Well, almost every house. In Valletta it is also every corner. Streets are full of shrines. Especially in Mdina/ Rabat, even where there is no saint, there is a nature scene, or a thanks to country that has made a family member welcome(ish) and able to send money home. They are amazing.
There is even now a mad crashing of cicadas. Their buzzing comes in waves from all sides, they are angrier here than at home, louder. As you approach they cannot leap to stillness but must wind down slowly, a whirr and a whirr and a whirr and a whirr. Then there is silence. They jump into a full blast of sound again, louder than before, but behind you this time as you pass. They bring me happiness, like the quick slender lizards that move so quickly to efface themselves in improbable cracks.
I love being surrounded by this sound of summer, sitting in front of the whirring of a fan and its odd mechanical rumble as it turns from one side to the other. But it is also odd, such familiar sounds yet so far from home. The glimmer of turquoise water just outside the window. Every now and then an echo of those everywhere-the-same sounds of families at the sea-side. The expected breezes off the sea non-existent. The skin on my neck itching and unhappy, the lazy slothfulness, the delicious mad consumption of books. The stirrings of a story or two, but no desire to write more than this. A scatter of maps on the low table along with a prized ticket to the Ħal Saflieni hypogeum for tomorrow, procured from the Citadel early this morning — I had all but given up hope of seeing it, with no pre-ordered tickets available. A freezer stuffed with frozen ravioli from the market in Victoria. Mark working at the kitchen table, but I cannot follow his example and work on my article. I just cannot. Fiction or nothing. The mention of a shame-faced crab in the Gozo natural history museum yesterday a new character for Whispering Truth, but no, I am in the mood to lazily think. To blog, the most effortless of writing. The older I get, too, the more afraid I am of forgetting.
The sun streaming through the kitchen window is about to hit me, forcing movement into a cool shower. My legs are finally the colour they have been most of my life, before I moved to England. They are fully mine, but still forced into retreat.
Mine to the right, Mark’s to the left. We’re both a bit obsessive.
Someone broke in last night.
I was trying to get out the door, late for work of course, and saw the door was ajar. I stared at it, wondered if it was possible I had not shut it behind me. No time for recriminations though, I ran down the steps, got to the corner. Remembered I had to remember my work laptop, turned around to get it.
Stared at where it should have been.
Just my pile of shoes there by the door. I had left it by the door to remind myself, but I found myself just staring at the shoes. Blank.
I still didn’t think. Wondered where I might have put it. Turned. Saw also gone the ancient mac that only works to play DVDs. Its screen long dead, it is connected up to a cheap screen so I can watch US dvds, awaiting the day I can afford a television and a universal DVD player. They took all the cords, left the cheap screen. That old mac isn’t worth £5 to anyone but me, but we’ve been through a lot together.
I never move that mac, never touch that tangle of cords. I knew someone had been in there then.
They came in through the window I think. I had left that small window open I think, and it was now closed. They came in while I was sleeping. I saw later, after calling the police, that they had pulled out some of my papers, an old wallet that had nothing in it but my checkbook to a defunct American account. An empty envelope. A lot of risk for so little. Even later, really looking around to make sure everything else was there, I realised they also stole my exercise cord. How am I going to do my rows? That felt like some kind of really stupid straw.
Just a door between them and me asleep.
That’s the real thing.
I am surprised this warm comforting space I call my home didn’t catch them up in a black tornado funnel and spit them back out the window, didn’t rare up biting and clawing to protect me. Or overwhelm them with its love and consciousness embodied in books and political posters. They took that cord, but left the painted Creature From the Black Lagoon box right next to it. Luckily our definitions of value are very different, and everything I love most is still here. I am not much for portable and valuable things. Except laptops.
I feel funny though. Like someone has dropped a stone in water, and I am not sure where the ripples have left me. I had to talk to strangers on the phone. I went in to work because I didn’t even think maybe I shouldn’t, still operating on automatic, then came home. I had to fill out paperwork. I still have to call the manager. I failed to do much beyond a few urgent, very specific email tasks. After I realised they had come through the window I called the police back, thought they should come out after all. I don’t think they’re coming out. I don’t know that I mind. I’m still waiting for a call.
I ordered a box-set of BBC adaptations of Jane Austen. Many years ago, a woman off her head on something and fighting someone in the building or her own demons threw a large stone through my window when I was on my own in LA, and started screaming she wanted to kill me after seeing my shadow. I stared at the rock and the shattered glass all over my bed. Called the police. Waited for them for hours, she was long gone and I wasn’t sad about that either. Then I went to my friend Jennie’s, and watched all of Pride and Prejudice for the first time. I should own a copy for the next time something happens, it is the most soothing of productions.
