Wednesday 27 February 2013

Die Badgers, Die!

Bryan Talbot's graphic representation of the problem we face
For too long it seems the terror of the badger has infected the countryside. New legislation is set to see badger culls put in place across the country.
            Living in the country as I do I feel it’s best to inform my mostly-urban readers of the threat that the badger poses us. It’s all very well bleating on about ‘evidence’ regarding bovine-TB (or the lack thereof, or whether the cull will do anything given that the carriers are merciless bio-commandos that have Hawkwind’s Urban Guerrilla on the IP3 players and nothing else) but the simple fact of the matter is that badgers are a real threat out here. Hardly a day goes by without badger youths, already equipped by nature with bandit masks, make the lives of pensioners a misery whilst hanging out in bus stops without any intention to use the bus. These ‘stripies’ (as the Daily Mail has christened them) creep into our houses, piss in the milk, and force our children to fight hungry dogs in viscous baby-baiting ball pits. Also according to the same source they killed Princess Diana and bring our house prices down, so there’s that too.
            After the whole myxomatosis thing with the rabbits backfired the last time something like this was attempted, sources have suggested that the government is not going to become embroiled in the same drawn out mess again. Indeed, whilst farmers with guns will initially do the work it is intended that weasels will eventually take on increasing responsibility for the undertaking. Apart from the actual undertaking, which will be done by crows – when the crows aren’t being nailed to fenceposts.
            Giant steely traps have already been erected outside of Britain’s Lidl supermarkets where it is thought badgers mostly shop. For worms, grubs and vermin it has to be supposed.
            A trial scheme is already being rolled out in Nutwood.  

Friday 22 February 2013

Lola Austistanata (Pt. 1)

Lola likes the dark; or rather the torch lit dark. She likes it that the world is so small and moves about her in such a clearly defined boundary. She doesn’t feel the same way about the night which is unfortunate as the battery is going flat, and with it her mood. She’s a sensible girl and she’s better at this than I am. If she ever sees her tenth birthday she’ll be better still. There’s no certainty of that. I hope she will, and I’d pray if I thought it would do any good. But if we have a lot of hope then that currency has been debased in the last three years. There’s been a run on hope and a lot of hope might just about see the chickens lay come morning. A lot more might see there being a morning. I’d hoped there would be chocolate at the petrol station but hope hadn’t stretched that far.
            “Creepers, daddy,” says Lola. She’s got good ears, better than that she can tell if something shouldn’t be where it ought to be (dark, torch lit or otherwise). Lola is autistic. That’s a super power. It’s certainly saved my life enough times. Every night we’re safe, or safer than now. The doors are never left open. We live because we have rituals, traditions, and all of them keep us alive. And we never, ever, forget them. Because if we forget even a single one Lola will scream and kick, she will round on me and curse me until things are as they should be. Back before everything went wrong I had a smoke alarm that went off if you so much as opened the oven, on or off. I had to either pull the wire from the thing or never use the oven. There’s a wire in Lola that you can’t pull out, but if goes off when the oven door is left open then still I’ll never miss a fire in the house. That was a different house. That house was in the city. No one lives in the cities now.
            The lanes are overgrown. The hedges are remembering that they’re trees now there’s no one to tell them otherwise. There’s a lot of low cloud and it’s dark when I turn off the last of the torch. Lola is behind me. She holds on to my coattails. If I say run she will run. From my pocket I take out a pistol and straighten my arm. Lola turns me gently and moves me forward. I don’t see anything for a good ten yards before the shadow of an overhanging bough moves with us. Creepers are ambushers. If we walked calmly out of reach it would follow us and others by scent or some sound even Lola can’t hear would join it, if there are others. If we climb a tree the same thing so we walk slowly and stay out of reach until level with it I keep the awful pistol toward its head. Lola buries hers in my coat. I should have pulled back the hammer before now and doing so the creeper starts. It drops and the crack of the pistol echoes flat over the heath. I’m a crap shot and fire again just in case. I’m shaking. Lola takes my hand and before the sound has rolled away she’s forgotten there was a creeper at all. A meal eaten, a bedtime gone by morning, a sneeze, it’s less than a stubbed toe.
            Lola is better at this than me. I wish she never had to be. But wishes are just hope in a prettier dress. Lola’s dress is colourful under her coat but there’s mud about the hem.

