Coasts

Heading out, jacketed and scarved against the cold, the November light teased, oddly bright. No wind to blight the outing. Footfall on pavement, the oncoming strollers, some masked, skirted by. In other plagues, carts and bells had clopped by: this time, it was silent in the time of the corona. Hill walk breathed fresh sea air and then, in sight, the sea-line towards France. A straight horizon – a trick of the eye – between sea and sky, clouds above had caught the light, no doubt seen by fishermen, specks on the blue. Other visitors, other coasts, far to the south, oceans away, a memory of when we had sweltered. The harbour below hummed in the Durban heat; we were barbecuing in a nineties November, sea salt air lightly dusted, – just wait for December – chased by a lager and conversations that had put the world to rights.

© Rick Frame


Kabete

Kabete red-earth days.  It was like an idyll. Long days rolled into each other; languid days, unconscious of how the winds of change were blowing ever harder, through the Rift Valley and the Highlands, picture-perfect beach holidays of white sands, empty except the occasional dhow bringing the daily catch. These were the sun-felt days, palm-lined in memory. Blissful growing up, journeying outwards, eventually very much aware of how my mind had been colonised in a superiority that – thank goodness – now has been tossed into the rubbish bin of history. Ever grateful for the rescue, I catch a glimpse of these days in the playbook, horrified – how the nostalgia is a narcotic for those who were never there but read, second or third hand, in adventure books telling the lie of a people’s greatness.

© Rick Frame


Notices

Water-coloured sky-lined streets, abandoned tree trunk stubbles and falling branches. This autumn the greens are more noticeable. Dogs in red jumpers, morning walkers get the measure of the wind. A coffee at the Bistro provides some relief in the cold. Stopping by has helped, no longer fitting weeks into days where, looking back, everything is a blurred landscape of lists of things to do. Pacing out winter, the sun on the hill crouches, not quite risen, waiting, aware of its skinny light legs. Far to the south, the full face of the earth feels a different kind of warmth, filling verandas at breakfast time.

© Rick Frame


Untangled

Light strolled in. A stranger lately, but with new insights. Ever so casual, I almost saw a shrug. The sky, despite this, had a beauty, a felt presence. It is the way the cloud meshes with it, allowing a shade, an edge. All of us needs some of the darker touch as a kind of untangling and a reminder of a promise. An escape, an embrace, a commencement of the day travelling into the unknown, like prospectors finding more than diamonds.

© Rick Frame


Listening

It is odd – how a memory long forgotten is drawn open. Last night, restless in strange dreams, I awoke. The dream still hangs around but other thoughts came to me. I was a child. It was, because of my age, I imagine, Dar es Salaam. We were in a church. My Irish granny was there. She often used to get the giggles in the soft lilt of Armagh. I thought then it weird to be singing into the unknown, praising someone whom we could not see, people mumbling prayers into the pews, my mother in full voice. Well our feeble frame he knows. It came to me: I remembered I did not believe. Only later: a conviction that there is a mystery, some wisdom, something cosmically bigger than me. Where we begin though there is suffering. We will never change the fact that being human is hard, but we can change our mind that it is supposed to be easy. I have had my Damascene moments. Maybe Jesus barbecued on the water’s edge with his fisher buddies; the other path leading to the man who sat under the tree, joining hearts and minds, breathing, pulling the wandering mind back. That suffering is not the end of the story: with love and compassion, let yourself listen and listen deeply. Listen with the heart. Listen for voices not shouting be heard.* It is like hanging a lantern, even in the dark places.

Reference to suffering inspired by Jack Kornfield.

* Krista Tippett, Becoming Wise

© Rick Frame


Season

It was the day the pigeons came. They breakfasted on the lawn, an acquired taste. It was a very cool bunch of birds, just picking away, entirely focused. Oblivious really. What it is to have a one-tracked mind. There were over twenty, spread out, in a world of their own. They left as suddenly as they had arrived, other worms nearby slumbering, unconscious of their plight. I had wondered out loud which one had signalled to bird traffic control. The unison was quite remarkable. I had sat here, with my coffee, railing, having woken to the daily dread of bad news. The delusional court jester as dysfunctional as ever and the false hope of a reset. The hung over clouds had not helped either. Like winter had parked, making itself felt on a northerly wind. It took an act to have changed the direction of the moment. The act of cheering up, a reminder to be grateful: we had received a video message – the boy, just three, he had read a story, entirely memorised – We found the hat. We found it together. I longed, at that moment, for a journey to Chester, a hope for a cuddle and a reunion. Reading together again, I am dreaming I have a hat. The change had occurred: the light had entered, a return to gratitude. For the warmth inside, the simple pleasure with you – no need ever to rush, you say – of a breakfast of boiled eggs and marmalade toast, and an new understanding that the cold wind had its own season.

