Sunday, 15 March 2009

Goodbye to Comic Relief/The First Cut

Thank you to all those of you who sponsored me so generously to write for Red Nose Day. I hope that you enjoyed your stories as much as I enjoyed writing them. So that's it for now folks. Back to normal and I'm doing it for free until I hit the big time.

Today is Sunday and my husband sneaked out of bed so quietly that I didn't hear him. This is unheard of (obviously) as on weekdays when he is off to work, he is anything but quiet. So why the rush? Yesterday evening, he took delivery of a lawn mower. This is no ordinary lawn mower. This is the cylinder mower of his fantasies, the type that does stripes. Actually, I encouraged him to make this purchase. In fact, I actively dragged him along to a proper lawn mower shop (yes, we have one in Horsham) because I was fed up with him moaning about the two rotary machines lined up in the garage, neither of which functioned despite having spent all of last weekend trying to change this. It is almost like he is off on a date with someone. He has got the children their breakfast, made me a cup of tea and I can hear him emptying the dishwasher. He is setting himself up for an uninterrupted session of indulgence. It's a bit early to cut the grass, maybe, but he did comment last night that it's surprisingly quiet so perhaps he was planning his early morning sortie, even then.

I wonder if I should throw my clothes on so that I can witness the event? My own early morning trips around the garden in my dressing gown with the dog have stopped since someone moved in next door. Perhaps I should just clarify that I didn't go out into the garden for the same reason as the dog, I was just his chaperone although by the look of me, I was probably the one who looked as if they were in need of restraint.

And talking of restraint, I've noticed something this morning. Every time I decide that I spend far too much time on the internet writing rubbish that no one reads, I start rambling even more. This is a little perverse. So am I writing because I know that no one will read it? Perhaps. I don't always keep a handwritten journal, partly because my hands are sometimes a bit stiff, but also because I touch-type and so the flow between my thoughts and the virtual page is faster than it might be on old-fashioned paper.

I suppose that the end of the Red Nose Day thing made me think again about what I write here now or even why I write here at all. I've also been thinking about what to do after the end of my MA course. Suggestions on a postcard please! So is that the answer then? Writing and rambling like this is a bit like sending a postcard. I'm here and you're there and I'm telling you what's going on. A little snippet of what's going on. So there you go. Yet again, I have found a satisfactory conclusion by plucking a metaphor out of the air. Oh no, there I go again ......

I think I should get dressed and do something useful. Have a good Sunday. Wish you were here.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Comic Relief No 11 - For Claudia

It was the best day of the year so far. Test results behind her, the midday sun beaming down from an azure sky and the path ahead just seemed so, so, uncluttered by the past. Its pattern, the staggered slabs, had fascinated her since she was old enough to stand upright although obviously, being able to express this preoccupation with what went underfoot when she was out and about, didn't come until later. Much later. But today, she was pleased to see that the little piece of the world which was passing along below, like a newly serviced and oiled escalator (but not an escalator, one of those things that went along horizontally, not up, a travelator maybe?) was perfectly aligned. Let her explain what she means. There was a pair of slabs, the line dividing the two, the left and the right, dead in the centre. On a good day, the width of the pavement would be restricted to the totality of their combined measurement. Just so. Their position would be confirmed by the staggered placement of the next row, the middle slab's centre being equidistant to the previous' join. Of course, this rarely happened, was just her fantasy because in reality, things just weren't like that. Not so cut and dried. It wasn't all about two bits of slabs joined in holy matrimony. There would always be other influences. Like, like, oh, she couldn't say because they were too numerous. In simple terms, she could only see the path in front and if it was straight then she had a good idea of how to make it perfect in her head. She could choose to avert her gaze away from the car crashes on the road or look to the right at the crocuses (croci?, she never knew what the plural should be) but at least she knew what she was dealing with. Around the bend, where she sometimes found herself, she had no control over where her long shadow might fall. But today? Today, the sun shone down on her crown and she was on top of the world.

One should celebrate these moments, she thought. But should one celebrate alone? Maybe. In a moment, a pub would come into view. This is not to say that she had negotiated the imperfection of the deviations in the pavement yet but this road was one she had travelled many times before and she knew that the wiggly bit ahead was only a temporary insanity on the part of the council and looking on the positive side, its return to the original route did allow her to see the pub before she was fully entitled to. In her opinion. Anyway, outside the pub there were picnic benches. They were greyed through urban neglect and the passing exhaust fumes but the way people sat under the parasols bearing adverts for beer amused her. Some had their backs to the queues of traffic, t-shirts stretched over their beer-swollen abdomens revealing the tops of their buttocks, others, usually ladies, she noticed, looking outwards, gloating and decadent with their false nails overlapping as they clasped their hands around alcopops bottles. Not really ladies then, she was just being polite. So you can see how she wouldn't want to join them, this brigade of street drinking pavement dwellers with nothing better to do with their time. No, she would sit on another bench. She wished for a circular, wrought iron table but it didn't come so when the barman asked where they would be sitting for the delivery of the meals she had ordered she indicated to the bench dead opposite the keep left sign on the little central reservation serving to protect pedestrians from their deviation from the post office to the pub.

