Sunday, 25 September 2016
Sometimes I lose track of time. I seem to spend much of my life daydreaming or struggling and, in both these instances, time really does fly by my eyes.
A period of time ago that, to me, feels like an age but is more likely just a couple of years, I wrote a blog piece about a dream I had as a small child. A dream that I truly believe shaped my life and my attitude. The piece was entitled “The girl next door” and is one of those few entries in what has become my journal that I’m actually proud of. I try not to read again these words once published, but I have, in that and a few others, found comfort during some of my darkest hours.
Last night I dreamed a dream just as convincing as my childhood dream about the girl next door and one that left me with a similar, yet very different, set of emotions upon awakening. I dreamt I was editing a video for my "French Letters" series on YouTube, a process that takes place weekly in the same seat at the same table as I smoke the same pipe and sip the same brand of remarkably cheap coffee from the same aging Cath Kidston mug with a chip in the rim and, just as in real life, my dream positioned me just so.
I was dreaming that I was playing the raw footage back and, as I generally do, snipping out the parts that don't show my best side.
You didn't think I was really this pretty, did you?
As many of you know, I live in a loft above a garage. The timbers of the loft are riddled with woodworm, the window is nothing more than a hole in a wall with a screen fastened across it and the roof provides me with a lovely, panoramic view of the stars above as I lie in my cot at nights. I love it.
The loft I viewed upon my dreamed screen was in no way similar to the one in which I'm currently sitting and tapping away at these keys. It was a trendy space with solid timbers, expensive rugs, an actual kitchen and a double bed. It even had a staircase that didn't sway from side to side in the wind, a veritable palace in comparison to the spider and lizard infested paradise I dwell in when my eyes are open. The sleeping me didn't question the differences, he didn't realise I was dreaming or that he was nothing more than a construct of that dream dreamed within another head, he just accepted it and moved on.
The footage on the screen was unusual in that I was naked. I'm not given to recording myself naked these days (not for YouTube, anyway), age and poverty having now decimated what was once a physique to be proud of, but again the slumbering John didn't question these anomalies. His finger hovered above the relevant key on the keyboard, ready to edit out any appearance of the aptly monickered "Little John", but no such appearances were made. The footage I surveyed through the eyes of dream John was absolutely fine and required no editing, so back we sat, puffing on our favourite pipe and relaxing, observing and sipping creamy coffee from the unchipped side of our mug, both of us oblivious to the fact that in the real world that only one of us had or would ever experience the real me was sleeping soundly beneath a rotten joist to which a photograph of people we'd once loved and felt loved by is pinned.
As we puffed and sipped and watched I became aware of further discrepancies, little clues that hinted at my real state. During one section of video I rocked a crib in which slept a dark haired infant, a baby girl, who I knew was not the fruit of my own loins but who I knew I cared deeply for. In another clip I lay in my bed, smiling and whispering to the viewer so as not to wake the dark haired woman that slept beside me, a woman I knew to be the mother of the child I loved but who I knew I cared nothing for.
Then, the proof I needed to jolt my sleeping brain from it's ignorance. A shot of me from a distance, naked as in every other shot, revealed a tattoo that I've never had set amidst the tattoos that cover much of my upper body.
I was suddenly aware that I was asleep, that this was a dream from which I was about to wake, and I panicked.
I panicked because of the child in the crib, the child that still slept soundly and whose face I hadn't seen and whose face, I now realised, I would never see. A child my sleeping brain told me I loved, who would be taken from me should my eyelids flutter open.
And even worse than losing her I further came to realise that, once I'd returned to the land of the living, she'd be left with a woman that I now knew I despised.
So I fought to remain asleep. I dashed around the beautiful apartment my subconscious had constructed for me searching for somewhere to hide from the dawning dawn, but to no avail.
I woke, made myself a coffee and sat down to write this entry. This is one of those rare occasions where, even before having taken my seat at the keyboard, I'd known the ending, known the point I was going to make.
As a child, on the morning after my dream of a life with the girl next door, I'd cried. I'd longed to return to the dream I'd just had, for that adventure to continue and to never end.
