Checking Out My History

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There’s a woman I know who had an idea for a book. She entered a competition for ‘Women of Substance’ with this idea, and only this idea. She won and got a book deal.

The book was written by both the publishers and her with the publishers doing an inordinate amount of research. She wrote about what she knew best and what she thought about the most, herself. The book sold quite a lot and she is still living off of its popularity.

At the heart of the book was the heart of her success. Her prose were not so special. Neither was the story of her life (which bookended the real tale). The thing at the heart of it all was the revelation that her great grandmother was a woman who was found guilty, with her male friend, of the murder of her abusive husband. They were both sent to the gallows together and were the last couple to do so before capital punishment was repealed.

With this in mind, I set off to find my own past. Surely, between me and my wife, we could find a murderer, sodomite, or just an everyday lunatic who was locked up in a house for the insane and met every night with lupine howls.

I started the search and was confronted by how little our parents had told us. My wife has circumstances that make it doubly difficult to delineate a family tree. Having known next to nothing about my mum and dad’s families, even the discovery of maiden names of great grandmothers or the name of my father’s absent dad brought up a lump of sadness that was unexpected.

My continued search will be for the sake of discovery and to tell the story of ordinary histories.

Better Than Sex (Don’t Procrastinate).

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The little death is a translation from the French “la petite mort”, a popular reference for a sexual orgasm. The term has been broadly expanded to include specific instances of blacking out after orgasm and other supposed spiritual releases that come with orgasm.

Speculations to its origin include current connotations of the phrase, including:

* Greco-Roman belief that the oversecretion of bodily fluids would “dry out” one of the believed four humours, leading to death
*Islam’s reference to sleep
* Buddhist Sogyal Rinpoche’s The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying’s quote: “Life is nothing but a continuing dance of birth and death, a dance of change.” (Existence through many changes, “births and deaths”)

 

Before my father died, he asked me to buy him this book: 

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It’s about horse racing. My dad never knowingly rode a horse, perhaps he did in his dreams, but he never actually got astride one and let it canter down a field or furlong. The closest he ever came to this was when he would place a bet on others, professional jockeys, racing at the various meetings around the country.  Betting on horses was, for him, a release.

I have never been bitten by the betting bug. Okay, so I have but a few quid on a Grand National sweepstake but nothing else. My brother-in-law, who had lots of insider knowledge, once gave me the name of a ‘cert’ that had wonderfuly tempting odds and which would make me a fortune if I dared to back it. I didn’t and it lost.

My dad would occasionally win BIG. Nothing ridiculous, just a few hundred or maybe a thousand. He wasn’t ostentacious, never bragged, showed little emotion, and definitley wasn’t vainglorious, but he did win; he knew his stuff. If anybody were to be asked, however, who the big gambler in the family was, they would probably point to me.

I was the risk-taker, I gambled on life.

 

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Yup, you guessed it. That poor schmuck on the left is me.

Origin of schmuck

First recorded in 1890–95, schmuck is from the Yiddish word shmok (vulgar) literally, penis (of uncertain origin)
The Dice Man is seemingly an autobiography, narrated by a bored, clever New York psychiatrist, Luke Rhinehart. He is a nerd run mad. He decides that, in pursuit of ultimate freedom – or nihilism – he will make decisions using dice. He offers the dice options, and they choose for him. The dice tell him to rape his neighbour, but he fails because she wants him. The dice make him tell his patients what he thinks of them (my favourite dice decision).
Ultimately, the dice leads to downfall and death. But doesn’t everything?
I read this when I was in my late teens and it left an impression on me. I am only just coming to terms with the impact that my choice of reading had upon my embrionic id.
Anyway, the smart schmuck followed the dice. Some may argue that he only followed what his subconscience wished him to do. It was he, after all, who lay down the options for each of the dice numbers to follow. He devised the parameters of the game and he accepted the potential consequences.
After the novel’s publication there was a slow growth in its readership. Nevertheless, it is still in print today and has sold more than 2m copies.
Amongst those who have read it are Richard Branson (he of Virgin), who ‘diced’ as a way of breaking through a sort of capitalist conundrum. He did it for twenty-four hours because “it was too dangerous to carry on longer”. Others have used ‘dicing’ as a non-subjective, left-park way of acting. perhaps it liberates us from the fear of consequences because, if the dice rolls that way, we are certainly not to blame. It also adds a little zest to lives that may have become a little lacking in taste.

