Charles Manson, David Cassidy, the dying mouse, and me.

Re-writing The Past

As part of a generation that grew up within twenty-years of the end of the Second World War, I was always keen on weapons. Any decent human being would assume that the dropping of two nuclear bombs on Japan ought to have persuaded me of the error of our human ways, but it seemed to have the opposite effect.

A fascination for Spitfires consumed me and drove me into playing parachute games (obviously I did not have enough true belief in my aeronautical abilities). From there, my friends and I moved into the realms of Japs and Commandos. The Japs had been depicted as a race of people totally devoid of human empathy. They captured our brave soldiers and made them into slaves on the railway of death. The problem with our game was that all of us wanted to be commandos. Subtle selection strategies were required in order to have an even contest; in which the commandos always won.

The game involved an awful lot of running and hiding, finding and shooting, being found and escaping. It was just like the real thing that we had seen on countless films. We used sticks for guns and sticks for long Samurai swords.

Quite often, the battle would devolve into a medieval melee of hitting each other as hard as we could with said sticks. There was the Chinese Strangulation which was a way of subduing captives. This was an extremely effective method of inflicting the best type of pain; the slow-burn oxygen deficiency method. That way, you knew who had won. The second form of torture was the Indian Wrist-Burn. This involved placing your hands on your enemy’s wrist and then quickly rotating them in opposite directions. It had the exquisite inbuilt reminder of its execution with the angry red mark that refused to shift for days.

Those were the days of innocence, before we moved onto imitation plastic rifles, botched affairs that only vaguely looked like the real thing, but with our ‘dak, a dak, dak!’ it was enough to convince us of their potency.  Hand-grenades were invisible and exploded exactly where you wanted them to. All you had to do was to make a big boom sound, cover your ears and then throw yourself to the ground. If only all wars were so simple.

Things started to get more complicated from the moment that we started to grow up. One of our mates had an air-rifle bought as a Christmas present. He spent all that holiday practising on sparrows and robins. He even shot the cat. Our friend always seemed to be the one who got things first. He had one of the best bikes, he had golf clubs, he had a number of cricket bats, he had ridiculously bright blue eyes, he had a level of freedom that we longed for, he was a talented sportsman, and he shot Robins. He had everything that made him a top friend.

On some of our summer holiday excursions, he would take his air-rifle, slung in a purpose-made rifle bag, casually over his shoulder. At any point in our journey, he would swing it off his shoulder, unzip it and take aim at anything that dared to move. We were once walking along a path that ran beside a golf-course. We had been on this route many times before on ventures of golf ball discoveries. The golf balls often got lost in the rough and they were of sufficient value that we heard some other kids had set up a rather profitable little business finding them and then selling them back to the golfers. Sometimes the treasures would disappear mid-play only for them to be strangely reunited sometime later with their true owners, for a small fee. We also prized tees, but nobody thought that they would provide a realistic sell-back option.

It was a lazy afternoon and we were mooching along, dragging through the dog-end hours, kicking pine cones and providing accompanying commentary for the excellence of each strike. I measured a masterful strike and my pine-cone flew straight and long down the path. When it finally rolled to a halt, I provided the commentator’s awe-struck admiration.

“It’s Best! What a goal! What a strike! What a player!”

My arms shot into the air in a triumphant reaching for the skies and I raced off down the shaded path to acclaim my glorious feat. I almost slipped on the badly wounded body of a mouse.

The mouse wasn’t dead, but it was dying. In such an event, we should have done the merciful thing and caved its head in with a brick. There were no bricks to hand. We could have stamped on it head with the heels of our shoes, but none of us wanted to be seen as the heartless perpetrator of such a heinous act. Instead, we turned to our rifle toting friend to provide the humane solution. He, however, never saw himself as one who would administer the coup de grace nor was he one to pass up the opportunity of a real-life kill. He was a sportsman and would execute his task in a manner befitting such a regal profession. He walked up to the soon to be corpse, turned and took thirty strides, checked the direction of the wind, took his rifle out, loaded it, knelt and took aim. We were in awe.

After he missed for the third time, he changed his tactics. He strode forward another five paces, loaded, knelt and was about to take aim when he realised that he had forgotten to double-check the strength and direction of the prevailing wind on that most breathless of afternoons. Satisfied, he took aim and fired.

