Into the Sunset

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As months go, September went.  And October came – momentously.  Two things, two life-altering things, have happened in October.

Firstly, and quite devastatingly, I finally lost sight of my feet.  Aged BloggerLet me explain this.  When you become older in a comfortably furnished sort of way as have I, you can no longer actually reach your feet, so observing their presence becomes important.  You need to know they are still there, for a start, and knowing, be able to place them accurately.  You don’t want to be forced into reactive mode, as for example, in falling down stairs, reflecting whilst flying towards an inevitably bumpy landing that you must have missed the tread.

The bathroom scales surrendered long since: instead of recording my weight they offer a short letter of resignation, yet I still use them as a matter of ceremony, and after many reassuring years throughout which, by perching on them and leaning my head forward, I could always see my toes peeking cheekily out at me from beyond the hill, last week they (my toes) finally vanished.  The tip of my big toe has set behind the mountain.  And now darkness comes.

It is not weight gain that is the problem, my kind friend tells me, but rather an absence of weight loss.  With the burden of advancing years the foothills have become one with the central massif and the whole range has moved south.  It is the same principle as that by which Mount Everest gains in height by as much as a meter a year – though on a reduced, more personal scale, of course.

In practical terms there are advantages:  after a quarter of a century of constant trouser-hoisting my pants now stay up.  My waistline is moving north, to a point where it will eventually meet my neck.  This, my friend says, is nature’s way of helping by putting things in easier reach.  In future years I may look forward to using my trouser pockets as panniers for my daily batch of pills, for example; or to disguise a necessary search for an irritating bit of navel fluff.  Not that I need attach any importance to my mode of dress these days.

Not now that I have retired.

Oh yes, that was the second thing, wasn’t it?  I forgot to mention it.  I’ve retired.  No more teaching sessions, no recalcitrant teenagers or over-anxious parents cluttering the horizon.  The horizon, in fact, is conspicuously bare.

That’s it!   I have finally, definitively, given up the day job.  I am a full-time pensioner with nothing to do but write.  When I look in my diary I see acres of white space, when I look at my doctor’s expression I see acres of quiet resignation:  nothing can surprise him now.  There is no symptom I can offer which does not attract the one diagnosis.

“I’ve got this ache in my back.”zimmer

“How old are you?”

“My elbow hurts.”

“Tennis elbow.  It’s very common among men your age.”

“My finger’s falling off.”

“You’re not getting any younger, you know.”

I am getting wishes, I am even getting cards!  Happy retirement!  What does that mean?

My well-wishers deliver their sentiment with sad eyes and a sort of fond, distant expression reminiscent of mothers and friends on the quayside, waving wistful goodbyes to their nearest and dearest as they sail off towards a distant, final destination; calm seas lapping at the bow, a golden sunset, a skyline littered with icebergs.

Overnight I have transformed brutally from a sentient, perhaps, dare I say, sagacious elder counselor to an obstinate, obviously incapacitated old fart.  My default setting is now officially ‘incapable’.  I have to be ‘cared for’.   I find myself referred to in the third person:

“Is he alright?”

“Does he need a chair?”

What?!!

I am also inescapably ‘there’.   My wife is being extremely democratic.  Every time she trips over me she accepts the blame:

“I’m so sorry!”  (Look of intense concern)  “Did I hurt your foot?”

“My foot?  Oh, so that’s where I left it…”

Her eyes are filled with sympathy as she recalls the years when I bought shoes with laces and climbed hills without assistance, when she still bought underwear for me without the word ‘surgical’ on the packet.  Those two years of advantage she has over me in terms of age have become vital in her calculations to the first wheelchair and the last box.

I’m going to be buried under a tree, by the way; I am quite decided upon that, and I have told my wife exactly what I want done.  She asked if she has to wait until I am dead.

The Pied Piper of Syria

frederick anderson:

I have been working on a post on similar lines to this one, but nothing I can write would hold a candle to this – this is a story the world should read, and be ashamed.

Originally posted on Levant woman:

I wrote once here that I will only write about hope… only hope will let me look at this white screen and type my letters… today I can’t help not to write, but not to spread hope this time .. to tell a story for humanity to hear…

Once up on a time in a city called Homs in Syria, there were many families who wanted to raise their children normally despite the war torn there and the tragic around them.  they taught their children about love and life. The sent them to school believing they can build a human not a fighter..

They didn’t know that in places like Syria humans are not welcome, if you don’t know how to carry a riffle or a knife you are not welcome. If you only know how to carry your book case, your drawing crayons and your little innocent hear, then you…

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dishes I was saving ~

frederick anderson:

I wish I had written this:

Originally posted on tornadoday:

homeanotherway

before the dark
is pulled away –
a shelf of memories
is fastened to the wanting
of my soul
with dishes I was saving
linens I adore
they way they feel
as secrets
not yet told

awake the dawn
where sunday grieved
a path already gone
dusted by the leaving –
folded into vine
some memory
of almost was
I can scarce recall
the way your hands
became the same
as mine

. . .

