ARCHIPELAGO is a philosophical work which addresses the concerns of the ineffable nature of language: its inability to be able to describe our world, what we are and – more importantly – what we are capable of knowing.
The oldest isle
Parveen drifted down Bradbourne Road, just sailing to the westerly off of the listed buildings of Chris Sale’s conservation area: delineated by the verdi gris fountain, which usefully pointed out: Rhienbach 355 Miles. She could have taken the short cut, the through route of Oakdene Road but its worrying dark narrownessness on that overcast autumnal day concerned her. She never really trusted that lane, where those two white posts split the path up. The spiky-tipped, iron-railinged wall, which crossed the railway bridge, troubled her too. She had read stories of assault and suicide and Robert Black types of nastiness. There were so many dank, dark nooks and crannies. So she avoided it and took the longer route: to pass her past of Hatton County Secondary School: alma mater: herself.
Whilst observing the sliced, white chunk of the Grindstone Shaw Gravel Pit, across the valley, the same valley which she had looked across the previous day, she had almost walked into the gentrified gentleman who, inconsistently, had been carrying a black fabric shopping bag, upon which was festooned, “I Love Madrid” and to whom she had apologised.
He had tutted an angry acknowledgment to her apology.
In such a way Parveen trudged the thunderous A25, Bradbourne Vale Road route; whereupon she migrated south down the tarmac path of Lambarde Road, then through the low gate and off of the grey pavements, with the tired Sunday Surya sun meekly glistening in her back, towards the Bradbourne Lakes, in the Hundred of Codsheath. NG 552077 1568. Coordinates 51°17’29”N 0°10’56”E, or thereabouts.
Generally it was much warmer outside than it was inside but not so much so. Parveen stamped her shoes heavily in complaint at the weather as she walked.
“I wonder if it will snow, like it did only last year,” she thought.
1987 had been particularly bad for all and everything.
“Five interconnecting lakes made by making a dam on the mighty River Darent, a folly really. Also in said pondes and moats is dyvers kinds of ffyshe as Bremes, Carpps, Roche, and Dase. Two railways, one to the West, one to the East, confined the lake and the ffyshies attempt to break out of them and held all in a giant, geographic, Y-shaped rut. One Henry Boswell had been responsible for the overall picturesque design and the damning of it too; and the eccentric druid Francis Crawshay, with his two ton bell, he had left large Neolithic stones caryatiding at the entrance to the park. But that bell woke and disturbed many people in the area.”
CLANG … CLANG … CLANG …
DAMN … DAMN … DAMN …
Parveen did not finish the rest of the pamphlet. She placed it back in its plastic place and walked through the turnstile into the reserve, past the first square lake, edged to the west with Robyns Way’s inconsistently designed houses and homes.
She found a small wooden bench with lichen sporadically fastening to its legs. Positioned just so for the public to take in the vista of the wine-dark, lacustrine scene. Which was, that Sunday, swollen in its breech and lapping closely at the path and Parveen’s feet. The bench was fixed into a metallised path. This, in turn, was all broken by vein-like roots of slimy willow trees, which were incessantly reclaiming the environment for their own. And through ivy-entwined, silver-birched banks, across the other side of the lake, she could just discern waterfowl making winter homes on their lake-isle, with clay and wattles prodding from their beaks.
She retrieved her small sketch book and pencils and began to think of ideas, rather like Samuel Palmer may have done all those years ago in that golden valley.
“Does the beauty of what I see before me, somehow or other, obscure my intention at trying to get at the truth of it, its representation … Hai Ram!”
A host of gulls descended, all at once, upon something on the surface. She watched them splash and make pitches for fishes and she thought about the pamphlet some more.
“Y-shaped, how most strange. With the Dartford Road to the East, the London Road to the West and Bradbourne Vale Road to the North it looks familiar too. It is the yoni of the female, I think. Therefore Sevenoaks is a woman’s town, with her seven hundred foot fountain jetting deep down from its yoni only Wealden Dome into these two hundred foot lakes and waterways. O Par that is such a fanciful idea: a town where just women live. Whatever next. Is this where my real female life begins though. I feel it is. I used to think to myself that that funny-shaped birthmark inside my thigh was a mark from a god. I used to think it said ‘seven’ and it was my lucky number, or related to the seven planes of existence, or was a symbol of my home town only but I realise now, now I know who I am, that I was looking at it upside down and somebody who had their head in that position, you know, down there, goodness, would read it as a capital ‘L’. It marks me as an ‘L Woman’ and is permanent, unlike hennaed hands only. It is the same symbol but if you saw it from a different viewpoint it meant a different thing. Like Cassiopeia being either a ‘W’ for a woman or an ‘M’ for a man. I wonder if all gay women have funny birthmarks like me. Like a badge. That would be helpful, really helpful only. What was it Dilly said to me about the courtship of frigate birds, puffing out their big red chests. O dear me. My carrom board chhati would be of so little use, wouldn’t it. Ha. So how am I to know? Girl, I have made you a sandwich. Ha Ha Ha. Frigate. It is so cold.”