After another five pellets had missed their target, the rest of us thought to check upon the unfortunate creature. It still lived. Its tiny breaths evident in furry inhales and exhales. I was thinking about the heel of my shoe when my friend angrily strode past me and aimed a final pellet, at point-blank distance, into the belly of the beast. It lived no more.

As kills went, I suppose this counted for something, but there was no commentary this time and no overt display of triumph. We had killed a dying mouse. It had died. It would have died if my perfect kick of the pine-cone had not found it. We had had sport and now we were somewhat ashamed.

Our friend went on to kill many other tiny creatures, specialising in birds that frequented his garden. This went on until he discovered girls. After that, he hung up his trusty weapon for ever.

Sometimes it is good to hang up your guns. For one thing, you look silly when you’re older, toting an air-powered, pellet firing rifle. There is also the problem with killing defenceless little birds, tiny ones with redbreasts. Nobody wants to be seen in any social situation with a bird slaughtering psychopath. At some point, many boys give up their pursuit of prey and bloodlust for everyday distractions like life. But it all came back to me this week when the deaths of Charles Manson and David Cassidy were announced. I am too long in the tooth to cheer about the eventual demise of a cult-leading murderer whilst I am not too old to feel a spot of sadness for David Cassidy, my elder sister’s dream boat and reason for having a bedroom wall. I asked a woman who I work with if she was saddened by the death of David and she told me that she was a Donny Osmond fanatic. I accepted that and was instantly taken back to my last adventure with an airgun.

Some years ago, in a land far away, in a kingdom of grey cold, lived me. Another friend of mine lived around the corner. We were both at Sixth Form and the Punk era was well and truly upon us. So, in a situation like that, what would any decent human being do if they discovered a Jimmy Osmond single in their collection? It was obvious. We decided to put it on trial for crimes against humanity.

“Jimmy Osmond, you have been tried and found guilty of unleashing your ‘Long-haired Lover From Liverpool’ without care or regret as to the damage that you have wreaked. And, as you have since shown no remorse, this court finds you guilty. You are to be taken from here immediately and be shot until you are dead.”

And so it came to pass that the said 45 was taken from the kitchen of a council house overlooking the industrial greyness of West Yorkshire and shot to pieces by two rather judgemental youths with an air rifle.

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Since that day, I have vowed never to touch one of those instruments of death ever again.

Crows On Poles

Beginning to get the message.

Michael had been navigating using the road map they always carried in the boot of the car. Occasionally, ‘the mother’ would shout out contradictory directions and always, Michael followed hers. They were getting closer and the closer they got, the heavier their forebodings became. They had not seen any signs of the leathers for some miles but had seen some huge gatherings of crows and ravens. They blotted in the air, a warning of something past or yet to come.

When they reached a small T junction, Mother and son were amazed to see the fresh tyre tracks lining the surface. A sign told them that the village of  Hepley was just one and a half miles away whilst the one pointing to the right indicated that Ravenshead was another ten. 

“I have a feeling,” Laura said, “I have the strangest feeling that the people who were in that car are now in danger.”

“I do too mum. Look over there.”

Laura followed her son’s finger and saw a huge swarm of large black birds circling and falling to the earth. They had found something. Laura swung Brian’s wheel to the right knowing that it could be a costly mistake. 

They travelled on for maybe a mile and then found the place where the car had left the road, Manic skid marks led to the gaping wound in a wall. Some of the stones were marked with paint that had been scraped off and the ground showed evidence of the crash with shards of glass, body trimming and part of a bumper testimony to the event. Brian was eased to a halt.

“Looks like they crashed through there. By the size of the tracks, it was a big vehicle,” surmised Michael.

Laura nodded without saying anything. She was more interested in the other tracks that emerged from the stand of trees to her left and disappeared through the gap in the wall. She counted about twelve pairs, but she could not be sure. There was a muttered, “No,” from ‘the mother’.

“Have you seen the footprints Michael?”

Michael had just noticed them and recognised what they were.

“Looks like our friends ran into some of the leathers. Be careful.”

Michael did not need to be told to be careful as he was already out of the car, walking over towards where the strangers vehicle had smashed through the wall. When he got there, he peered down the sharp slope, through the trees where a path had been bulldozed by the vehicle that was lying jammed between the banks of a stream whose waters were rushing in through the open doors and above the level of the seats. From here, he could see that the driver’s seat was empty, the door flung open, hanging askew from only one hinge.

“There’s a car down there but there doesn’t seem to be anybody in it. I’m going to check. Mum, keep a look out for anything suspicious.”

