Tuesday, October 31, 2006

mia culpa...so shoot me

I want to say this simply, so please for once grant me the power to be clear.

I wrote something on Sunday which I looked at afterwards and felt so ashamed of I had to remove it, like looking at a side of oneself that you don't recognise or worse, that you do recognise but don’t like..

What I wanted to write about was how lucky I am. To wake up to the very epitome of glorious autumn, a crisp day bathed in late summer sunshine. The snuffle scruffle bum walk and stretch and cold nose in the ear from a Charlie, and a Toffee who loves nothing more than to drape his neck across yours, (if you've been silly, or drunk enough to leave your bedroom door open). To roll over and find the half a bottle of Taittinger, that you managed to smuggle out of the night club and all the way home on the tube, on your bedside table. A hairy hug, a sip of champagne, a piping hot shower, aspirin and scrambled eggs - what could be better. what more could a man want?

Nothing, really.

You see, we get to do pretty much anything we like whenever we want to. Of course I have to work but that's just about the only thing that gets in the way of sheer hedonism. We walk, we laugh, we are as tidy (or not) as we want to be, as punctual, shy, selfish or gregarious as our mood takes - sometimes we go out for a whole Sunday, lunch and all, without even taking a bath or brushing our teeth.

It's an agreement. A trade.

Because there are other things that we don't do anymore. In short we don't look for happiness beyond that which we can generate and sustain for ourselves. There are no external influences, nothing beyond this tiny, compact, introspective microcosm that has any impact on our (my) selfish existence.

Now that’s where it starts to go wrong, that sounds maudlin, regretful, but it’s not supposed to, that’s certainly not how I feel.
My only reservation is an inkling, a small persuasive voice that’s muttering that there ought to be a point. More point. Is a beautiful day still beautiful if you don’t share it? Of course it is? The Pearl Fisher’s duet is a small parcel of bliss that could stop yor heart, as evocative as the top of a baby’s head. A thrown stick and a puddle, the smell of new cut grass on a warm breeze.
Is it wrong then to want your world to shine? That’s not to walk through life oblivious to the mundane or the ugliness, but not to settle for less, in…anything.

What joy, what bliss, what ho, what's the point. You don’t find what shines by collecting lots of things that don’t.

And it's no big deal. That's the mistake I made on Sunday when I thought I might write something that might help me to understand. The mistake being of course that there is nothing to understand after all.

It really is a matter of 'so what'. Who actually gives a jaundiced squirrel? Once in these past three years I have made the ridiculous mistake of imagining that the hand that touched my face might stay there, but she was simply a friend of a friend caught up in a moment and doubtless too much tequila....gone in 60 seconds, a butterfly touch whipped away on the chilly night air, so transient that it was just my imagination. Stupid, stupid. Sex, important? No. The hand on your face, the fingers in your hair....or lack of them.
That's the knack of it.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I forget

It must be age related. I have a memory like a sieve these days. It's like living in the twilight zone.

One particular problem is remembering birthdays….my family in its entirity consists of 3 people - and I regularly forget their birthdays (occasionally their names). It’s not as if I ignore them, I genuinely like them, but I end up sending them a gift and card at completely the wrong time in a fit of anxiety, because I’ve convinced myself I’ve forgotten (I once notoriously sent my niece her birthday present 2 months early – but I did get the day right).

It happens in the blogosphere too, I have consistently arrived late to the party and left behind numerous combined, belated congratulations and apologies.

Damn it I like you, I want to get it right.

It’s not a matter of just telling me, if you tell me today I will have forgotten tomorrow (I am as retentive as a chocolate teapot)…so, I’m going to be terribly anal and write them down, I shall make myself a “Birthday Book”.

But you’ve got to tell me when your birthday is (yes you!)…privately by email if you’re shy, or publicly in a comment (who knows, maybe other people might find it useful too?).

