I’m taking a short break, so there will be no new posts here until Monday 6th June 2011.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Friday, May 27, 2011
Sometimes the sea is the only answer to those questions that roll over us like waves. There is something endless and relentless about certain questions that haunt our days and worm their way into our dreams. Sometimes, too, those questions haunt the shadowed dark corners when the night becomes endless and it is too hard to escape it all by slipping away into sleep and back to those dream corridors and hallways where a new world lies behind each of their closed doors.
The sea can answer these questions, even answer those we do not even realise are questions yet. It can keep us company as we walk alone in the early morning light and it can whisper its answers under moonlight when the sea itself becomes lost in the darkness, flickering with reflected light as it muses over the secrets we share with it.
Sometimes too, it is just a matter of hurling all our troubles out at the sea and watching it take hold of them and wash them away, leaving us standing alone on the shore as the waves tell us stories of others who stand alone on other far beaches at the water’s edge to tell the sea of all their troubles.
“Tremble, my little stock control assistant, tremble! For one day, and it could be as early as a week next Thursday, if the parts arrive on time, I will be ruler of the world.” Dr Affirmative-Negation laughed manically as he stroked his pet stock control assistant as she lay purring in his arms.
“My plans for control of the entire stock of the world’s cheese and pickle sandwiches are coming to fruition. Soon there won’t be a lunch-box, delicatessen or corner sandwich shop that will be immune to the power of my sandwiches… then… then… I will take over the pasties, and then the… the… CREAM CAKES of the world will be mine!”
The stock control assistant yelped and squirmed in his powerful grip as he squeezed, overcome by the power of his vision. Ever since his early days as an assistant butter-substitute spreader, class 2, in a tacky High Street sandwich shop chain, Dr Affirmative-Negation had dreamt, planned and schemed for this moment, and nothing.. nothing could stop him now.
“Hold it right there!”
At the sound of that familiar hated voice, Dr Affirmative-Negation spun around in his chair. “You!”
“Yes, me… surprised to see me?”
“Bu… but… I left you drowning I a vat of low-fat mayonnaise, Agent 003.142. Howe… how did… how…?”
“How did I escape?” Jack Bloke adjusted his bow tie and wiped imaginary dust from the sleeve of his crisp white dinner jacket. “Well… shall we say certain stock control systems were not fully in place, were they my dear?” Bloke winked at the stock control assistant who had now writhed free of the grasp of Dr Affirmative-Negation and crept slowly towards the British secret agent.
“You… you traitor!” the doctor snarled at the stock control assistant. “To think I let you taste my sweet pickle… for this you will die!”
Seconds later he pulled the golden cheese baguette out from its holster. The stock control assistant stopped halfway towards Agent Bloke as he held out his hand towards her.
“Run! Run!” Agent Bloke yelled at her, but it was too late. The golden baguette was a blur in the air as it sped unerringly towards her, knocking her off the runway and into the pit of slavering hungry clerical assistants that writhed below, all eager… too eager for some sort of lunch. Agent Bloke had to look away as the massed office workers crept towards the stunned stock control assistant, their condiments and sauces clutched in their hands. As one of the clerks began to sprinkle salad oil on her thigh, Bloke realised there was nothing he could do for her. Never again would he lick crushed salt and vinegar crisps from her navel in a luxury tropical hotel room. He turned angrily to face Dr Affirmative-Negation.
“You bastard!” Jack Bloke said, for once let down by the writers of his quips.
“Ah, so… the loss of a mere stock control assistant, makes in oh-so-cool, agent Bloke lose his famous wit?” the mad doctor sneered as he crept sideways, looking for an opening where he could use his deadly golden baguette with deadly effect against the British secret agent.
Suddenly, Bloke ducked and the golden baguette clanked uselessly off the fridge Bloke had ducked behind. Then, carefully, he crawled over to a cupboard and drew his gun, checking it was loaded.
“A gun… a mere gun against the deadliest golden cheese baguette in the world. Bloke you are a fool! A fool!” the mad doctor hastily reloaded the baguette with some new cheese. “Listen, Agent Bloke, I’m reloading my baguette with Gorgonzola, probably the most deadliest cheese in the world. Surrender now and I promise you a quick death, otherwise it will be the Gorgonzola for you!”
“You can’t scare me, professor!” Bloke yelled, and took aim, but the professor ducked. However, one bullet exploded the end of his baguette, shredded lettuce flew everywhere. The professor screamed as though he himself had been shot. “You bastard, Bloke. Now you will pay for that!” He reached for the radishes, trembling in fury as he loaded each slice of radish into the already heavily over-saladed remnants of the baguette.
Bloke saw what the madman was doing and tried to shout out a warning, but he realised it was too late and dived for cover just as the over-loaded baguette exploded into a mass of deadly Gorgonzola shrapnel, shredded salad and chunks of baguette… the pool mad fool had no chance. Bloke cowered even lower behind the fridge that rattled and shook as the deadly baguette fragments rained down on it and Dr Affirmative-Negation’s final scream faded into silence.
Jack Bloke got to his feet and stumbled dazedly towards Dr Affirmative-Negation's giant mayonnaise gun that he had used to threaten all the world's governments. Sighing, Bloke unplugged the machine, realising just how much he would miss the stock control assistant and that thing she did with the slat and vinegar crisps.
“Could you, y'know, give me a hand here?”
The familiar voice from behind him made Jack Bloke spin around. The stock control assistant was climbing out of the pit from the back of an eager to help clerical assistant. She reached out her hand towards bloke.
“I... how...?” Bloke stuttered, for once at a loss for a smart-arsed quip.
“I always carry a packet of salt and vinegar crisps for just such an eventuality.” She grinned and licked her lips “As you well know.” The stock control assistant sighed as Bloke pulled her into his embrace. “You know how much clerical assistants love crisps, especially half-starved ones that are behind on their filing.”
Bloke nodded and then their lips met.
“I don't suppose you've got a ham sandwich or something,” she said as the kiss ended. “I'm famished.”
“No,” Bloke said. “But I know where I could get you a cheese salad baguette.”
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Those may very well be the very knees you have so successfully used to enable a German parakeet to become the world’s most famous TV detective, but that doesn’t mean that we will be forced to immerse our heads in large buckets of chicken chow mein this Whitsun bank holiday Monday.
Even though several of our most eminent scientists have stated that there is growing evidence that the increasing number of German parakeets on our TV screens is almost total proof that the change in global temperatures has been caused by an almost 200% increase in the number of people who think shorts are a very good idea. However, it still doesn’t mean that we are immune to the brain-destroying scourge that is daytime TV, even if we do take the precaution of wearing a hat.
Now you may think this means that it is safe to be seen out on the streets of this great nation once more without first taking the precaution of carrying a tin of peach slices at all times. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily true as footage of the recent Royal Wedding so clearly shows, at least when viewed whilst wearing the necessary protective headgear and clutching a tin of peach slices.
All the days of returning when you are shocked
By the strangeness of the familiar, and how
Life goes on in the same constantly changing way
That is so well-known in the way everything becomes
So different and yet remains more or less the same.
I remember when your white hair was so dark,
Darker even than your daughter’s fading to grey,
Like her daughter’s bright shining blackness
That matches the dark eyes, that you still shine
Around at all your family spread out here,
Like some ancient queen watching over her tribe
For any stranger who dares to wish them any harm.
While at the same time there is a knowledge
That one day all too soon you will be gone
Leaving all these people behind without you.
Yet looking across the room your eyes meet
The same dark eyes in your daughter
And you know she is ready to take your place
So you smile back your acknowledgement
As you both nod to each other, satisfied.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
It was one of those days. Ben seemed unable to get going at all. It was as though the whole world had turned into some thick, but invisible, soup or glue around him. At times that morning, as he moved around the house trying to get ready for work, he felt as though he was swimming through this dense air. Not only that, everything seem just slightly out of reach, slightly displaced: his fingers fumbled and almost dropped his mug, the kettle felt huge and unwieldy, the bread for his toast fell apart in his hands.
Ben had had dreams like this, where the world and its inanimate objects conspired against him, prevented him from getting on with his life. He was half-convinced he was dreaming now, but there is something about the world that tells us when it is a dream and when it is real, and Ben had no sense of dreaming now as he scraped the crumbled and broken bread slices into the bin as he waited for the kettle to boil.
He had no idea how long he’d been staring out of the kitchen window watching the garden emerge from the gloom and shadows as the sun rose, but suddenly he realised the kettle had not boiled and he was going to be late… again.
