A Story for Our Time; dust and bees.

I remember meeting a man when I was in my late teens who didn’t know how old he was…

We didn’t mean to go to sea, and maybe we never did, maybe it is all just smoke and mirrors, what if everything is just smoke and mirrors?

I’d like less smoke please and fewer mirrors, and I’d like that quickly please. When I was a little girl I used to wonder if the world was actually really tiny, on a world within a world, a speck of dust on a speck of dust on a speck of dust floating inside a giant’s insides. I imagined that giant was a speck of dust on another giant’s duster. All of it utterly inconsequential. It’s a bit like that out here on the ocean, I am a tiny dot, floating by some miracle, lost in a vast expanse of nothingness, except that the nothingness is everything and everywhere.

I remember being a little girl and being oblivious to time, you know how it is when there is no time, days are just days, I used to make a camp in my garden with bamboo poles and a sheet wrapped around it, I called it a wigwam, and I could stay in there all day on my own, on my island with just a few spiders for company. I would lie on my back looking up at the poles as the spiders abseiled down towards me, daring myself to lie still as they got really close to my face. I remember the smell of the grass mixed with the smell of my mother’s laundry, the dampness of the earth, the buzzing of the bees. The timelessness of summer days.

I loved those days, when I never thought about what would happen tomorrow. I remember my garden with such fondness, it was very big, and across the middle separating it into two halves was a hedge of rose bushes, and on the other side of the roses was an apple tree with a swing next to it. It was a metal frame with a metal swing, and it was green. My favourite colour. I could swing for hours, and I did. I used to swing as high as I could and if I swung high enough, I could fly up above the rose hedge and see what was happening in the gardens next door. I think it must have been my swing because my brother and sister never asked to go on it.

The people next door were wonderful, Bob and Mary. Bob was a beekeeper which meant that he had honey, real honey. I have loved bees ever since we lived there. The bees used to swarm every now and then, one year they swarmed on our apple tree, and I ran next door to get Bob to come and see them. The bees stung me, they stung me enough times in a few years for me to become allergic to them, I was once stung on my little finger and I swelled terribly right up my arm. But I still loved the bees, and I felt the tragedy of them dying after they had stung me. It felt as if I had killed them, even though it was always an accident.

Bob and Mary’s house was very exciting to me, they used to let me come into their kitchen and they would feed me biscuits and I would ask Mary what they were having for tea, and once she told me they were having spaghetti on toast, this seemed like the most extraordinary idea to me.  I am transported to the time when I sat in their kitchen as Bob spun the honeycomb in a big cylindrical thing to get the honey out. I can smell it now. They also had a big black leather chair that spun around, and they used to let me sit and spin around and around. In those strange childhood days I had no idea just how wonderful these experiences were. I remember when Bob and Mary moved away, they went to live by the sea, I was devastated, they were like extra grandparents, they were always as pleased to see me as I was them.

Sometimes being out here on the sea feels a bit like those days before I was aware of time, one day slips into the next, I try to get things done but somehow I don’t have the motivation, there is a slowness to every movement, and time instead of standing still seems to be racing me. At around four o’clock every day I can’t understand how it can possibly be that late, I have no idea where the time has gone. Of course time can’t actually go anywhere, and I have often wondered why humans invented time, and whether after they made the first clocks, they regretted it. Suddenly days were measured out, hours were marked and one could track exactly how old one was.  I remember meeting a man when I was in my late teens who didn’t know how old he was, he had no birth certificate, no date of birth, no need to have an exact time when he entered the Earth. He had a rough idea, perhaps of just the season he was born in and the era and that was enough for him. Knowing how old you are is just another way to compare. What use is an age out here on the sea? The ocean doesn’t care how old am I, and neither do I. The sky doesn’t ask me in the morning, when I look tired and groan and creak from my uncomfortable sleep, are you getting old? It doesn’t care. Nothing is as old as the sky, or as young, the sky is ancient and it looks wonderful.


There is nothing much more beautiful than a gnarly old oak tree to my mind. I just love oaks with a passion. In my late twenties I made friends with an oak after I noticed a wrinkle on my face. It asked me to notice its smooth bark and then it laughed with such ferocity, as it had not one tiny bit of symmetry anywhere about its being. The perfection of imperfection. Nothing really beautiful is flawless. The ocean is beautiful. I wonder if the ocean knows how old it is, if it cares what day it is?

I once heard an analogy that a relationship is like an island, and that each time something happens that does not or cannot get resolved the island gets a little smaller, until one day you are standing back to back with the other person and one of you steps off. It’s a bit like that on my boat, but I am the only person in that relationship, and the cracks are showing. There are things I just cannot resolve with myself, on my own, stories that I have no way of taming, things that I must just ignore in order to survive. I choose to be saved by another analogy, actually it’s not an analogy, it is a story I was told of how in Japan when a piece of treasured pottery is broken it is not thrown away, instead it is mended with gold.  The broken pot is celebrated, beauty is found within the damage. I will fill my cracks with gold; I will celebrate my scars.

I don’t have any gold out here, maybe I can pour the sunset into the cracks, or I could use the silver lining on the clouds. It has been hot for days and the sunsets have been wonderful, they have filled up my heart with colour.

I will paint my life with the palette of the sea and the sky, I will sing my songs to myself and to whichever entities will hear me. I am alone and lonely and yet the voices are so loud in my head, beating the drum of loneliness. But loneliness is a strange island, some days it is a delight, some days I savour its every whim, and others it is painful, it burns in my heavy heart. One thing that I learned this year, taught to me by one of my beautiful daughters, is that moods can be rapid and changeable, and that the voices that belong to them are often liars. I learned this by tracking my moods, every day I sit down with my colour pens and a chart with one space for each day of the year, and I colour in my moods throughout the days, red for anger, green for cheerfulness, yellow for contentment, dark blue for depression, and so on. I made a discovery, in a very dark mood the thought that I had was that I was always miserable, but I knew at once that was not true, as I had it in glorious technicolour right in front of me, and in that moment the darkness lost its hold over me.




Roses photo by Nur Athirah Hamzah on Unsplash
Oak leaves photo by Almighty Worm on Flikr

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