The Promise

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They sat on the Terrace and many of the fishermen made fun of the old man and he was not angry. Others, of the older fishermen, looked at him and were sad. But they did not show it and they spoke politely about the current and the depths they had drifted their lines at and the steady good weather and of what they had seen. The successful fishermen of that day were already in and had butchered their marlin out and carried them laid full length across two planks, with two men staggering at the end of each plank, to the fish house where they waited for the ice truck to carry them to the market in Havana. Those who had caught sharks had taken them to the shark factory on the other side of the cove where they were hoisted on a block and tackle, their livers removed, their fins cut off and their hides skinned out and their flesh cut into strips for salting.

When the wind was in the east a smell came across the harbour from the shark factory; but today there was only the faint edge of the odour because the wind had backed into the north and then dropped off and it was pleasant and sunny on the Terrace.

 

I have no marlin waiting to be butchered.

More than forty years have floated by since my visit to the library and my borrowing of the book. Hemingway’s tome never returned to its place on the shelf, taking up residence on mine instead. It still sits there and so does the scent of that brave fish that fought and died.

The sharks have been fattened over the last four decades. Each of my dawns are always followed by failure. I must be getting good at this. In truth, I hate failing. The only thing I hate more than failure is accepting failure; not trying to do battle with the thing that throws scorn. That’s why I keep on trying. I get up in the morning and climb into my skiff and set out for the most promising of vacant sea that I can dream of, and then I cast the bait.

My bait is myself.

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I cast myself into the empty blue and pray that something will bite. I pray to a God that I no longer believe in. I pray to a sea that is ungiving. I pray to whatever governs chance and opportunity and I pray to the stray readers who drift past my words.

I pray that this last launching will not bring sharks.

 

 

The Importance Of Life (Jackets)

From Read After Burnout. com

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It is easy when you are beaten, he thought. I never knew how easy it was. And what beat you, he thought.

‘Nothing,’ he said aloud. ‘I went out too far.’

 Ernest Hemingway   The Old Man and The Sea

 

I first read this book when I was about fourteen years of age. Not a prodigious reader which was something that came out of the fact that I was a struggling reader – a dyslexic. With school then becoming a place of false hope, a victim of insidious bullying that threatened to break my young resolve, I visited the school library like one who would visit Lourdes.

Somehow, just the act of pilgrimage could do it. I browsed the bookshelves in the hope of divine intervention. My normal choice was a history or geography book that gave me facts, packages of knowledge, small chunks that could be digested easily. I was not good at reading novels that would demand days of attention or maybe even weeks. I was a poor reader who struggled over every word. In class, there was no escaping when the teacher asked you to read. My failing attempts were met with snorts and ridicule from my classmates (oxymoron if ever there was one). The scars that were left from those days still itch today as I stand in front of classes of students who see books and reading as irrelevant antiquities in an age that sees the magic of the internet as something as wondrous as sliced bread. I am sure that I would have been one of these if it had not been for the pressure from my dad, Romeo and Juliet and The Old Man and The Sea.

I started reading Hemingway’s novella today and was struck by how fresh it all was. Time sits inside books waiting for somebody special to release it. I was back to the tragedy of man, the eternal effort to fight forces and events that cannot be controlled. Sometimes, shit happens. If you are unlucky, like Santiago, shit happens more frequently. Now, I don’t know where I stand on the fate thing, but it may as well serve as a metaphor for the whole explanation of happening. If it ever happened, it was fate. If a tile fell off a roof and cleaved through your head, it was fate. If a tree blew down on top of my car with me inside it, rendering me a cripple for life, it was fate. If I then went on to tackle my unfortunate brush with fate by writing numerous novels that thousands of people read, it was fate again.

Lottery wins, cancer, getting married…yup, you’ve got it, fate. I ought to alliterate fate with an expletive because it’s so fucking greedy and so, so much in need of recognition.

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Fate writes stories before they are told. It’s sitting here beside me now, nudging me with a wink of the eye that tells me that it told me so. Yes, and when I began reading The Old Man and The Sea, I thought of fate.

 

Trying To Make Sense

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I wanted to be Jesus. Come forth, Brian. The stubborn bugger wouldn’t move; he was in a mood with me.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered so that my mum wouldn’t hear me.

I wasn’t really sorry about what I was apologising for but I was sorry that he managed to die before we had properly worked it through. You see, we had argued some months prior to this and had only recently, grudgingly shrugged of the disagreement. And disagreement it certainly was. As our arguments went, this was top by a long score. Every single family factor was brought to the table and every last piece was served in ballistic fashion.

Caroline had started sitting forward in her chair as I spoke. She was avidly listening but her stance had changed from counsellor to interested participant. She had become the audience and would occasionally stop me to ask for explanation of events and back-stories. Back-stories, I had in abundance.

