In the Attic

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At the top of our house sits the attic.

It is a part of our home in the same way that deeply forgotten thoughts are a part of our lives. It houses (it warehouses) those things that are no longer relevant to our current lives: old records, VHS videos, children’s Christmas presents (old ones), books, sleeping bags and Christmas tree lights.

We were up there again, commenting on the damp, and finding things that we really should have thrown out. I am the one who keeps things. I think that everything has its place in life and to discard the unwanted may somehow be wrong. My wife likes to clean out so as not to collect too much baggage and possible nonsense.

So, as a recently recovered madman, I agreed with her. Throw, throw, throw. But it’s Sunday and the tip is closed. The wife loves the tip, I sometimes think more than she loves the present. The tip is a clean break, a fresh start, a cleansing. I just see lots of memories thrown into piles in skips that don’t care.

The attic was cold and there was a definite kiss of damp. the edges of some old books had curled and some odd growth had settled among reports from my middle-daughter’s primary school. They were of no use, but it was somehow wrong to confine them to the eternity of refuse.

At moments like this, I find it impossible to reason with my wife. She is right and I am emotionally wrong. I would hoard everything as a way of keeping the memories alive.

She found a bag of letters and she told me to take them downstairs. When we sat at the dining table and examined our find, it was like uncovering the remains of an Iron-Age burial mound.

There were letters from people whose names we hardly recognised, but to whom we must have been really close to at one time. There were letters from people from whom we had strayed in the intervening years and we wondered at the changes that life had inflicted. There were letters from still close friends that unveiled a long forgotten aspect to their personalities, lines that could prompt genuine amusement all these years later. There were postcards. There were photographs. The captured images revealed us over twenty five years previously and we had to look at ourselves to be double sure.

And then there was the phone book. Numbers written a quarter of a century before. Numbers that would no longer ring or connect. Numbers that trailed off into a stifled eternity.

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For some reason, I wanted to dial those numbers and defy the time in between.

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Some day somebody may answer.  

 

For Dark Winter Nights 3

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It was the freezing air that tried to enter. 

For a moment he stood, transfixed by what had taken place. The world had changed and it was waiting for him.

One small step and he was through the door. He wore only flimsy slippers, worn away to the bone. He wanted to turn back. He didn’t.

Under the slight shelter of his porch, he paused momentarily and surveyed the blank covering. It was simpler with snow. It was also easier to pick out tracks that could have been responsible for all of this nonsense.

In his eventual urgency, he had forgotten to take a torch, but a full moon rode the night sky and leant illumination. Snow covered contours, levelled slopes and shadow-covered hazards. It also betrayed tracks, or footsteps, of those that had been there. Yet, although he tried, he could not discern anything of importance.

He had always prided himself on his ability to track and to hunt. Little escaped him when he set himself to the task of proving his worth. In the old days, he had hunted the upper slopes and even the peaks. Both he and his brother ventured far into the higher reaches in order to win the respect of their father. They were as tight a team as any other on the mountains. No, they were tighter. But this didn’t stop their battle.

A year separated them, making him the second in line. Everything would go to the eldest. He had never considered this when they were younger boys, journeying into the winter lands and calling each other’s dare. Their challenges were frequent and forever evolving in difficulty. They liked to push themselves and each other to see what was possible. They had no mother to worry for them and their father expressed little concern. The boys could be gone for a number of days at a time, but there would be nothing of concern coming from the old man; nothing to suggest that he considered that there was any real danger. After all, hadn’t the last of the wolves been killed in his father’s time?

“Stop thinking about it!”

He had spoken these words out loud. He now spoke much of his words out loud. There was nobody to hear him, nobody to suggest that he was a crank. He could do as he liked.

“Hellooo,” he hollered into the vast emptiness and waited for his words to bounce back.

The exertion of the utterance had an unwanted effect. He was sharply aware that he needed to piss again. The house was behind him, further away than he had imagined. He didn’t realise that he had travelled so far away from it. Half a mile, he surmised.  Half a mile? However did that happen?

He had choices: he could turn back to the farmhouse now or he could just relieve himself out here. He could stain the brilliant white with his yellow issue. The idea appealed to him. He liked the freedom of pissing out of doors. He liked the potential offence that it could cause others. He enjoyed spoiling the perfection of it all. Just as long as it didn’t freeze his cock off.

He laughed to himself and started to extract his tool.

The piss was greater than ever. It flowed in an impressively torrential jet of liquid and steam. When it hit the snow, it cut through it like the proverbial hot knife; or, hot piss through snow. They had had pissing contests.

His brother prided himself on the unusual length of his member. But beyond showing it off at any chosen point in time, there was little else his extra inches were good for.  It was his, the younger brother’s item that could shoot faster and further, much to the annoyance of the eldest sibling. These days, his power was less, much less. The years meant that he needed to visit more, but those visits were very far from torrential; drips were all that occurred, drips and a bad aim.

“Tonight, I piss for the gods!”

And he did. He pissed so long and hard that the covering of already hardening snow completely relented and gave up its sovereignty. He watched it with wonder.

“Praise be,” he announced as his waters continued to part the ground. “God is great!”