And then, if you don’t receive your Birthday wishes promptly it’s final proof positive that I am indeed completely pointless (as if that were needed).

Monday, October 23, 2006

presque vue

sitting on the beach wrapped in a blanket. Huddled behind raised knees, listening to the waves, listening to the crash and grumble of a million smooth stones tumble and jumble with each inward and outward motion of the sea.

The slate grey sky is indistinguishable, inseparable from the sea. Distance is a tunnel, a funnel, a grinding machine into which all the colour of the world has been poured and washed and abraded to a gun metal base.

The wind carries spray and dirty wisps of spume beyond the reach of the retreating tide, further up the beach, to where I sit, wrapped in a blanket, huddled behind raised knees...sheltering from the cold stiff breeze and the threat of rain in the leaden air.

But I am not cold. Not a bit of it, I'm basking in the summer sun, as bright and cheerful a day as ever was. There on the top of the hill, staring down the lane, beyond the great oak to where the hill steepens and falls a half mile of helter skelter, pell mell, catch me if you can. The sun is warm, but more warming still is my bright blue pedal car and the anticipation of streaking down the hill away from the haunted house-not-home on the hill.

In my mind's eye I can see me. It is the summer holiday and the boy that I am watching is eleven years old. The summer stretches into the distance, for ever, beyond imagination. The sky is the bluest blue, somnolent, serene, the grass was never greener, long stalks of barley sway, susurrate softly whispering secrets to one another with each breath of air.

He is a creature of the outdoors, a town boy relocated into the Scottish countryside. Every day is an adventure teeming with discovery. Walking in the tall pine woods on an endless bed of fir needles, up to the ancient standing stones on the top of the hill, or down by the river across the shallow salmon run into the fields beyond where there is a lake, sunken, hidden from view by a ring of holly.

Anywhere other than indoors. From the moment that breakfast is finished until tea time and then straight out again until night fall, avoiding the musty gloom and great thick walls of the house on the hill, and the child within that cries “mummy”, but not from need, from dread. (We (my family) share a space with this tiny terrified phantom, but not a place in time. His dread and far too audible laments are somehow locked in the walls of the house like a recording on tape which is occasionally triggered by who knows what so that we can all relive his anguish. Or at least I think 'we' do for my parents will not discuss it).

On the beach the sun is setting. An unlikely skein of geese honk forlornly and bustle along the beach, easterly towards the first evening stars. Out at sea clouds appear like purple loaves, flat bottomed, I see reclining knights on the tomb lid of the horizon finally marking the division between sea and sky.

In the barn the boy has heard, amongst last years hay, mewling and shuffling - in the far corner behind great discarded, rusting farm implements whose purpose is not obvious. A brindle cat with kittens, five noses, ten closed eyes and twenty tiny paws in a single ball of fur, black, white, black and white, she looks back contented with her pale amber eyes and flexes her claws in and out against the surrounding straw as the kittens snuggle and suckle.

She is lying in a comfortable bowl of hay on the seat of a tiny, blue, pedal race car. I have not the heart to move her and her family, but my mother will, she’ll bring her inside and find her a place that’s warm and dark and safe in the pantry and give her milk and kitchen scraps. It’s deceitful of me I know, she was happy where she was, but I wanted that car.

The car is tiny, the wheels which were once solid metal discs with white rubber rims are chipped and freckled with rust, there is a small white steering wheel, everything else is blue, powder blue. It must be very old, an antique perhaps, like no ‘modern’ race car, but shaped like a sausage with a long bonnet with the seat forming the rear and only with some pushing can the boy squeeze his bottom down onto it. There’s no room inside the car for legs so they poke out in front, or more comfortably crossed over the bonnet beyond the steering wheel.

It’s strange (is it strange?) that sound takes on a different quality at night. Is it the diminution of one sense that heightens another? Or is it simply that the tide has turned, have I been here that long? But the mutter of the sea rolled stones seems more brittle now, and I feel cold, the damp chill has begun to seep through the warm folds of my blanket.