For Laura, it was all suspicious but she knew what he meant. She climbed out of the car leaving the keys engaged in the ignition. There was no sound coming from the nearby trees, no birdsong or anything, and this was more unnerving than the obvious signs of leathers, for Laura could see numerous rooks and crows sitting on the branches of the trees from which the things must have emerged.

Michael descended the slope quickly using broken trunks and branches for support. He slipped couple of times but was able to correct this with the aid of the surrounding foliage. When he reached the banks of the stream that was flowing at a furious rate, he understood fully what had occurred. He stepped in the icy flow and stepped carefully towards the open driver’s door. Once there, he noticed the marks left behind by a copious outpouring of blood. With this amount of blood loss, he could not imagine anybody surviving for long, especially not in these conditions.

The passenger door to the front and rear were hanging open too. Scattered on the back seats were sleeping bags, rucksacks and food. Whoever was in this vehicle left in a hurry, leaving behind all those things that were essential for short-term survival. Michael was sure that at least one of the travellers had not survived the initial accident whist the others, well anything might have happened to them.

“Michael,” it was his mother calling from above, “are you alright down there? Have you found anyone?”

“No. Just a car and there’s nobody in it.”

“Come back up then, I don’t like this.”

Michael did not like it either. Touching the car had been like touching a freshly dug grave. He started back up the slope, this time using the branches even more to aid his ascent.

“Let’s get going,” he said when he was back in the car. “Turn the car around and head back the way we came. I think some of them have already arrived and they’ve started the job a little earlier than planned. Laura drove on a little way to a wider stretch of the road and did a 180 degree turn. As they drove slowly past the scene of the accident, Laura internalised a prayer for the people who had been in the car. 

They moved with a little more speed than was wise. Anyway, there were definite signs of a thaw arriving. Run-off water was growing in volume and beginning to wash away some of the snow. There was a suggestion of sunshine from the east that brought some relief to their artic states.

‘The mother’ was mumbling again, speaking words and half words that nobody understood. Regardless of the words being so foreign to the ears of Michael and his mother, her children seemed to understand what she was saying. They, Rachel and Joshua, were holding her as she mumbled in something that was not English.

“She wants you to stop the car,” translated Rachel. “She says there are some people in great danger.”

Laura eased back on the accelerator and changed gears rather than braking. Brian pulled safely to a stop. Everything was still. Then some more mumblings.

“She says they are coming over the hill,” added Rachel pointing to a slope on their right. 

Their heads swung around and surveyed the pristine covering of snow seconds before a head, caught the morning sun, showed itself.

No double-take was necessary as Michael and Laura sprang from Brian’s warm interior. Michael was quickly over the roadside wall and striding up the hill. His mother was behind him, unable to keep up, yet still scouring the hilltop for signs of leathers. She was not to be disappointed. Some forty yards behind the first figure was a pack of leathers moving in the relentless manner, loping strides eating up the ground, that they were to become accustomed to.

“Michael, there are leathers. Take care.”

This was the second time she had urged caution and he was not about to ignore it. He looked up the hillside and noted that the first figure stumbling down the hill was carrying something, a bundle wrapped up in their arms. It was obviously heavy because the strain of it was evident even from this distance. Then the figure tripped, fell face forward and dropped the bundle so that it skidded in front of them, sliding along the snow on its own.

The Leathers proceeded without breaking stride, their progress cutting the space between them and their prey. Michael broke into a sprint that surprised him. He reached the bundle just before the figure had raised itself to its feet. The tiniest cry escaped the bundle, a cry that could only belong to a baby or small child. He knelt and picked it up only to have it knocked from his grasp by the person who had been carrying it. The bundle fell on the soft snow once more and Michael had the air punched out of him. He went down as if hit by a train.

The impact must have been forceful as it also took the breath away from the assailant as well. Valuable seconds rolled by with Michael and his attacker on the ground. For the first time, Michael was able to see firmly into the eyes of the other and he saw naked fear.

“It’s okay, we’ve come to help.”

Gasping for breath, the other nodded as best he could. Michael thought he seemed on the edge of collapse.

“I’ll carry the baby. You just run.”

The footsteps were almost upon them as they raised themselves to their feet and then into a semblance of a run. Laura had reached them and was able to offer support to the person who had been carrying the child. 

