Image 1: Maiden & Moonflower (Vermillion) hand screen printed wallpaper, Kiki Smith Studio Printworks, 2008. Source: the Whitworth.
Image 2: Adire Cloth, Nigerian (Yoruba), unattributed, 1900-1924. Source: the Whitworth.
‘Work stops at sunset. Darkness falls over the building site. The sky is filled with stars. ‘There is the blueprint,’ they say.’
~ Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
Stars are like cities, made of desires and fears, an existential blueprint of our future, and of our past.
ACT 1 ~ Desire
Years ago, I stood at our solitary backwater village bus stop for a lifetime of eternities.
Waiting, always waiting.
Each Friday and Saturday night I cast my gaze far beyond the unprepossessing skyline and watched the moon and the stars.
As I waited, I watched, and I dreamt.
I never tired of this game, always imagining a starburst of possibilities, dreaming endless futures for myself. It was a strange kind of yearning that cut deep for something I could not yet know, nor imagine, for escape and freedom I suppose.
At that time the ink black night sky remained undeterred by light pollution, and as I watched the evening star, Venus, grew in luminescence, I mapped the asterism, the Plough, significantly shaped like a (backwards) question mark, and plotted my own blueprint for life.
ACT 2 ~ Fairytale: A Christmas Past
That was the Christmas Eve he turned up in The Exchange, clutching a 45 of Fairytale of New York. It’s a miracle it survived the night.
We still have it.
Although in the same pub, with shared friend groups, we weren’t destined to meet that night, nor the night of the party, nor in the college yard.
It wasn’t yet written in the stars, yet – eventually – all our lives converged.
Treading uncertain steps through the hollow of the black park on the edge of town, we all seemed fated to meet at the old stone fountain after each big night out.
Inevitably drawn to the glassy bitter waters of the river behind, where the silver moon kissed estuary mudflats, and vast indigo skies and scudding sea clouds blurred boundaries with cowslip fields.
Christmases came and went. It was then, that somehow, we’d find ourselves chorusing that most hopelessly romantic song about hopes, dreams, and promises.
Shared sentiments caught between a smattering of sharp stars and a treacherous undertow.
Clearly, we were starring in a fairy tale of our own making; a time of ambiguity and hopes:
‘… Can’t make it all alone, I’ve built my dreams around you… ‘
ACT 3 ~ the Phosphorescence
Fast forward in time to a Christmas Eve past, some years later, when under a full moon and diamante stars, it snowed two inches of fine powder snow.
The kind that awes with its glittering phosphorescence but turns to ice as soon as you disturb it.
We ran at it, and didn’t stop, skidding and skittering all the way to the next village.
Starry eyed and breathless, we burst through the pub doors, giddy with laughter.
Some years later we migrated further South.
That December was the coldest I remember, and a hoar frost encroached on the peripheries of the city
As dusk turned to clear frosty night, we walked away from the city under a sky teeming with bright stars, to pick up our first real Christmas tree.
By the icy canal, a luminous magical world cast in feathered frost lit the way. Broken and motionless reed beds gleamed, stark yet beautiful against the night. Here nature was unnaturally hushed and still, save for the odd phut of a startled moorhen, and a thick silence hung unabashed in the air.
Later, as the night set in, we took the more direct route – as the crow flies – home; across the frozen fields and he carried our glittering fragrant prize aloft on his shoulders in the still of the night, under a blanket of stars.
ACT 4 ~ Follow the Stars
After the Christmas wedding, we would walk.
There was only one B-road, in, and out of the remote but charming Kent village and I left that decision to him.
Later that night we set off in complete darkness save for the light of the moon.
“It’s only two miles,” he said, “there in no time.”
Well, we walked, and we walked … And in this time, we forgot how short the walk was meant to be, fuelled on by the evening’s alcohol and our banter. Until, that is, we started to sober up and realised just how tired we were. After two hours of walking though dark country lanes, trying hard not to fall in ditches in the middle of nowhere, we still hadn’t seen any signs of a house.
“We’re lost,” I said.
“Noooooo,” he blithely said, “I’m a navigator… Follow the stars!”
I looked up at this point and could see only three.
My heart sank a little, but I trusted him, so we carried on.
After twenty minutes more of walking in silence it finally dawned on us both that this whole thing was going badly wrong.
“Give it 5 more minutes,” he said and stuck out his thumb, “I’ll hitch a lift!”
We hadn’t seen a car since we left the wedding.
Well, I kid you not, just as he did this, we heard a car! It seemed to come from nowhere and stopped level beside him.
The passenger door swung open, “Get in Preston Man!” said the driver.
Fortuitously rescued by a barman, himself a Preston man who we’d met earlier at the wedding, we were told, ‘following the stars’ took us almost all the way apparently, the wrong way, to Folkestone.
ACT 5~ Blueprint
And yes, it is written in the stars.
As an awesomely existential blueprint for life itself, we are inextricably bound together through co-existence and sameness, as in the sharing of identical dreams and desires.
Yet, under the wild beauty and wonderment of the stars, with a little living, patience and perhaps luck, how the ordinary becomes the extraordinary – in lived experience and crazy, oft humbling, and beautiful insights.
There is the blueprint.