Katherine Gregor

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Katherine Gregor (a.k.a. Scribe Doll) is a literary translator and scribbler who has also been an EFL teacher, theatrical agent, press agent, theatre director, complementary medicine practitioner, and one or two other things. Perhaps that's why the literary characters she relates to most are Arlecchino, Truffaldino, Gianni Schicchi and Scapin, and feels empathy with crows, squirrels and cats. She lives in Norwich, Norfolk. (Photo courtesy of Rosie Goldsmith @GoldRosie )

Winter Lights

H. dislikes Christmas, which is why I am surprised he suggests we go to the Norwich switching on of the Christmas lights.  "Yes, but they've put up a tunnel of light that's supposed to look like the Northern Lights next to St Peter Mancroft," he says.

I decide to be cooperative, for once, and not mention my dislike of crowds, the cold, the rain, the absurdity of all Christmas-related events two weeks before Advent, and the fact that I simply don't feel like going out.  Instead, I put on my down coat, hat, gloves, boots – and a cheerful face.  

It has stopped raining by the time we leave home, and the remaining shreds of clouds are drifting away, unveiling brilliant stars on an almost black sky.  The residents of Norwich, from micro-people in prams, cheeks all red and eyes sparkling, to University students, to senior citizens, are gathering in the market place, outside the Millennium Forum and Town Hall.  There is something heart-warming about living in a city small enough to gather everyone in the same place on special occasions.  One gets the feeling of belonging.  In Norwich, the Town Hall is an important focal point.  It's where the 28 foot Norwegian spruce is positioned for Christmas, where rainbow banners are displayed on Gay Pride day, where an inflatable pumpkin leans out of the balcony at Hallowe'en, and where many of us gathered to protest against Brexit.   

University of East Anglia students are handing out flyers for a season of Russian plays entitled Тоска (Toska).  I try and explain to H. how the word can be translated into English.  I ask one of the students and, after a brief exchange of ideas, decide that's it's a blend of depression, boredom, melancholy, and sense of unexplained longing.  Very Chekhov.  Very Tolstoy.  Very Dostoyevsky.  Very Russian.  We promise the undergraduate we'll go and see at least one of the plays.  There's a smell of toffee apples, caramelised nuts and roasted chestnuts wafting through the street.  A small parade is marching across the market place, towards the Millennium Forum.  There are children carrying paper lanterns, emerald green-clad elves on stilts, and a rather slim Santa.  There are also the boy and girl choristers from the Cathedral, in cerise cassocks, singing carols.  We follow the procession.  While waiting for the official lights to be switched on, we strike up a conversation with an old gentleman wearing the blue vest of the tourist information volunteers.  He says he's been here since 1946.  An engineer, he was sent here and told that Norwich was "the graveyard of ambition".  He felt so at home, he never left.  Like the woman who cooks the delicious breakfasts in the café we frequent most Saturdays, who came here from Wales for a weekend party fifteen years ago, and decided to stay.  Like so many others.

Finally, the moment comes for the local celebrity – in this case Ed Balls – to switch on the lights.  A chorus of excited "Aah"s rises from the crowd as fireworks squirt up from the Town Hall and the rooftop of Jarrolds, the department store, bursts of flame shoot up into the air, festive images are projected on the façade of the Town Hall and the wall of the Norman castle keep, and the 50,000 LED lights making up the Tunnel of Light next to Saint Peter Mancroft are switched on, its flow of colours producing the effect of the Northern Lights.  We walk through it, everyone's face changing hue every couple of minutes, as the lights alter.

There is a gently joyous atmosphere in the city centre and, after over two years of doubt and feeling homesick for London, I smile to myself, and think I'm starting to like Norwich.  Truly.