He checked before he pulled the door closed behind him that he had his house keys, his mobile, the car keys and everything else he usually took to work. He glanced at his watch, noting that he was only going to be as late as normal and that his bedside alarm not going off that morning had not made him too late.
Ben felt lucky that he had woken, suddenly from some bad dream, when he did and turned to look at the clock, somehow realising by some sort of survival instinct, or so he presumed, that it was later than it ought to be and that the alarm had not gone off. He’d leapt straight out of bed, missing his usual 5-minute alarm snooze time of staring at the dull grey ceiling of the darkened room and moaning softly under his breath as he thought of the day to come and all the excitement and thrills it would undoubtedly lack.
It was quiet out on the street as he unlocked his car, but that was not too unusual. Ben was usually out before the main rush started, usually about the time the various mothers from up and down the street had managed to herd their hordes of recalcitrant and unwilling kids into their cars for the school run. It was half term this week, as well, so even those who had to transport their precious darlings halfway across town to get them to school would not be out getting in Ben’s way on his drive to work.
There were road works too, up closer to the town, which had meant that for the last few weeks or so, Ben’s route into work had nowhere near the usual amount of traffic on it as drivers found alternate routes to avoid the roadworks. Even so, Ben marvelled at just how quiet it was this morning with no traffic at all.
By the time he got to the road that led to his office car park, Ben was getting worried. He had seen no other cars at all, not one. Now he came to think about it, he could not remember seeing a single pedestrian either.
Ben turned into the entranceway to the office car park and slammed his brakes on. The gates were still locked, even though Old Stan, the gate security guard usually had them open dead on time every morning. Peering around, Ben noticed that Old Stan’s guard hut at the gate was empty too.
Ben wondered if Old Stan was caught up somewhere, gone for a piss or something. As he decided to give it five more minutes, he was struck by a sudden thought. He reached over to the passenger seat and picked up his phone. Checking the calendar he realised, with something approaching a sigh of relief, that Monday the 17th was – as he’d suddenly thought – a Bank Holiday. He’d lost touch with things like that since Julie, his girlfriend, walked out on him a few weeks ago, after what he still thought was a particular stupid row about him ‘taking her for granted’… whatever that meant. Since then Ben had been living in a kind of daze, not noticing time going by, not really paying attention to much at all really, except how much he missed Julie.
Ben could feel himself blush as he realised what a twat he’d been, coming out to work on a Bank Holiday like this. He was just glad that there was no-one around to notice him, sitting in his car waiting for the office car park to open. He sighed and prepared to turn the car around, to go back home, to go back to bed.
He laughed aloud at his stupidity and glanced back down at the screen of his phone as he slipped the car into reverse.
Yes, there it was Monday 17th – Bank Holiday.
Then he looked up at the top of the phone’s screen, at today’s date.
Feeling the panic starting to rise again, Ben hurriedly checked his watch. That too said it was the 10th.
He glanced around nervously, suddenly feeling like he was in some horror or science fiction story, half-expecting zombies, aliens or something to emerge from the office car park and attack his car.
Ben was about to turn on his car radio – he paused fingers less than an inch from the dial fearing that – from watching and reading all those SF stories - when he did turn it on all he would get was static.
His hand dropped as he said to himself that he would give it five more minutes to see if anyone else turned up, then, and only then, would he turn on the radio.
The five minutes passed so slowly with Ben turning every few seconds, just hoping to catch sight of someone else, some other living being. At just after three minutes his head jerked around as he heard an empty drink can rattle along the pavement, but it was just the wind shifting it. There was no-one there to kick it, and the can stopped rolling as it hit the wall.
The five minutes were up, and Ben reached out to turn on the radio… hesitated… and decided to give it five more minutes… just in case.
Five more minutes passed and no-one came, and nothing happened, except a solitary piece of paper blowing across the deserted car park.
Ben reached for the radio button with trembling fingers, already knowing he was alone, and already feeling the tears forming in his eyes.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
All those things that once seemed so vital, so important, once she got close to them, near to them, she found them all to be not what she was looking for. All those things that other people seemed to think really mattered seemed to her, when she got close enough to see them, worth less and less the closer she got to them.
She had turned her back on religion while still only a child, finding nothing there but absurdity, self-contradiction hypocrisy and empty posturing. She smiled when she remembered her young reasoning that if such an unlikely creature as a god did exist, then she could see why it managed to hide itself so well from everyone’s view. For, she’d thought, it must be so embarrassed by those professing to follow it, and more than a little pissed off at the things they thought, said and did purportedly in their god’s name.
Politics too seemed to her to be another empty vessel for people to fill with their own instinctive prejudices – often against something in themselves they feared – with some sort of – again – spurious legitimacy. In fact, the more she thought of it the more she realised that politics and religion were much the same as each other, both trying to bend reality to fit them, rather than adapting to the real.
Art too, these days seemed to have turned against itself – to have some fear and loathing of itself. Once, in more idealistic days it had chased beauty through music, through painting and sculpture, the written word and all other manifestations of the urge to create something, to give shape to the pliable air that would last more than an instant. Now, though, it seemed to revel in ugliness and the tawdry. There may, she though, be beauty in ugliness, but so many self-proclaimed artists these days seemed to want to wallow in the ugliest part of the ugliness.
It was if – she often found herself thinking as she sat on that old bridge across the stream, as if humanity had turned in on itself, turned away from the world and could only see itself though some distorting mirror that took what could be and turned it all ugly.
Bilston Shenanigan is nowadays known for her hedonistic self-indulgent party girl lifestyle, although at one time she was more famous for being the offspring of leading celebrity accountant Nigel ‘the Audit’ Shenanigan and the world’s most beloved PR agent, Sputnik Treefrog.
Eventually film, comedy and rock stars wore out their welcome on the celebrity circuit, mainly through not being even interesting enough for the celebrity photo magazines. Even after they had either fallen out of their dress in front of the cameras for the umpteenth time, or hit one of the paparazzi once too often, or been photographed with someone not suitable for their audience demographic or caught with someone not of that season’s fashionable sexual orientation the stars of yesteryear and last year’s media events seemed so boring to their audience.
Consequently, the search was on for some people who could be made into stars in order to fill the pages of the various Waiting Room magazines with photos of those stars doing purportedly interesting things, or – at least - apparently on their way to do glamorous things in evening dresses that were on the very cusp of falling off. Quite naturally, the glamorous hedonistic 24-hour non-stop party atmosphere of accountancy fitted this bill almost to perfection.
Of course, the instigation of Celebrity Accountancy on Ice, as well as the most successful and biggest grossing film of all time Justice League of Accountancy had revealed the secret glamour world of accountancy to the masses. Accountancy immediately took off with the celebrity-fixated audience desperate for new stars to fill the void once filled by those - now - jaded and worn out film, TV, rock and reality show stars of yesteryear.
It was the internet release of a ‘stolen’ home video, however, that catapulted Bilston Shenanigan to worldwide fame. In the video, Bilston and two of her father’s accountants are seen engaging in – admittedly fully-consensual – double-entry bookkeeping and some of the most explicit cash book reconciliation ever seen on film.
Soon it seemed that Shenanigan could not go anywhere, do anything or even file her expenses without been chased and caught on camera by hordes of paparazzi, no doubt eager to get more candid shots of her engaged in some explicit accountancy practices.
Soon, however, it seemed that a calculator was that season’s ‘must-have’ fashion accessory and no Hollywood glamour couple could be seen out without at least one of them clutching some invoices as they made their way through the party crowds.
That year it seemed that every film up for an Oscar was in some way about accountancy and the crazy, glamorous world and lifestyles of accountants. It seemed every child wanted to grow up to be an auditor and tax receipts were the new black. Accountancy had arrived.
Monday, May 23, 2011
Sometimes, there are always some times that seem as easy as that gentle flowing stream you sat together beside that one young summer in now what seems like another lifetime, so long ago. It was at times like that when life seemed to go on of its own accord and there didn’t seem any way it could ever stop. You both felt immortal and time itself felt eternal.
Then one day you woke up to find there were no more times like that. The day you woke up upon was another lifetime, one that had crept up on you, taken you both away from that life and down separate paths. You were strangers to each other now, not even knowing if you passed each other on the street, even though you felt you would know her, even if you only glimpsed her in the distance on some crowded city street.