When they eventually reached the safety of Brian, they pushed the fugitive into the back, a space rapidly created by the mother and her children. Michael sat in the front with the baby and Laura pressed down firmly on the accelerator. As they pulled away, Michael noticed that the group of leathers were having some trouble surmounting the wall.

A Cold Embrace

Baptism

The car was wedged between the banks with the stream reaching the door sills.

When they came to a final rest, they were facing back up the slope down which they had unintentionally travelled. Ian was slumped over the wheel, a deep cut to his temple letting blood at an unhealthy rate. Sue and Jason had not been wearing seat belts and they had been thrown around significantly, causing minor cuts and bruises, but also bringing about a concussion in Sue that was just on the verge of announcing itself. Louise had held on to Tom and neither of them had sustained anything more than shock. She could see dark shapes inching their ways towards them. She had been here before and she knew what to do.

She quickly unbuckled herself and was opened the door. She grasped Tom, intent on never letting him go, and planted a foot in the stream. The brutal waters flowed in through her boots washing away any residue of fuzzy thinking. In the back, she heard the thick voice of Sue, swimming through the first stages of concussion, but still aware of the danger they were in.

She was struggled with the door handle, wondering why it would not open; the previous owner of the car had been a father of three small children and used child locks. The more Sue struggled, the greater the pressure mounted in her head. A hammer was being swung.

Jason pulled at the handle before deciding to take the rooute that Louise had taken. Outside, in the cold, rising waters, Louise ppulled hard on the passenger door and Sue was free. Her face was painted with a ghoulish grin of gratitude and she almost fell out.

“What about Ian?” asked Jason seeing the motionless form of the driver slumped at the steering wheel. But Louise had crossed the short distance to the other bank and was climbing up the other side. Sue was attempting to do the same, but her steps where heavy and unsure and more than once she stumbled forward onto her hands and knees. Through the driver’s side window, Jason was left in no doubt about the his plight so he followed the others.

Louise was at the top of the slope when she heard Sue scream. The first scream was one brought on by shock, the ones that followed were different. Louise did not look back even as she heard something clambering up the bank behind her. He arms were aching from the exertion needed to hold the child, but she kept climbing. 

Before her was a hillside rising away, its flanks covered in virgin snow, untrodden. Then something crept upon her from behind.

“Wait for me!” 

The first thing she saw was her own daughter, arms outstretched at the end of a long day, welcoming mummy. The second thing she saw was Jason and behind him their pursuers.

Deck The Trees…

In The Dark Mid-Winter

Meanwhile, Graham had limited himself to just a few glasses of the highland nectar. The effect upon him was quite profound after weeks of abstinence and he found the situation most agreeable. What could be better than a winter break, in a beautiful castle with friends? Planning to sight see all on his own, he was quietly pleased when a number of others joined him in his stroll around the place. His historical knowledge removing everyone from the reality that lay beyond the walls.

Judith was at her best organising others. That first evening when the combined efforts of herself and Mr. Dale had resulted in a room allocation that would have not looked out of place in a military mobilisation, she set about further managing arrangements for the evening meal. Not venturing into the kitchen personally, the memories of her incarceration still vivid, she sought out the best cooks, peelers, kitchen porters and washer-upperers. Tinned food was in abundance and so, to their surprise was a vast stock of game that hung invitingly in a cold store. Not just a meal but a feast and Judith wrote a menu to boot.

When eventually the dinner was served, the clocks that were still working stated that it was nearing two in the morning, nobody seemed to mind. Time had been put on hold and, for the family of friends, it was the moment to celebrate some type of deliverance. Wine had been discovered, beer was drunk and laughter was heard to echo around the halls in a way that it had never done so before. Graham would have given a speech but had to abandon it when his worlds refused to emerge unadulterated by a certain Speyside that had taken his fancy. With unknown forces closing in around them, the members of the group had not felt as secure as this since well before that terrible day.

At some point, a guitar was produced and, to the amazement of Graham, Judith took hold of it and played one of the most haunting renditions of  Bob Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind. When she stroked the final chord, a roar of applause rocked the room. Those who had been singing smiled through their tears and the younger ones just laughed at the way the old ones did not seem to care that they were embarrassing themselves.

“Where did that come from?” enquired Graham in an instant of lucidity.

“The guitar or the song?”

“You.”

“Oh, I was a child of the sixties, flower power and all that. I was a hippy for a while, still am deep down.”

“Must have been one of the most organised of your brethren.”

“Hippies can be organised. Look at Woodstock and Glastonbury. Look at all of us here.”

