Time, Tate Modern 28 September

Time is mysterious.

Watching moving images of faraway places it moves slowly. It has been moving slowly all day.

Here in the dark, hidden from the noisy gallery, it is like a cocoon, but what shall I emerge as?

I can hear the rumble of the crowds. Is anyone out there even looking at art, or just promenading in the place to be seen?

I don’t know what I am watching or why, but it is calming, soporific – jungle, mirrors, spirals, ruins.

While I am lost in a this Mexican idyll, Martin (same age as my mother) dies.

Then time speeds up again. Suddenly I must rush to meet you, and those two hours together are gone in a flash.

The writing on the wall says: ‘I am interested in the way that time records itself into things and people.’ And I am. And in the way people feel time.

Day Return

I left things too late. I rushed and rushed. The hack bike I ride to the station to deter theft wouldn’t take me any faster. I arrive hot and flustered with two minutes to spare and collapse into a seat next to a rough looking guy, but he is friendly – ‘too hot to run’; yes definitely too hot.

We speed past a gorgeous field of poppies like an Impressionist painting. I am just about cooling down when we arrive and the rushing starts again. King’s Cross has completely changed since I last visited, metamorphing into some airy American shopping mall. It feels miles to the Underground, people dawdling and not knowing where they are going. I have only fifteen minutes to get to the Royal Academy and people keep getting in my way. Out into the bright day, I hurry past St James’s Church, Fortnum and Mason’s and into the cool concrete courtyard bathed in bubbling fountains.

I am five minutes late (my ticket says 11.30am) but it doesn’t seem to matter and I enter the blissful air-conditioned room with Rivera, Siqueiros, and Posada’s calaveras; and new friends (to me) Gilpin and Burra. Finally there is calm, quiet, coolness.

I brought the London map with me, worn at the corners, torn at the creases, but I didn’t need it. I know this corner of London, unlike you, who it seems, I do not know at all. You are an alien landscape, a wasteland of extremes, no room for compromise or negotiation. I saunter with my iced coffee, window shopping, trying on shoes I don’t need, and swimming costumes I do.

I enter my favourite restaurant and find myself ordering the same thing I always order. I devour the black beans – so creamy, so meaty, the tang of cheese and Mexican cream (more like sour cream), but it is never like the crema we had in Mexico City all those years ago. The tacos ooze that rust coloured juice; no other food ever makes that seepage like some kind of edible wound. I lust after the salt caramel ice cream, but decide I really am too full.

There is an older lady on the table next to me, regaling her friends with the saga of her iPhone and contract. They commiserate with her difficulties, the wife confessing she put £10 on her pay-as-you-go years ago and still hasn’t used them up. Gadget lady mentions her Kindle, before extracting an iPad from her handbag to show them how to play Scrabble on it. There is some sort of generational mismatch going on as I make notes in a paper notebook with a cheap biro.

I am a few minutes early to meet my friends, so I go to look at the Thames. The grass in Victoria Embankment Gardens is already brown and burnt from our late-onset two-day summer. People sit everywhere chatting and picnicking.

We spend the afternoon drinking jugs of Pimm’s, asking yet again why it is so long between our get togethers; such old friends who pick up just where we left off, with no recriminations or secrets or jealousies, always there when needed. We make new friends. I would not do this alone, too shy. Within minutes it seems we are casually chatting about all sorts of intimacies. When I leave, I hug them all, old and new, closer with strangers than I’ve been with you in months.

The day ends with rushing again; rushing against the dark. The huge red globe of sun slips lower and I wonder if I will see my way home. I have no bike lights to show the path. I just about make it. You have not waited up.

long distance love

I have a long-distance love affair with a place I’ve never been to. She is the second such love – I finally met my other fantasy, the lust was confirmed and we have sworn to do it again when I raise enough money.

But this one… it’s becoming obsessive. I dream about her; I read about her; I write her love letters and look longingly at her photos. Surely it can only end badly, can’t it? The reality can never live up to expectation? And yet, I think it will.

We have the same initials, so it is bound to be a match made in heaven. And yet, I am nearly a 100 years too late – it is her 1920s heyday I lust after.

What is to become of us? She can’t come here; I can only go to her (wasn’t it always thus?) It will be fleeting, however long, it won’t be long enough. She will leave me wanting more, I know it, she has that look about her. Will it be a torrid long weekend? Or the start of incessant back and forth, balancing jetlag with pleasure, duty with joy, and an ever dwindling bank balance; but then it’s ‘only money’ as you used to say, there is always more can be made.