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Cathedral Close

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Yellow Cathedral

It is eight o’clock.  From the great Gothic mass of the cathedral a tintinnabulation of bells proclaims the hour.

Skies of grey:  footsteps echo on the cobbles of the Close, and birch trees that line Cathedral Green’s flat acres of grass drip solemnly, the rain’s history whispered among their leaves. The shower has passed, they say.   Yes, but autumn remains.

The Close is wide, a mediaeval thoroughfare of heraldic grandeur beside Cathedral Green.  Birches stand like a guard of honor along one side, while little crooked shops built of tortured black timbers and white stucco bark and snap at the cathedral’s towering presence from the other.  They ogle passers-by through bottle-glass windows, do these emporia, their opened doorways lined with racks of postcards and souvenirs.  But a chill breeze plays in the alleys, and damp hangs pungently on the air.  There are few abroad today who might yield to such temptations.

I for one am in no mood to be tempted.  I walk this path each day on my way to work, and work, with the changes the last few years have wrought, is no longer the pleasure it once was.  I am a carver.  There was a time, not so long ago, when I took pride in my craftsmanship, when I was judged by the beauty of the finished article, the quality and integrity of my art.  But this is no longer so.   Now, my day is punctuated by my manager’s repeated insistence that I finish faster, do more, simplify those details that require precious time.  Soon there will be no space for my art upon the wood; the furniture my Company makes will be faceless and bland, thrust into the world by jigs and machines that concede not a second to beauty.  Last week my lifetime’s occupation was threatened by a letter.  My ‘productivity’ was questioned.  My work rate must be ‘improved’.

This morning my wife, Renee, added her voice to the critical accord by telling me I am too timid – I should leave the Company, set up on my own.  I try to make her understand that it is not that simple, that I have no money to begin such an enterprise.  She calls me spineless.  With no bonuses to spend I know the privations of our poor condition hurt her terribly, and I understand why she strikes out.  But I hurt.  Deep inside me I hurt, and I do earnestly long for change.

There are others, though few, braving the weather this morning.  Amongst them one man stands out.  Marching towards me he is tall, with a determined stride and heavy hikers’ shoes which snatch at the cobbles.  He wears a blue jacket slightly darkened by the rain and on his back, beating against him with each step, is a red rucksack so well filled a lesser man might be borne down by its weight, but not he.   His lightly–bearded chin juts forward, his bright blue eyes stare past me undimmed by the chill, and his wide mouth is drawn back in determination.  He walks rapidly, closing the distance between us in seconds, and his very presence offends me, forcing the bitter gall of my own inadequacy up into my throat.

I am angry.  For a few delusional moments this man becomes the epitome of all I envy, all I hate; his determination, his focused intent, his strength.  He is all that I am not and I see it in his eyes.  He knows my weakness.

Deliberately – I do it deliberately.  I step a little to one side, setting myself in this man’s path.  As we pass, I lean in.  My shoulder buffets his; his rucksack swings aside and I know the jolt must have hurt his arm at least as much as it hurt mine.   Instantly I am consumed with guilt.  My anger is vented and sorrow, apprehension, even fear take its place.  For me the encounter is over but somehow I feel his eyes on my back, demanding that I turn.

So I do.

I look around to find he has stopped.   He is looking at me with a challenge in his eyes.  I mutter an apology but he shakes his head.  The word is not enough, the offence was too calculated, too severe to be allowed to pass.  He has started walking back in my direction, his eyes never leaving mine.

Two paces away he stops to face me, and this time his expression is questioning: is this the fight I wanted?  Is this the expiation I seek?  Frightened now, for I am not a fighter by nature, I glance around in hope of escape but he moves as my eyes move, stepping before my gaze, his body wound up like a spring, his hands half-raised and spread with an unspoken invitation.

“Sorry – I’m sorry.”  I repeat those meaningless words.  Really, my mind is travelling:  why am I here?  How have I got myself into this position, a poor, frustrated loser on a cold autumn morning, marching forward into nothing when I know – my very soul knows – the time for change has come.  I could, I should take Renee’s advice.  I should make my living by carving and selling my own work, I should take her away from this.

Yet here I am, and in a minute or less I am going to get floored by this powerful, righteous figure of a man who I challenged for no reason other than my own pain.

I move to resume my journey but he steps before me, cuts me off.  As I turn to retreat, he blocks me again.  Unspeaking, yet unyielding, he is too formidable for my defeated mind.  In the final humiliation that must visit all who are as cowardly as I, I drop my shoulders, feeling the tears come.   He nods, stepping towards me, that final pace.  I cringe from him, I am shaking.

But then he smiles.  He smiles and with one gentle hand he reaches out to me, gesturing with the other that I am free to pass.  Stepping aside, he takes my elbow to guide me that first step or two; then he is gone.

