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.

Exercise and Exorcise

Sunday morning has come around again; much too quickly. It came with two possibilities: a passive, meaningless stretch of twenty-four hours or a moment seized and gently squeezed of its goodness. We chose the latter.

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After a two year battle with the world, I appear to be content. Contentment is so different from its superficial cousin, happiness. Contentment doesn’t wear a showy smile. Contentment doesn’t belly laugh. Contentment doesn’t leave without warning, leaving a grey vacuum that swallows the pain of having to live without it.

Contentment just is.

So here is me, content. And this morning, to build upon this feeling of being here, we went for a run in the countryside. We being my lovely wife and me.

To start with, as we drove to our route, we chunterred a little about aspects of our lives. Our middle daughter has completed her A Levels and has put off university for a year. She now sits with her smartphone, sits and sits. Her bedroom is the stuff left by hurricanes and her mother is reaching the end of her patience. My wife’s workplace is undergoing change (the type of change that has become the byword and trite idealogy of educational institutions, “We must get better and better!”). She is feeling the stress from that and I, having gone through my own psychological wildfire, am on hand to offer a comforting  perspective.

As soon as we reached the area for our run, the world began to lift.

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It’s a difficult run but so rewarding. Up and up and up with calves straining against the effort. A desire to stop to ease the rapid breathing but a continuation in order to reach the top. Once there, the panorama is reward enough.

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We run in a rough circle that takes us along trails in fields and ones in woods. It is the woods that I most like. There is a stillness about so many trees so close together. They stand and watch our passage without comment. On more than one occasion I have been on the receiving end of an arboreal prank with hidden routes reaching up from the ground to catch the toe of my trainers and send me on a slow-motion tumble. Now, I keep an eye on them.

When our run has brought us full circle we are allowed to descend the steep climbs and make our way back to the car that is parked up by one of the most picturesque churches one could wish to see.

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Fully evercised and fully exorcised, we are content.

Not Making Difficult Decisions

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Being cornered by a difficult decision can be worrying. There are times when we are being demanded to choose a particular course of action in favour of another. We have this idea, this solid appreciation that whatever decision we make is going to have profound consequences. The path that our lives have been set upon wil irrevocably change and things will not be the same, ever again.

Life does that to you because it’s a bully. It keeps taunting you with, ‘Go on. Try it!’ And the more it taunts, the more likely it is that the fear venom will start to rise from the deepest pit of your everyday anxiety. The more it tells you to, “Go on and give it a go’ the more you hesitate, prevaricate, constipate intended actions into an obstinate refusal to act. If we are incapable of acting for long enough, time takes over.

I was once playing football and a very talented midfielder, with a golden boot, gained a freekick just outside of the penalty area. The game was standing at 2-2 and the opportunity presented itself for him to cement his growing reputation in Sunday-League football with a last minute winner. He knew this. We knew this. The opposition knew this. And so did the man and his Border-Collie who were the crowd. Time knew this and was instrumental in what was to follow.

It was one of those mockingly cold Sundays that had refused to let the freezing winds of winter completely go. Rain had begun to join in and was lashing our drawn-out expectations. As the moments went on, we got wetter and colder. Words of support were offered from a few of us towards the golden midfielder. The other team were offering words that were not advice, unless advice was to let the dog take it. All of this added to the tension.

The referee uttered a few words about time-wasting yet still there was no action. Our talented midfielder had dallied too long in the world of indecision. The clock was not just running down, it was racing down, rocketing down. If the kick was not taken quickly, the whistle would be blown.

At moments like these, time steps in.

In this instance, time was dressed up as a rather forthright defender who wanted to ‘get a bloody move on’.

As Golden Boots dillied and dallied, checked the wind, checked the rain, checked the position of the other teams defensive wall, our rogue defender mumbled, ‘Fuckit’ and ran  up to the ball and whacked it. To be fair, he often whacked things; he was a good defender. And the pub was about to open.

I can’t remember what happened as a result of his whacking it. I can’t remeber because this is only a story that I created to illustrate the point of my dilemma. In an ideal world the ball would have sailed into the back of the net. In another world it would have missed by miles or have been saved by the keeper. In the world of Independiente, our Neo-South American football team that owed alliegience to no one other than ourselves, the ball may have gone on to ricochet into forever towards time’s coming dusk. Regardless of the intervention, nothing has changed significantly since then.

I had a very difficult decision to make recently. I had been offered a job in a school in southern Spain. It could have led to significant things. I could have been a contender. The implications of any decision could have been significant. Guess what?

Just as I was standing over the ball, petrified in indecision, the same bloody defender came racing up from behind me and blasted the ball. I watched it leave his boot, fly towards goal, be anticipated by the keeper and then…

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This time, Time was not a defender but an email which I accidently sent off with a swipe of my finger as I was showing it to my wife. I was trying to prove to her that I wasn’t indecisive and Time decided to help me.

Inspirational Quotes.

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Back when the world was still young and very, very big, somebody thought it wise to employ inspirational quotes as a way of lifting the general mood out of abject depression.  Life, you see, sucks.