She carried the drinks to the bench and sat down, facing outwards. She drank the first glass in one. The second followed immediately along with the feeling that she didn't need the sun any more, that she had an inner warmth sweating from her pores. The food arrived, and the barman put the second plate opposite her. Not wishing to explain her intimate details to a complete stranger for the umpteenth time in her life, she left the food where it was. At least until he had gone back inside. She didn't want him to think she was mad, even if she was. He wouldn't understand, of course. Not having travelled the same path to get here, he would have no idea or see things the way she did. He may even have his own dark side, she would never know. But she did know that her own was hungry. Very hungry. In fact, she'd discovered that if she didn't feed it properly, take it out for lunch now and again, it found all sorts of devious ways to get her attention and engulf her. You see, sometimes, she had walked along the pavement and been unable to see the slabs for what they were. Sometimes, the shadow had been too hungry, too long and she had ignored it. At the end of the day, she wanted to feel that she had followed her heart, not her shadow. At the end of the day, the shadows were longer on the pavement but if she stood at the right angle against the setting sun, she was at one with her shadow. Sometimes, her shadow shared her chips with her. But she always asked first. She didn't want to them to fall out. She would never let the sun set on an argument with her shadow because actually, she was quite good company. That was the bright side of madness. A companion for life.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Comic Relief No 10 - For Gabi

He was still. Out of the patch of concrete on the wide grass verge and in between the banks of violet and yellow crocuses yawned a damp bench. Or was it? She wondered this because she needed to know how long he had been there. She didn't want to touch him, to wake him from his dreams and be responsible for jolting back into this miserable, cold and wet Sunday afternoon in March. Not for the first time, the monologue in her head switched to her native language because that's where she went in her head when she wanted to know what to do. In this case it happened to coincide with the place she had trained to be a nurse before she had transferred this skill and her body to this foreign country. She wondered whether one day, her mind would make the same journey. But some things were universal and here was a man lying on a bench, possibly dead. There was little of his face visible, his overgrown whiskers shielding the bottom half and the peak of a brownish hat covering the top. The bulbous end of his nose, a scaled-down version of his protruding belly was blue and veined like a map of the meandering Elbe. She really didn't want to do this, fearful of unleashing a torrent that she couldn't control. She wished that she was anywhere but here.

She leaned over, trying not to breathe in, to disturb the still and tense air between her body and his where this moment seemed to be contained in isolation, away from the disturbance of the passing cars and the weather. She reached into the space between the cuff of his brown jumper and his puffy, white hands and felt for a pulse. As she had feared, the pressure of another human's touch on his skin roused him and he jerked his arm towards the sky as if she were an irritating fly. The suddenness of this movement disturbed the hitherto hidden bundle underneath his coat and a bottle smashed onto the concrete below. She was grateful that the contents, cheap gin had had an antiseptic effect upon the air of their intimate, isolated world which was much needed because, eyes still closed, a foul-smelling chasm in his beard had opened and he had begun to sing. He slurred in a gravelly fashion but the tune was still recognisable; Kde domov můj? (Where Is My Home?). In that split second, she was all at once joined and separated from this man with whom ostensibly she shared her roots. But then their temporary world shattered as quickly as the bottle had done. She didn't want her memories of home ruined by his slurring, she wanted them kept as pristine as the sparkling cobbles of the Charles Bridge on a frosty morning.

She didn't know how he'd come to be here; she would never know. She would never know because she didn't want to so she she walked away, leaving him to drown in his own mess of gin and shattered dreams. He was alive and that was good enough for her. Her work here was done. She was alive too and that was how she wanted to keep her memories of her motherland. Pravda vítězí" (Truth prevails), she thought as she pulled the drawstring on the hood of her raincoat, put her chin down to her chest and headed on up the hill into the wind and rain. If the crocuses could survive this temporary doubt, then so could she.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Your call is being redirected

Marmaduke, aka the Ginger Ninja has finally got around to posting.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Comic Relief No 9 - For Pierre, again!

