Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Brandishing Knives (2)

They said I couldn’t make sense of playing cards. I didn’t have the mentality. A man without patience. Indeed, I faced them out and went even further. I said that I did not believe in playing cards, in the same way as many people said they didn’t believe in fairies.

It seemed to me, I told them, that to believe in cards you needed a good memory for detail. I’ve seen people with hands of cards visibly memorising what had already passed through their own and the hands of others. By thus memorising double-headed pictures or simply spotted ones, you should, in theory, diminish the odds, increase the chances or simply feel more confident with the knowledge of the history of the game so far – and confidence is often half the battle in life, not only in card games. Confidence, as provided by knowledge, was of more value than the actual knowledge, it seemed to me.

As I didn’t have that sort of memory, I found it easy to forget even the possibility of playing-cards existing as tangible objects. In fact, I began to see them as figments of imagination while I watched other people pretending to be shuffling them, dealing them face down, fanning them out in their hands, finally playing each card face up into whatever patterns of chance or skill that they were persuading themselves were pre-occupying them as players. Persuading each other, too, as a form of mass self-hypnotism. But not persuading me, the objective bystander.

Indeed, I did actually see them as not fanning out playing-cards in their hands at all – but more as brandishing knives. So, were these oblong knife-blades without handles that I saw in their hands? No, not really, but real cutlery knives splayed like the fans that old-fashioned ladies used to wield in sweeping motions to dissipate their hot flushes.

On one occasion, as I watched a particularly intense version of poker, they suddenly realised that the pack lacked one of the jacks.

“I have the jack,” I said with a confident smile. I had earlier sneaked it from the pack to boost my own strength of belief, wind up the cut of my jib as the once doubter now turned dealer.

Each of the players turned to me, their concentrated masks of confidence becoming blatant trumps of emotion...

... then abruptly swishing out their uncounted aces-of-spades from sheaths disguised as sleeves or sleeves disguised as sheaths. The croupier was to come a cropper, it seemed.

Or a headless head.

Or just another fairy.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Brandishing Knives

It all started when Steve walked along the sea front. The sparse but geometrically lined-up township of wind turbines four miles off-shore slowly twirled ... “as if the sea were brandishing knives,” he thought.

Not that he dreamed up such trenchantly poetic turns of phrase every day of his life. But today’s theme was indeed poetic verse, it seemed. He bought a birthday card for a loved one in a shop, a very expensive card with the usual embossed flowery front and, yes, at a cursory glance, the expected floridly sentimental verse inside upon stiff expensive paper. He took the card to the counter and winced when he heard the price. He felt surprised by the price, but he shouldn’t have been - judging by the number of times he had been thus surprised in the past. Hardly any change from a fiver. And not even a smile from the lady assistant. Still, he did receive a flimsy bag in which to carry it home!

On the return trip, a few of the wind turbine blades had stopped turning and Steve assumed that phenomenon indicated some form of piecemeal servicing or overhaul. However, he once read a set of Fanblade Fables by a local poet and, reading between the lines, there were all manner of possible reasons for a turbine to stop turning, most of which reasons were quite fanciful. But Steve couldn’t be fanciful if he tried. Most days.

He met Susan on the way back. He had been meeting Susan by regular chance on his trip along the sea front between his home and the town for several years now. They had a friendly chat and then went on their way. Not much was imparted other than weathered small-talk. Tired clichés of living. There was no mileage for relationship or even a well-turned story to be derived from their meetings. No gossip now – and no gossip in the future. Everything was fixed within Steve’s immediate state of living. Even the future held no secrets. Or so he felt. Or so he simply knew. There are people like that. A walking status-quo.

Steve arrived home. He needed to post the card or it would be late arriving for the loved one’s birthday. As he went to sign it, he unintentionally caught a few lines of the internal verse, caught them within some method of automatic reading-sense: a variety of sixth sense that derived from a blend of the other more regular five senses. He blanched. 

He now read the verse in conscious detail. It was full of hate and spite. He did not dare reproduce it for any future memory. Hence its omission from being recorded here. But it was simply horrible.

Furthermore, did he really credit his subsequent re-examination of the card’s front cover? On the surface, full of love and sumptuous design, involving flowers garlanding an idyllic template for a country cottage. Looking closely, perhaps, he discerned that the flowers’ petals were indeed tiny knife-blades. Or perhaps he didn’t. Whatever the case, he ripped it up and threw it in the waste-bin.

A waste-bin that contained forever the litter of lost memories, lost souls, lost lives, lost loves...

Meantime, the turbines are turning forever in fitful stops and starts, as if the very sea is expressing itself in human terms. Talking to us for real? Or merely making the motions? Gently rocking all over the world?

written today and first published here

Friday, November 19, 2010

Cry Lie Sigh Die

“Can I have a pen?”


“I want to write some verse with just four lines, all with a single rhyme, ending with words like cry lie sigh and die.”

“That’s a peculiar thing suddenly to want to do. Hmmm, here’s a pen in my jacket. Do you mind if I use your loo?”

“Yes, it’s upstairs, the first door on the left. Thanks for this pen.”

“My pleasure.”

There was a sound on the stair, the voice ceasing as its owner headed towards the loo.

The new owner of the pen sucked its end – judging by the sound – and started to write. In the silence, the scratching of the nib was louder than it should have been. The distant noise of the loo being flushed above was the only disruption to any concentration of thought. There was, for quite a while, no sign of anyone returning to the room. Only a pen falling to the paper as whoever guided it gave up writing.

No-one could be bothered to look over anyone else’s shoulder – as the well-scored lines of verse blotted within the growing darkness, but soon to fade even further. In any event, the pen had settled diagonally across the lines, concealing some of the words, given the context not otherwise filling them in. The loo had long since ceased even the most imperceptible of hisses before the water-hammer in the pipes clunked. Allowing only silence as the final victor.

As in an imagined old cinema, a light from an usherette’s torch – a strong beam filled with ancient cigarette smoke – approached tentatively from the door to the table where the pen still sat diagonally across the verse it had written. The oblong mirror on the wall began to grey out like some past image of a cinema screen coming to fitful life – a silent uncoloured-in cockerel crowing ... and the 1953 Coronation, equally in silence, taking its dreary masquerade.

With the usherette having completed the showing of any late-comers to the vacant seats, the flickering screen revealed the lines of verse, as completed by the memory of those who had watched the newsreel back when everything seemed too easily forgettable in colour yet forever memorable in black and white.

Mouthing the words meticulously:

Let we people cry
Let you others lie:
Let sadness sigh
That deaths don’t die.

Time has its own force of austerity. The only sound is the loo flushing again.

But there was a fifth line non-construable from context. A line about William and Kate Middleton, perhaps, in some soon-to-be-forgotten, never-to-be-recorded, barely reachable future.

Then, in darkness, the pen rolled to the floor with its own unexpected clunk.

Don’t ask me why.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Symphonies of Sir Malcolm Arnold


These notes were first disseminated on a discussion forum in 2002.

Just listened again to Malcolm Arnold's First Symphony.

First movt: Opening cross between a Havergal Brian Symphony and Prokoviev's Scythian Suite ... gradually slowing into film music for innocent Nineteen-Fifties English countrified plot ... with Waltonesque ending.

2nd Movt: Slow music with Morse code ... focussed by typical Arnoldian sharp percussion ... and Chinese gong ... leading into a Nineteen-Sixties Hammer horror film theme

3rd Movt: Much brass -- dare I say almost with Ivesian competing brass bands ... Scythian Suite again ... various woodwind instruments gossipping with each other ... chirpy, jaunty ... Waltonesque ending again.

Does not seem to cohere beyond a stirring soundfest of brass and percussion. Probably not his best symphony.

Malcolm Arnold's Second Symphony ssems to strive for some expression of the British Soul … I generally dislike Programme music, as it imposes its narrative will upon mine. But here I'm in control, as I impose my own narrative will upon this delightflly pure yet schizophrenic music. It doesn't know whether it's Eric Coates or Stravinsky.

First Movt: Gentle. Homely. An old film matinee. On the Home Front. Workers whistling while they work

Second Movt: There is relaxation as they enjoy a jaunty evening. Well earned, in hard times.

Third Mvt: This long slow unwinding of the day's activity leads into night. Nothing sinister. No nightmares, despite the times. But upon gradually waking at dawn – amid moments of Mahler – a worrying knowledge floods back, yet regaining calm …

Fourth Movt: Uplifting. This is not part of the narrative will, but some spiritual indefinable culmination. Simple. Stops just short of `British Light Music', but with all its ingredients. There is a brassy and percussive edge that prevents too simple a solution. The story has been told. We are left with just the music. A happy ending.