As an adult, I fought to keep the adventure alive as long as I was able even though the panic I felt as I searched for a cupboard to hide in spoiled the ending of what, until then, had been a wonderful time. I'd focused on the dream's approaching culmination and I'd mourned its loss before its loss had arrived. Now, as I sip and puff and sit and think, I know that tonight will bring with it another dream, and that that next dream is only possible because the last one ended.
Each adventure we undertake has both a beginning and an end but, to paraphrase the great Eric Morecambe, not necessarily in the right order. A new adventure can only begin after an end, so was the end really the end or was it really the beginning?
A child will live the dream right up until morning comes, enjoying every moment of it and only allowing the sadness of loss once that loss it found. An adult will see the loss looming and fight against it, prematurely mourning a passing that may never come to pass and, in doing so, wasting precious time that could have been better spent by stroking the soft, dark hair of the child in the crib as he at last looked upon her face. A child enjoys his dreams, an adult fears the end.
The child in you is the optimism you feel when embarking on your next adventure. He is the one for whom the Cath Kiston cup is half filled, probably with Vimto, and who doesn't give a toss that he might get a cold sore from the chip. The adult, he's the pessimist. He looks forward to the adventure, so eager to taste it that he'll blow on the hot coffee to be able to take his first sip then, once embarked upon, dreads the other end as it approaches. His Cath Kidston cup is aging, half empty and he can only drink from one side for fear of the hypothetical scabby lip that may or may not arise at some point in a future he may or may not have.
If your cup is half empty then it's still half full, enjoy what's left. If it has a chip in it, finish your brew, smash the cup against the wall and go find the next adventure. You never know, you might be just the dream-you dreamt by the real-you and your real chipped cup is still sitting, safe and dirty, by the sink where you left if last night.
Don't dread the morn, live the dream.
Thursday, 1 September 2016
OUT NOW, in paperback and on Kindle, my new short story compilation...
The Short Tall Tales.
A collection of four very different and disturbing stories of twisted realities.
"Where do they all belong?" documents the terror of the tormented
and the torment their torment creates. "Ghost whispering" will
have you scared to check under your bed. "Revenant" brings
us a masterclass in karma and in the folly of wickedness and, finally,
"Passing time" takes a look at the gentler side of those gone ahead.
Four tales of terror and the unknown, of hope and retribution, plucked
from the ether and placed on the page by the author.
Who needs sleep anyway?
Click the following link to purchase the book via my own associate account, which means the pitiful amount I will receive for my share will be slightly less pitiful than if you go elsewhere.
(If you prefer to read your literature on a screen then hold on to that credit card, the eBook version will be with you very soon.)
Thanks to everyone that encouraged and supported me. It has been, and continues to be, greatly appreciated.
Enjoy the little things.
Wednesday, 31 August 2016
Wednesday, 24 August 2016
He perched upon his great, grand throne
Of finest tooth and whitest bone
A fork of fire by his side
His clothes cut from rich sinners’ hides
And fanned the flames in the fiery pit
That warmed his feet whilst he did sit
And think about that bygone age
When those above still feared his rage
His blood did boil, his rage did swell
As he sat on his throne in his Kingdom of Hell
Like ageing porcelain, weathered and cracked
Veins lined his face with blood that was black
Then, all at once, he shouted a curse
So wicked it made even this damned place worse
He gnashed and thrashed and screamed and did shout
Then grabbed his fork, got up and went out
Time it was to have some fun
To wreak some havoc, rain fire upon
Those weak, soft bags of flesh filled with blood
To bring forth great suffering as only he could
He stamped his cloven feet and did call
For every creature that slithered or crawled
To do his bidding, spread forth his black seed
To undertake the darkest of deeds
He stood atop a lush hill and surveyed
The land he had chosen to bring first to dark days
A land that when last he’d walked on this Earth
Had been filled with happiness, joy and great mirth
He summoned forth legions of beasts from below
And considered how best to open his show
Pestilence, plague, brimstone or famine?