Scribe Doll       

Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
How life is enriched when we celebrate it! But, for all your demurrals, you always capture the festive atmosphere of this season a... Read More
Monday, 21 November 2016 13:05
Katherine Gregor
Thank you! ... Read More
Tuesday, 22 November 2016 16:53
Stephen Evans
Тоска - just how I think of Russian literature, yet there is also that sense I find, in Chekhov and Dostoevsky at least, of joy or... Read More
Monday, 21 November 2016 22:46
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A Day Bearing a Unique Gift

I look at the clock.  It's 5:50 a.m.  Beyond the windows it's still night and yet I'm wide awake, with a sense of renewed hope and purpose.  Then I remember: the clocks have gone back an hour.  It's the start of that special day that comes bearing a gift not even Father Christmas can bring – the precious grace of an extra hour.

I'm always excited on this day.  It gives you another chance to make a clean start, the possibility to put into practice new ideas that are better than the ones you've just swept out of your life along with cobwebs, possessions you'd been hoarding just in case, and people whose friendship had wilted beyond any nurturing.  A whole extra hour to do something you didn't have the time to do yesterday, perhaps, or something you've longed to do for ages, or else something spontaneous and unexpected.  A potentially magical sixty minutes pregnant with all sorts of wonderful opportunities and possibilities.  So I'd better get out of bed now and not waste this charmed hour.

I sip a cup of warm water, then treat myself to half an hour of gentle yet invigorating Qi Gong practice.

wp_20161030_002The night sky is growing pale when H. and I go out for a walk.  A cushion of fog softens the contours of the River Wensum, the trees and the buildings, and throws a dream-like veil over the fiery autumn red, ocher and gold.  There are very few people about and those we encounter smile and say good morning in subdued voices, as though we humans are all aware of being out-of-hours trespassers in what is left of a night that belongs to hooting owls, amber-eyed foxes, and witches making last-minute preparations for Hallowe'en tomorrow.

A seagull calls out uncharacteristically shyly above our heads as it swoops slowly across the milky sky.  Somewhere deep in the thick, yellowing mane of a weeping willow, there's the rattle of a magpie.  A squirrel runs across the path and scurries up a horse chestnut tree, then pauses to observe us from the top.

"Look!" H. says and points at a bush on the riverbank.

We approach slowly.  A cormorant is sitting heavily on a slim branch, causing it to sway, as though trying to hide from the solitary, ethereal swan that's gliding on the far side of the water.


By the flint building of Pulls Ferry, a red-breasted robin is hopping on the wooden gate post, eyeing us with curiosity.

He's not the only one.  I can feel hundreds of eyes watching us benevolently as we walk, while golden leaves drop down from the trees and float towards us in swing-like motion.

As we reach the Close, the fog starts to dissipate, slowly unveiling the Cathedral spire that now looks like an Impressionist painting.  The sound of the bell drifts through the air, announcing Morning Prayer and the start of this human day which, today, carries the magic of more time.


Scribe Doll

Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
A beautiful piece, the prose itself like a painting and the images so atmospheric. As far as I know, Norwich Cathedral wasn't one ... Read More
Monday, 31 October 2016 15:27
Katherine Gregor
Thank you, Rosy. I'll look up John Sell Cotman's watercolours. Grace, indeed! ;–)
Wednesday, 02 November 2016 07:20
Stephen Evans
Wednesday, 02 November 2016 00:18
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There are More Things in Heaven and Earth...

There has been much news coverage, during the past week, of the experimental Mars probe, Schiaparelli, which is now suspected to have exploded upon landing on Mars.  No doubt, in time, another spacecraft will be sent to the Red Planet with the purpose of investigating whether there has ever been, or currently is, life there.  Personally, I fail to see how this astronomically high expense can be justified, given the lack of funds alleged by our various governments to tackle the pressing problems on this, the Blue Planet.  But that's an issue apart.  Listening to various scientists speculating about whether or not there is life on Mars made me wonder – how would we know for sure?


