I Prefer Water To Blood

 

images-799It’s a healthy thing to like the people you have been brought up with, especially if they are in your own family.

Families are about protection and safety. They provide our first glimpse of micro-society and prepare us (hopefully) for the macro one. If your first taste of the micro is off-putting, the macro may taste like an ocean of shit.

I never understood why some people chose to distance themselves from their kin. Some moved far away and never shared a word. The tales of long-lost aunties or uncles, brothers or sisters, were always a quiet source of conversation amongst mourners at funerals or weddings. The exiled were the outcasts, or the odd ones. The myriad of reasons that went into that decision to separate could be appreciated, but their drastic solution did seem a little unforgiving and final.

The family ties with my original blood relations have become strained in the years since my dad died. He sat at the head of the table, issuing edicts, wise words, and crippling criticisms. My sisters worshipped him whilst I had qualified respect. Our natural discourse was debate; we found it difficult to agree. Since his death, my sisters and I have fallen away from each other.

In truth, I have always been a black sheep. I like the contrast. I may be contrary. What I have always been is someone who ploughs their own furrow. Ever since I was little, the differences between me and mine, my original family, have been stark. In later years these have become more evident and this has manifested itself in the distance that now lies between us. I would be a dreamer if I thought it was going to change anytime soon.

Now, I have my own family. It is a very different one from the one I grew up in. Here, there is more love and forgiveness. We try to understand and support each other through difficult times, and there have been plenty of those.

My ties with my original family may now be strained, but I haven’t cut them.

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Perhaps the next wedding, or other occasion, will see improvement. 

 

 

Read After Burnout Review from Goodreads.

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I was extremely pleased to read this:

 

An Educator Burns Out, Loses The Pieces Of His Sanity, Finds Those Pieces And Uses Them To Recontruct A New Self.

With great humor and raw honesty the author takes us through his disillusionment, his depression and aniexty. His journey through medications and discovery of the “madness” finding in so many people. While trying to sort out his mental/emotional crisis, he is also dealing with a daughter that has issues of her own: a severe eating disorder.
The journey of this one man, this one teacher, to rebuild himself and his family is often raw. It’s truthful and real. You’re never sure how things will turn out, just like life.
A great read! I recommend this book to anyone stuggling with society’s expectations, career burnout or mental health issues.

 

Thanks go to the reviewer.

Thanks, Angie.

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. 

 

 

The Piper 41

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The night was coming and he liked that.

For once, he had been left in charge and the thrill of that control flooded his veins with a warmth that was reminiscent of his own comforts.

Flowers viewed the world from the inside of his flat. The smell of the old man had now even ceased to reach his nostrils and the revulsion that he had first felt was replaced with acceptance, indeed, celebration.

Since meeting James Harrison, life had taken on a different hue. The dead, he was sure, would inherit the earth and he would be amongst them. No, he would be leading them in the conquest of all that was good and the meek, well, they would not inherit.

He had learnt so much in these past weeks. He stopped to catch himself. Weeks, was it just weeks that had passed? For him it seemed like decades. These weeks had become eons in which he had led been led on a merry waltz through the possibilities of being. In that time he had moved from being Flowers, the boy with no hope (but who was as savage as despair), to the second in command.

He had been called him his representative on Earth. His kingdom would belong to Flowers and all of his progeny would rule from that day forth.

Hadn’t he moved the dead?

He turned to look at the dried remains in the chair and grinned.

For a moment he placed his smile onto the face of the cadaver and was pleased to see it returned. Nevertheless, he had become bored with the way he could manipulate this empty vessel. Like a puppet master, he had been capable of making the thing move; it almost seemed real. On one occasion, it had even been able to make him a rudimentary cup of tea, but he had always hated tea and threw the scolding liquid back into the face of the giver.

Yes, he could move the dead and now it was time for him to move the living.