At first I wouldn’t hear a word of it. Lola never avoided eye contact with me. We always went everywhere together. We told stories and made up games. Social inadequacy? Not my Lola. At best I was blinkered. Her first word was ‘da’. She would always wear that fat, dribbling grin. I didn’t know that she grinned through the dribble because I had come into the room. So bedtimes grew harder. I had to sit in a certain place and hold her hand for a certain amount of time and the more she spoke the more complex things became. And by the time she was four even leaving the house was a six step process that would not, could not, be differed else it was back to the beginning. I admit I became frustrated, angry even. I never struck Lola but I did once take it out on a chair. Poor broken chair. I sound awful, and I was, just not very awful since if I rub at these few occasions it’s because scratching the scar of them never lets them heal.
She had friends, briefly. There hadn’t been much school before the world went wrong and I was shocked when going by one lunchtime to see her standing still, talking to no one, and vocally. The other children avoided her. The psychologists were useless and frustrated with it all I ended the last meeting asking if, after this the third, we could talk about Lola at last since everything had been about how it affected her mother so far. The doctors were better. Months of meetings and she was diagnosed, autistic, and for me everything was better. The beast had a name, only it wasn’t a beast. It was what made Lola, Lola. When her mother walked out Lola was staying with me, Lola’s choice; no hesitation.
            But as Lola went right, the world went wrong.
            Lola noticed.
            I listened to Lola. I listened when she got caught up in a circle of her own logic that was flawed from one end to the next. I looked back without blinking when her gaze was a cracked plate so that the lines mended. We hugged, we always hugged. And it would all go away. Only it didn’t always go away. Calm, aware of everything, Lola would point things out and increasingly without frustration, without the insistence in what was right, or wrong. She noticed, and she told me, and long able to tell the difference between when she was right and when she was in one of her moments. I started to be able to tell back that then when she told me things that could not be she was not in that moment. And she was right.
            There had been someone living next door, when now there was not. There had been roses in the garden. People had phoned, not just machines time and again (and always with the same message). When she told me a programme had been on the day before, and the day before that I watched, and she was right. The busses grew infrequent but specific in that infrequency. The nation’s most celebrated charity fund raiser was revealed to have been the country’s evilest man. The Pope resigned. There was a meteorite that struck Russia, three impossible things before breakfast with three more to go.

We live distant from everyone else, now.  There is a community twelve miles from us. Twelve miles used to be nothing. Twelve miles on foot in one direction, on bad roads, is a lot further. They know about us, we know about them, and at times we have to go there for things we need since they’ve long since cleared out all the towns from the sea to the mountains. They’re good people. There were bad people, cruel people, but they didn’t last. Even the smallest injury can go bad like the aftershock of the whole world. It might be different elsewhere but over in Keswick people work together because before things went bad no one hereabouts had grown up in a feudal society, they had lived by the big laws. In the new classless world they remained resolutely middle. If they’d had farmer’s markets and lovely celebrity chefs many there might well have preferred their world to that before. But the world had gone wrong, and wrong was bad, so they didn’t.

Thursday 21 February 2013

Old PC

The old pc wouldn’t sort her fault
She begged. She blubbed. She hit the malt
She screamed until her cheeks were salt
The old pc as moveable as basalt
As if King Mark to her Iseult
Ignored her pleas, her angry tumult
She struck the old pc for little result
So the pc nicked her for assault
He wasn’t a computer.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Pope Rupert and the Lidless Eye