Third Symphony

First Movt:Opens as if it had already started some minutes before. An old car moving towards its nemesis at the `Psycho' Motel. But we divert towards a divertissement of a jolly brass band concert in the park. (the car moves on without us, all its sinister motives gone0. But the symphony's recurring relentless `motif' remains. Again, some of this music reminds me of the bland stuff of the 1950's BBC Light Programme – yet with undercurrents of vision (often happy, sometimes thoughtful, seldom terrifying … but never say never…) The composer is writing pure music, unaware of his own inner narrative drive towards a story from sound. All the characters are in black &white, but you know that, beneath the skin, lurks real colour waiting to be activated. Brass and bass hover ever on the *brink* of a typical never-ending Glass moto mobile…

2nd Movt:Lush strings begin an interlude of tense quietness … where it is important not to have thoughts. Just let the music flow over you. If there are thoughts (the woodwind's audit of their own conversational trails), then they are soon forgotten like dreams upon waking. The relentless motif returns intermittently from the first movement, reminding you (within sleep) of what you did during the day. I keep trying to compare Arnold to other composers' music. Maybe Walton, Prokoviev, Mahler … but I can't hear Sibelius or Nielsen (as some have claimed). The climax of this movement is Mahlerine decadence relieved by…

3rd Movt.:A jolly tongue-twister. A merry-go-round. A joke. A card trick. A farewell. Someone's making fun of us for taking the preceding movements so seriously … mocking our attempts to make musical comparisons. `Colour' is a musical term & here it wells up finally, following the early Elizabethan (Elizabeth I) monochrome … as if music's equivalent of black & white TV transmogrifies into 24 hour multi-channelled cable TV colour… Still thoughtful, though, still old-fashioned despite its premonitions of modernity. Almost fateful. Serious at heart. Despite the peccadilloes. Ibert with a penchant for beautiful English wenches. Or back to the `Psycho' Motel?? Then the stirring climax where you can make your own interpretation of happiness or tragedy: and this climax amazingly sounds like Holst's Mars!!!!

Fourth Symphony

1st Movt: Music that could have been written for West Side story interposed with a chirpy melody almost from the old BBC Light Programme's Music While You Work.

2nd Movt: Chirpiness continues but more subdued and almost in the vein of Honegger. More potential depth, as if on the brink of something dark or noble, but tantalisingly not quite reaching it. The chirpy melody is a disguise for some pent-up emotion which is not quite expressed.

3rd Movt: George Butterworth type melody leading into a greater lushness which could easily have been the backing for a Frank Sinatra song or a blues singer. Slinky … sexy. 4 a.m. in the morning.

4th Movt: Jolly extravaganza of an ending, with a dark and noble coda, but still essentially uplifting. Ibert crossed with Bernstein. There is an element though here of something that I have learned is uniquely Arnold: a headlong cinematic motion decorated with tunes, often laced with Latin-American rhythms and spiced with the cross-currents of Ivesian marches.I have now listened closely to the first 4 Arnold symphonies (out of 9) – and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. They seem music for music's sake, with no pretensions towards a more organic, self-conscious art – just pure joy in pure music. Arnold winking at you as if to say he's chosen all the tunes and themes and movements whimsically. He knows he's good at this and is not ashamed to be unpretentious, whilst proud. Whimsical, capricious, albeit with echoes and re-echoes of recurring themes and styles, but not to tie the listener to a strict structure, but simply for the sake of friendliness in familiarity and recognition. I see all that purely in the music. I have read no sleeve notes.

Fifth Symphony

1st Movt.

After an opening that sounds as if it should be as famous as Beethoven's 5th, the toing and froing of a tiny seesaw as children play distantly. A lot of tinkling and clashing ever in Arnold – here no exception. The children's optimistic future downplayed for the grimmer fears that the present moment directs upon it … as they start running and skipping across the hills. They're evidently playing truant … as they are temporarily arrested by some forcefield of the Authorities with instruments growing louder and clashier. But now the children are more thoughtful … the age of innocence almost over. Here is a sense of my own 1960 (when this symphony was written). Followed by jerkier, more bellicose music – a march of the puppet soldiers. Ends quieter. This movt reacts against any attempt to name composers with which to compare it. Pure Arnold.

2nd Movt

A beautiful Mahlerine theme – often reminiscent of that emotional territory within Mahler's 5th symph adagio. Then brassy effects brings this contemplation to a brutal interruption … until, falling back into the contemplative, perhaps darker aspects, yet sprinkled with more tinkles. Time to regroup before adulthood finally kicks in. The Mahlerine theme returns in even more sedate beauty and poignancy, before the movt ends.

3rd Movt

A delightful, jaunty music with much percussion – the classic Arnold cheeky chirp tune. Wonderful! No need to dress it up with life's story. It is pure, uncluttered. Not even a stage or development. It just is. A sabbatical from the cruel cuts of existence.

4th Movt

Skewed fanfares (reminiscent of Tippett) lead to the re-onset of life – with courageous marching undercurrents, that reminded me of Arnold's Bridge Over the River Kwai theme music. Tympanic calls to duty. Essentially optimistic, despite intermittent themes on the strings which have a sort of fear inbuilt beneath the cascading fanfares of hope. Then ambiguous thumps and tauter crescendoes lead to a satisfying climax, repeating the Mahlerine theme from the 2nd movt. More purposeful, now, though. Pointing a finger towards the dangerous future as if to say, go, thee, hence, young man, do not fear.

Sixth Symphony

1st Movt.

Flutes give birth to a paradoxically sinister jauntiness – Christmassy in its mix of thoughtless joy and eerie tales around the roaring fire. I think Arnold here (as elsewhere) owes a lot to Honegger's symphonies. Or vice versa? With a Tippett edge. Then a Blind Man's Buff game at an ancient children's Christmas party – one that ends in tears of joy as well as of sadness. Only a premonition of the big day to come as trawled from Charles Dickens. Idealism of oldfashionedness.

2nd Movt.

Peaceful Nirvana. Music that reminds me of George Benjamin's Ringed By The Flat Horizon and Henri Dutilleux's Mystère de L'Instant. Can we imagine the birth of something? Repeated trumpet theme is almost joyful as it wells from the unspoken sad silence of the night. The birth of a Saviour … or a Santa …? The clip clopping jauntiness of reindeer intervenes with a chirpy dialogue between the woodwind. Toys are coming to life. Presents being packed in some cold store of the North. Drums beckon tin soldiers to march. And dolls blink open their eyes. All is ready, primed…But night is slow to surrender as the giant sleigh leaves its lair to negotiate the flat horizons… Children sleep on… fitfully.

3rd Movt.

Now it's Christmas Day. The trumpet theme renews its sway as everybody rises with hope and excitement. They know in their hearts that life holds disappointments galore, but today all that will be pushed aside.Children das hither and thither, their blindfolds of night abruptly removed. Parents warn of getting beyond themselves. It's far too early for grown-ups! But nothing can resist the onward impulse of Yuletide … despite the undercurrents of world events that are never far away. The main recurring them reminds me of jazz – and Gershwin – and aptly Benjamin Britten's Young Person's Guide. The children are willing to accept the gifts Santa brought and pretend to believe in him. Next year there'll be no Santa, they know. They dare not even think about God, in case He vanishes, too. Thoughtless joy prevails to the end.

Sir Malcolm Arnold’s 7th Symphony – op 113

(only two more to go!)

1. Allegro Energico. Almost atonal opening laced with a darkish Copland. The secret of Arnold music, for me, is that it ably fits with your own current mood, whatever your mood happens to be. Hence, perhaps, my Christmassy take here on Arnold 6 (in contrast to Ivan’s opposing take). Here we have Ibert’s quirkiness (his Divertissement was coincidentally on Radio 3 early this morning) … followed by the filmic rhythms of Bernard Hermann, imbued with elements of Penderecki, Messiaen, Walton and the Scythian Prokoviev. None of this can disguise, though, the beautiful melodies of dance and song that often report for duty.

2. Andante con moto. Non descript movement. Often, ‘non descript’ is the aptest description! Deeply contemplative. Haunting. Jazzy feel now and again. Time passing. There is even the sound of a clock. Paradoxically, timelessness, too. The quiet centre of the world (Cf. TS Eliot’s 4 Quartets). Spoilt, perhaps, by too much astringency towards the end. Echoes of Messiaen’s Et Exspecto Resurrectionem…

3. Allegro. An atonal regrouping of the first movement. More dark Copland. My own mood, today, perhaps matches this darkness, hence Arnold’s chameleon qualities complementing such a feeling in myself. Another day, this essay on Arnold 7, may have been quite different. The trumpet brays Webernly. Yet, overall, there is an inescapable charm of melody winning through, attaining such charm despite the thick and thin of its other ingredients. The charm is stronger as a result. Through adversity, truth wins. The truth of melody out of unmelodiousness. And then some chirpy momentary Irish jig interlude. Thankfully back to dark Copland after the chiming percussion. At least we do not end besotted with beauty. Though beauty has nevertheless entered us.

Eighth Symphony of Sir Malcolm Arnold

1st Movt: Allegro

Thrilling start: a pomp & circumstance leading into a very familiar Arnoldian tune, simultaneously plaintive and cheeky; yet with West Side Story-like outbursts intervening and tympani effects reminding one of Shostakovich. The tune is remiscent of the hymn “We Who Valiant Be” (title?) … and ‘valiant’ is a good word for Arnold’s lively symphonies before the Ninth. A ragbag of tunes, moods and musical styles, if that is not too demeaning an expression. Superficial and charming. Then deep and pensive, even outwardly atonal. All run through with valiant Britishness.

2nd Movt: Andantino

Almost uniformly contemplative, reminsicent of Arvo Part or the quieter, pastoral Vaughan Williams. It is perhaps strange that some of his earlier symphonies caused me to tell the ‘story’ that was evoked in my mind – or scenes. Now the music seems more abstract, more a patchwork of moods, rather than representations. Arnold’s slower movements now (as he grows older?) seem more visionary than scenic. An indescribable spirituality. This is an effective contrast to the first movemen. A dramatic burst towards the end of this movement disrupts the contemplativeness of the music that (he surely must have felt) had literally composed itself. Arnold always needs the last word.

