Friday, 29 October 2010


My eyes crack open and light fills my vision, as if it were a wave breaking across my aching eyes. Without moving, I survey what I can see: The sand, inches from my face, rolling away to a stark horizon of sky. I can only be face down. I take a deep breath – the air is dry and grates against my insides, sand suddenly filling my mouth, forcing me instead to retch and choke a forced cough, pain shooting down my sides. I attempt to get up, and drag my arms across the scorching sand, only for them to remain lying by my sides. I can see them now, wasted away and burnt by the sun, bare except for a few strands of fabric falling to my elbow. I stare at them, willing them to lift me to my feet, but they are still, but for a twitch.

I realise that in my fit I have pushed myself onto my side, and can now not just see the sand below me, but shadows and shapes strewn in the sand. I squint through the light, and can make out that beside me lies part of a great carved statue. Once an effigy of a man, all that remains is part of the torso, torn from shoulder to waist, as if pulled in two by some terrible force. The face remains, and stares upwards, unblinking into the light.
Slightly above him lies another shape, but does not appear to share the same sandstone colouring, instead the skin is dark and almost human. I blink sand out of my eyes and stare harder. I surely recognise that rounding of the shoulder, that pink bare foot splayed out to one side. My eyes dart at the sight of movement, only to catch a scrap of red silk fluttering weakly in the arid breeze. Red silk. My memory flashes images of the material wrapped loosely around the body, bright and luxurious. I know this man, and yet cannot name him. I retreat into thought, replaying snippets of conversations I know we once shared. My eyes now screwed shut against the invasive light, pounding against me, preventing me from remembering my friend. I lose myself in this, searching ever more frantically for who I am looking directly at, but the harder I think, the more forcefully this heat beats me back, forcing me to retreat back to what I know. The sand, the light, the heat.

I finally force myself to look away, knowing my friend is dead, for below the scrap of silk runs a gash which traces his spine, long since darkened and dried by the sun. I shift my eyes below the figure, to something much closer, and half buried in the sand. I remember this to, a slab of carvings and symbols, my eyes follow left to right, scanning the text for any sense. I cannot read it, I recognise the letters, and know they concern me, but cannot make sense of them. I frantically search with my eyes, tearing at the slab up and down, focusing hard and definitely, trying to pronounce every letter. It is impossible. I must be able to read. I wrote this. I know I wrote it with a certainty beyond which I felt capable. I look at it again, letters burnt into stone, engraved in my memory, but only see letters, shapes which now hold no meaning.

I once again try to get up, and this time succeed in pulling myself to my knees. My face hidden from the sun, my whole body crying out against the movement. The sun intensifies impossibly and feels now like a physical weight against my crouched stance, pushing me back towards the sand. I slowly raise my eyes and am faced by landscape of broken bodies and buildings. The scene is repeated over and over all around me: a land taken by force, not suddenly, but over time – in words, in work, and finally in war. This shadow of a former glory fills me with another rush of memory. I remember courtyards full of people, market stalls piled high with food and luxury and the constant calls of voices in the air. I listen, but now there is only silence.

In the distance, above the debris, a spire still stands. My eyes fix upon it, its silhouette seeming to stand against the stark brightness of the rest of horizon. At its peak I can make out the outline of a great eagle, spread against the sky, as if about to take to the air. I know this eagle is how I once was: grand and effortless in movement, atop every building and mountain, even in the air itself. I remember well the people’s half whispered praises and prayers. I felt their worship just like wind under the eagle’s wings.

I remember too when this new sun was merely a dim glow on the horizon, a curiosity which drew fleeting interest. It then broke as a dawn, casting long shadows from North to South across the land. It bred fear and suspicion, and the people kept their prayers to themselves and muttered against my name instead.
Finally this terrible sun rose, and I was powerless to help, as my people forsook me for this light. And now, I remember the end. I remember the terrible loss that was suffered and extent of the ruin which lies at my feet. I turn my eyes up to the sun, its ferocity blinding me immediately. I stare on, focusing upon its white hot centre in order to erase everything from sight, to have to look at my failure no longer. Finally my eyes are burnt out with light, even turning my head all that I can see is the forced, bleached white of a blinded man. I do not cry out, but with one last effort I throw myself back to my knees, offer my palms to the red hot sand and let the sun take my exposed neck.

