Friday, October 21, 2011

I Hope It's Forks

My son’s thinking of an animal. So far I’ve managed to establish it has less than four legs.
OK, maybe he’s thinking of a snail. ‘Just one leg?’
‘It has three legs?’
‘No animal has three legs.’
‘This one does.’
We go back on forth on this for a while, but he’s insisting all the time that he's right. Finally, like he’s getting really frustrated with how dim I am, he’s shouting -
‘It has three legs! Three on each side!’
‘OK, we’re getting somewhere. So is it very small, like an ant?’
‘No, it’s very big.’
‘A very big animal with six legs?’
Turns out, eventually, it’s a scorpion. Which has eight legs. My son’s not too bothered about whether it’s an insect, an arachnid or indeed a mammal. He has a thoughtful look in his eyes now.
‘Which d’you think there’s more of in the world,’ he says. ‘Scorpions, or forks?’

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Lumb Bank

It’s an eighteenth century mill owner’s house on a long grassy terrace halfway down a valley outside Heptonstall, West Yorkshire. Across the valley you’ve got the hillside, covered with trees and heather, and then down in the valley it’s just seething with trees in every shade of green. Mill chimneys poking up out of the foliage, looking like they’ve always been there.

My Dad was there first, as a student, in the 80’s. I turned up in 1990, tutoring a Starting to Write course. 16 students, two tutors, living together from Monday to Saturday, workshops and one to one tutorials. I was there again the following year, tutoring a school, and then I lived there for three years, with my then girlfriend now wife, we were running the place as Centre Directors. The job wore us down in the end - being nice to people every week, it wears you out - but we never got tired of the place. I’ve been back many times over the years as a tutor and a guest reader, most recently last week, tutoring a lovely Starting to Write a Novel course with Patrick Neate. It’s one of my favourite places in the world.

Every room has memories, every corner of every room, layers of memories. When I’m there, I feel like trailing my hands along the walls, picking them up through touch, through smell, through the sound of pens on paper or dishes clattering in the kitchen or people talking somewhere. A reading silencing everyone; a room full of people laughing during a workshop; the party we had the night we got married, the room full of our closest friends; crossing the garden, heading back to the cottage after a reading, beneath a big sky, seeing shooting stars, a hedgehog, hearing the low white noise of the river. And standing there, by the low wall, looking out at the view, in every season, at every time of day and most times of night, just looking.