 

Schmuck is a Yiddish word for penis. Le petite mort is French for little death. Betting is claimed to be better than sex. the Greeks and Romans may have believed that too many orgasms dried you out. Whereas, Islam points to sleep.  Bhuddists take a more balanced view that tells us that in the great scheme of things (assuming there is a scheme), it doesn’t mean a thing. Life continues ragardless of what we do.

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George Cockcroft, the real Luke Rhinehart.

Dildos and Stockings To The Rescue!

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A ray of sunshine has fallen across our Saturday morning. Outside is dull and damp, but in doors there is a spot of hope.

Saturday morning started off as all Saturdays tend to do. Lucy, our cat, came gently meowing into our bedroom. The weather is grim out there, but that didn’t stop her from wanting, nay insisting, on going out. I crept out of bed, descended the stairs, opened the front door, and she was gone into the gloom. I went back to bed; it was five o’clock.

Later, we were awoken by the sound of our middle daughter moving around. We ignored this and feigned sleep. After about half an hour, my wife’s phone started to do the buzzing thing that has replaced the traditional ring. It could only be one person, our eldest daughter in France. I listened for a short time to the conversation and then went to make the mugs of tea that are so much a part of our awakenings.

Saturday mornings always follow their own traditions. Tea, talk, sample the news, and the porn; property-porn.

Property-porn has been part of our lives for over twenty years. In the early days it meant leafing through the Yorkshire Post property pages. Then it progressed to the internet where property porn is tailored for everyone’s predispositions and quirks. We originally went the French way as old houses and gardens were still the norm for most people’s tastes. After that, we went Spanish: new-builds, sea-views, and pools. Spanish properties are plentiful, although sometimes they tend to lack the aesthetic.

We can spend up to an hour luxuriating in this debauchery until the real world calls us back. The real world needs finances and I have managed to spend the main part of my life avoiding this hefty consideration. My pension-pot is puny as I thought that I would be a famous writer by now. I am not. And the wife is not overly impressed. Therefore the morning, that started off so well, the porn not the cat, started to slide downhill a little.

“Why can’t you write a bestseller?”

“I know. I wish I could.”

“But it would have to be something that people would want to read.”

“I know.”

It was still slipping downhill and towards a precipice when my wife suggested, sex.

“Sex sells.”

“Perhaps I could write some erotica?”

“I don’t really think it’s you.”

“Cheers.”

So, I am officially a sad old git who can’t get it up for a swift chase of chapters that would titivate the secretly saucy.

“Dildos and Stockings!”

The morning was starting to look up again.

“Why don’t I set up an internet shop and sell dildos and stockings? Buy a pair of stockings and get a dildo, of your choice, free.”

She had my attention.

” I think that you have something there.”

The idea had begun to harden in our minds.

Dildos and Stockings. It’s great name.It could just work.

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At last, things are looking up.

Property-porn, here we come.  

Living With Lots Of Women

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No, I am not a sultan. I am neither a sultan nor a raisin, although some extended time in the sun could change that. 

I have a wife, three daughters, and a female cat. They all treat me as some acceptably odd character who shares their lives. I am no longer at the centre of existence and no longer at the centre of my own small act.

Philip Larkin Knew all about it:

“Something is pushing them

To the side of their own lives.”

Afternoons

You reach that moment when you have dispensed with thinking about life as one great adventure. The French talk about egotism as revolving around one’s own belly button. It’s like a living birth when everything in the universe is centred on the sole issue of that sole issue, you.

