Image: "Carving Music" by Rene Daigle
By Sandys Hocombe
I can’t remember not knowing this Technics SL-B2 turntable. It’s older than me.
The record player was my father’s, given to him by my mother who bought it with her last pay-cheque before going on maternity leave to have me. If that’s right, that means that it and the rest of the system (amplifier, tape deck, radio) were bought somewhere between spring and summer of 1980. Funny thing, though: I was told recently by the man who serviced our SL-B2 that it must be a little older still, because he had had to change the plug; no longer legal – went out in seventy-eight, seventy-nine, something like that.
The needle retraces the groove, always-already inscribed pathways, but you can look at it, that needle, and imagine that it is carving out the track for the first time; imagine a thin ribbon of vinyl peeling off in one long, elegant waste trail as the needle turns perfectly formed tunes into and out of the disc, like perfectly formed wooden spinning tops, each of which turned out a little smaller than the last.
They were made as we watched and waited. A wood turner who, I think, opened his workshop in the tourist season. Was it a beach-front workshop? It was during a family holiday; I could have been no more than ten. We were in the west country, but I can’t remember where precisely; which is to say, I can’t remember if we were grockles or emmets that summer. As we stood and looked on, the wood turner – who had cataracted eyes and heavy hands and thick, slab fingers which looked anything but dextrous – produced in what must have been minutes five spinning tops, gradually decreasing in size; one for each of us, each top turned from a single piece of wood. My parents still have them: all are covered in whorls, and the wood-grain can be clearly traced; the surface of each spinning cone has remained glassy-smooth. The fifth and smallest top, the turner presented to my mother, saying as he did so, the old dog, Like you, small but beautiful.
Those tops are, for me, forever connected to a novel I once read. I can’t say why – except perhaps that it has something to do with the sharp, lovely precision of the sentences, which seemed so much like crafted, hand-turned things. But what triggered this connection? What reasons need anyone give for enjoying the feel of a pebble in the hand?
A little while back, my parents put the tops in a translucent pink glass dish, and put the dish out among the other ornaments. And even though my mind’s association of that book and those tops is ineluctable, even though my memory of the turner and his woodshop seems so deeply ingrained in my memory, it was probably more than a year before I realised what I was passing each time I passed by; before I saw those tops for what they were: trinkets of so indelible a record as is constantly replayed and replayed and replayed in memory.
Sandys Hocombe writes flash fiction, much of which is illustrated by Rene Daigle. Together, they are Beagles Comics (www.beaglescomics.com).