The first session (can’t call it this morning’s, as it doesn’t start til 2pm) was with Phil and we read a dreadful piece taken from a book on football, Red or Dead. Absolutely loathe that style, but only because I am Queen of flowery language and adjectives and that piece had NONE. Urgh.
So, we asked to do some life writing in that style, around the theme of ‘loss’. And then this happened.
It’s cold. The roadway is wet. Black and wet. Pitted with small holes where tree roots nudge up and the frost pushes down. Wet leaves line the paths. Splashes of red on the black, smudges of brown and rust. Wet and cold and slick.
The hearse is silver. It’s wrong. Shiny bright silver, reflecting low winter sun. Not black. Not funereal. Silver and clean, glass and chrome. The top hats are black. Dull wool greatcoats cover knees. White collars peep from sombre suits.
A murmured joke, a smothered laugh. Serious faces gather. Quiet voices watch the bearers. The bugler stands out, his gold, brass and red gleam on royal blue.
They file in, one by one. The room fills. Overflows. People stand on steps. Flowers drop intermittent petals. The room is full.
There isn’t a vicar or a priest. The officiant is a friend. An old friend, a brother-in-law, a lay preacher. He knew him as well as a man who married the sister of his wife could have known him. His strengths and foibles. His weaknesses and bravery.
There are hymns. There are always bloody hymns. But more than hymns. We sing Mr Blue Sky. His wife smiles through tears that don’t fall.
Outside, the sun is brighter. Laughs no longer smothered. A child reaches for the bearskin. The hearse is still silver, but no longer wrong.
The next session was on a bizarre piece on trout fishing in America (but not), written by someone who was more than likely on some small tasty little fungi. And the prompt was the Brayford.
NESSIE IN THE BRAYFORD (I make no excuses for the title)
I like to walk around the water. Always clockwise, never widdershins. Clockwise keeps the water to my right, makes me tilt my head towards the middle to watch. The water is dark, choppy in the wind which spits and squalls across its surface. Some days it’s alive, the brown-backed beast moving just out of sight beneath the boats and the birds, the empty plastic bottles and the swirling, muted-rainbow slicks of oil.
It is alive, of course.
Anyone who watches the water for any length of time can see that. It shifts and moves with the wind, then, abruptly against it. Swans startle for no reason, cygnets the colour of slush circling their brilliant parents. I watch them dipping their heads along the edge and emerging green. They like to stay near the edge. I don’t.
It probably wouldn’t eat the swans, I think. It’s never eaten one yet, that I know, but then, it would need permission from the Queen and I’m not sure it can write. Not that anyone else has seen it, hiding in plain sight as it does.
The gentle swell of the water, no tide here, some days still like glass so the cathedral can see her face, reflected back against a sky so blue it hurts. I could see my own reflection if I looked.
I never have.
I walk clockwise around the water. Some days I follow the sun, others I keep my head down out of the wind and let it follow me. The water watches. It doesn’t judge. From the bridge I can see the whole dull length, narrow boats splashes of ill-advised tattoo colour; freckle-flecked with gulls and ducks and coots, a dandruff of old bus tickets and cigarette packets in the corners.
The water is alive.