Her mother threw birthday parties on rationing cards, dressed three children in the living room curtains, and sent them to bed with a kiss on the forehead. Her father lived only in the stories, the captain that went down with his ship, the war hero.
Sixteen years later she stepped ashore where her father set sail, trying steps after crossing the ocean that took him, three dresses and a Bible in a tattered suitcase. Governess by day, she told tales of foreign forests before sending new children off with a forehead kiss, Lady in the evenings, at Dr Flemming’s dinner parties, keeping her kisses to her chest like cards.
When the words for hands and home and country were of no use anymore, they slowly slipped away.
Sixty years later, I get off the plane in the country she no longer remembers. Her memories are smoke signals no one can read, but I look to the sky to try anyway.
When I reach the sea, I put my hand in the water, I feel the cold against my skin, how it circles my fingers, my palm.
In a pocket with fraying edges I’ve still got her rationing card.
Nope, it’s most definitely not January, but January might as well have been yesterday. This year is flying by, and I’m both here for it and a little bit worried about it. June’s brought music, it’s brought people, sunny weather and moments I’ve never experienced before. I spent the beginning of June working at the cathedral, the middle of June “holidaying” at home with cups of tea and read-for-joy books, and on the last day of June, my sister had her baby boy and I got to say hello to my little nephew. He was born at 04:35 am, and we got to come meet him at 2 pm. I’ve never seen so small and “new” a baby before, but he was absolutely wonderful. June was also the month I registered my little business, and now I’m officially self-employed in my own one-woman-company that deals with text production, copywriting and translation. What a crazy month.
So, in bullet points, June has consisted of:
Getting all my exam marks back
Having my last day before summer at the cathedral-job
Having my first day of summer at the library-job
Starting up my own little company
Sleepovers and lazy breakfasts with friends
Saying goodbye to a lot of wonderful study friends that are going away on uni exchanges next year
Setting up a summer reading list
Sending 13 postcards through PostCrossing
Making a lot of tea
Getting completely and utterly obsessed with the new Good Omens mini series
Meeting my nephew for the first time
I hope June’s been kind to you, and I’m excited to see what July brings! It’s going to be a good one this year, I can feel it.
I work in a cathedral; I translate and interpret, and function as a guide during the tourist season.
I am not a Christian, but no doubt do I work in someone’s place of worship, and there is something quietly comforting about that. As I wash the pews – soap, water, tools to remove old chewed up gum – maybe left there by bored kids on a Sunday that dragged on – from even older wood, someone is lighting candles for a family they hope to see again soon. While I’m relaying interesting facts to tourists, about the spire that went missing in ’45 and how all Norwegian churches don models of ships, someone is sat quietly in mourning. As I refill the oil lamps in the candles on the altar, I think about how I’m lighting the fire that someone may find their God in today. It is a privilege to work in a place that can bring people peace.
As I find myself in this church for eight hours a day, it is easy to forget the holiness the people that visit will bring to these walls, the wooden domed ceiling, the stained glass windows of old. But for eight hours every day, I get to be a part of people’s journeys. I see them enter through the oak doors, and as the church room reveals itself, I see their reactions; as varied as the people.
Some cross themselves, some take pictures for the annual family holiday album, some just stand. Quietly. Some people enter this room that I put on my uniform and go to work in everyday, and they have to take a second to breathe before they enter.
I’m grateful to be working in this building, with its doors wide open to a bustling city, and centuries of life lived and years passed visible in the wear on the rugged stone steps.Church bells tell me when another day has passed, and on the daily I handle artefacts that have existed more than 200 years longer than I have. Everyday, I work accompanied by organ music, from more than 4000 pipes. This building isn’t just holy because a religion says it is, its holiness lies in its history, in the people who sought refuge in its halls, in the music and the songs that have seeped through the doors and out into the city for generations. It is holy for the children who sees the aisle as too long a straight stretch not to race down, and for the older generations who made these pews their home when they were still so young that their parents braided their hair at night.
This place is holy because of the woman that comes in everyday. The woman who walks quietly in and lights four candles in a little cluster, where others normally just light one. She lights them like a family holding around each other, flickering together.
I’m not a Christian, but no doubt I’m working in a holy place.
I swim through quiet waves of evening, enveloped by lazy currents. I am not afraid of the water.
As a swallow graces the surface, droplets falling from its wing, I think of all the lives lived by this fjord before me. Women wrapping their shawls tighter around themselves, waiting for sails on the horizon, for fathers, for brothers, for husbands to come home.