I am not sure where the ripples have left me.
It’s been such a long few weeks of trying to recontact people I talked to months ago facing homelessness… many homeless still. Others housed. Some in prison. Most impossible to contact. I’ve been across Wales, away from my own home for most of the month, and work hasn’t stopped while I’m away. I’ve edited an issue of City, and written this piece about my hopes for Labour policy and homes that support life as it should be lived for a Verso ebook, also online with Salvage. Of course it could not look away from Grenfell, my heart is still broken.
A place to call home. A simple thing. Labour once had a vision that there should be housing for everyone, though what makes a home is perhaps not so simple. As Kim Dovey writes, home is deeply intertwined with our identity. It centres the relationship between ourselves and the earth, centres our connection to community and culture and society, to our past with its memories, and to our ability to grow into our full potential with the power to define our future. A home should be a place of strength and safety.
A home should not be what kills us.
Yet Grenfell went up in flames, went up in a great stench and acrid smoking to consume its survivors’ past and their present, their safety and security and community. It greedily consumed a still unknown, possibly never-to-be-known, number of human beings who trusted it and built their lives within its walls. Each of them was a world of stories and dreams and laughter. Only memories and ashes now, a gaping hole in the hearts and lives of those who loved them.
But I tried to dig down, go further. Think about how housing should be rethought before it is rebuilt. It was so hard to write, everything has been hard to write. Grief has been ever-present this month. Fundraising for the funeral for Julian, fundraising for Chelsea’s Silas and his future now that hers has been erased. The murderer of Philando Castile set free, a jury who could see what I and the rest of the world saw and do nothing. My friends sharing stories and fears, and nothing can ease fear for their lives in a country that puts no value on any Black life. On another front. My mother fighting to get the medicine she needs to live, and the Republicans doing what they can to take away the little and the imperfect support she now has. And bombs keep dropping and people far from here are still dying and millions are in movement across this earth and home has become such an impossible thing and their grief rages like a forest fire beside my small blaze. I suppose this diminishes neither. I just wish there were more that I could do.
The Viking Ship Museum — incredible. Despite hordes of elderly French tourists in colourful anoraks and sensible shoes fresh off the coach, following a diminutive tour guide in a bright yellow jacket who propelled her footstool through the crowds, leapt upon it, declaimed, and moved on to the next-notable-thing. They followed her at speed, seemed to linger longest in the gift shop — but that’s probably prejudice speaking as I was transfixed and not really paying attention.
The wonder of these ships. To be built with such care, to be eminently practical yet also crafted and made most beautiful, from their great curves and curls to their meticulous carvings. To be buried in honour of certain members of the community. The most beautiful, the most decorated ship carried two women to their afterlife and with them their weaving tools — multiple looms, weaving tablets, yarns, precious cloth. Agricultural tools were found here too, plowshares, sickles, scythes — at least the wooden handles. If only there had been more, they could have joined my collection of medieval illustrations/ implements still used in everyday life.
Two women and their weavings. In this.
What love and honour shown to them. The Oseburg ship, build around AD 820 and in use before the women were buried in 834. 22 metres long, 5 metres wide, could reach a speed of over 10 knots under sail. The most lavishly decorated ship yet found.
A picture of its excavation:
There is the Gokstad ship, found in 1880, built around 890 and buried around 900 with a full complement of shields. A warriors ship.
The third ship, the Tune ship from 910, is almost in ruins, only the base of it remaining preserved. Still beautiful.
The only hint of humour here — the remains of a peacock were found — ‘It may have been a gift from some foreign dignitary or perhaps a ‘souvenir’ brought back…’
Also within the Oseberg ship this cart:
Soft leather boots:
five amazing carved animal heads, four in the burial chamber, they seem to have been meant to be mounted or carried with a thong passed behind their teeth, their purpose unknown.
I would have loved to have been here quiet and alone, but amongst these objects so weighted with beauty and an entirely different way of viewing the world and living within it, those coachloads didn’t matter quite so much. But we got there early before the real deluge started I think. It would have been intolerable with a few more coachloads by the time we left.
We also took the ferry, which meant we were able to continue our tradition of disappointing boat rides in European cities. A picture of the Akershus fortress from the water:
It emphasizes the importance of sturdy boats. But the Vikings built beautiful ones.