3rd. Movt: Vivace

A jolly jape. A rollercoaster of a ride. Arnold is truly back in control of his own music and takes us with him with a wave and a smile. Yet imbued with an element of something darker within the forward motion. Despite our misgivings, we wave back and smile. Even Arnold, surely, at this stage, could not have predicted the valiant emergence of his last symphony, the uncomfortable Ninth. The question is: can a composer’s music be affected in hindsight by what we know of his subsequent work? Is development necessarily chronological/linear? Strange what questions good music makes us ponder.

9th Symphony

1st movement: Vivace.

I thought ‘vivace’ meant vivacious! But this is far from vivacious, in that sense. It has a gentle wistfulness, with a recrrent melody that is almost trying to fight off the perceived weakness of wishy-washy mysticism. Mysticism’s power is felt, though, throughout this most wonderful symphony of symphonies. Parts of this movement reminds me of Scriabin’s music. And Glass. Also echoes of a Brahms orchestral serenade and Dvorak’s 6th symphony. Also, at one point a brass instrument (trumpet?) intervenes. A Heavenly trump. Almost a Hellish one.

2nd Movt: Allegretto.

Can he be serious? Allegretto? What’s that mean? Slow woodwind opening leads to an enduring mellow wistfulness. There is an unheard pent-up power there, though, instinctively sensed. As if the music is trying to damp down some fire of unwanted emotion. A beautiful theme on the trumpet is plaintive, poignant. Leading to the seat of the fire---

3rd Movt: Giubiloso

Jubilant? Yes. But with undercurrents of not *wanting* to be jubilant. As if it is undignified. This time there are definite Philip Glass-like effects scattered throughout – with brazen fanfares (like the skewed ones in an earlier symphony). There is the sporadic trickling of woodwind but this is not enough to staunch te flames. Arnold seems afraid of his own trademark jaunty flighty flirting frolicsomeness. He needs to be serious. But the music itself is utonomous and will not allow him. This work should be nicknamed the Uncomfortable Symphony.

4th Movt: Lento

Longest movement by far. Mahlerine, of course. Goes without saying. Like the last Movement of Mahler’s 9th. Defies description. Everything is resolved, if with some inferred pain. Not with optimism, not with pessimism, but with a neutral ineffable beauty. Sad, yes. Uplifting, too. As only the greatest art can accomplish, it marries two opposing emotions as a seamless whole. The discomfort of age reconciled.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Best So Far

“’Batter me a kipper!’ is the best so far,” the old man wheezed to another old man.

“The best what so far?”

“The best catchphrase.”


“Yes, my brother’s starting a career in good old-fashioned stand-up comedy – and he wanted some ideas for catchphrases, like Bruce Forsyth’s ‘Nice to see you, to see you Nice’”.

“Batter me a kipper? Better than butter me a kipper, I guess. But I don’t think much of it. How about ‘Cold chips, Missus?’?”

“’Cold chips, Missus?’? That’s rubbish!”

Just by the coincidence of childhood Christenings, the two old men sitting on a park bench, chatting away, were called Bill and Ben. The sun was late setting – the first day after having turned the clocks forward for British Summer Time. However, the trees became grey swags shaking in the March wind – because the cloud cover was now too thick for the late sun to penetrate. Bill shivered. Ben knew it was Bill himself, not Bill’s brother, that Bill was talking about. Bill simply didn’t want to admit to having ideas of starting a new career at this advanced stage of his life, especially one that involved being a comic like Tommy Cooper or Bob Hope.

There was silence for a while as the gloom caught up with itself and eventually doubled as darkness.

Bill muttered: “The best so far” – as if listening for a catchphrase suggestion from God Himself.

“Yes, the best so far,” Ben replied, as if hearing God for real.

That park bench was in a park in the city. The whole city was now a huge dissipation of light-pollution. Younger people were emerging and moving along the streets intent on nights out. Everything they said to each other seemed to be a series of catchphrases, some in jargon or some text / slang speak. They had little time for old men like Bill and Ben.

A young couple – Mary and Midge by name – were heading, hand in hand, towards a Night Club called ‘The Juice Islands’. A great name for such an establishment, even if one of questionable relevance. Indeed, nobody questioned the existence of a place called ‘The Juice Islands’. In these young people’s short lives, it seemed as if it had existed under that name forever.

Quite often, ‘The Juice Islands’ organised stand-up comedy shows rather than dances, with budding comics testing out their skills with a live audience.

Mary and Midge were going to such a show tonight, although Mary preferred dancing.

Midge told Mary that some famous comics had started their careers at ‘The Juice Islands’. And who knows but tonight there might be seen the birth of a future legend of entertainment.

Meanwhile, upon the park bench, Bill and Ben’s shadows had been left behind to remind others that there were such things as ghosts. The owners of the shadows had departed to their one-room bedsits where there were too many shadows already – shadows that fed off the behaviour of any people too mean to light the lights ... or, paradoxically, too generous to the rest of us by over-rationing themselves under the threat of global warming.

Upon the stage at ‘The Juice Islands’, there stumbled into view – amid only a little applause – an old man.

“Batter me a kipper!” he said tentatively into the microphone, as if nervous of its power to pick up his voice too loudly.

Midge stared at Mary and shrugged. They ambled off together. They jigged up and down mindlessly in the corner shadows, along with a few others, to the lost stridency of silence.

The old man left stage left. His act tonight had been his best chance to utilise the hour his world had skipped.

He was certain he had been the best so far.

“Yes, the best so far,” he whispered to himself, the phrase catching in his throat ... as the lights went out.

Written today and first published above.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Silent One

“It was very much like being mad, only it was worse because one was aware of it.”

- from ‘The Secret Sharer’ by Joseph Conrad.


I was on a coach, surrounded by several other people, one who apparently was my wife of 40 years’ standing. I was in the window-seat – silent.

I wasn’t always silent, but usually silent. I called myself ‘a silent one’ because I was generally silent except when stirred into conversation for the sake of social ease or the obtaining of life’s necessaries or pleasures.

The coach was travelling to Russia via various countries and I should now get to the nub of the situation by saying it was a holiday trip. That much I gathered. The coach group stayed in pre-booked hotels in various cities. However, I sensed that everyone else was there for my benefit, creating this situation just for me, while pretending that they were independent of me, in fact strangers to me – all on their own holiday trip rather than acting as a backdrop for the only real holiday trip: mine.

The only ‘non-stranger’ (in inverted commas) was my supposed wife of 40 years’ standing. The other people – as the days went by – became less and less as strangers as we mingled at mealtimes and at communal tours of various sites of interest. The two drivers of the coach (who took it in turns to drive or to do paperwork to cross various borders or to serve drinks as the coach travelled along through much tedious scenery as well as interesting cityscapes) became very ‘familiar’, in all senses of that word.

How I had gathered that this was all a set-up – just for me – remained a mystery for the early part of the journey but like the co-passengers and the drivers becoming gradually ‘familiar’, the mystery clarified itself – equally gradually – into a distinct mystery, then a known quantity, finally something that I could consider to be a certainty of fact.

I noticed surreptitious glances between the eyes of various passengers as if sizing me up, laughing behind their faces, keeping up the pretence with obvious pleasure. My so-called wife kept a very steady role and I must say she was the best actress of them all.

I often wondered if the whole world outside the coach was in on the act. Many of the roads in Poland had coloured panels to protect houses from sight of the traffic or from its noise. But as I sat in the coach I wondered if it were the houses we needed protection from – or at least me needing protection from the knowledge that all outside the coach was one-dimensional, even the tiny orange bus balanced on the horizon. But that was too fanciful even for me. So I began wondering how long I had been ‘a silent one’ – so-called – this centre of attention who everyone tiptoed around in apparent ignorance of my specialness while all the time scrutinising my every move, even my slightest tic.

I seemed to remember – deep somewhere in my mind – that once upon a time I was full of chatter, completely at my social ease with everyone while serious facts as well as ‘small talk’ tripped over my tongue. I even remembered my name in those times – Barge.

I remembered little else since I had become ‘a silent one’. My so-called wife was the only person I recognised from those early misty times – presumably Mrs Barge. Perhaps I shall never know, never remember, never become ‘me’. Never again.

At that point in my thoughts, the coach reached the border with the Russian Federation at Belarus. According to the coach’s Sat Nav display there was nothing beyond the border – either the Sat Nav system didn’t work beyond the border or there was some other significance. Time would tell. Although I didn’t say much, there was a lot of excitement within me about the trip and what would befall us beyond the ex-Iron Curtain.

Often I felt I needed to assert my character. I did say things from time to time just to be polite – but I tried to plough my own furrow of silent motivation. Despite this and the other passengers’ studied nonchalance about me, I did feel them nudging me in certain directions when they saw me moving in a direction that they did not want me to take. These nudges were not at all apparent but I was certain they were there. My so-called wife’s nudges were more direct, more obvious, and I swam with their tide.


As we left the Russian Federation, I suddenly looked at the passenger who was more silent than the rest. Quite anti-social I thought. I am, of course, what people call an alpha male, and I was the undisputed alpha male on this coach trip and he was, by contrast, the omega male.

The rest of the passengers called me the Daddy of the group. They didn’t really call him anything at all, although his wife told me he was Barge and she was Mrs Barge. And, as his own wife did, the coach’s drivers also called him Barge, not Mr Barge, not whatever his first name was. The Russian guide – called Violetta – who told jokes on the coach’s tannoy during boring parts of the journey had often referred to a stock character in her stories, one called Barge – and we all wondered if she was ridiculing him on purpose.

Now that we had left Russia, Barge was even more silent, as if we had all sucked in the residual parts of his personality. We noticed that his wife talked to him less and less which probably pleased him – because much of what she addressed to him were complaints or nags. Or so we noticed.

