Chapter 1

Eager Cupped Hands

“This egg has just been laid. Would you like to carry it up to the house?” She placed a chicken’s egg in my eager cupped hands. It was white and still warm. I had never seen anything so beautiful, never been given such a responsibility. I gazed at it in awe.

We were in a chicken yard under a hot Australian sun. In the gloom of sheds which surrounded the yard on three sides, backed by a row of gum trees, there was straw, and occasional eggs, if you searched carefully. Hens clucked and fussed around for corn; cocks crowed all across the valley.

I was three. The nine-year-old watched me set off up the track, as fast as my chubby little legs would go. I got about three yards before the egg fell to the ground and broke. I could not pick it up to carry it again.

In an instant, pride turned to shame and loss. Not just the egg, but a trust too was shattered, which had underpinned the game we were playing. We had been farmers harvesting our produce. We had played mother and child, joined in the wonderland of discovery. Now we suddenly had to learn that life is irreversible, that broken eggs cannot be put together again. She would not risk placing another egg in my hands, though I pleaded and pleaded for us to find one, even an old, cold egg. Something was ruined. A fragile joy was broken and that’s what imprinted this incident on my memory for more than fifty years. Now I have placed it trustingly, dear reader, in your hands, still warm from the recollection.

We have all placed ourselves, or been placed, in someone’s hands. We have all been dropped, disappointed, let down, mistaken. We have learned to pick ourselves up and try again, sooner or later. And if we have still not learned, it is not too late. And if we are grown-up, then we should not leave the child quite behind. For it still needs our attention! “The child is father of the man”. As a child, I learned that line from a poem and I have understood it only as I write this: the child that I was gave existence to the man that I now am! I have inherited some genes from each of my parents. But I have inherited all my genes from that child. I can learn from it now what I failed to learn then.

From the earliest memory, I was dedicated to fulfilment, drawn instinctively into “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". And in this I was no different from you and everyone else. The twists and turns of fate have made that quest a long tortuous path, a pilgrim’s progress through darkness and ignorance to a clear view, which justifies the entire journey. From here on in, I savour every moment, every breath. It’s been worth waiting for.

gum.jpg (154239 bytes)
IANAT3.jpg (23874 bytes)

There’s a photo of me at the same age, again in a situation with eager cupped hands. We went up some narrow steep stairs in a gloomy office building in central Perth to the photographer’s studio. Just as we reached it, a clock struck the hour with elaborate chimes. To get my attention, and a sparkle in my eye, the photographer showed me a ball and said he would throw it to me, so I put my hands ready to catch it. Then he took the photo. He never did throw that ball, and so that is perhaps why I remembered the incident: I felt he had cheated me. Those clothes were bought specially for the occasion and you can see how crudely my hair was glued down. My mother went to all this expense and trouble, with a special visit to the city, so that she could send the resulting picture to my grandmother in England, to show off her child and prove that all was well, despite the strange turn of events that resulted in my birth. Of course I took my existence for granted as if it were the most natural thing in the world, as indeed it was, though a shock to my grandmother. And neither of them told me the truth about my father. I heard it only from my Mother’s one-time best friend Margery, who finally broke a promise and told me shortly before she died.

The Wayward Isles | John Cowper Powys | Eurotunnel | Memoirs | Letters & Journals | Miscellaneous Pieces