He smiled and set off for a night filled with damning
But wait, what was this? This couldn’t be right
Spread all around him, a pitiful sight
Men who had once stood proud and stood strong
Men who had fought and overcome wrong
Now brought to their knees, beaten and weak
Where once had stood heroes knelt only the meek
He searched high and low throughout that dark night
But hard as he tried found no good souls to blight
Old folk now dying, alone in cold beds
Good folk now used to remaining unfed
Sickness and poverty spread far and wide
Fear and hatred where once had lived pride
Filth in the streets and fear in sad eyes
A race of proud people now beaten by lies
Nick turned to his minions and sighed in despair
“We’re out of our league, lads, let’s go back downstairs”
Sunday, 21 August 2016
A number of years ago whilst researching my family tree I discovered that, several centuries ago, one of my ancestors had travelled to the islands of my birth from the Iberian peninsula aboard a ship…
…as part of the Spanish Armada.
He, like many others, had been forced to fight in a war that would in no way benefit him for a king he detested. A number of ships turned left at the Bristol Channel, their mariners intent on jumping ship and fleeing ashore to Wales where they hoped to live their lives as free men.
Back then (as now) the Welsh hated the English as much as the English hated the Spanish, so in a case of “the enemy of my enemy is alright by me, boyo” these oily looking, dark haired individuals were welcomed into the communities, becoming quickly assimilated.
This influx of migrants is, in fact, why the traditional Welsh doll is dark haired rather than being coloured in a more Celtic fashion, the gene pool having been forever altered in a way that would make a Brexiter's blood boil.
I’ve only ever been to the land of my forefathers once (Unless you count Ibiza, though the drug fuelled days of debauchery I experienced there gave me little insight into the place) and I wasn’t a fan. Still a child, I’d ended up at a bullfight and had had to sit, open mouthed and nauseated, as some blokes dressed as Copa Cabana showgirls went all ‘Joe Pesci’ on some cows.
Back home in England I discovered that the father of one of my classmates, a local butcher, was a bull fighter. His name was Frank, which seemed to me an unusual name for a matador, and he was forever on the local news being celebrated as the only Englishman to take part in the barbarism of the Plaza de Toros.
He was celebrated for being a bit of a twat to some cows and I said as much to his son and son’s friends. They didn’t dress as showgirls, nor did they stab me to death, but the severe dead arms I was given on the stairwell between lessons meant I struggled even to lift a pencil for several days afterwards.
Eventually, the sense and sensibilities of my countrymen caught up with my own and, rather than being featured on Granada Reports every summer, his business suffered. I seem to recall some rather ugly graffiti being daubed on his windows occasionally, I think there may also have been an arson attack and, eventually, his fame waned, at least in Britain.
I doubt it did likewise in Spain. I've heard it seldom wanes in Spain.
What is deemed to be socially acceptable now may not be so tomorrow. The world changes, the inhabitants change with it. In my lifetime I have seen drunk-drivers go from being considered as “characters” to become scum, decent people no longer smoke in the presence of children or non-smoking adults, most dog owners carry plastic bags to clean up after their best friends and folk take their own, reusable bags to the supermarket. There is no shame in looking at a situation and thinking “That’s not right” even when most others couldn’t give two shits about the same subject. In such situations you’re generally just at the forefront of the zeitgeist. What you and I may consider insignificant your neighbour may find to be of the utmost importance and vice versa.
Like my distant ancestor, who took the Anglicised name of Noah upon arrival, I have recently left the land of my birth with no intention of returning.
Once, many moons ago, I couldn’t have imagined ever wanting to leave, but leave I now have. Following a zig-zag course north I eventually ended up being done a kindness that I’m sure I didn’t deserve and given the opportunity to flee the country that had allowed me to rot. The fates have conspired to bring me ever closer to the land of my mutinous ancestor and the closer I get the more I wonder why on Earth he ever left.
Once upon a time there was an England that was merry. Then some bloke with warts decided he wanted those around him to work hard and he told folk some fibs based on an old book.
Suddenly, instead of dancing, singing, loving and playing whilst occasionally doing enough work to sustain the lives of their countrymen, your average Englishmen began working as hard as they could to ensure that, once dead, they’d not suffer. Suffering for a lifetime to ensure they’d not suffer for an eternity. The fucking idiots.