Graham did so and realised her point. “Hippies one and all,” he proclaimed to himself before falling into a contented miasma once more. 

At some indistinct point in the very early hours, most people went to bed. There would be some extremely thick heads in the morning.

Chris and Lucy had wandered off to find the quiet that was needed for what they could not keep holding in. Keeping a torch held between them, they made the progress through corridors that yawned open at their approach. Regardless of all they had seen, there still remained a nostalgic menace about the adventure.

“Do you think it is haunted?” Lucy asked through a childlike smile.    

“What? Headless horseman and all that? Yes, I hope so.”

“So do I.” She pulled closer to him, pulling on his left arm and squeezing it for reassurance.

“I think I’d welcome a proper ghost, it would make things seem right again.”

Lucy agreed yet didn’t say anything.

Chris found what he’d been looking for, the library. The sheer volume of books leant another comfort from a bygone time. Bookcases reached to the ceiling, leather bound volumes a testament to mankind’s worth. Lucy was smiling broadly now.

“I love libraries and this, well this is just magnificent.”

Chris, who had never been as bookish as his elder brother, was surprised to be thinking the same thing. It wasn’t just the books, or the supreme environment, it was statement, the certainty that the room afforded them. He felt Lucy strain a little and felt her impulse to search the tomes, but he needed to talk and there were a couple of inviting Chesterfields waiting near the huge window. If Chris had ever known anything of romance, he could not have picked a better place. His decision, however had been informed by a nagging doubt that remained like a tiny alarm bell going off deep in the cellar of his mind. From here, he could see the extent of the snowy grounds. They sat facing each other. Lucy spoke first.

“D…Chris…”

“You always do that. Ever since we met, you’ve been calling me David. Who’s David? An ex boyfriend or something?”

Lucy was relieved that the darkness hid her rising blushes.

“David is from the Bible. He was the one who fought Goliath. It’s just that, when I saw you, when I was hiding in the Head’s office, you made me think of him.”

“Well, that’s probably a relief.”

“I’ve never had a boyfriend before.”

“And I’ve never had a girlfriend.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No. It was always sport first. Nothing else.”

“Chris,” Lucy had returned to her formal voice, “are we going to be, well, attached?”

“If you want to put it that way, yes.”

Lucy lifted herself from her chair and walked over to her new hope. She sat down gently on his lap and raised both hands to either side of his face.

“You promise me that you will be true.”

“I will. I do.”

“Then let’s honour this with a kiss.” She moved her head forward with the grace of a swan, meeting his lips whilst running her fingers though his hair. Chris had never thought that a kiss could be so enveloping. He closed his eyes and imagined myriad possibilities for their futures. 

The first kiss, an exercise in time-travel, lasted for a duration that could not be defined. When they finally parted, the need for air being greater than their desires for each other, Chris opened his eyes. What he wanted to do was behold Lucy, her face a radiance in the cold moon of the night. What he glimpsed from the corner of his eye was a movement hugging the line of trees across the vast lawns, a movement that was vague and yet distinct. Lucy immediately noticed the change that had occurred.

“What is it?”

Now Chris had turned all of his attention to the view from the window and Lucy did so as well.

“What is it? What do you see?”

“I don’t know. Look over there by that line of trees.”

The torch had been placed on the floor so that the light it emitted would not be apparent from without. Whatever had moved, was now still.

“It might be nothing. It could have been an animal. Probably nothing…look there! Did you see that?”

Lucy did think that she may have seen something so she sharpened her perception, adjusting her eyes to the night. The moon was now almost full and was sitting in an empty sky. Already, with the lack of cloud cover, the recently fallen snow was taking on a sheen that spoke of near artic conditions. They watched for a long time, but nothing re-emerged from behind any of the foliage.

“Whatever it is, it will freeze to death if it stays out there for long.”

Chris just nodded.

“Come on, let’s go so our room.”

That night, they kept to their promise even though nobody would have known if they had not. Struggling with what he thought he may have seen, Michael got out of his bed not long after he had heard the noises that suggested Lucy had fallen into sleep. He stood by the window and kept vigil until morning arrived.

Unsaid…

“It’s okay to cry.”

I was back in the office of my counsellor.

Could it be just me or is crying in front of a stranger, a strange female, something that most middle-aged men would find acceptable? I did everything that I could do to keep a stiff upper lip. I braced myself. I took deep breaths.

“If you want to cry, it is all part of the process.”

