Melon Flower Moment
It was Sunday morning and I was lying in bed in my new home, advertised as a ‘cabanon’, but really more of a glorified shed with sink, fridge and shower. There was the usual wake-up carry-on from the Beliers, the busy, yellow birds who weave nests resembling straw moccasins and hang them upside down like Chinese lanterns from the branches of the big tree in the drive. There were other birdsongs too; one a high, repetitive whistle on four distinctive notes, another a trill, another a squawk. There was the drone of the fan. It turned its bland, inquisitive face jerkily back and forth on its wobbling stem, shifting the curtains rhythmically, to reveal the broiling meter of terrace where a four-inch long snail meandered, impervious, across the shimmering tiles.
I was reading Jane Gardam’s “The Man in the Wooden Hat”. It is the story of an emotionally inhibited QC, and his practical, passionate wife, both children of colonialism, both scarred by the Second World War. I came to this description of Pimlico in the 1950’s:
“As she reached the corner of Ebury Street the fog rolled away and she saw that Edward’s side of the street was beautiful in morning light. The façade was faded and gentle and seemed like paper, an unfinished film set, almost bending in the wind.”
As I read these lines I felt a surge of sentimental nostalgia for London so intense that my throat thickened and my eyes were pricking. The image of a terrace in grey daylight hung so clearly before me yet seemed so far away that I was near to tears. I was shocked. I was so shocked that, being English, I had to get up and make a cup of tea, while Browning’s, “Far brighter than this gaudy melon flower” flitted, uninvited, across my mind. Homesick? For cold, dirty, London? How could this be?
Once I’d told myself off, in an English way, for being so silly, and boiled the pan of water (no kettles here: this is France) I mused on the power of literature to evoke emotional responses. I reasoned that good writing must, of course, make a direct hit on the emotions, but that the time and place of reading can amplify its effects. In my case, the fine writing, like a heat-seeking missile, had revealed to me a feeling I didn’t even know I was harbouring.
The second outcome of my melon flower moment was that I had to find something to do with this impromptu surge of sentiment. Emotions are hard-wired to the writing process, and Jane Gardam’s potent prose jump-started my creativity. So I opened up the laptop and wrote this blog.
Jo Hepplewhite, La Reunion, Indian Ocean
Put Jane Gardam’s companion novels Old F.I.L.T.H and The Man in the Wooden Hat on your must-read list