Renee’s face is smiling, staring down at me, and there are tears on her cheek, too.

A quiet male voice says:  “He’s back.”

Renee nods, acknowledges the voice with a sob.  Her hand finds my arm and strokes it softly.  “Thank God!”  She murmurs.

There are white walls, clacking heels; there are girls in nursing blue and the steady beep of a machine.  Tubes spring from my flesh in a dozen different directions.  The owner of the quiet male voice comes into view.  He is dark-haired, with frank brown eyes, and he seems too impossibly young to support the lab. coat he wears.

“You’ve had a cardiac arrest, Mr. Frobisher.  We thought we were going to lose you for a while.”

I feel a salt splash as Renee bends to kiss my forehead, saying:  “We have to leave you now, so you can rest.  You’re safe now.  What would I do if I lost you, my darling?”

The faces leave, the screens are drawn.  Alone, with only the beeping machine for company, I have time to think; and in that blessed peace at last I understand.

For a while I was, truly, lost.  I have been allowed back, given a second chance, but on one condition – that my life will have to change.   The bearded man who had seemed a complete stranger is no stranger to me now, though I have been more accustomed to imagine him dressed in black.

One day I will meet him again; and next time, I will know his name.

Grapes of Wrath

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It is never going to be the most promising of conversations.  In fact, it would not be  a conversation at all if I were not at a loose end, or if I had thought to dispose of the bowl of grapes on the windowsill of my office a day or so sooner.  Why am I in my office on a fine afternoon – perhaps the last fine afternoon of a dwindling summer?

I am taking refuge.

Downstairs, my significant other is preparing soup.  I stay with it as long as I can; I inhale the odours of nameless boiling things, the rancid steam, suffer the metaphorical Cheshire Cat grinning at me malevolently on top of the bread-maker and dog Honey sitting grinning equally mischievously in ‘food corner’- that place she always occupies at times of high risk, on the off chance of a dropped morsel.

I endure.  I choke.  I leave.  Make like a tree and…

In the blessed peace of my office, beside an open window wherewith to scent the first nip of autumn, I turn on my computer, settling down to write.

“Good stuff, this!”

Startled by the interruption, I turn.  “Sorry?”

The voice comes from that bowl of once edible grapes.  “See, what youze don’t unnerstand is, jus’ how bootiful this is…”

A pair of black antenna appear, waving somewhat aimlessly, from between two moldy and rather shriveled fruit.  A foot appears, dragging down one of the antenna.  “Neez a wash, man.  Neez a wash.”

440px-Wasp_3

Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Some might require more visible evidence, but experience comes to my aid.  This is indubitably a wasp.

“You’re drunk.”  I say, groping beneath my desk for the can of ‘Raid’.  Just because this wasp happens to be vocal, doesn’t mean I can’t spray it into oblivion.

“Drunk?  Me, drunk?  Tha’s against my religion, man!”  The antenna reappears, refreshed, and gropes its way over a penicillin-rich specimen that has clearly been its host for a good twenty minutes of gorging, before I appeared. A black and yellow face comes into view. “I never drink, me.”

“No.  You eat rotten fruit instead, and the sugars have turned to alcohol.  Ergo, you are drunk.”  I have found the ‘Raid’ and am ready to end this conversation in the way most of my encounters with wasps do.

“Oh!  Oh, tha’s right!”  He sees the canister, my finger on the aerosol button. “Tha’s it.  Do that.  Do what you do to all of my people.  Nuke us, man!  Kill us, jus’ ‘cos we’re black and yellow.  Don’t give us a chans to say nothing.  Don’ allow us a voice!”

“I’m not killing you because you’re black and yellow.  I’m killing you because if I don’t you’ll sting me!”

“Issat right?  Wha’ f you deserves to be stung?”

“I still wouldn’t want to be.  Anyway, why should I deserve to be stung?  What have I done, apart from provide you with those grapes?”

“You and your kind, destroyin’ all our nests, driving us away, generations of waspicide.  You oppress us, tha’s what you do, man.”

“Only because you’re so aggressive.  You can’t handle your drink…”

“I told you!  I said, I don’ drink!”

“Alright, you can’t handle your rotten fruit.  You’re stoned out of your mind, you’re loud and argumentative, and you turn violent. If I give you half a chance now you’ll sting me.  And why?  I can never understand why.”

“Why?  WHY?  Becoz…becoz it’s like he says…”

“Who says?”

“The Vespam, man.  ‘Is bloody ‘Oliness – he says – he says iz our duty to go out and sting the infiddle.  Yeah.  So I’ve got the courage to fly into the face of the sticky mist and thrust me sting into yez as many times as I can before I drop, see?  An’ then I gets virgins.”

“Virgin wasps?”  I sound incredulous.  I might be forgiven.

“Yeah, well summing like that.  Right tasty queens anyways.  So tha’s why I’m out here, man.  I’m goin’ ter get me own nest in Paradise, see?”