Working hard, paying taxes, making the warty man wealthy with no benefit to themselves.
I’m genuinely unsure how long I have been out of the country now. I could easily check, but I just can't be arsed. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. I live among people who work to live, they don’t live to work. I visit pharmacies and, instead of seeing professional wearing pristine white lab coats and bustling about busily I’m greeted by a chap in jeans and a grateful dead tee-shirt who asks me how I am and smiles a lot. Appointments give one a vague idea of when something may occur. Basically, if your appointment is for 2pm on Tuesday then that simply means don’t make any plans for Tuesday afternoon.
The young and the old smile and greet one and other in the street, food is shared, homes are homes and not investments, jobs are slotted in between lives. The only exception to these “rules” are those other rules put in place by the economic migrants (apparently the French for “economic migrant” is “ex-pat”) who infest the one bar that’s owned by an Englishman in the town square and complain about having had to wait an hour for a bus. An hour during which, had they bothered to learn more of the language, they could have conversed with the locals who were waiting for the same bus and sharing food around.
They’d not want that food though because, apparently, French food is all shit.
I’m looking to head further away from the English channel soon, though if I could I'd remain right here. Like an abandoned galleon that eventually smashes into a beach many miles away I have no hand on the tiller of my life. But then, few of us ever have, we just think we have. I shall probably be in Spain by Christmas, completing the circle set in motion by my forefather and continued by myself. Maybe I'll find a way to stay here and not make it back "home", maybe the journey will remain unfinished, an arc rather than a circle.
It turns out that the warty man had mislead us and that life isn't a chance to earn enough merits for a happy afterlife but is, in fact, for living. Many a friend has told me they wish they could do what I have done and live how I now live. They won’t believe me when I tell them they can. They have jobs to pay for their mortgages, they have mortgages to provide a roof, they toil for much of the week and, one day if they toil hard enough, they’ll die and leave that house to their offspring, providing the government with a huge chunk of revenue and their children with a house to tie them into a similar drudge.
Many reading this will think me an idiot or, at best, a dreamer. But I'm not the only one. Raining punches onto our skinny arms on a dusty school stairwell won't convert us to your way of thinking. Don't be the last to realise what others have already realised. Modern life is as barbarous as any ridiculous, archaic tradition, though now the common man is the cow.
Some have said I'm living the dream, but a dream is a sleeping fallacy, a flight of fancy over which we've no conscious control. A dream cannot be lived. This is no dream, we'll not one day awaken, bleary eyed and refreshed, into a life of leisure where we'll be reunited with our loved ones.
Or, if I'm wrong and we do, it'll not be because we did a load of overtime to pay for bricks and mortar that, in a few hundred years time, won't even exist anymore.
You don't have to jump ship to live life as a free man. Work less, earn less, owe less, dream less...
...live more, love more.
Sunday, 14 August 2016
A few years ago I wrote some children's books, the Kissy Sizzle trilogy.
They're still available on Amazon and remarkably reasonably priced, though the price came down when no one bought them so maybe that's something to think about if you were considering making a purchase.
The books featured a little girl, a little boy, a yellow dog and a big dog, some time travel, some Nazis, several deaths and a legion of gorilla headed robot knights, the latter being my favourite creation. The children set off on a series of magical adventures, accompanied and protected by the dogs, visiting places I had visited and times I wish I'd experienced. I started writing them because I'd recently become a grandfather for the first time and, having no legacy to leave behind once the inevitable occurred, wanted to at least leave something for her to remember me by.
I'm estranged from my family now and, being a bitter old bastard, I truly believe that's the way it will remain. I doubt either of my granddaughters will have read them, nor do I believe they'll ever know anything about me. It's a situation with which I have come to terms. I was quite literally left to rot by those I'd once protected, so balls to 'em all.
Many of the adventures undertaken by the heroes were loosely based on real life (and far less exciting) events I myself had previously experienced. Some are just retellings of imaginary adventures I'd had during my own childhood, the gorilla headed robot knights being one such example.
Art, if that isn't too pretentious a word to use when describing one's own work, imitating life.
