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"Nuts to you" might have been what I was saying on Saturday when the class cold hit me so hard there was nothing I could do but lie in bed and create a mountain of soggy kleenex on the floor beside me. When I felt better enough to sit up for some soup and hot tea with honey and lemon (and more than a small splash of Old Charter), I picked up this recent library reserve and within 20 pages was laughing out loud and thanking my class for sharing the germs that stopped me from doing anything more than sitting up in bed reading:
(written between the 18th and 19th of February, 2015 in one straight sitting (a story written when time crosses midnight, is likely to have a few more strands and maybe bad words, than others)
Title: Sailor’s First Story (that you’ve heard, that is)
There are stories for the telling
and there are those which ain’t
– that’s what I’ve been told,
but I still can’t see no difference.
So I’ll throw a whole
flock of them at you
and you can decide
which is which.
I blows the stories out
as they come
– just as they come,
so sometimes there’s two middles,
or no end,
or even just three beginnings.
And if you want to know more about me
– well that’s definitely the one story
I know’s not worth telling.
All I give is my name
and that’s Sailor.
How dee doo?
Good I hope
and if not so,
spin three times,
blink at the sky
hard and long,
then think on this:
They called her Butterfly,
sometimes Terfly for short.
Not because of some airy, light beauty,
no, more because she’d never stop,
never alight in one damn place longer than a flea bite
(I’m telling of them fleas that bite for nanoseconds,
not thems others that grip on long and not be shaken
even on the brutalest fairground Waltzers).
And this goes for lovers too
– soon as some poor fret
had been dazzled by her shimmery
blizzards of soft words,
she’d be off with their hearts
and on to the next habitation
and over and over again.
Three a month. More.
Some say she’d never been held,
time-stopping slow and gentle,
s’why she’d never stay, get cosy
and ease into her self and surrounds.
Others say her old man’s bark,
– approx. three per minute – startled her so bad,
she couldn’t stop still for longer than
a third of a minute
(you see – now I know that last bit’s
dreadful storytelling for at least three reasons,
but it came out that way,
puffed out crooked.
And now it’s out there,
there it stays.
them’s the rules).
Terfly had more skills and talents than
an army of circuses and every single one in them,
including the animals.
It’s easier to tell
what she couldn’t do.
And that’s cook, sew and clean.
But the others
she’d do so well,
there was always and every
wherever she landed.
So that suited
her flit-flight nature.
Now that’s a long beginning.
And we ain’t yet got no middle
and certainly no inkling of an ending.
I’m never sure what’s its shape
when it’s coming out.
This one feels like a two middler,
so hold your horses
(and don’t forgets to give thems a sugar,
or apple, and tell thems they the best.
And anyone else hanging round
as long as them’s deserving.
Respect’s earnt, you know that, right?
There’s no respecting no one who ain’t worthy of that respect, thems like a barking-three-times-per-minute Pa, or a cold-heart Ma with no soft in her arms for snuggling and comfort).
Here’s the two middles.
1) Terfly falls in love for the first time
with SkyLock, a cloud-tenter
(thems that make the hovering, giant bauble things for circuses – look just like bubbles, but there’s windows and seats so folks can get a good look from all angles – and you have to be trained for hundreds of years, so easy it is to get it wrong and have families flying they won’t have you back, that particular habitation).
2) SkyLock’s heard her reputation
and builds a special cloud-tent
– sets out backwards to make one
that goes against all the training
– one that will take them away, away,
keeps her with him,
no flit-flighting this one no more.
Now here’s the thing.
He’s not liking that there’s no cooking, cleaning, sewing
– he’d made this cloud-tent fixed up to the nines with all the latest a chief chef could desire
but all she does, Terfly, is fret
– fret so loudly, wolves can hear her
twenty one summers away.
SkyLock regrets keeping her
– useless he thinks
and barks for the third time that minute.
Now. He knows well
there’s no ties for her
– no family wanting and wishing and missing her soft heart,
or sweet song, or tip-tap dancing so mesmerising
you can’t do for anything after, just gaze long-lost into nothing.
So he shoves her out
cruel as war,
shoves her out, barking every bad a sailor’s ever heard
and that’s the baddest bad ever of all. And then three times more.
Okay, but here’s the thing
(and I think this might be something of an ending,
or is it another beginning?
Who know, who cares,
I’m puffing hard and fast now,
couldn’t stop if you corked my straw).
Sudden, Terfly discovers
she’s got a skill she never knew:
she can fly! Well, more like a kind of flitty-swooshing
(have you watched a feather fall lately?
