Bonnie McFarlane on The Toughest Language…
I don’t want to brag, but I do speak pig Latin; I mean, I’m not fluent, but I’m sure if I ever went there, I could get by.
The very first impression I gained from Read After Burnout Adventures in Everyday Madness is that it is a very professionally written and highly competently constructed book. It is most certainly necessary to have such qualities since it presents itself in what are the popular Kindle categories of memoir.
The style has prowess and clarity, and the superb narrative technique engages the reader immediately. It is notoriously difficult to write such a personal and all-encompassing book about one’s life, particularly the darker aspects, and make it entertaining as well as stimulating for readers. But you achieve this without any difficulty and this fact alone places the book head and shoulders above others of the same type.
But the book as a whole has a great deal to recommend it, not least the carefully considered and generally well executed content which I found to be very suitable for the target demographic. The references to your time in the Met, your teaching career, and struggles with mental health, allow the reader to see a very rounded and honest snapshot of your life. Furthermore, the eclectic mix of literature, poetry, and films which are peppered throughout the text, coalesce to make this book so much more than a memoir. Overall, this is undoubtedly one of the best books of its type that I have read for some time.
Words from a prospective publisher.
Finally, Spring has sprung.
This means that this sad, miserable, wanna-be old git, is starting to shake his booty, wash the sleep from his eyes, move on up like a mowing machine. You got it in three…
Yup, Evans on Earth is going to take to the gardens of East Yorkshire again with a special line in lawn-care, landscaping, and overall love and fascination with all things-fauna. And it will be starting to rock with this somewhat surprising beauty.
“He a crazy man,” I hear a group of Spaghetti-Western extras cry.
“No, he just live the vida-loca.”
My missus, who is not a Spaghetti-Western extra, thinks that I am a little odd to want to turn a party bus into sedate vehicle for the trimming and treatments of lawns for the discerning customer. I do not agree. I think that this little number will be the Formula One of the one-stop grass-caring community.
“Evans On Earth, copy.”
“I hear you Cape Kennedy.”
“In thirty seconds, we are clearing you for blast-off.”
“Copy, Kennedy. Am ready and waiting.”
And with those words, the intrepid traveller launched himself into the rest of his life…
The thing I like most about chapters is starting them and that is closely followed by concluding them. Chapters make sense of a thing. They break it up into manageable sections, bites that we can chew over a few times before swallowing. They are not the meal, but the make it.
I read your last chapter on Sunday. There was your older face looking over the years during which we had not been in contact. Back then, you were Wendy. You had stopped being Wilcox and had become Abernethy. Soon, you would revert to Wilcox as the story changed around you. It had been over twenty-five years since we had seen each other and, even though your ex-husband and I exchanged our fond memories of you, I never expected to see you again. That was that chapter.
The woman that I knew in that earlier episode was a much younger you. She was still writing the background material that would enable her to become her future self. I read that you have spent over twenty-one years on Symi and that makes you one of its people. The different chapters that you wrote during that time were ones that belonged to a greater narrative, the one that was your life, the one that many people dream about but dare not seek. And now, when people think of Wendy, they will think of sunshine, calm seas and a canvas of brilliant blue covering.
Our lives are devised by the moon and the sun. They each govern the tides and decide the seasons. Just before reconnecting with you, a happy tract of your life had been ended with that inevitable line that underscores all our times. I am again drawn to some fine words by the poet Tony Harrison:
crunching kumquats, thinking as he eats
the flesh, the juice, the pith, the pips, the peel,
that is how a full life ought to feel,
its perishable relish prick the tongue,
when the man who savours life’s no longer young,
the fruits that were his futures far behind.
Then it it’s the kumquat fruit expresses best
how days have darkness round them like a rind,
life has a skin of death that keeps its zest.
from A Kumquat for Keats
Yet still for all the stoic support, I find it difficult to lose somebody I truly cared for. I wanted my wife and daughters to meet you and had spoken about this just before you went. Next year, I had said in all the arrogance of certainty we humans possess; just days before you would be no longer. And yet the chapters of your story continue. You are no more gone than you had been before. Over twenty-five years of not seeing Wendy, a quarter of a century, a mini eon, and that didn’t separate us.
When we spoke on Messenger (video et al), I was gladdened by the chance that technology had sought to serve in such a selfless way. You had the marks of grief still upon you and had battled with cancer. We are roughly the same age, so I saw your struggles in mine. You were different, you had grown wiser, more educated, more caring, and more at ease with the person you had become. I was pleased for the journey you had taken and for the layers of understanding that had been had been gained.
