A Portable Paradise

This week’s theme is A Portable Paradise, inspired by a poem by Roger Robinson. We wanted to express our support for the Black Lives Matter movement and Robinson has been important in raising visibility of black and ethnic minority writers, through his own success but also through vocal support for other writers.

But, it also seemed to me that this poem would resonate with many Hebrideans.  A Portable Paradise is about the comforting and sustaining memory of an island – in Robinson’s case Trinidad – but when he talks about the fresh fish and white beaches he might bring to mind our colder, more northerly islands that are held in the hearts of so many exiles. So our theme this week is “Portable paradise: the memory of something, somewhere or someone that sustains us through the tough times.” 


A Portable Paradise
And if I speak of Paradise,
then I’m speaking of my grandmother
who told me to carry it always
on my person, concealed, so
no one else would know but me.
That way they can’t steal it, she’d say.
And if life puts you under pressure,
trace its ridges in your pocket,
smell its piney scent on your handkerchief,
hum its anthem under your breath.
And if your stresses are sustained and daily,
get yourself to an empty room – be it hotel,
hostel or hovel – find a lamp
and empty your paradise onto a desk:
your white sands, green hills and fresh fish.
Shine the lamp on it like the fresh hope
of morning, and keep staring at it till you sleep
                                                                                                         Roger Robinson
Robinson won the  prestigious T.S.Eliot prize earlier this year
And the Guardian recently published this conversation between Robinson and Rachel Long in which they discuss the experiences of black poets and writers in an overwhelmingly white publishing world and cultural environment.
The poem, A Portable Paradise  is from the collection of the same name:

9 thoughts on “A Portable Paradise

    By Marie Cable

    A portable paradise is my memories of family trips to Luskentyre beach in Harris. In the sixties or seventies, we had a Vauxhall Estate and it took us on afternoons out in the summer usually on a bank holiday. It was quite an event: we left after lunch or dinner as we called it then and although my brother Calum could do the journey in forty minutes it took us more like an hour and a half or two hours as my father didn’t want to drive fast with eight people in the car. It was a major trip. We were excited at the prospect and if it was a lovely day, we could enjoy the beach at its loveliest. We did the usual things like collecting shells, make sandcastles and have a paddle in the sea. We would admire the colour of the water an aqua marine or azure blue. We sunbathed.
    The memories to me remind me what it was like to be young and be part of a big family and closeness we had together. It also shows now much our mother and father meant to us. Before we left for home we went back to Tarbert where I think there was a café and had something to eat. Later on I think there was a restaurant.
    My memories of this Vauxhall car are strong as this is the car my father took me out for some driving lessons which reminds me of him.


  2. A Portable Paradise by Urszula

    Because nobody loved me as he did

    His letters safely stored now in plastic wallets
    To read and think about in tough times
    The words written by hand
    I remember so well
    I can hear his voice in my head
    Written before we were married
    Those six months living apart
    Writing to each other everyday

    “But it’s hard work I ache all over
    Most of the day I spent up a ladder
    Screwing a roof on a Dutch barn
    This means doing up hundreds of nuts above my head
    This makes my arms and shoulders suffer
    The ladder makes my feet ache and
    The sun makes my head ache
    Don’t worry I am only moaning
    After a couple of days I will get used to it
    I’ve also been making and loading concrete blocks”
    In the hot summer weather

    Encouraging me
    Supporting me
    Always there for me
    Earning money for our holiday
    “Think of me if you feel depressed”

    Words describing clouds and sky
    Words remembering our student days

    “It was a really beautiful morning
    You should have been with me
    The sky was autumn blue with feathery clouds
    It was really great”

    And camping with young brother and sister
    In Devon and Cornwall

    And later weekend visits to London
    When I had started teaching and
    He was still doing research in Bath
    Supporting me

    “I am just about to leave 11 o’clock
    I had another sleep after you left
    I feel a lot better now
    I used up all your milk (including today’s)
    I will buy another pint and leave it outside
    I do hope you will be alright
    You are very tired
    Please go to bed early
    I will be so glad
    When this phase of our life is over
    And we are together forever
    No more rush fuss or parting”

    “I had a funny walk down this morning
    The whole town was buried in mist
    Except for the church spires which
    Stuck out of it the whole place looked dead
    There was absolutely no movement of sound
    It was most weird”

    I look out of the window at the hills and
    The trees beyond the town and
    I wish you were here
    It would be so marvellous

    As well as memories
    His words express wisdom
    Now they still sustain me in tough times
    I can take the folders out of my fireproof safe
    And read and browse through them
    Gaining comfort and becoming settled

    “I stood by the river and watched the sun set…
    It was beautiful….
    The horizon was in a deep cloud
    The sun shone through this to give
    A dirty sullen mauve blob
    Then the horizon cloud was very low
    The rest of the sky was scattered with little feathery clouds
    There was no wind and they hung motionless
    The sunlight from behind the low cloud
    Made these little clouds shine with the most fantastic colours
    They started very deep red
    As they got higher from the horizon
    They became paler pinks and oranges
    Until above my head they were perfect white ………”

    When I am sad or lonely I go to these letters
    And reread them
    They are as real today as
    When they were written over fifty years ago.




    Those who know me won’t be surprised that my portable paradise is our Caravan. From may to September it lives in Riof . We (mostly mum and me), manage with one leisure battery. two wind up radios and three calor gas tanks (smaller ones) for the season. We read, bonfire on the beach, walk and talk. We use candles for light and have no internet ot T.V. This year I was gifted a rechargeable lamp that when you open it like a book to switch on you have tiny remote to choose the colour you wish it to shine. Jethro and Kirsty gave it to me for my birthday. I love it. I do have a mobile phone to request the bus and arrange meetings up.
    This year we can’t go but I did spend a night, in my paradise, reminders of Riof in the sand embedded, hedgehog bedding, crisps and lets not forget a G and T.
    My new paradise not portable but hopefully soon mobilising, would be back to work at Catch 23 meeting up with everyone again, sharing our laughter, sharing our worries and our pains Covid or otherwise. Socially distancing caring.


  4. My Portable Paradise

    For me smell is a really important sense that helps transport me to different places and times in my life. Below is a photo below of a natural aromatherapy diffuser made out of a Banksia nut pod (a native Australian tree) that I purchased on a trip to Australia.

    One of my abiding memories of that trip is the smell of the dry heat in the areas we travelled through combined with the heady scent of eucalyptus. I felt very at one with nature being amongst all the trees and vastness of the seemingly endless Australian bush. The arid and bleached out looking colours of the landscape reminding me of the colours imprinted on my memory from childhood trips to rural Leicestershire.

    By adding a couple of drops of lemon eucalyptus oil to the diffuser and I feel like I am able to breathe in this lovely scent which helps energise and uplift me and allows me to be briefly be transported to another time and place.
    Lemon eucalyptus oil is also a great natural insect repellent which is supposed to be as effective as DEET! I am yet to test whether it effective against Scottish midges…

    I am not a great sea-farer, but do like to travel, so I also like to keep a bottle on me when I travel so that I can use it a bit like smelling salts when I want to try and relax and escape unpleasant feelings envoked by sea-sickness.
    It normally lives on my desk at work and it has been a pleasing and soothing ‘constant’ in my life since Covid-19 lockdown life began and I have been mainly working from my bedroom at home.

    Rebecca Mahony


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