a sound like whalesong
London doesn’t begin, it is just there. As you come from the airport along the motorway in through the western arterial route you are already in the suburbs. The ribbons of mock tudor housing. The curtains in the windows concealing all kinds of fucking and fighting. The smallness of the place is evident in its every expression. Maybe it’s because I’m carrying <Tokyo> with me, in the oils of my hair, in my pores, but as we get to the joke metropolis of Hammersmith I find myself feeling homesick for the place I have left I want to get back there as quickly as possible. I want to keep the pace up. I want to deliver.
It’s raining as the <taxi> clatters to a halt and drops me outside the house in which I grew up. A flat-fronted three storey brick built affair standing foursquare in the hinterland of Lambeth, south of the river Thames. Eighteenth century, London stock bricks, with crisp white windows climbing <two> by two up the front of the building. Stairs to the front door bridge an airey with barred windows to the basement kitchen. All this is set behind <jet black> iron railings.
The gate makes a sound like <whalesong>. I ring the bell and my mother answers the door. We embrace quickly and I plant a kiss on her cheek. She’s <sixty>, looks younger. With my hands on her shoulders I look at her and try to read her face. How is he? I ask. - Well, (she says, a little embarrassed) he’s in the workshop.
This is a surprise. I dump my bag containing a change of clothes by the front door. As she walks back through the house toward the kitchen Mother, speaking over her shoulder explains that two days ago Dad had taken to his bed and, not speaking, seemed about to give up the <ghost>. The doctor came and having taken blood pressure and heartbeats, pronounced Dad at death’s door. Dad’s particular <dementia> meant that he was not minded to speak or explain or connect. He simply slipped into sleep. It was at that point, after the doctor had left that Mother called my hotel and left her message. Now the contrary old bastard was up and about and sitting in his workshop. I make my way through the kitchen and down the steps into the garden. Twenty yards away under dripping winter trees is the workshop, a small concrete single storey building with two square windows either side of the door. It has a flat black roof. A telephone cable runs from the house to a corner of the little building. Rain <water> hangs in droplets from its twisted black length, catching the grey light of a February London day. Tiny lenses with inverted worlds of miniature trees. I walk in the light rain on paving stones that have sunk into the lawn so that they appear circular, edged in grass. Some are moss green. I push the painted wooden door and walk inside the familiar workshop. My Dad is sitting at one end of one of the big beechwood workbenches simply looking out of the window at the rain. Chisels are meticulously arranged in descending size order on wooden racks along the wall. There is a big pale green bandsaw at one end of the room, three extractor hoods along the length of the ceiling, a lathe and a couple of cabinets holding other tools. Every size of box plane and spoke shave, gouges, gauges and set squares. A big soft broom, a glue pot on an unlit ironstove and a couple of <red>- glowing one bar electric heaters high on the walls. Pale sawdust lies in the cracks between the blocks of the dull, dark parquet floor.
But it’s the <smell> of the place, glue and sap, woodshavings and rain that takes me back immediately to my boyhood. Standing in the same doorway watching him work. Long strokes on the plane, a rhythmic manipulation of the living wood. Miraculously a simple orthogonal form would appear by his hand, held by clamps and glued, then freed and polished. A table perhaps, close-grained and perfect that could have been made by a fabulous soft machine such was the natural fineness and fittedness of its mitred corners, the jointing, the finish, the solidity.
Dad doesn’t turn to greet me as I come in, it’s like he doesn’t know that I am there. And he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know. I walk further into the workshop, pick up a mallet that is at the end of one of the shelves. Feel its weight in my hand. I look at the back of his head as he keeps staring out at the raindrops falling heavy from the sky to the earth. His thinning grey hair, pink skin, an old man grown small in his tweed clothes. -Dad?- He turns his head maybe ten degrees. He says, -It is raining quite heavily on the garden. The earth is becoming waterlogged.- This is a statement of fact. Dad has become like this since the stroke and with the onset of his particular condition his conversation, such as it is, consists of statements of fact and the odd question. It is as though the acuity and directness he brought to the making of his furniture has translated itself to the way he sees the world. Dad’s words when they come, now have the same precision, a rightness in their proximity to each other that could be observed in the way the elements of his furniture were brought together by his hand. But he doesn’t say any more and, eventually, we walk back through the garden to the house.