[ 18:40 thursday 25 december – all stretton, shropshire ]
sergio lies snoring quietly on the rug in front of the gas fire. bach preludes and fugues scurry from the powerbook’s little speakers. clusters of newly-opened presents dot the floor and tables. mum, dad and granny are in the kitchen fighting with the electric oven which switched itself off halfway through cooking their duck.
i’m here at granny’s house sitting in the armchair that was permanently reserved for grandpa, somewhat in the centre of the room with prime position for the fire and the television. it’s a month since grandpa sat in it for the last time. one morning granny found him unusually difficult to awaken and it turned out he wasn’t breathing. he was ninety-seven years old and the last ten years were a battle with depression, fear and physical decline. i visited just a couple of weeks before his death and found him lucid and calm. when the time came to leave i crouched beside him, clasped his hand and stroked his wispy white hair. in my heart i had a sense it was the last time i’d see him. when dad phoned to tell me he’d died i felt no sadness. i pray that he has found an afterlife filled with the serene mountains he loved to climb so much in life.
it’s been a long time since i wrote. now i break my silence. happy christmas to friends everywhere.
[ 18:20 friday 26 december – ludlow, shropshire ]
supper at granny’s last night was a splendid affair. it felt like we’d returned to the christmases of my childhood, to the time before the air around the dinner table was heavy with grandpa’s joylessness. after sixty-five years’ devotion to him it’s not going to be easy for granny to build a new life as an individual. but after a month it already seems to me that she is talking more lightly and laughing more. she’s a strong lady. i’m sure she enjoyed having us all there.
now sergio and i are here with bear and david, my excellent godparents. we spent this afternoon exploring ludlow in the freezing rain. everywhere are echoes of the former power and importance of this place, perched strategically in the midst of the wild march-lands between england and wales. the church is quite spectacular, a spacious gothic edifice most of whose fabric dates from a refurbishment in the fifteenth century at which point a majestic 135 foot tower was also added. the misericords are smothered with gorgeous carvings of beer barrels, pigs, hanging fowl and other accouterments of mediaeval life.
[ 00:45 wednesday 31 december – shipton street, london ]
back home, typing away to napolitan music. it’s been several years since the words “home” and “london” have been linked for me. ah well, i find myself more adaptable than i expected. the last time i wrote was in july when i was on my way back to stromboli after two weeks staying in warren and ann’s greenwich house. i spent just five days on stromboli, shifting all my belongings to gustl and valerie’s magazzino down by the beach at scalo dei balordi, packing everything into a transportable form and organising for its despatch.
predictably this turned out to be considerably more complex than it had any right to be. on poste italiane’s website i’d found details of a european package delivery service which looked ideal. so on my final full day on stromboli sergio and i lugged all the boxes to the post office in the blazing sun. we filled in all the forms then giuseppe (the most agreeable postmaster in the world; he phones when anything arrives for me) pointed out that the european package service was not available from stromboli. it’s too remote.
oh dear. leaving all the boxes in the post office i embarked on a flurry of research into the options. one possibility was to despatch my boxes from the post office either in lipari or in milazzo. but how i was going to get them that far was not clear. officially there was no outbound courier service operating from stromboli, but mario the pasticciere from bar ingrid had recently taken over responsibility for incoming courier deliveries and suggested i speak to universal parcel service. i phoned and after a few seconds consultation the lady said it would be no problem to collect a consignment from stromboli. she told me the local office was siracusa and they would send a van to pick up my boxes. bearing in mind that it takes at least a day to get from siracusa to stromboli this seemed slightly unlikely, but she insisted it was the case and proceeded to take my order. discussing it afterwards with mario he predicted that the ups office in siracusa would umm and ahh then call the company on lipari that handles all courier deliveries in the eolian islands. this company in turn would ponder awhile then most likely call mario and get him to send my boxes over. this didn’t seem like a watertight system but during my time on stromboli i have learned to trust to fate in such cases.
there being nothing more to do, i passed the evening getting nostalgically drunk with paolo and a few other friends. as dusk fell sergio and i excused ourselves, careered down the steps from paolo’s terrace, threw ourselves into the sea and swam out a little way, from where we watched the sun dissolve into the golden horizon. the next morning we shifted all the boxes from the post office into maria’s shop on the piazza, where she kindly agreed to keep them until someone turned up to collect them. then it was time to get on the hydrofoil and say goodbye to stromboli for the time being.
for the next two months i stayed on in warren’s house as britain sweltered in absurd temperatures. london was horrible and i felt wretched, but i kept my attention fixed on setting up trampoline and getting some investment together. i also started house hunting. in the meantime the sequence of events proceeded exactly as mario had predicted and after a week he received a call to pick up my boxes and send them over to lipari, from where they were conveyed to siracusa and entered the ups system, arriving creditably intact in greenwich a few days later.
on 18 september sergio and i moved into the house where i sit now. it’s the first floor of a victorian bakery in the no-man’s land between shoreditch and bethnal green, with most of the internal walls knocked down and steps which fold down from the ceiling to lead one to the roof. there’s a fireplace where we burn timber harvested on late-night scavenging missions on local streets. during the day three big windows wash the room with december light, and draw one’s gaze up the long straight road towards haggerston. on sundays the cobbled alleyway below the house becomes an open-air cafe and we find ourselves in the thick of the columbia road flower market. the many diversions of old street, brick lane and kingsland road are a few minutes’ walk from the front door. it is a satisfactory sanctuary. my new address is 36b shipton street, london e2 7ru.
on the first of october trampoline systems limited officially raised its first commercial investment. the total, £127,000, is tiny from the perspective of the venture capital market but it’s twice what we set out to raise and from my working-on-thin-air perspective seems like an amazing sum. craig and i are busy transforming it into magic of various kinds.
then on 23 december, just in time for christmas, a signed license agreement arrived from none other than the british foreign office, our very first clients. they’ll be using trampoline to provide communications and information management for an initiative they’re setting up to create a worldwide partnership of governments, businesses and non-profits involved in renewable energy. there are mountains to climb to make the business a success but this has certainly been a well-augured beginning.
during these months there have been many experiences about which i’ve wanted to write. a street full of steel bands going full tilt the night before notting hill carnival. a party around a fire by the banks of the canal in west london with eric, bobo and roberto. ten days of equinoctial sun and storm on stromboli in october. the turning on of hayle’s christmas lights with anna and adam in cornwall, accompanied by the town’s brass band. the tumultuous anti-bush demonstration in trafalgar square with craig, sergio, kirmo, warren and ann; after which we arrived back slightly late for our housewarming party. and so forth. on each occasion something has held me back from writing. i’m not sure what it was. maybe i was waiting to change in some way.
after writing the paragraphs from bear and david’s on 26 december sergio and i stayed with them one more day. in the afternoon we borrowed mountain bikes and headed out into mortimer forest. it was a beautiful day, crisp cold air with occasional pockets of mist hanging over the trees. the ground was covered with fallen leaves and still muddy from the previous day’s rain. we had a wonderful time skittering along the paths between the trees and zipping up and down hills. i got us rather lost and as the sun was setting i did feel a twinge of anxiety as the forest is large and we were not well prepared for a night in the wilds. however we carried on following our noses and eventually we emerged on a road, about ten miles from where i thought we were. we made it home shortly after sunset, covered in mud from head to foot.
i’ll be seeing in the new year from a crowded dancefloor in the centre of london. to everyone who’s reading this i pray 2004 realises old hopes and brings new dreams.
* : c : *