You realised that you did, out on the street, scan the crowds around you for a glimpse of what had – so long ago – seemed as familiar to you as your own shadow. You began to feel as though you were on some quest for her, some search for the holy grail of what once was, and that you could never rest until you found her once again.
To Escape Again
I tried forgetting, but that never really works.
I tried walking away, but still have shoulders
To look back over and the distance always
Makes these things seem more attractive
And pulls, like gravity, like a magnet.
Like leaving a lover alone in a warm bed
When the morning comes to take me back
To my own life, and I know that looking back
Will only make me remember far too much
And all I came here to try to escape, again
Only to fall too easily into the arms
Of someone whose eyes held the promise
Of shelter and safety from the cold world
That now I feel the need to return to.
Leaving behind all this new promise
And a hope that now I can be different
From that person I ran here away from.
Friday, May 20, 2011
Still we do not stand on the railway station platform with a bucket of fresh mackerel fillets any more, our days of young, heady, romance are over now and our mackerel bucket grows old and dusty with disuse. Still, though, there are times when we sit together to calibrate our tinned goods by size, in order to create a pleasing and useful display in our cupboard and we dance through the garden centres where we bought the very first seedlings of our desire for colourful flowerbed displays. However, these days your tambourine is not what it was and I have a severe pain in the castanets whenever I attempt anything more rigorous than a tango in the kitchen as we wait for the kettle of our love to come to the boil.
There were days when we would wander hand in hand down the supermarket aisles of possibility, seeking out the unusual biscuits of experimentation and the unusual foreign foodstuffs of daring as we tested the very limits of erotic shopping together. Never before had we experienced such intimate intertwinings near so many jars of strawberry jam before, at least until the store detective ejected us from the premises, leaving the trolley of our lustful dalliances standing forlorn and alone in the preserves aisle, never for us to return.
Now there are many things in this world that are not cheese, and – for all I know - you may be one of them. I mean just because you are a yellowish lump and you enjoy sitting around on the shelves of the fridge does not – I know only too well – necessarily mean that you are cheese.
Of course, this is a problem that has puzzled philosophers and perplexed scientists for many centuries, most notably since the Greek philosopher Hexagon tried too eat a tasty bit of sulphur he’d found on a shelf during a party at the Greek Philosophy club to celebrate Pythagoras’s exciting new triangle.
Immediately, well, just after spitting out the sulphur, he convened a symposium where all the philosophers present put down their drinks and young boys and immediately started pondering what has henceforth been known as the ‘Not Cheese Phenomenon’.
Descartes many centuries later had the same problem when living in Holland, when what he’d hoped was a rather runny camembert turned out to be a bottle of advocaat.
Progress was made however, by Scottish philosopher David Hume when he proved conclusively that not only was cheese not custard, conversely custard was not cheese, although they did share a common milkiness. This paradox had fooled many a philosopher up to that point, including Kant who had once tried to pour a portion of Tilsit over his apple crumble one day.
In the twentieth Century however, progress was made in the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge when Ernest Rutherford discovered the cheese particle when firing a stream of alpha rays at a wedge of Double Gloucester.
The discovery of the cheese particle changed forever the whole philosophy and science of cheese, from that moment on it became possible for someone with a cheese particle detector to say with 78.9% accuracy whether or not that yellow lump in the fridge was indeed cheese. This brought about the end to several thousand years of human philosophical speculation about the true nature of cheese, while at the same time opening up a whole new branch of scientific and technological possibility that we – even now – nearly a century after Rutherford’s great breakthrough are only just getting to grips with.
For example, scientists - only in the last few years - have completed work on an experimental cheese fusion reactor that could solve the world’s energy needs completely once the theoretical principles of cheese fusion have been worked out in a practical setting. At the Cheese Experimental Facility on the French/Swiss border cheese scientist are attempting a fusion of French and Swiss cheeses at the speed of light. This, according to theory, should produce enough power from a portion of brie fused with a slice of Emmental to provide enough electrical power for an area the size of Wales with no carbon fallout and only a small number of cheese crackers consumed in the process.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Once we were free of the city, everything changed. We were out there, out in the strangeness of the forbidden lands and we were on our own. These two things were stranger to us than even the alien landscape of the places beyond the city, places we had no name for, nor no way of making sense of.
Neither of us had been in the company of just one other person for so long before. Each of us, despite the fact we claimed to love each other – and that love was – of course – why we’d escaped the city, but never before had we had to be in each other’s company all the time. Never before had there been no-one else but the other around we could turn to.
Neither of us knew even how to walk outside of the city, where to go to. Out there, there were no roads, no paths, no signs and no buildings, just flat expanses of grass, then the trees and then great high heapings of the earth itself that seemed to rise up until they touched the sky, higher it seemed than the tallest buildings of the city.
Of course, in the night, in the dark, as we escaped the city we had ran out across that vast expanse of grass as fast as we could, eager to put as much distance between us and the city we could before the dawn… and before they came looking for us.
An Apology for the Inconvenience
He will regret speaking,
As he regrets so very much
Of a life not really used,
Except to pass slow time
In timid consideration
Of carefully-chosen options,
With well-defined limits
That remain within bounds,
And do not inconvenience,
Or otherwise draw attention
To his awkward fact of existence.
And, how even a mere whimper
Would be far too ostentatious
To signal his ultimate end.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
There are days you stand forlornly there in you thigh-length waders, donkey jacket, clutching you ukulele wondering if it is a day even worth making sandwiches for. When you were young, you had such dreams of fame, wealth, suitably-moistened and eager partners of your particular sexual preference all keen to engage in practices you sometimes dared not even allow yourself to think about… at least not too often. You would have a life filled with glory and satisfaction, where the sick, lame and dispossessed would regard you as some kind of saviour and your face would stare back at you from the newsstands your chauffer drove you past as the world’s acclaim seemed to follow and applaud your merest doings.
Although, to be honest, it doesn’t seem to have turned out quite like that, does it?
In reality here you are stumbling through the detritus of a life that rather than actually lived is merely endured as you make your way through a world that can’t even summon up any indifference to your existence, let alone expend any energy on merely acknowledging it. Other people, when they notice you at al, seem to regard you with less interest than the adverts that surround you all as you make your way down these grey indifferent streets. Streets that stare right through you as though you existence is – at best – rather an unfortunate by-product of some of the more distasteful aspects of keeping what passes as civilisation stumbling on, maybe something to do with the sewers or the bins or something like that. Certainly not a celebrity, politician, saviour of the world or anything bright and shiny and new enough to be noticed, let alone acknowledged.
Still, though, you have the ukulele… and the waders and know one really knows why, and that is a secret that you want to hang on to in – possibly vain – hope that it makes you seem far more interesting than you actually are.
I don’t know how much longer I can carry on with this. When I was younger, when I first began, it all seemed so much easier. It was almost effortless in a way. It seemed that every idea I had, every concept I constructed, would get me into the papers with another Brit-Art Bad Boy produces Another Piece Of Outrageous So-Called ‘Art’ story.
The mid-market tabloids were the easiest, of course, they always reliably respond in the time-honoured fashion with their ‘this so-called modern art’ rants. It’s almost like a ritual, or some other sort of formal arrangement, with them. The down-market tabloids, the red-tops always used to ignore me, of course. That is until they decided I’d become a celebrity, when I started turning up in their world with the obligatory latest model or actress hanging onto my arm and obligingly falling out of her dress right in front of their slavering cameras. That too was all part of the game.
The posh-lefty broadsheets, though, decided I had to be taken seriously. There is nothing their bourgeois little minds like better than a bit of anti-bourgeois pretence. If it outrages the Daily Mail, then in their eyes it must be good, because there is nothing they like more than safely conforming to the latest anti-conformity stance. It is sad, I know, but it’s given me a living, a very good living.
Again, it is all part of the game. It is all as formal, as organised, as strict, as one of those dances they do in the Jane Austen adaptations on the BBC. We all - us in the celebrity dance – know which step to do and when to do it, to keep the whole dance moving along while the music plays and the money comes tumbling in.
