The journals of Miss rose,
Dedicated to my dear friend Bill Baker
Chapter 1 - Departures.
Miss rose was bound for the Himalayas; her essentials clasped tightly round her ample waist.
She sat in the endless lethargy of waiting with everything enacted in slow motion. Miss rose would be glad to leave 'not so jolly old England' behind; with it's 'credit crunch' and it's myriad deflations. The west was truly lost without the capacity to'spend,spend spend';consumer materialism seemingly formed the basis of the New Britain. She shook her grey curls in bewilderment like a latter-day Miss Marple. Britain's high streets offered their inducements and still many businesses were going under;but not tesco with it's billions of profit...she'd vowed never to shop there again. The confusions manifested in her local 24hour tesco were many;just recently she had managed to lose her purse whilst her grand-daughters,bless them!whizzed forbidden goods through the scanners...it still rankled. This would not be a difficult embargo; unlike giving up smoking;she itched for a cigarette and ventured out into the smoking area. Miss rose sat on an uncomfortable 21st century backless bench with the discarded coffee cartons and the other hostages to tobacco cravings. The airport environs were so artificial that even the sunset seemed unreal.
Miss rose was slightly emotionally exhausted,it was not uncommon with her. It was stressful to travel alone,no matter how many times she had done so. There was always the fear of collapse,the disorientation induced by artificial lights,by massed officialdom,by the constant need to produce travel documents....and beyond that there lurked some subconscious fear that she would not be allowed to board;that escape was somehow tenuous....that it was a risky affair;too many prisoner of war movies she supposed. The fact that she was not a p.o.w. seemed irrelevant,somehow a single lady of a certain age posed a threat to society,as subversive as any terrorist. She smothered a smile...well maybe she did.....
Miss rose shuffled through yet another queue.. suppressing a giggle as the scanners disclosed her 'essentials.'
She always made sure that the little black dress was in her bag,a homage to coco chanel. Armed with a little black dress you could blend in anywhere...you could walk into a five-star hotel..if you happened to have that strange urge.
She also carried a plain black swimming costume,"so old-fashioned"as her friend Robert had scoffed,but he had obviously never lost a bag en route and had to beg any costume from a package tourist..she still shuddered at the thought of the semi-transparent lilac suit she'd had to sport during a trip to south India,never again. Miss rose was very particular on a suitable one-piece to hide her stretch marked stomach,although it seemed now that further indignities needed concealment with the onset of the 'big sag'.Miss rose was comfortable with her age,indeed it gave some benefits to the single woman traveller...but the big sag was a new hurdle to cross;she often misquoted the bard:'ah the ills the flesh is heir to..'as she gazed at her inner thighs and arms...
Miss rose had heard the writer irma kurtz bemoan the fact that women of a certain age became invisible,but thought this statement tinged with irony as Ms kurtz had uttered it whilst standing next to a strangely garbed Casanova lookalike at the Venice carnival..it seemed to Miss rose that this invisibility required one to stand next to such remarkable flamboyance to regain attention!Miss rose had always thought invisibility no bad thing but wondered if her many trips to India could be a subconscious way of regaining such lost attentions. Within India the foreigner was always the subject of attention,of a hundred keen-eyed stares. Miss rose often considered herself but a walking cabaret for sub-continental entertainment.
Her next essential was a slender copy of Gitanjali...Tagore being her poet of the heart...plus her own journal and pen...because our poor Miss rose had been bitten by the serpent of poetry....She'd recently read a strange book by a fellow sufferer whose own curse had been instigated by the drug d.m.t. Miss rose had not come across this particular drug,her own serpent was induced by a meeting at a tube station. It was in this unlikely spot that Miss rose had met a famous actor of her youth..this transfigurating experience may well have unhinged her already delicate balance.
She wrote him a poem which he published on his web-site..it was called' the tube traveller'.Miss rose never surrendered her pen,and now the poems seemed to have a life of their own...they woke her up on nights when she was desperate for rest,like an urgent and unwanted lover. She wandered whether this d.m.t.thing might make them go away;the poetry or the lovers;she was not quite sure!