My dad was born the second youngest of a family of twelve. He had ten brothers and one older sister. By the time he was ten, his father had left the family in search of work. He never returned so it fell upon his mother to bring up the sons. The daughter had married and moved into her own home. At the age of twelve, my dad had to go around to his elder sister’s house with a note. The note informed her that their mother had died suddenly. Norah, the sister, was obliged to take the other siblings under her wing. I gather that she did so with a stoic quality that was common of that age. The war had just ended so there were a lot of people in similar circumstances. War had taken many fathers in the field of

combat whilst enemy bombings had taken a significant number of those who remained at home. A brave new world was at hand and the ones who faced it did so with uncertainty and trepidation. Nevertheless, the worst was over.

I have stories that he told me about his childhood but there aren’t many. I know that a bomb once landed in their back garden after a raid. They discovered it the next morning and put ashes over the offending intruder until the right authority came to deal with it. Ashes? Odd choice.

So the years that followed were growing up years. He was a bit of a dare-devil and a tearaway. He played rugby to a decent standard. He told me of a brief relationship he had with a married woman and about the ensuing fight he had with her husband. In fact, he had two fights: one with the husband and the husband’s mate in which my dad was beaten up and one when he hunted down his cowardly assailant some months later and gave him a return beating. I was proud of that part of him. After the war he went to technical college even though he had passed his 11 plus. He was bright, gregarious and sharp as a knife.

“You sound as if you’re proud of your father.”

“I suppose it does. But…” I had to stop and think. “But actually, I often think that I never knew him.”

I’ve noticed with myself in the last couple of years that I have drawn further within the older I get. My wife has noticed it as well. She has told me that I never talk about anything.

“Why do you think that is?”

“What’s the point? It doesn’t solve anything. Nobody notices. It’s like the stuff that people say after a sudden death, make the most of every second because we never know when it’s our turn. The thing is that it is always going to come around, our time. Somebody has just died since I’ve said that. Seize the day! What I want to know is how we are supposed to seize it. What are we supposed to be seizing?”

“Do you think they may mean that we should do what we really feel that we should do?”

Caroline was coaxing out more explanation.

“I think it’s just something that people say as a comforter. When somebody has died, we have a desire that it must make sense. We aren’t just born to die. We are supposed to be creatures that have a higher purpose. It’s supposed to have meaning. What if it was all just nonsense? What if every single thing that we do, every series of events that snake around us, everybody we have ever loved or even hated for that matter, are just accidents of chance. If that is the case, then we are all lost without even knowing it.”

“What do you think?”

She asked me this question probably aware that I didn’t have an answer. My mind was tumbling with newly sprouted hypothesis but there was nothing firm about it. Mental masturbation is what it was, creating questions and running down pathways, not to reach a climax of understanding but just to play around with the thoughts. The truth of it was that I liked this after-accident evaluation.

Part of me was dead and the rest was floating above the scene trying to make sense of it. Nevertheless, just the act of trying to make sense made sense.

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To Be Is To Do.

To Do Is To Be.

Do Be Do Be Do.

Cognito ergo sum.

 

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Reading Cultural Texts As Scripture…

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One of my greatest friends is The Stand by Stephen King.

The Stand was first published in 1978 and I first read it in 1980. Since then, he has edited it about twice and rewritten aspects to reflect the change in the cultural environment of the United States.

When I was a student, I can remember mentioning to my English Literature lecturer that I thought that King was an excellent writer. The Lecturer, smiled at me with something that weighed a little over a tonne of condescension. She laughed as she stated that King was not a real writer. I didn’t laugh or smile.

I never talked to her much after that and would bluff my way through her seminars in a manner that was apparent to all and sundry. Fortunately for me, this lecturer was only there for a year before returning to the States. She did teach me one thing, FECUNDITYwhich she used lavishly in her description of Gabriella Garcia Marques’ One Hundred Years of Solitude– a true writer. I still have to read that book.

The Stand is an old friend. I read it every five or six years. I go back to it in the same way one might go back to the place in which you grew up. My affair with everything apocalyptical probably came from King, well some of it anyway. The landscape of my youth was clouded by the coming apocalypse. It never came though. There was the threat of nuclear war, Aids, over-population, and ISIS (so called), but it has never ended. Neither has my love of The Stand.

I picked up a copy of this book just before the weekend and started to read it once again. Some people never go back to books once they have read them. Some people never review a film once it has been watched. I do both. The mind-readers out there will tell you that it will be connected with my psychological hoarding, a need to never let go of the past. I believe this to be true, as this book testifies. For somebody who can launch into new experiences and, as a consequence,  leave behind old ones, I am a strange contradiction. But there are artefacts that I treasure; books, books, books.

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The latest edition of The Stand has new chapters and some new characters. All of these are peripheral to the main events yet they work in a way to freshen up the novel for a new audience. Where King falls down a little is where there are obvious anachronisms that have been born out of temporal revision.