Young boys who went to sea, much like I went to university, clenched fists and starry night-eyes, who learnt that nothing can quell an unforgiving ocean, not even the children who challenged the shallow shores, those who never returned to their mothers’ lullabies.
Their stories are in every rock, in every seashell. in every tide that swallows the docks. Stories of islanders who read tomorrow in the skies, who knew that red clouds predicted weary storms the type that could orphan their children and starve their homes.
The water still cradles me, there is salt in my ears, my hair flows like jelly fish tendrils around my shoulders. I have no doubt that all the souls lost at sea, the stories and the children and the ocean are resting in these waters.
I’m turning 23 and I’m not entirely sure what that means yet. I’m aware it won’t mean that I’ll wake up taller, wiser or more confident. I know your birthday is just a symbolic notion and that what helps you grow are all the days in between. However, like with New Year’s Resolutions, maybe birthdays can function as a day of reflection, a definite marker of another year passing. Not for everyone and not for the world, but in your very own timeline. What have you learnt since your last birthday? What have you figured out? What new people have you met, and what new paths have you travelled down?
To “celebrate” that today is my last day as 22, I’m posting this little video. It is a poem I wrote for the OctPoWriMo challenge, last year, about all the things I’d love to tell myself at 16. In the original post I wrote “this took a long time to get right, but I didn’t want to post it before I was happy with it. Felt like I owed 16 year old me that much.”
Filmed in my bed, with a comfy shirt on and a cup of tea waiting. It felt fitting to post this on my last day of being 22, as a symbol of all the things I’ve finally figured out, and of all the things I’ve yet to learn.
It’s a Sunday morning, and I’m in bed with a cup of tea.
My Norwegian Language and Text book is laying discarded on the floor. I’ll pick it up in a moment, I think, I just need to sit here a little longer. Slowly, tired hands reach for all the notions I take for granted when I speak, notions I’ve now worked to put names and categories and theories to.
Learning the in depth grammar of your own language is a strange experience. Suddenly you start to question the syntactic structure of every sentence before it leaves your lips. No words are uttered without scrutinising and analysing their semantic meaning, and you start to think about the oddities of the language you grew up with.
One part of me isn’t too sure about all this “thinking”. It wants to keep the intuition of language alive, wants me to not think too hard about anything, really. Another part of me loves it. It feels like mindfullness, like I don’t take any words for granted any more, like I’m actively appreciating every sentence.
Cliched and a little pompous, I know. But for the last 5 years, I’ve been so caught up in “perfecting” my English, so adamant to drop my accent, to never have to stop to look for the right words, that I feel like I’ve neglected Norwegian a bit. Like I’ve shoved her to the back of my mind, given her a ragged blanket and said “I’ll be back for you in a second,” only to forget about her as her tea has gone cold. But now, as I’m revising for this last exam of this degree’s first year, I’m gently untangling the cobwebs from her hair. I’m taking the cup from her hands, refilling it with piping hot tea, and giving her blanket a good airing out.
Norwegian is the language in which my grandmothers sang me lullabies, and my parents wished me luck before every first day of school. I wrote my first stories in her, and read my first books. When something shiny and new came along, I neglected her for a while, thinking this new language was so much prettier, much more interesting and useful, but studying the science behind how she works as a language, has really made me appreciate her again.
The last couple of weeks have been intense, stressful and honestly really nice. The study group have gotten together to exam-revise, and we’ve made sense of a lot of confusion. We’ve read, we’ve asked questions, we’ve done our best. Copious amounts of tea have been consumed, we’ve bickered and gotten frustrated, but we’ve also left with more questions answered than asked. Throughout this year together, we’ve taken on British and American politics, international communication, English language history, a lot of in depth grammar and linguistics; all things we knew embarrassingly little about before starting this course. Now we know a lot and I’m proud of us.
And so when I take my Norwegian exam tomorrow, I may stumble over some questions, because Norwegian is a stubborn language, and with her tongue stuck out, I think she wants to get back at me for leaving her in her corner for so long. I may mess up some verb forms, some tempus and modus-conjugation, maybe confuse “konjunktiv” for “indikativ” or something else with a complicated name. But that’s okay, cause I’ve finally caught up with my language again, and from now on, I’ll make sure we won’t grow apart.
I think I built you, formed you and designed you, drew you with green sharpie and the bricks of my pillow fort, sculpted you from cheap coffee and H&M basics, moulded you from a year’s worth of lazy Wednesday mornings, desperate for something to be mine.