“I’m a believer in meditation that isn’t thought of as traditional meditation. It can be in the form of music or painting or walking or anything else that carries you into the flow state. Getting lost isn’t actually getting lost. That’s the paradox: getting lost is going inward. Getting lost is finding ourselves in a deeper capacity. Getting lost is sometimes essential to growth and ultimately a greater understanding.”
Victoria Erickson, writer
The last two months in yet another temporary home, a state we have been in for four and a half years, have highlighted the pleasure I feel wherever I find myself homed. I would describe the process as joining forces with birds. And having ‘joined forces’ or connected, it feels like time and I have merged too – I do not feel a sense of ‘separation’ from nature or reality. The endgame is that reality feels much dynamic and fluid, an open system. Bird watching is new to me and I don’t have my binoculars yet, so I struggle to identify the birds that visit our small courtyard vicinity. There is a black pair of birds that I talk to regularly who live in one of the many chimney pots that stand out on our manmade horizon line, and at first I thought they were crows. Then I realised they were too small. Were they blackbirds? No, too big. Finally I reached for my new Urban Birder book, and I am quite sure they are jackdaws.
There was something comforting and timely about this discovery because of all the memories of my dad that have been floating in and around my mind for some months now. I wish I had thought to ask him more of his childhood – but he told me just enough to know something of the boy that was he. He would probably have been twelve are thereabouts, living near Barham, Kent, of an average family edging towards the middle classes as his father tried desperately hard to keep a business afloat. The year would therefore have been 1926. His three floors plus a cellar brick-built home would certainly not have had electricity. It was in 1926 that Stanley (my dad’s name) Baldwin, the then Prime Minister, promised the country that there would be a cheap supply of energy to every home in the country very soon. Only 6% of homes were joined up to any kind of a grid in those days and you can imagine who owned those homes. His mother gave birth to six children, one died as an infant, and she raised five as best she could until she died around 1925/26. Life was simpler but harder. I cannot help but wonder how much more canny you needed to be to survive in those days. Us softies, used to everything arriving on a plate or in a box, who are sure we must have got smarter because time has ‘progressed’ us, wouldn’t last a day in their world. Anyway, back to my dad. He was his mother’s favourite, and would eventually grow into something of the black sheep of the family. I imagine he saw things differently to her other children and I suspect he also had a natural charm. The ladies later certainly thought so. A little village in the English countryside wasn’t enough to fill all that he imagined, and that is how he eventually left for a new life in Africa, encouraged by his brothers who feared that if he stayed he was sure to end up in trouble of some sort of another.
Many years ago he told me the story of how one day he had to have a jackdaw egg for his collection. He knew there was a nest near the top of a tree on the neighbouring estate. It happened to be the estate of Lord Kitchener of WW1 and with ties to Africa. The young Stan climbed to the top of the tree, reached into the nest, and carefully climbed down so as not to break it, only to find the gamekeeper waiting for him at ground level. It was considered poaching in those days to take a rabbit or an apple from the land of another, and taken a lot more seriously if it was from the landed gentry. I believe that there was also a spanking waiting for him before marching him back to complain to his dad. I have a feeling his father was a bit of softie, knowing my dad, so probably one was enough for the occasion. The eggs of the jackdaw are white to pale blue with grey and brown specks. They sound beautiful. I have always had a soft spot for the colour known as duck egg blue. The jackdaws’ are more sky blue.
That got me thinking – the third fairy tale. And yes, it may be stretching things a bit far, but for my dad to stay in a small village with a limited horizon was probably no better than being stuck in a tower with only his imagination to keep him company. So one day, when his princess, Africa, came riding by it was time for Rapunzel to let down his ladder, board a ship, and sail out to the expansive plains of Africa. Yes, I know, the story was turned on its head somewhat. And I also can’t help but see the relevance in a comparison with life today in lockdown Britain. Who will be our prince or princess? I have a feeling that the answer is that it will be us, the people, who will one day become the princes and princesses needed to free ourselves from this tyranny working hard to get itself together and operational. It wasn’t long before Stanley had a safari outfit, a bush hat, a lorry and a dog, and he would drive many hundreds of mile through the bush and through rivers, sleeping out in a tent with the wild animals, all the way from Rhodesia to the coast of Mozambique. His job was to collect and return migrant workers to the tobacco farms. My father did not know the meaning of the words, to discriminate, whether between nations, religion, gender, colour or tribe; one of the attributes he passed on to his offspring, and for this I regularly give thanks. He loved his life in the bush and on the road, and the people he spent most of his time with, a love he never lost, and once the interruption of WW2 was over, and he was able to return to his beloved Africa. He was more than ready to fall back into the arms of she who is the heartbeat of the world, one that cradles us all through the dark nights whether we know it of not – the enigmatic, athletic, extraordinary, sensuous Africa.