I was part of a process now. I was in the process of working through a personal trauma that had brought me to a crashing standstill and…now I was being asked to cry as some type of cleansing therapy. The problem was that I thought that crying would be just a little distraction. It would be like having leaches placed on an exposed stretch of skin with the intention of them sucking out the corruption. Tears would not do it. I hadn’t even cried at my father’s funeral or at any time since he’d died.

One of my favourite films is Field of Dreams. This, as most of you will know, is a male weepy. There has never been a time when I have watched it that I have been able to control the seepage of emotion.

“Dad, do you want to play catch?”

I can feel the artesian well now, but there is no music, no camera angles and no conclusion to our shared journey. You see, the film was a process in itself. As was my father’s death. The question is, why has the death of my dad come back to haunt me after over five years?

A huge lump of granite lay in my stomach. I was being asked to regurgitate the past. That block of forever granite was there, sentinel, obstructive. My dad was listening to what I was about to say. I heard him sitting in the corner, a shuffle of shoes and a cursory clearing of the throat. It is alright, I wanted to tell him, it is alright, I’m not going to break down. But the tide of emotion was returning from the morning I saw him cold and grey in the sterility of the hospital’s chapel of rest.

“You go, Matthew,” my mother had said. “I can’t look at him.”

She had sat all day and through the night. She had talked and silently sobbed as he waded into the shallows. She held his right hand, closer in this moment than in many a year they had shared before. She was holding his hand when the nurse arrived to check. It wasn’t alright. My mum, trapped in hope, had not noticed the changes on the monitor. She held his hand and squeezed as if to rub some more time into him. His chest rose and fell, rose and fell, and he was, for all intents alive. The nurse moved off quickly and returned with the doctor. By this point, my mother would have been becoming aware. But her husband was breathing. Watch the rising and falling of his chest. He always slept deeply.

“Mrs Evans, I’m sorry but your husband is dead.”

What did they know? He is still breathing. Look at his chest. Look at his chest.

“That’s the respirator, Mrs Evans. It is the respirator that is doing that.”

No, it wasn’t. He was still alive. He was sleeping. Come on Brian, wake up.

I have never seen her so empty as I saw her that morning. I was the dutiful son taking the lead. When I saw him in the chapel of rest, I understood that his passing had left a vacuum in all our lives.

“Dad,” I murmured. “Dad, what are you doing scaring us all like this?”

He didn’t answer. His face was sunken and pale. Death had been with him for some ten hours.

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.

Charlotte 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 you never know when it’s your turn”. The thing is, that it is always going to come around, your time. Somebody has just died since I’ve written that and you’ve read this . 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?”

Charlotte 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 hypotheses 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.

To Be Is To Do.

To Do Is To Be.

Do Be Do Be Do.

Cognito ergo sum.

“I think that I don’t know. I think that I will have to think about it some more; and then some. I think that I should sometimes stop thinking and just do, be do be do. My dad never had a problem with discarding deep thinking. He once criticised me for thinking too much about the past. He told me to, “Just get on with today.” I told him that I found that impossible and that I found the past interesting. He said something about dead people and nonsense. I just nodded and turned away. I wonder if he would have ever imagined that I would be thinking about him now all these years after he died?”

Don’t think. Don’t prevaricate. Act.

Act 1 Scene 1

A middle-aged man in a room with a woman. They are sitting facing each other. He has his right leg crossed over the other and is pushed back into his chair. She is sitting slightly forward. She holds a notepad and a pen but she doesn’t write. The man is talking. The woman is listening. Her eyes watch him whilst he looks beyond her into some vague setting.

“Where are you now?” She asks.

I’m back in school. I’ve just played football for the school team and I scored the winning goals.”

“Why do you look so unhappy?”

“My dad never came to see me. I played football lots and scored lots of goals. I was a decent player. Not once, not ever, did my dad come to see me play. How does a father do that to his child? What was he thinking? The thing is that I learnt from him. I learnt how not to be a father. My wife taught me how to be a proper one, a dad and a husband.”

“How does that make you feel?”

“I suppose that it should make me feel angry. I should be full to the brim with resentment. All those years of playing and not once was he there to see me. That was the norm for working class men. Too busy at the club with their mates playing at being lads who never grew up. Never, never. And, do you know what? I do feel something about that which is not anger at him, but guilt for my own self. It was me who was the cause of him not being there. I was a let-down and there was nothing I could do to change his mind. He didn’t come to see me because he wasn’t proud of me so I spent the rest of my life trying to make him proud. That was after I had got over the fact that I once thought that I hated him.”

