THE RETURN TO PARADISE
My guide and I did enter, to return
To the fair world: and heedless of repose
We climbed, he first, I following his steps,
Till on our view the beautiful lights of heav'n
Dawn'd through a circular opening in the cave:
Thus issuing we again beheld the stars.
(Dante, Divine Comedy)
Our journeys have ended back in paradise. We are in Bimshire to be precise, having spent the past month wrestling through the urban jungle of London which, while not the same as Dante’s Inferno, or Purgatory, still had it’s fair share of challenges – particularly for Andre. He is probably still regaling the regulars at Mike’s Bar with tales of having survived being away from home for a month for the first time, snow, inter-city trains, challenges to his belief system after seeing dinosaur bones, unfriendly Londoners, shopping in Primark, the wonder of a building like Norman Foster’s Gerkin and motorway driving.
For us it is nothing less than a hero’s welcome at Grantley Adams Airport. The sun is shining. It is hot but not humid. Jack is well and does not seem too resentful at having been left behind. He was looked after by the grandparents who I gather read to him, cooked his meals from scratch rather than open a can as instructed, and cuddled him with the tenderness they might a third grandson. Velma has eliminated every trace of dirt so that the house is gleaming – not an easy feat since the adults insist on all white interiors, in spite of sharing the space with a grubby canine and even grubbier kids. Mom cooked our favorite Indian food - served with dhal pouris brought from Trinidad. The old saying about absence and the heart etc. seems true in this instance. Pity the welcome was marred by the PM’s announcement that when I next fill the tank of my diesel car it will cost about 77% more than it did previously.
But is our paradise really here or is it in London? We love both worlds. The boys delighted in having snow fights on the Common but they also missed the freedom of wearing shorts and t-shirts and going to the beach. They said sad goodbyes to Johnny and Freddie but made anxious phone calls to Joshua in St. Lucy to ensure he knew of their impending return and had not forgotten their standing Saturday play date. The Husband continues to bring cheer to BA shareholders as the first person to claim domicile in Club seat 10J on the BGI to LON route. We mercilessly use him as a courier to bring us little treats we don’t get here, or would pay an arm and leg for, assuming we found them. You know the sort of essentials: bits from the Apple store, Leonidas chocolates or the latest bestseller.
I am really happy to be back in the sunshine, staring at blue skies while I write. Enduring grey skies for days on end is the fastest route to feeling life is all doom and gloom. If I stayed any longer my coping strategies would have been narrowed to (a) drugs, (b) drink, (c) hibernation until June, or (d) some grizzly combination of a, b, and c. It is not that being in London was awful. It is just I would never have gone there had I known this was the year I would have to wear my winter coat and boots in freakin’ April. But, apart from the cold, the days were wonderful. Most of the time was spent in an open access studio in the East End of London blissfully making art that I have not been able to do in Bim because of a lack of access to facilities. And having worked pretty much on my own for the past 18 months it was a relief to be in this space with interesting fellow artists – especially Ann whose generosity helped me complete my projects within a near impossible time frame.
I was not so sure it would work out renting studio space for this short time. My first day was a little tense. It was clear that this interval abroad had transformed me into a strange hybrid - simultaneously exotic (flying in from Barbados), and mundane, (as in, hang on a minute, you’re really a south Londoner). But mainly everyone just got on with work, made endless cups of tea, and listened to the background noise of Radio 4. One gentleman of a certain age, and very camp, memorably broke the afternoon silence on the first day while I was bending over a screen printing bed.
“That bottom is just begging to be spanked.”
I slowly turned around, smiled and looked straight into his eyes.
“If you’re going to spank me, do it properly, or not at all.”
He mumbled, fumbled, and fled.
I never saw him again. Shame, and we were just getting to know each other…
The days developed into a routine of a long slog in the studio after which I would head to the West End to see friends, or take the kids out, or be a culture vulture. Apart from feeling exhausted all the time there was the question of changing out of the artist’s uniform into, if not Yummy Mummy clothes, at least Semi-Slummy Mummy garb. You didn’t think artists had uniforms? Come on – every profession has them and we are not to be excluded. London artists wear some variation of All Star sneakers, jeans and preferably a black t-shirt under a jumper or leather jacket. Because my art and mummy worlds operate as parallel universes neither usually sees me in the uniform of the other. However one night I was invited to Nobu for arguably the best sushi in town, a treat courtesy of our dear friend TK. I had to change in the toilets of the studio and tried really hard to scrub out the black ink embedded in my cuticles and forearms. But I was spotted leaving by S. as he wheeled his bike out into the cold night. I hung my head in shame at being caught in flagrante Ferragamo delicto. To my surprise he winked and laughed. “Don’t worry I won’t tell anyone. You scrub up nice.”
In the last few days in London I managed to go to two book readings. The first was with Khalid Hosseini (The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns). He came across as an open, compassionate man, fulfilling his childhood dream of becoming a writer and telling the stories of the Afgan people of whom so little is really known. Salman Rushdie was the other writer we were privileged to hear. He was in fine form talking about his new book, The Enchantress of Florence. Rushdie’s humour and seering intellect covered a range of topics from the history of the Mogul empire, to ethics, to the price of advocating free speech. Both events, in different ways, fed the soul and the intellect. They also paved the path back to this quieter space; this contemplative place where experiences are translated into other work.
Whether we are here, or there, all we are trying to do is provide our children with confidence to navigate the world and know that paradise is where ever you feel secure and loved. For them home translates into a single place where a precious shell collection or blue remote-control car permanently resides. Of course they will later understand that home is a more complex notion beyond geographical confines – a concept over which wars are being fought daily. I will make it simple for them. Home is a place called Bim where, just occasionally, we emerge from the trials of everyday life and see the stars.