Of course, my greatest work of art, my greatest creation is myself, or rather the persona of Sebastian Stiles that I created. All of it as false as my working class accent, and the sex and drugs and footie and birds and ‘doing it large’, or whatever the current argot is. It is funny how the art world, the media, and all the luvvies that run them both want their heroes to be working class – ‘a bit of rough’ for them to fantasise over. It was a bit awkward, for a while anyway, when some smart-arsed reporter discovered I’d been to public school, the same one as the then – Labour, obviously - Prime Minister, as it happens. But I managed to ride that one out by pointing out my grandfather had been an iron foundry worker and I had ‘gone back to my roots’, or some sort of similar working class solidarity guff. The arty types in the media fell for it straight away, mainly because they wanted to – needed to – believe it. I was their bad boy and they needed me to remain that way. That was especially true of those posh birds who fancied a bit of rough, but a ‘safe’ bit of rough, if you know what I mean. Drop a few working class references, a few dialect words into the interview and they – in turn - can’t wait to drop their knickers for me. Trouble is, now I don’t want to, not any more. Even the easy, meaningless sex is… well… getting too meaningless and far too easy.
Another thing; I never used to get hangovers, back when I was younger. I’d be out clubbing, womanising, drugging, dancing and drinking until well into the following morning and all I’d sometimes have would be a bit of a sore head and a dry throat. Maybe I’d be a bit sharp with one of my assistants, but that was it. Nowadays, it seems, I can’t drink at all, and as for the drugs – well, I don’t seem to like them – and they don’t like me – not any more.
Trouble is, though, going out with people intent on getting off their faces, while you remain sober and straight is incredibly boring. People don’t realise – I certainly didn’t realise – just how tediously dull they are when they are getting wasted through drink, drugs or – more usually - both at the same time, even though they do believe - at the time - they are having a great time and they are the life and soul of the party. So, I seem to have given up going out.
Even the papers have noticed that I’m no longer the life and soul of the party, that I am no longer always where the best parties are, and they’ve started calling me a recluse. Not that I care that much, not now. Seeing your own face staring back at you from the pages of the newspaper soon becomes as boring for you yourself as it must be for all the other punters who have to wade through the endless photos of the tedious celebrity doings to get to the TV pages or the footie results. Well, it was for me anyway.
Although, there are some I know, including my last ‘girlfriend’, the ‘world famous supermodel model Oslo’ as she is known in tabloid-land, who seem to need their fix of publicity as much as their fix of whatever celebrity drug is the most fashionable nowadays. Oslo was a great one for heroin, herself. Luckily, for her, the heroin-chic look was all the rage at the time. Probably still is for all I know. She was lucky that way, with her work and her main interest in life coinciding like that.
Oslo is too famous to need a last name, which is good because I’ve forgotten it. That is if she ever told me it in the first place, I can’t remember now. She was – she pointed out to me – also too famous for me. She – her agent had told her – needed a higher-status boyfriend than me, possibly even a husband, for the next stage of her career-arc. So, she dumped me. Well, one of her assistants dumped me, for her - by text message.
Not that I cared – officially – at the time. My office responded immediately with a press release about my new-found friendship with Steve Boddington and his (ex-)pop star wife Penny. She used to be in that massive 80s girl-group, Pout - only the Spice Girls were bigger at the time. Nowadays, she is just famous for her fake tits, and her weirdly-named, essential fashion accessory kids: Marble, Transcendental and Surprise.
Actually, Bodds, as we all must – it seems – call him these days, just wanted me to fuck his airhead wife for a while, while he was off with his latest PA in some artificial jungle somewhere making a reality programme for TV. Seems she wanted someone ‘intyllecytual’, to shag her for some reason – I suppose in her position – top of the celebrity-tree, doing an Open University course and boffing the lecturer was out of the question. So one day I had the call from Bodds and next day I was on the plane out to Italy – where he was nominally playing his football in those days – and a taxi ride to his villa. Where Penny met me – standing stark naked in the cool marble hall of their massive hillside villa (apparently they conceived their first born in that marble hall too, hence his name).
Well, Bodds had bought several of my more expensive works – so I felt I sort of owed him a favour. Anyway, it turned out that Penny’s definition of intellectual seemed to consist of reading Jeffrey Archer novels – slowly, one syllable at a time, her lips moving, and watching the satellite celebrity news channels for sometimes as long as ten minutes, but only if they mentioned her name.
I tried, I really did try. But Penny (the tabloids still – it seems – call her Bad, even after all these years, that weirdly obviously contrived ’nick-name’ from her Pout days) did nothing at all for me. Considering the artifice of all the art I’ve created, it is odd, but fake tits just turn me right off, and that infamous body of hers. Yes, it turns out that - this time - the rumours of the inspiration for my piece Celebrity are true – those two moulded orange jellies sitting on an ironing board - were inspired by ‘Bad’ Penny.
Penny threw me out only one day later, well, her bodyguards threw me out for her, because she was too busy getting her PA to make an appointment with her plastic surgeon. Apparently, all the work she’d put into failing to get me to perform for her had damaged her famous pout and she needed it urgently repaired before she could be seen in public again.
Being dumped like that – twice, one after the other – somehow really depressed me - which was quite odd. I’d got used over the years to living this kind of life where you just floated over the surface of everything, not letting it touch you, being ‘cool’ about every fucking thing. Usually women came into my life, we came, and then they went without leaving even a shadow in my memory. At the time, I put it down to getting old. Maybe, I thought, I was looking for something a bit more meaningful. But I was the darling bad boy of Brit-Art what need had I for meaning, for worth? I was still the king of superficial mindless tat.
Then, suddenly, while I was still reeling from all this, the Credit Crunch appeared out of nowhere, and the bottom just fell out of the whole Brit-Art shtick. Seemingly, all at once, Brit-Art - and all us once fashionable art-world bad-boys and girls - were about as welcome in the celebrity haunts as a fart in a space suit. We’d known it would never last, of course, the world of celebrity, of fame, has its fads and fashions too: film stars, pop stars, TV people, comedians, ‘Reality’ stars, they have all been, gone, come back and gone again as the fickle finger of fate has grown tired of them and shifted on to point at some other fad of the moment. The problem is that the celebrity pool is a very shallow puddle and there is only so much stirring that the finger of fate can do with it, especially when that bright glare of excess rabid publicity begins to dry that puddle up, evaporating its edges.
So, yeah, it all just suddenly fell around me and I was left stumbling through the wreckage, of – when all is said and done – a pretty wasted life. Fair enough, I was actually wasted myself for a great deal of it. Still, I can’t help wishing I had a bit more to show for it than a few pieces of tat spread here and there through museums, art galleries and private collections, in those fashionable art places that have always had far more money than sense, or – even - far more money than taste.
The irony is though, now those infamous pieces of art I made, that made me all that money and fame, are all falling to bits, decomposing, rotting, as though they too know the party is over and they are returning to their constituent parts, or just rotting away to dust. It’s a bit like the clock has struck midnight, the fairy godmother’s spell has worn off and my vintage Porsche has turned back into the pumpkin and a bunch of mice.
Anyway, I dunno what I’m going to do now. Although, the Labour party in some act of desperation have offered me a set in the Lords – providing we can disguise my ‘donation’ is some suitably obscure way. Typical of politicians, of political parties, they wait so long for it to be safe to jump on a bandwagon, that by the time they’ve built up the courage to clamber aboard, everyone else has long got off, leaving it to career on down the road, leaving those poor unfortunates like politicians and other hangers-on to stumble free of the wreckage once it runs off the road for the final time.
So, I might give that a go. I quite fancy myself as a Lord, controlling, even though only in a peripheral way – for the moment – the fate of the nation. After al, I can’t screw it up any more that they already have, can I?
No, don’t answer that.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Now, you may not be fully aware of the best place to park your Town Planning Officer on market day. However, that does not mean you can flourish your petunias at any passing stranger and expect them to provision you with the necessary supply of cream cakes needed for any descent into the slough of despond that is awaiting you on your one day off of the week.
You may be the most proficient baked bean tin label inspector the world has ever known, but that does not mean you are irreplaceable, even in the case of that thing you do with your line manager behind the stacked and palleted tins of baked beans in the far corner of the warehouse. There are some on your shift – apparently – who will never be able to look at a Monopoly board ever again without giggling and some who blush at the mere mention of a top hat or old boot.
Still, to be fair, none of us get into our current situations of responsibility without making moral compromises of some sort and at least you will never have to worry about someone discovering the dead bodies buried under the patio any more, not now the whole housing estate has been earmarked for the site of a new wind farm. Which all goes to show there are myriad advantages to having your own pet Town Planning Officer, despite the parking problems that occasionally arise.
It was one of those times when the world seems to slip through itself and come out of the other side somehow changed. Things may not look any different to how the world was before, but somehow it all feels different, as though it is not a change that can be named or described, but, still, it is there. It is almost like a change in the atmosphere, as though now the breathed air has become purer, cleaner. It is as though something that caught in the back of the throat with each breath has gone.
