Thursday, February 22, 2007

Small Good Things



I have been considering how I might answer on judgement day to account for myself and my time on this earthly plane. What have I done here, what achieved? Well not a lot, is one way of looking at it. But I have had my moments and those will have to stand between me and eternal damnation:

I have learned how to make a wooden spoon. I made one at school (a Steiner one obviously) when I was 11, and if asked I could make one again now, from the first drawing on a piece of wood cut for the purpose to the last bit of fine sandpaper and rub of oil so as not to let it go naked into the world. In time it fashions its own skin. It was my father’s favourite cooking utensil. He took it with him into his second marriage. My stepmother loved it too, she used it even when the end was burned, having been left near the gas hob. She may have used it until her death. They talked about it, how when she cooked she always looked for it. To steal from the title of a Raymond Carver story, I count that as a small good thing.

I have found people to play with. In the tarmac playground at primary school, I bounced a ball against the brick wall that separated us from the railway track. I only played with the ones that knew without telling how to make things up as you go along, who could perhaps skip, count and chant dippidippidation my operation, how many people at the station but could also see that there was a door in the brick wall that might lead to the best and the worst of all possible worlds. I played with the ones who would go through the door without asking questions, brave soldiers. And sometimes my comrades-in-arms were stronger than I was. Shakela who, tired of my reading the Beano all the afternoon she came to play, seeing there was very little time left, said: let’s pretend that each minute is a whole day and we can fit in as much playing in quarter of an hour as we could in two weeks. Quintin who had to stand up and be told by Miss Williams that he was filthy and should be ashamed of himself, and who said, I had a bubbly bath last night Miss, and I’m clean and turned to me smiling, showing all his white teeth, who was the butt of Miss Williams’ anger (you’re disgusting Quintin, what are you?) and who at playtime shared with me a chocolate egg that looked like a real one with a white crispy shell.

Who can pull rabbits from a hat and let them go? Turn wine into water and pour it into the river home of a talking fish? I allowed for many possibilities. So my old friend who wanted stories was glad of a woman as beautiful as her hair was black who came from another planet in a spaceship to leave us notes in strange handwriting that said when the moon is blue your wish will come true and a gift of green Palmolive soap, a handful of nuts and raisins stuffed into a sock.

And I write poems. If the One with the black book doesn’t accept these things as currency then I will take my bag of tricks and go elsewhere.

23 comments:

nmj said...

I love Shakela's way of thinking. And I can't tell you how impressed I am about the wooden spoon.

janis said...

an inspiration, good to remember the small huge good things.

Reading the Signs said...

hi nmj - yes, she was lovely. Funny how people come back into memory and shine. I think I even impressed myself with the wooden spoon. It's time I made one again.

janis - hello. Yes, it is.

THE PERIODIC ENGLISHMAN said...

When you say that the spoon you made - sorry, hello again, how are you doing? - but when you say that the spoon you made was "a Steiner one obviously", what do you mean, exactly? Did you go to a Rudolf Steiner school, RTS?

Sorry if you have mentioned it elsewhere before, but I'd love to know.

Kind regards etc...

THE PERIODIC ENGLISHMAN said...

Found it - don't worry. Two years at a Rudolf Steiner School. Okay.

The Moon Topples said...

This post is beautiful. Will you make me a virtual blogspoon I can use when I cook up my posts?

If not, I shall be inconsolable for a while, but I shall continue to read your blog. It's just such a lovely blog.

THE PERIODIC ENGLISHMAN said...

And a beautiful post, by the way. Sorry, in my excitement, I just completely lost my manners.

Reading the Signs said...

Thank you Mr.P.Englishman, I am doing ok. Yes, making a wooden spoon is a very Steiner thing to learn. I also made a bowl and an owl marionette.

Dear Mr. Moon,
I have made you a spoon,
and I do not forget
the cigarette
you gave to me
virtually.

THE PERIODIC ENGLISHMAN said...

Hmm. I may have underplayed my hand somewhat by describing the post as "beautiful". A third reading finds it to be, in no particular order: beautiful, yes; floaty; whimsical; suffused with strange sadnesses; elegantly downbeat; gentle and sweet; very well written and slightly painful to read.

Of course, these reactions are merely triggers in the eye of the beholder, and there is no real way of knowing what lies behind the words for the writer personally. But there you go.

I'm glad you know NMJ already. If you didn't, I would have dragged you round to her house. She consistently provokes eerily similar reactions. Trust me - that's A Very Good Thing.

Anyway, I made a spoon, too, and still use it. I also made a knitted sheep (now dead), a bowl (ha!), a lovely felt recorder case, an elephant of sorts and a dazzling needlepoint pencil case.

Never did make an owl marionette, though. There's time yet, I suppose.

