This is the second part of a series of freewrites I did from Margret Geraghty’s excellent prompts book The Five Minute Writer (2009). This was one of my favourite exercises, and it goes like this:
The British Council recently did a survey about what the most beautiful words were, in the English language. Voters in 46 countries, over 40,000 of them. The top 3 were: mother, passion, and smile. (No chocolate, shock!) Something universal here.
Pick one word from the British Council’s Top 20 and freewrite for 5 minutes. I did that in the first part of this series - with all the words!
Then make own list and do the same. So here’s the beginning of my list (its lonnnnnng, so I thought I’d break it up in the posting of)…
My own list of beautiful words:
The saying really goes – all that glisters is not gold. But glisters, doesn’t really roll off the tongue; and glisters – its like a combination of blisters and glanders…glanders being that horrible (horse?) disease that is communicable to humans that looks awful, should terrorists ever get their hands on it, that I saw in the Museum of London oh so long ago, back when life made a lot more sense than it oh so faintly currently does. So, glitter. I love the word, and to me its sequins and stars and scratching glitter: the glitter you do projects with as a child. Back, again, when life made sense – when getting approval for a project, colouring neatly in the lines, were all the real issues I had. There’s something cruel in it as well though, something about an evil glitter in the eye of someone out to do you harm. A malignancy that lingers after the gaze has gone. It’s another one of those doubled words, loaded and ready to fire – duck or take the hit? You’ll be pretty, and wounded, no doubt.
Now, sparkle is to do with children in ballet tutus doing ‘the butterfly’ across a chilly gymnasium in school; that smell of chalkiness and rubber in these rooms – lingering school dinner. There’s little tiaras and ice skating skirts that you get after a few badges (mine was a thick warm orange brushed cotton skirt) and a little row of sequins will be sewn all around by your mother, to make it feel more special. This word is all white and pale pink, and thinks of fairies and princesses and an old fashioned world that had Disney in it, in the 40s, like Sleeping Beauty – even though the colours in that were very vivid and not at all airy and pastel…sparkle is a gentle word.
This is the sound of monks at evensong far in the distance, where I sit quietly on a weekend retreat, in a different room. There’s a bare wooden table, and it’s been scrubbed so many times it shines, but softly, almost matte. It smells of frankincense and lavender, faintly. There is total silence in the room, apart from the sound of the monks singing in the distance, their voices raising and falling. The sounds of grass moving in a light breeze. The door is open to the garden. I sit at the table, my forearms resting on the top, palms flat and fingers spread. I sit there, breathing evenly and quietly. I just listen. I feel the heat of the dying sun on my arms and hands. I see each hair picked out. I feel peaceful, and nothing much is bothering me in this instant. I wait, for nothing. For this moment to be over, for this feeling to pass. I have waited over an hour so far. A squirrel darts outside, holding something, but he’s gone so quick I can’t see – just an ululation past me and gone. I resume waiting, that dart of energy past. It is all good, all well. If this moment would last forever…
This is suddenly underwater, in a swimming pool. Where you blink and feel the chlorine slightly annoying your eyes. The blueness stretches out before you, and off to the sides you can see your hair fanning out. This is a patch at the end of my nan’s garden, when I was small, when I used to lie flat and no one could see me, and catch grasshoppers. I would hold them very gently and carefully, by their back legs, and observed so many different kinds. Then they would leap away again. I would be covered in tiny bites when I came in for my toast and jam on perfectly cut triangles, that nan used to make me. My mum would have left earlier. I would cry if I saw her go; whereas if she just left when I didn’t see and was playing, I wouldn’t mind. It was as if she was in the next room.
This is Fluffhead running about the garden with a small bucket, slopping water out of the sides, saying “My turn! My turn!” Stanley has a large garden dustbin, originally silver looking but now stained brown at the bottom, where he is slotting in bits of old branch from the woodpile. We are having a bonfire, but it’s over now. He stands there in his hat and tall stick (looking a bit Magelike, Lord of the Fire), prodding it, tamping it down with bits of water, making sure its safe before we all go back inside, smelling of ash and hotness. All the clothes will need to be washed. “My turn! My turn!” yells Fluffhead, and we have to carefully make sure he doesn’t touch the metal edges of the dustbin, still so hot, as he pours in his bit of water and sees the white smoke plume up all clean looking, and hears the HISSSSSS of the fire turning to lightest grey ash. Water covers, water cleans, water takes the smoke from your throat…5 minutes later, while Stanley is still busy tamping down the fire, and I am in the loo upstairs, Fluffhead floods the outhouse. Water is messy, and soggy and things get smelly when they are moulding because they are carpet and you can’t get it up off the floor of the outhouse. Whoever put carpet in an outhouse anyway? This is rentals for you. This is water for you.
Is this the birds in the air, meeting far above the fields or the sea? Is it the hooded strangers, converging like geometry on the Long Man, a long time ago? Is it a brood of angry men, outside a pit or a factory, seething and bubbling, waiting for their target? Is it my hands, sweeping all the beads together carefully, when they fell off my green bracelet, on the table in the sun? The little green misshapen beads that rattled off everywhere? I felt so sad, knowing they were so small I’d never be able to restring them or even find them all. When we moved house I’m sure the new renters spent months finding the tiny green beads everywhere, caught in soles of shoes, tramped through the whole house. Is it the cat walking over Stanley and I, where we are draped in pack on the sofa, and trying to manage it so that we are both close enough together so she can sit on both of us simultaneously? I support her head, and Stanley supports her body. She lays heavy against us, her body warm under the fur.