It feels as though you have climbed up beyond the dirty polluted air of that town and out up a hillside into the cleaner, purer, air. Not only does it feel cleaner, less tainted, it also seems as though you can see further, clearer, too. It is as if you can see now what was out of sight down on the valley floor, lost amid all the high buildings and hectic streets.
You can see beyond all that now out to the places where the horizon meets the sky, the places where the rivers meander down to the far seas and on and on. You can see all those places you once thought of travelling to when you were younger and your life seemed to have the time and the space for the possibility of adventure, wonder and the strange of the new.
Now, there it all is, spread out for you in this clean bright air, and you stand high on the hill of this new possibility wondering… just wondering why you never thought to climb up here before.
Monday, May 16, 2011
If there are not quite as many of those small rotund Welsh canteen manageresses as there used to be, in and around the vicinity of your workplace, then I think we all know who to blame for that, mentioning no penguins by name, of course.
Of course, back in the day, or at least the day after the day, there were small rotund welsh canteen manageresses as far as the eye could see and the chin could ponder, especially if one was to adopt a semi-professional pondering stance, say down on the canal towpath. Obviously, this was back before anyone had to apply for a pondering licence and wear the official pondering safety gear and helmet.
There are those, it must be said, that say the use of pondering safety gear has taken all the pleasure and, yes, the danger out of full-on extreme pondering. Others blame the rise of the blogosphere and the ability to comment on MSN pieces on t’internet for robbing applied pondering, especially on canal towpaths and other such open-air settings, of some of its force and purpose. After all, as we all know, there is nothing quite so invigorating to mind and body as a quick outdoor ponder on those sunny, yet still bracing, chilly spring mornings. It is so splendid to be out where the birds sing, or at least cough discreetly, and the wildlife goes about its delightful daily business of trying to kill and eat each other in the bushes and hedgerows.
Still, though, whatever the reason you can’t help feeling a bit of a dick in that ludicrously extravagant and gaudily coloured safety helmet, no matter what the purported health and safety benefits.
Found and Lost Again
And then the motion takes us further on
To places found and lost again, as time
Is turning on, far past those times long gone
We lost or left behind, almost a crime
The way the past is lost to us, beyond
The reach of fingers stretching out so far
Towards a place, like that remembered pond
We swam together, naked. In the car
We drove away from those much younger days
Arriving here too many years too late
To turn around, go back to those old ways
To find a time and path beyond this gate.
To take us back to younger easy years
Before we felt the weight of all these tears.
Thursday, May 12, 2011
There are no knees left in the goat factory, Helen. Shall we go now, just you and I, and warm our rudest parts against the shins of an East European goalkeeper?
I have seen the String Vest of Doom, and laughed at the Chickens of Destiny. But tomorrow it will be Friday again, so we cannot use the tin opener, not even if she begs us.
Down here, the thing that happens has been happening with a regularity that makes all our knees tremble with unfulfilled desire.
Do you ever wonder about the stains on the furniture? Do you ever go to the shops wearing the knickers of a social worker on your head whilst walking on your hands?
Once, we mocked the trousers of all those we thought inferior. But, these days, even we must sometimes place the Holy Spanners carefully on the ledge, next to the Cloth of Dirty Hand Wiping, before turning to watch the Match Official slowly masticating the Clipboard of Consecration.
I have touched it!
It was rather warm and pleasant.
May I please touch it again?
It Echoes Back
It echoes back from the heart of not knowing,
This is a place where we must always stand
As it is not always so easy to find a way
Through to the hidden centre of these times
And find that moment that holds us
Both together within itself
In a way that we cannot escape or deny.
We are here and here we remain
No matter what we try to say or unsay
Or even if one of us rises
from this bed to walk away
To some other life where we feel more
Than what this small room can offer,
Than this small lifetime we hang on to
Can ever give us now we have wasted
Too many years waiting here for it to begin.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Obviously, there are slightly more watermelons here than otherwise would be the case. However, as we all know today is National Watermelon Day, a day set aside throughout the length and (most of) the Breadth* of the UK for full and frank perusal of the watermelon, especially in relation to its use as a device for enhancing sensual pleasure through the – now common - practice of All-Nude Watermelon Bowling. This is the recently-created sport where naked seven a-side mixed teams use watermelons to knock down the skittles in a typical pub skittle alley.
Under the last Laborg government, it was felt that the government should do something to halt the decline in the numbers of people going to the pub, and invited people to come up with ideas that would make people want to go back to frequenting their local. Consequently, apart from those too considered by the judging committee to be too rude or too violent or both, this turned out to be the winner.
Although, not without its critics, all-nude watermelon bowling has proved to be a success with both players and spectators alike, with the national league and cup set up by the current coalition government sometimes having as many as three or four teams from each individual pub signed up to the scheme, all eager to take part.
National Watermelon Day is – of course – the day of the grand final of the All-Nude Watermelon Bowling (ANWB) Cup at Wembley Stadium this evening at 7:30 with an estimated global TV audience numbering in the billions. Several thousand of whom will no doubt be sitting there naked with their own favourite watermelon clutched to their lap on this very special day.
*Certain sections of the Kent cost are excluded from National Watermelon Day, for reasons connected with the Napoleonic wars.
It’s true that it wasn't the job I'd always wanted, but, as I confidently expected to become a rock star in the very near future, I thought it would be good enough in the meantime. So, the job in the record shop, initially part-time while I waited for my big break, felt close enough to being in the music business for me to keep my dream alive.
In a way, I kept telling myself, it was almost the next-best thing to being a musician. Meanwhile, of course, I kept up with my guitar practice for when my big break came. I even played in a handful of bands as the years went by and the dream slowly faded and then died as each band fizzled out without ever setting the world, or even the local pubs, alight.
These days, though, I own the place. Well, I rent the shop space, but Stylus Records is my shop. Initially, Dan, the original owner used to come around just curse me - and his luck - during the CD boom that came along a year or so after he'd retired and sold out to me. Now, if he were still alive, he'd be laughing his arse off at how it has all collapsed….
No… to be fair - which Dan always was - that cursing was done always with a smile of genuine glee that I was doing so well. No, Dan would be there, staring out through the front display window next to me, shaking his head slowly… wondering - as I do - what has happened, what has gone wrong.
Actually, no, I do know what happened. It's simple really - we don't get the kids, not any more. They don't need us because they don't have the record buying habit, the CD buying habit. It’s not just – as people say – the downloading, illegal or legal, that is the problem. No, I think now the music is over and it is time for us to turn out the light. We have reached the stop sign at the end of the long and winding road. It is the end, beautiful friend. The long strange trip has reached the terminal and it is time to dismount from the Magic Bus. They still call it rock music, I know, but these days it no longer means what it used to, if it means anything at all.
“I’m closing the shop,” I said to Mark and Debbie, late one Saturday afternoon at the end of a long quiet period. Actually, to tell the truth, the whole day had been just one long quiet period. When I think back to those hectic Saturdays in the seventies when Dan, Karen and I would long for even a couple of minutes of peace and quiet to drink our now stone-cold mugs of tea behind the counter, I realise just how much times have changed.
“What now, Charlie?” Debbie said, looking up at the clock from under the heaping tangle of her hair (bright orange with red streaks this week). “It’s only half-four.”
“No, not now.” I sighed. “But soon…. I mean forever.”
“You mean…?” Mark said eventually, his eyes flicking from Debbie to me and back again.
“Yes, I’m sorry, but you’ll both be out of a job.” It was hard. We are… were… friends. At least, I hope so. Well, as much as we could be friends whilst I was the boss and they were my employees. They looked at each other and Debbie shrugged. It won’t – I hope – be too hard for her to get a job in some other shop she has the looks and genuinely likes people. But, Mark, well…. He’s like me when I was younger, in a way. He’s a fan, an obsessive, a passionate music lover. He lives and breathes it. He’s a drummer, waiting – just as I used to be waiting - for that big break that is coming, and coming soon. Mark’s problem is the customers… well, some customers. Some customers just don’t come up to his standards. If he thinks you aren’t serious, if you don’t like the right sort of music, then Mark has nothing but contempt for you, and he is no good - at all - at disguising it.
On the other hand though – and this is why I keep him on here – if he sees you are serious about your music, even if it is some band he personally doesn’t rate, then there is no-one better to find just the thing you are looking for, even if you aren’t sure what it is you are looking for. He may lose me a handful of customers, but he brings in far more, and they come back, time after time. Or, at least, they used to.
