Sprouting potato

Green-tinged, somewhat shrivelled. Fragile, finger-like, waxy shoots emanating. This spud has spent too long waiting to be boiled, and is making a bid for freedom.

Resurrection.

Mum fishes it out of the fridge and sets it aside for planting. It’s the one that got away.

I dig great ridges of metallic-smelling, crumbly brown earth – pulling out couch grass and bishop-weed, shaking soil off the roots and flinging them in the cracked yellow pail. It’s a big task, and yet I’m happy. Inquisitive neighbours look down from the pavement passing above, and cars snore by. The potatoes are gently laid to rest at 18 inch intervals, and earthed up. No watering – it would simply make them rot.

As weeks pass, dark green leaves peek through, brushing the earth from their faces and smiling at the fickle sun. They stretch themselves higher. And yet, some gardening wisdom – handed down, but poorly understood – says I must once more “earth them up”. I bury them again up to their necks.

Mermaid

A stick scratching in the sand fashions your form – and from Melissa’s mind, you are born.

“We were only trying to drown her.”

Innocence and caprice. Like the sea.

As I watch Enya squeeze into her wetsuit, arm arched and over backwards to feel for the zip’s tail, pulling upwards as it shrink-wraps her lovely form, I’m happy to take my chances.

Body boards and bodies run down to the surf. The waves, high, three or four feet at least, crashing on Tiree’s Atlantic shore. The board jolts upward, like a cork bobbing from forced submersion, shooting to the top as the wave’s force hits. I swim beyond the breakers and wait, scanning the near horizon for the next “big one”.

The salt’s in my hair, my ears, my mouth. My nose. It stings my skin. I’m alive.

Later, as we shiver on the rocks, hypothermia sets in for Melissa – too long in the water in ill-fitting suit. Emergency towels and warming drinks bring her back from the shivering, shuddering brink. So frail, such alertness needed, just to survive each day and the next. So glad as they grow older and take on more of their own survival – yet so happy to remain involved and connected.

We fight great random battles with flopping sword of kelp. The brown fronds slap like flaccid translucent whips, as if some merpeople enact a farcical sadomasochistic rite. Progressively shortening as the duel takes its toll, the stalks diminish to little more than daggers. Close combat ensues.

What more is written, drawn in the sand? What will wash away in tonight’s tide, and what new imagination from passing stranger will illustrate the dawn?

Sand

The seabed is so pale – wave-rippled sand – just a few feet below us. Dad directs a course across the bay, paddling far out from the beach. The waves are getting quite large, and with each, the aluminium of the canoe shunks as we land, spray spraying from the bow.

Mum shifts nervously. “Is it really safe?”

“Oh, it’s OK.” says Dad, looking serious but calm. He eyes the shore, the headland and the horizon, grips the paddle a little more tightly, and smiles. This is a moment to savour.

Shunk… Shunk… 

Yet bigger waves. From my cross-leggedness on the red cushion, I grip the gunwales and just love. Alice and Lena are there too. We’re like peas in an open pod, the five of us – and a cool box.

It’s shallowing now, and the water’s paler, losing the deeper turquoise and fading to clear. Sunlight refracts and dances on the sinuously rippled sand. We can hear and see the waves hissing onto the beach.

“When we beach, can you just jump out and start to drag us up?” says Dad.

Lena and I ready ourselves.

The metal hull slides and scrapes over the shell sand, and we jump out on either side.

Durbar Square

I’m staying in a room in Freak Street that’s little more than a plywood box. I’m not sure there’s much more than corrugated iron between me and the sub-zero December air. In the room next door, a couple of guys with some very pure-looking grass. I spend several hours stoned in the most pleasant way – none of the nausea and toxicity of British hash.

Breakfast standing in the freezing fog in Durbar Square. Not many folk about, and the guy cooking some kind of Asian-style eggy bread on a low charcoal burner is friendly. I breathe in the mist, the cold, and the gorgeous unfamiliarity. I’m just happy.

In a second-hand bookshop, I pick up a copy of Scott Peck’s “The Road Less Travelled.” Happy hours are spent over coffee and in odd corners, just reading, unhurried, un-harassed. Nepal is such a blessed relief after the fractious, pestered journeying through India.

Mike, the guy who’s motorcycled from England, reappears. I last saw him in Jaipur, when three of us rented bikes and saw the Bollywood filming in the fountain gardens.

We celebrate Christmas with water buffalo steak, and begin planning an end-of-season Annapurna trek.