An elderly pair ambled past, arm-in-arm, both wrapped up in identical, woollen, gabardine coats. The lady was half-holding, what Parveen presumed was her husband, aloft in his shuffling gait. They both smiled sweetly at Parveen.
“Good day,” said the man, lifting his chin off his chest.
“Good day to you,” Parveen replied.
They went on their way leaving Parveen sitting and scribbling the rendering light, which reflected off the steamy surface, the chiaroscuro ripples, crescentic undulating serpents, Laocoöns and lilyless Monets, with half her thoughts distractingly drifting to her preferred artist: Manet, with characters exposed on a warmer lawn.
“All life from that water and all that I am is that water only. Four buckets of water and a few spirits and salts. We are watery things, water-borne. Like the hydrological cycle, round and round I will only go, along and along, back to where I came from unless I can become liberated from this samsara, maybe in Varanasi. But have I been here before? Has my birth mark been elsewhere? O dearie me. How do I know? Maybe ignorance is a blessing, not having to think about such things, just acceptance. Silly me.
… Haay! Look at that Gadwall. She has a strap of plastic wrapped around her leg. Poor thing hindered in our awful, synthetic way. An inversion of that parable really about the foolish man who found himself in a big city and concerned because there were so many people that he would forget who he was, he tied a piece of string around his wrist for remembrance. Please stay struggling duck. Not all of my species are as barbarous but if we carry on like this in forty years three quarters of all river life will only have been made extinct and half the world’s animals too. Dilly had said how the tortoises had become ‘done for’ fifteen thousand of them on three of the islands hadn’t she. Now all gone for good. All were just remembrances. Yes, maybe we are barbarous. I am wrong Mrs Duck and I am ashamed only. You are a signifier of our own stupidity aren’t you.”
The Gadwall quacked back an angry acknowledgement, “Melch me.”
It waddled off and left large swirly lines of pencil lead sweeping across the vanilla pages of Parveen’s book. Parveen sucked in her cheeks, in-between those strokes, trying to get what she saw right, capture it somehow. She struggled and made every effort to render a frozen moment in the plasticity of that scene. Her legs grew cold and her hands numbed but she persevered trying to get it, get it just so. Periodically rubbing her palms up and down her jeans provided some frictional heat but really she knew the elements were against her and maybe soon she would have to pack up and return to her composition in the spring.
“If there was to be another spring,” she pessimistically thought. “The silent palm oil plantations out-pacing habitat for bio-fuel, man-made needs. The only creatures that live there are the rats. The shooting of the swallows over Sicily. There is so much that we do that is wrong. It’s only just a question of time.”
She arched her stiffening back on the bench, thrusting out her ardour on that vaporous day and holding her jotter up to the weak sun, she looked pensively at her sketchy ideas.
“That’s all good.”
The drawly voice seemed to come from out of nowhere. Instinctively Parveen turned her pad to one side and looked round at a radiant, bow-lipped girl whose stunning auric hair was enhaloed by the unequal sun.
Parveen smiled at her and the girl smiled back.
“Thank you. It is the first time I have tried anything like this. I am not an artist.”
“O you are girl, you are.” Bow-Lipped replied.
She was much the same age as Parveen, about nineteen or so.
“May I take a look?”
Parveen held up her sketch book for inspection, averted her eyes momentarily and then back again, flinchingly, awkwardly.
“Yes I think y’all have got the general impression quite nicely. Off to a tee, as you would say. My name is Lavinia.”
Parveen met her warm hands with her own frozen, bony fingers and returned her own name. They shook in an almost unknowing secret way.
“Are you an artist?” Parveen asked with growing interest.
“Me. Gee. No.” Lavinia responded. “My partner, well my ex-partner I guess, asked me to paint an orange once. It was on the table, arranged in a sort of still life mockery, with a little white lariat around its base. Well I tried and tried girl but it ended up more looking like an apple. I am quite clueless at that sort of thing. But she always made it look so easy though. Y’all know, just a few lines and somehow or other the quintessence was coaxed out.”
“She?” Parveen honed in.
She watched Lavina’s sweet lips flick, lick and describe her realisation of corporeal space. Her stomach tightened in a not-dissimilar manner to how it did before the presentation of food. Imperceptibly, Parveen began to lean just a little closer to her, with her mind deviating so and her thoughts all at an angle.
“The weather was not so bad yesterday, quite warm really apart from that wind and shower, quite nice. Gee I got myself wet. But today girl, I’ll tell y’all, it’s a tiddly bit nipply isn’t it?” Lavinia continued.
“Yes, yes,” Parveen inadequately offered her.
“Are you American?” struggled Parveen for another conversation topic, something she could develop.
