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.

The Hour of the Book

The day is drawing in and I'm rushing to finish translating a page.  I need to look up a word and that slows me down.  I don't like to stop mid-page but if I don't leave now I'll be late.  Do I really want to go there tonight with all the work I have to do? And it's so cold out there.  I dither out loud.

"Go," H. says. "You know you always enjoy it once you're there."

I quickly tap cmd + s to save my work, pull on my boots, grab coat, scarf, gloves.  Where did I put my notepad? H. is standing by the door, waiting to lock it behind me.

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As usual, I'm cutting it fine, but after a brisk walk I push open the glass door and walk into the bookshop.  The Book Hive is a local institution.  "Eclectic, thoughtful, and tempting - a must for book lovers visiting Norwich", Margaret Atwood said.  A quirky-looking, three-storey building on a street corner that holds a wide range of hand-picked, quality titles on just about every topic you can imagine, many translated from other languages. A setting with so much personality, it's crying out to feature in a short story or a play, with its three levels, getting narrower the higher you go.  A place I sometimes walk into just for the pleasure of a chat with Joe, Megan, Henry, or whoever happens to be behind the counter that day, although it's hard to then walk back out without succumbing to the temptation of a book you never knew existed but then decide you simply have to have.

But I am not going to buy a book this evening, or chat with the bookseller.  This evening, just like all the other people there, I am going to spend an hour being quiet.

It's the weekly Page Against the Machine hour, when you can bring your book and round up the day by just sitting and reading.  Behind the counter, Joe has already lined up the glasses and offers you red wine.  He's put on some music, just loud enough to create a confidently relaxed atmosphere, and soft enough not to butt in between you and your page.  Often piano music, always wordless.

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There are already people scattered on all three floors of the shop, sitting wherever they've found a seat, sipping wine, absorbed in their book.  This time, I head for the wicker armchair in the corner by the small sash window.  There is a stuffed duck on the sill.  I call it the nature corner.  The low table and shelves carry books about seasons, the elements, birds, animals, trees, travel logs, landscapes.  I pull out my notepad.  I have an hour to do nothing but write.  Write.  Not translate other people's writing but actually scribble my own.  Luxury.  When I first discovered the Wednesday Page Against the Machine, I asked Joe if he'd mind my coming to write instead of read.  "Absolutely," he said.  "I can even clear you some space at one of the tables, if you like."  I don't go as often as I would like to; more often that not, work takes the upper hand.  But on those Wednesdays when I do manage to slam the laptop lid down on it in time to get to The Book Hive by 5.30 p.m., that hour feels like a capsule of therapeutic release.  A whole hour when I am free to write my own stuff, uninterrupted.  Luxury.

I lean down to pick up my glass of water on the low table and catch sight of a small 

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hardback.  Snow, by Marcus Sedgwick. Gosh, somebody thought of writing a book about snow.  What does he say about it? Does he talk about its softness as it muffles the city sounds or describe the unique, geometrical pattern of its flakes? I reach out to pick it up but resist the temptation.  No, I'm here to write. My eyes drift back to the black ink curls and swirls in my lined notebook, like untidy notes forming a daisy chain on a stave.  I turn my head to the side to stretch my stiff shoulder muscle and see How to Read Water in plain capital letters down a lilac-white spine.  I take off my long-sight glasses to focus on the author's name.  Tristan Gooley.  What an intriguing title.  How do you read water? What kind of water? River water? Tap water? The water content of our bodies? 

Enough with distraction.  I uncross my legs and cross them the other way, and take the chrome cap off my fountain pen again.  I manage to scribble two more sides of A4 without looking up.  More swirls and curls that make words.  I am writing a story about languages, about when two or three or even four words mean the same thing – and yet not quite.  About when two or three or even four individuals have the same concept in their language, but not the same feeling.

