Saturday, 21 February 2015

Nils & the Loom

Nils & the Loom

The remote mountain Greeks disliked the aloof manner of Germans. Because my father, brother and myself are blonde British and blue eyed of Norse descent on my fathers side; an easy assumption that we are Germans had doors of concrete-free single-story crude stone dwellings doubling as houses and shops, slammed closed in our faces in rural villages where hand-crafted blankets and rugs were woven on hand-made wooden looms. When the locals realised by hearing our language that we are British, they opened the doors again and welcomed us in as honored guests, sharing food and drink from their own sparse larders as they showed us their wares, amazing patterned fabrics layered on all surfaces.

Later in a Greek supermarket on the far side of the mountain, my father asked which toy my brother and i wanted. My brother found some anthropomorphic jungle animals in human clothes and wanted. My dad bought him two. They were a cheap plastic German product. I protested that i didn't want any of those toys. I was confused; yesterday in the village shop closest to where our apartment was situated amidst olive groves, my father insisted that we did not have enough money to buy any of the unusual Greek brands I was asking about. Yet today he had spent over a hundred pounds on rugs and laughed about how even with the excess baggage weight tax to pay on the return flight, these rugs were a bargain. My father had haggled with the mountain villagers to achieve a good price, explaining to us that not to barter is considered rude in traditional Greek culture. He also explained that he had just given them more money in one go than most rural Greek villagers would earn over several months.

Although it is thirty years since the event, I remember it as freshly as today. My own boy is still playing on one of the rugs on the floor of his bedroom, too young to know how magickal this carpet is. So my confusion that my father had magicked up enough money to buy us toys here wheras yesterday he refused to make my dream come true when faced with food products I had never imagined to exist. He made me choose a toy by his usual persuasion, repeating the question and ignoring my pleas until I folded. So I grumpily chose an elephant to remind me about the shitty way my dad was treating me, as I had been told repeatedly; elephants never forget. My brother had chosen two toys so my father made me choose two. I begrudgingly chose a rhino, because they are thick-skinned like I needed to become. I cried because I didn't want it and was being bullied by my dad, again. The packaging had the names of the characters on it, the elephant was called Eli, the rhino was called Nils. Even at that tender age I recall the appropriate irony of the word which in English means Nothing.

Considering that I never wanted for Nils in the first place, it took me a long time to get over him. The pattern set. That probably explains a lot to do with what happened with Fern who I met in later years, which is another story I have written a fragment of elsewhere.

As my parents packed the suitcases up and discussed the necessity of having to leave one of the Greek rugs behind because my father had miscalculated; they would not all fit into the bags and we had far too many even for the excess baggage weight tax to accomodate, I played with Eli and Nils. I was playing a game of promising Nils that we would look after him and I was sorry that I had not wanted him to begin with but it was only because I had not wanted to waste my dads money and I did not know I would be lucky enough to become his new friend.

My parents were deciding which rug to leave on the bed as a gift for the hospitality of the apartment owners, a difficult choice because they were all beautiful. My brother and I had been seperated. His usual strategy to physically attack me and start crying before my parents could find out what had really happened, so that I got the blame for causing a disturbance and upsetting him while he got sympathy and attention. That is how I learned the difference betweens sympathy (what other people do and pretend to do) and empathy (what i do). My brother still behaves that way now all these years later. I cannot recall what anthropomorphic animals my father had bought him; he never let me see his precious. I can well imagine it to have been a crocodile and a shark.

My mother forced us into the toilet before we left for the coach to the airport. Unlike rainy British toilets, mediterranean Greek toilets cannot cope with toilet paper, it clogs them up, so a lidded bin is used and emptied daily by the apartments ancient cleaner lady. No joke, people in Britain are dead by that age simply because they do not live the peaceful, humble lifestyle of a Greek peasant. The climate, the diet, the pace of life. By the time I got back into the bedroom to retrieve my animal-people toys I was emotionally devastated to discover that Nils had disappeared. I explained why I was so upset but my parents did not have time to do a thorough search and I could not see him anywhere.

I was a clever child, I already knew about process of eli-mination and this event was a lesson in developing it. What later became an understanding of animistic belief that everything is alive, ergo a possibility that Nils had betrayed my friendship promise, forsaken Eli elephant and made his escape into the olive grove;  competed with and was discarded in favour of the more likely explanation that my father had taken and hidden or disposed of Nils while I was in the bathroom and was lying to his family about it. The distance between the worlds of children and of busy, non-empathic adults is vast, bigger than the distance between Greece and Britain. In my fathers mind I had not wanted Nils anyway since he had cajoled me into accepting him, therefore the loss of him would probably not make too big an impact on me. In my emotions, my father had just stolen my favourite toy which had become a symbol of his extra special love for me given that I did not believe myself to be lucky enough to have him, and accepting him was a process of overcoming the guilt that I had been greedy wanting to experience Greek sweets the day before. I felt the same about my father whose positive attention I craved as I did about the toy.

To do this thing to a child sent out mixed signals that were too complicated for me to work out, on top of the pain of loss. Eli was a small consolation, she had stopped speaking to me because I had failed to protect Nils and she was fearful that she might disappear next. Our relationship never recovered and neither did my relationship with my father. He lied to us all when I expressly asked him if he had seen Nils the little rhino anywhere; he denied it. But the lingering doubt; what if I was mistaken? What if something inexplicable and supernatural had happened to cause Nils to disappear and my blaming my father was unjust and unfounded. That would be my mistake, to hate a man who had been so kind to me for something which he had not done.

(But why would he do such a thing? The possibility it was left as a gift for the apartment owners children along with the blanket goes some way toward reprieving my father for his 'last minute panicked re-packing before the transport deadline' state of mind.)

Between these two conflicting paradigms there was no resolution. It made me sick. I threw up in the airplane sick-bags all the way home.

Copyright 2015

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