If the sophisticated machines show that there is life on Mars, then I suppose the proof will be irrefutable.  If, however, they find no evidence of life, how could we be 100% certain that these findings are accurate and true, in other words, that they correspond to actual reality? I can't see how lack of evidence can possibly be considered as proof either way.


It's been widely observed that animals exhibit unusual behaviour and sometimes even flee before an earthquake.  I don't mean domestic animals, of course, many of whom have been overbred to serve and depend on us to the point where they have lost many of their survival instincts (once, as a teenager, I woke up in the middle of the night because I felt my bed being jolted and saw a couple of books fall off the shelf, while my dog, curled up at my feet, was fast asleep, snoring away).  How do these animals know there's an impending earthquake when human machines are unable to predict them? One can deduce that they possess a way of sensing them either through glands or other perception organs that are more refined and sophisticated than human-made machines.


In medicine, successful experiments have recently been conducted with dogs and cancer detection.  It appears that dogs can "sniff" certain cancers with an accuracy rate of over 90%.  This suggests that their senses are far more developed that those of humans.  Many pet owners will have observed that their cats and dogs know instinctively which grass or herbs to eat in the field when they are ill.  Most humans are not so in tune with their own bodies and require a doctor to tell them what to eat or not eat.  One could say that the authority of technology and science has bred instinct out of us, too.


My cat, Genie, knew when I was coming home despite my erratic working hours.  I'm told that about twenty minutes before I arrived, she would go and lie by the door, thus announcing to anyone at home that I was on my way.  How did she know? Do you sense when your spouse/partner/flatmate is about to come home?


There are countless examples of cases where animals are aware of realities we, humans, are not, which goes to prove the limits of our perception of the world.


*   *   *

Humans have manufactured technologies, machines, tests and probes that are supposed to reveal more than our senses can, especially in the field of medicine.  The purpose of a blood test, scan and X-ray is to detect what is, we believe, undetectable by our five senses.  Machines have been known to show more sensitivity than humans.  I remember one particular instance where my own experience showed this to be true.  When we were living in France, a nightingale sang on the hill outside our balcony every morning at about 4 a.m.  One day, my mother got up and tried recording the bird's song on her National Panasonic cassette player.  When we tried listening to it over breakfast we couldn't hear the nightingale over the numerous rustling, humming and clicking sounds made by the other creatures of the night, which our ears were unable to pick up.


Still, I think it's a fair assumption that we can only manufacture machines that our imagination allows us to manufacture.  After all, we cannot make what we cannot imagine to be possible.  By extension, our imagination is limited by our sensory perception, since it is the latter that informs us of the reality that surrounds us.  Therefore, the same way as, being someone with "bat ears", I can hear distant sounds people around me generally can't, our knowledge of reality is made possible, and consequently also limited, by what we or our machines – designed within the span of our sensory abilities – can perceive. Just because we can't see, hear, smell or touch something is not sufficient proof that it doesn't exist.

*   *   *

On occasion, when the topic has arisen, I have been challenged by atheists to prove that there is a God.  I can't.  Their conclusion was that because I can't prove the existence of God, He doesn't exist.  I've responded by pointing out that they, equally, are unable to prove that He doesn't.


I have come across people, in England, who assure me that not only do fairies exist, but that they have seen them with their own eyes.  Personally, my automatic reply to anyone asking me if I believe in fairies would be, "Of course, I don't," but, if I were consistent with my reasoning, I would have to reply, "I don't know.  I have no experience of fairies."  After all, do I not see fairies because there are no fairies (or unicorns, or ghosts, or other apparitions) to be seen or because my senses are too obtuse to see them? I can't answer that truthfully.

*   *   *

Back to Mars.


If our machines eventually detect a life form on the Red Planet, that would suggest that there is.  However, if they don't, it is equally possible that there isn't life there and that there is.  There could be a life form unlike any we can imagine, therefore undetectable by our machines and probes.  It is also possible that creatures of this life form have destroyed the Schiaparelli probe, to discourage humans from encroaching on their space.  And if it were so, who could blame them?


