Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Summer memories 6 - Perranporth Cornwall


Perranporth beach, Cornwall
1. Wet sand between my toes
2. The roar of surf in the distance
3. A blur of colour - buckets and spades and windmills and flip flops garlanded around a shop door.
4. My first watch on my 9th birthday from the small jeweler by the park.
5. Creeping around Dad who was watching cricket in the darkened living room - our first TV.
6. My sister and I standing in front of the mirror in our parents' room, peeling strips of sunburned skin from each other's backs - the dry rip of skin, falling to the carpet to lie in curled flakes at our feet.
7. Breaking two dinner plates as I helped my grandmother wash up after lunch of rabbit pie.
8. '99' cones - Cadbury Flakes stuck in bright yellow Cornish Cream ice cream
9. Dry sand drifting along the tiled hallway
10. Sitting on the ground outside before we came indoors, scraping tar from the soles of our feet with shells, kept in a bucket by the door for just that purpose
11. Breaking the crust off a Cornish pasty hot out of the oven behind my grandmother's back.
12. Hunting for yet another pair of my brother's lost glasses on the beach.
13.Creeping barefoot down the lane between the house and the beach before the adults were awake to stop us swimming before breakfast.
14. Postcards on a twirly rack outside the sweet shop.
15. Beach donkeys trotting across the sand
16. Fish and chips in newspaper with too much vinegar
17. Drinking a swig of Uncle Vic's Merrydown Cider
18. Seagulls being thrown about in the wind above our heads on a stormy day.
19. Sea spray stinging my legs as we walked along the water's edge at low tide
20. Water filling the dog's footprints

Monday, July 20, 2009

Balancing Act - a poem

Kirkuk 1959

She did learn to spit

But only after she had learned
to walk along the craggy garden path
carrying stones on her head.

She was soon able to walk
barefoot back straight head held high
without rattling the stones
in the pan from her mother's scales.

When they grew up
her friends wanted to be nurses
or teachers
or just like their mothers.

She wanted to carry water
in a brass ewer on her head
without spilling a drop.

She wanted to spit
like the men in the suq
leaning against doorways
or drinking small glasses of tea
at wobbly tables
listening to tinny radios
as they took slow drags on their hookahs.

They never carried anything
on their heads
like the women
with their water
and wood
and heaps of fruit
dirty laundry on the way to the river
clean laundry on the way back again.

The men spat
as they talked and drank
and the women walked by
so tall so graceful
their steady gaze leading the way
never dropping a thing.

She did learn to spit
behind the pomegranate bush
at the bottom of the garden
while her mother slept
under a lazy fan
in a darkened room.

She was discovered by her father
who forbade spitting.

But he did allow her to borrow
the pan from her mother's kitchen scales
so she could walk around the garden
balancing stones on her head.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Summer memories 5




  1. Locusts - always the locusts...
  2. Walking around the garden balancing a pan filled with stones on my head
  3. Watching women walk along the street with clothes, food, wood.. balanced on their head.
  4. Men with tweed jackets over the dishdashas feeding their worry beads through their fingers as they sat over chai in the street cafes
  5. Women in purdah, showing only their bejewelled fingers, sailing down the streets like ships in full sail.
  6. All the Iraqi men's sandals looked as if they'd borrowed them from others with larger feet.
  7. A nest of Pi dogs in an abandoned buidling.
  8. The wail of desert jackals at night .
  9. My first taste of halvah.
  10. Date boats drifting down the river.

Summer memories 4

  1. Mothers on the verandah holding sweating glasses of iced coffee to their necks.

  2. Martin Sims and I hiding in the rhodos while the mothers chatted on the verandah - appalled and delighted when we heard one of them say the word 'bosom'

  3. James Menhinnick (he of the handlebar moustache) yelling 'Hold onto your hats' as he drove like a madman across the desert inhis open Jeep.

