Painting by Joanne Robinson.
We are passing from autumn into winter. Today in the Queen’s University of Belfast the autumn leaves hid the double yellow lines all around Carmel Street. It’s 13 years since I graduated from my Master of Arts degree and I was there to meet my former tutor and former classmate, both long time friends. The place has changed a lot… the old stacks has been replaced with an even bigger library, ten times the size of the library in the Newton Park campus of Bath Spa University where I have just finished a second Master’s. It’s a long time since I studied research methods: I have no idea how to find my dissertation in the QUB library. But that is old learning; I have discovered so much since those days.
The Victorian Gothic Lanyon building is one of Belfast’s key landmarks; visitors might mistakenly think it IS the University, but Queen’s is everything within a three mile radius of that august edifice. In the last of my days there I was writing a dissertation whilst my grandmother was dying; she had Alzheimer’s and along with my grandfather and parents I had been looking after her, staying frequently with my grandfather overnight when she eventually needed to be where she could get round the clock nursing care. As I typed the conclusion of my dissertation, she was in hospital and the doctor had said ‘he didn’t believe she would rally round this time’. She was the reason I loved literature and I loved song… I eventually studied both. As I finished the final project for my second Master’s, I was the one in (and out of) hospital after my second round of surgery to fix damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis. This most recent surgery left a scar that looked like a vampire bite on my right knee, a deep red scar against white Celtic skin.
The culmination of my studies in Bath is about to be released on iTunes. It is not my major project, but what I feel is the best work I did during that time in my life. The album is the story of a life journey and the cover which depicts me holding an apple makes use of my name and the whole image of Eden; the idea of exile and journeying home, Fall and Redemption, loss and grace. During my time in Bath I was twice an inpatient, on both occasions having very painful procedures in order to lessen long term pain and improve function. There was another sense in which this was the key theme of that epoch of my life and of the music that came out of it… today I met friends who have been there for me and I them for a decade and a half, because those difficult times brought out their real love and trustworthiness. The day after they cut into my knee, I received the real scar. They say vampires can only come in if you invite them, and I flung the door open wide. Now every time I saw the physical scar on my knee, it was going to represent a deeper cut.
But what I didn’t realise was this: underneath the vampire scars the actual mechanism of my knee was healing. A scar is simply on the surface; underneath all is getting better. I may have chosen the wrong support, but quite accidentally in a twist of fate another person ended up at my door who I might never have known, and he cared for me as I recovered without being asked. And his words were kind and encouraging. And when the door was opened to him he didn’t leave the house wrecked but purposefully left behind grace. Some people are like the leaves on the double yellow lines; they live on the tree for a season and then they dry up and fall. Others are the tree itself; through all seasons they are in the same place. The magnolia tree still grows in the little front garden of the School of English on University Square, Belfast. And the huge beech tree still grows in the grounds of Corsham Court in Wiltshire, and they will both be there in another decade and a half.