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.
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 am not a song writer, but I appreciate the ease with which well-written lyrics can fall off your tongue. During the second year of my creative writing degree, I got to experiment with a module that focused on song writing, and while not strictly my “thing”, I did really enjoy it.
This song was written in 2017, as part of that module, to the melody of First Day of My Life by Bright Eyes. It is supposed to illustrate all the small things that make up your perception of someone you love, all the small things you never thought of as special until you started associating them with your person. It is also about how even though a relationship may start off all exciting, like “fireworks and circus nights”, the safety and the comfort of the years may shape it into “October stars and Saturdays, and peppermint and quiet snow”, a quiet sort of every-day love.
Verse: This is a story about a boy, Who wished on cardamom and tea cups. He wondered the world without a map smelled like the city, danced like rain.
I got to hold him for one night, Strawberry breath and chilli chocolate. Thought I knew how to give him everything, Now I know I don’t know what that is.
Chorus: But I have learnt that I was wrong. You’re not the fireworks and circus shows I made you up as, no. You are October stars and Saturdays And peppermint And quiet snow oh oh.
Verse: If I could hold you one more time, I want to hear all of your stories. About rhubarb and sugar and blueberry jam And how it came to become you.
Talk about silver in your hair, And promises both held and broken. about choices and beauty and bitterness, and how we will grow old one day.
Chorus 2: I don’t want fireworks and circus nights, But blankets, slippers, plastic glasses, pillow forts and snowball fights. You are October stars and Saturdays and knowing it will be alright.
Oh oh oh.
A fun little experiment, where I tried my hands at something I very rarely do. I hope you’re having a wonderful day! -Andrea
The goal among the international students at my uni was to completely drop our accents to sound like we’d grown up with English birthday songs and ice cream floats.
We wanted to be able to go to any bar, to order any coffee and keep any conversation going for however long a time, only to be able to slip in an “oh, I’m not from England, actually” and watch peoples’ surprise.
We worked so hard to lose our accents, the sound of what we thought was “not enough practice”, not good enough.
Oh, how wrong we were.
Accents are identity just as much as names and clothes and the street corners you crossed on your way to school Your accent’s where you’ve come from, the journey to where you are now, it shows the world you dared to try.
Your accent is your family traditions, the lessons of your mum’s lullabies, the laundry songs of your house, a grandma’s lap, and the courage it took to get on that plane alone.
Your accent is a road map of the people you care about, those who took the time to sit with you while you were learning, who let you spin wonders of the words you didn’t understand and didn’t mind you trying on their pronunciations for size.
Your accent is your home away from home, the amalgamation of all that you are and all that you’ve been.
So instead of dropping our accents, let us celebrate them. For all that we are, and all that we’re yet to learn, and every step along the way.
In lack of proper wine glasses, we improvise with teacups, and as the shutter of a Polaroid camera goes off, she’s pouring rosé, small, pink oceans, bubbles and light storms in our glasses.
We’ve made a cave of my uni room, filled every nook and cranny with silly laughs and fairy lights, hot chocolate scented candles, and unfamiliar words in both our languages. Words we hope’ll make sense when English just doesn’t cut it as our middle man, when the words of home become impossible to translate, – so we let her German paint pictures in the air, and Norwegian show off all the words it has borrowed; we meet in the middle.
There are some things you just cannot learn in your home country.
Dreams are dreamt up tonight. Plans for all the cities that are yet to be seen, Northern Lights still to be chased, the cross stitches of who we’d wish to be one day hopefully coming together. Everything navigated in between sips of pink and the idea of fairy story cities.
There are no thoughts that cannot be put into words, no words that cannot be sown into these blankets, and the four years separating us don’t keep our musings from dancing, from twirling, from harmonising to the same melody.
Because, in the strangest way, it’s like she is me three years ago, just with a dollop more maturity it took me an extra year to obtain. Alone in a new country, figuring it out on her own. We talk about being lonely; we talk about that empty feeling of evenings on your own, beating yourself up for not living your adventure abroad to the fullest, and of the nights that last forever, where you’re surrounded by friends and this new country feels like where you were supposed to be all along, We talk about how that’s okay.