Wendy’s story had become a novel, but I have a problem with good books; I don’t want them to end. I read and read until I reach the final chapters and then I slow down, savour the last few lines, try to put of the inevitable. The inevitable is that final word, that final flow of sentiment or thought.
A venerable grey moped chugged and popped its way past them. It was adorned not with one but three girls, all dressed identically in the briefest of white dresses. Corelli caught a glimpse of slender golden thighs …He heard a melody begin to rise up in his heart, something joyful that captured the eternal spirit of Greece, a Greek concerto.
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin Louis de Bernieres
The final line has not been written.
I do hope my words find you. It was wonderful to have known the young Wendy and the older you.
Live long in people’s memories…
It’s been an interesting Easter. No, not my Jesus complex again, just a number of coincidences that play with my newfound belief that nothing it foretold and that fate is a fallacy for fools.
The first thing that happened was an email from a very old friend who I haven’t seen in many years. This seems to be happening more and more lately suggesting that life does have a sense of order; the older one becomes, and the further away one moves from the starting point, the more likely that that starting point becomes apparent once again. This email related to one that he sent me at Christmas in which he told me a number of things with one being that his wife had cancer. He used the term Stage 4 and I accepted it without thinking because he then said that she was in remission. It wasn’t until a month later that I reread the message and realised just how very serious it was. That was when I sent a reply explaining my inexplicable original non-response. In return, he did not respond until a few months later. The outlook was desperate, but he and his wife were battling on. Surely my sense of injustice would be pricked by another life’s little practical jokes, surely my belief in reason would be destroyed forever, surely this last little trick was there to convince me that life was an absurdist play written by nothing for nothing. No. For some reason, I felt more clarity. This game called life could not be any simpler; full of rules and no rules, it was just a thing that required participation until it ended.
“A man is successful if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.”
It makes sense to not try to make sense of it all. As far as I know, my friend and his wife have lived a wonderful life together. They haven’t sired any offspring (out of choice) but have shared a good life. Whatever ending is waiting for any of us, a good life is what matters. That was how the tragic news freed me.
I am now sitting in a classroom, in Mallorca. Outside a cockerel is doing its cockerel thing. The classroom is stuffed full of boxes of books and students’ work. It’s all in the same place as it was when the previous teacher departed so suddenly before the Easter break. She’s now gone back to Blighty and I am here.
The holidays have been a blur. One night at about 10pm, I got an email from the head teacher of this school asking me if I would consider taking a short contract to help them out of a not so pretty situation. Their English department had gone AWOL and they were struggling to provide a service. I was back to where I was last year. But not quite as I was here instead of thinking that I might be here. Action is the work of magic; it turns the imagined into reality. It conquers doubt and sets new paths in motion.
Her and now; there is sun pouring into my classroom. I am sitting at my desk so very far away from the East Yorkshire coast. My journey to work took about ten minutes on bike rather than fifty minutes by car. The children are as I remembered them, suntanned and carefree. These were the children of the moderately well to do, children who have never suffered financial hardships, children who come to school properly clothed and fed. And there’s the rub; I feel that I have abandoned the ones back in England and I am right in that feeling. But the new metells me that I have got to do this as part of my progress through this thing.
I have been taking photographs of the view from my room window. Each morning, I look out on an unreal bay of blue sea contained within a perfect semi-circle of golden sand. It’s wonderful and bollocks at the same time. In the morning, with everybody still sleeping, many sleeping off the night before, it is peaceful. It brings me a calmness that prompts me to capture the scene. It’s not tourist season yet but the first of the pathfinders can be heard yelling at the night. My hotel is filled with OAPs so there is no sound from other rooms apart from the slow rumble of snoring or the occasional languid passing of wind. Most of them seem to move between breakfast and evening meal, disappearing during the intervening period and the establishing themselves in the hotel bar to play an eternity of bingo.
Just down the road, Magaluf awaits with all its tawdry Britishness. Trust me to get a puncture whilst returning from work and trust me to take a wrong turn and end up in both Sodom and Gomorrah. Half past four and people were already pissed. Newly burnt flesh was being displayed, tattoos wandered aimlessly and the definite aroma of holiday sex was waiting in the wings. Why do we Brits do this to ourselves? I thought a holiday was a way of getting away from the norm, fleeing the mundane, glimpsing something different. Call me a Shirley Valentine, but getting shit-faced, swearing within earshot of young families, flashing the skin and stumbling around to pathetic music is not a holiday; it’s a helliday.
