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.

images-831

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.

walk-through-woods-400x600

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.

images-829

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.

images-830

Fully evercised and fully exorcised, we are content.

Checking Out My History

images-825

 

There’s a woman I know who had an idea for a book. She entered a competition for ‘Women of Substance’ with this idea, and only this idea. She won and got a book deal.

The book was written by both the publishers and her with the publishers doing an inordinate amount of research. She wrote about what she knew best and what she thought about the most, herself. The book sold quite a lot and she is still living off of its popularity.

At the heart of the book was the heart of her success. Her prose were not so special. Neither was the story of her life (which bookended the real tale). The thing at the heart of it all was the revelation that her great grandmother was a woman who was found guilty, with her male friend, of the murder of her abusive husband. They were both sent to the gallows together and were the last couple to do so before capital punishment was repealed.

With this in mind, I set off to find my own past. Surely, between me and my wife, we could find a murderer, sodomite, or just an everyday lunatic who was locked up in a house for the insane and met every night with lupine howls.

I started the search and was confronted by how little our parents had told us. My wife has circumstances that make it doubly difficult to delineate a family tree. Having known next to nothing about my mum and dad’s families, even the discovery of maiden names of great grandmothers or the name of my father’s absent dad brought up a lump of sadness that was unexpected.

My continued search will be for the sake of discovery and to tell the story of ordinary histories.

Better Than Sex (Don’t Procrastinate).

images-40
The little death is a translation from the French “la petite mort”, a popular reference for a sexual orgasm. The term has been broadly expanded to include specific instances of blacking out after orgasm and other supposed spiritual releases that come with orgasm.

Speculations to its origin include current connotations of the phrase, including:

* Greco-Roman belief that the oversecretion of bodily fluids would “dry out” one of the believed four humours, leading to death
*Islam’s reference to sleep
* Buddhist Sogyal Rinpoche’s The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying’s quote: “Life is nothing but a continuing dance of birth and death, a dance of change.” (Existence through many changes, “births and deaths”)

 

Before my father died, he asked me to buy him this book: 

5984068

It’s about horse racing. My dad never knowingly rode a horse, perhaps he did in his dreams, but he never actually got astride one and let it canter down a field or furlong. The closest he ever came to this was when he would place a bet on others, professional jockeys, racing at the various meetings around the country.  Betting on horses was, for him, a release.

I have never been bitten by the betting bug. Okay, so I have but a few quid on a Grand National sweepstake but nothing else. My brother-in-law, who had lots of insider knowledge, once gave me the name of a ‘cert’ that had wonderfuly tempting odds and which would make me a fortune if I dared to back it. I didn’t and it lost.

My dad would occasionally win BIG. Nothing ridiculous, just a few hundred or maybe a thousand. He wasn’t ostentacious, never bragged, showed little emotion, and definitley wasn’t vainglorious, but he did win; he knew his stuff. If anybody were to be asked, however, who the big gambler in the family was, they would probably point to me.

I was the risk-taker, I gambled on life.

 

images-819     images-820

Yup, you guessed it. That poor schmuck on the left is me.

Origin of schmuck

First recorded in 1890–95, schmuck is from the Yiddish word shmok (vulgar) literally, penis (of uncertain origin)
The Dice Man is seemingly an autobiography, narrated by a bored, clever New York psychiatrist, Luke Rhinehart. He is a nerd run mad. He decides that, in pursuit of ultimate freedom – or nihilism – he will make decisions using dice. He offers the dice options, and they choose for him. The dice tell him to rape his neighbour, but he fails because she wants him. The dice make him tell his patients what he thinks of them (my favourite dice decision).
Ultimately, the dice leads to downfall and death. But doesn’t everything?
I read this when I was in my late teens and it left an impression on me. I am only just coming to terms with the impact that my choice of reading had upon my embrionic id.
Anyway, the smart schmuck followed the dice. Some may argue that he only followed what his subconscience wished him to do. It was he, after all, who lay down the options for each of the dice numbers to follow. He devised the parameters of the game and he accepted the potential consequences.
After the novel’s publication there was a slow growth in its readership. Nevertheless, it is still in print today and has sold more than 2m copies.
Amongst those who have read it are Richard Branson (he of Virgin), who ‘diced’ as a way of breaking through a sort of capitalist conundrum. He did it for twenty-four hours because “it was too dangerous to carry on longer”. Others have used ‘dicing’ as a non-subjective, left-park way of acting. perhaps it liberates us from the fear of consequences because, if the dice rolls that way, we are certainly not to blame. It also adds a little zest to lives that may have become a little lacking in taste.

 

Schmuck is a Yiddish word for penis. Le petite mort is French for little death. Betting is claimed to be better than sex. the Greeks and Romans may have believed that too many orgasms dried you out. Whereas, Islam points to sleep.  Bhuddists take a more balanced view that tells us that in the great scheme of things (assuming there is a scheme), it doesn’t mean a thing. Life continues ragardless of what we do.

7950

George Cockcroft, the real Luke Rhinehart.

The Stand is an old friend.

I read it every five or six years. I go back to it in the same way one might go back to the place in which you grew up.

