Saturday, 3 September 2011

My Amazing Day, 24th February, 1978

for my cousin, Peri Lawlor

On the dawn of my thirtieth birthday the sun was heralded by a dim red glow on the curved horizon of the world. It grew in brightness till it equalled in splendour the blazing torches of the Persian Gulf strung out in a long chain of birthday candles in the blackness far below. The night had been endless, relieved only by the radiance of the Southern Cross which had appeared in my window as the plane rose up from Hong Kong and accompanied me all the way to Bombay, hanging above my left shoulder like a flag on a backpack. A dim light illuminated the enamelled Rolls Royce insignia emblazoned as a reassurance on the engine.
As the sun slowly rose, breakfast was served and cleared away. Then all blinds were lowered for the ritual of the Movie. This sent me into a state of trauma. Beneath me the Cradle of Civilization was slipping away unseen. I buzzed for a steward and begged that I might exchange my seat with someone further forward for whom Hollywood was more of a reality than Babylon and Byzantium. 
So I looked out on the Land of the two Rivers, feasted my eyes on the meanders and ox-bow lakes of the Tigris and Euphrates and thought of all that Mr Jenkins had taught me in my first year High School History class and all that Mrs Wright had taught me in third year Geography. Then I was borne across Anatolia and saw the roads and villages, farms and ancient tells. Snow lay in pink patches on the mountains. As the sky turned from gold to blue a huge conical peak appeared mauve like a dream on the horizon. Rising above a sea of cloud, as in the World’s oldest story it had risen out of the waters of the flood, this could only be Ararat.  At Frankfurt, the plane was filled with the irresistible smells of pastries and coffee that was really hot.
My friend Robert Dein, sporting a moustache, was at Heathrow to envelop me in hugs and wish me a Happy Birthday. At Victoria we caught a real, black, London taxi-cab with a driver who never stopped talking and who took us to the Tavistock Hotel by the scenic route, The Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus and the British Museum. Robert sat in the hotel foyer while I showered and propped my eyelids open.
“Where would you most like to go, in London, on your birthday?” asked Robert. From half a world away one place called more than any other, the National Gallery! We caught a red bus and rode on the top deck.
What a joy for me to stand for the first time before Titians and Tintorettos, Rembrandts and Vermeers, Poussins and Monets; to peer into the minute world of the Wilton Diptych and Van Eyck’s Wedding of the Arnolfini, to enter the holy space of Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks and Piero della Francesca’s Baptism of Jesus. 
When at last we left the gallery, Trafalgar Square was shining in the rain. Not having any crumbs, we chased the pigeons, sending them in a great spiralling grey cloud up and up, higher than Nelson on his column and then soaring down again against the background of white water, red buses and colonnaded buildings. The serene interior of St Martin’s in the Fields smelt warmly of old hymn books, straw-filled hassocks and polished wood. Robert was the perfect companion.
As my state of happy exhaustion sank into a condition of exalted stupor, Robert led me to a favourite Tea Shop where I collapsed into a corner seat and gazed out over the glinting rattle of glass, silver and china. I don’t know what I ate for my birthday tea. I just seem to remember that a young man called Lindsay was there, once a little golden-haired boy that I had taught in Sunday School, now grown tall and handsome, and like Robert, trying his luck in the theatre scene in London.
At nine o’clock Greenwich Mean Time, I stood in Tavistock Square and looked up at the hotel. My room was on the fourth floor. You could tell. This daughter of a distant sunburnt colony had left the window open. I sank happily into a damp bed and let visions of Madonnas and Mountains, Rainbow Arks and Golden-haired Cherubs on pigeons’ wings weave themselves into a glorious tapestry of dreams.

© Tamsyn Taylor December 1999 
Picture of Mt Ararat from Wikimedia Commons: 

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