Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Why I've been away all June part III: Ixworth


It was a very hazy, soft sort of day and I feel rather fragile now, as I listen to Dustin O Halloran and write in the big double bed that till tonight Mum and Dad slept in.

In the morning, I woke up and had a big bowl of porridge, my first in a while and I was so happy to finally be getting back into some sort of routine. But routine is rather the wrong word, breakfast seems to be the only constant with everything changing so fast - returning from Paris, flights changed, family leaving today, friends arriving in 6 days...

I got to hold the two dwarf rabbits that Sarah and Connie keep, dark dark eyes and scratchy paws and soft soft dark fur.

Then we all went down to the watermill for tea before they left. Hannah wept as she clung to Grandma, Grandma wept as she hugged Mum. Mothers and daughters, mothers and daughters, Fathers and daughter, Sisters and brothers, sisters and sisters, aunt and niece, aunt and nephew. Goodbye family.

We went to listen to Connie's school performance in church, then dropped into the wool pack for Jill's scones, warm out of the oven, with fresh blackberry jam, and played with Xavier.

Xavier is the golden haired, rosy cheeked cousin of Connie's who runs, chest puffed out, arms pumping up and down so vigorously that his nappy fell off and, humiliated, he began to cry until Jill picked him up and appeased him with a bottle of milk.


There was a pale yellow moth on the top of the stairs for the whole of today.

The morning began with cooked apple porridge oats with bananas and lovely sweet blackberries that grandma picked last summer and froze. I also put my washing in the machine for a spell, and not it sits in a pile on the bed with it's lovely fresh grass and sunshine smell.

At 11 am, Sarah and I went round to her neighbour Ruth's house. where we met Nicola, Debbie and Warren, and John, who were going to an art exhibition in Ely. They all assembles in the kitchen, Auntie Sarah pinned Ruth's skirt and the rest of them talked about the fridge and then we walked out through the heady scent of Ruth's roses and honeysuckle.

In Ely, a man in an ice cream truck directed the group and I to Peacock's tearoom, the apparently BEST tearoom in England.

Debbie has a voice like the sigh of an ocean as it embraces the shore, and Warren has a sort of crackle and spark to his voice that makes you feel as if he's laughing all the time - in the nicest way possible.

Peacock's tearoom is really beautiful - we sat round a little rickety white table beside honeysuckle growing all over the wall. They serve their tea in fine china, and inside the old cottage that houses their kitchen and indoor rooms, they have assorted teapots and teacups - one tea pot was covered in bananas, another had 2 spouts - a menagerie! I got 'Moon Palace' tea, not knowing what it was but loving the name - calm, cold, pure. I also ordered a beetroot, goat's cheese, honey and walnut toast sandwich.

The conversation around the table was really quick, mostly about things I had no idea about, local news, or cultural subjects I didn't know of either, I felt dull and ignorant, and the conversation began to sound like the static between radio stations, and it seemed as if someone was turning the volume dial up and up until I was overwhelmed with a most uncomfortable white noise, All I could think was 'I don't understand, I don't belong.'

Ruth turned to me at one point and said, quite frankly, 'You have an American accent, why is that?' I felt terrible self conscious, and tried to justify it with media influence and the strange mix of Singaporean and British English. She looked at me keenly, and said, 'Your mother speaks British doesn't she? Learn from her.'

I didn't know I was beyond visually, I am also aurally distinct from any British person. I felt as if my voice set a fence between myself and those around the table - Debbie with her sea foam lilt, Warren with his warm voice, Nicola's chuckling conversation, Ruth's loud and frank words...

Soon we went into the Babylon Art Gallery next door. 3 pieces particularly captured my heart. The first, by Magenta Gang, was called Grief struck.

There were a group of twigs and branches suspended with transparent string in the air, and wrapped in yellow and pink thread. A few, also wrapped, were lying below.It was so sensitive, so poignant, created as a reaction to the Korean ferry crisis. The suspended twigs seemed to me to be those who had drowned, like bodies suspended in water or souls ascending to heaven. The twigs left on earth were those left behind, the survivors, who are weighed down so heavily with grief and guilt that they cannot live - in fact, they've sunk lower in spirit than those who have gone beyond the wave's crest. It reminded me of what Foer wrote, 'Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I'm not living.'

The last piece was a hollowed out tree trunk, with yellow varnish on it's inside. It reminded me of the secret lives everyone holds within them, and in particular how Vincent Van Gogh drank yellow paint because he thought having his organs awash in sunshine yellow would make him somehow happy. I read once that we all have our own yellow paint. But nothing really can fill that void, that hole in us. Nothing of course, except God, whose love is wider and deeper and greater than the rolling seas, the highest mountain peaks, the rushing wind - that fills consumes and GROWS us so that the hole is gone and love spills out from us, filling the cracks in the fragments of our lives and touching others with it's glow.