There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies...



Scribe Doll

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Last week, when I was visiting my mother, I found an old toy spinning wheel.

I had forgotten all about it and yet, by a mysterious coincidence, it had briefly surfaced in my memory last June, when H. and I were in Rome.  We were on our way somewhere and I suddenly noticed an almost identical one in a shop window. About 20 cm tall, made of solid walnut.  I remember pointing at it and saying to H., "I used to have one just like this when I was a child," and I suddenly felt a powerful tug somewhere deep in my chest, almost pleading to be let out, though I couldn't make out what it was exactly, or whether it was happy or sad.  We were in a rush and as we walked away I forgot all about it.

"Look through this box of old toys I found, will you?" my mother said last week, "and throw away what you don't want."

Toys? I knew that couldn't be the case.  My mother has kept practically nothing from my childhood.  She's not the type.  She has always given or thrown away any object steeped in emotional memories with a determination bordering on ferocity, as though holding on to it might somehow hinder her or weigh her down.  Almost as though she is afraid of getting trapped in it.

Part of this is linked to our frequent house moves.  There was no attic where any material companions to various stages of our lives could be stored.  It was by a whisker that I managed to save my favourite teddy bear and, after my grandmother passed away, her old family photos and the censored letters her own mother sent her from the Soviet Union.

"What do you mean, Mum? We didn't keep any toys."

"Yes, yes, wooden toys," she said, pointing at a box in the corner of her bedroom.

With my customary ungracious huffing, I opened the said box and began unwrapping various chipped, discoloured wooden knickknacks.  Not toys exactly but ornaments – mainly gifts from other people – that had stood on top of the television, on the book case or a shelf and which, yes, had unofficially featured in my games.  Russian dolls with the smallest ones missing, a decorated wooden egg, and other junk not even good enough for the charity shop. I couldn't begin to fathom why my mother had kept this stuff when she'd got rid of much better possessions.  She must have packed it all in haste during one of her house moves, some twenty years ago, and only just got around to looking through it.

I must have gasped so loudly when I found it that my mother came in from the next room.  A small, solid walnut spinning wheel.  "I remember this," I said to her.  "In fact – it's so strange – I saw one just like this in a shop window in Rome when we were there last June.  You gave it to me when I must have been about five or six.  Where did you get it?"

My mother couldn't even remember ever having seen it before.

"Everything in this box can be thrown away," I said, "but I'm taking this home with me."

*   *   *

I have wiped the wood with a soft, damp cloth and replaced the rotted dark brown elastic that was tied around the wheel with a piece of gold string I found in my sewing basket.  Every time I hold the spinning wheel, and run my fingers along the smooth, dust smelling wood, a powerful emotion presses out from inside my chest.  But I can't find where exactly it's coming from, or even work out if it's sad or happy.  I have but the faintest impression of playing with the spinning wheel, pretending to be Sleeping Beauty.  I can recall nothing else.  I have no idea if this beautifully crafted object was designed to be a child's toy or an ornament, but it has the energy of one of those objects that have been made by a craftsman who imbued his craft with great skill and much love and thus gave life to his creation.


As I look at it now, it suddenly occurs to me that I don't know the Italian word for a spinning wheel.  I look it up.  Arcolaio.  What a beautiful word.  Its sound fits perfectly the carefully sanded edges of the dark walnut.


At this time in my life when I'm shedding so much of what is old and no longer needed, it feels very appropriate that I should suddenly discover this beautiful spinning wheel.  A spinning wheel that now has a golden thread running through it.

Scribe Doll

Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
What a delightful happening and an object to cherish. The universe is certainly returning that nudge you gave it recently! Being r... Read More
Monday, 17 October 2016 22:36
Katherine Gregor
You may well be onto something here, Rosy. Thank you!
Tuesday, 18 October 2016 09:37
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