One ink drawing by Laura Morgans, one piece of writing by Tom Spooner, every day in October.
A bright buttercup yellow cassette rests on the green grass in front of an abandoned brick shelter in the corner of the Old Town rec.
To the left of the building, over the fence, is a concrete circle where the Witch’s Hat once stood. It had been dangerous – a whirling, clunking playground death trap. It was my distant childhood, gone now for many years.
The woozy giddying melodies contained on that yellow cassette were a taster of an adult world that I was only just beginning to sense, not yet to experience. It was sex and intoxication and yearning and freedom and all-consuming exhilarating emotion.
There I was, lying on the grass, teetering between childhood and adulthood, with a bright buttercup yellow cassette, waiting for it to begin.
Let me take you on a journey back in time – it’s quite a journey, millennia in fact, and it spans thousands of miles. Ready? Good. Here we go.
That wasn’t so bad, was it?
You are stood on the edge of a great lake. You look down and catch a glimpse of your reflection. You are taken aback. Your hair is wild, your eyes wide and you can see in the sky above several giant pterodactyl circling. A few seconds go by. You become aware of the noise, a cacophony of squawks, roars, screeches and the thunderous pounding of feet.
Although you are nervous, you start to look around you. Where you would usually see cars, buses, buildings, people going about their business, you see dinosaurs. Some of these enormous creatures you recognise from the books you read as a child yet they look so different. You are overwhelmed at just how real their flesh is. It has pores and flexes and shifts as unknown organs work away inside. It even glistens.
One particular dinosaur catches your eye – a diplodocus. In excitement you cry out – dippp-lo-do-cusss. Before you have a chance to remember that they are herbivores, it eats you whole.
On the Art of Blackberry Picking
The first and only rule of blackberry picking is that the berry must be picked from above pissing height. My dad taught me this as a young child, just like his father had taught him many years before. How you interpret this rule is another matter altogether. Whose piss are we talking about? A dog out for a walk? A cow absent-mindedly relieving herself? A horse recovering from a trot? The obvious benchmark is of course a human.
When I pick blackberries, I pick above the height achieved by a tall man pissing in an excitable arc. The kind of liberated wave of a willy that comes from a couple of pints of a mild in a country pub and the feel of a breeze on the end of one’s todger.
Now the blackberries, although free from piss, still might not taste good. Yet, let it be known, there is no such thing as a bad blackberry. Some are tough, taught sacks of juice, recalling frozen supermarket apple and blackberry crumbles. Sometimes the berry is sharp, sometimes it is overripe, other times anaemic. Sometimes though it is sweet and delicious perfection popping in your mouth. That’s the joy. That’s the game.
Blackberries can also come booby-trapped. There are two common types of blackberry booby trap that you may encounter in the English countryside.
One – the blackberry itself is rigged. It is set to explode as soon as you apply any pressure – BANG – the bugger goes off , spreading purple the length of your arm in a nano-second.
Two – this trap is no less sophisticated but a whole lot more painful. It involves the strategic arrangement of several minor berries, branches, leaves and one plump inviting prize-winning berry. You reach for the prize, of course you do, but in doing so you over-extend and teeter close to falling. You reach further still and grab it – you actually have the berry off the branch.As you withdraw it – bugger and darnation – three carefully concealed thorns bury themselves deep into your finger and thumb. And there you have it, the ecstasy and the agony of blackberry picking.
Jonathan Safron Foer stood at the top of Dolebury Warren – an Iron Age hill fort in the Mendips – and surveyed the vista. He could see the Bristol Channel with its two islands Steep Holm and Flat Holm. Beyond that he could make out the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons. The famous author liked what he saw – “it’s generative,” he remarked to no-one in particular although one black and one white sheep appeared to take note. Jonathan allowed his lungs to fill with crisp Mendipian air, inflating to the size of two giant kidney beans. It felt good to be here.
The next day Jonathan Safron Foer sat at the front of the Bath United Reform church in an uncomfortable high-backed chair. The raised pulpit loomed behind him and behind that, looming greater still, were the thirty gleaming pipes of an organ. He tried to fill his lungs, but the air in the church was stale, heated over-enthusiastically by archaic radiators. His lungs did not so much inflate as stay the same exact size and slump moodily. They were the size, or so it felt, of two normal-sized kidney beans.
Jonathan told an anecdote about dropping his children off at school on his way to the airport and asking them to consider the strangeness of his imminent trip across the Atlantic where he would read from a book that he had written in his red chair in the dining room alone. Wasn’t it odd to then imagine people in England taking his book home to read it alone in their equivalent of his red chair? It was a process as intimate and meaningful as love, he told the church. He was unsure at that moment if he meant it, but it had come out of his mouth all the same. He longed for another fill of that Mendipian air so he could once again be certain of what he believed.
The first time I went to the cinema, it was to see Bambi. This may be a lie. The second time I went to the cinema, perhaps the first, was to see Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. My cousin drove us there in a red sports car and parked it illegally in an alleyway.
The cinema is now a Wetherspoons. My cousin no longer has a sports car and I imagine is altogether more responsible when parking. I still remember an ant crawling out from inside the hollow of a Lego brick but this doesn’t happen in the film. The third film I saw at the cinema was not memorable.
The Lady of the Sea
There is a stone jetty that extends like a beckoning finger into the Irish sea. Children visit it when they reach the age of four in order to speak to the lady of the sea. The visit does not take long, but it determines the entire course of the child’s life.
The lady that waits for them at the end of the jetty is ten feet tall and always surrounded in sparkling beads of mist that hang suspended like pearls. She has no face, no discernible features, but her hair flows around her as tumultuous as a stormy sea, as iridescent and tranquil as a millpond.
Nobody remembers when she first appeared. The villagers could not recall a time when she wasn’t stood at the end of the stone jetty facing the sea. If you were anything other than a child of four and you set so much as a foot on the jetty, then a wave would appear from nowhere and knock you off of your feet.
When the child approached they always did so with complete calm. They moved towards her as if gliding on rails. When they reached her, they would ask one question – always the same four words –
“What will it be?”
There were two responses only. The child would either find themselves blinded momentarily by a brilliant flash of light or they would be soaked head to toe in salty water that flowed from the void where her face should be.
The child that saw the light would go off to work the fields, digging for zinc in the topsoil until they grew tall and broad enough to head down the mines.
Those children that received the water would become fishermen and women, spending treacherous nights out at sea catching fish to feed the village. The lady of the sea would make sure they made it home safely by dawn. Unless, of course, she felt hungry.
Click through for part one of Inktober.