house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013


I stop at two checkpoints before the Enclave comes into sight. Judging by the walls, the barbed wire, the metal gates, the Enclave must have been designed to keep the minotaur out. Or in.


I don’t remember who started it, it may have been Soso who’s even taller than the Boy and more blond, his eyes a lighter shade of blue but who's looking, he’s just one of us, a scruffy kid from our back street: he doesn’t count.

Perhaps that’s why he's now the first to scale over the fence, fast and no hesitation. It’s the highest fence we’ve ever climbed, thick bars painted dark green, spikes at the top. We all follow, minus the girl who lives in the small block on the corner – her name is Violet or her eyes are violet – she looks like the slightest breeze would topple her. She now patrols the perimeter and shouts a continuous string of: ‘What do you see?’, ‘What are you doing?’ and we have to convey aloud all that wonder.


The Enclave. The word comes from Latin, ‘inclavare’, to lock, hide, surround with walls. In Islamabad, the diplomatic community lives and plays in such an intentional island.

A first garrison of guards stops the car to check passports and permits. I then drive inside a metal cage and another group in black uniforms inspects the car. A whistle. The barrier lifts slowly.


We find ourselves in a garden. A garden! What’s that to four scrawny kids used to blocks of flats sunken into seas of cement? We traipse and guffaw in a superior fashion, but by the end even Soso’s grown quiet, walking as in a trance. This hidden world possesses lush and exotic plants, a coiled water hose, a table, sun chairs, a sand pit, beach toys and an umbrella. At times it also contains the American Boy.


I find that I stop breathing during checks and formalities. It’s not fear of soldiers in black uniform (she says). But really, I believe it’s more a fear of breaking some spell that might, just might gain me entrance. As I drive into the citadel, I breathe again and act cool, when in fact I’m THIS close to skipping and shouting something stupid or plain incomprehensible, whoo-hoooo. Every time, I’m as excited as a kid seeing the ocean, that first time. Or climbing over a wall into a secret garden.


A riot of coloured pencils covers the table and spills down onto the grass. There’s paper too, weighed down and flapping in the September breeze. We inspect this garden-place-thing, this marvel of leisure and botanics, and find everything in it new, quaint and better. The grass is thicker, taller. The sun is warmer and we inhabit the very centre of its golden nest. There is nothing ‘Romanian’ about this place. It’s another planet. We swoon and gape while Violet is going spare beyond the fence.

Before climbing back we have one more Brilliant Idea: we all sit down at the table and busy ourselves with all those art supplies lying around; we leave Our drawings on Their table. Violet is by now hopping and screaming ‘They’re coming back!’, ‘You’ll go to jail!’ and fainting with worry. Still we pick scarlets and purples from the deep grass and draw our own flamboyant lines of nonsense and hoot with laughter at the thought of Them coming home and finding our Message: We Were Here.

I take a broken red pencil with me as a souvenir and, I reckon, to prevent detection by fingerprinting. It’s the last one I’ve used, to write ‘Hello Tony’ in a corner of my drawing.


It’s not the people or the comforts, although the Enclave can be such fun, friendly, cool – tennis courts, swimming pools, shorts and bikinis, boxercise, BBC, ice-cold cider. It’s a feeling I haven’t had in decades, of penetrating a place so select, so hidden behind locks and so protected. The quickened pulse – don’t laugh you cynical people – the sheer excitement of scaling the walls and swimming the moats and finally, finally getting into the castle. Mission impossible. Whooo-hooo.


Nothing happens after the garden break-in. We still play in the street, after school and at weekends. We lounge on the wide steps of Their house, like kittens in the timid sun. When their car turns into the lane or the front door opens, we scamper.

One day the front door opens more quickly, or perhaps we’re more sleepy: we don’t scram fast enough. The tall woman is already on the top step, smiling. We freeze. ‘Hi kids’, she says in English, ‘d’you wanna come in?’


‘Do. You. Want. To. Come. Inside. To. Watch. A. Film?’ The woman says this very slowly, mimes the words at the same time. We get up and follow her inside without breathing, for fear of breaking the spell.

P.S. Star Wars, but that's another story.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013


Three mosaics in a Portuguese house.

A little one, a fish for my man
glued together from broken stuff
It waits, wrapped in-a-towel in-a-box in-the-garage
where most of our life-stuff waits.

A big one in the downstairs shower, last spring
nothing but a waterfall of tesserae and,
perched on a protruding stone,
a white water creature between dog and dragon.

(Making this took ignorance and staying power,
exhaustion like grout under eyelids
shallow cuts filled with mortar
and a deep one
on blades of blindness and oblivion.

You'd think I've had it with mosaics.
But now, again, I begin.


The artist cannot draw. She traces innocent, indelible black lines
on lined notebooks
like children might smudge in art class or
lovers doodle while they say sweet nothings
on the telephone.

The artist has no eye for geometry. She crushes pottery
and cuts stone into odd shapes.
She plays with the shards against the wall
this way and that she turns them until the gaze blurs
and the hand bleeds and the mosaic itself
chooses the right shape.

The artist doesn't like to mix mortars.
They come with that rush of fast-flowing time.
They say 'I shall be yours
for ex minutes and not a second longer (read the label).
And then I will be dry.
On the wall, in the bin, I don't care:
dry, dry, dry.'

The artist can't decide:
what, where, whether.

The artist wants to remember.

The artist wants to forget.


A tessera is, for a mosaic,
one atom, the smallest stone,
what one soul is to the world
one letter in a sea of language
and for the Greeks
The number four.


The first tessera - a white one, very small -
is on the wall.
('oh why did I start?')

'I'm hungry, that's what
and possibly

I lick a stone to see the colour better
it tastes of mortar and memory.
on the wall with it, on the wall!

I see now, I see
('oh God, what do I see?')

I sit in an empty bathtub covered in dust and with
a lap full of stone and a
tub full of glue
and a wall, a grey and endless wall.


The sun for seeing with the eyes

The moon for seeing with the heart

A river between them
for everything that flows
hours and histories,
journeys and hope
broken bridges
and boats.

And stars.
Because each may be a wish
or maybe just a chuckle
caught in the clay
of seven nights.

And another fish for you.

And a tree for seasons
for flowering
for this home.


Do you see?

How a yellow plate we got in a market in Nairobi
and used a million times
to eat ugali and sukumawiki and then
in Scotland, salmon in a bun
in Portugal peaches and limes
yes that one, now broken,
is now the face of the sun?

How I must have stepped on shards of stone
because my feet
now hurt
and bleed?

How the river seems to flow
from a seam
in the stone
in the wall
of the house
Felix built?

How the mosaic waves and swirls
as you bathe underneath?
Like a tablecloth
I launch and unfold
in late, languid sunshine
in our garden.