But so does a vacuum cleaner.

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“Don’t wait until you feel better to live your life, get your coat on and live it now.”

 

Perhaps I agree with some of this, but question why I need my coat on to live my life. Surely, this is a little prohibitive.

 

It was a Year 7 lesson in which an inspirational quote was unknowingly uttered:

 “Sir, is Ancient Greece something from the nineties?”

Laughter was my initial response. Kids sometimes don’t get it. They may overlook a century or a continent in the same way that others overlook an occasional misspelling or punctuation error. After explaining that Ancient Greece was some several thousand years in the past, I realised that her misconception had not been rectified; time, centuries, eons were just so much other things to fall out of a busy mind.

images-814I had turned away momentarily before having to turn back again and remind her not to continue to wrestle a pencil case off her friend.

But then again, she was only getting on with it and living for the moment. Are teachers such myopic tyrants that we would deny the life out of any kid in our care just so that we can educate the hell out of them?

This week I heard that slippers are the answer.

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One primary school teacher had carried out some research that suggested that the wearing of slippers in the classroom improved educational outcomes. It was, apparently, part of their ‘wrap-around’ learning environment in which the students had opted to take more responsibility and control of their learning episodes.

When I was at school, the slipper was the softest of the hard options for learning.

The other thing that I heard this morning was that in South Korea, the entire student population go to sleep for at least one hour after lunch. This was being lauded as good practice as the South Korean offspring tended to get much better results than our own.

So now, somebody in the Department of Miseducation will command all schools to be ‘lounge lizard aware’ and to adopt the manner of the sloth.

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In that respect, I can report that I am probably ahead of the game as many of my after lunch lessons bear a striking resemblance to an episode of  The Walking Dead (during nap-time).

 

The Importance Of Night

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Almost twenty-minutes past three and I am sittng here in the darkness, without my glasses, whilst my wife and daughters sleep upstairs.

I woke thinking.

Now someway into my veritable older years, though the boy inside me queries this, I have those nocturnal meanderings that lead to a gnawingly inward frustration.

It’s over two-years since I finally wobbled beyond wise words. My ‘burnout’ was a forest fire that destroyed everything that I had come to depend upon in my daily existence and spiritual certainty. Even then, I still had a belief in the whole business of God.

I was a character in some cosmic saga and my lines were being written in a sympathetic ‘it will all work out in the final chapters’ manner. It was a nice thought, but it was a thought that gently drowned me into inactivity. Why should I bother to make the hard decisions when they had possibly already been made for me?

It takes many deaths before we awaken to the possibility of our own.   

I think the fifties decade is the one that begins to place the Grim Reaper before us on an ever more frequent basis. People die. It’s not just people we vaguely know or celebrities we have grown up with. No, those now dying are our friends and our family. At this point, life stops being endless, ceases to be something that will happen tomorrow, and starts becoming a little urgent.

We have just returned from holiday in the past week and yesterday I was talking to my wife and commented on how full ‘holiday days’ are compared to non ‘holiday days’.

We were camping in France and we based our stay around the beautiful Lake Annecy. Our camping was a mixture of hard and soft camping with ten days being spent in mobile homes whilst the other eight was real camping in tents. We had our bikes (five people in my immediate clan) and the car was full to bursting with everything that we were to need and lots of things that we had forgotten that we would need. But we were on holiday and that meant that the days were ours and needed the respect that they deserved. So, instead of just letting them drift by, we filled them full of ourselves. Cycling, walking, talking, cooking, meeting, talking some more, seeing, site-seeing, BEING! We did it all.

Like most of our best holidays, the weeks were book-ended by potentially disastrous events. The car broke down, badly, and or final dash for the ferry saw us driving through the most torrential of storms which demanded my wife and daughters’ abject fear and my 1000 percent concentration. We survived both. When we got home we were well and truly knackered, but we had done it; we had filled the days of our holidays with meaning. We ‘did’ rather than procrastinate. It made sense. Back home the doing seems to get pushed to one side for that great big empty balloon of a thing called ‘everyday life’. And that is what we genrally do (or don’t).

Have you ever been to a funeral and said to yourself, “This is too important to waste”, then gone straight back to wasting it the next day and the day after that and the one after that…infinitum? It’s the holiday thing. We have a brief epiphany, a break from the everyday, a glimpse of what could be, then the blinds come down and we are back in the darkness of the mundane.

The thing with the mundane, the everyday, the normal world, is that it’s not taxing. It may be ultimately a stealth-tax but we don’t immediately feel it. We are not left exhausted by our attempts to seize the day and don’t feel the need to stuff all of our energies into a few weeks that will come to an end.  Unlike life, holidays are finite. And that is ‘rub’. Life does end. It’s a holiday that starts with a breakdown and finishes with a dramatic storm that threatens to derail everybody’s safe passage.

So after those fine words, I am still confused as to what my true holiday should contain.  

I have a decision to make in the next few days.

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I can’t put it off. The clock is ticking. 

 

 

Selling Like Hot-Cakes?

DIGITAL_BOOK_THUMBNAIL Read After Burnout.

It makes no sense. 

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