One of the characters, an old lady, was based upon a lady that once did me a great kindness several decades ago in a town square in southern France, a place not many miles from where I've once again found myself. This time, though, I find myself in the company of yellow dog and a big dog.
Life imitating art?
The woman in question looked to be in her late fifties, though her gait was that of someone at least a decade older.
I saw her face only briefly, spoke to her for less than thirty seconds and then promptly forgot all about her for the best part of the decades that have blossomed and withered betwix then and now, until I needed to put a face to the kindly old lady in the tall tale for short folk that I wrote.
Recently, probably as a result of my new location, I keep seeing her face. Sometimes in dreams, sometimes in those moments when I'm enjoying a bowlful of my favourite tobacco and staring at a blue or starry sky and sometimes when I see a person glance back at me.
It was the summer of 1990 and, it turned out, the hottest day of the year. I was lounging on a dusty pavement in a municipal park with my back against my knapsack when we met. Some fellow backpackers and I were whiling away the hours whilst waiting for a ferry to depart, playing cards and enjoying the glorious sunshine.
"Pardon," She said as her shadow fell over us, "Are you Anglais?"
All of us with cards in our hands squinted up at her, though it quickly became apparent it was only me that she was addressing. The sun cast a bright halo around her head, obscuring her face.
"Oui" I replied, almost exhausting my French vocabulary.
"Pour vous..." She said, holding out a pizza box, the smell of the hot cheese and pepperoni emanating from within reminding me that food had been a scarcity for the last few days whilst simultaneously setting my stomach off grumbling.
I was mortified. The lady with the cheesy box clearly thought me to be a vagrant. I declined her kind offer, politely and with a smile.
"S'il vous plait, c'est, erm, it is clean..." She opened the lid to reveal the pizza, moist and deep and missing one piece. "...you look like my son".
I didn't know how to respond, I simply took the box from her and smiled. The lady turned away as I gazed after her.
Once she'd taken three or four laboured paces she paused and looked back over her shoulder. Now free of the solar-halo I was able to see her face clearly. Short, white hair lay in curls around a plump face that was both tanned and deeply lined from a life lived on the cote d'azur.
"Merci", I called, completing the exhaustion of my lexicon of Le Language.
Her lips were slightly parted and her chin trembled. Her steps seemed to stutter as if she couldn't decide which direction to take while she looked at me for the final time, an expression of sadness sadder than a stranger should ever be allowed to see spreading across her sun-kissed face. She smiled, turned and was no more.
That evening I caught the ferry to St. Tropez where I would, eventually, engage in a little ice-cream selling on the beach and salt-water scrubbing out in the bay. Everything did as every thing does and carried on regardless. I quickly forgot to wonder about my brief encounter with the woman.
The memory is crystal clear. It was a beautiful day in a beautiful place during a beautiful period of existence. I can replay the scene in that quality of HD that only memory can create whenever and wherever I want. I can pause, zoom in to count the stray hairs caught on the collar of her coat (a heavy, chequered coat that looked far too substantial for the climate) or examine the card I had been about to play. It was the queen of hearts, I'm not sure if that was ironic.
I've no idea what, for that lady, came next.
For me, it was pizza (the first I'd ever eaten that I hadn't taken out of a freezer) and many games of cards in the sun before catching my ferry. My day was rounded off with a night sleeping on a bench half way up a mountain whilst a pack of dogs tore open my backpack having been attracted to it by the scent of the single slice of pizza wrapped in a Super-Marche bag I'd tucked away in one of the pockets.
I'd awoken when I'd heard the snuffling and gentle growling of the hungry hounds. Peeping out from within my quilted, nylon cocoon I watched as they rifled through my worldly goods, pissing on a select few items.
Frustratingly, I was aware that the most I could have done to protect my chattels would have been to hop at them and fall over, thereupon providing them with one of the biggest and juiciest chew toys a hound ever had. The sleeping bag would have provided some protection from the jaws of those hungry strays, though not for my succulent face. Also, rabies.
As my father always said, whenever faced with insurmountable odds, "Fuck that for a game of soldiers".