Miss rose giggled again. She liked the Miss Marple analogy...she could be a private detective taking notes rather than a tortured, and rather sleep-deprived, poet. She was a private detective;it was true in a way. She was looking for a missing person...she was in search of herself...putting the puzzle of herself together. Not like the awful number-one ladies detective agency...but dear Agatha Christie with her men problems and her pot shards in the desert. Miss rose wryly imagined numbering each shattered piece of her discarded life..laying them out painstakingly on a flat desert rooftop. What a strange pot she would make.."the rose vessel" proudly displayed within the hallowed cabinets of the British museum.
Miss rose laughed and fumbled for her boarding pass yet again......
The sun rises over Pakistan and Miss rose doesn't seem to have slept much at all. Miss rose contemplated serenely as she gazed out of the window as to why things became arduous when they were really quite easy to achieve; and
why we become trapped when possibilities are really quite endless.....She had dreamt she sat upon the green lawns of the country house,waiting for the picnic to begin. Voices moved through the still summer air while the sun shone fitfully down from a cloudscaped sky. Would it rain or not, the perennial English question,and,was it raining in her himalayan home.....?The breeze came to cool the air with maybe a promise of rain;was it time to move into shelter or to sit and listen to this vocal warm up...? multiple choice questions...!The sun played hide and seek. The picnickers assembled.....where had those earrings gone....?
Miss rose laughed remembering Sig's remark 'If you have kept both earrings you haven't had enough fun.'It was a severe handicap to Miss rose that she did not have pierced ears;she was always in danger of losing her clip-on earrings. Miss rose blamed her maternal grandmother for this misfortune. She remembered that day when her grandmother sadly regarded the bouffant-haired rebel before her...she was to promise never to tattoo her skin,never to pierce her body and to always keep her legs closed;well two out of three wasn't bad....but she'd lost an awful lot of earrings!
She'd met Sig on a beach...the usual plethora of palm trees laced to the Indian ocean. He'd asked if '...he might join her?' with his soft Euro burr. She had fallen in love....swiftly and with no respite. She gazed into his face. His cheekbones burnt their way into her consciousness and took her back to the silver-screen idols of her childhood-----to beloved Ingrid Bergman and the deliciously remote Greta Garbo......objects of much desire and veneration in her dumpy pre-teens. Miss rose looked across the café table to their present day reincarnation. He sat swinging long silken brown tresses and seemingly talking sense....a truly rare commodity on these beaches!
Miss rose sighed in her seat....remembering that first fateful meeting. Within half an hour he told her he was irredeemably gay and pensionably crazy. Miss rose gazed into his eyes transfixed..'what a deliciously unsuitable young man he was!'She was hooked. Miss rose had always frowned upon suitability; upon the 'right course.' She had always veered towards the most disastrous course possible....it seemed her life's mission....it was a lifelong habit; she was still picking up the pieces....that damn pot again! Miss rose smiled crookedly up at him with candid and undisguised adoration. It was this chance meeting that had brought her to the Himalayas.
Miss rose was not 'the chosen one',Sig invited simply everyone to the himalayan village where he was starting up a guest house. He was obsessed with his new venture,in truth, the man was obsessed with quite a lot of things. This fact she came to realize fairly quickly. Most of all,of course, he was obsessed with himself. Miss rose was delighted to meet a fellow obsessive; a soul mate; an equally over-analytical personality, She smiled, he shuffled on his specially imported beach cushion...and gazed at her with those implacable eyes.
They had many meetings, nothing arranged; he was no good at arrangements;just casual and remorseless meetings round the same table,the same spot on the beach....he was also a creature who liked habit and familiarity.
Miss rose only missed her yoga class twice. He,or perhaps what she felt for him, was far too mesmerizing. She only required small doses of him ; seeing him once every three days seemed to stop her pangs....my goodness he was like a drug...! Then,after about six weeks,she found strange words coming from her mouth:
“she could help him....”(oh no,she groaned inwardly...what was she saying!)She might be able to give him one month of her life.....one month to help set up this guest house......that's if her friends and family agreed. It was like the questions on 'who wants to be a millionaire'......Sig looked sardonically at her.........
