Friday, 6 August 2010

Gearbox lows and Dolphin highs

That Wintle, he no blog no more. Where he gone? (Ssssh, says you, don’t encourage him).
What happened was this. We went to Greece, to an island called Zakynthos, where, by the way, given the state of the local economy, a plate of calamari costs c. £31.23, and a bottle of wine only slightly less. And we hired a car – Renault? Citroen? can’t remember: some sort of grey mackerel tin, anyway, with an underpowered engine and an unforgiving gearbox.
So that: after two weeks crashing the wretched machine upward into first on every ascending mountain corner, and wrenching down through the box on each anfractuous descent, your blogger inflicted himself with a bad case of right-arm tenosynovitis.
Ever had this? Lower arm and hand swell up, redden and get hot, and the exquisite accompaniment is a pain I’d describe as like a constant toothache in the wrist. If you do get to sleep, you’re woken shortly after by the screech of your own profanities as you turn over. And among the things you can’t do are chop vegetables, sign a cheque or type.
Hence the silence until this morning. Anti-inflammatories have, at last, reduced the size of the wrist, which is thinner, now, than a Cotechino sausage; and the pain has become a mere ache.
Bad trip, then? By no means, although I’ve convinced myself that far from Mount Olympus, in some Grecian fastness, there’s an immense factory churning out the identical dishes which each taverna serves (I recommend, by the way the Magica Luna outside Aghios Nicolaos on the north east coast. The cuisine is satisfying, although it wouldn’t earn a Michelin speck, but the terrace and view are a delight and the owners are charmingly eccentric).
On July 21, on a sailing boat owned by an ex-Kent copper called Roger, there were sudden shadows in the blue Ionian. Then a fin broke the surface, and in barrelling patterns of indigo and silver, for, perhaps, forty-five seconds, dolphins danced among the waves beside us.
I told this story to my neighbour on the plane home. “Did you?” he asked, making a rectangle with his fingers in front of his face, and miming pressure on a button with his thumb, “did you manage to catch it?” Or perhaps he said, “capture.”
When did I stop trying to “catch” or “capture” moments like that on camera? At least twenty years ago, I reckon, when I first looked at a photograph and realised that the image was annihilating my memory of the experience – or sensation – it was intended to preserve.
Set piece pictures, portraits of people, are wonderful things. But for me, any attempt to catch and fix a fleeting delight is oddly destructive of the beauty of the event.
There’s an element here of Kathleen Raine’s argument that in modern life we mistake the meaning of possession, taking it for the material power to make something our own (to buy or to “catch” or “capture” it) rather than the imaginative power to enjoy.
But more than that, what intrigues me is how and why the fixity of the photograph interferes with the fluidity of memory.
For the older I get, the more convinced I become that our memories are restless weavers of fictions.
Fictions are not lies. They are coherent worlds comprised of facts and truthful imaginings.
I think, given a memorable cameo of some sort, the memory goes to work to try to make some sense of it – to harmonise it with a world - or stores it away until the right world begins to form and wants completion.
For example: there was certainly a swan, somewhere, sometime, and a meadow and a grove of oaks.
Sixteen years ago, the day after my father died, we were driving back to the family home. As we came onto Dartmoor a swan broke out of a grove of oaks and flew beside us over a meadow.
This year, making the journey after my mother died, understandably my eyes were keyed as we reached the same tor.
There’s was no swan, of course. But neither was there a grove of oaks, nor a meadow.
And the dolphins, you ask... where do they fit into all this?
I ask that too, and wait to see.

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