IT WAS LIKE finding a baby wriggling on my desk. The sight of our elegant toast-rack dangling from the hook among the dog-leads, as if someone had ju s t returned from a picnic where warm toast was being served, horrified me.
This toast-rack, th a t has never left our side for twenty years, a prim rem inder of the days when there were m a rriages, and present lists, and antiques, and parents, and breakfasts even, and breakfast-tim es, and the laying of tables — all gone, like letterw ritin g , walking, conversation, all gone or going — this toast-rack, that my husband still likes to be used, as a symbol o f decency, o f gentility .
This toast-rack, like a libation bowl with jaw s , placed on the a l ta r o f his patriarchy by me, his hum b le wife, whose jo b it is to serve his meal a t exactly the correct time and tem perature each morning, the meal on whose successful perform ance will depend his entire working day, and all the o ther days of all the o th e r people destined to come into contact with him, to be inched like toast into the grip of his racks, to be trapped, like him, in the teeth o f his own chalice — t"his very correct toast-rack is in the wrong place.
But why all the fuss? I t is accusing us, as it dangles idiotically up there, of, in my hu sb and’s case, senile dem entia; in my case, lack of m indfulness, a lack so mortifying “ I c an ’t even handle thinking about it,” as my son, now adult, replied when I asked him what the abiding memory o f his childhood was.
This was a question I had been longing to ask him all his life — in fact, what I had brought him up into a d u l thood for the express purpose of asking him. T he unbearable memory is of me singing The answer, my fr ien d , is blowing in the wind over and over again in a special nasal whine like a sw arm o f Am e ric an mosquitoes with ’flu. BUT BACK TO THE toastrack. About thirty years ago,
SLOW BREAKFAST WEEK
SELIMA HILL This very correct toast-rack is in the w ro ng place.
I found myself in a kitchen with a huge, orange-haired opera-singer who confided in me, as she swished her big red hands around in the earthy water, that she believed not in thinking about God when you ’re peeling potatoes but thinking about potatoes when yo u ’re peeling potatoes. I was only too happy to go along with that, with God as a big potato. And developed, if th a t’s the word, a small exercise, that goes like this.
You supply yourself, on the appointed day, with a silent companion equipped with a little bell, or, failing th a t, with an alarm-clock. And every hour, on the hour, you write down something for and ab out that moment. On the hour. No cheating. I t ’s su rp risingly difficult at first, and surprisingly compulsive. Subversive, cool and irrefutable. Like poetry.
F o r n e a r ly tw en ty - f iv e years I have written a single entry in a special book once a year on my birthday. (I think I got the idea from the Bronte sisters.) Now I do it th roughout a random day. I t ’s fun. You feel like a child who’s caught a ball. O r a clock. O r a baby. As if it’s appeared from nowhere.
O r like my son with his r e g u la r , tu rk ey - lik e , wobbling, half-formed cries of “Seriously? ” You hear him on th e p h o n e . “ S o m e th i n g , something” , says his friend. “ S e r io u s ly ? ” “ S om e th in g , something” . “ Seriously?”
I am organizing a small party, and my son rings up to offer help. I f you can call it help. “ M um ,” he says, “ I ’m getting worried. Apparently the police have got to hear of it. T h ink it’s a rave. T h ey ’re coming to see you about it. Thought I ’d b e t te r w arn you.” “ O h no,” I answer seriously, “ Seriously?” .
I ’m sharing my party with Rosie. She has ju s t rung up to ask what the sea is doing. This may seem odd as she lives in Sea Lane, and her lawn runs down to the beach, whereas I live five miles inland. But I live on a hill and my house overlooks the bay, and it’s easier for me to look out o f the window than it is for Rosie to go outside. She has just come back from visiting her brother. He lives in Oxfordshire beside some nice flat lakes. She’s thinking of moving there. Her brother, meanwhile, would like to live by the sea. Doesn’t he know it’s easier to pick up the telephone th an go and look at it? And in the evening, instead of s tru gg lin g ro und lakes on b o n e - s h a k in g bicycles, or w andering pointlessly along beaches, don’t they know i t ’s easier to watch television?
I sit here on my hill, wondering why I ’m here. And if I ’m happy enough — perched on my chair like a doll at a car-boot sale with an alarm clock in one hand and a toastrack in the other, waiting for the rave squad to arrive. And am I pretty enough? I ju s t snatched this last thought as it tried to slink off out of the corner o f my mind. Ffyona Campbell, the long-distance walker, reports that as “ the boys” approach the house of the first white woman they have seen for weeks, they honk at the gate and blurt out “ Oh please, God, let her be pretty!” And surely you rem em ber th a t questionnaire where men and women were asked what the single most im p o r t a n t f a c to r was in choosing a mate. The women, bless them, chose kindness. What did the men choose? “ O v e rw h e lm in g ly ” , th e i r choice was gracefulness.
I could continue to assail you with observations on my gracefulness, but the potatoes need peeling. Mindfully, as if I was peeling Jesus.
And I want to tell you about Phoebe. She weighs the same as six copies of Resurgence (how many do you weigh?) and her future is in our hands. Babies and g r a n dm o th e r s need spokespeople, and I intend to infiltrate the columns o f Resurgence on their behalf.
Finally, a white buffalo calf has been born in America and is being claimed as a Messiah. And I would like to take this opportunity of announcing the launch of what you’ve always wanted: Slow Breakfast Week. 0
Selima H i l l won first prize in the A rvon ! Observer International Poetry Competition 1988. Her poetry books have been published by Chatto and Bloodaxe. We welcome Selima, who wilt regularly contribute to this page, replacing Sue Limb, whom we sincerely thank fo r entertaining us over the years.
2 R e s u r g e n c e N o . 169