As we left and drove home, the pressing feeling of static increased as the chatter was so so British - British that did not include me. When I got back home, after a short rest I decided to go for a run, following Auntie Sarah on her bicycle as she led me to the barley fields.

I expect it was because I was trying to keep up with the bicycle initially as it sped down the high street hill and over the bridge, but as I ran I felt so, SO tired. The suffocating static  didn't disappear, it grew louder, as I passed Auntie Sarah who had stopped her bike because her arms itched, and told me to go on.

Louder and Louder and Louder was the sound, that chaos of questioning and doubting 'Do I belong?', and, coupled with the searing cold air in my lungs and the fatigue creeping into my legs, I felt well and truly defeated.

I can't hold conversation, I can't speak well, I can't be interesting, I am not artsy or cultured, I can't even run well, and worst of all, I am not as English as I want to be. And that is really what was bothering me. As an individual, closure and contentment about where I belong has always been elusive, and has always mattered.  Humans have a tendency to place other humans in glass jars, screw the lid on tightly and place them neatly on categorising shelves. All my life I have been shoved into so many different glass jars that I don't know which one I fit in any more. And it frustrates and annoys me, the lack of comforting social identity. Without that hedge of a category around me I feel more vulnerable.

Overwhelmed with uncertainty of who I was, who I am, how I belong and where home it, and physically fatigued, I doubled over, breathless, beside a barley field all alone, and then sat on the path as it began to drizzle. I felt so hardpressed on every side that I called out to god, right there and then.

'O Lord, you made me and you know me and you love me. You know I don't know who I am but please remind me that you made me, fearfully and wonderfully, as my own person, and you love me deeply. Lord, your love is better than life. Help me see you, keep me faithful, keep my love strong. Thank you for your love. Amen'

That garbled prayer over, I felt light, and opened my eyes to see the most beautiful rainbow. Just like how Noah was reassured by God's rainbow that he would never again flood the entire earth, that rainbow filled me with the warmth of God's promise of love. I sat in the footpath and watched the wind whisper over my face and through the barley, the cloud in the lavender blue sky, and the chaotic beauty of the wildflowers in the hedgerows and presiding above it, God's rainbow as the drizzle ended. I ran my hand through the barley, it's bird wing-like heads and stalks dripping with grain, I felt the breeze caressing away my tiredness. God is so good, all the time.

Some walkers came up the foot path, smiled at me and said 'It was only a shower'. Indeed, that suffocating feeling was a passing drizzle in the eternal summer of God's love. I know where I belong, where I am meant for, where home truly is. As Ching reminded me,

'Home is where God is and God is with you wherever you go.'

Back at home I told Grandma, the best listener, about it, and we both thanked God together for that rainbow.


We went swimming in the Morton Hall health club because true to predictions, the weather is sweltering! I met Jojo, an Indian British 4 year old who is completely gorgeous, so friendly, and calls Connie 'donnie' because some of his consonants get turned into 'd's.

He has an uncanny knack for drawing people to him like moths to a flame, but Sam (his mother) was telling us that many children don't reciprocate his warmth, maybe in part due to his ethnic heritage.

(A short breakfast interlude - I can't remember which day this was but it was yum)


This afternoon, we went to Lady Henrietta's open gardens. When I got there, I saw Jojo running up to me with such a wide smile. He said 'Hello!' and gave me a tour of the gardens, calling me Jemima as he couldn't pronounce my name! He also introduced me to 'day-dee', his friend, a woman of about 25. 'Hello Stacey!' I said, and later discovered to my mortification that she is Lady Katy, daughter of Lady Henrietta and therefore an aristocrat. But Jojo's sincere introduction made me think of how, in the innocent eyes of a child, class and socio-economic background fade into a distant murmur and what speaks loudest is who you are as a person. Katy was lovely, not calling out my mistake and wishing me a good time in the gardens, and I suppose it is that character that Jojo sees.

How beautiful is the mind of a child.


After buying incredible amounts of food, Sarah, Grandma and I got home just in time to welcome the guests - Paul and Barbara, relatives of Grandad who were coming to stay the night. Sarah baked scones with windmill flour, and we had those with strawberries fresh from a local farm, where the man at the counter very enthusiastically talked fishing with Sarah and lamented that this unseasonable heat might destroy his crop.

In view of the heat Sarah has bought a paddling pool.


Paul and Barbara left in the morning in a green car that reminded Grandma of Grandad's Morris Minor.