Once out in the open, it takes decades to accept that the world no longer revolves around you. You are not the sun, you are not even a sun, you are a speck in the universe, a galactic smote of dust that travels the great distances without anyone taking any notice.

But, I live amongst women. And they care for me. Even the cat, Lucy, nuzzles me when I am a little down. 

My ladies don’t give me false support. My ladies don’t allow me to wallow. My ladies keep me planted on the ground. They keep me…

I may be on the sidelines now. I may be but an observer of things that are happening around me, but which I do not participate in. I like it. I like the feet-up approach. I like being relaxed. I like not having to act. My ladies accept me for what I am.

So, in this part of my life, I am prepared to relax and to leave the running to others. I will watch, observe, appreciate. And occasionally, I will cheer.

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From Field of Dreams

 

I will not be in the centre of it from now on, but I will be somewhere, enjoying the moments…

With my lovely girls (and wonderful wife).

King On God

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In the words of Stephen King:

“I’ve always believed in God. I also think that’s the sort of thing that either comes as part of the equipment, the capacity to believe, or at some point in your life, when you’re in a position where you actually need help from a power greater than yourself, you simply make an agreement. ‘I will believe in God because it will make my life easier and richer to believe than not to believe.’ So I choose to believe. … I can also say, ‘God, why did this have to happen to me when if I get another step back, you know, the guy misses me entirely?’ Then God says to me, in the voice that I hear in my head … basically tells me to ‘Get lost, I’m polishing my bowling trophies.’ ”

 

The Summer Of 76…

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FOR ENGLAND AND MY MEMORIES, THAT WAS THE HOTTEST SUMMER THAT I CAN REMEMBER. IT REMAINS TALL AS STANDPIPES GUSHING FOUNTAINS OF MEMORIES INTO BUCKETS AND BOWLS.

The whole of the street would meet every morning and evening to quench their needs. The clear stuff was rationed to an hour during each of these times, but the queue chatted as if there was nothing odd about their gathering. They were collecting aqua vitae while the time ticked by.

That summer gave us the last blaze of our younger youth. My mates and I had reached the giddy heights of fourteen-years old. We were hungry for the attentions of the opposite sex, but the opposite sex was aware of this and stayed well away. As the eternal sunshine had driven off all but he continual swarms of ladybirds (rumour had it that they had become carnivores and were attacking humans rather than plants), we took to cycling.

Eddy Merckx was the then all-conquering cyclist from Belgium and he was threatening to win the Tour de France to add to his five previous titles. Eddy, like us, suffered from getting too sore in the saddle, so he pulled out of the race that year. We were at the age when heroes were to be followed and we all became Merckx disciples. Our day-long rides would always end with a bunch-sprint of sorts and each of us would run the commentary of,

“And Merckx, the unbeatable Belgium, takes the lead. The French are not happy (appy), but there he goes…”

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Sometimes there would be a touch of wheels, a scream of metal, and the inevitable grunts of despair as bikes would collide and riders would be off-loaded. Tarmac rash was common for us, but in 1976 the heat had worked itself upon the roads and had delivered melted and more forgiving surfaces for us to scrape across. Blood came freely yet it was blood that was the mark of sportsmen (boys) and that was a badge worth wearing.

As the summer wore on and our encounters with females became at thing of ancient-myth, our rides started to take on a more serious aspect. We cycled further, climbed bigger hills, raced faster. There was a hierarchy emerging and as the weeks went by a few of our group began to fall off the pace whilst finding other distractions to relieve their interests. Family holidays were kicking in for a number of my friends and I secretly envied them for the luxury of being able to go to places that were so very different from our homes. One of our number went to France, another to Mallorca, and another to Cornwall. My family didn’t take holidays so I leant my time to the task of turning myself into a future Tour winner.

