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.

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.

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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.

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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
Beautiful!
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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Arcolaio

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.

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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.

Arcolaio.

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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Clearing

The catalyst was a book I was translating, referred to by my friends simply as that book, since I don't divulge the titles of jobs I hate.  Luckily, although not all the books I've translated so far have always captured my heart and imagination, most have made a tolerable if not pleasant day's work.  But, after a few pages, I began to hate that book with every fibre of my being.  I hated the plot, I hated the characters so much that I kept hoping against hope that they'd meet a swift, painless demise over the page. I prayed for a deus ex machina to kick that book out of my life with a bend that would make David Beckham envious.  As the weeks dragged by and no supernatural force came to deliver me from it, that book slithered deeper and deeper under my skin and began spreading its venom through my veins.  I felt as though I was trudging through a dense, sticky, malodorous fog, my legs weighed down by thick, gluey mud, and my very life force ebbing away.

So, when I finally sent off the translation of that book, I did something that goes against the grain of any thinking individual.  I burnt that book.  As a matter of fact, the prospect of annihilating the thick volume was what kept me afloat for the last couple of weeks of the job.  I planned the act in its minutest detail to ensure there would be no danger to anyone or anything.  I went to the hardware store and purchased a metal incinerator manufactured in accordance with health and safety.  I waited for a day when I knew a couple of my immediate neighbours would be away, warned the others that I would be burning "some old papers" and apologised in advance for the smell of smoke.  I made sure the area in the courtyard was clear and placed the incinerator away from any potential gust of wind.

I tore the pages out a couple at a time and pushed them down the funnel as the flames glowed through the air vents.  In my mind it wasn't just that book I was burning but all the physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, all the anger and resentment, all the fear and despair of the past few years.  Moreover, I was willing the dancing flames to clear away the old and no longer needed so that a Firebird might rise from the ashes, with the plumage all glossy and so bright не в сказке сказать, не пером описать*.

Three hours later, I poured the cold ashes into a bag and gave them to a neighbour who said they'd make a good fertiliser for her allotment of fruit and vegetables.

Burning that book triggered an overwhelming desire to do some major cleansing and clearing.  Outside and in.  And so I've begun…

*   *   *

I pull out from under my desk boxes that were packed two house moves ago and haven't been opened since.  Papers from when I used to teach English as a Foreign Language.  Lesson plans, newspaper articles, colour and animal idioms, vocabulary of interest to journalists, doctors, MEPs, politicians, bankers and miscellaneous.  Why keep all that? I don't want to teach again. I fill large black bin liners.

Out with the old, the stale, to make room for the new and fresh to flow in!

I drag a box of cassettes from under the bed.  Treasures of radio plays, music and inspiring interviews.  Treasures I have not listened to for at least five years.  I keep a few.  The rest is thrown away.

Out with the old, the stale, to make room for the new and fresh to flow in!

It's the turn of our small, cluttered kitchen.  The shelves in the wall cupboard H. calls "the pantry" are crammed with foodstuffs we can't see because they've fallen behind other foodstuffs under the shelves.  I discover enough packets of spaghetti to open an Italian restaurant and, unnoticed on the floor, several boxes of fennel teabags I kept buying because I thought I'd run out.  I decant all my infusion herbs from their scrunched up plastic packaging into glass jars which I label.  Vervain.  Rose Petals.  Skullcap.  Lemon Balm.  Plantain.  

I can't bring order into my mind unless I bring order to my surroundings.

I sift through my clothes.  Elegant shoes that pinch so I never wear them, comfortable shoes that are so old they've lost their original colour and shape.  Skirts I've kept on the off-chance I might regain the figure I had in my thirties.  My misplaced optimism makes me laugh.  The smart black coat I've never really liked but bought all those years ago because it was a bargain in a charity shop in Notting Hill.  I shove it all into bag destined for a local charity shop, then peruse the online catalogue of a ladies clothes shop I rather like.   I set my sights on a coat to dazzle all coats, russet, with a wide collar, generous and warm, a coat for an entrance worthy of a Jerry Herman musical.  A coat that requires a cameo appearance by my credit card.  They don't have this coat in the Norwich branch of the store.  "We won't be getting it," the sales assistant says glumly.  "That's a Chelsea or Kensington branch kind of coat."

So much the better, I think, that I will be the only woman in Norwich wearing such a coat! And I ring Kensington and get them to send the coat over here.  The sales assistant smiles when I try it on.  "It's my only opportunity see this coat in the flesh," she says.

Under the coffee table, there's my fat, black Filofax, bursting with loose bits of paper.  Names and addresses of people I'm no longer in touch with, of people who have passed away, of theatre, film and TV contacts I had when I was a theatrical agent.  Why keep them? I don't want to be a theatrical agent again.  Business cards with names I don't recognise.  Contact details of friends from whom I've drifted apart but which I keep in case... in case of what? It's time to let go of some people, and to make room for new friends to make their entrance.  I copy about 10% of my original address book onto a small, light turquoise organiser, and feed the rest into the shredder.

Out with the old, the stale, to make room for the new and fresh to flow in!

My dear new friend, the sunny Bernie Strachan says that, actually, I should be grateful to that book, since it's been the trigger for all this much needed, long-awaited clearing.  I hadn't thought of it this way, so I'm grateful to Bernie for this creative perspective.

And the clearing continues...

Out with the old, the stale, to make room for the new and fresh – and the Firebird.

* "that no fairy tale or quill could describe": a set phrase in Russian fairy tales to refer to something extraordinarily wonderful.

Scribe Doll

Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
My, that's a dynamic tweak to the universe if ever there was one! :-) Elements of The Magic Flute, too. A refining fire. I'm a g... Read More
Tuesday, 11 October 2016 17:45
Katherine Gregor
"Clutter, even if hidden, is an energy vampire and a psychological encumbrance." I totally believe that. Needless to say, Rosy, t... Read More
Thursday, 13 October 2016 08:56
Stephen Evans
Can you come to my house next? I so need this. ... Read More
Sunday, 16 October 2016 00:51
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