four corners

Four Corners: With the sun on my skin

by Suw on January 27, 2012

Further to my post from the other day about my lost Four Corners post, recovered through the power of Twitter, I have dug up another of the essays I wrote for them. I had thought I’d written more, but it turns out there were only two posts, so from rom 26 April 2004, here it is the second:

Memory is synaesthetic. Sights, sounds, smells, sensations – all can prompt the sudden and unexpected recall of an old memory, musty, frayed around the edges and long since consigned to the dustbin of your mind, or so you thought.

Prising myself away from my desk a few weeks ago, I walked the 15 minutes to our nearest corner shop. The sky was a crisp blue, clouds sculled across it like fluffy white boats on a mill-pond sea. It was definitely a spring day, one that might in a few weeks metamorphose into summer, but for the moment it remained a pupa of a day, fat with possibilities but not yet ready to take wing.

That specific combination of the warm sunlight on my skin and the chill the air still held, itself a memory of winter, brought unexpectedly to mind childhood holidays in Cornwall.

Each Easter, my parents would take me and my brother to The Lizard for a couple of weeks, always staying at the Gwendreath Farm Caravan Park. No matter how things changed around us, our yearly holidays would remain a constant, as reliable as the great, graceful dishes at Goonhilly Earth Station that signalled we were close to our destination.

Often, the weather would keep us in the caravan, watching the sea fog roll in, listening to the distant mournful moan of the Lizard lighthouse foghorn, soulfully shooing boats away from the vengeful rocks of the peninsular that forms the southern-most tip of Britain.

Sometimes we’d be lucky, Cornwall’s maritime climate blessing us with sunshine and days on the beach, yet there would always be that nip in the air, a reminder that the weather could change faster than I could get out of my swimsuit and into something warmer.

Our Easter holiday ritual heralded for me the beginning of the end of the school year. Once I got back from Cornwall, the summer term would begin and it would be hardly any time at all before lunchtimes could be spent lying on the grass, contemplating maybe playing tennis tomorrow (although I never got much past the contemplation stage). Then, with indecent haste, exams and hayfever would be upon us, followed smartly by two months off.

My life no longer changes so reliably with the seasons. Easter is no longer a marker of the long summer to come, but instead a reminder that the year is disappearing too fast. I no longer dread June as the month of exams, but instead find myself hoping that I might clear enough off my to-do list that I can guiltlessly take the opportunity afforded by a few sunny days to lounge about in my sarong with a bottle of Pimms and a bowl of strawberries.

The chances of finding eight whole weeks to do nothing except what I want to do have dwindled to nothing – I almost can’t imagine it. I have a hard time imagining even two weeks off. But if I concentrate on the feeling of sun on my face, on that sensation, then there I am again with the sand under my feet, the salt in my nostrils and the squabbling of hungry gulls wheeling above me.

For just a moment, I can remember what it was like when there was nothing to do but explore.

Four Corners: A little piece of history

by Suw on January 24, 2012

In 2004, I was invited to write for a site called Four Corners. It was one of those blogs that aimed to be an international source of food for thought. Today a friend of mine asked about an old blog post that he remembered about me talking about history, almost as if the country was a palimpsest. All I could find here on Chocolate and Vodka was an excerpt and a link… to a dead site.

Thankfully, through the magic of Twitter we managed to track down the blog that underpinned the main site and which exists now as a rather worn and threadbare Typepad blog. It is almost a palimpsest itself.

Here is the original essay, written on 3 April, 2004, for the sake of history. I shall see if I can comb through the old blog there and pull up some of my other posts, just so that I have them. So much of my early writing has vanished, either trapped in print or lost from the pixels of the internet, so it’s nice to rescue this little bit of it.


It’s everywhere – in the air that fills your lungs, in the ground beneath your feet, in the water you drink. In your teeth. It permeates everything, often unseen, unnoticed, unfelt.

But pause a while, sharpen your senses, plant your heels firmly and connect to the rest of the world. Feel it seep up into your body, feel it circulate in your blood, feel it ebb and flow through you, binding you to the rest of time, to your forebears, to your descendants.

You cannot move in Britain for history. Modern, medieval, prehistory. History is here in abundance. Not just the buildings, in the dark oaken beams of a 13th century coaching inn, the fine sweep of majestic Georgian terraces or the peaceful solitude of a Saxon church built on ground that was sacred long before Christianity was brought to the British Isles.