“What’s wrong with your nest here on earth?”

“You kiddin?  Thousands of us stuck in a li’l paper ball waitin’ for youze to come along and exterminate us? (he struggles over the word ‘exterminate’).  An’, an’! (he flicks an antenna for emphasis) soon as you gets rid of us you moves the bloody bees in.  Bloody bees!”

I look at him accusingly.  “You’ve built a nest in my loft again, haven’t you?”

He goes defensive:  “Not sayin’.”

“Yes you have.  And your Vespam’s turned you out of it because you’re an old male and ….

“Nah, nah!  You got it wrong, man!  Iz a holy war, see, an’ iz our priv’lege to sacrifice ourselves for the cause.  Until you stop building beehives all over our land we’re goin’ to keep comin’ at you and stinging you, see?”

At last the pieces come together in my mind.  A mile to the south of my house a landfill site has recently been closed:  the area has been turfed over with meadow grass and yes, several beehives have been installed there.

“You come from the old waste tip at Westbank, don’t you?”

“We was dispossessed, man.  We was driven out!  No sooner we gone, that the bees move in on our land.  The bloody bees!”

“I might prefer wild bees over you, but I’m not going to build a beehive in my loft!”

“Vespam says….”

“I don’t care what your ‘Vespam’ says. Bear in mind he’s sitting comfortably in the nest he’s turned you out of – at least until we destroy it.  You should get back up there – demand to be let in.”

For a moment I wonder if I might have carried the argument.  He shifts about on all six feet, rubbing his antennae over his big compound eyes, a pattern of movement I take to be consistent with thought.  But then…

“Nah!   ‘Is ‘oliness said it’d be like this.  Infiddles is very persuasive, ‘e says.  They’ll promise you all sorts, ‘e sez:  proper hives, reg’lar rubbish, lots of fruit.  Don’ believe ‘em.  They’ll ‘ave you workin’ yourself to death to feed a fat cow of a queen who pumps out kids at about two a minute; loadin’ your legs up wi’ pollen from pretty flowers so you nearly rupture your wings flying home to fat mummy?  Tha’s jus’ a typical human answer, isn’ it?  You think about it, though.  Whose goin’ to clear up your rubbish then?”  The wasp stabs at the fruit beneath his front legs, which have now emerged in pursuit of his antennae.  “Good, this.  Can you see those pink elephants?”

He begins to rotate his wings, letting me know the time for conversation is at an end.  The tail of his abdomen twitches eagerly and his head lowers for the effort of take-off.  He launches himself forward.

My hand points the spray, my finger presses the button.  He flies into the mist, and his cry of “Vespula is Great!” is all but lost as the gum binds his wings.

I watch dispassionately as he squirms and dies because he is angry and aggressive and I cannot love him.  Nevertheless I hope he finds his ‘virgins’.  He deserves that at least.

The clatter and crescendo from the kitchen tells me that soup has been achieved.  So, distracted from my original purpose, I take up the bowl of moldy grapes and prepare to descend.   On my way downstairs, I wonder, idly, whether it is possible to have a beehive in my loft?

Small World Reflections

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It is the fate of some of us to live in a world peopled by dragons, unicorns and goblins. Yes, this is my opportunity and I will let my secret out: I am such a one (In my case an occasional pixie may also make a guest appearance, though rarely more than once, say, in every week; scarcely worth mentioning, the pixies).640px-Leprechaun_ill_artlibre_jnl - Copy

Now generally speaking this is not an inconvenience.  The creatures of the Nether World do not exactly dominate my existence, no:  it’s just that from time to time, in certain phases of, say, the Moon, or when Jupiter aligns with Mars, they are especially active.  They come out to play.  And their celebrations, though so discreet as to escape general notice, are usually to my cost.  Allow me to give you a recent example.

On Monday morning I am late for an appointment in town, so my normally sedate but very even-tempered car is politely asked to hurry a little.   Nothing unsafe, you understand: just a brisk, business-like ten miles through traffic light-strewn suburbia.

Let me explain to those unfamiliar with our quaint British ways that we mount our traffic lights boastfully on posts over here.  We offer them up for admiration, for the bold, artistic statements they make – we don’t string them across the carriageway on wires, as, for example, in the United States – as we should, of course.  If we did it that way there would be no opportunity for goblins to make their homes within the hollow posts and I would not have a problem.

In the last twenty years or so whole families of goblins, reputedly from the Irish mini-travelling community or from Eastern Europe, have taken up residence in the poles of traffic lights throughout the land.  The system works, I suppose, effectively.   The head of the family is employed by the local council to operate the lights, throwing a simple switch to give best advantage to the traffic.   At least, that is how it should work.  But goblins being goblins…

From within the foot of the pole:  “Michael, me darling, who have ye got up there?”