Here I pray, not to my gods, who I have seen strewn around me, or to my people, who are long dead. Here I pray to the Light, to its power, and its forgiveness.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Still ‘ere.

Dear Ether,

I suppose simply being here should not be a surprise. But it continually surprises me; I thought I was just coming on holiday for a bit… I think Gap compounds this sensation by its idyllic nature. Every shuttered window and every sunset-lit mountain, every pain au chocolat and every ill advised third glass of wine insists this is not real life, and any minute the shutters will come rolling down and I’ll have to go home.

However, the show does go on, and thankfully my audiences of French teenagers seem to have taken to me quite well. Some of them even let me eat with them tonight. Others shake my hand. I did catch some girls giggling once, but then realised I was wearing my T-shirt inside out, so it’s 50-50 as to whether they were giggling at my good looks or my inability to get dressed for work. Oh and they also think it’s really funny I like cereal. Seems if its not pastry it’s a no go for breakfast.

I do get homesick though. I miss all kinds of things. I just tell myself you always want what you can’t have. I must have made a decision at some point to come all this way from home, so I have only myself to blame for missing it.

OH. And I did also spend my first day with Italians. The rumours are true, they are the slowest people in the world. I pray no Italians get this far through this post. But I’ll be damned if it didn’t take them THRICE the amount of time it would take any Englishman to complete any activity / walk / social custom.

And now I’m going to try and travel through strike stricken France to see friends and see France. It’s a valiant aim and one I intend to at least try and get on a train for. Wish me la chance, and wish me le courage.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Plaster cast teacher.

The bed is now covered in an assortment of clothes and discarded belongings, and the walls are plastered with an array of friends’ glossy faces. My floor is covered by a huge blue rug which I found for four euros in a second hand shop. Music is on for every waking second, and I already have several odd socks, despite only packing pairs. Life seems to manifest itself in a similar manner. Sometimes purposefully, but often serendipitously, a day’s events add another detail to the innumerable count which make up a full and happy life. I have not been here very long, so perhaps it is merely illusion, but very rapidly I have found myself in a life of socialising, work and furniture shopping.

This morning I took a class alone, by myself, un-aided, sans-assistance. You get the idea. Sitting at the front of a class of French teenagers with nothing but a board marker and a lesson plan feels a bit like going to battle unarmed. All these strange children suddenly look up at you expectantly, waiting for you to start. The feeling that I should be sat with them, looking up at some poor other foreigner was immediately overwhelming. However, I gripped my pen tight, put on my best teacher’s voice and began. And you know what, they listened, learnt and reacted, just as if I was a teacher. A shaky and somewhat strange teacher, but a teacher nonetheless.

I already reckon that’s the trick of it, this adulthood lark. You just have to know how to cover up the cracks which reveal your still a kid. If you can imitate the rudimentary moves which you’ve seen a teacher do a thousand times; hang up your coat, write on the board, demand attention, then your half way there. Of course, I didn’t have the same finesse as a teacher, my writing was as spidery and lopsided as it is in real life, and all of a sudden I couldn’t spell to save my life. It was my very first class though, and I reckon with a bit more practise you won’t be able to spot me from a real life adult. Except for my insistent lack of facial hair.

Work aside, me and ‘my assistants’ also had our first taste of French clubbing over the weekend. It was pretty surreal. There was none of that strolling down to the club at half ten. Oh no, we drank until midnight and then got into a car (equipped with sober driver) and did a half hour drive into the mountains. Not to a nearby town or anything, just to the discotheque that existed alone on the mountainside. Through the smoke filled car I could make out road lines and other, less sober drivers, but that was about it. We finally arrived, and us English found the drive had left us both sober and sleepy. However, we were at ‘la Garenne’ now, like it or not, so we hit the Jack Daniel’s and then hit the floor. 3h30am and we were still going for it, breaking moves that these French guys hadn’t even seen before. I danced so hard I’m still getting leg cramps several days later. After the long descent back to Gap me and Nathan got back to our flat with just enough energy to eat some leftover chilli before collapsing into our antique beds.

I suppose I shall stop there for now, although there is more to tell. I think I might like it here.