Hull And High Water

“the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

“events as yet unseen”

He had been shaken from sleep by a hand belonging to some thing that he could not comprehend. The hand had come at the end of a particularly tempestuous week with the warmth of new hope being chased by the storms rising up from the ground. Now he wandered on the keyboard of his life, choosing words that might describe the things that he may have seen.

The pre-deluvian world was coming to a close. He had not considered this as he started out upon his journey at the start of the week. For him, the clouds had parted and a languid ray of acceptance had thrown down his path. Some inner voice had whispered that his struggle was done, that it was time for him to put down the sword, or the pen, and just live.

And, in that moment, he was content.

He had carried the bundle of content to the place of learning. The content was wrapped up into a tight roll on the back of his bike as the sun arose. He cycled surely yet found time to appreciate the little things that nature had thrown into the fields along the way that he went. “Enjoy the little things,” the voice had whispered and he was even more content. It was only when the great road arrived with the faces of those inside that he took another moment to consider. Yet he, and his roll of content, found shared warmth.

In this manner, he navigated the first of the week’s days. The day of the moon was the day of the sun. For others, Monday was not so fair; tragedy had been visiting in its randomised reasoning and its victims bore the marks of its unwanted gifts. He tried to keep his roll of content to himself as to show it around could have been to invite envy or worse.

“Chairo,” the voice had whispered, “chairo.”

It was all Greek and his tongue did not stretch to it. Yet upon tasting the word, he rejoiced. He had reached the place of contentment and it had been with him all along.

“Chairo,” he sang as his peddles turned for his homeward journey. There was some sunshine within him, some cloud too, some warmth, and some cold.

Chairo. 

When he reached home, he stabled the bike and set about creating a feast for the family. He searched and searched the kitchen, the pantry and the cupboards until he realised that all the food had been eaten. He searched the house for signs of any of the three bears that may have wandered in, but none were to be found. The only thing left for the ‘feast’ were eggs. He counted them and was content that a meal could ensue.

Chairo!

That night, he slept with contentment. All the house slept. And the following morning rose with another sun. His wife and he were exhausted from deep repose and they questioned the reason over morning tea.

When time came for his daily journey to begin, he again brought the bike from the stables. He set off with a hummed tune that was to slowly disappear before he reached the gates of learning. During the day, he did not need to do battle with his wards who appeared to have tired of the struggle. Once again, he was content. But it was at that moment, that he realised with cold concern that he had left his tight roll on the bed that he had risen from.

“Chairo,” I said with more than a little caution.

Then the afternoon arrived and with it came a message. In those days they were called emails rather than the voice of God. The email promised much but was blackened when it reached his heart. He was to be tested for his ability to perform the tasks that he had performed so well for so long.

Chairo was the furthest thing from my mind.

The night, his displeasure oozed from him like liquid from a wound. He did not sleep well having used poor words to speak to his wife. She also shared his cobbled rest.

The next morning he left the bike in the stables and used the car. He took a cloud into the staffroom to share with the people there. He had fallen from a false state and was being punished for his carelessness.

Still with anger at his previous night’s work, his wife accepted apologies and gifted him with another email. It was the words that he had been waiting for, but thought that he would now never receive.

Chairo! Another place of learning in another kingdom wished to speak to him. All was well.

It was later in the afternoon that he discovered a plot by one member of my school to unsettle him. False words, wrong insinuations, damning connotations about his teaching.

He had little time to build an ark, but build it he would.  

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Chairo… 

 

The Piper Episode 3

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The family spent the weeks of the summer trying to convince themselves that this was home.

Only their mother seemed happy at the change of environment. Michael was stoical (that was a word he would have liked to use), Pete was indifferent in the way only a four-year-old could be and Chris was merely somewhat annoyed. The two eldest boys had time to investigate their new environment and took daily excursions out and about the close vicinity. They didn’t want to venture far as they were not prepared to leave their mother alone for too long. Although she had made massive strides of late, the boys shared the knowledge of the darker times but never openly spoke about it. However, their circle of discovery was forever widening and soon they found themselves in the area where their new school would be. A sign read West Lake Park and Chris thought he had heard of it.

“Fancy taking a look?” Chris had suggested.

