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This article is taken from PN Review 125, Volume 25 Number 3, January - February 1999.

Fog and the Island: A Letter to Sibelius Marshall Walker

Dear Sibelius,

Everything was foggy at the beginning. That was a long time before you came down from Finland to the music room of a Scottish school. 'Sibelius to the rescue,' I've often thought, and been miserable that I would never be able to thank you properly.

You couldn't clear the fog but you made it habitable. I was twelve when you came. You were eighty-four, Finland's national treasure. The lenses of my glasses were as thick as milk-bottle bottoms. My eyes looked tiny through them from the other side, like a pig's. The frames had to be thick too, to carry the weight of the lenses. If I wasn't 'Piggy' to the boys in my class I was 'Specky' or 'Professor' when I stumbled into chairs and bumped into desks. The glasses hardly seemed worth the ridicule, they delivered so little of the world.

People were blurs with voices and smells, gradually taking on detail as ophthalmic fashion prescribed lenses with fuller correction. I knew how my parents looked in photographs, because I could hold the brown-paged albums at the end of my nose. And I knew what their hands looked like from when my mother applied sticking plaster or iodine to a cut and from my father's regular clipping of my fingernails. My father insisted on short back and sides for hair and close to the quick for nails. He'd clip a finger and hold it up to me to see ...


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