How Things Continue…

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I know that me wife responds well to tea in the morning. We have become like clockwork twins, our mechanisations are truly in sync. So, I climb the stairs to the bedroom and see her recumbent form stretching out across both sides of the bed, as if attempting to hand on to her ground. It is an act of defiance – I defy thee morning! But morning has arrived and so have I with the elixir of morning life.

There are times not to talk. These are those moments when silence most certainly is the best option. I sensed the mood she would be in so I said nada, zip, zero; beyond, “Morning.” A similar reply crept from under the duvet.

“How long can I go on with not sleeping?”

It was a question not meant to be answered, but I answered it anyway.

“It depends.”

“How long can anybody go without sleeping before they crack up?”

“I don’t really know. How long did I manage?”

There was a film made that used to be a staple for Christmas Day. It was one of those special treats from the BBC or ITV to their viewers.  Such films included: Lawrence of Arabia, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and The Italian Job.  The film I am thinking of is A Bridge Too Far.

For any one not in the know, A Bridge Too Far is about the Allied Forces attempts to stop the retreating Germans from blowing up important bridges as they fled back to their Motherland. The destruction of the bridges would cause the Allies to stop their rapid advance.

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And as the advance was halted, the Germans ould take time to set up little ambushes, using machine-gun, mortar, and sniper-fire. This is what I was worried about when my responses appeared to start building bridges. In this conversation, I was both fleeing the Wermacht and simultaneously avoiding the restoration of bridges which could leave me seriously exposed and over-extended.

My wife is sometimes a sniper. machine-guns and mortars are not her thing. She sets traps, uses bait, and then waits.

“Giles Brandreth.”

What unholy thing was being born here?

“Giles Brandreth, what?”

“I read an article by him in The Eye, yesterday. You had already gone to bed.”

That was the first of her shots that flew past my ear.

“He must have suffered from depression at one point because he was writing about it.”

She then summarised the article written by this upper-middle-class fuckwit.

His subject was that people had to stop thinking about themselves so much if they wanted to live long and happy lives.

He used the Queen and Prince Philip (our hard-pressed Royalty) to illustrate his argument. Prince Philip had a really bad life when he was young, but now he is in his nineties because he only thought about others; not himself.

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What a wonderful fellow.

How Things Go…

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Monday morning and I am dropping off my youngest with her cello. As we reach the school gates, I realise that my wife has taken her car to work. I realise, not through the logical paths of realisation, but through the miasma that is the early morning rush to school.

“I won’t be able to pick you up and your cello from school at  4.30 – just hang on a little – I’m getting roof-bars for the Galaxy.”

Rewind:

  • We have a Ford Galaxy
  • We are going to France on holiday in just less than five weeks
  • We are taking our bikes
  • It will be a cycling holiday based around a wonderful city called Annecy in the French Alps
  • We need our bikes.

The last two years have seen a rapid decline in my i potential. We have moved from being moderately comfortable to being borderline bread-line (this is my wife’s take on our situation).

My problem is that I cannot face the fact that I am a teacher; a teacher whose whole career careered out of control and broke down smoking on the side of some preordained motorway. An there it still sits, steam coming from most of its orifices. My wife thinks that i am faking it. She thinks that I have been – it. She thinks that I think too bloody much. She is probably right.

There has been a change in her attitude in recent weeks. She is forever asking me what mu plans are – I have no plans. Indeed, I have consciously planned to have no plans. I am certainly averse to failing – and I have a plan not to fail – but I do plan not to have plans. Plans can box you in, plans can reduce your ability to react or respond to opportunities.

And what is an opportunity? It’s a chance. a chance that things might turn out better than they had promised.

The restless nights have returned. My wife suffers more than me – at the moment. I have, however, been making huge strides and a late surge in the sleeplessness stakes. Last night allowed me to make up a whole stack of ground. We both lay awake at various points in the darkness, neither of us acknowledging the other’s waking. It is a lack of words that keeps the lie that we are each separately asleep, rather than being annoyingly  awake.

If we don’t talk about it, maybe the gates to that other world will  open for a few more hours at least. They didn’t, they just kept swinging on the rusty hinges.

From the vast prairie of ‘not-sleep’ I emerged this morning almost an hour earlier than I was intending to. My waking needed rubber-stamping with the making of tea.

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Tea is my Pavlovian trigger in that it confirms that I am now awake, and that the hours of half-sleep have been vanished.