He decided to leave his own name for everyone to see. Not until he had finished did he realise that he had spelt out, G O D . He laughed at his mistake. He felt that he could laugh until he died and that felt good, very good indeed.

It was the first howl that stopped him in his tracks.

He hastily replaced himself and searched the scene for the source. Some way off a stealthy shadow watched him, but did not move. It was the man’s turn to move. He was too old to play such stupid games and so, he set himself for the journey back to the house.

He had travelled only a few steps when his feet were lost from under him. He fell helplessly and face-first into the snow. He was dazed. He reached around himself to get support and something touched his outstretched hand. It was there in the snow all along and he had walked past it. But now as he pulled the thing towards him, he recognised a hand, a very old hand.

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This time, the solitary howl was joined by several more.

Bookends…

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If gale-force Fortune sweeps you off you feet,

let it; ride it; and admit defeat.

 

There’s no point in resisting; it’s too strong –

willy-nilly, you’ll get swept along.

 

Palladas. Tony Harrrison

 

It was an unseasonably warm October night. The high winds of the midweek had ceased and it was still. My own turmoil was resting, licking its wounds, trying to heal itself. This was the second time we had ventured out on a Saturday evening to see my favourite poet. The first time had been a wrong call; I got the month wrong. Perhaps my father was right when he insisted that I was dateless. My wife shares this acute judgement of the strange being that is her husband. A month late, but on time, I prayed that the firmaments were now in line.

The last time that I attended a reading of his poetry was almost thirty years ago. I had gone along with a good friend and sat suitably in awe of the greatest light in modern poetry. I considered him to be one of us (UZ) rather than one of them. I came from working-class roots and confronted the received-wisdom that denied the masses so that the few could prosper. It was through his poetry that I found mine. I also found a torch that lit up the tunnels in which I could work away at the foundations of that which chose to imprison me.

It was Harrison’s School of Eloquence that originally pulled me in:

How you became a poet’s a mystery!

Wherever did you get your talent from?

I say: I had two uncles,Joe and Harry –

one was a stammerer, the other dumb.

Heredity

 

If my father had ever written verse, I would have liked it to have been like this. My dad was a realist, not a dreamer like his son. He could not waste words on silly rhymes; life was too short and there was work to be done. So, I took Tony Harrison at his word(s) and made him my surrogate muse. Each time I came across well-trodden feet, I stopped in wonder at the things I had previously not seen. It was like waking-up for the first time, every time, and seeing the world afresh.

I was saddened and surprised by how few people had turned-out to listen to the Rhubarb Bard. There was a time when he was admired as ‘one of the most prodigiously gifted and accessible poets’ alive. He could ”speak the language” that he spoke at home, but use the form of sonnets to drive his point home at the same time. When I first read him, it was at the behest of Mary Eagleton, the sister of Terry Eagleton, another well-read socialist interpreter of higher learning. I was like Tony’s uncle; “mouth all stuffed with glottals”. My public reading had never been good, even if I did have the accent to suit the verse. After tripping through his lines, I went home to sit in my undergraduate bedsit and study his words. They were mine.

That was years and years ago in the long, long ago that will not disappear.

Tony Harrison came to the front of the small gathering, apologised for not having his microphone attached, had it attached, then shuffled the white pages of his world of words. We were in Beverley Minster, a grand building that has been used by TV companies to ape its better known cousin, the palace of Saint James. And Tony, though not in the pulpit, was at the front. When he started to read, I fell into the time between the pages and saw not an old man, now gone eighty, but the Tony Harrison of some forty years before. I caught myself mouthing the words that he was speaking and realised that I was performing an act of devotion. I nodded when lines long deep in my own memory were recited. Other people disappeared into the shadows of the ancient hall and there was Harrison speaking directly from within me.

My fellow audience members were probably retired teachers; their sensible clothes suggested as much. I recognised faces from the past and shared a greeting or two. Nobody applauded when he reached then end of individual poems. My hands were itching to give him a warm ovation, but to my shame I followed the crowd. It was like being at an opera or classical concert. Everything Harrison stood for was being filtered into their sense of the world. I actually wanted to cheer and to shout encouragement or agreement, but I merely nodded and mouthed the words I knew.

At the end of the reading, there was a little Q&A. An interviewer asked generic questions about poems that had been written decades before. It was obvious and a little puerile. I filled a void of silence when I held the microphone to tell him that I was pleased that it was being held in that setting as I had worshipped him as a poet. The wife said that that was a little corny and she was right. But at least it was honest.

A question that wasn’t asked, but was partly addressed by the poet, was about the impact he had had through his writing. At its point, his eyes fell towards the floor and he thought for a moment.

“The world has gone back to what it was like back then. I thought it would have changed. I hoped that it would have got better, but it’s back to where it was. Isn’t that what history teaches us? And we never learn.”

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“…what’s between’s

not the thirty or so years, but books, books, books.”

 

 

God on Sex…

God wishes men to make love to their wives regularly. It’s a duty, a religious observance, so why block the bedroom door?

For men of independence, it is every day.

For labourers, it is twice a week.

For donkey drivers, once a week.

For camel drivers, it is once every thirty days.

For sailors, it is once every six months.

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So these are the lessons of becoming independent. Relying on nobody else to put food on your table means a better share in the end.

Blessed be the NUPTUALLED.

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.