Friday, December 18, 2015

Home in Winter

Image Credit: Marica
I'm going home for Christmas. It's been 8 months since I left and I haven't been back since, so I'm pretty excited. Thinking about this fact the other day led me to imagine my home, and its particular feelings, sounds and smells. I love my house in winter, since we always have a fire going and every morning, I roll out of bed into my dressing gown and head downstairs for a warm breakfast, in full holiday swing. Coupled with the excitement of giving and receiving presents and the general festive cheer that surrounds December, it's by far my favourite time of the year.

But I've also made a new home for myself here in London. It's quite amazing how fast we can adapt to new spaces - it doesn't take long before the place we're inhabiting becomes our cradle, our museum of memories, our sanctuary after a long day. I think we continue to make little homes for ourselves throughout our lives. Here is a poem I wrote about all this - enjoy!

Home in Winter

Home in winter is the morning smell
of burnt toast and coffee, 
wafting through the house as I skitter
down the stairs in slippers.
It's the blaze of a glowing fireplace
as I'm sat, book in lap.
It's the refuge of a house whose walls
have known me forever.
Now, returning there, like an old friend
home welcomes me back in.

Houses seem strange, unfamiliar shells
when glanced in from outside.
A new home begins bare and basic
like brand new, unworn shoes.
With time, the space becomes one's own,
offering up its shelves
to belongings, memory, meaning.

This new place of mine, once a perfect stranger,
has grown to smell like coffee, warm like fire.
Taking my hand, welcoming me in,
much like my old friend
my first home.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Recollections Ep 1: Earliest



When I was a kid, before walkmans, mp3 players and ipods existed, my parents played me cassette tapes before I went to sleep. Some of the best stories of my childhood came in the form of cassettes, read charismatically at bedtime - Roald Dahl and Rudyard Kipling featured heavily. I remember listening to the same stories again and again and never getting bored.

Recently Ed and I decided to relive this lovely childhood ritual by downloading an audiobook to listen to before bed. To keep up with tradition, we went with Roald Dahl's Boy - a beautiful recollection of his childhood memories. When we're too tired to keep our eyes open and read, listening to even just a chapter - I'm pleased to say it's read very well - is such a great way to fall asleep, and makes for some wonderful dreams!

Roald Dahl's process of recollection inspired me to look back on my own memories and write down whatever fragments I can remember. What's nice about doing this is that when you explore one memory, you find that another pops up somewhere else, and pieces of the puzzle begin to fit together to make a kind of story. I thought it might be nice to share these on my blog every now and again.

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My earliest memory is just a foggy image, and I can't pinpoint what my age at the time was, but I must have been very young since I was lying in a cot. I remember lying in the cot at the back of a dimly lit room. There was light emanating from the front of the room, as someone, either my mother or my father, was working at a desk under the light of a lamp. What's actually significant about this memory is the fact that it is the only thing I remember from the period of time when my family lived in Switzerland, before moving to Malta when I was just 2. My brother, who was 4 at the time, remembers more of this than I do, and my sister much more, having spent her childhood and primary school years in Ticino, the country's Italian region.

I always forget the ins and outs of how my parents actually ended up in Switzerland, but that'll make for another story. My brother and I were both born there, and my sister was very young when they moved; she went to the local primary. Our house was in a tiny mountain village called Cimo, in the Lugano district (Lugano is the nearest town). All of my memories of the place after the initial 'lamplight' moment come from the times we visited Cimo after moving to Malta. It was very picturesque and extremely old fashioned - everyone knew one other; everything was small and near. My parents tell me about a little van that used to drive through the streets every day and call out for people to buy their eggs, milk and other groceries. It was a slower, simpler way of life, and a village full of storybook-type characters that never seemed to change between our visits.

One of these characters was our neighbour Carolina, an old woman who lived by herself but was very close to all the surrounding families, including ours. She used to raise and kill rabbits for cooking, and I remember her walking up and down the hill to the enclose where her rabbits were kept, carrying heavy bags on her back to take to the house. She didn't speak any English and me and my brother spoke no Italian, but we understood each other. She was a strong, quite remarkable woman with kind eyes and a lovely smile. I have a strong memory of Carolina throwing me, my brother and sister tea biscuits from her window, and us trying to catch them from below. Another thing I remember is my whole family sat round her dining room table eating polenta, which was her delicious signature meal. She made it the old fashioned way, by cooking a big pot of polenta for a long time over a wood oven, which looks in my memory like a kind of fire pit.

All of this leads me to the memory of the toy chicken. After one of Carolina's dinners, a family friend who had joined us for the meal (possibly one of our neighbours) presented me with a toy chicken. I remember you would wind it up and it would walk around the room, laying its eggs. Then you would put the eggs back in via a slot in the top of the chicken, wind it up and do it all again. I thought it was the best toy in the world. On our next visit, I asked the same friend if I could play with it, and was extremely disappointed when he said he wasn't sure where it was.

It's funny how this simple episode has stuck in my memory so clearly - it must have meant a lot to me at the time.