Podrall had been easy. Podrall was an insect. Yes, there had been a time when he had liked his Podrall. He had liked the way that the boy had feared him. The way he jumped to his commands and did everything without questioning. He enjoyed the blood that he was prepared to spill. He could watch in glee, like a circus spectator, as Podrall and his crew set about some hapless victim. And he would watch, enthralled by the spectacle as they would show their chosen prey not an ounce of mercy as they set about reducing hard flesh to pulp.

And that was good. That was good for those times. Now the times they were ‘a changing’ and he would settle for no less than sacrifice. The Piper had taught him that.

Now, the night was coming and it was the time that had been promised. On this night, and it had been deemed so, there would be sacrifice. There would be a sacrifice that would light up the world to the new possibilities of a dark eve.

From his window, he watched the weak move. They were being chased along the pavements by the merest force of the feeble elements, rain, cold and darkness could do this. When The Piper’s time was at hand, they would be huddled like goats against the greatest of powers.

How had man reached this stage?

He was not saddened by the fall of man but amazed that such a creature had managed to out-think its rivals to reach such privilege. Man the half-witted inheritor. The Piper had sneered in disgust at the thought that such imbeciles had reached so high in the food chain. They had been half-bloods, neither from the dark nor from the light. At first, they had danced around feasting on anything they could capture and, if unsuccessful, each other.

Then the prophets came, bringing awareness.

Instead of devouring their young in times of need, some would sacrifice their very own lives for these useless additions. Blessed are the children. And this was the key. For them to continue their absurd existence, their children had to survive.

The store of their collective memories was kept inside these helpless sacks of lard.

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Children, the root of all goodness, and evil.

The Piper 39

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Nobody knew that Pete could tell the time and only Nick knew that he had a special gift.

Pete could read the thoughts that other people had.

The big clock on the playroom wall told him that his mother was late. She always arrived and picked him up at ten minutes past five, give or take five minutes. Now the big clock’s hands were pointing to eleven and six. He knew that that meant that she was very late.

Pete watched as the other children were picked up by their parents, mostly mums. He had confided in one girl, Amy who was almost a year older than himself, that he didn’t have a dad. She nodded and said that she didn’t have one either or rather that she did, but he had moved away to live with another family.

She said this as a matter of fact, but Pete knew that she had been struck by something that really hurt. He knew that she cried herself to sleep when her mother switched off her bedroom light.

Twenty minutes ago, Amy’s mum had turned up with her face of survival and had taken her home.

“Oh, so this is the Pete you’re always talking about?”

Amy had blushed with a childish mixture of pride and embarrassment. Pete was supposed to remain a secret crush and now her mother had blurted it out as if it was something that was funny.

“Your mummy’s late isn’t she? Has she been held up in traffic or something?”

Pete shrugged his shoulders suggesting that he obviously didn’t know. Inside, he knew where she was and how she was trying to make her way back to him.

More important for Pete now was the fact that the big hand was moving towards six o’clock and that was the time the nursery closed. There were very expensive fees for leaving children beyond this time, but Pete knew that fees were not part of anyone’s concern. The big lady with the lovely smile was his immediate problem.

Pete stopped pushing around the Thomas the Tank Engine contingent he had managed to assemble. He’d achieved a minor coup since he had never been able to collect all of them together at exactly the same time. He had Thomas there with his blue livery, Edward and Gordon who shared the same colour, Henry who was green and James, his favourite, who was a stunning red. The toys were old now and had been handled by hundreds of children with care and without care. Tonight, he had aligned them all along the railway track of his imaginary Westward Way Railway Line.

James came to a halt. Mathew, the last of the other children, had been picked up by his mother.

“Do you mind if I get off, I’ve got some shopping to do?” Katy, the nice nursery nurse asked the big lady.

The big lady liked to be called Samantha, but Pete knew that this wasn’t her real name.

“Fine love. I’ll wait here with little Peter until his mummy arrives. Won’t we Peter?”

She gave him that long practised smile. Pete smiled back , not wanting to let her know that he knew how long she had practised that smile.

