Wednesday, 30 March 2022

A dog's life

When I went down to the kitchen this morning, blurry from a bad sleep, I stared for a moment at the empty second sofa, normally occupied by a brindle beige dog shape. Of course, the reason for the bad sleep . . . dog no longer, dog now buried in the garden; our lovely old dog Gala, passed on.


Gala has been with us for about nine years, adopted from a Spanish Greyhound association whose members valiantly spend their waking hours trying to save these elegant and loving creatures from their living-death lives as hunting dogs. She bore the marks of a hunter's contempt, knife scars, a damaged back, and perpetual haunting fear of men. Over the years this gradually faded although it was always still present, a branded terror on her brain circuitry.

She was a model greyhound: happy to walk for hours to then collapse onto her favourite sofa; a gourmand - hogging the food, top dog to Bali who would wait around to lick the bowls after Gala had deemed to have finished. A later love of her life was water in any form: streams, sea, lakes . . . she would stride forth into the wetness while Bali would stand watching and quaking at such an insane idea. She also learned to play at an advanced stage of life, as if the natural playfulness had never been experienced as a younger dog, not surprising if one happens to visit one of the Galgos sites to learn more of these dogs . . .



How I miss her doe eyes, her silent smiles, her down-soft coat.

A tree will be bought today to mark the spot where she now rests. 

Goodbye our special friend.     





Sunday, 20 March 2022

Derivation

Okay. Enough. I've sent out submissions to I don't know how many literary agents, crafted the letters, honed the synopsises, synopi? described my publishing history; been endlessly encouraged by friends and family but it seems what I wish to write doesn't appeal to agents; satirical glances at where we are now and what could happen in the, to my mind at least, tumultuous and dark future are not wanted. At least by unknown writers; fine if you are madame Atwood . . . absolutely no jealously here. ;0)

I'm putting aside the four manuscripts of this genre for now and temporarily ceasing Outcrier - another bleak but humorous slice of a possible future world, and doing something I said I wouldn't do - writing a novel to attempt to fit into a genre that could be more acceptable. But already it's escaped the genre I had started out with so, I'll keep going and see where it ends up. No mention of a rumbling, dark future, keeping it fairly light with a black humour edge. 

Post-apocalyptic London is where my writing heart beats strongest (see novel link to the right) and I still have hope that the follow up to Londonia will get an airing, but for a while I'll try something else. Why not? It's an interesting experiment to step outside the box ones mind has constructed.

Extract from current book with working title: I first became aware of my intermittent unusualness after Dad drove the Cortina into chip shop window.



Eva, a fifty-something year old, self invented psychoanalyst sits in her garret flat somewhere in North London. 

                                                                            ***   

I sit at the kitchen table, hands wrapped around a mug of herbal tea, radio 4 nattering in the background and the shadows of late summer leaves dappling the 1950s wallpaper I have somehow got used to. 


When I first shown the garret by the fifteen-year old estate agent who pointed out its merit of convenient proximity to the tube but was stuck for much else to say I felt my life falling away, that it had come to this. But actually, what do we need above shelter, warmth, food, a few treasured possessions? A few more friends would be nice. I think I may be turning into a hermit-ess. Or a bloke to re-discover sex with? Or, a woman? My thoughts of what it would be like to caress someone else’s breasts are interrupted as the intercom rasps reminding me that I haven’t prepared for Geoff Brenton’s visit at all. I was probably avoiding it anyway.

I lift the handset, say hello, and his clipped voice answers. “Geoff here.”

Out on the landing I listen to his footsteps clumping on the bare wood stairs. He nods as he arrives, a slight beading of sweat on his forehead under a lock of hair that has escaped its greased companions.

“Good afternoon, Geoff.” I stand back, avoiding a handshake. “Did you find a parking space okay?”

He jerks his head towards the little window at the end of the landing. “Eventually, in Clark street. It’s getting worse, isn’t it.”

I don’t possess a car so take little notice of parking issues other than people’s complaining about it.

“Bus?”

He looks at me as if I have suggested crawling on hands and knees the distance from wherever he lives in Holloway. “The seats are disgusting on buses.”

We enter my lodgings and I wonder if he mentally disinfects everything as he steps over the threshold. Quite encouraging really; whatever I am doing must be of overwhelming use for him to put up with my surroundings. 

“Would you like to sit on the sofa, or you can lie down if you prefer.”