Those mangy, Gallic curs had left me with nothing but the orange shorts in which I'd been sleeping, a piss-soaked back pack, a couple of brightly coloured tee-shirts and a pair of shoes.
I say "pair of shoes" but, unfortunately, one of the pair was a Nike trainer and the other a leather sandal, so maybe to refer to them as a "pair" is somewhat misleading. My mismatched footwear did, however, provide me with a convenient conversation starter whenever I met someone new.
Hopefully, that slice of pizza that those beastly bastards had so coveted gave at least one of them the Brad Pitts.
I can never ask the woman about her son. I wish I had. Maybe her sadness was because she'd lost him to disease. Maybe he was killed on active duty with the military. Maybe he was very much alive but, because of some stupid misunderstanding, had chosen to keep turned the back he'd turned in anger and, if the latter of these suppositions were to be true, maybe the sadness was soon to be gone and she now spends many happy Sunday hours laughing with her grandchildren as my doppelganger and his wife prepare a delicious lunch for them all to share.
I wonder if she ever wondered about me and, if she did, what did she imagine?
I'd imagine she'd imagine something nice, a better life for me than I've provided for myself. Conceivably, she remains alive today. Whether she is or not is just another one of those questions to which I'll never know the answer. As far as I'm concerned, she continues to live Schrodinger's life.
I hope she lives in a little house amidst the lemon trees and wears a hat in the sun. I hope her calendar is filled with the birthdays' of descendants, that her pension plan has proven sufficient and that she has her son and her grandchildren to provide her with the luxuries that she deserves whilst having already provided her with a plethora of memories, memories of good times and loved ones rather than memories of a foreigner who looked a bit like her son, playing cards in the dust, wearing orange shorts...
...and eating her bloody pizza.
Sometimes, we let our imagination take control of the tiller. Generally, this is a mistake. We think the worst. We assume the worst. With no answers to our questions we continue to question, each question requiring a satisfactory answer. Not the correct answer, just one that is satisfactory. The answer we can imagine in most detail. Satisfactory.
But the satisfactory answer remains bereft of confirmation. No red tick from teacher to indicate we got it right, no smile from a question master on a television quiz show. Nothing.
So we continue to ask in the sure and certain knowledge that we'll receive no confirmation. What seems obvious at first is usually, though not exclusively, the correct answer. The woman with the pizza was most likely in mourning for a dead son. My appearance in her day had probably upset her and had cost her five sixths of her lunch. That is all I knew, know or can ever learn about the woman. On that day, at that time, she was sad and she gave a hungry teenager a pizza.
Maybe, later that evening, the lady that had fed me sat down to watch her favourite quiz show on the television, laughing and claiming to have known the answers to every question just a moment after the contestant had given their own answer to the immaculately coiffured quiz master and maybe, in passing, she'd mentioned our meeting to her husband. I imagine he was trying to read his newspaper while wearing the grumpy expression of a man too vain to wear reading glasses, squinting at the blurry words on the page. Maybe she told someone else about seeing her son's ghost in the park, maybe she kept it to herself.
If I'd taken the time to converse further with the lady then the rest of that day would've panned out differently. I would've found out her story. Maybe I'd have discovered that the son I reminded her of was fit and healthy, very much alive, and that she'd pitied me simply because she thought me too thin. Maybe her son had died in tragic circumstances, taken against the natural order of things earlier than she and leaving behind nothing for her to live for.
Maybe she'd once made a mistake and, as I now have, turned her back on her offspring, leaving him to rot whilst, to her, he continued to exist in some kind of Schrodinger's Offspring fashion, possibly alive and flourishing in another part of the world or posibly dead and decaying in a ditch.
Maybe I'd have become so engrossed in her story that I'd have missed the ferry and, therefore, not lost my pack to a pack.
One day, I came back to Blighty. One day, I settled down, albeit not forever. One day I had a son, then another. And a daughter. One day I got divorced and, on a couple of other days, I had a couple of heart attacks. During those days I continued to forget about the kind lady with the pizza, she being nothing more than the briefest of brief encounters many years prior, the beginning of a story that was never ended...
...until I wrote the ending.
Imagination, my friends, is the ultimate entertainment system.