Elvis has left the building. There it went again, that phrase, one of many, the origin of which she couldn't quite fathom. Elvis had died when she was sixteen. She hadn't even been particularly fond of Elvis other than in a kind of evolutionary way, the primeval stirrings of a future, more sophisticated taste in music. Up until then, he had been there somewhere in her unconscious, a pelvis gyrating in the amniotic fluid, a precursor to Cliff Richard, Dr No and the assassination of JFK. So she wondered why she couldn't shake off these five words niggling at her day and night, especially at night when she sank into her pillow and went to the place where she let go of her daytime worries.

The Elvis of her unconscious was untouchable and multitudinous. At night time, he danced and sang, wowing audiences across several continents simultaneously. The Elvis in her dreams had lunch with her dead grandmother, organised tropical parties and built vast castles for his own occupation in every state. He could fold napkins into swans, swim up Niagara Falls and if ghosts threatened to engulf him with their angry, rotten mouths and bulging, green eyes, he could fly at them and make dissolve into a heap of nothing-dust on the floor. This Elvis was someone to be admired and feared but most importantly, someone to inhabit. At least for the duration of her dreams.

Now, if you thought that Elvis' life sounded complicated, then I must tell you that her life - the one that other people saw - was a complete shambles. She lurched from one man to another, one job to another and one town to another; the only notable change in her would have been the lines on her brow and the sagging of her stomach together with her willpower not to sink underground and completely give up. Elvis probably kept her going even if she didn't notice. Perhaps he was even relieved that she never actually asked him to sing, that he could just do his thing, whatever that was. And so they were a fine pair in ignorance of each others' needs. They would have carried on that way too if hadn't been for the writing course.

What happened next was as unplanned and unexpected as the manifestation of Elvis serving at the Meat & Fish counter in the local supermarket. Running out of new directions to take, she'd signed up at the local college, hoping to find her perfect man. She didn't even believe in taking courses but it made a change from the singles nights at the wine bar or smiling at sweaty men on rowing machines. What happened was that she stopped running and Elvis caught up with her.

What happened was that she learned to write and Elvis started speaking onto the page, uninvited. Before she knew what was happening, Elvis was popping out all over the place. Sometimes, he distracted her and she forgot where she was going. But this was good. She learned to follow Elvis without thinking about anything at all and discovered that what he had to say or do was often far more interesting than any of her grand schemes. She learned that each time Elvis was about to leave the building, she should follow because you just never knew what would happen next. The niggling feeling became more of a tingling and she felt a certain smugness that she knew where Elvis was hiding, that she could uncover him bit by bit in her writing.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Comic Relief No 8 - For Pierre

I didn't have any prompts for this one and so I used an idea that came to me when I woke up this morning!

Just stand back for a minute. No, don't take me literally, I mean up, not back. That's it, right up, up, and hold it there. Make sure your body is absolutely straight, perfectly horizontal, as if you're being suspended by invisible wires from those ceiling tiles and that each is calculated to precisely the right length. In fact, imagine that you are invisible too. Now, relax, let the strings take your weight. And look down.

Can you hear the noise again now? Good. Let it seep into your pores. Practice letting each voice you hear get louder, and louder until it is as sharp as a pin. Listen to the words, to the pitch. Is it a child? An adult? Male or female? Look for its partner but be quick before the moment passes. Now allow them to fade back into the crowd. Write it down in your head with your fast pen. Don't worry about anyone else being able to read it. Just get it down. Rewind the tape in your head. Not too much, just back again to that moment. Which walkway were they on? Were they arriving or departing? Think about where they were coming from. Perhaps it was somewhere tropical or cultural. Look back at their appearance. Tattoos, expensive luggage, sombreros and make up all give away so much. Now look again to the things underneath that you can't see. What are they trying to cover up? Perhaps there is something about the way they are walking. Pay attention to the way they hold their shoulders, whether they are tense or relaxed as this will tell you much about their journey. Or maybe it will tell you about their whole life. Are they pleased to be back or to be escaping?

Now jump back to the present again. Look at your people and where they are now. Yes, they are now your people because you've created them. Start the whole process again only this time they will obviously be more familiar to you. Make a comparison of how they have changed from the first moment when their voices pierced the bubble you naively surrounded yourself with when you set out for your holiday this morning. Think about the journey they have taken between those moments in relation to the one they probably think that they have taken. Marvel at the possibility that they are completely unaware of the stranger who is both their creator and their stalker. Imagine their reaction when they notice you observing them, their outrage or pleasure when your thoughts tumble out onto paper, the details you have to give to the police officer who is demanding to know all these things about who you are and what you're doing hanging about in an airport entrance and imagine what the final statement will look like when it's written down at the station.

But surely they'll understand. Surely those nice policemen will understand that a writer is never off duty, that if he is then he should re-evaluate his career choice, because he does not have the right mental attitude to be a writer.