Katy grabbed her coat and her bag and was out of the door with a friendly goodnight. The big lady smiled again, waited a few minutes and got to her feet. She crossed the area between her seat and the door and locked it. She turned off the lights. Pete felt, without having to see, the smile disappear.

“Now then, Peter, I know someone who is dying to meet you. You will have to put your coat on now as he doesn’t enjoy being kept waiting.”

Pete didn’t move, his mind was delving hers.

She was somewhere else now. She was not in the same room as him but was amongst lots of other children wrapped in white sheets and sleeping in depthless dreams. She was walking along the spaces between the beds. She was making her way towards one bed in particular and when she got there she would pull back the sheet to reveal… himself sleeping.

“Move yourself now, you little shit before I do something about it.”

She moved towards him with menace and then stopped as she heard a knock on the door. Her face contorted a little, she was unsure of what to do. Pete sensed that she could ignore the interruption. Her mind was reasoning that anybody outside would assume that there was nobody within. The lights were out after all. The knock came again and the voice of Katy rang out,

“Samantha, you still there? Samantha, I’ve got the wrong bag.”

The knock was more urgent and Pete slipped inside the hesitation of the big lady and pushed. He pushed her towards making a decision that would help him. She thought to herself once more and this time she decided to answer the door. Pete seized hold of Edward and waited.

The door was opened in the same way it would be opened to unwanted salesmen.

“Oh thank goodness for that. I thought you’d gone. I thought you’d gone with all the lights being out.”

“I was just putting our coats on. His mother called and asked me if I’d take him home. Her car’s broken down.”

“Can I come in then and get my bag? I must have picked up yours by mistake.”

Grudgingly the big lady opened the door just enough to let Katy in. Katy had to literally squeeze through the gap. Pete waited in silence.

“I best give Pete his coat if you’re leaving. We can all leave at the same time can’t we?”

Katy passed Pete his coat and he put it on without revealing what he held in his right hand. The smile was battling to remain together when Katy spilt the contents of the other handbag on the floor by mistake.

A six-inch switchblade fell open on the floor and transfixed everyone.

The big lady made towards it and Pete ran for the door. She turned to stop him and almost caught hold of his coat sleeve. The smile quickly became a savage grimace of intent and he wasted no time in launching Edward in the direction of her left temple. The smack was audible, even above the cry of astonishment coming from Katy.

Pete was out of the door and into the night.

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He laughed about how Edward had got his own back on the Fat Controller and was away.

 

The Piper 38

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The last of the afternoon light was starting its retreat from the school.

“And let’s think about what we have learnt today,” concluded Mr Hunter from the front of the room.

“Hitler and his Nazis did fail. His regime finally buckled under the combined weight of the Allied Forces. Like similar regimes throughout history, there was initial internal resistance, however, that was dealt with through the tacit co-operation of many of its citizens. Hitler’s attempts to change the future through the establishment of the Hitler Youth and the Final Solution never achieved its objectives. Some Jewish people did survive and subsequently emigrated. Many of the youth got bored with the evening meetings until laws were passed to ensure their attendance. And what usually happens once you are forced to do something?”

Michael, who had carried the class, did not volunteer. Flowers put his hand up in the air in a manner that was vaguely familiar to the Nazi salute.

With a sigh of resignation, the teacher acknowledged the input.

“The answer to that is simple. If you are frightened enough, you will do anything. Brutality is what humans understand the most. Any true leader who has a choice between the carrot and the stick will always choose the stick because it works. Very few people like pain and fewer still enjoy watching pain being inflicted on those they love. You, as a teacher of history, know that the German authorities would never immediately punish the individual, at least not on their own. They had a policy of punishing the families and communities as this achieved two excellent outcomes: the perpetrators were dealt with and the chance of encountering revenge attacks was dramatically reduced. On top of that, one has to say, the fear factor kicked in big style. How can you fight something that has no acceptance of good and evil? That’s what it boils down to, not woolly-headed bleeding-heart liberalism.”

There was no triumph in his voice. What came through was a granite determination and conviction. Every face in the room was turned towards the man who had formally been the teacher. For a long while, he was trapped in silence.