I take another sip of water.  My attention is drawn to a highly atmospheric picture of a tree, its wind-chiselled branches reaching out to a lead-grey sky charged with thunder.  Hawthorn, by Bill Vaughan.  I think of Nathaniel Hawthorne.  Of reading The Scarlet Letterin my teens, The House of the Seven Gablesmany years later.  The old film adaptation with Vincent Price playing a goodie.  I look again at the picture of the tree.  At its branches, gnarled and twisted by the wind, and yet still standing in defiance of the elements.  It's just after 6.  I can probably fill a couple more sides of A4.  I am writing about a family that has been equally wrought by the gales that make up human life on earth.  I wonder if anyone will ever want to read it.  If one day, it will be bound into a hardback book, with a quote from another writer on the front cover.  What would the illustration on the dust jacket be? If it's the picture of a tree, then I hope it's an oak.  Tall, sturdy and wise.  An oak with centuries of stories to tell.

"It's 6.30," Joe says softly. patm_poster_A4 (1)

The shop stirs, as people lazily close their books, drink the last sip of wine from their glasses and slowly leave their seats.  It's time to leave the oasis.  Time, which paused for an hour, has resumed its course.

I put my empty glass on the counter on my way out.  "I hope I can come again next week," I say, the temporarily suspended awareness of my overwhelming workload rushing back into my relaxed brain.

I hope I can come again next week, I think as I pull open the glass door and step out into the street.  I wonder if I can organise my work so I can come every week.  Luxury.

Scribe Doll

Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
What an inspired idea, Katia! And, yes, it is a precious luxury to visit another congenial space where nothing is demanded of us, ... Read More
Wednesday, 06 March 2019 15:48
Katherine Gregor
You're very kind, Rosy. Thank you.
Friday, 08 March 2019 08:39
Stephen Evans
How wonderful to have a bookstore you can walk to! They are few and far between in my area. The closest is ten miles away.
Thursday, 07 March 2019 23:08
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4 Comments

Tea Ceremony

A gentle hum that grows louder, then turns into a hiss that becomes a gurgle  The water is boiling, bubbling, impatient.  The teacher removes the electric kettle from its base, and pours its contents into a clear glass pitcher.  This hot waterfall emits steam, like gossamer climbing up the inside walls of the container, then spreading in the room, invisible, yet present.  

 

Patience is about waiting and being open to wonder.

 

A few seconds later, the teacher pours the water into all the double-bottomed glass cups arranged on a slatted bamboo tray.  The winter sun filtering through the window gives the small, clear glass a glow.  Another kettleful of water is put to boil.

 

It is by watching that you discover magical secrets.

 

He sits on the small black cushion on the floor, while we, his students, form a horseshoe around the small, beechwood tea table.  Some sit on chairs, others on the floor.  Nobody speaks.  He takes the earthenware bowl with the tea, and passes it around.  In turn, each of us gently fingers the black leaves, feeling the texture, smelling the slightly tart scent.

 

There are a thousand worthy words concealed in silence.

 

One by one, the teacher empties the cups into the slatted tray.  When the bowl of tea is returned to him, he tips the contents into a new glass pitcher.  The black leaves fall down the transparent shaft, with a soft rustling sound.  Once again, he transfers the freshly-boiled water into a glass pitcher, waits a few seconds, then pours it on the tea leaves, and puts the lid on.  Slowly.  Tea leaves, swelling with water, rise through a wavy sea of deepening amber, swirling, gathering on the surface where they linger for a minute or so.  We watch as the first tea leaf detaches itself from the other and gently sways down, landing lightly on the bottom of the pitcher.  Other leaves follow, and soon they are all quitting the surface, drifting to the bottom.  The infusion is now a rich golden amber.  

 

Who would have thought that there is so much beauty is watching tea draw?

 

The teacher pours the tea into every cup.  We all take ours but nobody drinks yet.  Each cradles the cup in the palms of his or her hand, admiring the colour, inhaling the steam, slowly, eventually bringing the tea up to our faces, feeling the warm condensation on our noses, guiding it through our nostrils until we can define its fragrance, delicate, slightly smokey, and send it down our throats and into our lungs.  

