07

Hallowe’en
Moon: waxing crescent

As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only…
T. S. Eliot, East Coker

It’s early morning. The air tastes sharp and clean. The woods, as someone else once said, are lovely, dark and deep. I set out on the cycle-path, thinking my own thoughts, leaf-shapes flickering in my peripheral vision. Trees are armatures, psychometric-test child’s drawings of trees, the branches black and hard, like spreading cracks. The few leaves left are flecks.
But the light: mist-smoke is lifting from the undergrowth and split-levelling the lower air. The sun is coming down through the bare branches, spreading in soft rays which pick up the mist and sift it as it disperses. This refulgent glory lands on the pathway just as it turns out of sight and the path is bright and the whole thing is almost unbearable, like glimpsing the person you love most of all disappearing through a doorway.

Hallowe’en. Samhain. Pivot-point. Door-day. Do you do anything? The children will go from door to door and come back with an actual bucketful of sweets. Myself, often, I’ll light a fire and have a think. About the people I’ve lost: my father, grandparents, mentors of one kind or another, without whom for one reason or another I wouldn’t be here, or wouldn’t be me. Life is precious, and the connections between one life and another are often hidden, so let’s be grateful to the people whose lives made ours possible: and to try to live gratefully.
My maternal Grandfather, who died when I was 16, was a painter. He won a scholarship to art college, but couldn’t go because his older brother died and suddenly there wasn’t enough money coming in. During the Second World War he was stationed in Burma driving ambulances, but afterwards, even though he spent his working life in the NHS as an accountant, he remained part impassioned, part haunted by the call to be an artist, and by the choices that drew him away from his calling.
My Grandparents’ house was hung with his paintings, and he collected books on visual art. He also read widely, and made himself a bookshelf, and it was from him I received early copies of Treasure Island and Lord of the Rings.
Like most of us, he carried within the life he led another, secret life: the one he didn’t lead; the life he poured into what art he had time to practice. In my imagination I made him into some kind of door-keeper of my own artistic livelihood.

When I started making a living as a potter, I had a dream about him. I was a child again, sitting with him in his front room. Everything was the same, his tweed jacket from Dunn & Co, his tropical fish, the smoked-glass lampshade, the bird-table visible through the window – except he was also wearing an enormous head-dress, an owl mask made of bird-feathers and bones, which he lifted off his own head and placed onto mine. I remember looking out at him through the eye-holes. He was beaming.
The journey we are on, we’re on together.
A lifetime burning in every moment…
Light a candle, light a fire.

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