Unborn mind and the ‘soft cornetto’

APRIL 20 04

I was sitting in the sun just after the rain had stopped, I had to take my kitchen chair out, my garden chair wet, and I was listening intently to a bird with a very undiversified song, very basic, but exact and timed the same each time, such that I started to silently nod my head in the same rhythm, and as a result of doing so I appreciated these basic sounds had much more of a lavish depth than one might think. It was like a mantra without words, and what better sort of mantra. Sitting there taking in the pleasant greenness after rain at the end of the afternoon I remembered a sermon of Bankei's when he stopped because a particularly loud bird seemed to want to say something. I could picture in my mind's eye the monks sitting in the dust confusedly turning their heads, first to the bird then to Bankei then back to the bird, not sure who to listen to, not quite having Bankei's naturalness to just listen. And these thoughts were over and done with in my mind before I even had a chance to register them, I just caught the tail end of them slipping away, listening to the bird, lulled into what it had to say. This is indeed the 'unborn mind'.


The highpoint of today, besides getting a pleasing form of words to translate a Chinese verse that has eluded me, was probably an amusing squirrel out by the boating lake, that and half an hour of sunshine after the rain.

There were a lot of Hasidic Jews out rowing boats around the lake wearing their traditional clobber. Huge white swans, Canada geese, coots, and Hasidic Jews floating around the lake. I went to get a 'soft cornetto', unfortunately the girl serving hadn't yet got the hang of the 'soft cornetto' machine and managed to first dab her elbow in it and then rather gracelessly rammed the entire thing back up into 'Mr Softie'. The man frying an egg with bacon said: 'Let it back gently love, it's got a kick on it.' Through the back window I could see Hasidic Jews and swans floating around the lake.

I was in the area to get two spots on my hand checked out at the nearby hospital, in case it was skin cancer. I was having a walk around the lake beforehand, as I arrived early, my hands partially bandaged up from an accident in the sink. Twisted a thin-walled glass so it snapped into flying blades, sliced my finger on one hand and took a small chunk of flesh out of the other. Potential conversation with the dermatology specialist went through my head: 'Good job the glass missed the cancer, you'd have nothing to do, as it was I only biopsied the good flesh.'

Eventually she got the 'soft cornetto' right and the man frying the egg said to the customer: 'D'you want it split?' I thought these days you have to know the lingo to fit in at lakeside-diner truck-stops. 'Yeah mate, split it.' The yolk runs out congealing with the rancid fat on the flat-surface fryer. I was thinking as I was walking with my 'soft cornetto' towards the lake where two young boys were throwing stones at geese I bet someone thinks I'm a paedophile, can't have a bloody walk around a lake these days, so I veered off towards the rooks, and the squirrels who were taking no shit from the rooks, charging 'em like little teddy-bear battering rams they were.

So I sat eating my 'soft cornetto' on the huge exposed root of a tree on the edge of the lake watching the Hasidic Jews float around and this cheeky little squirrel wanted to see what I was up to playing peek-a-boo from behind the tree inviting me to guess where he would turn up next. Good game. I gave him a piece of curved wafer broken from my 'soft cornetto'. I called to him: 'Did you like that?' And the cheeky bugger stuck his tongue out at me with bits of wafer on it. It was getting time for my appointment. So I left the tree and the squirrel and the boating lake and the Hasidic Jews and walked over to Outpatients.

I found it hard to disguise the disappointment in my voice that it wasn't cancer. I had the most bizarre thought walking away from the specialist's surgery: 'I bet he thinks I'm going to cut the spots out myself.' Can't explain it, why such a thought would run through my mind.

I was thinking later how come my life doesn't amount to much, shouldn't I at my age at least be going across ice crevasses on rickety rope bridges or alternatively waking up with a hangover under poker tables rather than translating Chinese poetry and chuckling at a squirrel's antics spending most of my life alone? But then I thought, for much of my life I have wanted to be apart from the world, unaffected by it. Don't I look at an evaporating dewdrop and see the transitoriness of all existence? Aren't my heroes robed figures walking lonely paths into the clouds dashing off poetry on kites for young children to go and fly? Since when have I desired to be a pirate of the Caribbean, save for a couple of hours watching Johnny Depp. Yet still, one day, I persist in imagining I'll be swept away by a tidal wave of change. Question is, whether that will happen before death or whether death will be it, and I'll look back at all the things I've tootled around with and think, 'well at least I got something down on paper, the real challenge starts here.'