Michael wanted to urge him on. Michael wanted him to respond with an argument that would raze Flowers to the level he should be at. Unfortunately, the bell sounded for the end of the class and the school day. Chairs moved quickly and bags were swung onto backs. Nobody spoke as feet quickly made for the exit. Within seconds the room was empty of everyone bar the trio.

“Interesting point there, Liam,” Mr Hunter spoke in hushed tones suggesting he had accepted the logic of his student. “You displayed some excellent skills of explanation and deduction. You would make a fine student of this subject and…”

“Cut the crap, Hunter. I didn’t say that for your benefit. The problem with your type is that you think the world is built on reason. No matter how many wars and atrocities continue to take place, you believe in your flimsy values and ethics. I feel sorry for you. Your time is dead and buried and you don’t even know it. Teacher of History, how apt.”

Turning towards Michael, Flowers smiled.

“You are a little more interesting,” he said getting up. “I’m rather looking forward to having a further talk.”

He walked slowly out of the room and Michael listened to him disappearing along the corridor.

“Michael, I think it’s better that you wait here for a while.”

 

 

It had been coming.

Michael knew that something had to happen and that he could no longer be protected by anyone other than himself. Flowers had laid down the gauntlet and Michael had no choice but to pick it up.

“Thanks for the offer, but I think I’ll be getting the bus with Chris.”

“If you think that’s safe, then you go ahead. Just take care of yourself, young man. I’ve got a feeling that Mr Flowers doesn’t fight fairly.”

“Me, too.”

When Michael emerged from the classroom, the corridors were deserted. Not even the faintest echo of feet could be heard bouncing around the walls. Each classroom that he passed revealed itself to be vacant. He was struggling to believe that everyone could have left so quickly and so quietly. If fire drills went as smoothly as this then there would be no need for them.

A door behind him flapped shut and he turned to see who had come through it. The door swung to and fro free from assistance. There was nobody there. He heard a chair scratch itself across the floor and he moved on. He increased his pace a little to keep him ahead of the tiny sounds that were emerging from where he had come. A cold breeze ran past him and he broke into a jog. When he finally reached the exit and pushed, he discovered that it had been locked.

Michael stared at the door in disbelief and tried it again. He could not bring himself to believe that the caretaker had locked the main exit so early. He kicked at it in frustration and his slight rebellion made him smile.

He was turning back when he heard a storm of feet charging along the corridor above him. It sounded as if a tempest had conjured itself from the afternoon and was in the process of dashing the ground in cruel satisfaction. As suddenly as it had started, it stopped. No even a footfall fell beyond the others. Not a noise after that. Sweat formed on his skin ran in huge droplets along salty tracks down his face. Pinpricks of anxiety started tingling through his system and shook him out of any complacency he may still have harboured.

Think, think he thought to himself. Where’s the next exit?

He didn’t know the school that well and had been a creature of habit in the few months that he had been there. Now, he cursed himself for his lack of adventure. In that breath of time, it had also crossed his mind that Chris was not there.

Chris was not there waiting for his brother.

They had always been together, through everything. What Michael could not do, Chris could and that was reciprocated. Michael was on his own for the first time outside of his dreams and this was becoming more and more like one of his nightmares as even the flimsiest of the sun’s rays began to falter.

He pressed a light switch and nothing happened. A cacophony of doors slammed in a falling of dominoes and that was enough of a cue for him to launch into full flight. Laughter chased his every step.

He was doubling back upon himself knowing that that was what they would want him to do. He was thinking through his escape and he was trying to see his plight through the eyes of his tormentors. He was putting himself into the shoes of a boy he had only just met. He was using some innate intuition to allow himself an advantage.

The rush of feet came again and this time it was much closer. He listened to the noise until it fell into a distant silence. He moved forward and heard his own shoes signalling his whereabouts. Every step he was taking betrayed him – ringing through the empty school, a radar for his pursuers to follow. He was running in near darkness now and so would his pursuers. He stopped and hooked his thumb into the back of his right shoe and slid it off. He did the same with the other one and pushed them into his bag. He ran barefooted, in silence, until the rush of feet came again.