This is April, this is March, this is birdsong from dripping trees, on a walk I remember taking, somewhere in the countryside. I am a 6 or 7 year old, and I stomp in puddles in my green wellies with little pink flowers snaking up the sides. I am happy and frothy with joy as I sput sput in the puddles, my little hands fisted. My mum is there somewhere in the background, and in the hedgerows that are nearby, badgers wake to see what on earth the noise is, vibrating through the ground. The earth is getting sodden, and when I stop bending over to retrieve worms and put them carefully on the side of the path, the drops beat almost a rhythm against my rain hat – yellow and plastic and loud. Fluffhead is just like me, in the rainstorm earlier today, he stomped through the garden, spraying up mud from where Stanley had been digging furrows in the earth to put the fire ash. Fluffhead wheels and laughs and his red and blue wellies are streaked and pocked with wet mud and dried mud. His little stripy Thomas the Tank Engine jacket is sodden, as he flings himself on the grass again. Then: “worm!”, and he gets up in slow motion, carefully cradling it in his two hands as it writhes, covered in bits of earth. He puts it gently to the side in the hedge. Then runs off, stomping the mud again. The sun cuts through the clouds and shears a whole section of the garden glitter and sparkle. When he hurtles yelling through it he’s a streak of bright light and gone.
This is a picture on a million computer wallpapers, on a million dreamers computers through the land. It’s a forest and it has a stream flashing through it, moving quite quickly – its more of a babbling brook. The photography that has caught it has caught the froth of the water, the dazed hazy quality of it spitting as it goes, brushing up against rocks and pebbles. Its sense of force makes it almost not a stream. But in other parts of the picture, the water is clear and almost serene, and you can see pebbles at the bottom. A million of us watching, yet have not enough will – or we would all be in the picture, with the strength of our wishing. Bent forward, picking out the details, a hundred times, over days and over weeks. And still here. Here, in the airless office, still tapping and still with that nagging pain in our shoulders and lower back. Still with the need for a nap. But still…it rushes and burbles, and bathes it way in the gentler parts, down through the forest and out to the clearing, and past the old farmhouse, where in my dreams, I rest, today. Oh. I rest, on a bed made soft with pillows and sheets that are so old and well washed. They smell clean and of country air, and I lay on that bed, watching the whitewashed ceiling and seeing the tree outside the window, and I hear the stream, and I long. Part of me is there, and not here. It’s the miracle of bi-location. A game to play to pass the endless time while I am imprisoned here. In the gilded cage where there are coffee machines, and I have an anti-glare screen, and a lunch hour that will just not come soon enough today.
This is time, moving while I am at work. It is slithering on its belly, fat from someone else’s indolent eating of berries and fish. It is full, and it sees no rush. It creeps towards me on forearms, dragging its leaden legs, and when I watch it, it doesn’t seem to move at all. It’s a long time, this time. This time of life when I am at the desk. Am I paying some sort of dues, for all those years I stayed at home? Is this the penance for all the walks I took in the sun? All the times I had coffee and sandwiches with a friend? Lectures at galleries? Wonderful, decadent naps in the afternoons? I remember when I first stopped working in 2001, for five years it turned out in the end (there was a good reason), and when it took me many months to stop timing my days by – ‘if I was at work now, I would be…’ and being honestly amazed and oh so thankful, that I wasn’t doing any of those things. It took me over a year, before I felt calmed down, before I truly released stress of time clocked days and other people’s demands. Softly is the word I use for gradual, and quiet and gentle, in stories. I use it a lot, I like softly, I like the world of softly. Mostly.
This is blue and orange and white, and I don’t know why. Maybe it’s a bouncy ball, and we are playing catch on the beach. Which beach, and with who? I would be unlikely to be playing catch, as I don’t play well with others – if I miss the ball and they tease me, I am likely to cry and feel slighted and mocked. I feel ungainly and uncoordinated and unready. Maybe it’s some other time, when I lost consciousness of myself somehow; when I saw the ball move against the cliffs and bounce off the wet, tan sand, deeply coloured in the light of 3 O’ clock in the afternoon. My hands reached up for it, and I caught it and squeezed – its one of those balls today we would call ‘stress relieving’ its rubber is almost entirely firm, but not quite. I catch and squeeze and feel the satisfyingness of that. Over to the side, there is a picnic. A proper hamper, and lots of glistening food on plates – its maybe du pain, du vin, du boursin; that sort of picnic; an advert picnic. Perhaps I’m even in Paris.
Precious is time, and my unwieldy panicking over how best to use it. Precious is half an hour sometimes, and a ‘to do’ list in my head that I imagine will make me feel better about any imprisonment. Which is strange, as I know I am equally scared of freedom – since a vast acreage of time often sends me into a total panic as well. Sometimes I squall mentally to be tied down, sometimes I just get bored of the whole exercise and call Fry and speak to him for 50 minutes. The time passes at all my jobs and some days of childcare, with the weight of a stone – a huge megalith, that I am trying to push. Then at home on my days off it passes with the lack of grace of a drunken schoolgirl in high heels. It talks too much, dresses inappropriately, crashes and scrapes itself. And passes out.