I am not an actual psychoanalyst and I think many of them concur that the lying down thing is rather outdated but I offer it anyway.

“Can we sit at the table again?”

“Of course.”

We sit. I offer a drink. He declines. His eyes roam around the room for a while. “You know, my parents had the same wallpaper. I’m sure of it.”

“Oh?”

“In the spare room.” He drags out the last two words as if he fears them. 

I decide this is interesting. “Was it an overflow room for possessions, or a guest room?”

“. . . They called it the naughty room. Me or Gill would be put in there if we’d been bad.”

“For a short while – just to make you reflect for a few minutes?”

“Hours. Sometimes a day, or a night. I’d have to pee out of the window. Once I crapped in a mug as I didn’t know what else to do, and I wiped my arse on a sock.”

The bus seats and other phobias begin to take shape a little. In the first and second sessions Geoff had only skirted around what I had suspected were deeper issues. We’re well away from topsoil this time.

“Did that result in more punishment?”

He drums three fingers on the table top before inspecting them and wiping away on a neatly folded square of kitchen roll whatever microbes he fears will be present.

“I thought Father was going to kill me. Gill and Mother were both screaming at him to stop.” He smiles suddenly as if a switch has been flipped somewhere within him. “I took flowers to the woman I was telling you about.”

Startled by this sudden change of direction I dredge back last week; Geoff sitting opposite me, his face slightly flushed as he described somebody in the accounting department.

“Did she appreciate the gesture?” I ask.

“She was a bit shocked, I think. In a good way – it must have been as she agreed to dinner on Friday evening.”

“Were you surprised?”

“I was. Very. Usually when I have done this before they say no.”

“Usually? On our last meeting, you said you’ve rarely attempted to ask anyone out.”

“Did I? He pauses as if rummaging through a mental filing cabinet. No . . . I’ve asked many people.”

“Tens, twenties?”

“Hundreds, possibly.”

“And she’s the first who’s agreed.”

“Correct.”

“How are you feeling about Friday?”

He sits back in the chair and reveals his horsey teeth in a rather maniacal grin. “Bloody terrified. That’s why I asked if you could fit me in rather than next week.”

“Would you like to tell me what it is you are mostly worried about.”

“What to say to her, mainly. And about what might happen . . . later on.”

“You mean after the restaurant.”

“Yes.”

“There might not necessarily be a later on.”

His expression droops a little into disappointment. “There always is in the films.”

I search for a film with which I can illustrate my point but James Bond keeps bobbing to the surface of my thoughts: cocktails, swooning women, tumbling hair. Shit. There must be hundreds of intelligent examples.

“Certainly, not always, Geoff. Let’s return to conversation you might have. Do you know much about her?”

“She drives a Ford Fiesta. It’s very clean.”

“. . . Good. You’ve spoken to her several times, I imagine.”

“Only twice. Once when her desk had been moved nearer the photocopier. Malcolm – my line manager had asked me to run off a copy of a contract. I asked her if the view was better from that side of the room, and she thought that was quite funny. And the second time was in the canteen when I spilt milk on her shoe – she was standing behind me and I lost control of my tray. Lucky I’d only picked up a milk jug and not a teapot at that point! Anyway, I quickly got a napkin crouched down and wiped away the milk from her shoe. It was while I was looking at her ankle that I thought I should ask her out.”

“Why then?”

“She has very nice ankles. And her shoes were extremely polished – high-heeled red shoes.”

“How do you find the rest of her?”

“Not bad. Not bad at all . . . good figure. It’s just her face . . .”

“Her face?”

“Rather rounder than I like, and she has very thick glasses.”

I regard the man before me and wonder what people are likely to say about his face which is unhealthy looking with a large flaccid nose and eyes that sit closely on either side of it.

“Can I ask you about your previous relationships, Geoff?”

In the first session Geoff had hardly talked until suddenly zipping into a monologue about his father’s new Mercedes; the second more about work issues and his worries over a bullish colleague.  

He loosens his tie a little. I wonder how old he is. Late thirties? Have I asked him? I’d lost the notes I’d taken after his last visit. Bad. I’ll go straight out afterwards and buy a proper book, or perhaps I should start using the laptop – however it seems to be on the way out . . . He’s still forming words, or not. It’s difficult to say. Some people reveal all within their expressions, and others, like Geoff, could be thinking about anything from dry cleaning to mass murder.