Seeing no harm in that, Michael had agreed so they ploughed on through street after street of houses that bore an unnerving similarity. They put their radar on, knowing that this could be dangerous territory and once or twice spotted other teenagers giving them curious looks, weighing them up, working out their purpose. Eventually, they came to a sign that announced the school that they would be attending in a few short weeks and followed its directions.

 

Set back from the road, protected by its own bus terminal, the building rose from the ground in a grey stare. It was originally a school built for the children of people who expected more from life. Time, however, wears dreams down and buildings have a habit of reflecting that. St Agnes had fallen from grace. Its walls had taken on the make-up of the late twentieth century’s obsession with carbon fuels. Once stone, now blackened, it offered little encouragement. Saplings, planted to bring life to the grounds had been snapped and broken. Smaller names scrawled on walls in an effort to escape detection now fought with much bolder graffiti.

Mud prevailed where grass originally grew and formed trails on most days that could be traced throughout the building. Huge fistfuls of it hung from windows and ceilings. The bike shed encased a carpet of cigarette butts and sweet wrappers. Even the school name had been party to a touch of modernization as the sign standing outside the gates boasted Sh.AGNESS. It was to this place of learning that Michael and Christopher made their way one wet August morning.

“Looks lovely,” Chris muttered.

Michael couldn’t disagree. What he saw was a rundown comprehensive that only retained the name of a school because there was nothing else it could call itself.

“Shagness. What a great name.”

Christopher and Michael had not expected much more from the school. Even though they had come from a different part of the city, they had heard of it and its reputation. In particular, Chris had heard of how Shagness could produce some of the dirtiest football teams in the entire county and how their travelling support would go out of their way to intimidate the opposition and its teachers. After most games, anyone daft enough to have parked their car within the vicinity of the conflict would find tyres slashed, windscreens smashed or just a calling card of Shagness scratched into the paintwork. St Agnes was anything but saintly.

The brothers had decided to check the place out before the start of term. Their expectations were not to be disappointed. As they stood behind the spiked metal fence that surrounded the school, they shared a thought for the nice leafy comprehensive they had had to leave.

“We can’t afford to keep the house anymore,” Mum had said. “I don’t know how it happened but your father’s life assurance policy didn’t cover what we owe. If we don’t sell, then the bank will repossess.”

They had all had a terrible time since the accident, their mother, in particular, taking the brunt. She had never been the same since his death and the anti-depressants the doctor had prescribed only kept the demons at arm’s length. Now the demons were real and in the guise of moneylenders. Something had gone wrong. She was sure that they had done everything to guard their future. She knew, or thought she could remember, that they had taken out life-cover for both of them and that they were more than covered in the event of the unimaginable happening. But the unimaginable had happened and the life assurance had seemingly become a figment of her imagination.

In their rush to sell the house, they finally struck a deal with a man who said he wanted to develop it into flats. After each survey, he found something new that needed to be done and bartered down the price. When their mother had attempted to stem the leak in the projected capital, he threatened to pull out of the deal. In the end, he got what he wanted at a price he could never have hoped for. The Andrews’ family became downwardly mobile and found rented accommodation in another part of the city which most people did not even wish to drive through.

“Can I help you lads?”

They turned around to find that there was a man speaking to them.

“School doesn’t start until Monday and then it’s only for teachers. It’s unusual to get students trying to get in any earlier unless they’re wanting to set fire to the place.”

The man who was speaking to them was probably in his early fifties. He had shoulder-length wavy hair that had once been brown but was now giving in to the ravages of grey. He had what was left of a summer holiday tan that would keep him in a sense of. There was a rotundity around his middle that well-being for the first six weeks of term spoke of his appetite for good food and wine. At just under six feet, Graham Hunter was the epitome of what the general public would see as a teacher.

“We were just looking,” Michael answered. “We are new here and both of us start on Tuesday.”

“In that case then I’ll be pleased to welcome you to St Agnes’s Comprehensive School. As you may have gathered, it is an institution that has seen better days, but who is to say that better days are not just around the corner? Anyway, Aggy, as I like to call her, has been around for over forty years and has been home to me for much of that time. My name’s Mr Hunter and, for all my sins, I’ve been teaching History here for over a quarter of a century. I might even be seen to be part of the history of this place myself, but I’d challenge any court in the land to prove it. Pardon me asking, but you look familiar, are you Chris Andrews who had trials for United?”

Chris looked up surprised and nodded.

“I thought it was you. I’ve seen your picture in the paper. From what I hear, you’ve got a lot of talent.”

