Monday 26 September 2011

Peace Bombs in this Hellish Juggle

A few days ago, I read about the Secret War the CIA carried out on Laos, during the 60s - cluster bombs dropped every eight minutes, every single day, for nine years. Farmers continue to pick exploding bomb material out of their land. A local artisan discovered a way to repurpose the explosive metal and make spoons. A former fashion merchandiser discovered the artisan and proposed designing bracelets. She calls the bracelets peacebombs. You can buy them, wear them. The bombs still fall.

I wanted to write a chirpy post about my exciting news - I started my Masters degree in Creative Writing last week! All weekend I bashed away at 265 pages of Defoe's Moll Flanders, patiently watching her skitter from crime to (unreliable) penitence - and feeling really rather chuffed with myself. And then, today, after class, as I was shuffling along a corridor (packed with students going the wrong way), I came up against a chap herding everyone away from the main entrance.

Bomb scare. Newmarket Road cordoned off. Buses, taxis, peace of mind - all a Hellish Juggle. I felt my small bubble of light sink. So much for fictional foes. Two friends I made last week seemed entirely unperturbed, and quite rightly got on with the business of choosing a place for lunch. I found it harder to let go of the hapless rucksack causing fear, of the seeds that are sown every time suspicion is cast upon a targeted group.

Well, I say fear, but finally, when I did find a working bus, a huddle of sixty-somethings were discussing The Bomb thusly: "There was one of them a couple years ago, werenit? At Christmas, in Marks n Sparks? They got nuffin' be'er to do init?" "But Newmarket? Wot's in Newmarket??"
"Nuffink, init."

So there's nuffink in it. Init?

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein next... oh dear. If I start to write villainous fiction, you will know why.
'Hellish Juggle', quoted from Moll Flanders.

Friday 23 September 2011

Blade of Green

Give me just this blade of green,
beneath the scorching sun,
Give me just that trilling bird,
his dainty perch, his last of the summer fun;

Give me just this daily breath,
this curling autumn sleeve,
Give me just this barefoot right,
my fingers on a blade of green.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2011

Painting: Daniel Garber, Tanis, Oil, 1915

Friday 16 September 2011

On Being Stood Up

What is it about waiting for a bus that makes you assess and analyse your life with toothpick detection? I am early for the 3:17. Not unbelievably, embarassingly early, but early enough. Sensibly so. And yet, what is it about waiting for a bus that draws an energy of pity from passing cars? Like they know I've been stood up before I do.
I kick at an autumn leaf (not its fault, poor thing), I study the slats of the Vine Cottage roof with PhD intent, until a nervy face in the window warns me to back off. I smile at a small cross little girl who is sucking her thumb in the comfort of her mother's Fiat Volvo, but even she shakes her head, like she knows.
I hitch my handbag a little higher and think murderous thoughts about that weatherman who claimed rain, but isn't that the sun snickering at me behind a pathetically spineless cloud?
3:22. I whip my head around at every sound; every vehicle on God's earth sashays past me, some don't even bother with the up-and-down look of pity. They just move straight on to reflected humiliation. Get a life! they seem to suggest. Get a car! Walk! Do something!
What is it about waiting for a bus that slows time right down to the wettest and thickest of crawls?? In a small village that only contains a telephone booth library and a fish and chips, you stand out when you are stood up.

I grit my teeth. I breathe. I start to walk home, with dignity. I will not under any circumstances, run, even if... just if... that bus shows up now.
Drawings: Kev Anderson at and Helen at PomPom Illustrations.

Saturday 10 September 2011

Words, Cake and Champagne

The white butterfly is dancing madly outside the newly painted display windows of the Cambridge Writing Salon. The other women writers hunch over laptops around the edges of the room, cups of tea, water, cupcakes strewn in friendly careless clusters. I am sitting in the centre of it all. Aside from a creator of speech bubbles for illustrations, I am the only one old-fashioned enough for pens and notebook. (Fortunately no one has had a look at my notebook; it is perkily titled Silly Old Bear and each page has craftily woven images of Eeyore, Tigger and Pooh...).
Pooh and the butterfly notwithstanding, I still feel very Bloomsbury. A rather terrifying mannequin in the picture window, faceless in black velvet and mock Tudor ruff, maintains our dignity to the curious passers-by. How diligent we must all look!

Before the diligence, we were given a talk by the charming, effusive and gallant Tim Hayward, Guardian food critic, editor of Food and Knives - an incredibly literary food magazine, new owner of Fitzbillies Café in Cambridge, and father of delightful curly mopped Liberty (who I sweet talked into signing my Pooh notebook. Well, why should her father do all the autographing?).

According to Tim, the creative life of a writer unfurls most gloriously when we are open, flexible to changing our minds, and able to maintain some kind of balance between pride and humility. The humility lies in this: as an artist, what you are about to create does not yet exist. All that exists are the possibilities.

Pride came in spades at the end, when, sans Tim, we were all women again, and champagne was uncorked, more cupcakes (provided by Miss Sue Flay) were untidily scoffed, and a chummy sort of camaraderie sprang up, neither competitive nor wall flowerish. We were equals, the nine of us, and it was quite perfect.

Saturday 3 September 2011

The Book of Longing

I have made an art
of the Book of Longing

In it I have placed
the keys

beneath the memories

between the leaves.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2011
Images from art stores on google.