 

True pleasure is in sensing every detail, every stage, every minute impression.

 

We take our first sip, hold the hot liquid in our mouths, inhale through our noses, filling our lungs.  The terrain for a full experience of the flavour has been prepared.  After expelling the air, we swallow the tea.  A velvety, smokey, subtle tartness fills our mouths, then trickles down to our stomachs, like warm gold.

 

If you honour the food and drink, it will honour your body.

 

Red Robe Oolong.  Reserved for honoured guests.  It grows on the mountains of the Fujian Province, in China.  They say the mother of an emperor of the Ming Dynasty was cured of a serious illness by drinking this tea.  The grateful emperor sent swathes of Imperial red cloth to dress the bushes from which this tea had been picked.  Others say this tea saved the life of a much-respected scholar at the Emperor's court.

 

A small, shrivelled leaf that bursts with magic.

 

We take another sip.  It never tastes like the first.  The surprise is replaced with a closer acquaintance with the taste of the drink, a closer awareness of its effect on our bodies.  The third sip is pleasure, pure, rewarding pleasure.

 

Awareness flings open the gates to a universe of unlimited possibilities.

It's not just about drinking tea, it's about getting to know it like a friend, getting to know yourself, getting to know the world.  It's about learning, and learning leading to loving.

 

Happy Chinese New Year to all!

Scribe Doll

Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
Orientals have indeed refined the art of mindfulness. I'm fond of Lapsang Souchong and Black Oolong and have always maintained tea... Read More
Monday, 04 February 2019 00:23
Katherine Gregor
Chinese philosophy and Daoism are much closer to the Laws of Nature than, sadly, Western thought. I blame the Church (please note... Read More
Monday, 04 February 2019 08:25
Monika Schott
As a tea drinker, l love this. The second sip is never the same as the first! ?
Monday, 04 February 2019 03:25
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8 Comments

A Shapeshifter at Play

All the windows are locked.  Curtains closed.  Blinds pulled down all the way to the sills.  Even so, its chilly breath hisses through the tiny gaps and reaches my knees.  There is an occasional tremor in the candle flames on the coffee table.  The nervous awareness of the force outside.  The normally vocal pigeons on our roof are silent.  The shapeshifting dragon is letting rip, giving a spectacle of its histrionic power.  Now it soars into the skies, its tail lashing the dark clouds, sending crackling rain to slam against the window panes.  Now it's a tiger roaring in the night, sending a rumble rippling through the air.  Now a witch slaloming between chimneys on her broomstick, her impish giggle tickling the stars.  Then a gigantic owl, screeching in the roof, its wings whooshing in the air.  Then it swells into a tempestuous sea, foaming lips gnawing at the cliffs, then ebbing away before gathering into waves rising tall, fearless, tossing ships like juggling balls.  All of a sudden it retreats, quietens down, vanishes, like a memory you doubt.  Odd phrases of a tune that haunts you but which you cannot quite remember.  But, just two minutes later, it's a dragon again, spewing flames like a Venetian glassmaker's furnace, the bewitching fire of an Andalusian gypsy – spinning, swirling, lunging, turning raindrops into needles of ice, the supersonic speed of its flight making the windows quiver.  I am king, the dragon says. I am emperorAnd you've seen nothing yet. 

 

"It sounds like everything's about to come crashing down," H. says, looking up at the high ceiling of our living room.

I feel electrified, a thrill stroking my skin, like fingertips running up and down my spine, a sense of excitement and joy swelling inside me.  That and the unwavering sense that the power outside is choosing to keep me safe.

"I love – I've always loved the wind," I say.