This time it went on for longer and he could hear the distance between them being eaten up. He had decisions to make. He was being chased into a trap. The feet were the drum beaters that scared the prey. The prey would hear the noise and would flee towards apparent safety. Unfortunately, the beaters were not the most imminent threat. No, the main threat would be waiting around the corner or beyond the next doorway. Somehow, he had to find a way out before he got any further.

He took a chance and tried a classroom door.

He needed to be quick and quiet. It was locked. He moved on and across to try another and this time it opened. He eased himself in and closed it just as another rush of feet gathered speed and crashed along the area he had only recently departed.

He sat crouched with his breath held and waited.

He waited for a sweeper to come along. He had read about sweepers and how they would come along after the main chase. Their job was to ensure that the prey had not deviated from its intended path. He waited and sure enough he heard the stealth of footsteps making its way towards him. He heard the sweeper trying doors and pushed himself hard against his. He dug his shoes into the floor in a vain attempt to stem any surge from beyond. His body tensed against the wood and he was aware of his heartbeat transferring itself through his bones and muscles and further into the wood.

A hand grasped the handle and slowly pushed down.

Michael’s body absorbed the momentum from the other side. It came in a slow inquisitorial fashion. Another deeper examination followed with more weight being placed behind the intruder’s question. Michael again absorbed this and, even though his body was ringing with the sharp volts of adrenaline, he controlled his urge to overexert. The door handle returned to its original position, a few seconds passed like years and the footsteps moved away to another door.

Michael listened intently to the sound of other doors being tested. He had lost track of logical time, but he was sure that the sweeper was spending less on them than the others. Eventually, the sweeper reached the large doors at the end of that stretch of corridor and the sound of them being swung open should have allowed Michael some respite.

His instincts told him to stay where he was.

Minutes gathered like water from a dripping tap. Seconds nudged their way through the slightest of gaps and collected in the vastness of space. Infinitesimal amounts were now forming themselves into a sphere that clung to their source with the reason of irrationality. His enemies would not give up so easily. Michael counted to battle with the gravitas of a mystic. When he reached four, he resumed the count, placing imaginary defensive supports against his door. He was building for survival.

One, two, three, four. One, two three, four. One, two, three, four. One, two, three…!  

A huge force hit. The frame was shaken. Again, something massive hammered against it and this time it seemed to be knocked free of its surroundings. Whatever there was on the other side, it should have broken the defence by now. Michael sat lost in his mantra and was not alone. He pulled forth the faces of his family, each helping him to stack his ramparts.

They would not, they could not pass.

The creature on the other side let out a scream that was joined by a wailing chorus of squeals rising in unison with their combined frustration. After this had died away, a voice that was calmly modulated arose.

“You are quite impressive, Mr Andrews. You have surprised us all. Still, this little display of defiance will only stretch out the end. It will be of little consolation to you now that I tell you that your loving mother has been taken by us. Little Pete, oh so innocent little Pete, is under the watchful eye of a very attentive carer. Yes, she’s one of ours. She was one of the lost children now fully grown. She’ll look after Peter.

“Oh, and I’ve got a special request from another family member. Chris says it’s no use fighting. He’s a strong lad, much stronger than you and I think he’s thrown in the towel. Well, he’s not here to help you is he?

“Finally, one last little snippet of news is that my faithful follower, the venerable Mr Podrall has been given an early Christmas present. I gave him a Luger. It was a special keepsake from the last war. He’s using it now to rid the world of that parasite who you think will save you.

“Have your day,  little man. Enjoy the final moments before the end of days.”

A breeze arose and quickly turned into a wind that swept along the corridors and the classrooms. Everything that had been there was sucked into its vacuum, even the premature darkness.

Even the air that Michael breathed was different as he emerged from his stronghold.

One, two, three, four. 

They had gone.

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