Monday, January 26, 2015

Remembering Solomon on a walk to the twin peaks

Venda Sun 20

Giya at her first birthday party in Brighton

26 January 2015

I rediscovered the Jubilee library on Wednesday, realising I've been spending £2 a week in charity shops on novels which often I feel should have remained forests.  

I came away with William Maxwell's The Folded Leaf, Jean Rhys' Voyage in the Dark and Jonathan Buckley's Nostalgia. I thought one of the many benefits of the library would be the slip listing what I've borrowed to use as a record of my reading.

But, I've never kept a record of my reading. Why start? I intermittently keep a diary. There are large gaps when I don't even write in a notebook. I've never been good at routine or obsession, other than tasks necessary to grow vegetables or earn enough to live on.

I gorged on the novels I borrowed. These last few months, since September, and particularly this week when I turn 60, have been marked by the silence of the house - I'm getting used to it - by the conflict between living happily and the self-doubt writing produces, by acknowledging age. Incipient old age.

When I google 'why is there such an interest in', google comes up with: 'stem cells', 'mars' and 'ocean floor nodules'. What I was going to finish the question with was 'genealogy'.

Of course it has become big business. It seems everything converts to cash but especially data. There are careers in tracing family histories that didn't exist 20 years ago. Baby boomers like me are adrift and family history offers so many tantalising stories.
The front garden of my childhood home,
3 Stream Farm Close, Farnham,
with mum (far left), my father, brother Michael,
Aunty Mads, my grandfather, possibly Aunt Ethel,
me kneeling and the dog, Steve.
All except me and mum are now dead. 

What I wrote first was 'more interesting stories'. What I thought about writing, but didn't, was 'than the last 60 years'. That's not true, why did I think it?  

What's been most interesting about a silent house has been thinking about kindness. About how to re-read worst times - everyone has them - and to think about them differently. About realising that misery becomes a state of mind, if you let it. And I have done sometimes. Especially in winter. 

So I go back to the green diary of  2012 and this day of the trip, marking Giya's 18th, remembers one of my oldest friends, now dead. 

Thursday August 2 2012

It's a full moon and Solomon's funeral in London. Mrisi's going for us. We'll walk to the top of the mountain tonight. 

I met Solomon in September 1974 at Portsmouth Poly. I remember him telling me the family realised he'd gone blind when he asked his mother why she'd drawn the curtain across the door. A chess champion, IT genius, great swimmer, he went to a school for the blind as a small boy and after that rarely went back to Nigeria but he sent money at every opportunity. He trained as a teacher in Brent but in the great round of redundancies in the 80s, he'd only just done his probationary year. It was last in, first out for Solomon. That was his first and last full time job. He did a lot for the RNIB because he was so good at braille, sent computers to Nigeria and during apartheid he stood every day on the picket line outside South Africa House in Trafalgar Square.

Solomon loved Mrisi and Giya. He visited us in Brighton often when they were little. Something tells me later that the mini typhoon last night was him, visiting SA at last. He never went, despite his years supporting the struggle.  

Giya and I spend most of the day in Mashau washing and cooking and by 5.30 in the afternoon we have our boots on, waiting for the promised trip to the mountain with twin peaks that hangs as a linocut in our front room in Brighton, with elephants in and little round houses.

It's never straightforward with R. It turns into another drive to another place he used to live, more people who looked after him. We stop on the way to pick up Randhu, Grace's daughter, say hi to a rasta friend of his, put the car in someone's yard so by the time we're on the path to the peaks it's dark and he's striding in front with his machete like it's a boot camp. Endless texts bleep from his pocket.

It's meant to be a trip to think about Solomon. 

What can I say about it, Sol? I remember when we were in Yorkshire. We wanted to walk to the top of a hill and it started to snow. We didn't think about you. You didn't want to, so you stopped and walked back down with some other people, strangers.

Maybe not getting to the twin peaks, getting lost towards the top, was some kind of tribute to you?

The moon was full and there were lights in the valley and mountain bats.