Michael, from his lofty position by the switch:  “I t’ink that the auld writer-fella from the valley moight be on his way…”

“Well, that’d be grand!  Stop him for me, will ye?  I’ll get Fergal here to hitch a ride with him into town.  There’s a few things I need from the Goblin Market.  Fergal, are you list’nin’?  I’ll just be makin’ ye a list.”

I am close to making up my lost time and the road ahead is clear. The traffic lights at the intersection ahead are on green and there is no-one else in sight.  Happy in my universe I increase my speed a little (naughty!).  The traffic lights change to red.  I stop, grump, grump.

Michael, atop the post:  “Fergal, will ye hurry up man!  I’ll be havin’ to change them in a minute!”

Mrs. Michael, from below:  “Patience, Michael, I’ve not finished me list yet!  We’ll have not enough victuals for the Moon Feast.  Hold him up for a bit, will ye?”

My fingers drum the steering wheel: tap, tap, tap.  From a perfectly clear horizon to my left a large lorry suddenly appears, bearing down upon the lights from the road currently favored by a green.   Free to pass through, it enters the intersection intending to turn right and gets stuck, its driver unable to force his big machine through the turn.

My light changes to a green.  

The junction is blocked by the lorry.

I cannot move.

My light turns back to red.

By corrective maneuvering and a waved apology, the driver gets his massive charge under way, so with the next ‘green’ I am free to proceed, though not before I might think I hear the faintest, most barely detectable of taps upon my roof.  I may recognize it, but where’s the point?  I am late.  I drive faster.  Above me, Fergal clings to my radio aerial with his empty shopping bag streaming behind him in the wind, muttering complaints.

My appointment is at the top of the town, the Goblin Supermarket is at the bottom.  It is as I approach the lower end of town that my car’s perfectly maintained engine develops an ominous knock.  I stop to investigate.  I drive on.  The knock has vanished, and so, incidentally, has Fergal.

I am late for my appointment and there is an atmosphere I cannot dispel because goblin intervention is not accepted as an excuse for my tardiness.  When the meeting has drawn to a torrid conclusion I take my car to the garage.

“I was hearing this ‘knock’ thing.”

The mechanic takes it for a drive:  “There’s nothing wrong with it.”

“Well, there was something.”

“There isn’t now.   Must be an intermittent fault.  If you hear it again…”

“I’m sure it was there…”  I persist, even though I know ‘intermittent fault’ is polite garage-speak for ‘you are imagining it’.  I am not prepared to admit the truth.

“Well it isn’t now.”

But I know it will be.  And sure enough, it returns, as soon as I reach the lower end of town on my way home.  This time, though, I am wise to its cause.  I ignore it.  It gets louder.

I continue to ignore it.  It becomes louder still.  Finally when I refuse to pull over and I am halfway down the valley road a set of traffic lights in front of me that has just changed to green changes instantly back to red and I am compelled to stop.   Let me emphasize, I do not actually see him, or any more than suspect his presence, but I know a very sweaty and out-of-breath Fergal has hauled himself back onto my roof.

When I drive away it is no surprise that the knocking sound has vanished, nor am I more than mildly pleased that every other set of traffic lights is green and I reach the last set – Fergal’s home set – in good time.  They, of course, will be red:  I expect it.

The lights are green.

There is more than a little of the Fergal within me.   I chuckle to myself because I know a mistake has been made.  Impervious to knocks from the engine, squeaks from the suspension, flashing LED lights and warning bleeps I increase my speed.  In twenty yards it will be too late to stop safely!   With fiendish grin I set my hands on the steering wheel, envisaging the panic inside that post as someone runs frantically up the little spiral staircase to lunge at the switch.  Too late! Ha ha! I am through!

I give way to laughter, to wild, demonic laughter!  There are no more traffic lights for two miles and the knocks and squeaks cannot intimidate me!  I throw the car through corners, imagining those little hands clinging desperately to my radio aerial, driving faster and faster; but then…

It dashes from a small paddock to my right; and once I have seen it, my eyes won’t let it go.  Brilliant white it flares, it flies, it flashes; it prances with strong neck arched and golden horn thrust forth like the sun-child I know it to be: it leaps the hedge, it bestrides the verge… 

Fearful I should hit something so royal and so fine I slam on the brakes,   My car drifts for a moment, collects itself, then convulses as another car with brakes not quite so sharp hits it from behind.

The impact is loud, the silent moment which ensues complete.  As the dust settles, a small, squat creature slithers through my window to stand before me on the dashboard and we meet, face-to-face, for the first time.  How do you describe ugliness so profound it defies description?  I shall not try, except to say a liberal quantity of mucus is involved.  Fergal leers at me, waving a stubby, bulbous finger in admonition.   Then he winks.  Then he goes.

Apparently the car which collided with me is a police car.  It seems I was speeding.  The officer writing out the ticket also thinks I stopped needlessly and dangerously.

“But I had to stop – I would have hit it!”

“Hit what, sir?”

“Why, the unicorn!”

“The…unicorn, sir?”

