Stuck my head out in the blackness after midnight. Wicked, biting wind cut through, my hair whipped and danced around my head, a few lights decorated the distance. I need to sleep, being pulled and drawn into somewhere long and dark, new and romantic, a sharp, strong, vodka kicked cocktail of emotions. Going to bed too late – but don’t care, this is hard but better than the settee.
11/8 St Petersburg
Well Toto I guess were not in Kansas anymore.
Tired. But up and ready in Russia.
Sun tries stubbornly against the slatey, chunky, thin, angular horizon.
While they sleep in English darkness I’m looking out on a country shaped by oppression, carved by change, limping with uneasiness, clumsy, proud of it roots but awkward in it’s reinvention. No wonder I feel at home.
Bitterly out on the steely Neva, under the Bridge of Brides where tradition throws wishes into it, moving swiftly past palaces and fortress, sitting on top of boat. Interrupted sky, getting colder, eaten by grey bleakness, harsh and frozen.
Along Peter’s Great river to the widest part and into arms of the Aurora Dawn hearing her first shot, thinking of our own overthrowing.
My own arms turn to ice, still holding the effects from the Cathedral. Was unprepared for the images inside the Church of the Spilled Blood and how in a beat I was taken back to the Cistine Chapel and the smell and hush in the colours. And the tension between trying to be there and see it beyond the crowds and not to consume it like everyone else. How can you take your own moments while grabbling on to our sons hand amongst the shoulder shove of a greedy band of strangers? And trying to keep sight of the guide and what number on a stick are we looking for? And you were somewhere out there in the loud quiet, in the hot clamouring fug, mind the steps, where are the steps, hold on, hold my hand.
And not far from two years later I stand looking up in a different space-time at a different ceiling, lost in the colours, in the moment, encrusted in the pain, frozen into the delicate detail reaching out to me through the light.
Subdued buildings frame our coldness, soft monochrome symmetry as we catch the stories. Waiting for the Prince of the purple sails, sleeping out amongst the trees until her ship comes in. And he arrives knowing a Princess’ wish, dying his sails to meet her needs. So purple becomes symbolic of hope and I buy a purple scarf for their folklore and my needs.
In the evening we march back through immigration, passed the impenetrable soulless sheet steel of Welcome. Look into the neck twisting mirror, avoid eye contact, wasted smile, stamp and go.
Sit with hope in the theatre and discuss the patterns on the heavy gilt dripping curtains. Our son sees banana gold waves as we look at the columns of smiles. After our chiselled out granite morning, the contrast of sound and colour, a party of fanciful fabrics lands with a comforting shock. The frivolous costumed energy spun its stark revolt against the earlier cruel greyness and we enjoyed what we could in our plush pockets, a world away from anyone. Seemed displaced somehow and out of time, a teasing humour, joyous fun bursting out, unexpected, dancing freely in the way I used to feel.
And back through the night, spots of neon pierce the gloom, wrapped in an enchantment from the evenings culture. The energy, exuberance, so alien to my life, so vibrant, drenching me in a tradition and fairytale.
Today in the Peter and Paul Fortress, looking up again, away from people. The ceiling, gaudy gold dripped splendor gives me neck ache while I cannot deal with the caskets and the rush-crowd-click of people photographing marble. I can’t deal with the size and the shape and the words and the imagery and although they’re all long gone Emperors of a Romanov resting place, I shuffle past and look up and beyond. I feel disgust as they clammer to consume moments of history. And outside our guide mumbles on in his gruff appealing slightly indecipherable sintax about Anastasia and if they find her there’ll be another funeral. And I close myself off and away and want to escape but I can’t.
Managed agony of the traditional choral Russian choir in a small white hush with nails dug deep into fingertips, to hold on tight through the velvet harmonies. Objectively so beautiful but I had to lock the feelings in layers of decorated wood because if I started… well, you know.
Somehow its too much like Pisa. The cobbles are hard to walk on, hard to see, they take me back to our last holiday and rushing round market stalls before finding you standing, waiting and my bartering for an umbrella that hasn’t seen the light of day yet because it reminds me of back then and the time just before.