If not, do. it gives you the answer to everything.
So she’s flitty-swooshing,
soft and grinning, singing free
She scoffs love.
Maybe that’s why Pa barked
and Ma was ice-cold
– maybe that’s what love does.
But no sooner this sad thought’s out there,
almost like it’s visible or something,
there’s this creature – a humale kinda,
but his legs joined like a merman
and fins as well as arms, but ohhhh, so handsome,
just thinking of him I’m getting half-lid dream-eyes.
He catches her
(she ain’t quite mastered all them sky-diving tricks yet).
And holds her long…
And holds her soft…
And holds her gentle…
her cheek finds his upper arm
– it feels good enough she cries,
fist time ever. And he brushes and strokes
her hairs and head and that little tiny bit
where somes of us can grow bristle-hairs.
And she’s thinking:
no, this is love.
This is DEFINITELY love.
This is something all shades of new,
new as flying,
new as tomorrow’s sunrise,
new as the butterflies
beneath my tum-button
and she stays absolutely mushy-soft-still
in that place
for longer than all the time
she’s been on this god-forsaken land.
That’s the first.
Will you stay for more?
They come plenty.
Long as there’s ears and eyes.
I also like, every now and then,
the odd pat and smile,
or treat, you know
– that little something that says
I’m here and that’s
not too much hell of a thing…
PS: Shhhh. This next bit’s not for sharing:
That’s me, typing up the words.
I love this little feller that came into my life as a surprise gift from the cafe owner where I sit painting pigeons and other all-kinds-of-odd most days. I think he’s seen me drooling over it every time I get a new napkin to wipe brushes. There’s something just so sweet, funny and compelling about him – can’t put my finger on it, but I’m so glad he’s landed in my life.
I’m to bed now. I pat Sailor, pass him a sugar. Tell him he’s lovely.
He grins. I nod and grins back :-).
PSS: I’ve found out Sailor likely came from the HMS Warwick Castle, biggest navy ship in both wars – went down in 1944, with Lucky Lady, a small ship, sailing out to help any survivors.
to be continued…
You might as well know my weakness. It’s ice cream. Any flavour, most kinds, regardless of country of origin. I am extremely ice cream tolerant and I wonder if Bob Graham had similar thoughts when he penned his latest picture book masterpiece, Vanilla Icecream.
Vanilla Icecream is an eloquently articulated tale about a young curious sparrow whose world revolves around a dusty truck stop in the heart of India. He enjoys his existence and relishes his freedom with the blithe objectivity of all wild things until one day his pluck and appetite hook up with fate, which escorts him south across rough seas and through dark nights, eventually delivering him ‘into a bright new day’.
Unperturbed by his new environment in a different land, the truck stop sparrow chances upon a new eating hole and Edie Irvine, a toddler whose young life is inextricably changed forever because of him.
Graham’s dramatic narration of the little sparrow’s epic journey stuns you with its beautiful brevity and makes you want to follow the courageous new immigrant and know if Edie’s and his paths will ever cross again. This is a largely self-indulgent desire on my part as I get quite caught up in Graham’s snapshots of life, wanting them to never end. Nonetheless, end they must and this one’s delicious denouement is as immeasurably satisfying as a bowl of vanilla ice cream.
There are numerous wordless pages in this picture book as Graham shapes much of the narration visually with his splendid, slightly sassy, culturally sensitive illustrations. Graham has the unique, unaffected knack of suffusing modern day nuances with old-fashioned appeal into his pictures that draw the eye of young and old alike deep into the story in spite of the apparent simplicity on shown on the page.
This story allowed me to sift through memories, mostly glorious of my own ‘firsts’ and it reminded me of my daughter’s wonderment when discovering her first time, life-changing tastes, notions, and realisations. What Vanilla Icecream evokes in you depends entirely on your own memories and attitude towards new people and new experiences, and your fondness for ice cream of course. However, you will be hard pressed to find a better way to introduce the complex ideals of human rights, fate, and immigration to young ones where a lightness of touch is more readily comprehended than harsh dry facts. As Amnesty International UK proclaims through its endorsement of Vanilla Icecream;
‘…we should all enjoy life, freedom, and safety. These are some of our human rights.’
Vanilla Icecream is quite simply a stunning picture book. Quiet and unassuming in its appearance. Complex and multi-layered enough to warrant spirited discussion with 3 to 103 year olds.
The perfect scoop.
Walker Books UK 2014Add a Comment
These are taken from an interview with the amazing Zoe Toft