Monday, 26 September 2016

How to Melt an Iceberg

Dear Nigel,

I read recently that when a piece of Iceberg starts to melt it makes a kind of fizzing sound known as 'Bergie Seltzer', as tiny air bubbles trapped since it's early formation (and pressurised) become liberated into the atmosphere.

This is happening to me. Right now. The Iceberg that has been floating in my life for almost twenty years, largely unnoticed and avoided (and mainly below the surface), has started to melt.

We all like to think that our lives are straight forward and laid out plain to see, but that is rarely entirely the case. Many, if not most of us, have small icebergs of one size or another displacing the water around them. Their lack of colour aides our obliviousness to them and it is entirely possible to get through a whole lifetime circumventing these icebergs without ever having to consider them at all. But now, all of a sudden, the largest iceberg in my life story is starting to melt.

Google tells me that the largest iceberg on record was sighted off Scott Island in the South Pacific Ocean in 1956  and was larger than the whole of Belgium. My Iceberg has similar gargantuan proportions. It stems from a piece of my history which I've long since put to rest and dealt with emotionally as best as I am able.

Nearly twenty years ago now I was living what for me seemed to be the perfect life in Cornwall, and the roses in the garden were blooming. I was happier than I have ever been before or since and this joy spilled over into the lives around me. I remember one particular morning when I was sitting there in my garden with a cup of coffee and chatting to my best friend Marian. I became totally conscious of every single dew drop sparkling on every single blade of grass, every insect beating its wings nearby. Time slowed down an hour or more between each heartbeat and I could contain within myself everything that I could see or hear or fathom within that instant. Some say that they understand what it means to be 'in flow' and that it happens regularly to them when focussing on sport, or the wonders or nature, or whatever. But I would question that. This was a far deeper moment, encompassing far more that a single focused trait. Perhaps something only witnessed once within a single lifetime, at best. And never ever forgotten.

Within six months of that particular February morning (and yes, in parts of Cornwall it is sometimes hot enough even in February to sit outside in shorts) my life had fallen apart, my then-husband had left me to bring up five small children on my own, and suddenly nearly everything about my world which I held dear were like the ashes of a book trickling through my fingers. It was time to leave.

We moved on quickly to an almost derelict railway station in Northumberland - a strange choice some might say (including my parents) - but it was the change that was needed to rebuild a new life. And life has moved on and on so much since those days and the past is indeed another lifetime.

So earlier this Summer when David suggested we go down and visit the Cornwall that I knew and loved, and hadn't been back to visit for seventeen years, I did my usual making of excuses - all very laudable reasons why it just wasn't possible this year, perhaps next year. And when he suggested the same thing again I realised that the excuses were passed and that it was the right time and the right person to go down with; to face my demons and unlock the past.

And it turned out to be just fine after all. The house was just a house I used to live in, the village just a village I used to know. The friends I obliquely mentioned to that I might be passing and could I possibly drop in - only if they were not busy...all got together and threw a wonderful celebration meal for me. And they all came. And I felt loved and honoured.

As I travelled around watching the seals playing by Godrevy lighthouse and the unseasonably-strong winds whip the surf at Kynance Cove, I saw my older children playing on the beach in their padded Clothkits' jackets and wellies and home-knitted fairisle hats made by Grandma (- we always seemed to go to the beach in Winter when it was deserted). And the shape of my Iceberg started to emerge, silhouetted against a pure blue untroubled sky. Memories started drifting back, sometimes in drips and drabs, sometimes flooding. I know that there are four large red plastic boxes underneath my bed full of photographs encompassing the best part of twenty years. I've barely looked at them in all that time. Couldn't. I think now is the time, and I feel strong-enough to look and assimilate and remember. Then the Iceberg which is slowly shedding it's outer clothing will start and truly melt.

All this may somehow seem something of nothing to you - and perhaps it is; all just nothing but a glass of water in its many forms. But in my mind it has taken on its solid state and there are whole periods of time - years even - that have almost completely disappeared from my memory. And it is not just the bad things that have been unconsciously blocked out; the worst thing is that it is the good times and the best memories which I have greatest difficulty in locating. I'm sure I'm not alone in this. And it is frightening when you are so desperate to recapture a particular time and place and it is simply not there. At least the constant photography that is most parents' way of hanging on to a fleeting childhood, is there to draw me in. When I'm ready.

I have been immersing myself in the Danish art of Hygge and donning an over-sized jumper and thick wool house socks and making your 'Stuffed summer squash with tomatoes and butter beans' (page 352). Summer has well and truly ended here and a nip in the air has brought the first leaves tumbling from the trees. It is still fairly green outside but it is not Summer here anymore. The hawthorn leaves curl back to reveal their scarlet berries and the bank opposite my kitchen window is covered in flushed rosehips and glossy blackberries. Someone has hammered details of the annual 'Pea and Pie Supper' to the notice board and there is talk about the new funding for the church bells - something I assumed was but a local myth but is, it appears, about to happen within the next year. Butterton will get its peal of bells back. An over-enthusiastic mobile campanologist with an eye for the ladies gave me a very detailed tutorial at the recent village Wakes Day. When I eventually escaped I felt I knew all there is to know about pulling a rope with a 'Sally' on it (you can look that one up for yourself).

The local Brass band arrived and left on a large trailer, still playing, all the way down the road pulled by a tractor to the local pub. The only pub - 'The Black Lion.' The village W.I, always game for a laugh, appeared to be dressed as waddling penguins. Apparently they were actually swans doing their 'swan song', so I felt quite relieved that I hadn't referred to Pingu before finding out. But anyone who is prepared to laugh at themselves and have fun in the name of village continuity - or "keeping the event going" in a small rural village - gets my vote; and last year's rendition of 'Cats' in black leotards was certainly a sight to behold.

The Supper is ready. It is cosy comfort food to suit my mood - all very hyggelig. I had my doubts about including butter beans - they are not really favourites of mine - but here I find they take on the taste of the juicy cherry tomatoes and a little heat from the chilli. I am pleasantly surprised. The dumpling squashes took a little while locating but they look so sweet, like little Danish Elves in their hats, and there is something a bit more of an occasion about this too. Time to light some beeswax candles and draw the blinds against the early falling darkness.

Love Martha x