And inside to prison confinement, a different suffering, the wire bed, stone floored isolation and a gnawing presence of my own hard cell.
The struggle back today, intermittent successes as we follow the polyester hand holders, sweet but agonising. Walking behind them, magnetic hands, dressed the same, strolling in a land I thought I’d know.
We leave soon heading for Helsinki. I feel confused and restless. Grey, low skies with a beautiful cold symmetry.
The threatening cloud frames gold leaf, a softened shape splintering the skyline. I’m muddled, tired and teary, feeling everything and nothing in one breath. Remembering too much, thinking too loud. Swamped with the days experiences, encrusted with anniversaries and vividly coloured moments that stay inlaid, despite time. The light breaks through, lighting up the old part of the docks, flicking a strange glow on the rough Brezhnev breeze block buildings and the huge hotels.
I can’t think anymore.
The ship stirs up silt, the gulls are busy. My predictive text tells me I’m a King away from anywhere but I don’t feel it. My land comes with me wherever I go, it’s in everything. There’s no escaping this rule, The revolt is always against myself, it’s a tireless cyclical coup.
The water settles to ripples, the breeze twirls and plays, I stare into the distance. We are moving away, we are moving towards our next place taking this with me. It’s ok.
I feel calmer now we’ve shifted west. The frosted glass laps and breaks alongside, sun dipping as we glide. A stillness that belies it’s depth. I sit out, feet up with merlot-my own spilled blood, wrapped in my Estonian shawl, warm, cool, tapping on screen. Our son unimpressed by the line of small vessels, he’s in a different place.
Stick with it. Be.
13/8 Helsinki, Finland
Our day, a good day on balance. Both of us laughing and shrieking as we bounced and battered over the snow, following leather tethered huskies. Despite the benefits to my chiropractor it hurtled us through a new experience, slipping us closer, lapping it up in our ice sculpted memory. And after the slapstick snowsuit removal we blinked back out of the dome into the bright Helsinki coach park, our sixty seated sleighs groaning under the weight of Finnish gifts.
After our day of contrasts -5 to 22, I listen to where I am but go back three years and the call from your Dad. We go upstairs to tell you and you just say was that the hospital on the phone and you know and we give you some time alone. And now I’m here and the thick unyielding fog is back and although the sun is on my feet and the rush in my ears, none of this is real.
I am not here, this did not happen x
Lying here waiting for the motivation to get up looking at the date and steaming, churning slowly towards tomorrow. It’s daylight out there, from the quiet soft patterns on the ceiling I expect a cloudy, thick wash when I push open the heavy striped curtains. Still back in yesterday and thinking of my time with your Mum and the encroaching fog. And that’s all I feel now. A jellied, gloopy greyness, swirling, lumping, sticking to me changing my outline, slowing me though not enough to stop. I feel her on my arm in the first of the homes. That was August too and the little house we rented opposite the train station which confused and distressed her, before the journey back over Pendle and I sat in the back and stroked her hand. And you burst through the fog now like a lost ship, harrowing, calling it’s memories, it’s stories creaking with the swelling wood. And I swoop up and out of the the whiteness, remembering, feeling, right back there in our life with our son in year two, you in familiar conflict with your brother and the slow un ravelling around your Mum. And I am not here, this is too alien, this is not my world. I am not floating gently to the next place in a life I feel displaced in.
I need to get up but I’m a collection of pieces. And tomorrow is the 15th.
Sat out the other side of Denmark, smelling the seaweed, too far from home. Nothing works, I can’t deal with people, their carefree consuming irritates me, their happy end of holiday faces replete in too much of everything. I feel flat, I’m uneasy with a bile that builds steadily. The suns round the corner, we are anticipating the edge of a storm. I touched the edge months ago, if anything, more queasiness will be a good fit tonight. I want to be thrown around, tipped down the corridors, bounced of a floor that drops away because that’s just how it is. That’s the instability in my head. I don’t care that it’s the last formal night, I plan to shove down a main course and run, only facing it because our son wants to and we spent some of the early nights having tea in the room. I’ve done necessary avoidance for a while. Right now I’m wondering why I bother, is any of this worth it? Should I do something totally different without these significant triggers? How am I going to get through the remainder now? Sun, white speckled deep green, lulling, soothing, calming but it has much work to do to take away this feeling.