In the other world, Bjorn Borg won the Wimbledon Men’s for the first time whilst Chris Evert won the Women’s. I immediately took up the two-handed style that Borg had used so effectively and started to grow my hair a little. We all, to a man and boy, fancied Chris Evert which had a negative affect upon our rapidly declining self-esteem. Never, ever would Chris Evert fancy us, so we kept on cycling (those that were not on holiday).

My friendship group was a rather wondrous collection of almost-fits. We were what would have been Grammar-school boys if Grammars had not been phased out. Instead, we all attended the local comprehensive and managed to muddle our way through without serious consequences to our lives or our learning. Being bright boys, we thought that that was enough. O Levels would later remind us of the need to work hard at our studies, but that was still in the future.

The gang was:

Col: excellent sportsman and girl-magnate and marksman;

Spec: excellent mate and one that only wore spectacles for about three months when he was 6;

Haguey: an excellent teller of all-tales and developer of odd songs (chew a catty-chew, yeh);

Danny: an excellent bow-in who joined our band even though he went to a Catholic school;

Biggy: an excellent tall kid who had a dry comedian’s delivery;

Woody: an excellent sportsman and holder of an excellent head of ginger hair;

Picky: an excellent eccentric whose intelligence could not be ignored whilst some of his odd behaviour had to be;

Evansy: a younger me.

If Stephen King had known us back then, he would have modelled his various Losers’ Gangs on us. We were nice kids who were neither bullies nor victims, scruffs nor toffs, cool nor uncool. As such, we were material for the dark master to build his stories upon. Amongst the things that we didn’t do that summer was to find a body in the woods, but our treks into the countryside were of the same epic quality as one of those adventures.

I remember one particular incident with a dog in the nearby countryside when Danny, Haguey and Picky were on the ride. I was past the driveway of an isolated house first. I had descended at speed and was then on the upward run of the dip. From out of the pages of a horror tale came this vicious, snarling mutt whose intention was to chase, bite, an impede any passing cyclists. At that moment, I was Merckx leading the pack and I was unaware of the incident behind until I stopped at the sound of crashing bikes.

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Bikes were heavier in those days which helped them to hurt more when you fell off them and they fell onto and into you. Collisions were more serious as nobody wore helmets. It would seem that most young people’s heads were already thick enough to absorb any impact. On the subject of bikes, people mainly rode Raleighs with the posher ones riding Carltons. I had a Raleigh Nimrod, Danny had a BSA (short for Birmingham Small Arms- gun metal), Picky had a Dawes (I think) and Rob had a Carlton as his dad was a Town and Country Planner and his mum was our History teacher. So, when I heard this sudden volley of barking, snapshot swearing, and then metal on metal, skin on road, more snapshot swearing, I realised that something was not right.

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THE DOG CONTINUED TO BARK, EVEN AFTER SOME STRAIGHTFORWARD INSTRUCTIONS TO GO FORTH AND MULTIPLY, BUT THE REST OF THE WORLD WAS SILENT APART FROM THE RATHER CALMING SOUND OF FREELY-SPINNING WHEELS THAT WERE NOW NOT IN CONTACT WITH THE EARTH… 

 

A Morsel More

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Something else was among them. Its sound, as it planted ancient feet upon the floor, indicated that it walked like a man. Alongside it, ran the first of the notes from a flute.

She recognised the sound as the one that had been in the darkness for sometime now. She had heard it coming from the mobile phones of kids in the street. The first strains had been weak, discordant, and had barely scuttled into the surrounding air before dying, and recoiling.

Over the weeks, she noticed more and more teenagers, decent looking kids mesmerised by their mobiles. And with this, the notes of the flute began to take shape, take to the air and transform themselves into something almost visible. That something, or a fragment of that something, was standing on the other side of her wardrobe door and soon, very soon, she would be able to see what the notes looked like. She waited with the words of her mantra, stuck like pebbles in her throat.

The something’s hand was upon the door handle, its damp palm pressing against the cool metal, its impetus about to push down.