My favourite character, Larry Underwood, a musician about to make it big before Captain Trips seizes his platform, is mixing his tracks with Neil Diamond. Now, I am not one to put Neil Diamond down, but a new audience wouldn’t really know him. If they had heard of him, it would be in the same way that would have heard of somebody once called Noah. That to one side, the book gripped me once again and I spent huge swathes of the weekend lost in its many pages. Once more, I was back to the time when I was eighteen, still wet behind the ears, hoping beyond reasonable hope that I would amount to something in my life. I was afflicted with that good old Jesus syndrome.

 

The Stand is like reading me and the time that has gone into making this person who I am today???

That’s ellipsis with question marks! Ain’t that something?

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My favourite characters in the book are Larry Underwood and Nick …  Larry because he is a tragic figure who is haunted by his own doubtful character and who wants to be good, but often does bad things. “You ain’t no good guy!” He hears from women who would have been complete strangers if he hadn’t slept with them. I like Larry because he is a little bit like I was when I was young, self-centred, hedonistic, and a dreamer. He wanted  to do the right thing in a world which was not right. He failed. So, he just went along with the process and carved out his own little stretch of land where he could hide from his troubles and the eyes of his judges.

Larry is an artist who has always struggled to be heard properly. He hasn’t had the breaks and when one sashays his way it is blown away by a combination of genetic engineering and ‘the end of days’ conducted by Randall Flag. Old Randy is the Devil in-definite-carnate. And poor old Larry, and the rest of the world, is swept away by this janitor from Hell.

Larry is a guy who has always been good, at heart, but indifferent in actions. The last stand of good against evil is one in which he will play a major role, surprising himself and others with his bravery and selflessness. At the end of it all, Larry is a “good guy”, but dies in the process. So, is this Jesus thing in my DNA or has it been placed there by the writers I worship?

If I was a lawyer, I would possibly say that this particular case ought to go to litigation. Through their poetry and prose, these writers have led me all the way along a narrative that quite possibly would not have existed if they hadn’t caught my imagination and used their works as pseudo scriptures for a half-wit like me to believe in.

Or is it that I was always predisposed to this type of existence and that I chose the literature that best reflected me?

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Thank goodness that I never liked Jane Austin – although with zombies it is a lovely treat.

 

 

 

 

 

Turn Of The Wheel

It’s been almost a year since I finished my first journey of recovery and discovery. I thought that it had all gone amazingly well and that my life was set for a new and adventurous course that would be fuelled by writing.

I’m still puttng in the fuel , but my life is still in the same place.

Not for me, the meteroric rise to fame. Not for me, that epiphany of discovery. Not for me, that moment in the sun where, for a brief time at least, people begin to sit up and listen. The wheel may have turned, but the tide has not.

“Oh, woe is me.”

Count Your Blessings.

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Part of me was going to write something like, this is a lovely idea.

BUT.

There is always a BUT with me. It’s as if I have a corn or cheese detector governing my responses to totally ordinary sentiments. The rest of the world lives by these sentiments, so why do I so frequently reject them?

“It’s not the number of breaths we take, but the number of moments that take our breath away.”

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

“You have to look through the rain to see the rainbow.”

“Sing like no one is listening. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody is watching.
“Yesterday is history, tomorrow a mystery and today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.”
I think that it becomes obvious after reading this short list that the speaker, or the
listener, would struggle not to be physically sick upon uttering or hearing these fired
across the gaping space between motivation and inspiration.
A year has come and gone. I don’t think that I have moved on. Just now, I got a call from a
supply agency offering me a day’s work at a truly horrible school. After a little
consideration, I said, no.
And that made all the difference.
“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
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But how will I get home from there?

The Boolocks That Kipling Wrote…

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In truth, the certainty of anything is temporary. Time flies, it waits for no man, it is a healer and a destroyer.

Time could be on my side or it could be playing for the other team. After a lifetime of treating life as a tapas bar, I find my choices now limited to a decision to stay or go. If, and for a two letter word it is massive, if I stay there will be changes and I know that my wife is not good with changes. If could mean that we are thrown into the abyss of uncertainty again and if could be the undoing of everything we have worked for, including our marriage. If we move here, there will be a household of ifs, each demanding our attention. If is a cliff edge that presents us with a possible panorama of possibilities and potential anxieties; we could move to the edge and take to flight or we could plummet.

This is where my father comes in again. For my eighteenth birthday he brought me a framed copy of Kipling’s famous poem, If.

If you can dream and not make dream your master,

I f you can think, and not make thoughts your aim

 Yes, I get it. I was supposed to dream but not to become a dreamer. This, I failed in. I was expected to think and not make thoughts my goal in life. I failed in this too. Sorry, Dad, but by your reckoning I have never have become a man. The conditional would never allow me to graduate from teenager to manhood.

I dream and I think, therefore I am (a two-penny tosspot). And yet, IF stands in my way. IF, IF, IF. All a bloody bit IFFY is you ask me, but you won’t because the pun is too bad or you’ll never get to read this bloody whatever it is.

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IF you and your friends do read this, then I’ll be a MAN.