I walked with my head down and my opinions to myself until I reached a flight of steps, very steep ones at that, which led the way from the beach-front and towards normality. I carried my puncture bike up through the levels of the inferno and finally reached safety. My relief at reaching the hotel was palpable. I wanted to hug the first OAP that I met but restrained myself for fear of being arrested. Instead, I headed for my room and collapsed on the bed. After a short time, I went to the window just to check if I had been followed.
After the reassurance of not seeing hordes of obnoxious holiday-breakers, I decided to fix the puncture.
I don’t know of any cyclist who enjoys mending punctures. They are the bane of the two-wheeled world causing a good ride to turn into a laborious slog. I think I was good a dealing with the let-down of punctures when I was a child but as an adult, I am in need of some serious puncture guidance. It’s telling that my new goals in life are so meagre. After trying and failing, I enquired about the possibility of finding a bike shop and was given directions towards a shop that may have the possibility of having what I needed.
It was a nice evening and I was in Palmanova, not Magaluf, so I set off. The information I had been given was incorrect. My hopes had risen and now they were dashed. Where’s a bloody Halfords when you need one? Fortunately, my little Spanish helped me gain another set of directions and here I found the inner-tube of my dreams. I didn’t fit it that night but waited until the following morning when my mind would be ready for the greatest of challenges.
I went to bed and slept like the dead. Upon waking, I assumed that the night was still firmly in place and that I had a number of hours yet to sleep. My shock, when I checked the clock, unsettled me a little. The bike still needed fixing. It was only a replacement inner-tube but in the past I have managed to cock-up even this little trick. There is a knack to it; as is the case with everything. The knack, I believed I’d grown to understand. I had watched a friendly bike shop owner show me how to properly replace the said tube last year and I had paid attention. The one thing that was holding me back was the fact that my next door neighbours, those of the strangely interconnecting door, a nice couple from somewhere up north, may possibly find the noise created from pumping up rather disconcerting. Nevertheless, needs must and my needs needed fixing. Pumping action, noise or not, but only after I had carefully followed the guidance of my now distant mentor.
I pumped cautiously away aware that these were indeed rather suggested something less acceptable. Once done, and checked, and rechecked, and blessed, and prayed over, I went down for some breakfast, taking a seat to watch the rain begin to throw itself against the windows that had previously only projected perfectly blue and sunny skies.
My journey into work was both wet and cold. I had lights on my bike which I decided to use as I didn’t trust Mallorcan drivers to completely pay attention to a lone cyclist in the unusual grey of the morning. I rode carefully so that fate would not be tempted to place anything sharp beneath my tyres. And I arrived at a school that showed not one sign of life. Nobody, absolutely nobody was apparent as I wheeled the bicycle along the corridors and down into the basement area, where it is usually stored. Today, there were no lights on, lending it a slightly Hotel Overlook resonance. A door slammed behind me but nobody had slammed it. The wind was playing tricks but the trick had worked so I put my bike against the wall and scarpered. I was in Mallorca and it was raining. I was teaching, doing something that I had sworn not to do again, and I was enjoying it. Things had conspired to bring me to this point in my life and I was fighting back. Mallorca is not the answer, but taking the time to spend some time with myself, and the emptiness of the moment, was important.
There is no panacea, no magical cure for this modern malaise, only time and space. When you reach that point in your life when nothing makes sense and when sense seems insane, it is good to stop. Breathe deeply, take account of the world, and get angry. The anger dissipates with or without the drugs. Indifference replaces anger but that’s not the cure. All those things that you once believed in had let you down. But you need to believe in something because without that you are likely to merely float in the gravity-free darkness of empty existence. My moments have my belief. They provide me with incontrovertible proof that life is special and should be prized. In the flotsam and jetsam of modern life, we lose our way and forget who we should have been.
“All work and no play make Jack a dull boy!
Yes, back to the Overlook again. Talking to dead people and pretending to write. How ironic it is that I believe in nothing that suggests fate or divine intervention. How oddly apt it is that I should be following the lines of some of my favourite authors.
Could it be that it is they who have written the scripts for my life to follow?
via Faking it…