The moment could have lasted forever. Then a current ran through the air; primeval electricity connected each and every particle of her being instantly. The world was frozen, trapped and petrified in an absolute of silence. For that moment, the little girl was able to enter their thoughts. Later, she would remember their cries of despair and exhilaration, hatred and fidelity, anguish and relief. There were so many voices in there, so many emotions and so much conflict. As she pulled herself out from that foul place, she realised that the night carried a howl, a distant rage of pain that cut through her aggressors’ intentions.

For a long while she listened, knowing that they had fled. She waited before resuming her mantra and watching her mind movie. That was until she heard the front door being opened. There was movement downstairs and this was followed by a short cry of pain. The first utterances of a curse was being strangled.

That’s when she decided to move from her hiding place, step slowly down the stairs, and that’s when she saw the boy who was taking the car keys.

He had the look of the gangs. He was wearing tracksuit bottoms, a baseball cap and his hood was pulled up. His movements were furtive and for the briefest time she wished she had not disturbed him.

She had opened her mouth to say, “Hello” and had wished she hadn’t. His eyes shot wide opened, and he stepped back hitting his leg on the hall table.

This time, he did not cry out in pain as his immediate attention had been taken up with the thing that had jumped out of the dark. This time, he just stood there waiting for what he thought would be the painful end to his painfully short life.

When the girl saw this, she spoke out again.

“So, they did not get you?”

Moments passed.

“The rats, they did not get you?”

Eventually, “No…what are you doing here?”

There was nothing in his voice which she recognised. It was defensive, sullen and, most probably, dangerous. Nevertheless, she persisted.

“Those keys are for Mum’s car.”

She thought about her mother and the movie started playing again.

“That’s for Mum’s car. You’ll need Dad’s keys, his car is parked in front of hers. It will block your way out.”

 

Again, the furtive look. He was weighing things up, trying to work out what he ought to do. On the stairs was a girl, whom he reckoned was about eight or nine, and somehow she had survived the thing that had happened. He was starting to wonder how and why when they both heard a low groan coming from the next room.

He didn’t know whether to run away or go to help whatever it was that was making that noise. The girl decided for him. She ran down the last few stairs and straight into the room from where the groan had come. As the door opened, he heard her gasp deeply and then scream.

A scream that would wake the dead.

So he ran after her, not to comfort her, but to shut her up. If he didn’t, then the rats might come back. What he saw in there would stay with him through the coming nights.

There were parts, bits that had once belonged to human beings, strewn around the room. A lampshade had been knocked over, its bulb still throwing a maniacal glare across the scene. The carpet was stained deeply red with what had been the lifeblood of the girl’s family. He clamped a hand across her mouth with a strength that shook her. Her scream bit into his smelly palm, her eyes filed with revulsion and accusation.

“Shut your bloody mouth before they hear you. You don’t want to end up like that do you?”

That was when the moan became a discernable voice. It was a voice that carried with it a name.

“Kate.” 

What was left of her brother, had spoken.

His little sister was drawn to him. She knelt and held a hand that could no longer feel. She looked into her brother’s eyes, bloodstained and drifting between worlds.

“Be careful. The boy is dangerous. He knows them.”

“What boy?”

From the doorway, Joel Podrall spoke.

“What’s he saying?”

Kate ignored the question and asked her own once more.

“Which boy?”

But the connection had been broken. Her brother was dead.

Her head bowed forward dropping tears onto what remained of him. It was as if she had lost him twice and the anger was beginning to build within her tiny frame.

The boy was still standing at the door, seemingly afraid to venture inside. Something told her that this boy was the one she had been warned about. She knew right from the moment she had set eyes upon his form, in the darkness of the hallway, that he was not right, but he was all she had.

She needed him to help her to get out of the city and she had to prove that she could be of use and not just a hindrance. She wiped her tears away with the back of a hand that still held blood.

“He said good bye.”