“. . . There have been three.”

“Relationships.”

“In a way.”

“Very short ones?”

“Yes. I think you might call the first one . . . seduction, by a friend of my mothers. The second was a date set up by a friend of mine in the light aircraft association that I belong to.”

“You fly?”

“No. Not really. I tried but I suffer from vertigo. The woman, Sammy, wanted to go on a hike rather than a dinner date. I think I’m more of a wanderer so she was striding ahead all the time then waiting for me to catch up. In fact, she left me at a stile and I had to catch a lift back to the carpark in a cow truck.”

“I see. And the third?”

“Internet date. But she lives in Alaska and she told me yesterday that she’s marrying another woman. It’s annoying as we’d been talking for months and I really thought she would move over here.”

“So, you’ve had one actual physical encounter with a woman.”

“Yes.” The yes is as dry as someone responding to a survey on traffic calming. I wonder whether to move back onto the subject of the woman with nice ankles, but perhaps it might be useful to find out what the seduction involved, mainly for her sake.

“When you say seduction . . . did you have full sex?”

“I think so, but it was all over so quickly and she kept shouting at me to slap her.”

“You didn’t really enjoy it, I imagine.”

“It was . . . sort of exciting. I wanted to do it again with her but she didn’t respond to my calls. And then I found out from Mother that she had moved out of London.” He looks down at the table and frowns at a circle left from a coffee cup. “You’ll have to sand that out, you know.”

I glance at the kitchen clock and realise most of his session has expired and we haven’t ventured far into the Friday night issue.

“Where are you taking her for dinner?”

“A new Italian place on the high street. I thought it might bring up the subject of travel.”

“You’ve been to Italy then.”

“No.”

“Where have you travelled?”

“I went to the Isle of Man once for a bike show. I didn’t like the ferry much though.”

“Well, it’s a good idea anyway. You can ask her where she’s been, where she might like to go . . .”

He nods slowly, eyes focusing on the wall behind me. “What do you think I should say after dessert?”

“Would you like a coffee?”

“And after that?”

“Well, by then you hopefully will have an idea as to whether you might wish to see each other again. You could talk about that – for example, I was wondering if you’ve seen that new film with Leonardo de Caprio in it . . .”

“Which film?”

“I was just using that as an illustration.”

“I don’t rate him as an actor.”

I risk a quick look at the clock again. Ten minutes to go. I’ll go out somewhere – walk amongst trees.

“If you are asking me about inviting her back to your place, I’d say be very careful not to suggest anything too sudden.”

“Do you think she might slap me?”

“Probably not but she might just feel things were moving too fast. On the other hand, she might also be interested in something more than just dinner out. Only you will be able to judge that at that point.”

“There’s another issue.”

“Oh?”

“My mother always was on at me to eat with my mouth shut.”

“Well, that certainly is very important on a date. Do you eat with your mouth open still?”

“I don’t know. That’s the problem. I forget, you see.”

“Maybe you could set up a system – such as, when you observe your fork rising towards your mouth, think shut.”

“But then I might do just that and the spaghetti would go everywhere else.”

The long hand has thankfully dragged itself to the top of the clock. I wind up the session.

“That’s true but maybe think of some other way for yourself. My brother shares the same problem and it’s difficult to share a meal without focusing on his mouth and its contents.” I gesture to the clock. “Okay. We’d better finish as I have someone else arriving shortly.”

He nods, reaches for his wallet and draws out the agreed notes. “Could I make another appointment?”

I reach for my diary and leaf through to the following week. “. . . I can do the same time if you like.”

“That works. Hopefully, I’ll have something to discuss about my date.”

He stands up and smooths the creases in his shiny grey jacket. His hands tremble very slightly. I walk to the door and hold it open for him. He holds out a hand and without thinking I take it. A second later I freeze waiting for some onslaught of images but nothing transpires. I’m just aware of his dry skin. Odd, I thought he might have had sweating palms. 

Monday, 14 March 2022

Escapism


Following on from my last post re what human survival skills we have largely lost, this channel's videos are like a drug hit for people dreaming of a pared down life far removed from the latest technological developments, news of governments propping up vicious regimes with ever more powerful weaponry, climatic meltdown, etc... 
Forget Hollywood escapism and observe this man's extraordinary building knowledge with just a few hand tools and knowledge of the natural world. 

