29 May 2019 / The Hurst
Sketching Hurst Impressions with My Long White Cane
by Loraine Howard
My eyes tell lies and shutting them, often, is the only way. Otherwise, shapes melt into point-blank headlights, full-beam, and then – boo! – loom out loud colours, or pulsating zigzags of eye-splitting. Some shapes speak, some stand quiet, and some are walls. My white cane taps them. Walls don’t move, oops, people do. They trigger Picasso-esque faces: people as jigsaws loom an eye, dark then shining, next to teeth glaring white, bared – smiling? She clocked by me, she, a cock-eyed woman’s another lie, but pieces stay missing. So, I shut my eyes, my lying eyes, and see differently.
At that first supper, on Bank Holiday Monday, Phyllida ID’d the brown shape on my white plate: ‘Mushrooms.’ She poured out red wine. Refills and stories flowed said tinged northern, (thinned by being south?) and Joanne Harris on the ear, ID’d her. I spooned up more brown, chewed, and tasted ‘Lamb.’
During the week came her Friday story, workshopped from Taboo’s prompt at the huge round table with high-backed chairs, seating writers ricocheting ideas and occasionally emitting, head-splitting cacophony – a Tower of Babel from ceiling to floor. Friday’s Jackanory in the lounge’s soft furnishings, showcased fifteen guests’ pieces, fettled to five minutes each: the Hurst feast. Phyllida read hers and I pictured the naturist beach and the naturist shop, what men and women kept covered, there, were not. Laughter poured out, wet my face, and nearly my pants, and I pricked up both ears as, ‘…she peeled herself free of the plastic seat…’ So, the story went.
I saw fire glow, then ooze long after sunset blooded trees before bed, then bruise. At breakfast, they said Shepherds’ Delight lit redder the already red-leaved tree in Hurst wood. Out in Hurst wood, a pheasant shrieked for his mate and a woodpecker drilled trunks for his, and Spike, fleeing writer’s blockage, breathed the reek of Hurst-grown wild garlic and went seeking too. Garlicked by Spike: foraged by Spike, unearthed, pulled free, plucked up, skinned by Spike, then ten minutes hence cooked by Spike in vegetarian risotto meaning meat-free, of course, just vegetables. No vegetarians were slaughtered at Hurst. At least, not on Rachel’s watch as cook-boss-cum-Hurst-host.
Ordered Merlot by Zisha, (said with a soft hushed g [like genre] instead of sh) and thus charmed she with the Verb* voice juxtaposing ‘Cabbages…[and] mouldy toenails’ in tutor Alison’s workshopping of three planted ingredients. Later, watered, wined, and dining by Zisha, literally, reprising cabbage’s surprise, this time though, with bangers and mash and onion gravy. Sliced onions, still firm, like clippings…soaked toenail clippings…
Lauren’s second helping soaked up my wine, then, I appreciated how stabbing a banger’s a treat: easy to eat, skewered whole on my fork, skin chinking the gaps in my teeth, ploughing the bitten ends through mash, or cabbage, or gravy, or all three. Butting up to my knife’s six o’clock horizon, make-shifting a lip to curb messy plate derailments dolloping fall-out – splat in my lap.
Moulded cheese, St. Augur, came with lunch’s salad plated by other guest writers or a Hurst host.
‘Lentils’, with venom said someone in the manner of Dracula meeting a cross. Our host Sue, crumbled feta into my courgette and something soup, melting salty flavour in one bowl, which when lifted, favoured me plus spoon with fewer drips twixt it and lip.
‘Unexploded’ by Alison MacLeod, chinking, I hoped, the gap twixt workshop and lunch, staying stuck until I’d typed up notes. In the kitchen, I held my plate, kindly loaded by Helen, or Jane, or one of Hurst’s hosts, going clockwise round the cornered island of voices and smells.
The troublesome threesome spoke: I’d guessed until Wednesday who was Gemma, or Lauren, or Diane, and couldn’t single them out. They were three, like ellipses, or biscuits – the mini packs – only, all one sort, Hobnobs, or Custard Creams, or Digestives, not and. Not different, until
At the cheeseboard, I replied, ‘Anything but Black Bomber.’
Off to my right, Gemma said, ‘Oh, that cheese sealed in black wax, you mean?’
Across the way Diane hexed again: ‘Lentils.’
I said, ‘Yes’ to Gemma.
‘Oh…’ She prompted.
‘Well, Black Bomber and me have never been friends.’
‘Oh…’ And prompted again.
Mindful of the ellipsissed trap, the ellipsisser, and others’ chatter, I vetted my follow-up and dumped squits. ‘Well, bomb – hellish apt for tummy trouble.’
Gemma laughed loud, others wondered what at, and yet others chimed with:
So, I kept follow-ups stopped as far as thoughts only, trapped, like wind, best unvented in the hubbub eddying clockwise round the island of food.
The threesome’s spell broke, though: now, no first-person plural provoking something from Macbeth, was quoting. We were writers, yes us, at the Hurst, the biscuit tin with Hobnobs, andCustard Creams and Digestives and more – voices tagged, tasted, ID’d at last, in the hurlyburlying Wednesday lunch bunch.
In the kitchen, quiet when the kettle’s boiling was done, me with my LLI** palavering, bleeped and vibrated-in, full-strength mugs of tea. Narvick brewed de-caff bags lest his sleep be murdered by tea, even him counting to a thousand and back might not do the trick in resurrecting it. At Jackanory, his story recounted this, including the knocked-out boy and the thwack of knocking hockey sticks not playing hockey. So Narvick’s story went…
* The Verb, a BBC Radio 3 literary programme and podcast.
** LLI Liquid Level Indicator, a gadget with audible and tactile feedback for blind and partially-sighted people.
(Loraine Howard, Joanne Harris, the Hurst hosts, and the tutoring author are real names, but others’ names are not real.)
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