 

Scribe Doll

 

 

 

 

Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
Marvelous!
Tuesday, 29 January 2019 17:31
Katherine Gregor
Thank you!
Thursday, 31 January 2019 16:12
Rosy Cole
Who needs Kay Nielsen and John Bauer?! Graphic and atmospheric! I feel the same, but could not express it as picturesquely as you.... Read More
Thursday, 31 January 2019 19:10
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4 Comments

Telephone Nostalgia

It suddenly occurs to me that it's been months since anybody called our landline.  Except for my mother, of course.  Day after day, when I check the phone after coming back home, the display is always the same.  0 Calls.  0 Messages.  Come to think of it, hardly anybody ever phones at all.  I do get the occasional call on my mobile but even then, they have become an increasingly rare event in my life.  So much so that when the landline or the mobile ring, I jump, wary, assuming it's either a wrong number or someone demanding that I do something.  I no longer consider the possibility of  hearing  "Hi, Katia.  How are you? I just wanted to hear your voice and catch up".   

I often call a dear friend who lives in London – so we don't get to meet very often –  and a precious friend who resides at the opposite end of the country, and I haven't seen for over ten years.  But I call them.  Although when they pick up the phone, they sound pleased to hear my voice (either that or it's wishful thinking on my part), the fact that I am always the one to initiate telephone contact makes me wonder if they simply put up with my quirk because they're fond of me, but that among the rest of Western humanity, it's a custom that has gone the way of letter writing and non-digital cameras.  

One London friend sometimes calls me on my mobile, and there's my American aunt who sometimes rings me on the landline.  Other than that, it's text messages and e-mails.  Maybe it's the kind of friends and acquaintances I keep.  I can't remember the last time anybody called and actually spoke to me when inviting us over for lunch, dinner or to suggest coffee in town.  It's either a text message or an e-mail.  No tone of voice suggesting the person's mood or state of health, no opportunity for a brief moment of warmth with words exchanged a viva voce.  Just emoticons.  I, too, used to include emoticons in my messages, but I do so less and less now.  I actually dislike emoticons.  Intensely.  Centuries of languages, poetry, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Sturm und Drang, millennia of words in all shapes, colours, sounds and subtle nuances and I get a lazy, bland 😀🤣👍👏🏻or 😘.  A fellow blogger I've become friendly with, recently removed the Likeoption from his blog.  As I understand it, his point is that if we enjoyed what he's written, then he would like us to express it in our own words.  And not resort to a lazy "Like".  I must admit, I often find the lengthy process of leaving a fully-worded comment a little trying but then, once I have made the effort, I feel like saying, "Thank you, my friend, for forcing me to use my imagination and my brain."  

I don't particularly like social calls on my mobile.  The reception quality is often capricious, there is the background noise to contend with if I am in the street, and my ear gets hot after a while.  Moreover, I am never able to concentrate fully when on my mobile.  At home, on the landline, on the other hand, I can sit down and give him or her my undivided attention.  

I get frustrated with the ping-pong of social text messaging or WhatsApp-ing.  I wish I could just continue the exchange in good old-fashioned human speech.

Text messages are very convenient for brief messages, or if you don't know if it's a suitable moment to call someone.  But then what's wrong with phoning and saying, "Is it a good time to talk now or shall I ring you back?" Text messages have their place.  But sometimes I would like to hear the person's voice, assess their tone, detect their mood or their humour – without a standard computerised emoji sign posting it.  Also, I like to hear a friend say, at the end of a telephone conversation, "OK, big hug" or "Love you" or "Mwah" instead of the obligatory "x" at the end of a text message or e-mail.  

I prefer face to face contact to talking over the phone.  But, when meeting is not possible, a telephone call provides a personal touch a text message or e-mail simply haven't.  And, for all its convenient brevity, I find it much quicker to call someone and get an answer straight away, than using my large, clumsy finger pads on the screen of my smartphone – and waiting for the other person to respond.  

After I have cooked a meal and entertained guests, I would far rather receive a thank you call the next day, than a text message.

Yes, I too, am guilty of overusing texts and e-mails. I guess because people don't use the phone to make a voice call, I am often reluctant to ring them for fear of disturbing them.

As they say in Russian, when you live with wolves, you start howling like a wolf.

Well, I don't want to howl anymore.  I want to talk to people.  I want to hear their voices, in all their nuances.

Scribe Doll

 

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