These days a customer, any customer, is like sighting some rare and exotic creature. We are scared in case we come on too eager and frighten them off, or act too cool and distant so they leave without buying anything. Although, we still get some regulars too, so it isn’t that bad. They too are dying out, though… sometimes literally. I seem to be going to too many funerals these days; Dan’s was only the first of many. Nowadays, too, the famous people in the newspaper obituary columns too are no longer strangers to me, but people who’ve been around as I’ve grown up, familiar names and familiar faces, suddenly looking old in their final photographs. Looking like that old man’s face that looks back at me from the bathroom mirror on those days when I dare to stare too closely.
I don’t think it really hit me, though, how I was getting older too, until my father died, a couple of years ago now. His record – and CD – collection came to me. Mum said she didn’t want it cluttering up her house any longer, but I think there was more to it than that, though. A record collection is personal; they define a personality just like the books on their shelves. I think it hurt her too much to see them all there, catalogued and indexed on the shelves he’d built especially for them. I think she saw his ghost haunting them every time she looked over at those shelves.
As usual on a Saturday night after I shut up the shop, I met Pete in The wagon. Looking at his long thin fingers wrapping themselves around his pint I remembered back, way back, when we were as young as Mark and Debbie are now. I remembered believing that if - for some reason - only one of us teenage wannabe rock stars made it, Pete would be the one who would do it. He was such a great bass player and we all agreed he could easily have been up there with Jack Bruce, Andy Fraser and others of their class. But here we were, too many years later, still buying each other pints in the lounge at The Wagon, just as we had been back then. Except neither of us has that much hair left these days, and neither of us wear tight jeans any more, except for being too tight around the waist that is.
I remembered too, looking past the bar into the Bar from these Lounge seats back in the 70s, when the pub was much more open-plan, less designed. Back in those young days, when we used to sit here, I could remember just knowing I would never allow myself to get like the old blokes who sat quietly in the bar. Each one nursing slow pints until it was time to go back to a lonely place that had never become a home. Sitting there, that Saturday evening, I realised I could see that very same look in the glances from the youngsters over by the bar. It was there, in all their faces, as they stared across and wondered about us, me and Pete, taking up space in their young world.
Dawn came over a little later, around what used to be closing time. Since her last divorce, we’ve had this sort of thing going on... Well, off and on. Nothing like the thing we had that time at Glastonbury, though, Especially the Saturday night when the mud dried on our naked skin and glued us tight together as we lay sleeping in what had once been our tent before the rains came… but we were young then and so was our music.
“I’ve just heard about it closing down,” Dawn said, shock on her face and in her voice.
I wondered how she’d found out, whether she’d met Debbie or Mark somewhere around town and they’d told her about my shop closing down.
Dawn saw my puzzled look and nodded over towards the bar where Tony the landlord was gathering glasses. “The Wagon,” she said. “The brewery is closing it down when Tony retires at the end of next month.”
Pete coughed, choking on his beer. I slapped his back without turning to look at him as I stared – possibly open-mouthed - at Dawn.
“Th… the… Wagon?” Pete spluttered eventually waving his hand at me to stop me slapping his back.
“Closing down?” I muttered to Dawn.
She nodded. “For good and for ever. It seems they’ve already sold the site to someone else.”
“They’ll be knocking it down, then?” Pete said eventually, wiping the excess beer from his mouth with his shirt sleeve. He sighed as Dawn nodded once more. “Seems like the whole town is changing,” he said. “Seems like all the old places are going, disappearing.” He turned to stare at me.
“Why is he looking at you like that, Charlie,” Dawn said to me.
“The shop… these days… business is no good. In fact, it is awful. Bloody awful.”
Dawn sat back in her chair, mouth wide open. “You’re… well… you aren’t?” She glanced back over her shoulder towards Tony and then back to me. I nodded slowly.
“Oh, Charlie,” she said sadly, shaking her head as she picked up her drink.
I opened the front door and stood back to let Dawn go in first. “It’s just that if I don’t do it now, then I could lose everything,” I said while she fumbled with the light switch before dropping her coat over the end of the banister.
“Cut your losses?”
“Exactly,” I said dropping my coat over hers. “In fact, the precise phrase the bank manager used. I could prop it up, use this place as collateral and all that, but I can’t see the business ever picking up again.”
I stood by the computer, running my finger along the top of the monitor; it needed dusting. “This, I suppose,” I said. “Music… films too, I suppose. I’ve got about 15,000 tunes on this thing and room for loads more. I don’t need… I haven’t played a CD for months… Well, except for some of my dad’s, of course.” I looked across to my father’s CDs, piled up in the corner next to the rank of LP cases, all waiting for me to decide what to do with them.
Dawn sat down, automatically picking up the CD player remote. The first movement of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony placidly floated out from the speakers.
“Sorry,” I said, hastily. “It’s one of my Dad’s. I can change it.” I reached out to take the remote from her.
“No, it’s fine,” she said. “I think I’d like to keep this on, if you don’t mind. What is it?”
“Beethoven,” I replied sitting down next to her. “His 6th symphony… the Pastoral.”
“The what?” She picked up the case from the table next to her. “I never really got into classical,” she said. “Maybe I ought to, especially now.”
“Why now?” I sat down beside her.
She turned half towards me, still apparently reading the CD booklet. “I seem to be spending a lot of time here,” she said. “And it seems like it is the only sort of music you play these days.”
“Well,” I said carefully. “I want you here as much as possible. If you don’t like my music choices then I don’t know…. Anyway, I’m only listening to these albums of my Dad’s while I decide what to do with them.”
“I think you’re going to keep them.” Dawn put the case back down on the coffee table. “Anyway, I’m glad I’m not imposing,” she smiled as she stroked my leg. “Or spending too much time here.”
“I wish you’d spent longer,” I said and kissed her, realising I meant it.
“I couldn’t spend longer without moving in.”
I nodded again. “That’s true.”
“That’s settled then?”
“As long as you don’t start taking me for granted.”
“Never,” I said. “As long as you don’t get fed up of me.”
“Hmmm,” she said, resting her chin on the tip of an outstretched finger. “I think I may need a little more persuasion before I do move in, though.”
“Anything,” I said.
“Right,” she said, taking my hand as she stood up. “Upstairs, now.”
“Anything you say.”
“I think I may just get to like living here,” Dawn said as she picked up the remote in her free hand and switched the CD player off.
“Why not specialise?” Dawn said later as we lay side by side in bed. “You know rare records, collectables – that kind of thing?”
“Oh no,” I said. “I’ve never liked collectors; I wouldn’t want anything to do with them.”
She sat up slightly in the bed, supporting her head on her arm “Why not?”
“Because with them it is always about the… the artefact, not the music. I’m only inter… I was only interested in the music.”
“Was. Yes.” I sighed, looking away from her. “I hadn’t noticed until you said earlier, but I don’t listen to it any more.”
“What?” I turned back to face her.
She smiled and nodded. “There used to be a time when the first thing you did was turn some music on. When we came back from the pub, when you first got up in the morning, last thing before going to bed… even in bed while we were… well, y’know, there always used to be music.” She grinned at some sudden memory. “Anyway, you have some sort of music player in every room in the house, don’t you?”
I nodded, now smiling too.
“You used to… sort of go round in a cloud of music.” She laughed “A bit like a cow in a field with a cloud of flies always buzzing around it.”
“Charming,” I said.
Dawn slapped my arm gently. “You know what I mean, though?”
“Yes.” And I did. I smiled at the image in my mind. “Well… all that is gone – as you’ve noticed. I just lost interest, began to prefer silence… or something else,” I said thinking of my Dad’s CD collection. He’d often teased me about my taste in music, saying that one day I would grow out of it, look for something that could take me further, deeper. I used to laugh – not to his face, of course – thinking that what I had was enough for me, and there was a depth to what I was listening to that he didn’t see. Now though, although I still found it too difficult to admit, even to myself, I knew that depth had been just an illusion. My smile deepened as I thought how pleased he would be to find he was right. Not in a self-satisfied smug way though, but at the change in me; perhaps I was growing up at long last. I turned back to look at Dawn. It had taken a long time… too long. I didn’t want to waste any more time.
“Listen,” I said. “I’ve had an idea. Well, actually, it was my Dad’s idea, but he never lived long enough to do it.” As I spoke, I could hear his favourite music, Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, of course, rolling around in my head. I smiled at the memory of him.