But still, with my eyes closed I can see a summer’s day. I can remember the other me carrying the car across the cobbled yard to the top of the hill. It’s nearly half a mile starting between the house wall and the corner of the great outhouse on the edge of the courtyard. Nearly half a mile of hedge lined lane with no other purpose, no end other than the farm house, not a home, perched on the hill at the edge of the forest.

I am (he is, we are at that moment) eleven years old. There is no doubt what I will do, not a moments hesitation. I sit the car down on the very brow of the hill and tuck my feet up, crossed, on to the bonnet. Down the hill the great oak beckons, swallows swoop and dive above the barley, butterflies dance in the briar and as I look up a dragon fly zig zags across the lane like a sparkling green automaton. For these last few seconds I am the only thing in my world that cannot fly. But not for long.

The car is so small that I can reach the ground with the palms of my hands and I press backwards, rolling us forward on to the first gentle slope.

Slowly, ever so slowly at first, we begin to roll. There’s a rasping, grating, rusty exhalation from long unused bearings and we are off. Yard by yard, picking up speed, faster and faster, a sideways glance confirms that the hedges that are now rushing by are beginning to blur. Faster and faster. There is a sound of wind and rush and hurry now.

We are only half way down the first relatively gentle segment of the hill, beyond the oak it angles down. Faster and faster. I can see over the false horizon of the half-hill now, the lane disappears, but I can see the fields below beyond the road that the lane will intersect, beyond that the gravel track leading to the stone hump back bridge across the railway.

Faster and faster. I can steer but tears are streaming from my eyes. Under the branches of the great oak we flash, we are a blue streak now, there is no car, I have wheels. Screaming half laughter half terror, faster even faster, the world is a blur, no stopping, no brakes, nerveless fingers and a rictus grin, crying, laughing and howling like a loon.

No tractor or caravan on the road pleeeease today. However did I think that I would stop this tiny blue juggernaut? We shoot out of the lane, the embodiment of coruscating, sparkling blue glee, across the road in a flash and onto the gravel path opposite. Showered with stones, holding hard, gripping the steering wheel with every ounce of petrified strength, up the incline of the bridge to an eventual halt in the grassy bank on the other side. Slowly unclenching numb fingers and face, unbuckling legs and backside to unfold into a wobbly, unsteady upright to look back up the hill and begin to unravel the sheer idiocy of it.

I cannot see the house.

And there is one other thing I know, immediately, I will do it again. And when at night I lie in bed and strain not to hear that child’s torment, I will cover my head with my pillow and think about the blue car.

On the beach I stand up. My bottom and knees are stiff, fingers crack open from unconscious balled fists. With the blanket draped across my shoulders I stoop to pick up a stone to fling into the sea and wipe my eyes.

I remember the blue car. But I don’t remember him at all. It should feel like me, but the memory I have is….the memory of a character I have read in a book, or the memory of a film. It should be me, we should be me, the same, he should be vivid like the car but somehow he's not, we became...separated.

But it was our blue car.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Of rolling over to find you when its quiet....

For each of us a season.

The back door is open and chill coils of mist spill down the jambs to the floor to eddy and pool. But not too far, its too warm in here for you, soon you'll be reconstituted, twinkling droplets on the coir strands of the mat. Fresh from the bathroom in a towel, making coffee and enjoying the counterpoint of cool and snug warmth, I can see you, plod plod plodding up the rear steps. Brown-wetter-than-normal-nose first you appear out of the foggy shroud little by little and stand on the threshold, half in half out, writing nonsense with your tail to ask, "did I hear a dish being filled dad, was that the cupboard door?".

"Yes it was chuck, now go and fetch your dozy mate". And these are the 5 minutes I keep for myself in the morning, sitting in the kitchen watching Charlie delicately pick at his breakfast while Toffee sets at his with such gusto that his whole body seems to clench and fragments of kibble ping and ricochet off the walls.