“Kallie fawn I am. Just over from stateside with my runts to see some of your great English culture. We are off to see this Know All House this afternoon.”
“O. I see.”
They both began to light-heartedly laugh, each unaware, as they sat side-by-side, of exactly how much inclination they were now sweetly showing to each other with fairy tale inward feelings in that idyllic outside arcadia.
“You said, she.”
“I did, didn’t I. Ha. What am I like. What am I like. Sussed again. O take my heels off and throw them in this lake! I best go girl, if you want me to. I don’t want to, as y’all Brits say, put you on the spot. Gee, my slippy tongue gets me into some awkward slots.”
“No. No that’s OK.”
She thought of her birthmark, trembling away on her frozen leg.
“Would you care for some tea?” Parveen lent forward and pulled out her tartan-patterned flask.
“Tea. No Girl. I’m ’Merican. We don’t do tea. Its kawfee all the way back home. You are such a honey pie though for offering it up for me.”
“Well this was as good a time as any,” she thought. She held out a well-wrapped portion of vegetarian cheese rounds and confidently imitated Lavinia’s slurring, Valley Girl accent.
“Well then girl, can I only offer you all a sandwich?”
They sat giggling together, partly at Parveen’s poor imitation, partly because they both knew the expression but mainly because they both knew what each other’s understanding of the expression was.
The elderly couple returned back on the same route, with the man still propped up by his wife. This time they did not speak and Parveen did not speak to them either. This time they passed unnoticed.
“Do you live here?”
“Well yes I work in my father’s shop about half an hour’s walk away. Only I am not sure yet what I want to do with myself, having only just left college. It is hard trying to get in somewhere you know only. Everywhere these days they expect experience so I just help father behind the till only that sort …”
Lavinia placed her fingertip to Parveen’s lips.
“Shh. Slow down there girl.”
This was so new to Parveen who was a-gog and all a-gosh as Lavinia, retrieved her fingers from her face, smiled, touched her own lips, then placed them once more onto Parveen’s astonished, blushing mouth.
“This lady Lavinia was right. There was always time. Let things slide and drift for a while.”
For over two hours they sat chatting, realising how much they had in common, how they found the other interesting and indeed exciting but behind it all they both knew the impossibility that anything could or would happen. Parveen discovered she was flying off to France tomorrow. Lavinia’s family was on ‘the grand tour of Europe’ so they both knew their friendship would go no further but, as sweet as it was, at that moment it was a something.
Time moved on and little by little it came to pass that Lavinia had to go, back to her runts who were presumably angrily waiting for her now, her and her lateness. Phrases of, “I have to go shortly,” kept on popping up in all that was said and — lo — it happened as unexpectedly as the whole de-frosted Sunday had turned out, yes it happened, they stood up together, swayed, paused and then moved in.
“I should very much like to.”
Gotta go hun.”
“Yes I um …”
“First this before I go.”
“Yes first,” echoed Parveen in petition, closing her eyes and leaning forward.
It was nice, full and open for the girls, warranted and wanted for each other. It was.
Lavinia began to walk away.
“Take this Vin.”
Parveen removed her silk and cotton Rakhi bracelet from her wrist and tied it around Lavinia’s.
“This will help you remember who you are, if ever you get lost. My brother gave it to me last August and I only want you to have it now. Sisters are supposed to give the Rakhi to their brothers but we are a bit different in our house. He’s very protective and that’s nice.”
“O girl I know who I am and I know who you are. You are such an English sugar plum.”
“May Govinda guard thy head; Kesava, thy neck; Vishnu, thy belly; the eternal Narayana, thy face, thine arms, thy mind, and faculties of sense.”
It did not seem unreasonable but she held Lavina’s arms and kissed her sweet bow lips once more as she said those things.
“So who’s gonna watch my bangin’ ass then?”
“O I will do that,” called Parveen, in half-truth and hilarity, as Lavinia’s tight American butt sauntered up the path by the side of the lake. She wiggled away from her and ultimately, after her holiday, away further, back towards her home, all of those thousands of miles away.
Was this to be as close as Parveen would get …
She watched her until she had just gone out of sight. Then she re-opened her sketch pad and with a sudden intensity, as if she saw it clear for a second, she drew a line there, in the centre. It was done, completed. She closed the book then turned full circle and with the low angled, autumnal sun shining, moving towards perihelia, flushing and radiating her face, she strode confidently, reborn, out of Bradbourne Lakes Park.
“Love, that was what they had. That was what enabled that elderly couple to keep going, wasn’t it. That was what human beings were about. It was in Vatsyayana’s writings,” she mused. “Love transcended all false thoughts of hate, spite, envy and aggression. Love of everything. That is what our purposes are: to make ourselves happy with love, gaiety and larking. That is what will survive of us all.”
She felt it just so, in her bosom, in her deep heart’s core.