Under The Tree Of Life


I’ve read the words of men, or listened to their thoughts expressed as music. The men who walked where knowledge grows. Who’ve passed beneath the tree of wisdom and had it’s shadow grant them peace: briefly it might be. Look in their eyes and  you will find an element of eternity. You may discover in their company that the present is infinite, and events the actors which provide a change of scenery. In life there are many theories but few real explanations. With time I understood that we will know more than we can say, and understand beyond our powers of expression.

Sometimes on a crowded street or in a café, half hid from view, I might a man or women see, and tell myself, “They’ve been there, at the borders between eternity and the commonplace. Compassion is their constancy, wrapped in the scarf of hard experience. Hopeless though the venture is, they watch the pageant of our passing lives and see it stained by human greed,  recognising, all the while, that knowledge of the timeless kind is often touched by melancholy.”

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A Brush With Privilege


As a young man, sometime before the war, I lived in a world “Of certain certainties” as some poet may have said: I’ve never been of the bookish persuasion but you get my drift. We dressed for dinner, played cricket, gentlemen versus players, every August on the green, and obeyed conventions in public as if conformity were as natural as breathing. My private thoughts were of a different colour, but when has that not been true. After all, as another poet possibly remarked, “Manners the wild savage doth contain” and ain’t that the truth by God.

Anyway,  in those times I, unmarried and a recent graduate from Cambridge visited my aunt in Bosham and found myself co-opted onto the cricket team, some young notable having fallen ill, and played, the truth bids me to admit, with some distinction. A  charming girl, with that unassuming charisma it is hard to ignore, approached me after the match and remarked on my bowling in a manner which invited further conversation.

Her name was Araminta I discovered, and she was the younger daughter of a noted family. Her manner was bright, engaging and possibly beguiling and I wondered how I could extend our acquaintanceship to later in the evening when I knew a small number of the local “worthies,” among others, would be gathering at my aunt’s house for “Drinks” which in those days was a way of inviting people to your home without the bother of preparing a meal.

My aunt who had little of note about her, apart from having attended the funeral of Queen Victoria, an incident which frequently drifted into her conversation, did what many in declining circumstances do;  stick rigidly to convention, albeit on a reduced scale, so that offering “Drinks” instead of a meal was her way of clinging to gentrified circles without, in her case, incurring the expense of providing full-blown hospitality.

Emboldened by Araminta’s  friendliness and forward manner, I asked her if she was “Coming up later” for drinks at my aunt’s, whose name I told her, was Mrs Derringer. Her  face stiffened very subtly, in the way only those who have been repeatedly slighted on social grounds would notice, and she said “Sadly I have other plans” before drifting off to talk to another young man I did not know but who had played in the same team as I.

She was a dazzling beauty who added a brief glamour on my life but marked with social caution who, I later discovered, went on to marry a senior civil servant some years older than herself  who “worked tirelessly,” at the Home Office during the war. Later, I was employed by an engineering business in an undistinguished capacity thus emphasising, much to my aunt’s dismay, how far we had drifted from the county set.

I married a woman who grew fond of me but viewed me without magic in her eyes. As for Araminta, I never met with her again, but my conversation with her was the closest I got to being part of a romance. The snub she gave still stings me to this day: the harshest truths, it seems, are often implied rather than stated.

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An Unlamented Passing


“Beauty,” my wife believes “Lies just beyond the next alteration to her wardrobe or figure.” Her search for the perfect husband stopped with me some years ago, and that jaundiced look around her eyes suggests that she still blames herself for ordering from the menu of life without fully weighing up the choices. I suppose it’s fair to say she is not alone with that feeling.

Anyway, I’m failing to get to the point, if I can remember what it is: I know it centres on memories of my old friend Charlie who did the “Mystic Shuffle” last month and who enjoyed the send-off a man of his character and social standing deserved I’m afraid; no one turned up for the service apart from myself and some guy who was seeking shelter from the rain. My good lady refused to attend, citing a backlog of ironing, but I suspect she did not wish to be seen in the company of morally worthless individuals, including her husband, whether in or outside the box. ( No thinking required inside the box apparently, but that’s another topic: I must not get distracted. )

Thinking outside the box is my forte, My “Specialité de Maison,” which actually means I often lose the thread of my conversations, wardrobe or anything else which is not firmly attached to my person. Still, where was I. Oh yes.