By the way, as alpha male, I was spokesman for the group, hence the ‘we’ that I have adopted in these notes. However, I decided one day, at one of the coach’s comfort-stops, to secretly share a few words with Barge when I saw him alone near the foreign toilets waiting for Mrs Barge. He stood looking absentmindedly into a shop window containing Russian Doll souvenirs.

This all happened before the coach left Russia, but I’m only remembering it now for the first time. I must say it felt like talking to another version of myself, someone I might have become given other circumstances of life. He must have been unutterably shy. I am quite the opposite, as proved by me being the Daddy of the passenger group. The two drivers, of course, were in ultimate control, but they were only alpha males by virtue of their job. They probably only acted bossy, because they were paid to do so.

“Enjoying the holiday?” I asked Barge.

He nodded and, breaking his silence, said: “Yes, but it’s a bit like hard work having to leave each hotel with the suitcases packed each morning so very early.”

That was an enormous speech for Barge, needless to say. Surprised, I merely nudged him on the arm and passed on, leaving him to wait for his wife.

Being an alpha male, I don’t normally see the subtle expressions of other people. I cannot empathise. All I can think of are my own needs and how to satisfy my longing to control other people not only for my own benefit but also, it has to be said, for their benefit. So, I surprised myself when I began to notice gradual changes in Barge – a self-confessed ‘silent one’ – as the coach trip progressed. Every time he said something, his head grew slightly larger. You might laugh but I became convinced of this. In hindsight, I probably had an obsession with Barge – and with his slowly expanding head. Not only that, but the skin on his face gradually became pastier, until one day I imagined it would be white and pulpy. My theory was wrong, however. Alpha males are not always right and I have since ceased to be an alpha male as a result of this realisation. Barge taught me a lot even if he didn’t do this on purpose. Even when he was silent for days on end, his head still grew slightly larger, his skin slightly pastier. The speed of this process was therefore nothing to do with his relative silence. Silence did not seem able to control it either way. I determined to have a quiet word with Mrs Barge, in case she hadn’t noticed this process, fearful as I was that Barge was suffering an illness. An illness abroad is an illness doubled.

She did not seem to understand, however.


By the time we reached Helsinki, I had gradually become so worried about Barge that it was affecting me unduly – causing me to be silent, too, for long periods of anxiety. And as you will not be surprised to learn, there is no such thing as a silent one who is also an alpha male.

I cannot remember the exact circumstances of the coach trip’s ending. It sort of tailed off in Calais before we crossed the Channel. I said goodbye to Barge and Mrs Barge after tipping the two drivers. We exchanged details as many coach holiday friendships do in the normally unfulfilled future promises about keeping in contact, unfulfilled even with the relative ease of emailing.

Barge did not have an email but he gave me his real address, and I gave him mine. Mrs Barge and I looked at each other, knowing that this would be the last time we would see each other. Thus is life.

But time has bends and corners that life itself doesn’t. That’s the only way I can explain it, much like a coach trip of the mind. So, a few years later, I visited – on impulse – the Barge address while being in the area, I forget why. Imagine my surprise that she had married one of those coach drivers from the Russian trip, one who had by now retired from conducting such trips. He was still full of himself, all mouth and trousers. If I had once been an alpha male, he was – and still is, I guess – a being I could never hope to become. A man with no chink in his armour at all. All smiles and confidence. I didn’t stay long. I don’t think either of them remembered me from the trip – but they were polite enough when I showed them photos of the coach group on holiday all those expanding years before. I noticed my own face was half-concealed by other faces.

Before leaving, I pointed to Barge's face in one of the photos – a silent one, a rare breed with whom I now empathised rather than sneered at. Mrs Barge nonchalantly pointed to an armchair in the corner which was in half-darkness and as if looking upon it stirred whatever it contained into non-silence, I heard a slight pulping noise and saw the very wide shape of whiteness: a face without features.

I left silently, my mind tongue-tied by unpronounceable Russian letters.

Friday, September 17, 2010


I joined the Book Club although I had never ever read a book since school. You may wonder why. Well, you’ll probably guess that there was a girl involved, one who went to the Book Club. I fancied her, fancied her desperately. I knew her at work. We had chatted inconsequentially at the drinks machine as the plastic cups clattered down one by one, each followed by a defiant hiss of steaming liquid. One day, she told me about the Book Club. She evidently thought I looked bookish – or rather she fancied me as I fancied her. Well, so I hoped. She just used the Book Club as a catalyst for our future relationship. I jumped at the bait with enthusiasm, but then immediately regretted it when she told me that I needed to read an actual book – a very large one as it turned out with tiny print and an unattractive cover that I had to buy in WH Smiths – it was titled BARGE – and I needed to talk about it, she told me, with the other members of the Book Club.

Well, I did read it religiously. It taught me long words like ‘catalyst’ and ‘judicious’. I gave up all my favourite TV programmes. And, surprised as I am to report this, I actually enjoyed it. I never understood the significance of the title, though. Anyway, this was the first time ever I had enjoyed any book.

I expect you will guess, by my tone, how the plot now turns – because, predictably, when I arrived at the Book Club (fat book in hand), the girl who had invited me was nowhere to be seen. I never saw her again at work, either. And, incidentally, they replaced the drinks machine with a tea-lady pushing an urn on a trolley. I now have a nostalgia for drinks machines.

I have a nostalgia, too, for TV programmes because, soon afterwards, they did away with TV sets and replaced them with large wirelesses, ones with glowing consoles and wickerwork speakers. Oh for the good old days of big black plasma screen on the wall.

A lot came from reading that book it seemed. And I generally became an avid reader as I listened to Mantovani music on the crackly wireless. Eventually, I married the tea-lady. She looked much younger without her overall. And we lived happily ever after – like the ending of that first book I’d read since school.

I never returned to the Book Club because they started using Ipads and Kindles instead of real books.

One day, I did think I saw the girl who had first invited me to the Book Club – in the distance, sitting on a park bench. She was much older, but I could tell it was her. As I got closer I found her reading a real book and sipping a drink from a plastic cup. She half-smiled. I was never sure if she recognised me. I went off to WH Smiths – but it was shut. So I returned home to the wife who was knitting in the corner of our silent candlelit sitting-room. Somehow her dress was kept nicer by the judicious use of her old overall.

Life continues to go by outside the window.

Written yesterday (slightly amended today) as a speed-writing exercise at the Clacton Writer's Group

Sunday, September 12, 2010



posted Friday, 18 June 2010

The piece of paper had one word on it: Twilight.

It happened in a busy pub while I was standing at the bar trying to make myself be seen by the barman. I generally have trouble getting drinks at bars – it’s as if I am invisible.

Anyway, that evening, I managed finally to catch the barman’s eye with the first few words of my order spoken out loud already a few times: “A pint of Extra Cold Guinness...” and, as this happened, I felt someone touch my hand (the one not holding out the ten pound note pleadingly to the barman), then placing there, as I instinctively took it, a piece of paper. I sensed it was a woman but I did not see her as she vanished into the hubbub behind me.

“...and a glass of Twilight, please, “ I confirmed.

“Ice and lemon?” immediately retorted the barman.

I returned to the table, reserved with a bag and two coats, and placed both drinks in position. I sat down in one of the seats and suddenly took the opportunity to inspect the piece of paper whereby I confirmed a presumption of what was written on it.

“Someone just passed me a piece of paper at the bar,” I told Susan as she returned from the Ladies. She had evidently risked leaving our table and belongings unattended but, in my present mood, I was averse to complaining. In fact, it had not crossed my mind at all. Hindsight was wonderful.

“What’s on it?”

“Nothing. It’s completely blank.”

“What’s this drink? It’s not a Pepsi.”

I scrutinised the wine-glass shaped glass containing a liquid that seemed to give off its own light, a dull glow from amid a dark centre. A centre as dark as my Guinness, if not darker. It was like no drink I had seen before.

“Well, it certainly doesn't seem like a Pepsi,” I agreed, scratching my head. “Try it.”

“You try it,” said Susan.

I picked it up and took a sip. There was no taste at all, indeed no relative temperature to gauge how cold it was. If a drink could be completely bland, this was it. A warm sensation however hit my stomach –

“Hmm, it’s strangely not unpleasant. Try it.” Then I remembered that Susan never drank from glasses that others had used – even me. Me the person she often kissed. “Well, shall I get you a Pepsi?”

She nodded. I visited the bar again and undertook the whole procedure of catching the barman’s eye. This time it was even busier and I felt even more invisible. Less or more invisible seemed a strange way to put it, but my mind must have been slightly off-kilter. That drink - despite its lack of taste - must have carried a kick. One sip and I was anybody’s. Just another outstretched hand, this time with a five pound note in it, pleading for attention – for some acknowledgement that I was there. Tears falling down the cheeks with no salt in them...

I turned to seek re-assurance from Susan. She wasn’t there. Caught short again, no doubt.

I looked down at my hand. The five pound note held out in it was completely blank.

('Twilight' was speed-written at the Clacton writer's group last night and typed out above with slight revisions today)

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Merest Creak

The Merest Creak

posted Monday, 3 November 2008
Published 'Wearwolf' 1993

Feeling knackered, the saviour clambered on board and went the rest of the way in the boat. Eventually on land again, he was brought to a paralytic man lying on a stretcher-bed. “Your sins are forgiven,” announced the saviour. “Rise and take up your bed.” The man rose with a satisfying sigh and the merest creak of bone - walking off, without bothering to take up his bed. The saviour was spitting mad, shouting for the man to come back and take up the bed, but the wretch merely wagged his finger at the saviour and bounded away. As it would have been a pity for unmitigated anger to become the only shortcoming in the path towards Divinity, the saviour calmed down ... then deciding to use the abandoned bed for a long snooze.