© Rick Frame


Heat

It is the relentlessness that gets to you. Crowded out by heavy cloud and a cold wind, a bleak time, locked down. It signals failure that we have got to this. At times like this, thoughts go back to wide open spaces and naturally to tent walls. Like the time we camped in Berrias-et-Casteljau. The attraction of parking off in the middle of a wine farm appealed. All too soon, disappointment: how we were all so close to the others, their deep snores, like mine, in the morning heat, the compensation initially of sun hardly in short supply. Retreating to the river, a quick dip, like a warm bath. Dragonflies hovering just above the waterline, their only escape and insects dive bombing like teenagers at a pool party. We dry in an instant in the heat, seated in the breathless shade. In the end we were closed in sky high heat, the only recourse to travel for hours, air-conditioned luxury, taking in the countryside, listening to podcasts and some warnings of history. What it is to be well-informed about demagogues. In lighter mood, you plotted a scenic route out and we left early to journey east, wiser now about the heat and dust of the Ardeche, I suspect never to return.

© Rick Frame


Snatched

Bird wing, sky flap. The countryside of small dwellings, the distance between towns forever. Thorn trees and rocks kept company. The hills, there in the east, blue under the sun-scorch. It was December after all. Red leather stuck to white legs, the black Zephyr glided northwards. Children ran to wave and we waved back. Their minds colonised like ours. The road’s ghosts shimmered in the distance. Or did they dance? There was silence, the odd comment, a landmark in this country – ever since – that has taken up squatter rights. Tired from the long journey that had a new meaning. It was a going backwards really. A claim only to keep back the tide of history, headlong into the wind of change. Going against the grain for a lost cause. Pumped up, brainwashed. We are a courageous people. The nonsense we then believed. My English settler grandmother had forded rivers, now bridged, built on the Black backs of tough labour. We arrived in the one horse town, chimney-stacked, – one of my first memories – a birth place now a century ago. The hotel with its coke and snack embraced, satiating hollow legs. I had woken earlier, urged to remember. Lost memories snatched before noon.

© Rick Frame


Refuge

I don’t know why I am surprised by the wintry dull day that sits close to the sky. It happens every year in November. The month of the dog. The light is squeezed. Like a large hand has wrung it out of the day. I can’t believe how I used to take light for granted, growing up in Africa: you just expected it to be there of a morning. Bright and early, sunshine superman. Maybe not that – sunshine superwoman making it all more up to date. Sometimes at five in the evening there would be a thunderstorm and drench time – a hard rain cooling everything down – the evening would usually end up dry. Twilight never dragged and the night insects couldn’t wait to soundtrack the night. Back to the present, to the now, thousands of miles away to the cold north, this year seems so different. If feels existential and sombre. The general exhaustion of all that is being dished up to us. Is it how the damp earth and the infuriating wind is all the gloomier in the cabin fevered life of the lockdown or is it the general madness and uncertainty? The wiser words – put that aside – there is a refuge – and seize the impermanence and celebrate the not knowing.

© Rick Frame


Thriller

The first sun of the afternoon scraped through the remaining rain. In Africa it signs a monkeys’ wedding. Those strange days of rain and sun in a contest. When the light wins, it is the primates’ betrothal. I had been reading one of those books you can’t put down but have to, every now and then, to catch your breath. You can feel something sinister in the air. This was not my usual diet but somehow the book review had said something that appealed and, within days, it came through the post. It was a thriller: end of life as we know it. Close by, looking out, the wind had begun to pick up the grass, catching a glistening, and a magpie had waddled into view. It walked like it was wearing trousers that were too big. I had marvelled how it was able to stop and turn its head onto its back and with its beak, have a good old scratch. If my head were that dexterous, I thought, the door frame would quickly become redundant. In my reverie of alternative backscratchers, the breeze had changed and gusts had ended the peace of the afternoon. The noise filled the moment. The eerie feeling of the story a little scary. Eyes wide shut – I find this the most difficult to bear – because something had happened to the children, lost in the woods.

© Rick Frame