Charlie, God bless him, because who else would, was a man of colourful character whose egalitarian approach to life was born out by the fact that he managed to offend the vast majority of people he met without regard to race, sex, age, height or fashion sense. However, he had two friends, myself and Sid, (Who missed the funeral because he forgot to use the stairs when going down to the cellar recently, and broke his leg. )  We used to hang around him like those small fish who sit on the backs of sharks enjoying the odd morsel which escapes their host’s attention.

In our cases it was Charlie’s social faux pas which added spice to our day, and I will miss the drive and sense of purpose he brought to achieving social ruin before his demise. The lack of attendance at his funeral suggests he got as near as anyone can in achieving their life’s goals. Indeed, there was a certain edge to the vicar’s brief eulogy, possibly resulting from that time when our Charlie got a bit “fresh” with the vicar’s wife at some fund-raising gig to do with the church roof. On that note, I must say, the church remained dry throughout the service which just goes to show that not all these fund raising efforts are pointless, however poor the catering, but that’s another story.

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The Ultimate Sacrifice


He loved her in his non-committal way, and  every morning without fail, as he left their home, would say, “Enjoy your day,” and wave his hand to emphasis the  comment: he didn’t believe in altering routines! His wife, was more expressive than him, she thought, and with just that edge of manicured hysteria which markes out the gifted; setting her apart from those who munched their way blindly through life, like soulless cattle feeding from the trough.

“He doesn’t love me. Where’s the hunger ?” had been her silent cry to any lover, but still her husband cared for her in every material way and her wardrobes spoke of everything but neglect, yet she, clinging to her version of lament, was past noticing those truths wrapped in humdrum details.

Alfonso, her new landscape-painting tutor, whose class she joined two months or more ago, searched her soul with brazen soulful eyes, ravaging her composure with those words of his, dispelling the air of boredom which was her signature reaction to the world around her. “Love has no boundaries and no government, he said.  “It sweeps all before it. It sculpts us with its passion”

“Oh yes” said Karen, for that was her name, ” What depths this man from foreign climes possesses: he is both painter and a prophet!” and so when he suggested she displayed a raw if untrained genius with her brush , so he must coach her privately at his home, she agreed without hesitation and soon with a deft, dare we say practised, hand he removed her clothing proving, once again, that love hath no boundaries, and, he might have added, “Can be vague about morals.”

Two souls caught in a sublime light: fragile beings trapped in a dull suburban landscape: oh how they longed for a more glorious backdrop, with moonlight and the scent of  tropical flowers to celebrate their newly discovered urgency. Both of them lacked resources, which stifling fact threatened this sacred union where eternal joy and beauty both found sanctuary.

Lying awake in bed, some time after husband had drifted off to sleep, she said to herself, “No more of this” and determined to remove this dull pedantic obstacle from her path. “You are not worth another moment of my time” she mouthed silently to his inert figure as her  delicate heart filled with chilling purpose.

Promising herself to reveal her thoughts to no one but her lover, she investigated poisons which could kill, and yet leave no trace within a couple of hours. Impressively, she managed to obtain some after requesting help from her darling Alfonso, who had brought her to the gates of paradise and wished for nothing but her happiness, recognising their life and love together required a larger canvas and must not be denied by suburban morality. Her husband, they agreed. could show no greater appreciation for his wife’s frustrated genius than, leaving this earth, allowing her to make their dreams come true.

As it happened, her husband, dull beyond all powers of description, and without imagination she believed, tasted something odd in his first mouthful of soup and raising his eyes, saw the fearful unease she tried to hide as she stared back at him. Somehow he understood her plan, and sadness more than anger filled his heart. He loved her beyond definition but she sometimes could be a silly: now she clearly wanted free of him, if not his wealth.

With calm deliberation, he filled his spoon again, and looking back at her said, “Lovely as always.”  Her heart filled with remorse and something approaching self-knowledge, but as she opened her mouth to tell him “Stop,” he swallowed the noxious liquid. His dry acknowledgment reminding her of his unspoken gentle qualities, but now the die was cast, and his eyes, filled with uncritical love, dulled, then ceased to shine  as he tipped sideways off his chair leaving this life without unnecessary comment.