Crumbling Edges - 2

Crumbling Edges - 2

posted Thursday, 9 October 2008
Written today and first posted here.

The ghost was immediate. Like love with no foreplay.

Jack and Sylvia glanced at each other with frightened looks, having glimpsed the ghost glancing at them from where the cupboard door should have been. They hadn’t long moved into the flat and they believed this cupboard to be an airing one, slatted with empty wooden shelves above a large pipe-fed cylinder. It was early in their days of tenancy and the prevailing summer weather had caused them not to have yet fathomed the flat’s heating system. They assumed the cylinder would be central to any such system. Quite divorced from the electric power-shower they had already been using to remove the dust and sweat of the city.

This was the first night of chilly air so they had been investigating the various so-called heating-controls in various dark corners. Jack was not particularly practical. Good looks but not good hands. Sylvia had more nous than Jack but was saddled with a belief that men should look after women, not vice versa. She had her hands full with keeping down an office job to help pay the rent. The flat had been too expensive for them even before the Credit Crunch. Jack was self-employed as a messenger, but his motor-bike was currently out of commission – beyond his own capacity to mend – and he really needed a new one. His good looks alone could not pay the rent. At least Sylvia’s good looks had played some part in landing her a job in an office. A pretty head seemed to disguise its otherwise disordered numeracy and literacy.

Life was not complicated. Merely difficult.

“Did you see that?”

Sylvia’s voice turned into under-muttering... her crumbling nerves on edge. She was tired. Easy jobs were never easy when you made hard work of them. She watched Jack peering into a vase. He had bought some flowers to celebrate the completion of a week in the flat and wanted, evidently, to see if this vase – that came with the furnishings – was worthy enough to display the flowers that would be useless without being arranged and then viewed properly. The flowers had been bought with real money. The opportunity cost was a single destiny too far. Never to be recouped. He sighed as, simultaneously, he too glimpsed exactly what Sylvia had glanced at.

A misbuilt figure – shimmeringly shaped no doubt by a haze or fitful blast of heat – veiled the blank stare of the open airing-cupboard. But wait – the cupboard was not open as such but now completely doorless or somehow shut without a door at all.

Jack put down the vase and continued to stare as the figure took on further form as a transparent example of humanity: waving its arms about in a wild panic at its ill-timed emergence from separate ghostly forces. There was no doubt in the couple’s minds – although they had no time to discuss it – that this was an essentially mysterious event. And thus more horrifying than it would otherwise have been. The only horror for mankind is the supernatural: a truth about the unknown or inexplicable that neither Jack nor Sylvia bothered to rehearse. It only came too naturally.

“Stay still,” whispered Jack, “until it goes away.”

“I’m scared.” Saying the obvious was the only thing she could think to say.

Jack stayed silent rather than admit his own terror.

The edges of their nerves were now as if creeping along the carpet between each of their feet, seeking an electric circuit of comfort, thinly holding out invisible tingling arms to each other.

Almost automatically, Jack surrendered any hope that this event was a dream or a mistake of vision – it was essentially real, there, taking place, moving all the time without any possibility of predicting where it would, as an event, move next. He picked up the vase again, an equally automatic or unpredictable action, as if to catch the ghost in its open mouth.

Sylvia, in turn, made a scraping noise with her chair as if to distract the ghost from what Jack was attempting to do. And, indeed, the ghost’s whole face of a body swivelled violently in her direction, the cylinder and its pipes appearing to swivel with it. It was an uncanny attempt to make something flat three-dimensional.

Jack’s hands were, as ever, uncoordinated, but he managed to bring the vase into an optimum position so as to be able to trap the ghost within it. But at the last moment all he could do was watch helplessly as his own and Sylvia’s lost nerves vanished into it, leaving the ghost alone - simply left to ponder on the crumbling edges of the flat emptiness around it. It scratched its head deciding it had nothing with which to scratch it, being nothing but head. Eventually nothing but a further flatness of face. A grin and a grimace. A final glance or glimpse. Then, nothing at all.

Slowly, time drifted on, with nobody to note its passing. Messages failed to be delivered and files mouldered in deserted city offices.

Sylvia abruptly and unexpectedly scraped her chair. Jack smiled warmly. Time to make love.

The flowers, however, were dead.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Crumbling Edges

Crumbling Edges

posted Friday, 12 September 2008

A story written today and first published here.

The damp room gathered itself as a setting. The man in his rocking-chair ... to and fro ... creaked in time with Handel’s Messiah on the wireless. The reception’s low volume begged the question: why was it switched on at all? Merely to give some undercurrent to the silence, should the chair’s creaks become deadened by dust? He was surely scared of silence. It would make him think of death.

He looked down at the frayed ends of his trousers where the turn-ups still contained a month’s crumbs. His wife had abandoned him by entering her own shape of silence a few weeks before. He had tried to keep up the domestic standards she would have expected him to maintain but, in the end, the silence had again begun to gather ... as if it were now his own turn to have the noise of his bodily movements deadened. He kept the wireless chirruping baroque music through the hiss and static to divert any sleepiness that the silence otherwise encouraged as its ally.

The bed remained empty. Strangely, it creaked, too, by its own volition, as if in communion with the creaks of the man’s bite on the pipe stem that had been unnoticed in his mouth when initially surveying the setting. The rocking-chair was well-oiled and silent, after all. The wad of tobacco in the bowl had long ceased to smoulder: now as damp as the atmosphere of the room itself. The spittle still shone where his teeth clenched the mouth-piece.

Beside him was a wedge of durable cheese: aging into ranges of flavour that the man relished in anticipation. Its stitched rind held firmness intact. The smell was uncertain. There was, indeed, no smell at all in the room, a fact which is hard to believe.

The blur-edged shadows were cast by a moon he had tried to switch on like a light.... and miraculously it had indeed started to run on electric and hang from the middle of the room, complete with its own map of desert seas. Lack of noise was silence. Lack of hearing was silence, too. But it was more difficult to use a single word for the lack of smell. Lack of sight was blindness. But the dim old-fashioned crinkly globe hanging from the ceiling kept blindness at bay. But lack of touch was the most painful to put into any word but nothing.

One of the shadows suddenly took on a life of its own ... bending as if to scoop the crumbs from the turn-ups. His own shadow was then suddenly cast upon the peeling wallpaper, its pipe rocking to and fro as the Messiah reached its scratching endless run-off groove that proved it was a pick-up on a record rather than a wireless-broadcast with hiss and static for edges.

The room had now become a silent setting for not one but two living shadows able to touch each other’s gentle moisture. The only way to believe in ghosts was to become one.

The crumbling cheese surely stunk to high heaven.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Pipe Dream

Pipe Dream

posted Wednesday, 16 July 2008
Published 'Ammonite' 1997

One man dreamed that he had been many people - without the aid of reincarnation. And as his greatest love was music, he wondered if it were not that very music which collected and delivered him upon its ebb and flow of sound. Yet how could it? How could he be other than who he was? His friends and relations did not need to wonder with the same degree of perturbation, since they were entirely oblivious of the need to wonder. He was the person they knew as Susie and they would have considered any doubts as they would have done dreams. Their unshakeable certainty helped to give certainty to the Susie about whom they were so certain, but there was a certain something that nagged at the back of his mind, urging him towards an equal certainty regarding his own uncertainty: a fiction of a person who lived in the mind and, at a push, in the music: a ghost who only failed to haunt people by haunting them. But did it matter? Certainty might have meant something different, give or take an odd dip in the uncertain tides of certainty. Even the man’s name could be changed as easily as he could change for dinner, names simply being convenient coastal barriers against the waves of confusion. Names indeed, were merely words by another name: bricks in the sea-wall: the sound-bites of muzzled reality: music’s muskets against the Void’s own cacophonous snipers gradually sniping away at him.

So, although he harboured doubts that doubt gave him the right to exist, he thankfully retained the need to wonder - and Wonder, he knew without wondering, was not doubt, nor certainty. Nor something in between. Nor even was it dream.

Even if fire were fantasy, a dragon would sniff at it. And the nameless hunter knew there was no smoke without a dragon or one of its smouldering cousin dinosaurs being in the proximity along with its clouded breath. He had climbed through the stacks all day, in search of arrow-bait for the narrow belly-quivers of his wig-wammed kinfolk who lived back a valley or two ... beyond the spreading swamp that resembled an age-curdled Sargasso Sea back-paddling between each bristled stack. Now, he could discern the smoke that puffed fitfully as from a tribal fire, rising beyond the roughest-hewn stack he had ever seen: as tall as was the tenable without teetering upon the brink of toppling: buzzful of spindly-legged creep-creatures and crawling with insect-wings. The pests were known to thrive on the horny backs of dragons - so here, he thought, was likely to be the toughest hide for his arrows to pierce. Slightly-lighter-than-air arrows were the only ammunition for his crossbow purposes: feather driven by birdsoul once the initial thrust had gone.

He aimed at the tell-tale smuts of smoke. And rescuing his feet from the sucking terrain so as to give more purchase for his stance, he tugged at the hair-trigger, with a minimal force to create the tantalising music of his own taut gut. The shimmering arc of aura was more piecemeal than direct in its path towards the smoking stack.