Not long returned and you’ll understand that the newspapers of the future had little to say of what has occurred in my absence. Actually that’s not true. There were no newspapers, and those that there were (of which there were none) were saying much the same things on much the same topics. The grey custard of the news to be had then did not so much inform as comfort, or outrage, as ever by one’s preference.
            A lot of what I’ve since caught up with is the usual background fluff. A giant meteorite has smashed into Russia and bendy robots have singularly failed to be seen. North Korea has declared that they now have a fully functioning death star. A stolen Poundland has been found on auction in America, complete with tattoo. Several leading brands of lager have been castigated after being found to be 70% horse piss. Tomb Raider soon. The Mordor-fication of the Elephant and Castle has been completed with the spotting of the lidless eye of Sauron. And a Pope has resigned shortly before receiving his final written warning from his employer. The last I knew about because I heard it from the Pope-after-the-next one where my sprouts me him in the woods.
Which is not how it sounds, or rather it is exactly as it sounds. People without children will often post about how nowadays children don’t make dens and climb trees, that they are smothered by their overly protective parents. I’ve not met a parent yet that when faced with their children wanting to go out and play haven’t looked towards the kettle and hurriedly helped them on with their wellies.
            Pope Rupert (though no longer strictly the pontiff) was in the midst of having a day of adventure. Rupert did that. Does that still I have to presume since I read Rupert when I was a lad. Every Christmas I’d get the latest annual and as the early years went slowly I moved from looking at the pictures to reading the rhymes to finally reading the stories. I got the annual on Christmas Eve so as to have something to do rather than just fail to sleep. And they were great. And yes, Rupert and his chums are rural middle class kids but that’s all right since it throws the loss of many of them in the war that later follows into sharper relief. In the original stories it’s always the 1920s and whilst adults tussle with Cthulhu their children have no less daring to do, and probably a lot more fun.  That the events of 1945 which saw Rupert return to religion and his eventual rise to the Papacy cannot be foreseen in the original stories is a good thing; life does not always foreshadow tomorrow.  I don’t know much about his term on the throne of Peter, but elderly as he was the faithful bear only added to the adventures the sprouts undertook in these days now gone by. Whilst I, I was able to drink tea.
            And wine once the sprouts tired and weary had gone to bed.
            Though not communion wine.   

Friday 15 February 2013

Dogs Can't See Rainbows

I’m always wary of travelling to the future.
            You’ll understand that I’m pretty limited in this sort of thing. The past now, that’s relatively easy. Easy in that I don’t often have the choice about it, but I’ve learned to live with it and even enjoy it now. When you can’t help what happens it’s probably best to just accept it, find something of worth in it. But there are certain limitations and despite having seen the signs that later today there’s going to be a bit of a shudder in whatever-you-want-to-call-everything-just-not-whatever-they-call-it-in-Star-Trek my kids are going too. It’ll be their first, they’re jolly excited, but their presently short lives limit things so we’re going to have to go but a short way into the future. I’m hoping for rocket ships and goldfish bowl helmets. Such will have to be seen going overhead as the whole effect is limited to one lordly manor house over Penrith way.
We have porridge oats, stout boots, and Roald Dahl. I like a bit of high adventure but I’m worried because I’ll spend the whole time telling one or the other of the sprouts to not touch this, put that down, or stop doing things that we then have to make sure on our return happen at all. There’s only time anyway due to the progress of the universe. I tried to explain that to my eldest yesterday evening. She got a bit flummoxed after accepting that dogs can’t see rainbows as I went a bit far with the theme by using colour as an example of what we see only being the manner by which we perceive a fraction of everything else.
            I should just stick to fascinating facts.
            Which have to carefully selected. After all, there’s not much point in me explaining about where the term martinet comes from, since it’s not a phrase they tend to use. Martinet by the way (whilst referring to arse water that sticks to the rules and his own fragile authority above all else) was the name of a person; Jean Martinet. He established a system of drill and discipline in the 17th century for the French, which despite being enforced by the scourge that there still bears the name has to be put rather in context. Bearing in mind that armies lived off the land, that meant robbing, pillaging, and pretty much being released from much in the way of consequences for anything a soldier did even to the people he was supposedly defending. Things hadn’t improved much since, for example, the Fourth Crusade when in 1209 Constantinople suffered the loutish crusaders putting the Christian state (if they were lucky) to the sword. They melted down anything that looked both bronze, and art, because bronze was incredibly valuable and loot was as ever the upside of having someone just like you sticking a sharp stick in your face. Oh, Martinet also introduced the bayonet to the French army. In 1209 Constantinople was pretty much what happened if people today learned that if you ate books you’d shit out rare edition  iPads.
            So Martinet thought it a jolly good idea to at least start stopping the army from ,just plain destroying anything and everybody whilst nowhere near the battlefield, by beating them not to, but also by, y’know, giving them food. Doubtless a rare bastard, but you have to admit he made some sense. His own side killed him by accident at Nuisburg inevitably. Several times it seems. Just to make sure.
            And that’s why dogs can’t see rainbows.

