The Pillow Book of Prudence . . .

Occasionally, Sei Shonagon would veer into a more detailed journal entry instead of her sharp little vignettes.  They could be four or five pages long and invited the reader deep into her life – details of speech, mannerisms and settings all wrapped up in her sometimes gentle, often acerbic point of view.  This latest Pillow Book of Prudence will depart from the norm and journey into a longer journal entry in deference to Sei Shonagon.

Prudence writing the Pillow Book . . .


Whether it remains gentle or becomes acerbic depends on the mood of my fingers as I journey forth.

The weather should be so much kinder by the second week in November:

The weather should be so much kinder by the second week in November.  By the 27th day of November last year, my cousin and I were swimming at the mouth of the river where the salty sea and the fresh water meet.  I remember last year the water invited us . . . this year it still has the glacial look of winter and the temperature in the water is enough to freeze the toes and lift one’s toenail-polish off in one complete piece.

But yesterday the sky was blue, what the purists might call cerulean.  The head of the house and the son had prepared the boat for a journey to the island and I had filled a hamper with food that lines sailors’ bellies.

We planned to visit an island that used to house the rejects of English society – felons who were victims of an upturned world full of deprivation.  Men who stole kerchiefs to sell for money to feed their wives and children, or who stole loaves of bread to sop up the acid in empty stomachs, were sent to the other side of the globe, and thence to an island off the coast of an island.  There are still solitary confinement cells toward the south of this islet, far from the main settlement.  It has its own chilling romance, the stuff of legend and history and a not so gentle reminder that my maternal history lists a convict transported for killing a sheep.

What is noticeable on this island when I move past the past, is the colour of the water – a pale viridian as clear as cut crystal, beaches that squeak ‘eek ouch’ under my feet as I walk, the sound of waves breaking like broken glass being sifted in a bucket, wind soughing through an avenue of pines over a hundred years old and planted by the colonists and whale bones sunk deep in the damp sand of the shore.

This island has been part of my life since I was born.  My grandfather, great grandson of that same errant convict, used to take our whole clan over in his wonderful wooden yacht “Wanderer’.  In those days, one could explore through all the houses and ruins, and never see a soul.  It was our private playground.

Now it is a World Heritage site run by National Parks and Wildlife.  As boat ownership increases, it becomes the playground of any and everyone who wants to make the effort and I can’t help feeling it was actually better in the old days, in the days of my youth, where only the fishermen and the odd doughty farmer put a foot on the shore.  Often in summer these days there are just too many damned visitors!

Sometimes the old adage ‘being loved to death’ applies.