Wise Men Say…

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My childhood was dominated by memories of The King. Elvis Presley, Aaron to be more precise. My mother was in love. She was smitten with this hip-shaking, breath-taking, king of Rock and Roll. We were the family from The Commitments who could not conceive that there was anything better than the lip-curling kid from Tupelo, Mississippi, the voice of a generation before us and one that could not be beaten. Our commitment to The King was complete and it was cemented with our mother’s undying love.

At that point, we never realised that she had another love, one that could never be requited; Rock Hudson. 

I had a particularly bad singing voice. People would stop me in the street just to complain to me about it. You see I loved singing, but singing didn’t love me. Unless I did Elvis Presley songs. Elvis and I, I like to think, were joined at the spiritual hip. We were both working class lads whose middle name began with A (mine was for Andrew not Aaron). For some reason, and this may have been only me who heard this, we both sounded like each other. I would practice at night upon going to bed. It would start with something rocky like King Creole and then move into a couple of love songs, Love me Tender and Only Fools Rush In. that helped to set the scene. With each hip-rolling lyric I was being transformed into The King. I even learned to roll my lip the way he did.

In the sixties, Elvis started to become a little uncool. He started making excrutiatinlgy unbearable films (movies to my American cousins) such as Kissin’ Cousins and Clambake. Regardless of being an Elvis Presley devotee, I kept it quiet if I ever watched these on Saturday afternoons. I did like Flaming Star, a decent western in which he showed a little acting ability and obviously Jailhouse Rock, King Creole and…the list is not endless. Still, I believed that I was becoming Elvis.

My mother loved Elvis whilst my father mocked him a little. Dad was a Frank Sinatra fan and, possibly like me, saw much of himself in his idol. He would never admit that he followed Frank, it was not manly and was certainly not the done thing in working-class West Yorkshire. I tried to keep my Elvis to myself. My mother swooned when one of his songs would be aired on the radio. She positively melted when he was on TV.

“He can only sing certain songs,” my dad would goad.

“Shut up, you. you’re only jealous!” She would snap back.

On those bitterly cold winters nights, I would retreat to the relative comfort of my bedroom, pull an extra coat on the bed, leave my socks on, roll my head to accompany the rock that was to come, and then sing my heart out.

“Shut up!” The chorus would come, “Shut up and go to sleep before your father gets back from the club.”

My singing would then take a downturn into the hardly-audible. I was praying the words, offering up myself to a greater power, the living god of Rock n Roll.

Getting older meant that certain songs could not be sung. The seventies brought Glam Rock, Prog Rock and then Punk Rock. The King must have seen it coming and decided to make himself less and less visible. Ironically, during this time, he was becoming more and more visible through his love of all food bad. His weight shot up as his fame dropped   down. I still managed a neat impersonation of him singing, In The Ghetto. That was a rather socially aware number that I believed was socially acceptable, As The Snow Flies. I have never seen snow flies, but I think that they must be rather hardy little pests.

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On August 16, 1977, The King died.

I was in bed, drifting off to sleep. Too old to sing his songs without my parents considering the option of sectioning me in our local lunatic asylum. I could hear the TV from downstairs. Mum was watching it whilst my dad shared a few pints with his mates at the club.

I heard a long drawn-out, “Oh, no.” Quickly followed by, “No. Please, no.”

I knew he was dead. I went downstairs and found my mum in tears.

“He’s dead, Mike. Elvis is dead. It’s not fair.”

My sisters were both downstairs at this point and they joined he in the ritual shedding of tears. Even my father was sad when he returned. The King was dead.

That night, I tried to summon up his spirit and channel it within me. I could think of no better use for my defunct voice box than to become the conduit for King Creole’s magnificence. It didn’t happen.

My mum got over her infatuation and moved on. She was never the same with her affections and never openly declared her love for icons until later when her somewhat secret love was no secret any more. Rock Hudson, dashingly handsome and quirkily funny in his outings in Pillow Talk with Doris Day, died on October 2nd 1985. He died of Aids related illnesses after hiding his sexuality for al of his movie-star career. My mother sobbed. My father shrugged his shoulders.

“If only he had met me. I could have cured him,” she declared.

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In those days, they had no cure for homosexuality.

Nor for unrequited love. 

 

 

 

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.