My affair with everything apocalyptical probably came from King; well some of it anyway. The landscape of my youth was clouded by the coming apocalypse. But it never came. There was the threat of nuclear war, Aids, over-population, and ISIS (so called), but it has never ended. Neither has my love of The Stand.

I picked up a copy of this book just before the weekend and started to read it once again. Some people never go back to books once they have read them. Some people never review a film once it has been watched. I do both. The mind-readers out there will tell you that it will be connected with my psychological hoarding, a need to never let go of the past. I believe this to be true, as this book testifies. For somebody who can launch into new experiences, whilst leaving behind old ones, I am a strange contradiction.  But there are artefacts that I treasure; books, books, books.

Cornerstone-bookshop

The latest edition of The Stand has new chapters and some new characters. All of these are peripheral to the main events yet they work in a way to freshen up the novel for a new audience. Where King falls down a little is where there are obvious anachronisms that have been born out of temporal revision.

My favourite character, Larry Underwood, a musician about to make it big before Captain Trips seizes his stage. At that time Larry was mixing his tracks with Neil Diamond. Now, I am not one to put Neil Diamond down, but a new audience wouldn’t really know him. If they had heard of him, it would be in the same way that would have heard of somebody once called Noah. I have a student who goes by that name, but he hasn’t got an arc or a zoo. That to one side, the book gripped me once again and I spent huge swathes of the weekend lost in its many pages.

Once again, I was back to the time when I was eighteen, still wet behind the ears, hoping beyond reasonable hope that I would amount to something in life.  I was afflicted with that good old Jesus-Syndrome. Reading, The Stand is like reading me and about all that has happened during the time that I became what I am today.

 

My favourite characters in the book are Larry Underwood and Nick Andros. The latter is a youngish man who can’t speak nor hear. He is very special in the grand scheme of things. Larry, because he is a tragic figure who is haunted by his own doubtful character. He wants to be good but often does bad things. “You ain’t no good guy!” He hears from women, who would have been complete strangers if he hadn’t have slept with them. I like Larry because he is a little bit like I was when I was young, self-centred, hedonistic, and a dreamer. He wanted  to do the right thing in a world which was not right so, he just went along with it and carved out his own little stretch of land where he could hide from his troubles and the eyes of his critics.

 

Larry is an artist who has struggled to be heard properly. He hasn’t had the breaks and when one sashays his way it is blown away by a combination of genetic engineering and the end of days conducted by Randall Flag. Old Randy is the Devil in-definite-carnate. And poor old Larry, and the rest of the world, are swept away by this janitor from Hell. Larry is a guy who has always been good, at heart, but indifferent in actions. The last stand of good against evil is one in which he will play a major role, surprising himself and others with his bravery and selflessness. At the end of it all, Larry is a “good guy” but dies in the process. So, is this Jesus thing in my DNA or has it been placed there by the writers I worship?

images-34    Randall Flag

If I was a lawyer, I would possibly say that this particular case ought to go to litigation. Through their poetry and prose, these writers have led me all the way along a narrative that quite possibly would not have been written in the same the way that it has turned out. Or is it that I was always predisposed to this type of existence, and that I chose the literature that best reflected me?

 

Thanks goodness that I never liked Jane Austin – although with zombies it is a lovely treat.

 

Living With Lots Of Women

images-388

No, I am not a sultan. I am neither a sultan nor a raisin, although some extended time in the sun could change that. 

I have a wife, three daughters, and a female cat. They all treat me as some acceptably odd character who shares their lives. I am no longer at the centre of existence and no longer at the centre of my own small act.

Philip Larkin Knew all about it:

“Something is pushing them

To the side of their own lives.”

Afternoons

You reach that moment when you have dispensed with thinking about life as one great adventure. The French talk about egotism as revolving around one’s own belly button. It’s like a living birth when everything in the universe is centred on the sole issue of that sole issue, you.

Once out in the open, it takes decades to accept that the world no longer revolves around you. You are not the sun, you are not even a sun, you are a speck in the universe, a galactic smote of dust that travels the great distances without anyone taking any notice.

But, I live amongst women. And they care for me. Even the cat, Lucy, nuzzles me when I am a little down. 

My ladies don’t give me false support. My ladies don’t allow me to wallow. My ladies keep me planted on the ground. They keep me…

I may be on the sidelines now. I may be but an observer of things that are happening around me, but which I do not participate in. I like it. I like the feet-up approach. I like being relaxed. I like not having to act. My ladies accept me for what I am.

So, in this part of my life, I am prepared to relax and to leave the running to others. I will watch, observe, appreciate. And occasionally, I will cheer.

images-389

From Field of Dreams

 

I will not be in the centre of it from now on, but I will be somewhere, enjoying the moments…

With my lovely girls (and wonderful wife).

Not Making Difficult Decisions

images-65

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…

images-192

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.

The Summer Of 76…

images-566

FOR ENGLAND AND MY MEMORIES, THAT WAS THE HOTTEST SUMMER THAT I CAN REMEMBER. IT REMAINS TALL AS STANDPIPES GUSHING FOUNTAINS OF MEMORIES INTO BUCKETS AND BOWLS.

