That Herculean effort to get the ‘garden’ all pristine and chic for #Summer, as it will be the location of my summer holidays for the most part, had me right back in bed with this mysterious virus. Apparently ‘it’s doing the rounds’ as people helpfully say, well that’s good news as I’d hate to think I’ve picked up some new strain of Avian flu cleaning the bird sh*t off the deck.
At least I’ve only got the shivers and a cough. I get a text on Sunday morning with the news that an utterly wonderful, inspiring and special man has died of cancer. The text is from a lovely, brave woman I met through him who is in treatment for breast cancer. There are now four wonderful men in my phone that I will never see or speak to again. Men that were so full of life and learning that I looked forward to growing old with them, visiting them often when my children grew up and now that the cost centres are grown up, those friends are not there.
I only met Gordon three years ago, but such was his infamy, I’d heard of him many years before and such was the reach of his influence that he had already touched many people I knew. I stayed at his beautiful house in Dunmore East at the invitation of a mutual friend, he gave up his bedroom for us, we were the lucky ones, camping with an en-suite, many others who came to watch the Tall Ships pass, set up a mini Glastonbury camp in his orchard. It was a gloriously sunny weekend of communal cooking and garden partying. This was the man who founded The Academy of Everything is Possible.
My favourite part was walking down the hill to his little cove and wading in for a swim, or maybe it was the tour of his organic vegetable garden, it’s all indelibly etched on my memory, I was mid-novel writing at the time and I soaked up the experience like a sponge, like learning how to incubate shii-take from his capo maestro, Jim. But it was a walk on the shore with Gordon that inspired one of my favourite episodes in my book, the tide was ebbing and it was impossible to get out far enough without coming a cropper on the banks of seaweed and barnacle covered rocks. I wanted to memorise the diverse species of seaweed, describe it in all its shapely slipperiness, glossy and snaky in the sunshine. Gordon began to demonstrate different qualities and properties of it that held me in thrall.
The episode is about three months after my heroine, Alice from New York arrives in rural Limerick and is taken on a trip to the seaside (Kilkee and Loop Head – I even knew that was special before it won the all Ireland prize!) by a local engineer, called Tom. It was the first piece I read aloud to two friends to gauge whether I could even write prose. One of them told me it was so luscious it was pornographic, and I assure you it is only about seaweed. Next time I was back in Dunmore East visiting Gordon, helping out as a conservation planning adviser, I organised a boat so I could photograph his land from the sea, it is the copper coast and a sublime piece of Ireland, though slightly marred by cheekily erected houses masquerading as ‘farm buildings’. Later on I told him my friend’s response to the seaweed episode, his face lit up, ‘I’m a porn star at last’ he laughed.
Here is an extract:
Tom reached and helped her stand, all around her feet, barnacles and star shaped limpets clung to the rocks. She had to grab his sleeve to avoid slipping on the slime. The salty sea spray awakened every pore. The fine grains got behind her eyes and jabbed her further awake. Waves crashed and spilled over rocks, the sea rolled back and forth, endlessly moving. Restlessly rolling back to America and down to North Africa, never still.
In the deeper pools, glossy swathes of copper coloured weed furled and unfurled like long flat tentacles searching for prey.
‘I’d hate to get caught up in that,’ she called to him.
‘Ah, but it’s good for you, the iodine does wonders for the blood and, look here,’ he stooped and pointed, ‘this is brilliant for your skin,’ he plunged his fist and rummaged inside a watery shrub.
‘You need to go close to the water’s edge and feel underneath’ he called as he produced a handful of bright green bulbous weed, offering her a large blister.
‘Burst that open and gently squeeze the juice,’ he rubbed the clear liquid into his face, ‘this will get rid of the wrinkles,’ he mumbled into his hands.
Do I look that wrinkly? she thought.
‘Oh great, let’s take home bundles of it in that case,’ she laughed.
‘Can you feel your skin tightening now?’ he glanced towards her.
Her skin felt cool and soft. It was strange standing beside this man she hardly knew rubbing seaweed juice into her face.
‘If you’d some cream you’d put it on over the gel and lock it in.’
‘I’m very impressed with your knowledge of skin care.’
‘Oh there’s more to seaweed than that’ he paused, looking around.
‘Do you see that brilliant green stuff over there,’ he said, pointing to a vivid mossy carpet.
‘If you give it a good wash, leave it in the sun to dry, then zap it in your coffee grinder, store the dried flakes in a jar and use it in soup or salad, it’s full of iron.’ He was still rubbing the gel into his forehead and sighing said, ‘that’s great.’
‘Let’s do that then, I love collecting food in the wild, and I even have a coffee grinder.’
She wove her way towards the sea grass, in and around periwinkles and clams, crunching bulbous black weed under foot and knelt on the rocks where she could reach the watery shrub. She prised little slimy lumps until her palm was full.
‘You don’t need too much; two handfuls will make loads,’ he called over to her as he wandered away.
The haze was lifting and the sun began to beat down on Alice’s back, a good time to have a swim, she thought.
‘Is it deep over there? I want to get it over with,’ she called to where he stood absorbed in something out at sea.
His lone steadfast figure silhouetted against the sky was like a statue hewn from rock.
And so when the time came to bid farewell, on Wednesday at Mount Jerome, I gathered with all his friends from Waterford, Dublin, Wicklow and afar. I heard this familiar voice singing as I entered the chapel, but only saw a small young lad in a hoodie, shaven head and dark glasses beside what looked like an iPod. The voice was Sinead O’Connor’s haunting tones. His friend Johnny Rhys Myers recited a beautiful poem in his thundering Tudor voice. Then the little boy was escorted to the lectern and when left alone, began to sing, it was Sinead O’Connor. Should have gone to Specsavers…
Gordon Campbell (1954-2013) R.I.P.