In the evening I went for another run. In stark contrast to the first run, this time I cleared the barley fields and went right round them, emerging finally at a road near a farm.  stood a while at the road as great blizzards of white cotton blew across from the cotton plants opposite.

I completed my run, arriving back to help Auntie Sarah sort out her car. I was so glad that I had finished it. It was like a rite of passage - the first time I had knelt and needed strength, this time he had strengthened me and made me rise of wings like eagles. I felt the pleasure of God when I ran, I felt like I never wanted to stop.


They will be here tomorrow. I feel almost afraid that I will no longer be able to have such unguarded, constant moments with grandma, doing things like piecing together a jigsaw as she finishes her lunch, watching the evening news together, sometimes with the volume on mute as she doesn't like to hear the tragedy of human nature, or gazing at the western sky from her kitchen window and here her marvel, every night, at the sunset.


They are here! We met them in good time at Newmarket, and drove back. The clouds looked like silver mackerel scales.

After a brief respite, we got on bicycles and rode to Pakenham. I took them through the golden, green-blue, green-brown field, with seams of trees that form the Suffolk countryside - a 'sermon without words' as Auntie Sheila calls it.

We paddled in the mill pond, blew dandelion flowers and spotted 2 crayfish, before we went into the tearoom.

In the tearoom we met a lady who had lived in Zion Road, Singapore, and who wants to return to visit her helper, Mary.

We ate lemon drizzle cake, bread pudding and carrot cake under and apple tree. I still can't believe they are here!


We took the bus 338 and then 11 to Cambridge today, stopping at the Bury Bus Station which has blue UV lights in the toilets.

The Cambridge market has everything - smoothies, clothes, groceries (I bought some dates), falafel, tea cups... Quite overwhelmed, we had a picnic among some tombstones in a college garden before walking around the shops.

The next Ed sheeran!!!

At about 4 pm, we took a punt along the Cam with 9 others, steered by a student as he explained the lore and legend of the riverside colleges. He told us about how some students had appropriated a master's car and hung it from a bridge, which took 4 months for the police to get down! Midway through the trip, we realised that our boat had a leak, and so we had to change boats. In the confusion of getting from one boat to another, the punter dropped his punting pole on the head of an elderly lady passenger! He apologised intensely and profusely and I think it was, in general, not a good day for him poor thing.

We managed to catch evensong at King's College which was beautiful. Although I couldn't hear the words, I could here the tension and release and resolution in the music, which was enough - God helps us through troubles, his presence indwells in us.

We watched the Globe theatre production of ROMEO AND JULIET after that, such an amazing performance and so right. Really, reading and not watching Shakespeare is like reading a menu instead of eating dinner.

When we came out, there were fireworks being set off, golden rain and rubies and emeralds winking in the night sky.


Bury was blisteringly hot today, most of the charity shops we went into had fans out and one even had free water, juice and biscuits for tired travelers.

At the market square we saw a group of Christian street evangelists singing as their pastor spoke about how we had been delivered from enslavement to worldly desires and had filled the God shaped vacuum he felt inside him.

I also found a vegan sausage roll! It didn't taste so good but oh well kudos to the guy for trying to make it!

We ate in the shade of a tree in Abbey gardens, blessed respite from the heat. Abbey gardens will always be magical for me: the ruins through which I stumbled, a princess, a warrior, a refugee, a mountain climber, depending on what the game demanded, the duck pond where Uncle John once caught a duck, the silver slide and playground I used to revel in after eating a sticky pink iced bun. Sunshine days.

After we got home, exhausted and sun-sapped, Uncle John asked if we wanted to go to Peg Farm for an evening barbecue. After a brief rest, we set off in his car, turning into smaller and smaller roads as we drove till we got to Rattlesdon and Peg Farm.

The first person I saw was Jojo, flashing one of his brilliant smiles and saying 'HELLO MIVRIAM!' He had been practicing and I was no longer Jemima! I ran through the gardens with him, he was Thor and I was Captain America (He taught me VERY specifically what I could and could not do with the shield) and we saved the world from frost giants before he was distracted with dancing to his favourite (metal!) music.

We sat round the table and drank Pimm's and enjoyed his antics. His brother Hari showed me how he makes an instrument with cans, a very clever instrument that makes a sound like an F1 car.

We also met Helen Geake, the grand daughter of Rachel Geake, who was the principal of SCGS in the 1920s and later on in the 1950s. She told us that during the war Rachel Geake managed to just get the last boat out of Singapore, and was only allowed to bring what she could carry in her 2 hands, which included her infant son, Helen's father! Their gardener buried a small wooden cabinet and a silver temple of theirs in the garden for safekeeping - when they got back to Singapore that was all that was left, the rest was looted but the Japanese.Rachel Geake was the lady that chose 'Glad that I live am I', her favourite hymn as our school song, a most simple but profound song.