He smiled. The twanging music was sweet. And his purchase was beyond a belief that even God bought. He whistled as he witnessed the huge beast lumbering from behind the stack. Its pesky parasites were invisible to the naked eye, bar the faint sounds that stung the air with flecks that fought the floaters upon the hunter’s retina. Such irritants, however, were as nothing to the faster-than-light venom that had spurred the beast into view. Its bray was blessed with the horse­power of a hundred thousand ancient engines. The fire gushed from between the hinged saw-jaws of ribbed gristle - and floated more ferociously than the flick of its wide whip tail which, in its frenzy, inadvertently demolished the towering stack with the fulminations of buzzings turned to volcanic roar.

Never was seen a dragon like it. The remains of its death would probably feed the hunter’s broompole-boned kin back home for centuries of feasts - and floor over sections of the swamp with flesh harder than sheets of living human bone. The dragon’s nostrils burned on high octane snot. The danger was that the beast had been budged at all - and it would take a hundred thousand ancient Indians to put it out of its misery, give or take a few finger-yodelling braves who loved warpaint more than war.

Nor had the dragon literally ever seen a man. So the man was left only to hunt out his own hallucination of himself, one that had been induced by puffing pipes of peace in some distant past of flowers, bees, fish and birds: before the world was swamped and saddled with a spare second slippery chance to start. And if he were not nameless, Susie would have known a lot more about himself.

Susie could hear the waves surge, even from the forest clearing which the expensive map told her was still a mile from the lake. She was holidaying in such nettly terrain, in an attempt to remove the unsightly stains of a messy love affair from her otherwise clean canvas of existence. The cherry-trees men had secreted about their person were over-rated, in any event, she thought.

It was relatively smooth underfoot, as she pressed fir-cones into the ground with her trainers. Unaccountably, she thought about the truffles the cones would meet in the pig-proof paradises below. She wished she had a companion on this hike. A talkative partner of her own sex would at least make the story easier to tell later. Who would otherwise believe the Wild Lake? Solely with her say-so, it would become a fictitious expanse of white water. She did not ever talk to herself. Her speech was all inside. The trees would not have benefit of her backchat. The world was one without dialogue. Hence, the lonely holidays, the spinsterly flat back home, the lover who possibly never existed - even if she did recall his telephone number.

There is a great delight treading upon poison berries that have fallen to town pavements, with each generous squelch of sole on the separate scatterings of swollen red seeds. In the country, the berries are more often hidden within the soft mulch of the track. But, today, as she neared Wild Lake, berries were inches deep, literally belching underfoot.

As she stumbled through the trees towards the shifting lake’s edge, she saw a dragon-powered craft which was to take her to the opposite bank, without the necessity of clambering through the margins of overgrowth. There was a figure already on the other side, no more than the size of a doll. She waved in unison with this figure. At last - a sounding-board.

Having launched the craft upon the heaving face of silvery dusk’s reflection, she paddled sluggishly across. The figure appeared to have far too much lipstick smeared over its face, as if it had pigged itself upon Hell’s currant harvest. And a bulb-ended object which syphoned the steaming menses...

The lake was echo-chamber for silent music. Little need to wonder. Reincarnation has no body with which to clothe the soul. A hunter of names. A circle of uncertainties enclosing the only certainty. Emptiness. A pipe dream.

Prose Poem or Verse?

Prose Poem or Verse?

posted Saturday, 26 June 2010

Eventually very pleased that someone has seen fit to publish an old piece of mine: SIMPLY SICK AGAIN - first published in Not Dead, But Dreaming (1996):

It was attributed to 'DF Lewis' but the publisher had not been able to find anything about 'DF Lewis' - until I told him in the comments to his publication of my piece.

It also originally stated that my piece was "not great verse" (a wording since removed regrettably from the site).

'Regrettably' because it stirred in my mind some interesting thoughts about story, fiction, prose, prose poem, poem, verse.

The piece is indeed 'not great verse', as I understand the word 'verse'. But with its ostensibly clumsy enjambement it gives the appearance of prose chopped up arbitrarily - a bit like the nauseous choppiness of sickness itself?

Perhaps this unusual arbitrary chopping method creates a prose 'poem' in its truest sense. It is also fiction or story. It is also a vignette. But not verse!

Having just re-read it for the first time after a long period, I find it to be a very strange, yet effective, work!

Thanks to the kind gentleman who thought fit to publish this work without knowing anything about what lay behind the authorship: only a name or nemonym.

comments (1)

1. Weirdmonger left...
Saturday, 26 June 2010 1:23 pm
Perhaps a new form has been invented: the prose verse? Proverse? Proserse?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Teapot Moved (3)

The Teapot Moved (3)

posted Tuesday, 29 April 2008
Written today and first published here

I sat up beside the teapot. It had been placed there by a servant and I’d been told to let it ‘stand’ for a few minutes. Steep? Infuse? Draw? Brew? No, ‘stand’ was the word I was sure I heard the girl in the pinafore say as she plumped the teapot down on my bedside table – rather rudely, I thought, in hindsight.

And now I noticed she’d forgotten to leave the tea-strainer with the cup, saucer and teaspoon. I called out: "Strainer!" in my long drawn-out high-pitched voice which I’m sure the servants found irritating, but I had not told the servant girl to forget something, had I? Indeed I wondered if she had forgot it at all but deliberately didn’t bring it. Again: “Strainer!”

It was then I noticed the teapot moved. Only slightly but clearly enough. I was staggered. I stared at it to make sure I was not mistaken, willing it to move back to where it had moved from, in an illogical hope for its previous standing as the status quo. I might then have been able to imagine it had not moved at all.

A teapot moving of its own volition was certainly an anxiety that a bedridden person like me would find difficult to cope with. It was best I did not believe it at all. “Strainer!” I shouted again, in an attempt to cloud my misperceptions with a recognisable routine rather than to elicit the missing strainer. This was not the first time that the strainer had been ‘forgotten’.

“Stop your whining!” the teapot suddenly said with a righteous gurgle of its innards.

“Pardon?” I said automatically, thinking that the servant must have returned with a different voice.

“Just stop your whining. The stew I’ve got inside me today doesn’t need straining. Get on with the pour!”

I was more upset by its distasteful reference to ‘stew’ than by the fact the teapot was talking to me at all. This represented more of a certain settling into a customary mindset of denial, I suspect, when I now look back at the events. I had also forgotten that the servant girl had forgotten the dunking-biscuits.

Was there a ghost inside the teapot – a ghost capable of moving it as well as speaking for it? This was not a question that occurred to me at the time. Only since.

I put the eiderdown over my head, hoping to blot out not only this single segment of time encompassing the teapot incident but also the whole of reality itself now and forever.

But the voice persisted: “I’ve got good quality stuff inside today and the longer you leave it the more it will stew.”

My head re-appeared over the top of the eiderdown like a bedraggled puppet or worried clown. It was easy to imagine myself as this downbeat figure through lack of any mirror in my room. Only the tiny curved bowl of the teaspoon gave any chance of a reflected image.

The spout of the teapot waved in the air like a tiny snake with, I imagined, a certain wild desperation to perform its duty of pouring: its only reason for existence.

I hastened to do its business. I can’t now understand what possessed me. I picked up the teapot. At least it could not now move of its own volition without me feeling it wriggling or twitching in my hand. I thought that pouring out tea – a generally tasteful art-form of upper class people like me – would expunge any remnant of uncouthness in the creature that I had earlier considered as out of my control. Civilisation is all to do with control. Taste and good breeding, too.

But instead of a golden shaft of healthy infusion, the spout exuded a syrupy blood-like substance into the teacup. I heard myself cackling with uncontrollable delight. I snatched up the teaspoon in haste. But it dropped to the floor. My head wagged from side to side like a funfair target and shouted: “Dunk it!”

I had obviously let things stand too long. They’re still standing now: waiting for hindsight to kick in – or waiting for a dream strainer.

The Mirror

The Mirror

posted Monday, 21 April 2008
Written today and first published here

The clock was easy about the mirror. He didn’t mind it being hung just above him where he tuck punctuatingly to himself on the mantlepiece. The lady owner of the house spoke a different language from the clock's but he had correctly gathered from the noises she made around her various gentlemen callers that she had bought the mirror as a bargain from a local antiques shop. The clock’s ability to look up or behind was not great but he did manage to ascertain that the mirror was fussily framed and more reflective than normal. It often took a mirror’s huge age, strangely, to enhance images upon its shiny surface to the most perfect pitch when one might otherwise have assumed visible cracks or skewed incidence. Time was usually not a good conditioner. Paradoxically, this mirror was so old and yet so very clear-sighted, the clock could precisely see itself by the mirror’s means even from such a sharp angle of squinting upward.

The clock clucked. He did not like what he now saw. He had long assumed that he was an antique of some standing, judging by what the lady of the house told her gentlemen friends about him in so many words. But within the mirror’s blank stare he suddenly feared he saw he was a fake – a clock unworthy of its own movement: a clock that, abruptly, may now not even be the ‘he’ that the clock had long thought he was. The small round aperture towards the bottom of the O-shaped dial-face – where the winding-key was regularly groove-inserted – appeared to contain more of a spindle’s retraction than its protusion. The mirror could not hide the worst of it, however. This was the fact that she, the clock, was not only misgendered but mistimed! She felt the springs tightly sprung within her newly aware body, straining against rather than in synergy with the cogs while all these moving parts continued to release – by piecemeal pizzicato music-box technique – the jewel-facets of the pronged hunker-drive in its own eventual course of misjudged time throughout the aberrant frictions thus created. The worst of all worlds, indeed. Not only faked but fucked.

