Charleston Was a Rental Property

A friend of mine recently told me that Charleston – the farmhouse where Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell and the rest of the Bloomsbury Lot lived and met, was rented.  It was only bought for them towards the end of their lives.  She said this for my benefit.

We rent.

We have sold our house and don’t want to buy a new one.  We love our house and we are free to be grateful.

Our house is beautiful and slightly shabby, large and oddly organized.  We may not, must not, change a thing here – we may not walk around the house thinking how it might be better or different.  There is no optimum, no ideal house yet to be unravelled from the tangle of this one.  There is only this house here today.

This house is not a reflection of us – it is the house in which we are lucky to find ourselves .

Like our children, like our work, we are not owners we are custodians.  Guardians.  We are looking after this old bird – keeping her warm and happily laying.

Recently, the kids celebrated Harvest at school and they were asked to bring in produce. Tins were to be donated to charity and fresh fruit and vegetables would be sold to raise money for the local Children’s hospital.  So we went into school with two large, heavy bags of grapes and apples, vine leaves with curly strings dragged on the ground.  They were so proud – they had picked this all themselves. I lifted the littlest one up to get apples, they come away so easily at this time of year.  He wants to do the picking.  The windfall is left to me.

The sharing just goes on and on and the kids don’t care that they are part of a chain of beneficence as old as the ground they walk on.



Missing Hat

I have a hat that looks like the friendliest hat in the world – it is large and very furry and although I am not small, and my head really is indisputably large – I disappear in that hat. It is my invisible hat. It holds my head like a perfect comforting hug. A Hugging Hat. A Hat of Love.

Recently I lost it. I dropped it at college and when I retraced my steps – soon after – it had gone. The corridor was suspiciously tidy and I suspected it had ended up in the hands of the cleaner. Whence from there? The cupboard? Lost property? The cleaner’s kid? I asked everywhere but no-one had seen it or handed it in, not then, not the next week. It became the Hat of Legend. In missing it, I conferred on it a weighty significance and thereafter I quietly rued the hurried afternoon when I had dropped it without noticing. My head was cold – no other hat was as kind.

Then long after – the early days of the following winter when it was still warm but the wind carried quiet hints that there was ear-pinching to come – my hat was found.


I received an email from the miraculous Samantha who runs our department, one of those incredible women who have it done before you can ask for it, who remembers what room you booked even if you didn’t book one, who magics time and space out of nothing. She saw a hat and knew, assumed, no, divined it was mine.

It is back.IMG_106

Some people have a gift for knowing and remembering how many sugars you take. Others of us irrationally bestow real significance on items of clothing, and are more often brought tea than make it. It’s not right – but there it is.


Ocean spray at Pebbly Beach

True, the Pacific might be pacific out in the middle of the world there.  It very well might be the featureless, endless, stagnant mill-pond that tortured the ambitious circumnavigator, Magellan and his thirsty, starving crew; but here, it is just noisy.

Crash. Shuck. Heave. It is bloody tireless.

These beaches are beaches that have you shout.

You are twelve (or nine… you’re small) and you have been swimming alone in a combative sea, you could call it “body surfing” but actually you are just fighting to breathe occasionally while the ocean practices casual violence on your freckly body.  At last, you have timed out in the shallow foam, exhausted. You stumble up the beach to flop, shivering, beside the Esky.

You are me.

You didn’t see a shark or a ray today, so that’s something.  They hang around sometimes, at least that’s what your big brother says and he goes out past the head on his board where they are – no touching the bottom there.

Lying on a hot towel, you can hear the sandy world trickle away under your head and the slow march of the Pacific as it throws down on the beach again and now again.  The tall bush around is whispery and cool.  The sun is insistent.

Your little brother is digging nearby and has got up to his waist; he chats continually to himself, and makes explosions occasionally with his spade.  Your sister has gone “back up” for a driving lesson or to make a phone call or sunbake in the carport.

It’s all quiet.  You dig your hands on either side down into the sand there.  It’s almost too hot to touch but you can flick it about a bit.  So that’s you.

Grains of sand can be as large as 2mm, so says the geologist, but I know sand can be so small it is actually dust – to a geologist, this is silt.  Silt is a clogger, a blocker, a temporary but effective geographical constipator.  This sand is barely coarse enough to make a gritty noise in the fingers, though it squeaks a little under pressure.

Later, much, much later – and if I told you, you wouldn’t believe how long you are to live before you touch snow – you will discover that snow makes the same squeak. It is the noise of holiday.  And sand – whether it is in shoes, the bed, sandwiches or between toes – is geology made summer.

On the other side of the Esky is my Dad, asleep.  He has nine toes because one of the outside ones got chopped off by a mower when he was little.  He has hairy nostrils and ears and, now they are older, so do my brothers.  He wears a tie in the garage and calls my Grandfather, his Father-in-law, Mr.  He is very good at fixing and making things.  In fact he is a regular Joseph in the shed. He was born on the land. He should have been a farmer.

In Australia in 1970 the aboriginal gets to vote – the truth is he was allowed to vote way before even any white woman – but no-one told him and he had no means of knowing.  In 1970 it was at last made more than theoretically possible. 1970!  That’s two years after the hourglass of my life was upturned.  I felt hot with shame and anger when I learned that, reading John Pilger like a hungry person, many years after I left the country.

At the beach and the poolside Dad wears a pair of speedos that have been in the wash too often; they are bobbly and have a little skirt which is supposed to hide his cock.  He sleeps on the beach with his arms folded under his head in the pose of that famous photo: The Swimmer.

Sand is, let me generalise, silica (SiO2) and has a “glass melting point” of over 2300 degrees C.  I try to explain to my kids that that is more fire than we could possibly make.  No window is going to magically appear on the beach floor after we have swept away our barbeque.

And that’s us, we are all lying around variously in heat serious enough to affect our eyesight, but we are all of us, and maybe we get it from my Dad, a long way and probably always will be, from glass melting point.