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Kintsukuroi : The Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted with gold silver or platinum powder.

‘Don’t let Stephanie touch that dish/plate/teapot, she’ll break it!’ was one of my Dad’s refrains.

Recently my sister reminded me of this when telling me of someone she knew who was dyspraxic. She said she often wondered if I had suffered from a mild form that went undetected.

I assured her that I was just a clumsy child and the fact that I had no problem riding a bicycle proved I hadn’t a dyspraxic bone in my body.

Poor Dad!

If only he heard about kintsukuroi he might have been a bit more chilled about my breakages, plus he never learned that hovering nervously over me reminding me not to break something was a sure way of making me break it.

Then again with the pressure off I might not have broken any for him to practice on in the first place.

Now my observation is a sort of antithesis.

My Dad was a pedant and therefore on one side the perfectionist in him would have struggled when faced with the shattered pieces of something as beautiful as a delicate china plate.

But he was also an artist, a purist one to be exact (no wild abstract splashing’s for him, his water colours followed the strict old fashioned wash method) so the creative side of this Japanese art would have interested him.

And being a purist, his Kintsukuroi would have been meticulous.

Unfortunately he missed the era of google, but I am sure he would have gone in search of books on the subject, just as he had with the art of tying Artificial flies for his fishing.

One of my childhood memories is of him sitting, head bent, brow furrowed in concentration, at his specially equipped table in my parents bedroom, tying these minute flies. (Really he should have been working at his architectural drawings and earning a crust for his family)

This table, on which stood a miniature vice grips and a well leafed book detailing the art of fly tying, had a small drawer underneath containing boxes with hooks of various sizes, scrapes of wool, gold and silver threads and hackle feathers collected from cockerels around the country.

It was actually my mothers dressing table, but since she never wore a scrape of make up or perfume, he commandeered it.

So you can understand why I could also picture him, at the same table, in the same manner, painstakingly fitting together the pieces of my latest breakage and painting in the cracks with gold or silver lacquer.

And just as when he was tying flies, we watched in admiration (the hook steady in the vice grips and using a forceps with surgical precision, attaching first the wool, winding the silver or gold thread around to hold it in place, then the feathers) as before our very eyes a Wickhams fancy, bloody butcher, sooty olive, or duckfly, appeared,  we could have also gazed admiringly at his latest piece of kintsukuroi.

And I would have been the proud source of yet another family story surrounding the occasion of the breakage of that particular piece (rather than the shameful clumsy daughter who’s breakages ended in the bin).

A note on fly fishing (and how it ruled our family)

Firstly, the subject of hackle feathers!

As a child it did not appear to us in anyway unusual that, when driving along a country road we would screech to a sudden halt, as my dad, having spied some colourful feathered fowl in a farm yard, would leap from the car, open the gate and scattering the hens, approach the door to talk to the woman of the house.

From our vantage point, we would watch as she, or one of her children raced around the yard in pursuit of the fine cockerel whose feathers my Dad had put his eye on.

Once caught the catcher would hold the bird steady while my Dad plucked a few of the hackle feathers and thanking the farmers wife profusely, tuck them into the small metal box he kept in his jacket pocket.

Secondly. We had to know the names of the flies he tied. After all if we were his oarsman for the day, he could, without letting his eyes leave the water, reel in his line and announce that a change of fly was needed. And our job then was to quietly place the oars in the rowlocks (sounds might frighten the fish) and hand him whichever of the above he requested.

So you better know your flies!.

But where is this story going?

Oh yes.

Breakages, flaws, imperfections and changes and re-pairings.

Kintsukuroi also has a philosophical expression i.e embracing the flaws and imperfections of the object. Seeing its life story through its breakages rather than trying to disguise them.

April, eight years ago, I received the news of a biopsy.

Metastatic melanoma.

The primary, my right calf.

A small freckle I had surgically removed a few years before (supposedly benign) had metastasised to the lymph nodes in my groin.

Had all those years of cycling in the summer sun caused the primary?

Who knows? but one thing was sure. I was not the perfectly healthy individual I presumed I was, but a flawed one, an imperfect being, a broken piece of the human kind.

Look Dad! Now how insignificant those plates, those cups, that teapot.

‘But how can it be?’ I wailed at anyone interested in listening to me’ I feel so well’

I wrote in my diary.

‘After all my years of nursing, of hand holding and reassuring of others I am now on the same side of the fence. I never thought it would be me.’

I had my surgery that May.

At first I was scared of everything, the sun, my life, even my leg.

Especially my leg.

I took each step gingerly, barely daring to walk on it.

I was so fearful of putting weight on it that I began to cycle more than I ever (if that was possible) just to avoid putting it to the ground.

My bicycle became my crutch.

At first I cycled with two surgical drains still in place, hidden by pinning them to the underside of my long skirt.

Then through an exhausting year of Interferon.

I couldn’t stop cycling!

In the west of Ireland I struggled against the Atlantic storms, forcing my legs round and round.

And when my treatment finished, I cycled at a gentler pace across France where, on I reaching the Mediterranean, I finally excepted the philosophy of Kintsukuroi and embraced my imperfection.

In doing so, I realised I no longer needed to rely so much on my bicycle to cart me around and that sometimes I preferred walking.

And now, although there is no silver or gold mending it, like a piece of (unfinished) Kintsukuroi, the thin scar making its way crookedly along, from mid thigh to mid abdomen, continues to tell my story.

To be continued…

(Where with some anxiety but after much deliberation I decided to explore The Alentejo region in Portugal without the yellow bicycle.

As I cycle I Learn to see life stories in the flaws of old things rather than focus on their imperfections.

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