Thursday 14 February 2013

The Glue That Holds The World Together

It’s a hell of a valentine’s day. Normally I don’t care for the naysayers that decry some measure of expense when really there no need for any at all (other than a bottle or two of wine and the ingredients for a meal when after all you have to eat anyway). But not only is it valentine’s day, but this is the first such day in thirty years I’ve actually been single! Golly, I was fourteen when last that was the case on this particular day and here I am with Gimme Shelter playing - and as it happens twice the normal cards since each of my daughters made one for me.
            Music don’t fail me now!
            It’s a quote from Empire Records that music is the glue that holds the world together, and I understand what is meant there. What else is it that has such a history of showing that we are more than mere beasts? Music is important, and I have so very little of it. I just didn’t have the cash for records when records were what there was, not to the extent that I’d would have liked to. I never really got on with CDs either, crappy little boxes without the love of the LP. I’ve got mates that have big record collections. I’ve got one that owns all the records, all of them, and yet will always have all the others still to find. I miss gigs, and saying this I’m not a proper music fan, not really. Not enough. I’m not sure I really managed to look out the window much since we stopped having lots of tapes. I liked tapes. They were killing music you know, so it’s probably my own fault.
            Yet I was lucky in music, because I was born at exactly the right time.
            You probably weren’t; sorry about that.
            I did not know this when I was a teenager, because when I was a teenager music was shit. That’s a technical phrase, use it and you’ll look like you know of what you speak. My teens were almost exactly, precisely, the 80s. And though I’ve met people of my generation who look back on the music of the 80s with fond memories they are, and still are, wrong. I spent my teens as far as music was concerned in the 70s, and some of the 60s. Inevitably first with rock, some prog, and then into punk. It was all over before I even got to listen to it. I’m still astonished that my parents who were young enough to have been to go and see Led Zep without looking too silly never did.
            And why is this? How can I make such a claim?
            Because right in the early 90s I was in my early twenties.  Right when I was young, and slim, and roguishly good looking music got fucking good. That’s also a technical phrase. Stop me if I’m getting a bit complex. Bands that came up through the 80s such as Chumbas, NMA, and the Poppies eased into everything else that happened. All at the same time there was the crusty boom with the likes of the Levellers. RDF would play the local pubs. Poppies toured a lot, there was Senser and Back To The Planet playing in any park that stood still long enough. And I’m not just talking about the scruffy scene. There were the Stone Roses. the Charlatans, the Happy Mondays. There was grunge, with Pearl Jam and Faith No More. Even pop music was good, pop music was Republika, Elastica, Blur and Oasis, the KLF. These and so many more, an embarrassment of riches after years of it looking like the guitar had been replaced for ever by the synth. There were festivals, all the time. There was acid house and the rave culture and for a time everyone, but everyone had an in somewhere, and that somewhere once you werethere , whichever way you looked, the music was just fine thank you. And your early twenties is the best age to love it all. Not just that bit too old to really think yourself a bit silly, nor too young to worry and not be confident enough to get out there and drown in it.
            There was also Pulp, and there was also Suede. And Suede I didn’t like. Everyone else was bouncy and energised whilst Suede dribbled on for those that surrounded by all the good things in life wanted to wallow in their own remorseless belly buttons. Pulp were just clever, and we all one day sort of confessed we liked Pulp daring others to say otherwise, only to find that everyone sort of sneakily did too.
            But what you probably don’t want to do, if say you’re at a friend’s exhibition around that time and have made a firm attack on all the free beer, is to wander up to Brett Anderson of Suede and tell him exactly why he is just plain letting the side down compared to everyone else. Or you can, but probably not like me then realise about an hour later that the person you had buttonholed was actually Jarvis Cocker.
            Yeah, don’t do that.
            If you do that it all gets taken away from you. You get boy bands instead.
            So sorry, that was probably my fault...