And we agree that on those days, whether the sunset reaches us before we’ve even gotten out of our beds, or if 4 am finds us in the middle of a favourite song, we’ll pour the rosé in our tea cups again, raise a glass to ourselves and our empty rooms and celebrate.
There are some things you just cannot learn in your home town.
Because there are so many people to meet, so many friends to make, hands to shake, eyes to get to know. So many languages to learn, so many wines to taste and teas to test, so many pictures to take, that need their own space in an album somewhere, or hung above a bed, the memories of your own fairy tales lulling you to sleep.
So many stories, of the adventures that are waiting. So let’s raise a glass to that.
~Blue and white striped shirts ~ my new little flat ~ Yorkshire tea ~ travelling ~ discovering new TV shows ~ rewatching old TV shows ~ peach ice tea ~ knitted jumpers ~ new projects ~ that feeling when a particularly grumpy piercing has finally healed properly ~ Brooklyn 99 ~ woolen socks ~ volunteering in a job that’s relevant to your field of study ~ new pens ~ knowing that you’ve given your all on an exam and being rewarded for it in the marks ~ Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency ~ 90s romcoms ~ tarot cards ~ exciting plans ~ an unmapped new year ~ new work experience opportunities ~ hiking boots ~ horses on the farm next to the uni ~ the fact that there even is a farm, one minute walk away from the uni ~ new set texts ~ STARKID musicals ~ tacos ~ the smell of someone you care about on your clothes ~ this blog ~ the sea on sunny days when the surface glitters like a million pieces of broken glass ~ the sea on rainy days where the line between the ocean and the horizon is blurred by the weather ~ learning new words ~ floral bed sheets ~ my translation studies ~ the size of the campus at my uni ~ having my work featured and acknowledged in small publications ~ swimming – finally nailing the lyrics to a particularly wordy song ~ watching my friends excel at what they do ~ when films put the credits in the opening scene ~ tipsy showers ~ how smells can instanly transport you back to a moment in time ~ old perfumes you used to wear ~ homemade blankets ~ nail polish ~ cheese on toast ~ coming up with lines of poetry that aren’t connected to any poem you’re working on, but writing them down anyway hoping they might develop into a poem of their own ~ lecturers that love their subjects ~ dishwashing soap ~ fresh towels ~ talking to people about the stuff they love ~ catching up with people you haven’t talked to in ages ~ student organisations ~ tiny tattoos ~ cats ~
I’ve gone to sleep in a new bed tonight. I’ve moved houses again; another student flat, another shoebox room. There is something mindful about the process of moving from one space to another – about taking all of your books off of your shelf and putting them into boxes, holding onto some you may not have looked at since you read them and receiving gentle reminders of future reads you may have forgotten about. Folding every item from your closet, and carefully lifting all the pictures down from your walls. Taking a second to really look at all the things you surround yourself with every day, and properly contemplate on what elements are gonna be allowed to come with you to this new home. That is, until you feel like you’ve done nothing but pack for the last week, and just chuck everything in a big box labelled “unsorted” to finally be able to move on with your life.
I was excited about this move. Tomorrow marks the first day of semester two on this “new” BA, (I’ve got to stop referring to it as new at some point, but today is not that day), and I’ve moved back into student accommodation. It’s nice to be closer to campus, and in a weird way, it feels right to be out of my little house, to be living in just one room again. I absolutely loved living there, but this feels more student-y, more like a cosy little space that’s 100% mine, and suddenly all the things I longed to get away from about student accommodation a year ago, feels oddly comforting.
But this little flat has a lot of new sounds in it, just like all new living spaces do. There is creaking in the walls, and a sort of drone coming from somewhere in the ceiling that I’ve yet to identify. There are new people walking outside, new voices and thoughts, and different winds whipping. Also, I’m back to having a flatmate again, and though the soft sounds of someone moving around in the next room are comforting, it’s also something you need to get used to again, every time you’ve been living without it for a while.