I am hopeful of a meeting soon – before the summer is out, but other things have a habit of intervening like the annoying interruption of a third party  just as the screen lovers are about to kiss…

musical postcard

I wish I could send you a musical postcard of tonight. Then, would you remember, like me, that rainy night in Guatemala City – us going to a cinema in the fancy part of town, in the embassy district, while the whores  were making centavos near the parque central, the boy soldiers were patrolling the silent streets, guarding the curfew; and the disappeared – who knows where they ended up. Is the music really so sad, or only coloured by my melancholy; those mournful tangoes stirring nostalgia.


Oh dear, some important people are following this blog now, so I’d better write more often! For now (technology permitting), here is a photo of San Sebastian, just because I’m so impressed that I managed to take a panorama. And that’s a gorgeous word, so back with more on this topic (or something) soon – promise!

SS pana

I’ve been nominated!

Very Inspiring Blogger Award

I just received a comment on this blog that my friend Liz Terry has nominated me as one of her 15 Very Inspiring Bloggers. I feel very honoured, especially as I haven’t been blogging long. Liz used to write for Velvet (more later) and I love her blog: http://lizterryblog.wordpress.com/

For those of you who haven’t come across this award before, there are rules attached to being nominated:

1. Display the logo of the award – above

2. Link to who nominated you – done

3. Say seven things about yourself – below

4. Nominate a whopping fifteen other bloggers! 5. And in doing said nomination, link over to them (preferably to a specific post for a trackback).

So, seven things about me (in no particular order):

1. I am very proud of being the editor of Velvet for five years and interviewing some fabulous women writers, although we eventually ran out of money to keep going. You can still follow us at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Velvet-Magazine/250608918151

2. You can still get my first novel, If It Falls, at http://www.amazon.co.uk/If-it-Falls-ebook/dp/B004K1FHZS/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1369840231&sr=1-1&keywords=if+it+falls%2C+naomi+young though I’m not sure who is getting the royalties, because I’m certainly not!

3. I’ve been playing the alto saxophone since last August and I’m loving it.

4. I love cycling. In 2011 I did the London to Cambridge bike ride and in 2012 I did the Norwich 100 for the British Heart Foundation.

5. I lived in Guatemala for about two years at the end of the civil war. (If It Falls is based on that experience.) I was overjoyed that Rios Montt was convicted of genocide and appalled that the conviction has been annulled.

6. I am an open and proud gay woman, but that does not define me. I am honoured to have been Chair of the Cambridge University LGBT Staff Network for three years.

7. I support equal marriage.

I don’t read that many blogs, so I may struggle to nominate 15. I hope that doesn’t disqualify me as an inspiring blogger if I don’t manage it! In no particular order:

Stella Duffy: http://stelladuffy.wordpress.com/ Stella always has interesting things to say and she is an inspiration as a writer and an out gay woman.

Shelley Silas: http://shelleysilas.wordpress.com/ again Shelley always tells it like it is.

Shaun Levin has been a great inspiration: http://shaunlevin.com/category/blog/

Write Around Town, very inspiring workshops and writing maps http://writingmaps.wordpress.com/

Susan Sellers. We used to be in a writing group together and Susan has always been supportive and Vanessa and Virginia is gorgeous. http://susansellers.wordpress.com/category/susans-blog/

Sharon Bridgforth ran the first writing group I was ever in. Amazing. http://sharonbridgforth.com/s/blog/

I just love Mark Doty’s writing http://markdoty.blogspot.co.uk/

Liz Terry’s http://365projectinwords.wordpress.com/ I love that idea

Manda Scott – very inspiring http://wordpress.mcscott.co.uk/

For nostalgia and to make up the numbers, Patty Nazo who was an inspiration to me at the time, but I think she may have moved on to bigger and better things! http://pattynazo.blogspot.co.uk/