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Book Group

It was my book group last night.
            Whilst we discussed many things then obviously we also discussed the book of the moment, and the book this time was Antony Horowitz’s House of Silk, the new Sherlock Holmes novel. And jolly good it is too. Moriarty didn’t need to make a cameo to my mind, but given the story Mycroft rightly did. And that was the only disturbance since everyone else enjoyed it too. This left little to pick apart in the end so for a couple of hours and in the delightful local bookshop we discussed books more generally, reading, and the happiness of words and it was just spiffing to be chatting to bright, erudite adults. The previous time I went it was for Eowyn Ivey’s Snow Child which most liked, but which I thought was dreadful. On that occasion the book was discussed further – but that’s rather the point since we read what we might not have otherwise. Reading The Snow Child though is a Sunday I’ll never get back. Two book reviews, value for time today!
            I left to walk the long miles home in company with John le Mesurier who being god is said to be everywhere; though last night for an hour he was on the road between Cockermouth and Tolly Maw. The talking inevitably turned to the matter of the Pope. Something of which John was not so very able to enlighten me, ‘I’m CofE, my darling,’ he said. The CofE being a very secular sort of religion in which for the most part a lot of generally nice people think nice thoughts and take turns mowing the lawns of really old buildings, with women vicars, and inevitably likewise women bishops and arch-bishops in the not so very far future. Those that object are dying off, ten years or so? I had to confess to John that I wasn’t a regular church goer, but I was baptised and confirmed by his bishop in Winchester. John thought that lovely (as he does), but was at delicate pains to point out that it wasn’t necessary. For himself he rather loves Science – it’s all over his Facebook page.
            I also like science. I like all manner of scientific things. I also love the arts.
            ‘The two,’ John said as I turned off for the hill, ‘are not enemies.’
            ‘Some believe in absolutes...” I said as we lingered at the corner like two fourteen year olds on a date.
            ‘Science and the arts are on the same side,’ John assured me. ‘They both enlighten and enlarge us. They are both the enemies of ignorance and ugliness of thought, and mind, and dare I say it, spirit.’
            I’ve been thinking on that this morning; and John is entirely right. Love science, love the arts, tut at ignorance.  And this is the word of the lord, le Mesurier. Next month at the book group we’re doing The Alchemist, and they want suggestions for June onwards. I’m thinking something delicious and incomprehensible from the Jerry Cornelius quartet. That’ll lead to a lively discussion.
            ‘Is that wise,’ I can hear John say harking to Dad’s Army.
            It is, I’m not Mainwaring.
            And nor should any of us be.

Sunday 10 February 2013

The Return Of The King (Of England)