Yes, of course the bloody unicorn.  There it is, lying as statuesquely as any wild horse has ever lain upon the grass verge, watching as I am given a breath test.   But the policeman won’t see it; nor does he seem to notice that Stephanie, the girl who lives four doors down from me, is cradled against its chest, her long golden locks mingling with its soft white mane.  Now I do feel it might be being slightly misled in this regard, because I’ve seen the way she behaves with her boyfriend and he at least is less than celibate, I can tell you.   However…Unicorn for goblins

At length the police car turns around and leaves.  I am reading my new batch of literature as it passes, but I do glance up in time to see Fergal, full bag of shopping on lap, seated comfortably amid its cluster of blue lights.  He gives me a cheery wave.

As for me?  Well, I drive home in a car which now has a genuine knocking sound, and count myself lucky that the fines will amount to less than a month’s wages.   From now until the end of this week (the end of Moon Feast) I shall only travel by taxi: my car is being repaired, anyway.

I feel it is time for all of us whose minds are open to creatures from the lower world to gather together and proclaim our beliefs.  What about you?  Have you any stories to tell about your encounters with pixies, or dragons, or maybe the odd Jabberwock?

NB:   Some who read this post may accuse me of sizeism.  I wish to make it clear I have no prejudice against PORGs (persons of restricted growth) or their freedom of movement throughout the European Union, however ridiculous and misguided I may believe it to be. 

 

 

 

Of Life, Love and Latex

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This is the future, and you saw it here first.   This is how it simply has to be.

You see, I think we have to face the probability that in fifty years, when we return in our next lives, (which I for one confidently expect to do, as a powerful, intelligent and successful man), medical knowledge will have far surpassed those sad boundaries of cursing and nursing and hard beds which are our present lot.   

‘Prevention, not cure’.   Historians of our future will fritter away their Doctorates trying to trace the originator of the phrase.  When they discover his or her name, it will be vaunted, sublimated, placed on the same high pedestal as Washington or King.  University Degrees will be awarded in it.  He or she will become the hero of a new age.

In practical terms though, what will it mean?  Well, I offer you this.  From the age of, say, twenty-five we will be encouraged to watch ourselves carefully in our mirrors each morning, anticipating the exact moment when our youthful beauty, firm muscle tone, and bright keenness of eye conjoin.  When we have selected this vital hour at the summit of our powers, we will submit to an intense examination of our mental alertness and if, after the usual test of five minutes we have solved the required twelve intricate mental exercises successfully, we will  make our way to Progenitor Labs, Inc. to have ourselves modeled.

Personally, once I am booked in, I see myself comfortably ensconced with a magazine that will ensure I achieve the best results for certain of my assets. I will sleep while DNA samples are taken, tissue typing is performed and my internal organs are x-rayed in three dimensions.  I will be weighed and I will be photographed (I must remember to ask for copies to be sent to my friends) and I will be painted over with delicious warm latex.

Then, wearing a discreet monitor implanted painlessly beneath my skin I will go home, and apart from maintaining a monthly payment to Progenitor Labs I will think no more about that day.  I may well forget it altogether.

Progenitor Labs., though, will not forget us – any of us; nor will our medical insurance companies.  They will be listening to our tiny, bleeping monitors as they tell of the wrinkles that are etching into our complexions, teeth that are decaying, joints that are wearing down, hearts that are faltering.  When we visit our dentists a new tooth will be there waiting, grown from samples drawn by Progenitor:  if our joints ache, replacements exactly tailored to our physical shape will be grown and ready.  We won’t need to feel the first flutter of arrhythmia; a telephone call will have already summoned us to the operating suite where a new heart and arteries exactly like our own await.

Of course there are certain extra services for which I may choose to pay – like replacement of firm body tissue and a transplant for that fresh, strong-featured youthful face – recreated from the latex mold Progenitor have stored for me.   And then there are remedies of a similar nature for those awe-inspiring sexual powers…

Immortality?  Certainly, of a kind.  There may well be limits, but rest assured the reincarnation waiting lists will get significantly longer, to a point where those who control these things may be forced to operate a selection process, even a clearing house for the allocation of new souls.  You might find it very difficult, for example to get a placement with parents in the south east of England, or Los Angeles – much easier to accept a more minor role in the north of Scotland, or maybe Nebraska (sorry, Nebraska!).

A price is necessary to the accelerated pace of evolution:  there will always be those who have to pay for the good fortune of others.   With my future-eye I foresee a couple of major scandals clouding the horizon of the year 2094:

‘Progenitor Labs file for bankruptcy…creditors told to expect low return on their investment.’

And

‘Pet food scandal – Milton Ward Cryogenics implicated’.

(descriptions of the author are subject to exaggeration and bear no relation to any persons living or likely to live)

Hot Sauce in the Grass

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The crow being on his lamppost early this morning, and the window of my office being open, we Crow on a lamp posthad a brief conversation which was really more of an ice-breaker, because we haven’t spoken properly since the Pauncefoot Pigeon affair.  I mentioned his obvious prosperity.