“I’m okay,” said Chris shrugging his shoulders in the way that he often did to ward off praise.

“He’s better than okay,” Michael chipped in, “he’s brilliant.”

“Yes I’ve heard that. Just be careful and keep it under wraps for a while. There are some very small-minded lads here who pride themselves on quashing talent. They won’t like it if a new kid turns out to be something special. And you,” he said turning to Michael, “must be his brother. You have the same look about you both.”

“Yes, I’m Michael. I’m his eldest brother and am not very good at football.”

It was Chris’s turn to pipe in.

“Michael is the brains of the family. He writes brilliant stories and is probably going to be the one who will be really famous.”

“A writer. Now that is something. I always thought that I would be a writer, but I never quite made it. I’ve had a few short stories published but nothing more. I thought that I had the great novel within me and that teaching would allow me to flourish my literary pen and carve a name for myself. Alas, it doesn’t appear that it is ever going to be.”

Both boys felt an instant liking for the teacher in a way that they had not felt for a long time. He was easy to listen to and hard to dislike. If nothing else, he promised to be something worthwhile at their new school.

“Now I’m not supposed to do this, lads, but I’ll give you a tour of the place. It’s always better without the teachers and the students.”

When they got back to the gates, a small group of local lads had gathered. Some were riding their BMX bikes in lazy Es obviously eating up time. Others had positioned themselves on the seats of the bus shelter and were engaged in a mixture of smoking and spitting, mainly they were waiting.

“The smoke signals have been going up,” Mr Hunter sighed resignedly.

Michael looked at him and asked what he meant by that.

“You haven’t met them yet, but that is a welcoming party from the local estate. They like to think of themselves as a crew or a gang. Unfortunately, they are waiting for you.”

“Why?” asked Michael perturbed.

His younger brother looked at him no longer amazed by his lack of street knowledge.

“Because we are on their territory, in their manor and we didn’t have an invitation.”

Again, the look on his older brother’s face illustrated confusion.

“Chris is right,” said the teacher. “The school is right in the middle of gangland and this one belongs to a group called the WLP, West Lake Park, the name of the estate. I think it would be better if I gave you a lift home.”

By this time, the members of the gang had spotted them and were starting to turn around.

“Hunter, are those your boys?”

“Are those your rent boys?”

Each of the group took the lead from the previous and added their own take on the enquiries before the teacher led the two back towards the car park. The name-calling intensified and reminded Michael of the noise a pack of hyenas made after they had surrounded their prey.

“I would say don’t worry about them, but that would be silly. Be very careful of those lads and don’t be caught out by them. They are like a pack of animals and I shudder to think what they could do or have probably done already. When you come to school, always make sure you take the bus or get a lift. Never, and I mean never travel through the estate on foot. Do you promise me that?”

There was genuine concern written across his face as he asked this and the brothers nodded with a yes chorused from between them. All understood, the teacher opened the doors of his vehicle which was a partly restored VW camper van. Transport from another age. The gang was outside lining the exit throwing taunts and accusations as they left. One lad, in particular, wore a twisted expression of contorted aggression.

“That, as you will find out, is Mr Podrall, one time leader of the merry men, now second in command to a usurper named Flowers. The other lad is new to the school and is, I know I shouldn’t be saying this to you, a very dangerous character that makes the rest look like Telly Tubbies.”

His passengers laughed at that, but got the picture. The VW pulled away onto the main road leading out of the estate and with that, another chapter was about to be written about lives that were to be anything other than ordinary. 

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Their narrative was following an unseen course.

 

 

Playing With Your Blog-Site…

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Finally, I have tried to put some order into my world. I have used a different design and feel quiet pleased. It’s nothing more than an average three-month old chimp would be able to do, but it’s one step along the rickety road to ‘recovery’; whatever that means.

I would like you to visit it and exclaim your absolute amazement at its aesthetic qualities. The big winding river and lake represent a deeply profound me; as does the woman doing free-yoga on the cliff ledge (that sound like I wish to be a woman doing free-yoga). I am most definitely a river or a lake (full of fish and bordered by deep forests).

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Oh, how good it feels to be heading back to normality… 

Slightly Warm Turkey On The Frontier…

images-28 No, I didn’t!

They had been with me for two years; sitting at the side of the bed, waiting for the moment when I stumbled out of sleep.

