Sunday, 5 April 2009

Olli Jalonen: 14 Knots to Greenwich - 3

[ - The same August day on which I had given a farewell party in Haslingfield and invited Isla and Graham and others to watch the last eclipse of the millennium. It should be visible with sufficient completeness in the environs of Cambridge, and I couldn’t be bothered to go to the 100 percent zone amidst all the crowds of eclipse-watchers and tourists.

Graham had brought some thermometers with him from the department and just for the fun of it we also put tape recorders in the bird bushes. Both the thermometers and the tape devices were on timers, but this did not even pretend to have anything to do with scientific monitoring of the drop in temperature or the changes in the singing of the birds, but was connected with our program of eating and drinking, as if we were watching the FA cup final on television while at the same time taking a beer.

Through a thinning layer of clouds we could see the small black disc of the sun through binoculars fixed to the camera tripod , and did not even need to shield the lenses with exposed black and white film, as by now the clouds provided sufficient protection. Now and again we watched on TV as the great dark wall came from the Atlantic as swiftly as an aeroplane, staining the horizon with orange and pink tints.

Graham was at his best, he liked this kind of thing. When the minutes of the eclipse were over, he immediately wanted to run the temperature curves through the computer, and in the afternoon he rewound the tapes and using a stopwatch listened to find out if there had been any lessening in the singing of the thrushes or the cooing of the pigeons at the moment of the deepest darkness.

As host, I saw to it that there was enough food and drink on the living room table, and in the evening danced in the yard with Isla and Sarah Ong.

Then, the next morning, Haslingfield’s little eclipse party was over, we drank a last toast to the next time a dark sun would hit the neighbourhood, in 2090, ninety-one years from now, and we could have drunk a lot more in celebration of that. I was due to return home in two days’ time, everything seemed a bit foreign, as though it were past or lost.]

In his notebook my brother said it had begun to seem important that the start of the qualifying process for the Halley contest had gone the way that it had. It must mean something, Graham had even said, though normally he would not be caught dead straying into the grey area of pre-determination.

[We didn’t discuss the contest any more that night. Graham went off to bed. Isla and I had mugs of tea and a little whiskey. If one squeezes the juice of a lemon slice in black tea, the bottom of the mug becomes clearly visible.

When Graham had gone upstairs, Isla asked what I really thought about the plan and the idea of going to take part in the competition. My only reply was that I had come when I was asked, and it suited me. And that it was nice to see them both again after such a long time, that was probably the main reason why I’d come.

None of this makes any sense, Isla said, and began to laugh; then covered her mouth.

This was a habit she had also had before. Educated at home and at quiet, expensive schools. It was all right to smile but one should not laugh so one’s teeth were exposed, that was how uncivilized people and Americans laughed. Isla had sometimes talked about her two elite schools that winter when Graham was in Boston.

Isla went away to fetch more blankets from the clothes cupboard. I finished my tea and whiskey, looked at the small familiar objects in the living room, and felt that the old days were continuing but that there was now something else as well. The seasons pile up, layer upon layer. When one remembers one remembers a heap of pages, the holes in them always burn differently and different pieces become visible for a moment.

We made up a bed for me in the study, and then Isla went upstairs and whispered good night.

The study was small and chilly, the warmth from the fire in the living room did not penetrate much through the door. A large, draughty window looked onto the sea. In the darkness one could see nothing but a single, rarely twinkling light, perhaps from the lighthouse or beacon I had seen in the mouth of Killary Harbour, it was a warning of a reef or a signpost for ships. I put both of the spare blankets on top of me and from the depths of my bed I looked at the window and the rare twinkling of the beacon, which at first seemed irregular but the longer I stared the more its flashing acquired a rhythm that made it possible to discern the sea in the darkness.

Just before I fell asleep I found myself thinking about the Invincible Armada, the lost vessels of which had perhaps once been driven onto these same rocky shores of the western coast in a storm and been wrecked as the Atlantic smashed them into driftwood, piece by piece, not much more than four hundred years ago, less than the age of the bogwood, a very short time, everything is almost side by side.]

translated from Finnish by David McDuff

Olli Jalonen - 14 Knots to Greenwich

Olli Jalonen - 14 Knots to Greenwich - 2

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