  4. Popping bubbles in the blacktop with a stick as it melted in the sun

  5. Picnic on the livingroom carpet - hard boiled eggs and gepatti, ginger biscuits and tabouleh salad

  6. A favourite swimsuit with pictures of coloured cigarettes all over it.

  7. The monkey in Karim (the school bus driver)'s mother's house.

  8. Clumps of dried milk powder stuck to the glass
  9. The dark bloom of the Bedu's tents in the far distance
  10. The sound of Fairuz singing from the suq cafe radios

The famed Lebanese singer Fairuz

Summer Memories 3

  1. Toes gripping the rough edge of the diving board
  2. Coke floats
  3. Shopping for weekly candy allowance at the little shop known only as 'The Assyrian's'
  4. Zayah high in the mish mish (apricot) tree, shaking the fruit loose
  5. Watching the movie Pollyanna from an open air rooftop cinema in the middle of town, horns blaring all around
  6. The smell of plastic 'poppa' beads extracted from a box of Tide laundry soap
    'Free necklace included'.
  7. Breaking into the licorice factory through a hole in the wall
  8. Fairy lights strung through the trees for a British Club dance
  9. Running home from a friend's house in a sanstorm with a tea towel wrapped around my face.
  10. Water buffalo being herded past the house from the nearby Shatt al Arab River


    Shatt al Arab River.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Summertime memories 2







Hoopoe

More summertime memories of growing up in Kirkuk and Basra, Iraq

  1. Looking up from supper on the verandah to see a hoopoe in the bushes.
  2. The flurry of coloured rosettes on the wheels of passing bicycles.
  3. The glow of the brazier where the man poured roasted melon seeds and chick peas into paper cones.
  4. Oil flares belching out smoke and fire as we drove across the desert in the dark.
  5. The bitter lemon taste of sumac spice on lamp kebobs that Zayah cooked over a charcoal fire in the courtyard of our house.
  6. The day the locusts came.
  7. Going fishing with Dad in the mountains.
  8. Doing handstands against the classroom wall at school.
  9. A new bangle.
  10. 'Inheriting' my favourite teacher Miss Flintham's teddy bear Edward.
  11. Waiting on the hot tarmac with my fingers threaded through the mesh fence as we waited for my sister Judith to arrive from England.
  12. Steven being told off for talking Pidgin English, rather than Arabic, to the gardener.

Summertime memories

Working on my kids' novel Return of the Summer Fish, very loosely based on spending a number of years in Iraq as a child... combined with a reading I attended last week by Natalie Goldberg, promoting her new book Old Friend From Far Away, and I came up with the idea of brainstorming a list of memories, 10-12 a day all summer (every day felt like summer then - the unending heat, shorts and rubber flip flops, hours spent at the pool, reading in the cool living room after lunch with the fan creaking overhead, a large insect scuttling across the tiled bathroom floor, ice cubes clinking in glasses of iced coffee that the mothers held to their necks as they discussed dressmaking on the verandah...) to write about later, and consider as elements in the story.

Today my list:
  1. A mud-encrusted 45 record of Cathy's Clown found in a dry wadi
  2. The crunch of pomegranate seeds
  3. Warm goat's milk yoghurt in an enamel bowl
  4. The bray of a donkey on an abandoned building site (or maybe that was Cairo, years later)
  5. The muezzin's call at dawn
  6. Standing still while my mother pinned the straps of a new sundress across my sunburned shoulders
  7. Throwing up on that - or a similar - sundress as my mother pinned the straps across my sunburned shoulders
  8. My friends Bethani and Luli's barebottomed baby brother Ahmed getting tangled up in the rope used to tie him to a post of their mud hut
  9. Squatting beside the wheelchair-confined guard at the Coca Cola factory while my brother and he jabbered away at each other in Arabic
  10. The vendor in the suq throwing out a banner of fabric to display a bolt of Swiss cotton to my mother
  11. Black-blistered bread hot from the gasping maw of the clay oven in the suq
  12. Bare feet sweeping the cool floor under the breakfast table.

A typical suq scene

'Iraq Loved & Lost' - my essay in Maclean's magazine 2002 here.