'But rose,surely you are old enough to make your own decision...?'Miss rose gulped at this revolutionary thought and pondered.....yes,a month,not long, even though she was supposed to be managing a property for friends....even though she was involved with a fairly new project with another friend,even though she had plans and web sites to achieve....,even though she was hardly in a sound financial position....a month was harmless wasn't it?She smiled at the effrontery..but yes,she was a 'free woman',that rare creature,after so many years of children and marriage it still seemed shocking....and the earth tilted a little on it's axis...she seemed to hear the palm fronds sigh with gentle exasperation....
So that's how it all began.... Sig thought her a little eccentric, he was quite perceptive in this! He could not quite believe it when she actually turned up,true almost to the day specified,in his little mountain village of Potcheer. She had now become a Himalayan commuter,this would be her third visit. Miss rose had met many people on her travels; often they asked why she kept going back to the same places...this was a question she could not quite understand....or explain. Maybe she needed familiarity to hold onto? Maybe she had done enough 'rushing-around-sightseeing' with her last(she hoped!)husband. Again just maybe she'd found the most beautiful place where she felt at ease,at home, happy and content;although why everyone needed justifications was puzzling. Her grey curls shook again, she thought that if you cry so much on leaving a place,it must be because you have to return....''The pain she felt on leaving' …..sounded like an Irish emigre song,but it was a true statement. Every time she left this village,which some even thought ugly and nondescript,she felt a searing pain,like leaving a lover. Of course she adored Sig,but he was hardly a lover; she felt it was somehow the village that pulled her so and could not quite work it out. Miss rose seemed to have found her own Emerald City and there was no damn way she was ever going back to Kansas now!
Miss rose had never understood that girl. Why would Dorothy want to go back to dreary old sepia toned Kansas with the dreadful smells of it's barn?She was sure the Emerald City was perfumed,like India, with insense;or insensibility;to misquote Jane Austen. Miss rose was a dreamer; the land of oz; with it's colour,it's music and dancing, it's highly unsuitable men....was far more preferable. Miss rose had been brought up in the sepia toned Black Country,with the endless grey terraced houses,and, of course, the smell of industry. Maybe that's why she wore her own version of the ruby-red slippers! Miss rose had escaped many years ago;she had left those dull grey streets for the white-porticoed houses of central London, her own emerald city for a long time. Now she seemed to be on the move again......
Miss rose woke with a start....she was now on the bus; 446 Kilometres from Delhi.....149 K. away from Manali. This was a snakey road with it's convoys of buses and trucks. The road often faced some sheer unlit precipice; indeed some of it was still being constructed as they rolled merrily,and often obliviously along! This major artery connecting the plains of the south to the hills and mountains of the Himalayan plateau suffered stoically from such constant nightly pummelling and the resultant erosions. It snaked like the Lord Shiva's locks,and ,of course,the driver loves to play the overtaking game. Exhausted waggoner's stop beside the road to narrow the position even more treacherously and the driver loves to overtake once more!Miss rose crosses herself. There are numerous,much needed, shrines; and, of course,the ever hospitable and ever frequent 'chai wallahs',their crude stoves burning like nineteenth-century Black Country furnaces in the ink-night air.
As the stars came out over her beloved Himalayas Miss rose opened her window. Anyone who has travelled on an Indian bus knows this to be a patently absurd statement....rather she pulled,yanked,and broke her fingernails to jog open the glass with a screech that woke nearby passengers from their awkward slumbers. ....The frosty stares and huddled figures accused her of imbecility...it was cold. Miss rose looked up at the pollution-free sky and sighed just at the same moment as the bus slipped down the hastily night-gravelled embankment. The driver reacted with some dexterity while Miss rose... solitary witness to their peril,hastily said her 'hail Mary's'. She was not even remotely catholic,having been brought up a strict Methodist, but the incantation seemed to work. The increasing mass of accusatory stares left her unable to continue her 'sky at night' vigil;indeed they seemed to somehow hold her responsible for the off-road experience! And yes, it was cold. These stares were by no means a new occurrence to Miss rose. As a 'woman of a certain age' Miss rose was a martyr to her hot flushes. Whilst the rest of her travelling companions shivered in their 'retreat from Leningrad' woollen balaclavas...Miss rose would often be opening windows for views. Sadly she'd faced these stares many times before;her cheeks reddened with a combination of hormonal imbalance and good old-fashioned shame.