I’m in no place to assess the merits of this trip, I do know why I did it, but leave it now, let it be. My eyes and cheeks are getting sore as the heat creeps round. It’s a strange place, manageable when it’s tucked away inside but when it comes out to play, screaming terror in your face, the frivolous surroundings and people push me down, darker, deeper, more absolute into my familiar wound. That’s it I suppose, the wound, hacked off limb with no anaesthetic, throbbing quietly, changing my gait. But now it’s bathed in salt from the North Sea, rubbed up and down the gash, burning feeling back and right now I’ve lost my bearings, compass points to nowhere I know well. Messy metaphors are muddled like me and I can’t do anything, be anything, interact or rest. I’m back 18 months ago, waiting and knowing. And in my current space feel like a waste of carbon.
16/8 Bruges, Belgium
Opened curtains to busy port. Rode out last nights storm, sheets of white lightning switched flashing energy across the ocean. Despite my empty lowness, a clamouring fear seeps in. I feel our paper boat, soaked and torn bashed about on the waves. I’ve run out of what I need, I’ll be glad to get home.
Wandering through quaintness, 335 steps up to the top though we don’t climb it and it still looks like the other old honeymoon towers. Gargoyles in windows preventing evil spirits. I look in their eyes but they can’t stop these feelings. Alms houses, quietly line the lapping river, built for deserving old people and widows, so we’re told and I smile on the inside.
Our son rests his head on the side of the boat, he pulls at passing trees like on that boat trip in Warwick on our way North for your Mum’s service.
Everything looks like somewhere else, like the trip you enjoyed down the river in Canterbury when the flowers reflected in the water and we stayed in the upside down house.
The guide drones on like a cross between Poirot and Captain Manwairing with a laconic, guttural style that quickly loses it’s charm and too many men are wearing your clothes though their height and walk are all wrong and I can’t escape anything, and I’m here and it’s lovely but I can’t click to Enjoy.
Poirot points out the Weeping witch, appropriately a rare version of your tree and an uneasy medieval air follows me around like a child in a red duffle coat.
And we come out, through the market, passed the beer collection and somehow magically, into Florence. And it’s all so familiar, taking me back to before and I struggle with every step, failing to be in the moment.
Sweet bells chime like our Millennium Evening over the shackled church where judgement was passed in a spit and well aimed old tomatoes.
When Piorot finally concludes his act we ache back to the room and a sickly sweetness stays in my throat after too much Belgian fudge, which held some appeal for a moment but can’t take the edge off anything really.
While I tap, I hear the churning port, clanking it’s freight. A place in motion, no time to pause. I’m tired of all the faces and considered accessories. I’m hiding away from the last cheery sail off. I don’t need to wave bits of plastic to mark where I’m going.
We’re going home.
I know it in my flatness, my weary sense of some achievement, my bag of dirty washing, my presents for those that matter, my frustration for the way it couldn’t be, my sadness for the way it had to be, my understanding for the way I try, my pride for me and our son, my acceptance of the need to change, my gladness of the welcome that waits, my resolve to keep at it and my relief at the tears that come so freely now.
As you used to say, in a stolen Martin Clunes line ‘you’re going to keep going out with me till you bloody well enjoy it…’
I think the same may be true of our new life now.
We are heading home in twenty minutes. The sun beats down over the stacked up crates.
I need the quiet stillness of home,
I need to stop,
I need to be.
I know why we made this trip.
I know what we did.
Following your way.
I travel – therefore I am.
Drizzly, wet, low, dank Southampton.
Dirty grey hatchback creeps through the early morning mist. The city throbs. I shake my hair down.
Our pilot ship guides us in on our way.
We are home.