In which the author rambles on about the objects – touchstones – that surround him in his writing hut.
Of the many touchstones I will write about on TOUCHSTONE TUESDAYS this one would definitely make Top Five in ‘Things I would grab in a fire’. Maybe Top Three.
Almeria. August 1975. My parents had moved to Southern Spain the year before on the no-doubt-reasonable premise that since I’d just turned 18 I could bloody well fend for myself! (They did invite me to go with them but since I’d decided to be in actor I thought I’d better stay in England and do some training. Also these were the days when kids still left home at 18, actually chose to. No living in the parents’ basement, ordering take out pizza and hitting the bong while playing Call of Duty at 37 for my generation!) But of course it did mean a wonderful place to visit often, cheap holidays in the sun, the Mediterranean to play in, and do one of the things I most love to do: drift around in the sea in an snorkel and mask and make like an octopus.
One hot day I spotted this shell, about ten feet beneath me. I dove for it, brought it up. Its occupant was gone but the two halves were still attached by gristle then. I admired its shape, its perfect symmetry. Like lines within a tree you can see the way the creature grew and grew, its tiny beginning, its evolving majesty as it fed. There’s the dark band about halfway down it. I can almost imagine the creature thinking: ‘That’s it, I’ll hunker down here and so end with a decorative flourish!’ But then something pushed it to go further – competition? Clam love? It went for another burst and completed the glorious shape that I found.
I took it home, even though I knew the fate of shells: to lose their fabulous shine and lustre as they dry out. To end up bleached and forgotten in some flower bed, or ignored on a bathroom shelf. Then I had an idea. I took my Mum’s hair lacquer (Yupp, that’s what mums used then) and sprayed the shell. Voila! It’s retained its sheen ever since. And though the gristle dried and disappeared and the two halves split, it is still perfect.
To me, from the side it looks like an angel who has folded her wings.
From above, the endless shells it was before it was complete.
Opened, a bath for a Botticelli maiden to rise from.
A grain of sand, digested, hardened, the first brick in the wall that was to be the creature’s shack, then hovel, then apartment, then house, then mansion.
I will look at it when I need to think of something pure and beautiful. When I need to remind myself that creation is a process, a layering, steadily growing from something as infinitesimal as a thought. That my struggles in writing – in life – are about building moment on moments, smoothing, hardening, accreting until the day something can be made complete. Even, dare I say, beautiful.
Next week’s Touchstone: probably Number One on the list of things to grab in the fire: my Shepherd’s Crook.
(Clarification: Before I end, a little clarification about last week’s post and the use of a Biblical sling shot. Someone pointed out that they still didn’t quite understand the mechanics of it and I realize I was unclear when I wrote ‘When you are ready, you site on the target – and then you throw the knot at it.’ To clarify: the knot is tied at the end of one of the ropes. You press that against the other end, which has a loop that you have put two fingers in. So when you get it whirling above your head, when you ‘throw’ the knot, those fingers keep the sling attached to your hand. The knot end shoots out and the whole weapon straightens, the pouch opens and the stone is hurled out. The knot is like the site on a rifle – if you hurl that where you want to hit, the stone should follow. e.g. (in the novel I will never write) ‘David sited on the Goliath’s forehead just above his nose – and hurled the knot at it.’
Clear as mud? I may have to put up a video!