I have to go, now…

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I shall return to you when the roof-bars have been fitted.

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.

 

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.  

 

The Piper 13

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Laura snaked along with the gathering evening traffic on her way to Pete’s nursery. She was still shaking somewhat as she entered the room in which Peter was sitting watching a colourful children’s programme with people dressed up as various farm animals.

He looked mildly bored, but spun around to meet her before she was even through the door. At times, he seemed to have an antenna that alerted him to her presence.

“Are we having a treat tonight Mum?”

“Yes, we are. How did you guess?”

“I dreamt it.”

The push around the supermarket had been anything but enjoyable. Lots of wet people, angry at the fact that winter had caught them. There was tension in the air which translated into a number of fractious exchanges at the checkouts. Laura kept her head down and spoke softly to her son.

Peter was singing to himself. He put his thought into song often. This time it was a song about the chocolate trifle that his mother had purchased. He was in one of his little spheres that had helped him through the  times of trouble. As she looked at him, divorced from the angry world around them, she was reminded of Simon. Simon, always the optimist, always on a journey, always attempting to protect, yet failing at the end.

“Come on my little man, let’s try to get home without getting too wet.”

This time Brian refused to even acknowledge its own ignition.

Whilst Laura cursed and coaxed, she didn’t see the outline of a shadow watching them. Peter did.

That morning, the man of the shadows had awakened in a disused warehouse. He had slept on the floor, with his only blanket against the cold being the clothes he walked around in. He never knowingly felt the cold any longer. But last night was different. Last night, the temperature had become a seething mass of squeals and scutterings.

He had existed some place between sleep and wakefulness without ever being able to determine which was dominant. His dreams had brought him to this place, a supermarket car park in a city that he didn’t even know the name of. And there they sat in a mustard-coloured car that would not start. He felt that the boy knew of his presence. The boy had seen him even before he saw the boy. And this, he did not expect.

Last night, he had expected something. That thing came in the form of many eyes, but only one mind. What had watched him last night had been brought forth from curiousity; the curiousity of a hunter that had marked its territory only for another to wander into it. The thing had watched him throughout the night, but was gone by morning. He felt sure that whatever spent the dark hours with him had no real understanding of what he was. This was not surprising as he too had little knowledge either. The boy knew him, though. The boy probably knew him more than anybody could possibly understand.

Now he stood in the night of the car park. The wind was bringing its cold gifts to shoppers who hurried, isolated to their cars and homes. He, his name was Nick, the slightly confused man in the orange jacket, the usher and collector of trolleys, the empty-eyed refugee from the old world, heard the sound of a car refusing to start. Inside him, there was another, somebody who brought him there, somebody who cared for the mother and son trapped in the mustard coloured car.

Pushing his trolley into the nearest bay, Nick removed his orange jacket and moved towards the sound that was being caused by a struggle of wills between mechanical engineering and the steel of a woman who would not be broken.

That was when Nick first met Laura Andrews and her son, Peter.

Pete was watching his mother struggle with Brian. He thought Brian was just putting it on this time, playing, making a point. Pete knew about Brian in the same way that he knew about lots of things that nobody suspected him of knowing. He knew what his mother was thinking again, thta she had stopped taking the ‘happy pills’ and this concerned him. In the same way, he could read the thoughts of his older brother Chris, but not Michael.

Pete ought to have puzzled about this. If he had been older, or if he had only just been able to do the thought thing, he may have wondered rather than just accepting what he believed was natural. Another thing that Pete could do was to block out the thoughts of others and that was a good thing, that was definitely the best thing he could do.

He was aware of the bad thoughts that scurried along the gutters of humanity in the same way that a person would be aware of the pattering rain when they were safely indoors. But Pete knew not to look out of the window too often as, on more than one occasion, a manic glare could catch him and the result was like fingers, sharp, nailed and strong, trying to tear an opening.

He had heard somebody once say something about Hell (a place he knew was real) being other people. This was an adult thought and he had never tried to understand it, until recently. Beyond his family and his ‘indoors’, Hell was a stream, sometimes trickling, sometimes coursing along. If Pete were to peer out now, he would see the waters rising. Instead, he saw one of the strangest things of his secretly extraordinary existence.

