This last week has been one of recalibrating.
It all started when I took it into my head that I wanted to make a pie and began rootling about in the cellar in search of my late Mama’s old pie blackbird, – the kind that opens its beak to the sky to let the steam out. I was soon standing paw deep in wood-shavings, whole tea-sets stacked by my side; candlesticks, plate warmers, parachute silk, vases, napkin rings and tureens, to boot. Any sensible mole would have given up at that point and used an upside-down egg-cup instead, but the pie had ceased to be important, the quest all-consuming. I was about two-thirds of the way into the tea-chest when I felt something larger. There was something familiar about it, but I didn’t recognise what it was until I tried to lift it and couldn’t.
The thing at the bottom of the chest was Great Uncle Mole’s Ekco wireless. It is a beautiful object, the chassis shaped like a chocolate cake on its side, but rounded and smoothed – moulded in brown bakelite. The speaker cloth, patterned with textured triangles, stretches across a circle in the centre. Orbiting this, a dial indicates the wavelengths and once, but sadly no longer, an illuminated cursor backlit the stations as the knob was turned: Reykjavik, Oslo, Kalundborg, Luxemburg, Berlin, Ankara, Moscow.
I would watch him twiddle the knobs, refining the scratchy hiss backwards and forwards, coaxing a voice into clear articulation. He called it calibrating. I can still hear him pronouncing the word to me in his husky growl, slowly, allowing me to learn each syllable so that I could put it together as a whole: ca-lib-ra-ting.
Calibrating. I had forgotten about it, especially Uncle Ratty’s insistence that it wasn’t just wirelesses that needed to be calibrated, that we must not forget to calibrate ourselves.
I do. I forget to calibrate myself all the time.
But this week fate has engineered my life into a convergence of events conducive to calibration.
It is a rare thing for this mole to find the kind of deep stillness that allows for true listening, but it was granted to me with a day of Qi Gong in the ferny foothills of Kunanyi. The spaciousness of that listening stillness is an essential prerequisite for calibration and it was strong enough to carry me through the week. It carried over into the way I experienced my time with a writerly chum I hadn’t seen for several years. The expanse of time between then and now allowed me to calibrate temporally over a longer time. Instead of despairing at my muddling slowness I could see the distance travelled. The bumps and deviations in the middle disappeared and the distance travelled become apparent. Our conversation looped into shared passions I had forgotten, the quickening of the heart when an archival trail becomes hot, the interweaving of history and imagination, intellect and storytelling. It raised knob-twiddling questions. Am I doing what is closest to the clear articulation of my moleyself? Am I in alignment with my station now? Do I know what that station is? Am I moving through the dial to the wavelength I wish to reach, or am I floundering around Reykjavik when Moscow might be my truer destination?
Two boosters followed my day under Kunanyi. I joined my tribe at Hawarden in North Wales for virtual Qi Gong. We calibrated body, mind and breath, rocked ourselves backwards and forwards, the past and future until we found our centres and collected all our energy to focus on the present. In the background the neo gothic edifice of Gladstone’s Library glowed and reminded me of annual excursions with Great Uncle Mole and Uncle Ratty in their unreliable Morris Minor. The destination was Malmesbury in Wiltshire. We would picnic there in the overgrown grounds of Cowbridge House and then fossick around for ruins under the ivy. Great Uncle Mole had something to do with hush-hush work here in the war; something to do with radar, although no-one would say much more. Ekco came into it, too, somehow, but I can’t quite remember the connection between Cowbridge and the bakelite set back in the burrow parlour, – or the second one for that matter, the short-wave one he kept locked in a cupboard in his study and the key on a string around his neck, or so a cousin told me.
I stroked the smooth surface of the wireless, turned it around and looked more closely. There was some writing on the backing. I shone a torch on it to see if I could make it out. I found not the name of a retailer, repairer nor even of Great Uncle Mole. In my late Mama’s careful script, I read her name and the address of her Cairo posting. It was, I was sure, not only the same make but the same model as Great Uncle Mole’s wireless, but it was not his. I shouldn’t have been surprised, given that I found it in Mama’s crockery chest.
I assumed too much. Memory, too, needs recalibrating from time to time.
As I eased the wireless back back into its sawdust bedding, I felt a small lump. My torch shone into the open beak of a blackbird but it was much too late to think of baking a pie.