The mirror chuckled to itself. It had no pretensions to life or even gender. The clock below it was a prissy miss; it had earlier been able to judge this as soon as the lady of the house had hung its own sloping back upon the chimney-breast just above the clock’s relentless tutting. The lady’s face was so close to the shiny surface that it could see her mole hair sprouting. It was almost as if it possessed a shaving-mirror’s powers of magnification. The sweat on the lady’s upper lip was clearly visible – as was the aggrieved strain in her eyes, as she sensed the arms of some man suddenly around her from behind. Valuable antique mirrors should not be submitted to such uncouth scenes, it thought to itself. It spat out the sight.

The clock fell from the mantlepiece with a crash; each ricochet of its many exploding parts became a kaleidoscope of animate and inanimate life that the mirror collected for a sensory posterity. One day, all mirrors, old or new, cheap or valuable, real or metaphoric, would steep themselves in a sufficiently deep reflection with which to unpick an antique mankind’s festering wounds once inflicted upon time’s substance if not duration. A bloodcount without a face.

The Mirror (2)

posted Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Written today and first published here

Johnny did not like rooms with mirrors. He had a superstition that any mirror somehow collected his image, later to be released forensically and used in evidence against him. Johnny was a burglar and his own evidence for such a superstition was the famous occasion when an actual burglar many decades before was found inside a burgled house’s mirror just as if he were Alice trying to escape back from her nightmare into the real world. To weigh two nightmares in the balance, as that famous burglar must surely have done, he needed to turn a blind eye towards the general rule that all nightmares were equal in nightmarishness. To him, there always seemed a lesser evil, as if evil were relative. That famous burglar soon learned the error of his ways because prison in his day and age was a dreadful experience from which many of the inmates could only escape by committing suicide.

So, Johnny, once he was inside any room that he was intent on burgling, did slide and sidle with his back to the wall and then turned any mirror to face in its opposite direction by stretching out his hand to the edge of the mirror-frame so as to twirl it surreptitiously before it could capture him as its own property. Johnny did not want to become a famous burglar.

One rare day, Johnny found himself in a room with ostensibly no mirrors. He looked warily from corner to corner. Then with growing confidence, he strode into the middle of the floor where he made a few outlandish signs of contempt for Fate, then bowed to an unseen audience. He may not want to be famous, but he was a born entertainer. Silent applause was however all he ever received. He soon concentrated on the business at hand. There was no money to be had from miming to nobody.

There were oil paintings, jewellery-strewn dressing-tables, and other items that set his mouth watering. He was greedy enough to carry away more than he could carry away. And he often wished he had more than one pair of arms.


I was inside the wardrobe as Johnny rifled the room in which the wardrobe stood. The wardrobe, I knew, was the most valuable antique in the room, but being so large, he would probably miss seeing it. The door’s wood was randomly knotted with an image that if one imagined hard enough could be turned into a dark human shape. This shape went straight through to both sides of the door. I couldn’t see it, however, as it was too dark within the wardrobe where I was stationed trying hard not to breathe for fear of discovery. It was no wardrobe for any Alice or Lucy to explore as it literally led nowhere. Hard done-by children had often complained to Uncles and Aunts that this wardrobe was the most boring wardrobe they had ever encountered. Little did they know its value as an antique.

There were many cloaks and suits hanging up against me. I could sense them in the darkness. Mothballs, too, in all the various pockets. I went to hold my nose for fear of sneezing. But I could not find my nose. I could not even find things to use with which to find anything! If any sneeze could sound like ice shattering like glass, then I must have had the worst cold possible.

I heard Johnny stop in his tracks. He was evidently surrounded head and foot with undivided swag. A mound moving clumsily doorward, except it was the wrong door in his urgent haste.


A child peered out from among the cloaks and coat-hangers - and applauded.

One Day At A Time

One Day At A Time

posted Friday, 18 April 2008

When you have a lot of worries, a useful piece of advice is to take one day at a time. I often think about this and do my best to take into account the implications of taking one day at a time. You see, I have a lot of worries and countless people who worry me with their own worries and sometimes a stray worry floats by and my brain picks the worry from the air like a magnet and makes it my own worry – a worry escaped from a stranger’s brain or a previously ownerless worry or a worry that is not a worry at all but something disguised as a worry. On bad days, worries swarm en masse rather than separately: not a spattering but a blizzard: the worries not only of people who are still alive but also the residual worries of those who have passed away. Recently, I picked up one of King Henry VIII’s worries. Well, I could go on. So I should ‘take one day at a time’, thus to capture each day’s worries within that day and then allow the whole day itself to pass away – a day of worries vanishing into a cone of nothingness. Each day packaged and signed off. But they do say when you die you re-live all your days again. I can’t believe this is true. But it certainly is a worry.

Monday, September 06, 2010



posted Tuesday, 5 February 2008
Written today and first published here.

Weekend cottages were a luxury, in those days, and I could hardly afford the cost of the journey from London, let alone the rent on the journey’s actual destination. I always took a different companion with me, people I liked either for their conversation or for their body, but rarely for both.

It is delightful to tell you of one of the occasions when it was both. You’re probably thinking that I am concocting an easy style to convince you of its truth or this is effectively just a diary of wishful thinking! Well, think what you like, but the weekend I spent with Shirty is worth living through again, at least for me.

London is a big, big city, with big, big men
Who sit in offices and count to ten

And one of these men was the one called Shirty. A pure crisp whiteness with ice-diamond cuff-links, starched detachable collar, high-tight tie, chest-pocket where he kept his mobile and a body-shaped neatness. He was a cool merchant banker.

And I took him to my weekend hideaway, because I liked the cut of his jib as well as the gift of his gab. Financial wherewithal was not even a consideration. Two handsome heads being talked with from each plump pillow of a country cottage’s feathered bed with a shiny wit between them as well a shared sleek skin – well, that was what it was all about with Shirty and me. A single moment. A focus of passion.

The place was haunted by a dog. I knew that. I have no excuses for not warning Shirty. This dog was a relic of a previous century and probably far beneath the attention of a modern couple like me and Shirty. A nagging bark that sounded from beyond the skirting-boards. I did not believe in ghosts. But how explain it otherwise? Only my easy style can gloss over the contradictions. I simply wanted to concentrate on this single prize of a weekend with Shirty. Next weekend would be time enough to worry about ghosts when accompanied, no doubt, by a more down-to-earth form of humanity than sharp-eyed Shirty.

He sat bolt upright at the first sound of snuffling beyond the bedroom wall.

“What’s that?” He was not used to being startled in his daily life. He normally had all corners covered. But not tonight.

I smiled. I secretly enjoyed the chink in his armour. I saw him sit bolt upright in the vague moonlight bidden by inefficient curtains. He had quickly slipped the previous day’s shirt over his head, hands struggling through the still linked cuffs. How could he otherwise exist in public view without a shirt? This was his persona. This was the way he kept his guard up in the bank’s boardroom. He even started counting backward from a whole pen of sheep he had just counted towards following our earlier pre-sleep relaxations together.

Then there came the slow relentless barking.

He jumped from the bed and walked over to the wall whence the noise seemed to be coming.

“Don’t worry, it’s only the ghost.” I smiled to myself. I had forgotten how satisfying this was – to watch my ‘guests’ become bewildered by something so outlandish, something so utterly un-London.

Ghosts are traditionally white glimpses of intangibility.

Ghosts are surely not guttural sounds like any old dog that has lost its way in the time tunnel.

Over the years coming here, none of us (my guests and I) get much sleep after the initial disturbance. Tonight was no exception. Shirty was grumpy as he wandered round the kitchen muttering incomprehensibly to himself of this and that. Probably the first time he was at a loss for real words. Not in character at all.

I’ve just remembered why the Shirty weekend was one to remember. This was the first occasion when the ghost dog actually appeared, rather than just bugging us with its barking from behind the wall. A wall dividing what from what? That’s a good question. It was the bedroom wall but it was difficult to know what was on the other side of it because I had never been slim enough to slide between it and another wall that was half built into the hillside and half purely exterior to the open air of the countryside. A dank, dark slot where God knows what might lurk.

The dog turned out to be dressed in a ruffly shirt befitting an earlier century.

I drove back to London next day alone. Shirty somehow no longer seemed to matter, as if I had forgotten he existed at all. Only writing all this out for you has reminded me about him.

They do say a dog now haunts one of the bank’s boardrooms in the City. But that is only hearsay, because nobody has actually seen it for real. The barks however are quite useful as a sort of abacus of sounds that befits financial calculation.

And I have gained a new pair of sparkling cuff-links. I shall probably give them to my next ‘guest’ for a country weekend ... to show how much I care. And with the dog exorcised, we could both relax and enjoy things without any grumpiness.



posted Sunday, 23 December 2007
THE opposite of spit is swallow. There’s an animal in the room that’s gnawing the legs of the bed.

Sandra woke with a start - with those two fleeting images: all that remained of her dream.

Indeed, she usually remembered nothing of what events her sleep surrounded.

But tonight was different. The darkness glowed brighter than her luminous clock beside the bed. There was a lambency filling her eyes. She was unaccountably crying - the tears acting like tiny lenses, focussing the dull shimmer upon her retina, almost blowing the optic fuse.

She felt sick. But not with food. More with an over-fill of her own saliva - welling up like clear syrup from every corner of the body. Her pores seeped this fluid, too, like the slow-motion spitting of miniature volcanoes. Surely this was the dream and the animal-thing gnawing the legs of the bed was within real life: an event she’d left behind when falling asleep.