Dinner was delicious - buttery herb potatoes, basmati rice and Nepalese curry courtesy of Guru, Jojo's father, and Tzaziki and cucumber sticks. Conversation was equally invigorating. Guru talked to us about the disaster relief in Nepal and we talked around the table about the intricacies of language. Jojo's grandmother brought us round the garden to see her vegetables and the labyrinth she is beginning to cultivate! Apparently most cultures have some form or echo of labyrinths in them, often for meditative or spiritual purposes - to 'find your way'.

On the way back to the table, Helen Geake and I talked about identity. She said that it must have been a large shaping factor for me, growing up in England with tastes of England peppered throughout my childhood, just as the knowledge of an alternate culture, almost like another world, in Singapore, has made her more cognizant of how blinkered a childhood in just one culture is.

We left at about 11, Sarah driving us home with the high beams of her car piercing the darkness with 2 golden streams of light.


We drove to Rougham this morning - a grey drizzly day initially. I loved the song we sang in church 'Make me a channel of your peace', a song where all the rifts and tears in the world are sewn together by God's love by his people on earth - mending breaks with broken vessels.

After the service I had one of those malted milk cow biscuits that I used to steal from the corner cupboard of Grandma's house. Then, we visited Grandad's grave. I love how Grandma deals with death - 'Thank God for David. He's in a better place.' - a contentment for having him and yet a trust in God for the safekeeping of his soul.

Back at home,we went to Ray's garden for tea.

I talked to Pete, a professor of literature in a polytechnic in Cambridge. We both loved the conclusion of The Tale of Two Cities (Don't read the italicised text if you haven't read the book!)

"But for you, dear stranger, I should not be so composed, for I am naturally a poor little thing, faint of heart; nor should I have been able to raise my thoughts to Him who was put to death, that we might have hope and comfort here today. I think you were sent to me by Heaven." 

"Or you to me," says Sydney Carton. "Keep your eyes upon me, dear child, and mind no other object."

"I mind nothing while I hold your hand. I shall mind nothing when I let it go, if they are rapid."

"They will be rapid. Fear not!"

The two stand in the fast-thinning throng of victims, but they speak as if they were alone. Eye to eye, voice to voice, hand to hand, heart to heart, these two children of the Universal Mother, else so wide apart and differing, have come together on the dark highway, to repair home together, and to rest in her bosom.

Pete had been from a working class background and had no access to books apart from comic books when he was younger. He devoured the comic books, and when he got the novels he ravished them too. He was intensely interested in Singapore, having only been to places in Europe and Africa, and we happily told him all about it. When we left, we told him 'Hope to see you in Singapore!' and he said, hand on heart, 'I've already been.'

“I've traveled the world twice over,
Met the famous; saints and sinners,
Poets and artists, kings and queens,
Old stars and hopeful beginners,
I've been where no-one's been before,
Learned secrets from writers and cooks
All with one library ticket
To the wonderful world of books.”

― Janice James

That night, we sat in the garden and talked under a big blanket and the evening sun.


Drove to Ely again in hope of getting to Peacock's tearoom again - but it was shut! Terrible horrible, but thankfully there was the lovely ice cream man who once again saved the day and directed us the the Almondry, a tearoom next to the Ely Cathedral.

Auntie Sarah told us about how when she was ill in hospital, at one point during the night when the nurse was supposed to do something with her medicine, a tall slim African American nurse with a name tag that read 'Pesevrence' scooped her up, changed her port and she felt immensely peaceful and calm. The next morning when he asked for him, to thank him, no one knew who he was. An angel? I think so.

She also told us about Wiweck, a Balinese friend of hers living in Melbourne who has a sixth sense that allows her to hear voices of spirits and the dead and demons, and can understand the physical, spiritual and mental needs of her patients before they even know them themselves! Once, when she was massaging a man's feet, she could tell he had something wrong with his kidneys and urged him to go to a doctor - he did, and found out he had almost indiscernable cancerous tumours in his kidneys!

This world is filled with miraculous things.


My last breakfast in Ixworth. I felt overwhelmingly sad as I prepared grandma's porridge and prunes alongside my own. The little yellow moth that had lived on the staircase that day had moved to the kitchen window.

I went for another run, a long one, down the watermill trail. When I got halfway I stopped for a rest, and saw a ladybird and talked to it for a while. It reminded me of how Tommo speaks to the bumblebee in 'Private peaceful'

“We're much alike, bee, you and me," I said. "You may carry your pack underneath you and your rifle may stick out of your bottom. But you and me, bee, are much alike.