Kind regards etc.....

Reading the Signs said...

Mr. PE - a critique! "Elegantly downbeat" I will definitely keep for the back cover of my to-be-written memoir. Floaty and whimsical perhaps not, but you are right, dammit. I occasionally do ironic and semi-hard.
And you went to a Steiner school too. Obviously. The felt recorder case is the real giveaway. And wellie boot gnomes?

THE PERIODIC ENGLISHMAN said...

The felt recorder case is a total giveaway, yes.

I need to draw the line at wellie boot gnomes, however. I'm not sure if I have just blanked them from my mind - a possibility, certainly - or if I never, in fact, actually made such things. Wellie boot gnomes? Are you SURE?

I can understand your resistance to terms like floaty or whimsical. They sound fairly double-edged, not immediately recognisable as praise. I could have ditched both words for my preferred option of "othery" - but I'm not really sure that this word makes sense to anyone but me. It would certainly still have been a compliment, though, had I used it as a substitute.

Did you do eurythmy (sp)? And what on earth are wellie boot gnomes, come to think of it. I know it sounds fairly obvious, but lateral thinking was encouraged at Steiner's and so I take nothing for granted. You may, for all I know, be talking of the nickname for a much-loved teacher.

Hope you're feeling just grand today.

Kind regards etc....

nmj said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
nmj said...

Goodness, you turn your back for a mere moment & come back to find Moon & Signs trading cigs & spoons, & PE & Signs discussing shared Steiner memories! I never made a felt recorder case, but I did make a crimplene dirndl skirt in first year at secondary school - can I impress you both with that? Forgive my ignorance about Steiner, I know a little about Montessori (are they similar?), my ex-boyfriend (my main man in early-mid nineties) was from Dublin, the youngest of eleven, his mother wrote a book about Montessori, they were all really artistic, it was interesting at first, but then I realised he maybe had too high an opinion of himself, I'm not saying this was Montessori, probably more his mother...that deleted post is mine by the way, too many typos . . .

THE PERIODIC ENGLISHMAN said...

NMJ - (hello again RTS) I'm not precisely sure what the exact difference is between Steiner and Montessori schools. Certainly, however, differences exist. Suffice to say, Steiner schools are run according to the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner (you can look him up, I daresay) - or at least that is their stated aim. Maybe RTS knows.

One of my sisters (the one immediately older than me) sends both of her children to a Montessori school in England. On the one occasion that I have joined her to pick them up at the gates, I was blasted by the chill air of self-satisfaction and superiority that swirled around the mirthless parents. I can't say for certain whether this is the norm for the Montessori crowd, but I can say for certain that it made me feel a little bit sick.

There is a chance - although I was too young to notice these things at the time - that the same smugness pervades the Steiner mob. I hope not, and it has certainly not been my experience of anyone I've met who's attended such a school - but I may just be blind to it.

Certainly, my own mother faced vicious familial resistance when she insisted on sending all four of us to a Steiner school. For shame, the cry went up, it's surely a school for loonies. Well, maybe. Who knows? I remain glad that she stayed strong and true and plonked us in this particular zoo for our education. If I had children of my own, I would follow her lead.

There is a broad misconception that the educational standards are lax and leave pupils ill-prepared for the "real" world. I can only say that I have never once found this to be the case. The balance between the arts and the sciences (with languages thrown in at Kindergarten) seems just about right to me.

I want you to wear the crimplene dirndl skirt the next time we meet in space, darling. It sounds TOO hot. I'll bring my spoon and knitted underwear and peerless sense of entitlement.

Sorry RTS, I was doing okay (I felt) up until that last bit.

Kind regards etc

nmj said...

Hey Signs, Permit me please to chat with his Highness for a little? PE, that self-satisfied Montessori chilliness sounds v familiar, I may need to turn the heating up! Seriously, I don't want to tar the whole of the Montessori-educated/educators with the same brush, I don't know enough about it. Ah, I still consider myself to have a certain je ne sais quoi in spite of my 43 years, but, honey, no, the dirndl skirt would do me no favours, no favours at all. A felt recorder bag would've been infinitely better, believe me. But I look forward to the knitted underwear. And I have to tell you, next Friday's BBC 2 Late Review is discussing Daniel in Equus.

Reading the Signs said...

nmj, please be my guest. You and Mr. PE are welcome to bring sleeping bags and stay over. Have a cup of Green & Blacks. Would sort of like to go into Steiner/Montessori but too done in. They might look similar but are really coming from completely different places.

Gnomes, Mr. PE, gnomes. You must remember them (hack, hack, the rocks we crack). Eurythmy? I should coco! Plus the curative kind for flat feet, oh yes. oooo, aaaa, eeee (remember?)