Today our sounds, the slurpings and munchings, the ping of the kettle and rattle of the spoon, are more precise, resonant almost, our aural colour, since the world outside is quiet wrapped in a blanket of thick muffling fog.

To wake up on a foggy autumn day is to wake up and discover that you are deaf. To lean out of bed to wipe a hand across the window to see the world confirms that you have also lost the faculty for colour. The world outside is shades of grey, and suddenly, shockingly visible cobwebs an inch from your nose. The fog has permeated the glass, a misty osmosis beading the inner surface and the little river that I have formed runs down my arm and drips, coldly onto the bedside table.

It's too early to get up, too late to go back to sleep. There's a warm snug nest in the middle of the bed and cooler spots for toes on either side. Four great fluffy pillows to make soft walls, to cocoon until this bleary eyed splutterfly emerges into the world. So comfortable to lie there, so quiet and utterly peaceful. A short distracting day dream of a soft warm bottom sleepily resting against my leg, a freckled shoulder and slender neck draped in tussled hair, framing the smell of blissful contented sleep...I miss you (whoever you are)...

...no time for loss. There is no time to concentrate on what is not.

A different bottom, a bony bum with tail, bumps against the bedroom door accompanied by a loud, stage sigh, "pfffhhhhhhhhhh" ("are you ever getting up"?). How does he always know when I'm awake? I'll leave them in their separate space each night, tucking them in with a brief tummy rub, Charlie on his beanbag and Toffee in the corner of 'his' sofa. But every morning when I get up and open the bedroom door a large brown inquisitive eye will peer into the room and the patch of hallway floor immediately outside will be warm. And we'll sit outside for a moment and play rough and tumble, on my bare bum on the cold wooden floor, and it's good, it's great.

That's a part of why I like this time of year - beyond the colour and quality of light, the crunch of leaves and the feeling that everything is somehow richer, readier, complete - there is also coolness. It's no longer a world of dull warmth, (the summer warmth where every surface feels the same), but a dappled landscape of temperature, a place where fingers and noses are cold and toes are as snug as a bugs in a rug. When I'm warm I'm simply warm but when I'm cold I have choices and surprises and the opportunity for the mundane to be small delights, thick socks, soup, sunshine on a woodland walk, even a proffered smile is more warming on an autumn day.

It's an evening for wellie boots and a torch lit scramble I think. And tomorrow a lie in, and perhaps a day dream before the alarm bum strikes the door and says "come out".

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Of knots in string...

I don’t get it….sorry that’s true, but misleading. I’ll start again…

I don’t understand, after all I’ve looked after my body. No, really, I have. I’ve been taking copious amounts of alcohol for years simply as a preservative. And I did hear that a glass of red wine is good for you so, ipso facto, a couple of bottles must be full of goodness?

Following the advice of some of the greatest medical minds (of the seventeenth century) I smoke, not because I enjoy it, but to protect myself from common evils like the ague, dropsy and melancholia.

My doctor once told me that if I wanted to stay healthy I should ‘observe the Mediterraneans’ and I have. Closely. I am happy to report that I can now distinguish between a Croat and a Greek from a distance of 75 yards. (I once studied a particular Italian young lady for almost half an hour before her boyfriend offered to take me outside and help me to rearrange my spectacles).

Why then is it that bits of me seem to be abandoning ship at the moment. My poxy bloody knee, or at the least the cartilage thereof, has decided enough is enough and has hung up it’s clogs. Damn you tiny piece of my anatomy, how dare you remind me that I actually need you in order to get from my bed to the bathroom (it’s usually some time after I’ve woken up that I become fully aware, I’m not used to the application of sharp, unexpected pain to startle me into existence).