Across the internet and a wealth of jokes regarding Richard III have been dug and freely spread about the internet, many of which have even cited source. Famous for being the ancestor of Peter Cook in Blackadder Richard the not-actually-deformed was the last Plantagenet monarch of England. The Plantagenets have a rough ride in popular history, typically being represented by John as the foil for whichever Robin Hood is currently doing the rounds. Or for Richard the brave and bold fellow who once popped into England during his reign for a change of armoured trousers before later sending a note to mortgage everyone in order to secure his release from that popular Middle Age method of income and awkward guests that was the hostage taking.
            But these were proper English monarchs we might be told, unlike the current lot who are German.
            So where did it all go foreign?
            Somewhere before the fall of this article. I’ve already gone into the jolly pot of nationality that was Hastings elsewhere, and there’s a lot to be had from the Houses of Wessex and Knytlinga who before that took their turns every other week based upon who had the best beard or was shagging the prettiest Scandinavian (tricky, because everyone from Norway and Sweden are by law pretty).
            So we know then that William took the throne, killing anyone that said otherwise, including absolutely everyone in the north (he was having a hard enough time understanding the language anyway without Cheryl Cole appearing in Auf Wiedersehen Pet). William so-not French he would have killed anyone for calling him a Frank - unless it was to stick another crown on his head - still saw Stephen of Blois marry into the line, marking the way then for Matilda (A Norman-Scot) to fight a jolly civil war over who it was got to be the most English. Which at length saw the galloping Plantagenets, who were also not French in that they owned, lost, and fought over much of what is now France being Aquitonian. Aquitonia being neither English nor French, but a pre-historical land roamed by Conan and usually bag-full of snake cults. So the snake-cultists had a decent stab at things, despite being lions, or Sean Connery, though Louis VIII of actual-France did rule a lot of England for two years. Mostly what the Plantagenets had was John of Gaunt who - despite being a third son also made a lot children through whom for a long time everyone claimed the throne. York and Lancaster were Plantagenet Houses, the last also a bomber, but not Bomber from Auf Wiedersehen Pet. They ended up fighting over the throne, since England was really big on civil war as it was closer than France, when they weren’t fighting France; which was always.
            At last at Bosworth then Peter Cook was killed quietly and buried under a car park. The House of Lancaster won, though they were now the Tudors; who were Welsh.
            We’re probably on more familiar ground here.
            Awful, terrible Henry VIII having married his late brother’s Spanish wife then did so a few more times. Despite this there was the Welsh-Spanish Mary, Edward who being pretty English was sickly and died, and Elizabeth who looked nothing like Cate Blantchett despite being a Boleyn (and therefore supposedly from a line of utter foxes). Though to be fair Anne wished she were French, unlike her daughter Elizabeth who was an orc and died without issue because at the time the regal English accent was somewhere between Yosemite Sam and Bristol, like Bomber in Auf Widersehen Pet (though he was a Brummie).
            So the Stuarts took over, who were Scots, until Cromwell decided otherwise after the English indulged once again in a few of their favourite civil wars. Cromwell being English was also of Welsh stock (who had had enough of the Scots ruling the English). When Cromwell did everyone a favour by dying his son Tumbledown Dick managed a brief spurt before the Stuarts came back after being French for a bit, and bringing some French back with them in the shape of most of the inlaws. This lasted about as long as it took for the Dutch to invade, overthrowing the Danish-Scots-French in another civil war that lasted about as long as it took to take the bus from Torbay.
            Deciding that fighting the French and having children was so very-last epoch that left Anne,  a returned Stuart of Scotland (which no longer counted as the English decided that Scotland was England anyway). She lasted long enough to die without a proper heir and so the throne passed to Hanover, in Saxony, because the Germans hadn’t had a punt yet. Bismarck not having yet decided that Germany would be a united, single nation called Prussia this was all well and good and so lots of Georges came and went until we came to Victoria, who married Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, another Saxon, which would have doubtless pissed off William the Conqueror who had killed so many Saxons, especially the ones that were Danish.
            Of course this all went swimmingly for the Germans until Germany pissed off England by going to more-war with France. The Prussians had already done this previously, but now they were Germany they were very definitely overstepping the mark since England had called dibs on fighting France.
            So the monarchy changed their name to Windsor. Which is probably apt since Anne Hyde (wife of James II) came from Windsor and was about the closest to being English as had been seen since... ever.