“Never known the like, mate.  It’s these fine evenings, see?  I mean, just look!”

So prompted, I looked down at the grassy recreation area opposite my house. It was strewn with litter:  half-eaten kebabs, pizzas, bags of oily chipped potatoes, all displayed in open invitation.

“A boy’s just got to open his beak and it falls in!   I tell you, I need to lose a few inches or I won’t be able to fly high enough to reach the nest!”

As if to demonstrate his point he launched (or rather toppled) from his perch on the street lamp and flapped soggily away.   End of conversation; beginning of a thought.

Well, perhaps less of a thought and more of a journey – a journey back to my earliest memories of morning; waking up to the sound of the electric milk-float as it hummed up the street, the clinking of milk bottles on doorstep after doorstep.   Paul the milkman came from the Channel Islands.  His milk round was his livelihood and his life; delivering the full bottles, collecting the empties to be washed into recirculation back at the dairy.  He was one of several workers with similar missions performing their morning rounds:  a postman whose name I have forgotten, a bread man (Jim, I think he was), and of course, a roll-call of paper boys and girls.   The ‘pop man’ came twice a week, with wares dispensed, like the milk, in glass bottles which we collected for return, earning two or three pence refund for each bottle.  His vehicle was electric, too.

We had coffee bars, social gathering-places where we drank weaker or stronger coffee (‘can I have it milky, please?’) from china cups that were washed and used again.  There was no ‘fast food’ in the city of my earliest years; no takeaways or sandwich bars, therefore little or no discarded wrapping; even newspaper tended to be recycled through charities.  The police patrolled on foot; mostly ex-services men with weighty presence whose local knowledge well equipped them for the war on crime.   Our parents bussed or pedaled to work because cars were expensive and not always efficient.

My school uniform had to last for at least a year – the shoes that went with it were inexpensive, all-purpose and had no particular brand.  There were no ‘trainers’.  I possessed very few electrically-powered toys and those ran from batteries, not the mains.  The very concept of carrying a battery-powered telephone around with us would have been greeted by laughter – why on earth would anybody want to do that?

We bought food at local markets, because ‘supermarkets’, again, did not yet exist.  We ate frugally, our diet honed by the strictures of a recent war, leaving little to waste. We drank water from the faucet.

This week I have driven at least eighty miles purely to cover journeys that public transport fails to provide.  I have parked on acres of sterile concrete to visit huge, expensively lit ‘malls’ where I may buy my milk in plastic canisters, general comestibles shrink-wrapped into pack sizes too large for my needs, even beer in tins over-wrapped into groups of six, or twelve.  I know the highly-priced perishables I pass by have only made it to the shelves because they look attractive, and a third of them will be thrown away unsold.  Even water, a staple of human existence, is sold in plastic bottles. I have passed shoe shops selling trainers for children at prices as high as three digits, people holding congenial (sometimes otherwise) but meaningless conversations with four hundred pounds-worth of under-used technology glued to their ear.

Every street has three or more ‘takeaways’; you won’t need satellite-guided navigation to find one, just follow the paper trail.  Their proprietors have learned ways of charging more for beverages by disgorging them from slow, power–thirsty machines into polystyrene cups. 

I rarely pass police on foot anymore.  Mostly they pass me at extravagant speeds in sixty-five thousand pound cars kitted out with computers and radar.  I never hear the morning tune of a milkman, or any form of electric delivery vehicle.  The milk bottle is dying, the glass pop bottle with a refundable deposit has passed on long since. The jobs these services created are gone, so Paul’s and Jim’s successors are probably the recipients of State benefits.

Our council have allotted us three separate bins so far in the name of ‘recycling’.  We are supposed to put some types of rubbish in one, some types in another, anything left in a third.  A special diesel lorry collects the contents of the first two once a week for sorting in a central depot where it is baled, and either sent to a wharf-side in Rotterdam, or in some cases, I am told, shipped all the way to China, while someone decides what to do with it. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We can certainly furnish them with an excess of rubbish.  Plastic milk canisters, several drinks cans, unimaginable amounts of food wrap, food waste, dog pooh in plastic bags as well as acres of paper that have been delivered by our overloaded postman, peddling goods in which I have no conceivable interest.  The three bins, by the way, are very large and made of plastic.  No-one has ever raised the issue of recycling them.

Accepting the futility of railing against change, my mind is moving on to other things.  The crow is back on his lamp standard.  He has a huge piece of kebab pinned under one foot, which he pecks at moodily.

“I mean, really!  You’re a bit of a sci-fi nut, aren’t you?  Can you imagine what a Martian would think if he looked down at you lot and heard you talking about recycling – saving your planet and stuff?  Hypocrisy?  He’d laugh ‘is little silver boots off!”

“I suppose if you look at it that way, we’ve made a bit of a mess of it.”  I say, humbly.