Coming towards them was a man, a man he had seen pushing trolleys around the car park, a man who Pete had seen only moments before wearing an orange jacket. The man had vacant eyes, eyes that fell like a still lake of sadness. Now the man was without his jacket and Pete knew he had taken it off and left it quickly folded behind one of the cars. From somewhere, he heard the sound of rain and remembered the Hell and this made him immediately consider running back indoors before realising that Brian was indoors.

There was something else about the stranger: he wasn’t strange at all, even though he was carrying something that was heavy with urgency, even though Pete knew beyond reason that the man walking towards him was carrying another inside of him like a woman would do with a baby. Before the man reached the car, Pete knew that his name was Nick.

Pete also knew that Nick knew that he knew that he was aware of so much more. 

The Piper 12

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She had survived the first week of work and that was the closest thing to a blessing since they had moved. She was working in the offices of the city’s main hospital, tedious work that required her to read, type and file. Tedium was good when it could be found.

The other women in the office seemed nice enough, they greeted her with smiles, asked about her kids, showed concern when they discovered that she was a single mother, and made tea at regular intervals. Not since she was temping, all those years ago, had she ‘enjoyed’ an environment such as this.

Clean, safe and reserved, she concluded.

“I have a grandson that age,” the eldest lady had offered after the first week.

This was the door opening as the eldest lady, Anne, was the gatekeeper. Nothing too warm or overly friendly about Anne. Nevertheless Laura liked her; in the way that one might like a professional funeral director.

“What are your boys called?” Anne continued opening the door wider.

She felt that she was being quizzed by a teacher.

“Michael, he’s the eldest one. Last year at school. Christopher, middle one, a year younger. And Peter, the baby, he’s getting on to being five in December.”

A cloud of confusion drifted over Anne’s face.

“But I thought you said your husband died five years ago.”

Not so much a funeral director now as a police inspector. The typing fingers of the others stopped to hear the outcome.

“Peter was born not long after Simon’s death.”

Their audience waited.

“Oh that is so tragic, my dear.”

Laura never thought of putting ‘so’ and ‘tragic’ together in this manner. ‘Tragic’ was simply tragic and ‘so’ diminished it somewhat. Still, for their watching audience, this was riveting; something to talk about later.

“Oh, my poor dear, how did he die?”

For a normal person to make leaps like this into such a sensitive area would have been like crossing a potential mine-field with oversized shoes and a blindfold. Anne was not such a person. Her tread was straightforward, yet assured.

“He died in a car accident,” Laura replied. “I’d rather not talk about it as it still hurts.”

A moment’s cease-fire was followed by a more compassionate voice from the older woman.

“Of course, my dear. I apologise if I’ve asked too much. It won’t happen again.”

And that was the conversation ended.

Have I passed the first test? Laura wondered. Will there be more?

With the practised completion of the funeral director, Anne ran her palms lightly across the front of her black skirt (she always wore white blouses and black shirts – always freshly laundered ones) and sniffed the air as if finding some other duty to chase down. Then she was gone in the clean scent of her au de toilette.

“You’re okay, Laura, I think she likes you,” Jenny, another member of the admin staff assured her.

“I’d hate to not be liked by her,” Laura replied, as much to herself as anyone else.

“Yes, you most certainly would,” Jenny added without any wrinkle of humour in her eyes.

Upon leaving the general office, Anne,  went straight to the room of Doctor Christian. Her three sharp knocks announced her and a voice form the other side invited her in. Doctor Christian was seated behind his desk and was reading from a computer screen when she came in.

“So, how is our new recruit settling in, Mrs Spencer?”

Mrs Spencer was what he always called her. It was the type of formality that she responded to. She breathed deeply so as to deliver her news.

“Yes, she has three sons. Husband is dead in a car accident. She is strong.”

Doctor Christian’s eyes watched her from afar, his attention seemingly divided between the information on his monitor and his assistant in his room.

“Three sons, eh?”

She loved his voice.

“Yes, sir. Three boys aged sixteen, fifteen and four. Michael, Christopher and Peter.”

“The Trinity? My lord what will they think of next?” he asked not meaning to be answered. “The two older boys are at the school whereas the little one is not yet there. Please, if it is not a bother, find out where she takes the child during working hours.”

“Yes, sir,” she replied and waited.

“It is okay, Mrs Spencer, we have finished our conversation. You may go.”

She turned towards the door and was surprised by a little clearing of the throat from the man behind the desk.