Thursday 7 February 2013

The Devil's In The Ruins

‘Ain’t the war nearly over?’ said Alf Bittersweet.
            ‘I don’t think they care,’ said Peregrine. He chose for them from his hamper a paper packet of water biscuits, tinned meat and a small round of cheese. These he laid out on the table between them before fetching out a spirit burner and a small nest of pans. With lard from a tobacco tin there was soon the smell of the jellied meat frying to which Peregrine, still speaking as he cooked, added anchovies from a glass jar and a dash of sauce from a bottle whose contents he would only describe as one of his little secrets. Soon and the meat was served on a tin plate for which he apologised to Alf, who accepted the offer gratefully. Peregrine repeated the process once more and when both had eaten the hot he insisted that Alf should start on the cold.
            Across the river and from a warehouse flame blew out from the uppermost doors, the derrick set there catching too. The chuck-chuck-chuck of a light machine gun could be heard nearby. A gramophone played something French that Alf did not recognise. Below them in the street a woman wailed. There came a faint bang and the chuck-chuck-chuck stopped.         
There came such a detonation then that the wall nearest them shook. A fine silt of new dust drifted down. Peregrine ignored it, his hair now the colour of brick. Only when he picked up a mug did he frown. He looked surprised to see it dirty. He said, ‘Alfred has the wine suffered?’
It seemed not and on being asked Alf opened it to pour a cup for them both. It was he was told a very inferior year, and hardly worth leaving to breath.
‘Those militias that liked the pretence to being soldiers might have pulled back, and from what you say the dashing young things with royalty in their eyes have sailed away in stout galleons. I believe I should join them.’
            ‘Please, lather me a little. It is quite bad enough that a war poet is expected by fate and audience both to venture into such bloody valleys, without where one brings a little colour having it ruined by stark and crude reportage.’
            ‘Do they pay you by the word?’
            ‘I will be surprised if ever they will pay me at all. On the besides of which, money is so vulgar. This is why I insist on being paid in guineas, the principle you understand as I have earlier already found for myself pearls and certain pieces of jewellery. Hidden of course, and not here.’
            ‘I don’t think I’ve met a poet before,’ said Alf. Not liking the wine he set his mug close to the edge of the table.
            ‘Poet is what I am, but rarely what I do. What others would have me do. I shall miss,’ he said, gesturing, ‘all this. Might I ask if you are a very bad man?’
            The sharp little jump in the conversation did not take Alf by surprise. He had in any case only been half listening. This was all very nice but Peregrine had the same veneer of respectable oddity as had Lord Rockingham. There had probably been classes on it at Harrow. Alf missed London, or at least the more homely parts of it where a man might get badly beaten, occasionally killed but almost never served up wittily in a peppercorn sauce - but in all events not engaged first in conversation. He could not decide if this poet’s insanity (for clearly that was the case) leant itself to murder but Newcastle was hardly the place anyone visited purely to discuss what god wanted them to do next. Or maybe it was; Alf did not know. So he nodded because either it would act to warn the poet, or if it meant he was to be punished then at least it would be then sooner rather than later and so therefore avoid the almost inevitable recital. Alf had not met many poets but they seemed to be a breed not reluctant to give a reading. He said, ‘I’m bloody awful.’
            ‘I also.’
            ‘Right you are, sweetie.’
            ‘I have overseen murder. I have betrayed my fellow man. I stood by whilst horror was done in the name of a king that was shortly thereafter punished, and rightly so. I am without the ability to change what I have done, and without the will to enact penance for it. As one very bad man to another do you think we can ever be forgiven for our sins?’
            ‘You don’t talk to god do you?’
            ‘Not habitually and certainly he has never, I would say, answered. Do you say then I should pray?’
            ‘Couldn’t say, see, I don’t really hold with sin. Was it round here then that you kept your library books out too long?’
            ‘It was Poland.’
            ‘Don’t be too hard on yourself. That’s a long way to go just to return a book.’  
            Peregrine half smiled and rested a finger on his forehead feeling a headache. He said, ‘Whilst a subordinate protested and even tried as I should to avert the crime I did nothing, allowing politics and my orders to prevent me from doing as I should. Is it not better that we try and fail to fight that which is wrong than to do nothing and allow it? Did not Edmund Burke not famously say that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing?’
            ‘Bollocks,’ said Alf. Peregrine, who perhaps moved in different circles to Alf, made to protest when he had been expecting some maudlin sense of shared futility. Alf who had done what some would call evil was pretty sure that still he would have done it whether someone had told him not to or otherwise. Importantly, and who was anyone to say they were good? How many bands of bastards did what they did and claimed to be right? How many had the honesty to know they were bad, that they did what they did and what some would say was evil? Alf said so adding, ‘I’m not saying there ain’t bad people that do very bad things, because they’re people, and people by nature are bastards. If you want to be forgiven why don’t you piss off back to Poland and do something about what you think you did?’
            ‘Ah, but what can one man do?’
            ‘I couldn’t say. Me, I’m off. Lovely grub, ta.’