The whole of the street would meet every morning and evening to quench their needs. The clear stuff was rationed to an hour during each of these times, but the queue chatted as if there was nothing odd about their gathering. They were collecting aqua vitae while the time ticked by.

That summer gave us the last blaze of our younger youth. My mates and I had reached the giddy heights of fourteen-years old. We were hungry for the attentions of the opposite sex, but the opposite sex was aware of this and stayed well away. As the eternal sunshine had driven off all but he continual swarms of ladybirds (rumour had it that they had become carnivores and were attacking humans rather than plants), we took to cycling.

Eddy Merckx was the then all-conquering cyclist from Belgium and he was threatening to win the Tour de France to add to his five previous titles. Eddy, like us, suffered from getting too sore in the saddle, so he pulled out of the race that year. We were at the age when heroes were to be followed and we all became Merckx disciples. Our day-long rides would always end with a bunch-sprint of sorts and each of us would run the commentary of,

“And Merckx, the unbeatable Belgium, takes the lead. The French are not happy (appy), but there he goes…”

images-565

Sometimes there would be a touch of wheels, a scream of metal, and the inevitable grunts of despair as bikes would collide and riders would be off-loaded. Tarmac rash was common for us, but in 1976 the heat had worked itself upon the roads and had delivered melted and more forgiving surfaces for us to scrape across. Blood came freely yet it was blood that was the mark of sportsmen (boys) and that was a badge worth wearing.

As the summer wore on and our encounters with females became at thing of ancient-myth, our rides started to take on a more serious aspect. We cycled further, climbed bigger hills, raced faster. There was a hierarchy emerging and as the weeks went by a few of our group began to fall off the pace whilst finding other distractions to relieve their interests. Family holidays were kicking in for a number of my friends and I secretly envied them for the luxury of being able to go to places that were so very different from our homes. One of our number went to France, another to Mallorca, and another to Cornwall. My family didn’t take holidays so I leant my time to the task of turning myself into a future Tour winner.

In the other world, Bjorn Borg won the Wimbledon Men’s for the first time whilst Chris Evert won the Women’s. I immediately took up the two-handed style that Borg had used so effectively and started to grow my hair a little. We all, to a man and boy, fancied Chris Evert which had a negative affect upon our rapidly declining self-esteem. Never, ever would Chris Evert fancy us, so we kept on cycling (those that were not on holiday).

My friendship group was a rather wondrous collection of almost-fits. We were what would have been Grammar-school boys if Grammars had not been phased out. Instead, we all attended the local comprehensive and managed to muddle our way through without serious consequences to our lives or our learning. Being bright boys, we thought that that was enough. O Levels would later remind us of the need to work hard at our studies, but that was still in the future.

The gang was:

Col: excellent sportsman and girl-magnate and marksman;

Spec: excellent mate and one that only wore spectacles for about three months when he was 6;

Haguey: an excellent teller of all-tales and developer of odd songs (chew a catty-chew, yeh);

Danny: an excellent bow-in who joined our band even though he went to a Catholic school;

Biggy: an excellent tall kid who had a dry comedian’s delivery;

Woody: an excellent sportsman and holder of an excellent head of ginger hair;

Picky: an excellent eccentric whose intelligence could not be ignored whilst some of his odd behaviour had to be;

Evansy: a younger me.

If Stephen King had known us back then, he would have modelled his various Losers’ Gangs on us. We were nice kids who were neither bullies nor victims, scruffs nor toffs, cool nor uncool. As such, we were material for the dark master to build his stories upon. Amongst the things that we didn’t do that summer was to find a body in the woods, but our treks into the countryside were of the same epic quality as one of those adventures.

I remember one particular incident with a dog in the nearby countryside when Danny, Haguey and Picky were on the ride. I was past the driveway of an isolated house first. I had descended at speed and was then on the upward run of the dip. From out of the pages of a horror tale came this vicious, snarling mutt whose intention was to chase, bite, an impede any passing cyclists. At that moment, I was Merckx leading the pack and I was unaware of the incident behind until I stopped at the sound of crashing bikes.

images-567

Bikes were heavier in those days which helped them to hurt more when you fell off them and they fell onto and into you. Collisions were more serious as nobody wore helmets. It would seem that most young people’s heads were already thick enough to absorb any impact. On the subject of bikes, people mainly rode Raleighs with the posher ones riding Carltons. I had a Raleigh Nimrod, Danny had a BSA (short for Birmingham Small Arms- gun metal), Picky had a Dawes (I think) and Rob had a Carlton as his dad was a Town and Country Planner and his mum was our History teacher. So, when I heard this sudden volley of barking, snapshot swearing, and then metal on metal, skin on road, more snapshot swearing, I realised that something was not right.

images-569

 

THE DOG CONTINUED TO BARK, EVEN AFTER SOME STRAIGHTFORWARD INSTRUCTIONS TO GO FORTH AND MULTIPLY, BUT THE REST OF THE WORLD WAS SILENT APART FROM THE RATHER CALMING SOUND OF FREELY-SPINNING WHEELS THAT WERE NOW NOT IN CONTACT WITH THE EARTH…