…..in H says h for Helensburgh!
The mountains, snow clad. Glimpses beckoned us towards higher ground….town was just wet, cold, grey, the damp oozing through the brickwork, sky insipid, like a vintage tupperware lid, excluding the sun….the storms had passed, but strips of poly tape yellow and black like the health and safety wasp had been on overtime, was suggesting that fallen trees were not there for exploration or foraging.
Outward, upward was tempting, but maybe a different road this time, appealing though those mountains were, we wanted to see the effects of that wind up close, and I was feeling the draw of the sea.
Life had been exhausting, my thyroxine levels had not been enjoying the avoidance of salt and my seasonal overindulgence in all things brassica (mmmmm red cabbage stir fried with ginger, chilli, garlic and red onions, had been heating me up on damp evenings…), salty brisk iodine was calling.
We bought kelp and bladderwrack on our way out of town.
I wan’t the only one under the weather, the girl had been cooped up… she ‘needed to run’ she said, ‘and look at stuff’, she was going to fidget in that car seat….and moan…..I could tell. In that situation stories are good, quiet voices need stillness and silence to be heard, silly situations lift the mood, facts, lessons and generally useful stuff can be woven in. A travelling car, or a bus, or a train, or passers by can provide the script.
Slow down… observe… don’t worry about making sense, just allow the story to develop.
I drove, I started with the bladderwrack, prop in hand she felt, crunched, smelt…. it smelt of the sea, saline, fish tailed, crisp, out of element….we drove along the length of the Clyde. I cannot even say the name without thinking of the mermaid of the Clyde, her tale is one I started Botanica Fabula with, it seemed poignant the essence is this:
‘As industry gained momentum and tenements, back to back dark and moist covered the meadows, as the shipyards called for the river to be dredged, as the banks were clawed and the forests burnt, the young women of Glasgow had begun to live foreshortened lives, no where could they find the iron rich greens they needed, now only iron filled yards brought riches to the few. The mermaid despaired; times had changed, this was no longer a world in which she was welcome, before one last tail flick took her away from this dark heat arced world she uttered ‘if they ate Nettles in March and Mugworts in May not so many young maidens would have gone to the clay’, ‘
The girl loves it, she loves to ask why. Why did they dig up all the plants mum, couldn’t they leave them next door: ‘that would have been a good idea love’….(.quick intercept, ask questions back) ‘why do you think she told them to eat nettles’…she knows that one….but we both like the repetition, it also brings us back to the bladderwrack, safely ensconced in its clear plastic grip top bag, it crunches under the pressure of her hand like pebbles on a beach. We discuss how much healthier the mermaid must have felt in forests of Fucus, and cradles of Kelp.
Kelp leads her to Kelpies, we pass the sign post for Loch Lomond and weigh up the choices, we’ll tell the Kelpie story another day, we ponder what Kelpies eat: I’m advocating horsetail and duckweed, she insists its naughty people who play loud music on his Loch and jet skiers, I love her style, children are hardcore on crime and punishment, there is no grey area.
I make a decision, quickly twisting the conversation away from vaguely annoying people she’d feed to a Kelpie should she ever be in the position to provide the catering for one, we turned off for Helensburgh.
The storms had been hard at work, stonework looked like it had been used for a game of bricks and then toppled by a three year old hurried to get out the door, the seagulls huddled in a row: chattering tea dancers waiting for an updraft to request a Viennese waltz; the front had been ravaged: cast iron benches lifted on concrete paws and replaced re decked in driftwood and seaweed.
We sat and watched the seagulls twirling then sitting back down to wait again, she wobbled the bench, I got vertigo. We copied the seagulls dances and polka’d down the front drawn by the toyshop and chips…
A big magnifying glass, provided the perfect compromise, a foil to all those soft toys requesting board and lodging in voices to sibilant for adult ears. The picture now shrank to a space less than 4inches in diameter but within that circle it expanded and the miniature showed its colours and shapes, drew in our focus, made us reconsider everything, familiar geography, became fascinating grains. Driftwood became a myriad of tunnels, the tiny crisp pieces of harvested bladderwrack now were recognisable as fragments of the bubbles lying on the shore, the swans scrutinised us, we scrutinised them back. The same route reversed now looked like a hundred tiny habitats, mountains of minerals, a pathway of rainbows.
The kelp has picked me up, I need to keep remembering that mermaid, my energy levels have picked up a bit again, but we’re being mindful of minerals and the stories they tell us. We’ve been looking at the minerals with all sorts of magnifiers since then, brain coral at the National museum, stars through telescopes. Coal, air, water and petroleum formed into fabric by a reaction between an acid and an alcohol becomes a train carried sterile forest under the gaze of our magnifying glass….. Its been fascinating gaining further glimpses of familiar geography! We even sneaked past that cordoned off tree and collected some twigs for our Spring picture, some beech twigs for the rabbit, some resources for my next story box, and magnified that and counted its rings….but thats another story.