So, as much as I normally dislike them, I thought I’d write a list, along the lines of, “12 things that are wrong with me”, or maybe “12 more reasons I live alone” might be more apt:

1. One of my eyes doesn’t work, at least it works in the way that a kaleidoscope works.
2. I can’t decorate for toffee, I can do the big bits but the little fiddly bits fill me with dread.
3. I smoke and I drink probably far too much.
4. I can be as much fun as a wet Wednesday evening.
5. I’m impatient, if I want something then I want it now.
6. I have an unfeasibly large penis (far too big to be accommodated comfortably).
7. I am prone to exaggeration to the point of lying
9. I find it difficult to concentrate.
10. I bore easily

(You are very welcome to suggest additions to the list of things that are wrong with me if you think that I've left out anything particularly relevant or ghastly).

So, there you have it.



Saturday, October 07, 2006

Oh do shut up...

Every now and then you’ll be involved with, or overhear the conversation that begins, “I wish I’d lived ‘then’, life was so much simpler", and every time my jaw drops in the face of such stark idiocy.

‘Then’ can cover a multitude of sins according to the nostalgic whimsy of whichever plonker comes over all misty eyed at the time. At this point my eyes roll up, because I’m certain that more often than not the main reason that life was simpler 'then' was simply because there was a distinct lack of choice, and indeed considerably less of life to complicate.

There seems to be some particular affection for the Victorian period. It must have been smashing. A time of 'family' and moral standards, (did you know that it was quite commonplace to deposit the product - babies that is - of the illicit union between the master of the house and a ‘downstairs’ maid in the Thames?)...but that’s an aside.

I always try to imagine where I might have fitted in to a past society relative to where I am now. I might have been lucky and had a job in a bank or I may have been a salesman, toting my wares in a suitcase from business to business or even household to household. God forbid I would have enlisted into the burgeoning army arriving from the countryside to man the fires and jennys of the industrial revolution.

I might have married, we might have had children. If I did work in the mill I would have been working for 12 hours a day, and like everyone else in the same situation I would have had a whole half day to do with as I please – polish my clogs I suppose. And my wife would have worked there too, a slave to the machine. The children, when they were young, would have been left at home, stunned senseless and inert with a dose of laudanum from the crack of sparrow fart until late evening.

Ah deep joy, the simple life for me. No supermarkets, no prevaricating between these beans or those beans, which loo roll to go for, air fresheners, do I need the 2ft roll of cling film or the 30 inch roll, none of the daily folderol and flimsy….nooo, actually hardly any choice at all, or nutrition for that matter. I don’t need to worry about what to do with the kids at the weekends, we’ll do as we always do and go down to the shore of the Thames to scavenge coal, what fun! There’s not a thought in my head about their education – what in god’s name would they want one of those for, I can’t read or write or do ‘guzintas’ and I put bread on the table every week thank you very much. And my pension is the furthest thing from my mind, after all it’s unlikely I’m going to live beyond 40, what a blissful existence.

As if our daily lot in the factory weren’t dangerous enough, (Arthur lost an whole arm to the furnace yesterday and he’ll never work again, of course he’ll never get paid or masturbate again either), there’s a whole host of really exciting diseases out there just waiting to experiment with my body; rickets, whooping cough, dysentery, cholera (we don’t have sanitation at home as such, well we do, but we call it a bucket), diphtheria, there was even a rumour of a spot of plague up on Cheapside last week – and whatever viral exotica the rats and the fleas bring with them to Canary Wharf from distant corners of our most excellent and apparently far flung empire. There’s something called the "‘flu" (I think)coming in from India next week, I’m sure we’ll all enjoy that .

Of course our favourite nights are in the winter months where we hunker down, as a family, under the blanket with our broth and think how lucky we are to have salvaged enough faggots of wood for this meagre fire. On Sundays we can hear the chimes of Bow Bells summoning the toffs for the evening service and we chuckle – we chuckle because we know – we know that they are struggling through the cold night air made thick as treacle by the smoke which pools and swirls, unable to rise in the frigid air, our own dear smog – and for once, unprotected by their windows, they are as susceptible as us to the great leveller, consumption, the grim reaper of our age. So we laugh, unless one of us coughs, which is an awkward moment.