Monday 4 February 2013

Lime Sorbet Garibaldi

It’s easy to believe I’m caught in limbo, or the Mittlemarch, or some place in between. Tolly Maw is remote. I think that perhaps half the reason I walk to and from town is to make sure it is still there, though the six miles have certainly worked wonders with the weight.
            ‘You might have something there,’ says Mme Roux. She’s helped herself to coffee in my absence. She’s welcome to it; I make a rotten cup of coffee. I try and judge where she’s been or where she’s going but it could be anywhere in the first half of the twentieth century. She adds, ‘So what do you remember?’
            ‘Very little,’ which is true, though I’ve pinned down that I’m new here by just a few months I cannot recall anything about that from which I came. Somewhere thinner certainly, as my morphic field asserts itself. I did not suit nearly fourteen stone and eleven is looking at me with bashful eyes, someone I used to know and was close to. I believe I’ve done the right thing having gone passed the pinch point. It’s pretty clear whom I had to save, or do well by. Also with me wanting to move there’s an agreement there for the relative future – things align. For now we decorate and buy furniture as can be agreed between a nine year old and myself. I never knew Lime Sorbet was a colour – my living room walls stand as testament to that ignorance. There will be a Salisbury again (which is necessary as the odds are that that was from where I returned back to this year). Mme Roux might ignore paradox but I’m as neatly made in my manner as I am unruly in appearance; she, quite the opposite. I say, ‘What I need is adult conversation. I say I’m in limbo not just because of the situation, figuratively, but because I am so far removed from everyone. I’ve started to change that, redressing what my former-me sank into. Volunteer work again, book group and similar.’
            ‘It’s the only way.’
            ‘And you, where are off to?’
            The Spanish Civil War, again. I leave it at that since there’s a fair chance we’ll quarrel as to sides. If I’d been born fifty years earlier I’d never have seen a year beyond twenty. Knowing myself then I’d have been on the first boat with the Internationals, and possibly unique amongst many men I am aware enough to know that I would have made a terrible soldier. There will always be enough young men never to have experienced... and so the phrase goes on.
            Mme Roux more sensitive than I am used to changes the subject. She says, ‘You’ve noticed sympathies haven’t you? You must have done to remember how you’ve slipped back. That’s quite rare I can tell you. You usually don’t. That’s why it was a pinch point.’
            I agree that I have. Oh, I know we see what we look for in such cases. But we also ignore them if we over rationalise. Connections - sympathies rather it seems is the correct phrase. I move in stages, ages, phases, what have you. Certain events replay so I know what to expect and know certain things to avoid.
            ‘Phone someone?’
            ‘Me? Do you know the last time I phoned anyone just for a chat?’
            ‘2003,’ she shows me the date in her little leather book.
            ‘That sounds about right. I don’t know. It just seems so intrusive.’
            ‘You never used to,’ she waves away my protest, ‘because seeing that person later you’d want to swap news then. For the now you find yourself stranded in 2013, literally miles from anywhere and anyone. This is apposite. You are changing the house to clean it of the old, to remake it as somewhere different. As you change and spruce up each room you are purging yourself of what took place there. A clean canvass. You always do something by doing something. You fidgit, you write, you draw, you make, you create. You don’t muse or mutter inside your head.’
            ‘I do a bit,’ I protest.
            ‘And yet here we are. With you working something out over the second cup of tea of the day, the children just dropped off at school and you a few hours into work already. People want to read about silly things, made up things; a bit more of a given story, or interesting crap about hidden things.’
            ‘Well this is all made up isn’t it?’ I wave at her.
            ‘Keep saying that and some of them will even believe it. You’re looking younger, it suits you. Keep that in mind.’
            The last four words have a stress put to them I do not miss. And she’s nicked all my garibaldi biscuits.