But, in her real life, there should not be any animal in the whole house, let alone in her bedroom. Was the real life she’d left behind -- to fall asleep and enter this dream of dull shimmer and bodily regurgitation -- derived from earlier intakes of food?

The real waking life she’d left behind surely must have an animal gnawing at the legs of her bed ... because she was soon half-awake and half-dreaming and heard it coming from outside the dream.

Sandra must now fully wake up. To face whatever it was. She called this animal (whatever it was) the Night Gnaw. But that was only because she called it this name from within the dream, the dream from which she was now trying to escape in order to cope with the danger represented by the Night Gnaw. She would no doubt call it something else in real waking life. To call it the Night Gnaw was decidedly a very dream-like thing to call it. So she must be dreaming to call it a Night Gnaw. Meanwhile, she was terrified that her sleeping body - the body that contained the mind that called it a Night Gnaw - was threatened by the thing in real waking life she currently called the Night Gnaw.

She was sweating. Her sleeping body felt slicked and slippery enough for the Night Gnaw to slowly - oh so slowly - swallow her whole, like a python with an ass. Then for it - even more slowly - to extrude her back out, covered in the thick curds of the Night Gnaw’s own bodily fluids - like a slow motion spit.

She must wake up before this happened. She needed to face the Night Gnaw that she did not dream about.

The bed suddenly collapsed. And the darkness lost its lambent glow. Sandra’s snores were no longer the dry gunning that they once were but more the rhythmic slurps of some animal with deep indigestion. Trying to choke up life itself.


The Old Familiar Places

The Old Familiar Places

posted Sunday, 23 December 2007

It was like drowning in memories.

Surely not that cliché about the whole of your life flashing by your eyes as you suffer death by drowning? I could rarely remember much about my life at the best of times – but like most people, memories of things reside on some back burner waiting for their turn to take a curtain call.

But my memories were fast asleep dreaming of things not themselves. Memories with memories of their own. False memories. My real memories having unreal memories as dreams. A concept I could hardly grasp.

I’d rather depend on the old familiar places rather than places that never ever existed other than in the pipe dreams of those very familiar places hatching up unfamiliar places for themselves. Unfamiliar places disguised as familiar ones. Unfamiliar, I claim, because, they never existed. Until now.

I look out from inside my head away from these thoughts on paper. And wonder if I am the same person who wrote them down. I look down again to read them – and the print has changed in the meantime. The words now say different things from what I originally intended. Except they seem to be the same words, but words with different meanings – and when they are linked together in what I can only describe as sense-patterns, they keep flashing from one narrative sense to another, like a pulse. Or a strobe. Memories strobing. Faster and faster.

Could I really be drowning in memories? The words seem to indicate that I am drowning in memories. Slowly enough to record the process. But too quick to understand what is going on.

People’s faces flashing by. Loves and hates interchanging. Various stages of myself stripped out in separate essences of self, none connected between. The only consistency is the ladder or tear in the very texture of the words as laid out on the page. They seem to be dividing like a Red Sea to leave an emptiness among the sense-patterns. A false syntax. A gap-strewn paragraph of thoughts and mis-thoughts. Memories taking over my mind with a force my mind can’t withstand even though it is the same mind that is creating this strange onslaught on itself.

One of the faces flashing by in the stream of consciousness I drown in is you.

Simply that. The whirling onslaught slows to a silent last gasp of meaning. A face I recognise. It starts out, however, as a face without a feature. A white empty plate or recently emptied bowl. Then gradually a couple of eyes prick out. Wide rolling eyeballs that radiate an expression of knowing. Knowing me, if not itself. I say ‘it’ because there is no other word for a gradually emerging ghost of a person.

Once it’s fleshed out by the ever-building flashes of identity that become stuck to it then I can begin to decide on you or he or she or me. I suggest me because I’m not yet convinced it’s not a mirror that I see flashing into a steady state of existence around my face. Steady state rather than an explosion or implosion of a big bang.

I look down at the words again. I leave the slowly emerging features of the face (your face? my face?) to thicken and define themselves.

I feel the words may give me some clue as to the true resemblance of the face to whom or to what. The face itself is deceiving me as well as itself. Only the words can tell. The words will tell me who it is. And I notice that the crack in their texture has widened as if the tectonic plates of the sense-patterns are ever shifting to reveal a more meaningful pattern that is a white shape rather than a set of words describing a shape. A real shape rather than a shape imagined by the words I write.

The whitening crack discards letters as if they are dead insects while it lays the paragraph into a flatland of nothingness. Alphabets fall off the edge of the paper like dead lemmings in full zombie flight.

I shriek inwardly with fear. I seem to be heading towards some old familiar places that I once inhabited but had long since put out of my mind’s memory for fear of returning to them in the full flood of true present memory. Memories that are forming as new memories even as I think them.

When does a memory become a memory? What is the time lapse needed to make a present event into a memory. A new unfamiliar place into an old familiar place. Place or face. Because a face is a sort of place. It has its own geography, its own secret alleys and hidden corners. Its own inhabitants sitting behind the eyes as if these eyes are windows to some apartments in a city’s high rise property.

The little people look from the two eyeball windows in the face, their own eyeballs rolling in their heads as they see some old familiar places for the first time. One hangs a huge rubbery nose between the two eyes as if hanging out a flag for a jubilee or something like a jubilee. A mardi gras. Or a fancy-dress festival that the city holds every year. The city is a strange one to them. It’s certainly not one of their pet old familiar places.

Faces that find themselves in a foreign place.

I have taken my eye off the ball. The words have escaped my pen into new uncontrolled configurations of syntax and non-syntax, with an ever-widening gap or crack that forces me to disbelieve that any meaning at all can bridge such a hiatus.

And, in despair at controlling the words, I have raised the head where I live, indeed raised it towards the ceiling, rising not with mere sight to see the rivers of geography in its cracked white plaster surface (otherwise blank) - but the head actually rising in the air along with the sight itself to see the ceiling close up.

Either my neck has elongated like a giraffe or the head has actually separated itself to float up towards the ceiling.

One particular crack in the ceiling is so deep I can see daylight through it. And my sight or the head that carries the sight escapes through it into the open air – and I am a mere speck of consciousness being wafted by the wind. At least I am safe from those words now. And from the old familiar places of meaning that each word familiarly contains, despite the horror that they would otherwise convey with the unfamiliar meanings that they felt themselves duty-bound to convey to the unwary such as I who releases them on to the page.

Each dot, each pixel of the marks is just another me. Just another beginning of a face. Drowning in memories, in anarchic thoughts and in the forgotten white airinesses of space where familiarity breeds contempt for any steady state or big bang. Because neither is right. The old peculiar place of dreams dreaming dreams that represent our existence, yours and mine. The place that launched a thousand … no, an infinite number of familiar faces towards their inevitable sinking and drowning in the white water frenzy of words.

I stop writing. Then true horror. Because I don’t stop but carry on beyond the end and reach a new end that still doesn’t stop me because the internet knows no ends, only a weave of spiders who try to break my fall.




posted Monday, 12 November 2007

First published 'Dagon DF Lewis Special' 1989

There was a wooden tree at the bottom of his garden. He could see it from his bedroom window, just where a painter would have placed it to set off the perfect balance and perspective of the landscape. The sunset was in oils, too, bright oranges and reds streaked across the bottom of the darkening sky.

His daughter was still outside rolling her hoop around the tree. She was only eleven. His elder daughter, showing signs of her age, remained in the shadow of the toolshed, whilst the one with the hoop glowed with the last of the day’s sunshine. He could hardly see what Melissa was doing in the wedge of darkness thrown out by the side of the shed. Spinning her large wooden top, it seemed, with a whip far too long and wild for its purpose.

Alison had by now fitted the hoop around her waist and was snaking her torso to make it spin like the golden ring of Saturn.

Gradually, the colours in the lower sky faded, such as a painted canvas would if left too long in direct sunlight. A wispy splodge of white in another part of the heavens hinted at the whereabouts of the moon.

He opened the window with a sash cord and called to his daughters that they should get their skates on: the dinner gong was about to go. They waved at him, Melissa having now come out upon the open lawn of closed daisies. The whip trailed behind her, a vestigial tail. Alison’s hoop dropped from her tiny waist to the ground, as she smoothed down the front of her frock. Both girls now turned cartwheels across the lawn towards the house, their limbs glistening in that sweat-light with which a summer’s enduring dusk is often imbued.

He’d not been far off the mark with his timing, for he heard from far below the gong’s characteristic resonance: the number of strikes was meant to indicate tonight’s menu: one for rare roasts of meat, twice for Royal Salad and High Tea, three for fish stew and, once in a blue moon, four for ... Chef’s special, it was called: and the ingredients were as secret and mysterious as the half-darknesses upon each descent and landing of the winding staircase.

As he tapped his way down, he could hear the girls squabbling in the downstairs bathroom: their mother burnishing their faces with unperfumed soaps. Melissa was far too much a real madam for this treatment: she should have flannel and tuck towel of her own. Alison was still too young to be left to her own devices, he conceded, her cheeks often bearing the grimy skidmarks left by an endless summer evening of play.

He knew the way by heart: as he unfalteringly made his entrance into the dining-room, he felt the perfunctory kisses of his daughter’s greeting. They loved him, of course, but girls being girls they had other thoughts on their minds. He . .. well, he painted with his mind. How else could he have borne the onset of blindness? He lowered himself into the chair at the head of the table.

He heard knees creeping across the Persian carpet towards him ... under the long table. Then he could feel nuzzling mouths beginning to nibble upon his finger-ends that he naïvely laid on his lap.