I should not want a tooth ache though. The man a few doors down died not too long ago from a toothache. He was afraid you see, too scared to visit the blacksmith, so he endured the pain as long as he could, he picked and picked at his swollen gum until it looked as if he had a pigeon egg in there, until eventually one night, wracked with agony he had his wife strike it with a chisel – and out it popped! Too late, too late, his blood was poisoned and the fever took him away. Never be afraid of the blacksmith is my motto, better a fast, clean pain than the torment of leaving a rotting tooth. Easy for me to say I suppose because I only have 6 teeth left now.

I did hear tell that the old Queen has wooden teeth, imagine that, who’s ever heard of such a thing, they’re pulling our legs.

And back in the pub my eyes un-glaze and I pop back into the reality of health care and fresh food, and the simpering idiot is still extolling the virtues of the ‘simple life’, and I think oh do shut up...Dickens was wasted on you.

“Anyone fancy a pint?”

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


I feel at a really low ebb. It’s no biggy and I know it won’t last, the sort of thing I can normally cure with a glass of wine and an almond slice – and I have no excuse after all, I’m tucked up in the corner of the sofa with a pair of pooches fast asleep next to me (Charlie is draped across my foot at the moment and he’s dreaming, chasing rabbits, twitching and “ruffle-scruffing” in his sleep).

Nevertheless, all I can think of to write about are the things that have startled, saddened, sickened or simply scared the shit out of me today:

They are, apparently, trying the case of a six year old girl who was taken from.her.bath (she was told to be quiet or she would be hurt), driven away, sexually assaulted, raped and then returned to the edge of town, naked cold and god knows how petrified and told to face the wall whilst her abductor made his escape. The accused is apparently a 37 year old male neighbour.

Today I discovered the identity of the neighbour who appears to think it is okay to put whatever household rubbish they have accumulated the previous day into a plastic carrier bag and leave it in the street. We have urban foxes, the bag is ripped open and the contents strewn across the pavement so that the rest of us have to walk through a hideous mess of someone else’s domestic detritus; chicken carcases, vegetable matter, empty cans, even used nappies. I know because I met them depositing today's offering, and having had quite enough of tip toeing down the street with the dogs I confronted them. “Why?”…but I couldn’t communicate my disgust because we didn’t share a language. I could only point and look horrified.

Apparently I have one of those faces whereby people appear to think it’s okay to ask me how I feel, nod, and then tell me, chapter and verse, exactly what is wrong with their life.

The two Irish men who I met tonight walking a whole flock of lurchers who spoke to me at length about I know not what. You have to be careful in London, let’s face it you have to be careful in any big city. I couldn’t understand a bloody word that they were saying, they might have been extras from “Snatch”, and while they seemed friendly enough I was worried that I might nod or smile or look disinterested at just the wrong moment. That and the fact that Charlie fights well above his weight, unlike his dad he’s scared of nothing and there was a very real chance that he might pick a fight with one of the scary, hairy hare coursers.

That the North Koreans have announced that they will test a nuclear device, And that it is apparently our fault (those of us who have them already) because of course they find it threatening. Why oh why anyone in their right mind would want to threaten North Korea UNLESS they appear to be a belligerent, nuclear threat, I have no idea.

I burnt my dinner.

And no, I’m not forgetting that the Amish are trying to conduct their grief with whatever dignity they can amongst the bright light of the world’s press. And that they, probably more than any of us, will never understand that the eventual furore will focus – not on gun laws – but on heightened security for schools.

This world gives me the heebie jeebies at times.

All I know is that Clotho spins the thread of one’s life, Lachesis measures its length and Atropos will inevitably, eventually sever it.

So I shouldn’t wish for sleep but on the whole I’d rather today just buggered off...