This semester is gonna be good, and living in this flat is gonna be great. My flatmate seems lovely, and in contrast to my last flats that I’ve shared with 9 other people, it’s just me and one other student this time. I also really like how my little room looks and feels, and it’s a nice space to make cosy and homely, but the first night in any new place is always weird.
So for tonight, I’ll put on a playlist with songs that sound like a Tuesday evening at home, get some fresh pyjamas out of a soon-to-be unpacked suitcase, curl up in familiar bedsheets and let myself feel a little bit small for just a moment. It’s not a bad feeling, not like being scared or unsure or really homesick, it’s just the feeling of things changing around you. Nothing marks change like new living spaces; a new degree or a new job, a new city, maybe even a new country. But I’ve made many a flat feel like home before, and this one won’t be an exception.
The hillside is full of sheep.
They graze the grass we walk on, they don’t mind the steep slopes
and the cliffs.
The villagers call it a mountain, everyone else calls it a hilltop.
I want to call it an adventure.
Everyone we meet are prepared with hiking boots and walking sticks,
we are armed with sneakers and half a sausage roll.
This wasn’t where we thought today was gonna lead us.
Four hours up and four hours down,
we scale steps carved into the hillside,
past trees that have grown into each other
to seek refuge in numbers
from the sharp sea air,
gusts coming in from the northern sea.
Beneath us, Swanage wanes away.
The bay grows smaller and smaller,
until you could fit the entire town between your thumb and ring finger,
lift it up and put it in your palm.
Maybe that’s what I’m trying to do;
Lift Swanage out of its little nook between the hills and the unforgiving ocean,
nestle all the teacups and barefoot walks along the beach
into the crook of my neck,
keep it there to remind myself of the times I’ve felt like I belong here.
I clutch your hand in mine,
feel your nails against my skin.
In front of us, the terrain evens out.
Two chalk rocks stand side by side,
broken away from the hillside, they hold each other up.
They’ve been standing since long before the town came to be,
just as the town will be here
long after I have left.
The sound of family that haven’t seen each other for too long fills the living room. Bright smiles, Christmas socks and the smell of gingerbread cookies in the oven. Gingerbread dough is snuck into mischievous mouths, tongues stuck out at whoever dares point it out – quick fingers coated in flour and butter, sticky but sweet tasting, just how these December days are supposed to be. It’s the annual family gingerbread day, where we bake enough cookies to carry us through the winter; when the house smells like cinnamon and cloves and ginger and dark, shining syrup; when the stereo churns out Christmas song after Christmas song, every single one linked to a memory, a party, an evening or just a moment.
Worries about presents and that last exam are gone as the third musician of the night sings songs about chestnuts and fires and Jack Frost nipping at noses.
These Christmas traditions are things we all share. The Christmas Crazy that sets in every December 1st and makes young and old suddenly crave satsumas and mulled wine and all the other things you never even think about during the other eleven months of the year. The Christmas Crazy that sometimes leaves you running about endless shopping centres, but just as often reminds you to sit quietly by the window to listen to the whispers of snow gently falling.
Eleven people are gathered around the table, cups of coffee and tea are lining the window sills. The table isn’t for coffee cups, the table is for working. There shouldn’t be enough room for everyone to roll out their dough, to stamp out gingerbread angels and stars, but there always is. Around this table, there is room to grow, there is space for everyone. An evening like this one gathers us all, and around this table there is room for quirks, for habits and traditions, for the weird and for the wonderful, for emotions, for the happy.
We sing along, we dot our noses with flour. We taste the cookie dough and revel in the smell wafting from the oven. Everyone’s hard at work, and like every year, Christmas comes running when we invite it in.
Like every year, the magic of the Ginger Bread ensures that the Christmas fairytale stops by our house too. Like every year, the Christmas Crazy ensures that Christmas hangs up its coat and takes off its shoes, and makes itself proper at home.