To bless weary travellers,especially those who cannot open windows,Miss rose dips into her ten-rupee biscuits for fortification! Her back is in spasm by now;only the sturdy Volvo has the suspension needed to avoid the chiropractor. These cheaper buses are so bone-shaking that you are in danger of losing teeth on the journey from the plains. Delhi was a cheerfully polluted 40 degrees plus so this bus is full of tourists craving the sweet air of the hills. The journey can only be likened to the retreat from Alamein, with abandoned vehicles, or perhaps an expedition to cross the mighty Rockies.....though her fellow pioneers are mainly Asian. Being the only 'almost-blonde' means that Miss rose never gets left behind at the frequent pit-stops, well, not yet anyway, but you never knew with all these frosty stares...Miss rose shudders at the memory of a night coach journey to the Edinburgh Festival when she was heartlessly abandoned at Keele services.
The driver's repeated Jimmy Hill on the brake pedal antics would seem much more suited to Monaco but Miss rose leans against her by now firmly closed window to assess the morning terrain. Onions are in season, so are courgettes,this land is as fertile as the Nile delta. The combination of mountain minerals washed down by copious rainfall gives multiple crops each year all grown with traditional husbandry.'We all need a bit of that' thought Miss rose wryly...she had come to the conclusion that the traditional husband raises one eye above his newspaper, whilst the 'new-man' raises two!
Manali bus station was always muddy but Miss rose was an old Glastonbury hand. She also learnt quickly and now knew never to lift her own case out of the bus. Instead she left that dubious honour to the happy winner of the tut-tut competition. This lucky man could retrieve the damn thing (that word again...she must be tired from the journey,)and carry it aloft to his panting steed,held high like a Roman legion's banner, the true spoils of war. It always amused Miss rose that taxi drivers the world over never seemed to have come across a suitcase before...what was it?it was so heavy,what was in it?extra monies required etc.etc. Miss rose smiled and clambered aboard her flimsy tin steed. She wandered idly if the 30kilo luggage allowance was heavier than her taxi? This would hopefully give more stability on the rutted unmade road that climbed up to the village,some ballast for the final push...
Miss rose looked sadly down at her swollen feet; her dusty bags; the two unbroken nights of travelling had taken their toll;when would she learn to break the journey in Delhi? When would she be sensible and not feel that urgent tug of the hills?.....Almost there,she gazed down at the river which blessed her valley and remembering her first arrival,sang softly through her gap-toothed smile.
Miss rose had always loved music,had always loved singing. She was brought up around her grandfather's sturdy upright piano. She loved musicals;and adored opera;she often tried to live them! Elaine Paige on Radio 2 was like a favourite old aunty gently knocking on her door each Sunday...'it's only me' it's E.P.'For many years her self-effacing younger sister had started her telephone calls with the same mantra..'it's only me...'Miss rose smiled to herself upon the contradictions of language. The 'me' denoted the fact that the person should be instantly recognized;the 'only' gave a diminution to this effrontery. That first time she had stood upon the roof of the Temple guest house like a parody of the famous opening helicopter shots from the Sound of Music. This latter day Julie Andrews waved her arms wide;a frequent habit with Miss rose;and revolved around the roof taking in the stupendous mountain views...scenery was much too small a concept for what lay before her. Miss rose blessed god for her sight,and her yoga teacher for his neck twists......
Miss rose wished for a moment to be an owl,to get that complete 100% swivel.'My Sig you have impeccable taste' she spoke aloud to the empty rooftop. Miss rose had 'arrived' and it really did not matter if he was here,he was the catalyst who had led her to this place.
And after all these visits she still wasn't sure...if it was him;or the majestic mountains;or the village;or her swami;or the temple itself: one of the holiest shrines in India. In India,land of such bounty,there was always more than one;much more than one divinity;much more than one path;much more than one life;more,much more creative energy than in the West..;and so much more than one reason;one explanation. As a creature of excess she was in the right place and tears of joy fell down her wrinkled cheeks. The very next morning Miss rose found her swami.....but that's another story. Let's leave her 'upon the roof'... singing from 'the sound of music' and 'the Drifters'.... spinning round to fill her travel worn tear-brimmed eyes. Let's leave her in this happy moment of arrival,when 'her cup truly runneth over.'