Tuesday, 14 June 2011

A sense of place

It's been a long time since I put finger to keyboard. There's been a lot going on; a new house, a holiday; a whole series of new experiences, sights and impressions. 
It still feels too early to write about the house. We're settling in, and getting to know it. It's lovely, but I haven't yet got past the sense that we're playing at living here; Otford still feels more like somewhere we're visiting than the place where we live. 
So while I can't yet write about the place I've come to, I'll try to share a few impressions of where I've just been - from my recent holiday to the beautiful Ionian island of Kefalonia.

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Gradakia beach

The sea, just about warm enough to swim in, brings shrieks and squeals of shock from timid bathers. We start the week like the others, inching in slowly, feeling the chill creep up our legs and higher, until we are almost breathless with the cold, gasping and swearing quietly. After a day or two we decide it's better to immerse ourselves quickly, get the shock over, move around frantically until we acclimatize. We like to describe it as 'marching in bravely.'

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Two women stand in the shallows, playing bat and ball. They take turns to start, but each fails dismally to return the ball; they never quite manage to create the rhythmical pit-pat of a rally. One suddenly rushes for the shore "I forgot I'd gone in with me watch on!" she cries, holding the offending time-piece between finger and thumb. It dangles and drips uselessly.

Their husbands have opted to try snorkelling. They sport matching blue face-masks with bright orange breathing tubes; the garish colours a testament to the newness of the equipment so recently purchased from the Dolphin supermarket in Lassi.  Heads down, they kick towards the rocks at the edge of the bay, in search of strange creatures.

Above them a bare-footed, brown-skinned, boy looks down. The men have no idea they have interrupted his solitary game of dare-and-dive, the game for which he scrambles on sun-hardened feet over jagged rocks. They'll never know how hard he has to fight to overcome the fear of jumping, the terror of scraping skin on sharp edges, of landing in too-shallow water to gashed hands or feet, of the bite of a strange bright-coloured creature.

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A sun-bed by the water's edge. Waking from sleep, disorientated, a line of dribble at the side of her mouth confirms her slip from consciousness. She sits up too quickly, not knowing how long she's lain there in the sun, already feeling the skin on her back beginning to tighten. A single hair, caught in the hinge of her sunglasses, tickles and irritates. She looks at others sitting around her, catches the smirking glances of one or two before they turn away.

In the row behind her a family sit together; father, mother and frowning teenage boy, two sun loungers beneath an umbrella, one beach mat on the sand beside. She wonders what bargain has been struck for the father and son to secure the beds, what compromise or promise has been extracted to relegate the mother to the floor.

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A father and daughter come to the beach. He is laden down with toys to keep her amused, beach ball, bucket and spade, a range of small plastic figures.

There is no mistaking their relationship, each has a shock of curly black hair and dark eyes, both have large front teeth sticking out over their lower lips as though constantly in thought. Each is very overweight, with rounded belly, thick legs, pudgy arms.

The girl decides to apply her own suncream, while her father stands at the water's edge, looking on. The factor is high, the lotion the thick consistency of tile-grout; she smears it in streaks on arms and legs, missing the parts she cannot reach. Her father continues to watch her efforts, his expression a mix of indulgence and despair. I wonder if he is encouraging her self-sufficiency or simply avoiding having to help her. Others watch silently; though nothing is said, I think we are all struck with the urge to help. But friends who've spent a week rubbing lotion into each other's backs unquestioningly, know they cannot do the same for her.

Our shared exasperation is expressed by one on-looker, once father and daughter have finally made their way into the sea. "I really hate it when people let their children get fat." Until then, I don't think I'd realised  quite how snugly indulgence sits, between caring too much and too little.

16 comments:

Hillary said...

Ahaaa, I'm first! My time has come!

This was such a pleasant read. It made me feel as if I was myself lounging by the sea watching the spectacle. You always are so gifted at describing the interactions of human beings - in fiction or non-fiction.

Also, felt ever so slightly like the set-up for a murder mystery, Agatha Christie style.

Glad you're back, Sharon.

trashsparkle said...

Lovely observations; I can feel that sun from here... and the dribbling woman would have been me if I'd been there! Congratulations on your new home - my dad goes to a barbers in Otford; I'll warn you in advance of his next visit so everyone can steer clear of the roads ;)

Bobby Stevenson said...

Postcards from Kefalonia - cinematic and atmospheric. Beautiful studies in time and place. Glad you're back Sharon.

Eryl said...

I always think a house only begins to feel like home once your smell, and the smell of all your stuff, permeates it.

Enjoyed your vignettes; did you write while you were away, take sketch-like notes for example, or is this all from memory?

Sharon Longworth said...

Hillary - I'm delighted that you were the first! I'm also thrilled by the idea of a murder mystery. I spent a few hours thinking about the way the sea washes away everything along the shoreline, obliterating footprints knocking down sandcastles etc - so just maybe that influenced what I wrote here.

Sharon Longworth said...

Trashsparkle - thank you. Just the thought that someone else knows Otford is just what I need to help it feel more like home! Does your Dad go to Stan's?

Bobby - too kind, thank you. I reckon between us - particularly if I could access half of your story ideas, we'd be an unstoppable pair!

Sharon Longworth said...

Eryl - soooo.... if I can develop a working sense of smell all will be fine?

Thank you for your comment - I did spend some time scribbling on the beach (the brain is far too decrepit to remember anything if I don't write it down)

Lady Wordsmith said...

Welcome back. I was so glad to see a new post from you when I checked my list!

I particularly identified with your description of the sea at the start of this piece; the quick immersion is much more tolerable to me than the gradual creep into the water.

Baglady said...

I love these snapshots. I love the imagery of the snorkels and the grout-like sun cream.

Just gorgeous. So lovely to have you "home".

Pat said...

How brave to holiday and move in the same month. I hate it when folk give you jobs but you may feel like updating your heading photo?
Forgive me - I'm just nosy.

otherworldlyone said...

I love it all, but particularly the part about the woman waking up on the lounger. I know all too well how that feels. :)

You've been missed around these parts. I'm glad you're "back".

Young at Heart said...

ooh how lovely...I can feel the sun on my toes....haven't been anywhere near greece since I first went, heaven knows why it was heavenly....holidays are definately the way forward!!

Nicole said...

Lovely post. And the last line is really a beauty. Smart and insightful as always. Hope you're settling in well.

Happy Frog and I said...

I love coming to your blog and reading your posts because I know that whatever you decide to write about you will describe and write about it so beautifully. I really felt like I was there, seeing the situation through your eyes.

*The Old Geezer said...

Greetings from Southern California

I am your newest follower. I invite you to visit TOGB and become a follower, if you want too.

Take care and have a nice day :-)

~Ron

Jennifer said...

Finally reading the blog posts that have filed up in my Google Reader.

I assume you're just a bit more settled than this post implies. At any rate, I loved what you've seen so far.

It all sounds lovely, even if it is an awkward welcome to a new home.