Here, the earth itself bears visible witness to the past, at places like Maiden Castle or Badbury Rings, where the endeavours of long dead Iron Age villagers whose need to protect that which was precious to them found its answer in the ground. Huge earthworks, tonnes of dirt moved by hand to create formidable ditches and ramparts to keep the enemy out.

There is mystery carved into the living earth too – chalk scars connect to create white horses, military badges, human figures. Some of this history is undoubtedly ancient, such as the Uffington White Horse, the oldest and most graceful chalk horse in England, created in the Bronze Age. Some of this history is relatively new. The Fovant Badges were mainly carved during WWI, in remembrance of the soldiers who had given their lives in bloody combat. But look then at the Cerne Abbas Giant – is it an ancient celebration of virility or a relatively modern hoax?

In fact, even the very vegetation that shrouds the dirt with verdant disguise can be historic. The Monmouth Ash is said to still stand, the very tree where James Scott, Duke of Monmouth hid, trying to escape James II. Trees which have withstood the centuries, oaks or beech or churchyard yew, trees which have watched as the world changed, trees in which children played and from which criminals were hanged.

And this is the thread that runs through all time, uniting the historic with the present: the stories of the people who lived, laid and died in these places.

So much of history can never be told, lost to time. But the coaching inn that is still used as a hotel has seen generations of people come, stay for a while and leave. It has stood as each story unfolded and seen the parallels echo down the years, the same parts played by later generations. How many newly married couples, impatiently divesting each other of their clothes? How many children, frightened of sleeping in strange darkness, seeking the comfort and warmth of their parents’ bed? How many arguments, agreements, compromises?

Human experience shaped history and is shaped by history. Some things never change, we feel the same needs as our forebears, the same emotions, the same sun on our skin. It’s all there, everywhere, in front of you, now.

History. You don’t need to look for it. You just need to see it.

With the sun on my skin

by Suw on April 26, 2004

Memory is synaesthetic. Sights, sounds, smells, sensations ? all can prompt the sudden and unexpected recall of an old memory, musty, frayed around the edges and long since consigned to the dustbin of your mind, or so you thought.
Prising myself away from my desk a few weeks ago, I walked the 15 minutes to our nearest corner shop. The sky was a crisp blue, clouds sculled across it like fluffy white boats on a mill-pond sea. It was definitely a spring day, one that might in a few weeks metamorphose into summer, but for the moment it remained a pupa of a day, fat with possibilities but not yet ready to take wing.
Read the rest

Signs of the seasons: a melodrama

by Suw on April 25, 2004

From Christopher Robbins on Four Corners:

It's December. It's cold. You're using a sleeping bag. You have to wear a sweater when you bike to work in the mornings. This is Africa, what is going on?
Harmattan is going on, when the cool winds from the Desert blow in the cool, dry air, bringing a soft mist of fine red sand. You walk around with a a permatan from that red dust all over your skin, and if you were silly enough to bring any electronics here in the first place, consider them donated to the desert gods.

Read the rest

A little piece of history

by Suw on April 4, 2004

It's everywhere – in the air that fills your lungs, in the ground beneath your feet, in the water you drink. In your teeth. It permeates everything, often unseen, unnoticed, unfelt.
But pause a while, sharpen your senses, plant your heels firmly and connect to the rest of the world. Feel it seep up into your body, feel it circulate in your blood, feel it ebb and flow through you, binding you to the rest of time, to your forebears, to your descendants.
You cannot move in Britain for history. Modern, medieval, prehistory. History is here in abundance. Not just the buildings, in the dark oaken beams of a 13th century coaching inn, the fine sweep of majestic Georgian terraces or the peaceful solitude of a Saxon church built on ground that was sacred long before Christianity was brought to the British Isles.
Read more on Four Corners

Three fours. Four Corners.

by Suw on April 4, 2004

Like a fish-eye lense that takes in more than you can view with the naked eye alone, Four Corners brings together contributors from the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania in a brand new group blog. Four Corners seeks to straddle boundaries, meld cultures and create a global shared storytelling experience for both writers and readers.
I was delighted when Robert Daeley asked me to contribute to Four Corners. There is with Four Corners an opportunity for me to write essays that might seem out of place here on my own blog. It?s an opportunity I relish – it gives me a chance to get my teeth into subjects that perhaps I otherwise wouldn?t write about.
In the interests of cross-pollination, I shall post here the opening paragraphs of my essays on Four Corners and I invite you to pop across and see what else this new and undoubtedly fascinating blog has to offer.
Please do let me know what you think.