“Oh, and thank you, Mrs Spencer. This has been very useful. Just keep an eye on her.”

 

Later that day, Laura Andrews was greeted with a slap of rain as she made her way to the carpark. The dark nights had arrived early and a gusty breeze was chasing clouds across the sky. For some reason, she was running late. Actually, that reason had been Anne asking more questions about her sons. Laura remained at arms’ length, trusting to an instinct that she was unaware had been past down through generations of genetic memory. No matter how much Mrs Spencer smiled, Laura felt that she must remain on guard. Again, the rain attacked her.

She found Brian, the family Volvo, secreted between a row of newer cars, all glistening with autumn rain. He looked like an eccentric uncle at a family gathering, but she didn’t have the heart nor finances to replace him. Laura rushed to find her keys, no automatic locks here, and turned them sharply before pulling open the door with that familiar metallic groan of his. Once inside, her breath began to cloud the air. With a little prayer, she turned the ignition; it was like waking the dead, nothing.

“Not now, Brian. Not now.”

She remembered that, at times Brian liked a bit of choke. Simon had a way with this as if he shared some profound understanding of the workings of the car’s engine.

“Not too much or it will flood,” she heard him say. “Not too much. And listen to the engine.”

She could see his slight rolling of eyes being matched with by his stoic smile that appeared on these occasions.

“Okay, I hear you,” she said to nothing.

She reached for the choke and turned again. This time there was a little more enthusiasm in the vehicle’s response and she encouraged this further with a prod of the accelerator.

Remember, too much all at once is not good for it. Let it have a sip and get the taste for it.

Still listening to her late husband’s advice, Laura smiled with satisfaction as Brian sparked into life. She fastened her seatbelt, turned on the lights then checked her mirror so that she could reverse out of the space. The rear-view mirror was also clouded and she had to wipe it with the handkerchief so that she could see. When the condensation had finally been cleared, she gave it a cursory glance, put the gear lever into reverse and then lifted the handbrake.

The car jumped backwards at speed and into a loud bang.

A sharp exclamation of surprise left her as she quickly looked for the thing that she had hit. Hadn’t she checked before she started to move? She had been sure that she had. She had… she had.

She looked at her right hand which held the steering wheel and recognised its trembling. It was shaking with a will of its own. A flush of heat ran along her body, bringing with it the immediate perspiration that had been so commonly aligned to her attacks. She knew that she had hit something. Had she seen a figure at the last minute standing in her path? Had she seen someone just before she had lifted the handbrake? Had she knocked that someone over? Had she?

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When she got out of the car to check, only space greeted her. Nothing more.

 

The Last Ride…

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More than any other motorbike, Harley Davidson conjures up images of an easy-riding, non-conformist lifestyle. The term, Legend has been applied to it, not only from the company itself but from those who ride them; or aspire to ride them. 

Yesterday I tried to marry three things together, but I failed.

The story that I was writing was about a man who I know who discovered that his life was about to end prematurely; motor-neurone disease had taken root with out him realising. For a man who had incredible powers of endurance, as a long distance runner, this must have been a betrayal beyond belief.  Life has its little jokes, existential ironies that are played out in tragic dramas; on little stages.

We all die, but what is gained from this type of cosmic bullying beyond reaffirming the fact that life can suck? I suppose that the God that some people choose to believe in sees this as just another little reminder of his omnipotence and our inbuilt fragility.

“What’s the point?” I would say to that type of cosmic bully, “You’ve won, anyway.” 

I suppose the point is the same point that that type of god has been making for the whole of time; we are mayflies caught up in a dreadful eternity of summer promises.

So, what happened to my story?

When I woke up this morning, I made my usual trip to the Apple (man’s invention, not God’s) and looked at the reading figures for yesterday. The Last Ride hardly featured. My marriage of motorcycles, the Mother Road (Route 66), and a motor-neurone sufferer did not exist.

I went into the post and only the title remained. I checked some more without any luck. I scoured my drafts file, but that brought me no luck either.

The Last Ride had disappeared and it did not take much to connect that disappearance with the lesson that was taught at Babel, rendered to Prometheus, or writ large in the pages of Frankenstein.

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And yet there are times when we grow and think and wonder. We stray into that place where questions have to be asked. 

“Why am I here?”

“What is the meaning of it all?”

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“Where can I get a Harley Davidson from and where can I ride it?”