Sunday, 24 October 2010

Errors of judgement

Today I abandoned the children. That's one judgement I don't regret.

I left them at home, playing a game called Time Zone. It's the one where baby animals live different realities. They must meet each other and, at the point of their lives crossing, tell each other to perform bizarre activities.

The game took an ugly turn when a player pretending to be a kitten thought it was a capital idea to instruct a rabbit to throw dolly off the roof. That idea didn't go down well, even though last week it was a fine idea to launch dolly naked from the top floor strapped to an umbrella. That, apparently, was good. This week, tying her to a length of nylon cord and launching her off the roof, hopefully towards a distant banana tree? Certainly not.

Stupidly, I tried to muscle in. I suggested, to appease all parties, that dolly could wear a parachute. It didn't help. I offered my reasons because, and made the argument worse. In a huff, I said maybe it was better then to absent my reasons completely. As all eyes turned on me, there was no option but to take a walk, one which usually lasts no more than thirty minutes at a quick step. That should be just enough time for dolly's fate to be decided one way or another.

I left the players arguing about kittens and rope, and climbed up the steep path behind the house. If I turn left, then left again, and keep going, I reach the hill top, where I can watch the blades of Lamma Island wind turbine shush shush shush the air.

It's not the only attraction. There are panels, instructing me in worthy environmental messages, and an electronic counter, which proudly displays the electricity created by a tropical wind. It's a popular spot. Don't mention this is Hong Kong's only large-scale wind turbine, and they need ten dozen more. The views, anyway, are beautiful, across the bays and inlets, to distant mountains, towards the skyscrapers of Hong Kong Island.

There's something else too. Behind the stall of the man who sells chilled drinks and souvenir kites, there's a plunging pathway. No-one's walking it today. Impulsively, I can't resist it.

Follow it, and you're launched straight downhill, towards the bay. You'll feel, as your feet beat against that hard concrete surface, how the grey elevated path with its neat linear edge is strangely at odds with this green tropical island world. The spilling out banyan trees, hibiscus flowers, bamboos and banana plants deserve, in my fantasy, chipped stone and dry soil, or waxy grass, bent by the memory of the walker who went before you.

But here, through this jungled, wooded stretch, it's practical concrete. Bicycles must travel this way. Once you turn uphill, with this heat, wheeled hand carts must be light work. When the flooding rain comes pouring down, the paths must be secure against damage and landslip.

Sense tells me that concrete might not look beautiful, but it's sensible, citizen, and social. And really, would I dare try my fantasy grass and stone footpath for long? A path like that belongs in England, when the worse you can expect is mud, stinging nettle, and hawthorn, out of flower.

Here, there are yellow banded spiders who spin their invisible webs between trees and wait in the middle, with legs that spread the size of your face. There are snakes whispering their presence by the glimpse of disappearing tail and the rustle of leaves, and there are stinging tropical hornets as fat as your fingers who follow you, purposefully.

So I chose to ignore the concrete, and the bruising on my sandled feet, and simply enjoy the views and the risky thrill of the jungly woods.

Once you're on that path, there are plenty of possibilities and directions to take. There are narrow paths sinking down to the bay, steps pulling up around the mountains, curving routes through the trees that might stop at a hidden pink tile house, or might take me to another path around the hill. I won't know unless I take them.

I took one route I thought would take me round and back to my beginning, although by then I had lost a sense of the minutes ticking by, and felt only how my legs ached. But there is the dip and curve of that path which is so very tempting, and there might be stories to tell of the woods you pass and the view from the peaks.

But after a time, I thought, I'm heading on a route I just have a feeling might be the right one, but I don't know, and have no reference for it. Once that doubt pops into my head, I think, even though the island is small, there are no streetlights pinging a way home from here. The coastline I can see is unfamiliar; the lights I might later catch are of a little village I don't know. I have no water with me, no phone, no watch, no mosquito repellent for the biting dusk, and stupidly, I've brought only sunglasses and wearing a sleeveless top. I'm badly equipped for exploration. So I went on a little more, just round the curve, just to see what lay ahead.

A choice faced me: a battered metal sign I nearly missed, with letters barely visible, pointed me left up the hillside when I thought it should be right.

I started to follow the route I wasn't certain of, but the light dimmed as the trees wrapped round the path. Then what, if my clumsy body fails to miss the tree spider? So I stopped again and thought, I'm sure it would be wise to backtrack, and retake the route I'd already come. But I don't like to give in and turn back.

I stood for a while, wanting to go on and beat the light, then remembered that here in Hong Kong we do not enjoy long drawn out English summer evenings, but short, sharp, dusk with a quick descent into night.

So I turned back, retraced my route, and climbed the grey concrete back to the hill. Cross with myself that I gave in, ticking myself off for always doing this: try to go one further than my talents and resources truly stretch; contrive to bring about circumstances that are beyond my capacity to control. When I do that, then I render myself incapable, make my purpose in the enterprise frustrated, and become foolish and chastened in defeat. That's a condition hard to admit. Sometimes it's easier to go on, even in a foolhardy way, than give way to a better argument, one that has more pragmatic sense.

I decide to quietly admit defeat, and accept yes, it's sensible to carry water in tropical heat. But I have to save face somewhere, so I resolve that next time I will outsmart defeat, and plan better, start earlier, and equip myself.

Then I return home, in the hope that the argument there is resolved without my intervention, and I can find out what life choices were made for dolly, and whether she ever made the banana tree.


sharon said...

A map? Or maybe a compass? And do not leave home without at least some water and a mobile phone. OK, I admit it - I was a Girl guide ;-)

Did Dolly survive your absence?

Big mamma frog said...

Sigh :)

If only you were doing my course...I could crib all your wonderful prose instead of writing too-long stories about women in wrapping paper.

I'm definitely of the policy that it's better to turn back and feel a failure, than get eaten by a spider. But then I'm hardly Miss Adventurous.

Clare said...

Wow, Grit, that post reads like poetry. I was so with you on that path, and not for the moment in bed with a dripping nose in cold, grey London. Amazing, thank you :)

Tilly said...

I'm with big mamma frog. I'd rather go back and avoid the mega spider! It's big spider time of year now and over the last few days we've had 4 whoppers running round the house. Two got caught in a glass and put outside but unfortunately the other two had a meeting with the dyson!

Grit said...

aw, thank you for your comments people. i am not doing too well at responding to comments at the moment as i have to timeshare a computer, so sometimes bash and run, but i appreciate them thank you.