Their presence was comforting and, even though I was not experiencing the immediate cavalry-charge of relief from hostile attacks, I was grateful for them being close-by in this wild landscape where each wrong move could be rewarded with deadly consequences.

I had made the decision to go on without them a year ago, but after a couple of weeks it became obvious that I needed their companionship. Travelling through hostile territory alone is difficult and often dangerous. Yet, I had been there before and had survived, neigh, I had thrived. This time, however, was different; I was back to where it had all begun.

There were many old faces that greeted me. They knew me from the past when I was unafraid and virtually impossible to best. The returning me, unfortunately, had been whipped like a cur and driven from the frontier lands. I was older, hopefully wiser, but I was gratefully defeated.

“He used to be…” I thought I heard them say.

Yes I used to be, but that’s not me any longer.

Somewhere along the trail they had been waiting. It was a spring morning with the early promise of warmth breezing through the trees and nothing was further from my mind than the idea that this beautiful wilderness would rear up and bite me.

They had been waiting in ambush. They had waited such a long time and now was their moment of revenge; and boy did they take it. Others told me later that I was lucky to escape with my top-knot. Without their intervention, it would have been hanging in someone’s trophy room as I speak (write). But I did get through it. I did come down from the mountain and I did return to the things I once knew.

The dreams left me after the first year.

They had been ushered away by the drugs that I religiously partook of: The Father, The Son, and The Holy Prozac. But after a while, I did not feel the Prozac. I had stopped feeling anything but the cold snap of fear when placed in front of groups of hostiles waiting to glory in the torment that they wished to inflict.

The Father, The Son, and The Holy Prozac… 

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The continued…

The Two Fruit Trees…

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We have two fruit trees in our garden. Both were bought as homage to the coming summer, many years ago. Both ought to bear exotic fruits that do not grow on these shores. Both should have been kept indoors.

Being me, I placed them outside. I believed that that was where trees deserved to be. I had a slight faith that the summers would come and encourage them into blossom. I hoped that they could find a new home in our garden. I left them to be.

A sort of summer has arrived. It is one of those four-day affairs that we English so much look forward to, yet rarely see. It was an equally unusual splash of warmth and sun that straddled a long weekend. After such a never-ending winter, relief was upon us. The garden became busy with ourselves. The ritual of cutting grass took place along with a raising of our new family-tent. We even breakfasted on the lawn this morning and all was well with the world.

I was perusing the plants on our patio when I noticed the fruit-trees. They have been denuded of the promise of fruit and raised their spiked branches towards the sky in an arboreal supplication. Their gift of fruition has been taken away and their response was to protect what little they had left.

Perhaps, they dream of warmer climates or just of being indoors. 

Perhaps, there are some things that need to be where they belong so that they can flourish rather than harden and slowly die. 

 

The Little Things…

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Yesterday was a day for the little things. It was the beginning of a long weekend with the help of Worker’s Day and I, as a non-worker for the weekend and the Monday Bank Holiday, was intending to squeeze it of its complete gorgeousness. To help me out, a good old friend came over to stay and I took him out on a very leisurely bike ride that took in two pubs, a countryside filled with sunshine, a group of friendly cycling advocates, and his very own extremely saddle-sore behind. What more could one ask for?

There were times in during the ride that he struggled. He kept slowing down so that he could relieve a cheek, one at a time. There was a moment when he showed a streak of speed to out-pace a very slowly ambling rambler. Bu when it came to the extremely arduous task of sinking a beautiful pint of beer, he was up to the task. This was not once, but twice.

Heroics are important, but stretching them out into self-flagellation is madness. Both he and my wife had me down as a sado-masochistic German tank commander who would push and push and push every  last drop of human-willpower from his charges’ very souls. I now revel in the revolution of my personal recovery.

“Is everything alright, my friend?” I asked from beneath a slashing, yet caring smile.

He gasped something in response which I took for a sign that he was still living.

“You will tell my wife that I have shown concern for your wellbeing, won’t you?”

Again, he gasped.

“And your bottom cheeks are still functioning?”

This time there was a tiny squeal and a facial grimace. I took this for positive.

There were moments on the ride that I appreciated everything that was on my plate.

Descending one beautifully gentle slope, I turned to him (he was drooped over his handlebars).

“I think we will miss each other when we are dead.” 

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It was meant to be a utterance of absolute bromance. He coughed and I understood what he was thinking.