin on hot milk bunches up when you blow across it. The wrinkles had a muscular quality to them. I imagined the depths of the canal, working hard against the day’s frostiness, crawling with determination over the riverbed, using rock and rut to pull and then propel onwards.
The trees had their glistening white winter coats on – beautiful to see, but a bitter load for them to bear, this icy weight. Most of the leaves have fallen now. These delicate skeletons suit the pale blue of a December sky. Summer’s work shows clearly – each slender growth, stretching out and up from the thicker boughs. Naked like this, the trees are the perfect display of life – how, fed, everything will grow, swell, spread.
It is a love of observation that makes travelling such a pleasure. I can feel these impulses as I walk foreign paths, revelling in the differences I see, drawing in new scents and sensations. Of course, at four, the traveller in me was only just beginning. But those memories of my first Christmas hold every experience of how I feel to go abroad. There is the wonder of new flavours – those fruit juices that intrigued me enough to remain in my mind; the moments of challenge as I navigated that lawn littered with pine needles – feeling unprepared and upset at the conditions around me; and finally the intrigue of new and unusual people – Saab’s dazzling white smile sits with me now as I write.
Writing this blog has given me similar pleasures. I have been able to make the most of my love of observation, and I can go in my mind to all the wondrous countries I have visited as I write. Sometimes, I have felt a flicker of panic as I press ‘publish’, but I love these sensory challenges. I see them as information, not to be suppressed, but explored, mined, for insights. But, most of all, are the people I have met, whose blogs I have happened upon, or who have happened upon mine. To be told that a comment of mine has made someone’s day, or have a message by one my readers that they like to put time aside to read my posts, are some of the greatest privileges I think I have experienced. It’s all a writer can ask.
Some of my readers have been generous enough to nominate me for awards. In return, I am supposed to talk a little about myself. But I do that enough! I would prefer instead to mention those people who have nominated me and why I have enjoyed following them.
Ramblings from a mum in her typically prolific way has nominated me for more than one award! She has been following me from quite early on. I always look forward to her comments; such constant generosity makes my heart feel rich. It makes me laugh to see her on my reader – as I said, she is prolific. I’m afraid to say that I can’t read every one of her posts, but there’s always a wonderful glimpse in the morsel the reader gives – her struggles over a title, often a hilarious photo. She is unashamed, thoughtful, hilarious and compassionate.
Writing by the numbers nominated me some months ago. I love Anne’s blog. Her posts are always filled with memories that appear like a secret soft centre in an already delicious chocolate. Anne’s commitment to her novel has impressed me, but so has her humour, her relationships with those she blogs about, which often come with comical insights – there was the hungry little girl she was chaperoning on a school trip who hadn’t had breakfast: you smell like food, she kept saying, sniffing away at Anne’s neck!
Go taste is a clever foodie and his nomination came at the perfect time for me – just the boost I needed. His posts have a similar fortuitous air. His recipes often arrive when I need to be culinarily inspired. His food is colourful; simple enough to lure you in to trying, but complex enough to provide layers of good flavour. His latest is pan fried Toman filet with lemon cream sauce, which I shall try over the Christmas holidays with Snapper, which is a good alternative for those who can’t buy Toman. Danny also makes promotions. I have seen a couple that he posted – artistic clips with sparkle and calm. But he has recently won a Promax award (Promax is the Oscars of TV promotion) for a trailer promoting a run of Bruce Lee movie specials. Check it out – this is a wonderful funny promo, and just like the many levels of flavour in Danny’s food, this clip is another side to him, which I am thrilled to see.
Deborah Brasket has also been kind enough to nominate me. She is a comparatively new follower and I am just getting to know her lyrical writing. My favourite post of Deborah’s so far is: The Deer’s Scream, My Mother’s Eyes, and a Ripe Strawberry. This is writing at its best – vivid, sincere, going where we fear to go and delving right in.
Finally, my pretzel logic was the first award I was ever nominated for. I thank you Neil for that initiation. This site has been a little quiet recently – I miss Neil’s gorgeous poems, images and video clips. What I love about the pretzel logic blog is the sense of community. I know that this comes from Neil’s poems – the fact that they speak to many of us, and in our appreciation of them we find kin. Here is my favourite.
So, this is my Christmas gift! Thanks to those who nominated me, and an equal thanks to those who follow. In this world, everything is interconnected. Without your appreciation, I wouldn’t be writer, I would simply be a lonely soul, saying hello? and waiting for an answer. Enjoy the holidays. I shall be back in 2013 with plenty more words.