“What?” Dawn said. “Come on, tell me.
It felt so romantically trite, I didn’t want to turn to face Dawn in case she burst out laughing at me and at this… this whole ridiculous notion I had taken on from my father.
“This is so beautiful,” Dawn said, taking my hand in hers as she watched the sun setting on the horizon, turning the sea and sky a deep orange-red. “I always wanted to get out of the town, see the rest of the country like this.”
She’d persuaded me, in the end, to take on my Dad’s dream. So, I closed down the shop, eventually selling almost everything dirt cheap in a final Closing Down Sale. The few things I couldn’t sell I left for the charity shop that was taking over the shop site after I’d left. I also sold my house, at the peak of the property boom as it turned out, and bought a massive motorhome. It makes me feel like I’m steering a heavy galleon through treacherous seas as I wind it down Britain’s narrow country lanes. It now stood brooding on the beachfront car park behind where Dawn and I were standing, staring out to sea.
I let go of her hand, sensing Dawn tense as she turned to glance at me as I let her go. I put my arm around her shoulder, pulling her close and felt her moulding herself against my side as she relaxed again.
“You know we said ‘maybe if we find a place we’ll settle there for the rest of our lives, if not we’ll travel on until we run out of places to go, or drop down dead?’” Dawn’s voice was soft, reflective.
“Maybe this is it.”
“What? Already?” Quite suddenly, I thought of Karen again; when she used to work in the shop alongside Dan and me back in the late 70s. She was always too restless, always wanting to move on. I always knew, deep down, I would lose her. That one day, she would get up out of my bed and never come back. I would, maybe one day, hear of her turning up in some other town and getting some other job. Maybe even a job in another record shop like this one, and meeting another bloke just like me who wouldn’t be able to hold onto her either.
Her death a few years later from an overdose, when I heard about it, was also the death of innocence for me. Looking back now, I realised it was the death of rock ‘n’ roll for me too, the time when the fantasy turned too real and the rock ‘n’ roll dream became one more nightmare.
It was something in the air, almost, in the late 60s and 70s. Back then, it seemed as though music, TV, film, all the popular mass entertainments could somehow transcend themselves and become arts for the masses. Karen used to go on about this all the time, as though human beings were going to evolve – like in that Bowie song Oh, You Pretty Things about the homo-superior and the coming race. There was a positive feeling then, a belief in the future.
About that same time, anti-elitism came along out of the trendier universities, saying that only the popular was good, and it was good because it was popular, and that was that. So, no longer having to aspire, no longer having something up there just out of reach to aim at, the rock stars just played amongst themselves. So their horizons got narrower and narrower as their record sales moved out into the stratosphere.
I think it happened throughout the rest of popular culture, in films, TV and everything else too. It reminded me of the time I’d once gone back to the place in the woods where we had our ‘camp’ when we were kids. What once had seemed as though it went on forever, a magical place that could encompass the whole of a child’s imagination within itself, was no more than a small clump of trees a few yards in diameter. It had stayed the same and I’d grown up, and grown beyond it.
Then – of course – the Sex Pistols came along with that song No Future, which they eventually renamed God Save the Queen so they could cash in on the hyped-up fuss around the Queen’s Jubilee jamboree. Punk eventually destroyed the mythology of rock; it showed that you didn’t need to be a rare mystical genius to be a rock star. Anyone with a guitar who knew three chords and a handful of words that sometimes rhymed could be up on that stage too. Probably that’s why almost every band you have ever known only ever manages to make three or four decent albums if they are lucky.
Once they destroyed that mystery though, it began to die. I remembered some punk, back when it all started, saying something like ‘we’re not into music, we’re into chaos’. I think it was then that the idea of rock as music began to die; I mean rock music as something more than mere entertainment, a music that articulated something about the world beyond itself. That’s why it is no longer exciting, vital, important. It has all become a bit of an undifferentiated lowest-common denominator mess. It has, like all popular culture, taken a long time to die; fading away rather than just keeling right over as it should have done, leaving us with a chance to find some new way of dreaming. But dying it is, and I will miss it. Or, rather, miss the memory of it. Nevertheless, I can’t say that I’m sorry about it, not any more.
For a moment, I wondered if Dawn and I were making the same mistake as Karen. Chasing that rootless-ness, that restlessness, that always moving on, that came up in so many of the songs we’d defined our lives by, afraid of ever finding some place to call home, or finding someone who needed you. Actually afraid of finding some place to call home. A fear of becoming settled, rooted, in the way our parents had always seemed. It seemed we’d always had a fear of getting mired in that dreaded suburban contentment. It seemed our youth had been wasted on one long endless rebellion against it, that whole bohemians against the bourgeois sub-Romantic illusion that underpinned the rock ‘n’ roll myth. I realised it was a fear, a fear of growing old, of growing up, leaving the playground behind, of growing up beyond that small wooded field of our childhood dreaming.
“Do you think we are running away?” I said to Dawn.
She was silent for so long I thought she was never going to reply, maybe thinking my question was just too stupid for a response.
“I’m not sure,” she said, turning away to look around the bay as the sinking sun turned everything to deep dark shadows around us. “I used to always daydream along with those songs, y’know, the ones where the singer is always leaving town, looking to see what lies down the road, what is over the next hill and so on. But now, well, I know that running away never solves anything, because you can’t ever run away from yourself. I know it wasn’t any kind of truth as we all thought at the time… it was all just fantasy.” She watched the setting sun for a moment. “Do you think your Dad wanted to run away? This was his idea, after all.”
It was my turn to be silent for a while. “No….” I said eventually. “He didn’t want to escape. He was always calling me, and the things I enjoyed, superficial…. ‘You’re always only skating over the surface’ he used to say. I think he wanted to do this to go towards something, not to run away from it. I think he wanted to go deeper, learn more, understand more about this countryside he loved. He wanted to get an even greater sense of belonging to this world and his place in it before it all faded away… or he faded away….” I sighed and slowly shook my head, feeling a tear or two welling up at the memory of him.
“We made the mistake of believing we could be young forever. We tried to hang on to our youth for so long while life just passed us by. My marriages both ended because we couldn’t face the thought of growing older together, didn’t want to face it. Eventually, I realised I’d tried to hang on to my youth so much I’d never had time to grow up… and my life was just slipping by without me living inside it, all going by without me. I eventually realised that all too soon I would be an old woman without ever really becoming a grown-up.” Dawn was still looking out at the last few deep dark red remnants of the sunset as she spoke.
The sun was gone now and our day was over. So, hand in hand, we strolled back to our motorhome where we would spend the night together, wrapped tight in each others arms. Glancing over towards Dawn, I could just see, in the moonlight, that it would be enough for her, as it would be enough for me.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
"So this is the Small Rotating Device, on the window ledge, is it? Remarkable. I have seen many Small Rotating Devices in my life. After all, I am - as you well know - the Professor of Small Rotating Devices at Evesham University. But, never, never, in all my long - and dare I say it, distinguished - career have I ever seen such a fascinating Small Rotating Device. You must be so proud. I would love to have it for my collection of Small Rotating Devices. However, judging from the expression on your face whatever amount of money I offer would only be an insult."
"Okay, then. I'll give you 5p for this wonderful Small Rotating Device."
"Thank you. Of course, it is far more than I would normally pay for a Small Rotating Device, but for a piece such as this… well, the sky is the limit."
"Would you like a bag to put it in?"
"There you are."
"Thank you. One more thing?"
"I don't suppose there is any chance of a shag, is there?"
"Oh, go on then."
"Oh, I see. So, do you want it here, now, then?"
"Er… well. As you see…."
"Ah. In that case, I'll fetch my trowel."
"Excellent. But… please…."
"Please, hurry or I may have to release the badger."
There could have been a time. There could have been a moment. There could have been a story that grew from such a moment. We stood close together as though we were conspiring to create something between us, as though we were planning how our lives could grow from that moment.
It was possible then for us to take the moment and pull from it a story that would take us on from that moment together. We had the chance to turn our backs on our lonely lives and set off together looking for something new, something built, created and grown between us. Both of us could turn and see, off towards the horizon of that moment, a chance for a new world, ready to be created, as we stepped together away from the ashes of our old lives.
We knew that the moment was waiting for us, we knew it would only take one look, where your eyes raised to meet mine, and it would only take a shared smile for the moment to be sealed and set in motion with a kiss.
You, though, you looked down, away, and mumbled something, looking back towards where your old life lay like some comfortable coat you could shrug on against this cold wind of uncertainty that made you shiver as your eyes searched for a route back to that life.