We go to Unawatuna, the tourist beach up the coast. This is well featured in guide books and has a hint of the hippy vibe of Goa with vegetarian restaurants, posters advertising yoga and meditation workshops and all sorts of cheap places to stay. The tuk tuk winds down a narrow lane of shops selling the usual tourist truck to the back of the Happy Banana, a huge beach bar. We walk along the beach to the far end to a section that looks quieter. Here the water is perfect for swimming, calm and warm, unlike the beach near the hotel with its powerful waves and strong undercurrent. I swim out towards the rocks, from which we later realise snorkelling is possible. Small boats carry people back and forth, but I only swim. Near the rocks is a Buddhist temple from which comes a steady chanting. It is full moon poya. I imagine this is probably the one and only time I will swim to the sound of monks chanting. We return to the Happy Banana for lunch. The whole beach and numerous beach bars are now heaving with every kind of tourist and all kinds of flesh on display – old young, toned, flabby, the positively obese, over tanned, under tanned, the demur and the shockingly flamboyant. We have cold drinks and people watch. It isn’t pretty. All kinds of water sports are taking place and the air is heavy with boat diesel. We order a pizza, but our order gets lost in a confusion of waiters and not enough staff. We make allowances for the normal Sri Lankan wait, for the fact that they are so busy, for possible miscommunication, but eventually I become annoyed. Why? We have nowhere to go and nothing to do; our waiting tuk tuk driver is happy to wait indefinitely. Is it because surrounded by western people and western values I expect something approaching a western speed of service? Or is it, more likely, that I can’t stand this mass of humanity and want to retreat back behind the locked gate of our secluded hotel?

On Boxing Day (8th anniversary of the 2004 tsunami) we go by tuk tuk a few miles up the road to the Dutch colonial, and world heritage town of Galle. It is a bit like a Sri Lankan Disneyworld. Somehow it feels fake. Although it is strangely quiet – not only are cars not allowed in the few streets of the old town, but there is hardly anyone there, all the people we see walking around are white tourists and all the shops are staffed by locals, creating a very colonial atmosphere of brown serving white which doesn’t feel quite right, but then hasn’t it been that way for the whole trip? (Not entirely, in most other places there have been a large number of Indian, Arab and Sri Lankan holiday makers and in many hotels we have been the only white guests.) Like the hotel and the beaches, here we see more white people than we have seen in the previous fortnight, looking and acting like tourists: taking photos, wanting the best table, wondering why their order is taking so long. We like to think we’re not like that, but maybe we are? Slight strangeness aside, I love Galle. It is pretty, photogenic. The shaded streets give a little respite to relentless humidity. You can linger at cafes watching the world go by. There are no cars rushing past, no horns blaring and there are shops with attractive things in, not just tourist tat; shops you want to browse and linger in and chat to the shopkeepers and buy keepsakes. We haven’t had that since Colombo. And yes we are tourists, and while it is a journey, it is also a holiday and I want to take photos, and buy mementos and eat long languid lunches and be hot and get a little bit sunburnt and shake sand out of my sandals. The heat and humidity have taken their toll on many buildings, especially in the back, out of sight, alleys. It is as Paul Theroux describes, “that decay that pass for charm in equatorial outposts.” We climb the narrow, spiral stairs to Mama’s rooftop cafe and there have our last rice and curry banquet, surrounded for the first time by blond, curly-haired young children.

Here the food was not rice and curry. It was fusion – Sri Lanka meet Thailand mostly and plenty of fresh seafood. You could eat ice cream without a care and leave the ice in your drink with no fear. You could almost say it was bland, but after two weeks of varying degrees of fire, something less potent was welcome. We were the first guests to rise on Christmas morning and breakfasted alone watching the waves. The only indication that this was a date different to any other being a small glass with flowers in and a slice of Panettone each in addition to the exquisite pancakes with banana, honey and yoghurt. Any celebrations there were going to be had taken place, unbeknownst to us, on Christmas Eve, but Christmas Day is a public holiday and as such was a ‘dry’ day. A discreet notice told us no alcohol would be served.

After over two weeks of hardly seeing any tourists and being treated as a novelty in many places, we were firmly back in the western world. The hotel was like a postcard, on a small promontory right on the coast so the man-made ‘beach’ actually hung out over the waves with pristine beach to either side, complete with palms and pink sunsets. The bleached wood deck sported white sofas and curved wicker loungers each holding an almost naked white person with an iPad. I do not exaggerate, every person sitting out when we arrived was either reading on an iPad or playing on an iPhone. We later realised that this was partly because the wifi didn’t stretch to any other part of the hotel, so if you wanted to use a gadget you had to do it in the bar/beach area, but even so it was a culture shock more extreme than having curry for breakfast! I’ve just read a brilliant rant against mobile phones, concluding with: “I did not see how anyone could believe he was continuing to live a human existence by walking about talking into a phone for half his waking life. No, those gadgets did not promise to be a boon to promoting reflection among the general public.” (Exit Ghost, Philip Roth) Indeed. Why go somewhere as amazing as Sri Lanka and have your face stuck in technology?