A crowning of my own

I read online about spoon theory, this idea that every morning when we wake we have a number of spoons full of energy for the day and most of us don’t even think about it. We simply get up and go about our business oblivious to the notion that every activity we undertake requires a number of spoons of energy.

We assume we’ll have enough for every part of the day until we can collapse at night.

For people with chronic illness, people who suffer from all manner of ailments that reduce the number of spoons in their possession it can be especially difficult.

They need to be aware of their reserves of energy. They need to calculate how many spoons it will take to get dressed for instance, how many to prepare and eat breakfast and so on throughout the day.

It’s even more dreadful for someone who once had unbounded energy to suddenly find themselves in this depleted position.

For most of us our energy levels taper off as we age. I’m lucky I still tend towards the energetic, though I notice I’m not as fast with the housework as I once was, and there are tasks I’d have undertaken, like ironing or cooking that I have to drag my feet towards. Once I’m into them it’s fine, but there are other things I’d rather be doing or so I reason, and these once easily scratched off jobs take longer if at all.

The older I get the more I’m struck by the amount of information out there in the world that calls for my attention. It throws me back to the days when I was young and took pleasure in dragging out one of the encyclopaedias from my father’s library to look through the various items and events listed in alphabetical order.

You could read about obscure animals in the encyclopaedia, the mating habits of orang-utans, the life cycle of the dung beetle, the reasons why moths are attracted to light. You could read about famous people, about Boadicea, and any number of saints. You could read about the reason why water flows down plugholes in different directions, clock wise or anti clockwise depending on which part of the globe you stand in. You could learn any number of things and as randomly as you liked depending on which letters of the alphabet you selected.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica was my bible. I used it for homework. I used it for pleasure.

One day I noticed some pages had come unstuck and were about to fall out. This in the days when I collected poetry, and the snippets of poems I had in my possession became my treasures. I pored over them at night for company.

On page 7027 of Volume ten, I came across John Drinkwater’s ‘The Crowning of Dreaming John’. I eased out the loose pages and filed them away for posterity.

The poem tells the story of John of Grafton who took seven days and seven nights to travel through the back lanes of England to see ‘ A king put on his crown’.

John brought with him a shilling, a whole silver shilling. ‘But when he came to Westminster They wouldn’t let him in.’

You’d have thought he’d be bitter, our John, but no, instead he smiled at the crowds of people, turned, ‘whistled and was gone’.

That evening after he had walked for twenty five more miles, through ‘the twisting roads of England back into the Warwick lanes,’ he stopped to rest.

The accompanying illustration showed an old man stick and swag in hand settled against the bough of an elm, his eyes focused upwards.

As he rested ‘the spirits of trees and pools and meadows, mountain and windy waterfall, …clouds and skies and rivers, leaves and shadows and rain and sun’ descended from on high.

They came with ‘a sound of singing and chiming music’ and bore ‘aloft a flashing crown.’

So although Dreaming John had travelled to London his trip was not in vain for ‘in a summer evening, along the scented clover’  Dreaming John of Grafton held ‘ a crowning of his own.’

The story captured my imagination to the point when I read the words over and again and slide my eyes across the old fashioned images, I spill over with joy and sorrow. This old man so unlike anyone I had ever known became an example for me of hope over adversity.

Now to find ideas and images, I use Google and Google offers so much more but I sometimes cop that strange overwhelmed feeling I once had as a child when I met Dreaming John and first discovered the meaning of the word infinity.

The idea that numbers go on and on and on. That there is no end to time, as far as I knew when I was a girl. Things can be endless.

This in contrast to the fact of limits and the ideas of death and the awareness that hits me more and more as each day passes that there is only so much you can do in one lifetime.

Maybe I need to conserve my spoons full, though most of me reckons to hell with it, spill my spoons, spend my money, live life to the full and when the time comes and I’ve nothing left, find another way to survive until I’m dead.

Or have a crowning of my own.

The infinity of memory

During my first year at secondary school I had two choices of direction home. Either I could walk down Vaucluse Parade through Rowena street and then cut through the factories, which had thoroughfares as wide as roads through the middle, to the Richmond Railway Station or I could leave from the other exit at the school and wander down Church Street, cross Swan at the lights, and look longingly into the window of Dadd’s cake shop where the girls whose parents gave them pocket money stopped to buy a treat, then down the ramp to the East Richmond station.

Richmond was a better bet as all the trains, including express trains, stopped there. Not every train stopped at the East Richmond station. Despite this, I preferred the lesser of the two stations. It was smaller than its big sister up the line with only two platforms that sat stolid opposite one another and was cupped in a valley underneath the bridge that flew over Church Street on its way to the Bryant and May Red Head matches factory and then onto the Yarra River.

It felt safe.

Not that I ever travelled during non-safe periods, at night or in the very early morning, when the dirty old men whom, I had often encountered in the parks around our house, prowled.

I sat one day at the platform and watched one of the old red trains rattle by on its way to Camberwell when I began to consider the notion of infinity. Sister Anthony had talked about this concept during our maths class and although most lessons in maths flew over my head, especially when we began to explore Algebra, logarithms and complex ideas beyond simple addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, the idea of infinity fell into the irresistible category of ideas that I could not leave alone.

The idea that numbers could go on and on into the distance, and that other things too might stretch into the future on and on like the universe, my mother’s Queen Anne dressing table with it’s three mirrored panels that folded in on one another.

I could stand in the middle panel and pull the other two around my body to see myself reflected again and again as each hinged panel picked up different sides of my forever-retreating form.

My body grew smaller and smaller into the distance but there was no possibility of seeing it disappear altogether.

‘What’s wrong with your gums?’ a woman, who sat on the same bench separated from me by her shopping, asked.

I kept my school bag on the ground in front of my feet. I had been peering ahead into the distance, trying to read the tiny letters on an advertisement for tomato sauce and my mouth must have slipped open long enough for her to get a look inside.

It seemed an intrusive question, one that cut across my thoughts about infinity and I did not want to answer. But I knew small people like me were obliged to be polite to grown ups so I turned to face her.

‘Let me take a look,’ she said, and leaned towards me. ‘I’m a nurse.’ She said this in such a way as to suggest great authority rested in her role and there was nothing wrong with a complete stranger asking a twelve year old girl alone on a railway station to open her mouth for inspection.

But this woman did not know me. I opened my mouth for no one.

The train pulled into the station, the stopping-all-stations, and I grabbed my bag and raced to the first carriage at the front of the train far enough away to avoid the woman joining me.

Why, of all the many memories that follow me from a childhood of rotten teeth and fear, I should remember this woman’s curiosity is beyond me now?

I link these events with my first inkling of infinity that glorious word to match an even more glorious concept, the infinity of memory, the way one memory follows another endlessly one after the other, and each piggy backs on another, each lending itself more layers of meaning in a life that would otherwise seem dead ended.