Sunday, 13 March 2022

What we knew before





It seems increasingly clear to me that we have lost our way as a species. Back in the era when this marvellous construction was in full function there were no computers, phones, Meta, TikTok, instant pancake mix, flights to Goa, plumbed in toilets, burgers, garden centers; Spotify, mega yachts, fast fashion, supermarkets, golf, Las Vegas, Youtube, this platform I write on; cars, internet shopping, yoga mats, Netflix, surf boards, and corrupt governments. Well, there would have been the latter, sadly that's just part of human history, but surely life must have made more sense?

People grew wheat, it was taken to the mill, each house or village had a communal bread oven; bread was made and sold or traded. The wheat was grown without chemicals or motorised transport and without destroying vast tracts of land. Clothes were made by hand or basic machinery; vegetables and fruits grown by each household if they had land. People knew how to make things -  baskets, shoes, saddles, roofs, carts, churches, goat pens, pottery, lace, knitted socks, bottled fruit, candles; and how to do real survival things like killing, skinning and cooking an animal, gathering plants - and knowing what was edible or not, fishing - without half a shop full of latest rod and tackle equipment - and a thousand other vital things.

No doubt this is highly simplistic and of course life would have been hard in many ways but a five minute glance through the current news seems to prove that we have learned so little in the last few decades, and lost so much. Thank the lord of handed down crafts that there are still some folk who know how to make and repair everyday and vital things, and rejoice in doing so. Hopefully as kids reach the age now of deciding their futures, basic and real skills will once again be offered and encouraged in this rapidly changing and climatically unbalanced world.



   

Saturday, 5 March 2022

In praise of wood

When we bought this house a year and a half ago I was only vaguely aware of how many trees came with it and what maintenance they would require. Apparently several other French people had viewed the house and although liking it very much had shaken their heads at the amount of garden taming would be required. We didn't, being silly and romantic English folk, and it was a sunny August day with butterflies, blooms and bird song; winter cutting back not something figuring in the mind.  So, here we are in Early March. The forsythia, primulas and daffodils are carpeting the garden, a yellow and pink reminder of the glories to come throughout spring and summer. Yes, it is a lot of work but I feel privileged to take it all on and provide a place for the insects and birds of the area, and Lord of all natural stuff, they need it; there's more and more industrial farming using crazy amounts of precious water and covering fields with one-use plastic. 


The wood covers about half of our land, oak and ash, the latter pollarded over the decades for animal fodder and firewood. And now it's our turn to carry on the system. Luckily, Ezra, our son is staying here this year and loves cutting wood, in fact the whole cycle of cutting, stacking and storing. There is something incredibly satisfying, especially in times of such uncertainty to stand in one's wood shed after a hard morning's cutting and wheelbarrowing logs and know that we have fuel for the next two years ready to go. Of course it is a cycle that has to be kept going; the ash logs need to dry for a year and a half before being burnt. We'll start again in the autumn.


Our garden also borders a railway line so the tallest ash trees had to be trimmed too this year for which we asked some help of our professional gardener who I call on only for the biggest jobs. We felled about six decade-old trees and now have wood enough for most of 2024's winter just from those trunks.



While Ezra and Mark were chainsawing and moving wood, I was on branch stashing duty. I love this - making a fence out of the discarded thinner branches of the trees. We had assumed we'd have to fence off the whole wood on arriving here but time has moved on and no wire has been bought for this purpose, so using the tree offcuts is ideal, and free!


I'm sitting in front of the wood burner now, a log from 2020 giving out a wonderful heat on this dark and chilly March evening.



Tuesday, 1 March 2022

A win-win situation


 There is a Tim Vine joke which goes something like: 'I was at a raffle yesterday and they said the first prize was a toilet. I asked what was the last prize was and they said a toilet. It was a win-loo situation.' This has become family speak for the more traditional win-win situation phrase. Anyway, I did experience a win-win situation today which was so utterly insignificant on the world stage and all associated troubles but highly satisfactory in the small scale universe of our garden.

Noting that the chickens have just about grubbed all the greenery, soil, worms etc in their compound I lobbed in a wheelbarrow of weeds, earth, grass and probably more worms. It kept them occupied all afternoon; no need to make another pile of garden debris anywhere and there's masses more of it to be donated to them as the madness of weeds has only just slightly started up . . .