My sky full o’ stars

Postcards from the writer’s North, South, East and West.

“Stop the clocks.”

Of all the legendary lines from a funeral, this is among the saddest.

The poem Funeral Blues, by WH Auden, was famously quoted by John Hannah, in the 1994 film Four Weddings and a Funeral.

The third and fourth stanzas read:

“He was my North, my South, my East and West,

My working week and my Sunday rest,

My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;

I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

“The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,

Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;

For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Words from a man in indescribable grief. But I’d not pack away those stars so quickly. For whatever life throws at us, we may need our stars most.

A while ago, I had to fly to the other side of the world. Literally. On that morning, I woke at 4am, and took a stroll. To four distinct places – each a few kilometres from my home.

Each was a mini-landmark – a huge fallen tree, a cul-de sac at the top of a hill, a farm gate and the bridge over a river.

My South, my West, my North and my East. By visiting my touch-points, I strengthened my centre. Ready for the world.

I remember learning to play squash. A coach told me: “Spend as much time as possible in the middle of the court, to control and dominate the game. Send your opponent tearing off this way and that – while you stay dead-centre, dead-calm.”

It’s a good feeling – rocking back and forth on the balls of your feet. Ready to move in a flash – if needs be. Agile, but fully-grounded, centred.

The weather will arrive – sooner or later. The Southerly – mild, rolling in over False Bay. The South-Westerly – benign, overcast. From further ‘round the compass, trouble: the North-Westerly, bringing our darkest clouds and rain. Even violent gales.

Occasionally leaps a North-Easterly: The Jester – our warm, laughing Berg Wind. Often heralding a storm. And finally, from the east, our most active player: the South-Easter. Which rattles and roars. Our “Cape Doctor” – blowing our air pollution off to Brazil. In its filthiest mood, it rears its head as a vicious Black South-Easter – our summer-lover-turned-brute.

The bearings we deliberately choose inform the character of our centres: our hearts.

But whether in mourning, or facing a new morning, there’s some golden advice, I return to every time:

Always face east, my friend. Because no matter what sh*t’s going down, in the darkest of night:

The sunrise is comin’.