I knew then that our moment had passed and gone.
Monday, May 09, 2011
Sometimes it is as though the very hippopotamuses of all we hope, desire and – sometimes – creosote are left languishing in the in-tray, while we busy ourselves with applying sellotape to the exposed rudest parts of a clerical assistant in the nearby shrubbery.
At least, that is usually what happens here on normal workday lunchtimes. I’m sure your workplace, no doubt operates a similar sort of lunch time and tea break policy, although, I would not be too surprised with economic circumstances the way they are if the hippopotamus is sometimes omitted, especially with the price of creosote these days.
Anyway, it is often the case that someone in the workplace is designated to make sure that any outstanding un-creosoted hippopotami are placed in the creosoting rota, ready for such times as the necessity for a fully-creosoted hippopotamus in the workplace becomes overwhelming.
However, with some workplaces moving their operations to the so-called ‘cloud’, it may become necessary for some workplaces, especially those involved in the insurance business, having to create some sort of virtual hippopotamus. Or, at least, some method of virtually creosoting the workplace hippopotami as necessary. That is unless they want to lose even more business to places like China, India and Brazil who already have the office space ready for a ratio of up to seven fully-creosoted hippopotami for every ten workers. A ratio that businesses in this country can – these days – only dream of due to the excess of workplace rules and regulations that so often stifle innovation and change.
Therefore, if they need to complete a complete rethink of their creosoting operations and their employee-hippopotamus ratios will need a complete bottom up and top-down re-think*.
*This should – quite obviously – be undertaken a safe distance away from any languishing workplace hippopotami for the obvious health and safety reasons.
These beautiful things, delicate and small
Are made for turning to catch the light and eye
These are like dreams, and dropped so easily
On the still warm pillow as you awake,
Then left forgotten as the morning’s sun
Fades them away into forgetfulness
As you walk off to meet your bright new day
You hoping it will become a new lover,
Or be another memorable day
To stack up against those thin times when time
Itself seems to turn against you and haunt
You with its taunts of what it might have been.
Friday, May 06, 2011
Oh, those were the days and we were young then, playing nude table tennis until the dawn’s early light crawled its way over the distant hills, as you whacked my ping-pong balls back and forth with the dimpled paddle of your love across nets that caught and held all we could desire. Nor will I ever forget those forfeits when I lost, I will never be able to look as blackcurrant jam in the same way in the future, or be able to lick a protractor in mixed company ever again without remembering that campsite games room of yesteryear.
Now, though, you are long gone, lost in the mists of those long rainy Welsh summers of our young love, the nets of our table tennis-related dalliances long since packed up and put away in those cobwebbed boxes. My ping-pong balls, too, themselves now dented and dusty no longer bounce with the youthful vigour they once did, instead lying lost under the sideboard of what could so easily have been had we but world enough and time.
You, my young love, with your seemingly limitless supply of blackcurrant jam - especially considering the size of that tiny two-person tent – and your deep and abiding interest in the erotic possibilities of geometry, where have you gone now that we are no longer young. Do you still walk those Welsh hillsides and cliff tops remembering those days of naked table tennis too?
Ah, but remember your precious tin of blessed golden syrup may not necessarily protect you against all the devils, demons, estate agents, lawyers and other unholy manifestations of evil that the masses ranks of the ungodly may hurl at you, at least until it is time for a tea-break anyway.
Even the minions of evil (including the undead, zombies and other allied trades of the ex-living) are to be, it seems, covered by the latest European Union Working Time Directives. so that even the hordes of the undead, or the evil-working minions of the devil* himself are entitled to fixed breaks during their working day (or night – whichever is applicable) as well as weekends (or other mutually-agreed days off) as well as statutory holidays (including bank holidays - and for those manifestations of the unholy - religious holy days).
As for such things, ornaments and devices used to ward off evil, the undead and so on, including religious symbols, and the tin of holy blessed golden syrup mentioned above, these may constitute workplace hazards for these various creatures. Therefore, such objects may be banned from the workplace, especially if they are used to prevent these creatures of evil performing their allotted tasks as set out in their workplace contracts. Obviously, this means that, for example, anyone attempting to annihilate zombies and other such hordes of the undead while in the place of work of such entities such as a graveyard, or during the normal working hours of the ungodly, could face legal action, up to and including imprisonment for violating the rights of any such hordes of devilry.
*N.B. Please note that this particular devil may not be applicable to all religions and/or all subsets of any particular religion. Please see the small print at the rear of your holy book of choice to see whether your particular religion supports manifestations and/or embodiments of evil.
Thursday, May 05, 2011
You may well have applied the butter to the underside of your mandolin in accordance with the latest EU directives, but have you ever stopped to consider what becomes of the broken-elbowed?
However, I can see by the way that you have re-aligned your avocados, that this is something you have not - up until this moment - considered.
Now, you may feel you are fully conversant with the most economically way to apply exotic unguents to a professional mathematician whilst placing a Swiss roll on the exposed flanks of a chiropodist, but that will not be much help for you at times like these, and very little help at all in times totally unlike these.
So, then I can see you are agog to learn just why I feel this is a matter of such import that it cannot wait until you have finished disrobing your mathematically-inclined paramour in readiness for your adventures with the calculator and protractor later on this evening, as far as the TV schedules allow, that is.
But, I would humbly suggest that you put the graph paper back in the drawer for the time being. For, as – as I tried to point out before you eased yourself into your leather fetish mathematician’s outfit – the protractors are both well past their lubricate-by dates by a matter of months, and should – therefore – be set free in the nearest shopping mall forthwith. Therefore – it also follows that - the chiropodist should henceforth be no longer be professionally compromised by being made adjacent to any form of cake until well after the Whitsun bank holiday period as set forth in the EU directives alluded to above.
She was always waiting for me
But she lived only in dreams,
Ready for me to fall asleep
And fall into her waiting arms.
She would wait inside her small world
Patiently for me to arrive,
Never once asking to step out
Beyond, into this waking world
For she could see it, haunting me
Through all our shared dreams together.
The fear of waking, leaving her
To go back to a cold hard land
Where so many waiting dangers
Could so easily track me down
So I could not escape again
To her just by closing my eyes.
Wednesday, May 04, 2011
Everyone agreed Pollygraph Hott-Metal was quite a striking woman. Although it was not just the hat - a bright black bowler hat, worn at a rakish angle, not was it the black stockings and suspender belt. Many did say – however – that it was more the fact that she wore nothing else and had the kind of body that makes men walk into lampposts and forget how to form coherent sentences.
Anyway, whatever it was, it made her the most successful street newspaper vendor Wolverhampton had ever known. She could sell out her entire stock of the local evening newspaper within less than five minutes of setting up her stall on the corner, right next to the Wulfrun Centre. Even though after only a few minutes it was hard for those wanting to buy a newspaper from her to manage to fight their way through the crowd to get close enough to her to hand over their money. Many of then, found that once they could escape the crush their new newspaper was ripped, torn or otherwise mangled before they could even open it.
On Saturday evenings, of course, she also sold the pink sports newspaper, bought by so many throughout the Wolverhampton area for the football results. They bought this paper both to check their pools coupon and to discover just how badly Wolves had done in their last match, at least until publication of that paper was halted when the publishers could no longer face printing the results from those Wolves matches.
Unfortunately, though, her very popularity was her downfall. Fights sometimes broke out as the crowd grew unruly and she was down to her last few papers. Consequently, the police were called several times; however, there was – then – no law in Wolverhampton outlawing public nudity, or – shockingly - the public display of a bowler hat with intent to sell newspapers. Therefore, there was little the police could do except arrest those caught creating the disturbance and to take several photographs of Ms Hott-Metal for their archives and solitary late-shift perusal.
The problem of the disturbances around the newspaper seller, Ms Hott-Metal eventually died out of their own accord, especially when the new All-Nude Whoppa Grease Burger Emporium opened on the Wolverhampton ring road, offering extra fries with every full-frontal nudity-based eating experience encounter.
Such retail innovations soon brought about the end of the naked newspaper seller, as those few young women who relished standing naked on street corners shouting incoherently at passers-by went instead into politics and other such sordid vice trades.
Still, though, whenever people from that fair city gather together to remember the Wolverhampton of yesteryear, it is not long before the name of Pollygraph Hott-Metal comes up and several gentlemen of a certain age excuse themselves to go and have a few minutes of quiet solitary contemplation as they remember her.