Wednesday, 10 February 2021

JANUARY BOOK REVIEW

‘A nightingale sang in Berkeley Squaaaare!' I've been burbling this song all day long, and I have no idea why... suddenly the line bursts off my tongue and into the vulnerable ears of whichever family member is around or on the phone... my grandmother used to sing with a tremulous treble she assigned to the throat operation which cured her of nodules. The operation destroyed the strength of her singing voice, she said, but I liked her trills and quivers. I like appropriating that quiver; it makes me feel very 1950s...

It is Mum's birthday today. Yesterday, I prepared the traditional Parsi celebratory dessert of rava, sweetened semolina and milk with rosewater and pistachios... I made some fresh milk bread to go with hot morning chai, and late this evening I cooked some figgy chicken with mashed potatoes and sugar snap peas (Dad loves the comfort of mashed potatoes) and on we shall go into the snowy depths of February. Meanwhile, I thought I'd share some of my readings from last month.

The Body Knows The Score by Bessel Van der Kolk has become one of those therapeutic classics along with Gabor Maté’s When The Body Says No. I found it a compelling read for the most part except where certain therapies were only available under almost laboratory type conditions. The last quarter of the book was therefore interrupted by my next reads, but Van der Kolk is so compassionate, I would absolutely recommend the book to anyone who has suffered trauma in any form.

Azadi by Arundhati Roy is a a very slim volume of essays, including ‘The Pandemic is a Portal’, the brilliant piece Roy wrote upon India being shut down with a four hour grace period. Can you call that grace? No, indeed. And while you’re reading Roy, take a look at Zadie Smith’s Intimations, another beautiful slim volume of essays - both writers are masters of their craft. 

Whenever I can’t put a book down, I am always amazed and gratified that my eyes can withstand the brief marathon. It is always a testament to the author - I felt this way about Deborah Levy‘s The Cost of Living, which is the second memoir in her living autobiography series. The memoir is a response to Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, and is full of poetic energy, and the feminism of starting over after the failure of a long marriage.

Nikesh Shukla’s Brown Baby was also a memoir I did not want to put down. Writing against the grain of despair in Britain's divisive society, which regularly displays its prejudice, Shukla answers complex questions asked by his young daughters. Innocent enough questions, difficult to answer with ease and hope and the promise of joy. And yet, Shukla finds the vein to draw that hope from.

And lastly, my beloved Eva Ibbotson’s A Company of Swans and A Countess Below Stairs, rounded off my first month for the pandemic new year, with humour and a little dance in my step. 

Sunday, 31 January 2021

ASTRA ZENECA ONE

This afternoon, I had my first vaccine jab. Twelve weeks to go before vaccine part two. Which means it will be May. Imagine that. Imagine wisteria. I’ve forgotten what May looks and feels like. This has seemed like the longest winter, bookended only by a mizzling spring. It is raining even now, as I type. 

Ever since Brigadier Phil Prosser took charge with military precision and strategy, millions of UK citizens are being vaccinated in a steady stream. I don’t think the scientists envisaged a twelve week gap between doses, but the covid narrative is a long one. This evening I have felt a bit grotty, with a headache and a slight flu like response. My arm feels a little heavy. But my mind was occupied with what my mother would describe as the last thing I ought to be watching: Russell T Davies’ five episode drama ‘It’s A Sin’ - his first determined effort to remember the young boys who faded fast and terrified from the HIV/AIDS pandemic of the eighties.

Watching a period drama, one ought to feel at least as though the subject is familiar and known to us after the passing of decades, but AIDS is still far removed from ordinary conversation. Lupus and HIV patients share many clinical similarities with weakened immune systems, but inhabit opposite ends of the spectrum  in terms of public scrutiny. The lupus patient is left alone, to her own devices and need not fear the cost of living as much. What we possess in abundance is the empathy of knowing what it is to fear one’s own body, obstinately dancing to a dissonant tune. Why does visibility take so long? Thank goodness for the writers and dancers and musicians who make art, make beauty, even when it hurts.

John Lam, Vietnamese-American ballet dancer



Monday, 25 January 2021

WINTERING


'A surprising cluster of novels and fairy tales are set in the snow. Our knowledge of winter is a fragment of  childhood, almost innate. All the careful preparations that animals make to endure the cold, foodless months, hibernation and migration, deciduous trees dropping leaves. This is no accident. The changes that take place in winter are a kind of alchemy, an enchantment performed by ordinary creatures to survive. Dormice laying on fat to hibernate, swallows navigating to South Africa, trees blazing out the final weeks of autumn. 


It is all very well to survive the abundant months of spring and summer, but in winter we witness the full glory of nature's flourishing in lean times. Plants and animals don't fight the winter. They don't pretend it's not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives they lived in summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through. Wintering is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximising scant resources, carrying out acts of brutal efficiency and vanishing from sight, but that's where the transformation occurs. 


Winter is not the death of the life cycle but its crucible. It's a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment, for putting your house in order. Doing these deeply unfashionable things - slowing down, letting your spare time expand, getting enough sleep, resting - is a radical act now, but it is essential.' - Katherine May, 'Wintering'

I listen to a lot of podcasts, and one of the most gentle, meditative podcasts is 'On Being' by Krista Tippet, who believed many years ago, that despite a staunch move towards atheism, plenty of folk are connected to spiritual beliefs, religious or otherwise. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who died a few months ago, was a wonderful listen. Katherine May read from her latest book 'Wintering', and I found it of great comfort that my recent hibernating ways would not alarm a bear. To a human, sleeping through the morning and well into the afternoon would seem a waste, and perhaps even ring alarm bells of depression or an internal organ in trouble. I want to believe that I will come around to earlier waking and light filled days as spring and summer arrive. For now, I want only to sleep when I can, as much as I can. Sleeping through light does mean I have missed the heady photography options for yesterday's snow day, so I have filched (with permission) my friend Colette's morning photo shoot. Meanwhile, this evening I will stretch into a yoga class (bears stretch too - he wasn't called Yogi Bear for nothin') and later I will toast my parents' wedding anniversary. There's a candle of warmth to enjoy - love that endures, by wintering through. 




All photographs by Colette Barrere, except the last one, which was taken by Chris Boland

Monday, 18 January 2021

BY THE SHORE


It takes a long time.
I wander for hours, years, miles
through countries, continents.
Sometimes there is water,
sometimes sand.
I return to these, and finally
make my stand.

I am five. I am seven.
In the water, by the shore;
I hold a twig up, brandished sword.
Later, in the quiet play,
away from salt sea spray
and the camera recording our day,
I find myself alone - 
‘a prettyish sort of wilderness’
as Austen will describe it, later.
Everything, later, to come.

For now, crouched on brackish sand,
barefoot in shorts, planting
and uprooting joy.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2021
(recited at DVerse Poets Open Link night)

It's the new year, I think... although my Christmas tree is still up with all the little mice and the twinkling lights. I am redoing the six week yoga course I did at the end of last year, just so that my body doesn't forget how to move. Bed, which was always the most comfortable spot in the house, is an even more huggable place than ever. Especially in winter, under a cosy duvet, looking out at the bare limbs of our willow. There was a time when Mum was tempted to have it cut because the roots are tearing up the courtyard, but I am so glad no decision was made. It would have been lonely without the willow keeping me company. I attended a poetry and trauma workshop this weekend and after leading us through a visualisation meditation, the writing prompt was to remember a happy place and write about it... this is the memory that returned after much wandering through my mind...