“Not your fault.  Well. It is, sort of.  A fault with your species, I mean.  When the earth’s falling in on your head, you make the hole larger.  It all started goin’ wrong when somebody up there decided to bring you lot ashore and leave the dolphins in the sea. Big mistake!  But there you go, it’s an ill wind – worked out well for us corvids; you should be thankful we’re here to clean up after you. 

“This hot sauce is a bit of all right, innit?  I might take some home for the kids.”

“Do you think there’s anything we can do to put things right?”  I ask.  He is quite a wise old bird, after all.

I’ve never actually seen him laugh, but I think I have come quite close to witnessing it now.

“What, you mean like when you all tried to agree about using less fossil fuel?  And the result of that was?  Frackin’, mate – f*****n’ frackin’!  A way to get more fossil fuel!” 

He begins a peculiar foot to foot dance, which I put down to bird-like hilarity.  “I know!  I know!  Here’s a good idea, innit?  You want fast cars to finish off the few jobs you’ve got left faster.  So…so…I know!  Yeah, I know!  Let’s extract more fuel from the ground and burn it so it goes into the air!  That’s a good one, innit?   You pull all the combustible stuff from underneath you until the planet shrinks like a prune but it won’t matter ‘cause you’ll all be dead anyway, unless you can breathe carbon monoxide.  Oh dear!  I can’t stand it!”

He flies off clutching his kebab, and my eyes follow him, admiring his ability to stay airborne even though he is clearly suffering from a powerful stitch.

He is, after all, possibly the only genuine recycler we have left.

Firefly

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Firefly 2Once there was a world of bright air and conversation; once there was a house, its rooms filled with laughter. There was a woman whose arms were soft and consolation swift; a melee of children, a barking of dogs, a cat that would lay across his knees, singing to him.

Once there was a bed where he might wile away hours in sleep and dreaming.   He no longer sleeps.  The mist that has closed upon his mind has drawn a veil across his memories – all are faded, all gone; wilted like the last rose until only the naked briar is left.  There is a cold wind in the briar.

Now there is just a chair and a room, and beyond it there is silence.  Through the watches of the night he sits nursing his pain as he has done for countless nights, contemplating the chasm beyond the walls.    Somewhere out in the ether sits a firefly of change, but it will not dance yet, not until a darkness deep enough to glorify its light has descended.  As dawn smolders into the flame of morning it withdraws once more, waiting.

He also waits, knowing (or is it hoping?) it is there.  Hoping it will come to him as it did the summer he died, five years ago.  When his heart gave notice, that warm green afternoon, it danced for him, and though he felt welcomed by its light, he could not follow where it led.  Jolted back to existence, he was prevented.

When he asked the man with shining skin and smiling stare why he should be made to stay the man spoke of a higher plateau where the hibiscus of his youth would grow again and the sweetness of forgotten scents, the smell of woman and the cry of wheeling rooks was eternal.  The open path where he walked once, that person said, was waiting, but he might only earn his place there through suffering.

Are you suffering, shining man?  Do you really know what suffering is?

The window curtains are grey with morning.  Soon ‘Twice Daily’ will come to draw them, to wash the humiliation from a body which although attached to him is no longer his.  There will be food and pills and she will leave.  For the hours until another night his rebellious heart will keep beating.    He will struggle to catch each fleeting breath, reaching within himself to tear out the gossamer strands that clog his lungs, his instinct for survival denying him the final rest his head cries out for. 

But oblivion will not come to him – not for another day, and then another, and so many more; while all the time the firefly hovers just beyond his grasp, patiently waiting.

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Just recently a lady I knew well ceased to breathe.  I could not grieve for her passing because to me, to all of us who knew her, she died four years ago.   She died the night her heart surrendered.  She was eighty-two.

Once, upon what some would say was a less civilized time, she might have lingered a few hours, or perhaps a few days, then passed with her family around her.  Everyone would remember her for the light that shone from her before she was stricken, and the world would move on.   Once.

Instead, those who loved her cried for help.  Instead, she was revived.   Her chest was cut open, a pig’s valve was sewn into her heart and the tubes that had been clogged with the years of living were replaced.   Her body was returned to life, and life became her prison.

Did she live longer?  Certainly, yes.   Was the time valuable to her, an active, practical woman who loved to go out, to tend her garden, to keep house, to walk?   When she could no longer do any of these things, did she live longer?  

I cannot say that any but the very best of intentions brought her back from the precipice, or that we should not stand in awe of all that medical science has achieved and can do.  I would be wrong to question the motives of any who strove to save her and give her those few extra years; but I do wonder whether we fully understand a cliche we use too freely and too often:  ‘the quality of life’.

Somewhere along the way, in our ardor to progress, to make advances in medical science, something has gone wrong.  A balance has failed, we have tipped over an edge of reason into an abyss of our own creation.  It is time to step back and look again.

It is time to consider, since we now have power over life and death, how we should use it.

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