Why do folks think we're odd?

Ms Melancholy said...

I just loved this post. Very evocative. I have a friend who is very 'spiritual' (for want of a better word, Ms Signs!) and she holds that we are here sometimes for just a small purpose, but it matters in that it will make a difference to someone somwhere. So if I help an old woman across the road, that may be my purpose done. I quite like the lovely simplicity of that.

I would be interesetd in the difference between Steiner and Montessori, at some point? I went to my local comprehensive, so I made a very sexy pencil skirt when I was 14. I loved it!

THE PERIODIC ENGLISHMAN said...

It is almost impossible to imagine why real people think we're odd, RTS. What do they know, anyway? I would ask myself this salient and comforting question every time I impersonated the shape, the FEEL, of a tree and the eurythmy teacher spat out the letter T. TUH. My off-white pixie-plimsoll wafer-thin booty shoes merely helped confirm my suspicions that them other folk was just plain jealous, innit. Most children would have given their right arms to be able to do such things. But then most of the children I knew were called Tarquin or Moondust.

I share the interest of both Melancholy and NMJ in knowing what the differences between Steiner and Montessori are. I know they exist, certainly, but would be hard pressed to explain them. If ever you feel up to pointing some of them out, that would be pretty good.

NMJ - disappointing news on the dirndl skirt front, I can't pretend otherwise. You raise my spirits considerably, however, with this latest news of sly Potter and his horse. I shall be watching Late Review next Friday with unprecedented interest. I can barely wait.

Would the dirndl thing fit me, by the way? I cannot abide waste and would simply hate to think of it lying around neglected and crumbling and gathering dust. That's just too sad and Miss Havishamy. And I'm always keen to get my summer collection sorted by spring.

Right. I need to go home and get some breakfast. Thanks for letting me stay, RTS. Tiny bit disappointed not to be offered freshly squeezed carrot and apple juice (with mountains of ginger) first thing this morning, but I'll let it slide.

Kind regards etc...

nmj said...

Bad news, Pony Boy, the crimplene dirndl skirt was binned many years ago, and now only exists in my imagination. It was bright pink and I think there may have been an 'embossed' pattern . . .

Liz said...

Wow! all of you are amazing. If I had my own blog I'd have a sleepover and invite all of you. I'm a bit behind, having gone to boring american schools, I'm going to go knit some knickers now and try and carve a bowl or something. How will I know how to raise my children (when I do have them that is) if I've not had the experience of becoming a tree? hey ho!

Reading the Signs said...

thanks ms m, will try and do a bit on Steiner at some point. He was an anthroposophist you know (splintered off from the theosophists, an occultist - a word which makes many people shiver.

liz - you will know, don't worry. Just wave your arms about and grow, you're a poet aren't you?
Inviting people for sleepovers on your comments section is fine, but Mr. P.E. is rather particular about his hot drinks.

THE PERIODIC ENGLISHMAN said...

Holy hell, RTS - you're even better than I thought. I've just been crawling my way through your blog from the beginning - it's late now, and my eyes are starting to go, however - and you are really rather magic, it seems. Lyrical.

I like the idea of the blog being used for writing practise (sp? I never know if it should be a C or an S at the end) and do something similar myself - I saw Ms Pants make a comment about this during my travels through your recent past. I tend to use the blogosphere as a way to kick start my creativity - it's why I come out with so much rubbish, so often. So, first and foremost - I like to meet people and reassure myself that there are a few good people left in the world. Secondly, it allows me to let rip and indulge my manic flights of fancy, usually - forgive me Baby Jesus - in the blog space of others. Thirdly, it is an exceptionally useful way to avoid doing work. All good.

And whateverly (I've lost count) - it allows me the chance to stumble across an astonishingly high standard of writing, which makes me skip with happiness (and seethe with envy, a little bit, too).

Anyway, I just thought I'd let you know.


LIZ - get your own blog. NOW. (there is just NO chance, RTS, that she'll see this, but still)

And I'm sorry to have to say that you will be entirely unable to raise children properly unless you undergo extensive - and retrospective - tree training. It's never too late. Think of the children, Liz, and embrace your inner tree.

RTS - night. You are most excellent.

Kind regards etc

Reading the Signs said...

Mr. Peripatetic Englishman, you are astonishing - not even I have read right through this blog. I appreciate all the things you have said. I think my style does often tend toward the lyrical. My latest post (re. the B of the B) rather deliberately undercuts this, haha, it would be a challenge though, to be lyrical about thyroid etc.

I'm glad you've told Liz to get a blog, she'd be rather good to have around the place.

Wonder where she is ...

And Mr. P.E. - I will be keeping an eye on your place for new post! Just saying. No pressure. And the wanderer is welcome everywhere.