“Heart attack,” the doctor said. Truth be told his own mother was ill and he, distracted and not that fussed with this routine event, allowed Justice to sleep a while longer, so the romantic pair could set off on their enchanted voyage of self discovery. In time our heroine sat quietly on the beach while Alfonso, her new husband, reminded his growing class of ever younger ladies how “Love has no boundaries” and neither,  it seemed, did his appetites.

He seldom commented on practical or domestic matters but he might remark, if pressed, that he never let his wife do the cooking.

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Living In The Moment


Now working as a kitchen porter and being bullied by his boss,  an unloved harridan, herself at the wrong end of an unhappy marriage, and easing her sense of bitterness by taking out her life on others, he knew that to be long-suffering was his last resource if the rent was to be paid.

In former times, after university, when life seemed to offer him limitless choices, he had been careless of strategy and other tedious practicalities. He was more interested, always had been, in noting how buds formed so beautifully in early spring or dwelling on an act of kindness involving helping someone across the road or anything which did not incorporate a plan for his personal advancement, protection or forging a career: whatever that mysterious word might mean.

Talented without a doubt, yet his whole life had involved a debate within himself on the nature of consciousness, and he used his observations always and only to enrich that conversation. Girls had come and gone and each one had concluded soundlessly that he had no moving parts as far as ordinary life was concerned. In earlier times he had seemed impervious to changing circumstances till, after some decades, he found himself trapped in drudgery and living in cellars among the forgotten and far beneath the world of love and celebration.

“What do you want?” a friend had asked some decades before and, as always, he had stared into space before finally saying “Nothing,” which was fine and noble in its way but of no use to him or anyone else who thought to build a life with him. Now he smiled at his naiveté, or was it deluded arrogance, which presumed the gods would protect him with their magic and keep him from harm by others or himself.

Walking along Oxford Street in central London his attention had been caught by a huddle of people and some booms and microphones indicating a film or modelling shoot: on impulse he wandered over to see what was going on. As luck would have it, the crowd parted briefly enabling him to stand quite near the front and see an actress deep in conversation with a man: he recognised her immediately.

Sandra Cartwright had briefly been his date many years ago while still at university; a noted beauty and someone with the air of a promising future about her even then. “You see things others miss” she’d said to him, and smiled at him as one does if you feel truly recognised. He’d taken her out on his birthday during their second year, and shared his sense of celebration with her, as yet undimmed by facts. They’d kissed and enjoyed a brief intimacy but soon her natural canniness became evident and she gently removed herself from his embrace and then his life.

In later years as fame rewarded her carefully managed talents, he had followed her career in the newspapers, and had seen her in the company of acting royalty celebrating her sense of having “Arrived.” Now here she was, lost in her work and filming a scene, no doubt, to add to her successes. As if by instinct, feeling his gaze on her back she turned around to look and her eyes widened in surprise because she recognised him immediately. He raised an arm in friendly greeting and then walked on.

To impose himself on her at this late stage, given his circumstances, would be less than fair, he understood, and understanding was all he had to offer.

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It’s That Time Of Year Again!


Can I wish my readers a really lovely Christmas. I hope everything goes well, you are surrounded by those who love you and, if you are doing the cooking, a road drill is not required to gain access to the possible taste-heaven which lurks beneath the crusted surface of your dish, or would do if your catering is anything like mine.

Hopefully your 2019 will be full of good things and may include the odd post from yours truly. I always appreciate your support

Posted in Christmas and New Year, creative writing, Life, Peter Wells | Tagged , | 30 Comments

What Year Is It?


I woke up in another place, in another time, sitting in a chair and staring at a man I had never seen or met before. “ Hello” he said. “I wondered if you’d wake up here or just return to your time “present” or whatever you call it and think this was a dream”

His voice was calm and he seemed to find everything about the situation normal, though we both know “Normal” is an apparition served up to make life bearable.  

“Who are you?” I said, and he replied, “I’m your great-great grandfather’s older brother, so a connection of sorts before adding, almost as an afterthought, “Have you found love, I never did?” It seemed an odd question, but perhaps it was question he kept asking himself and anyone he met: I did not reply!

To explain, I am a man approaching his seventieth birthday, whose life has been a patchwork of misfortune and good luck, and here before me was a character claiming to be my relative: a man I’d never heard of in my entire life.

“You might recognise the chair you are sitting in” he said, and when I looked down at it, indeed I did. It was the armchair I had inherited from my father, killed when I was young and a sentimental resting place I relaxed in after working in my study.

I raise my eyes to his, no-doubt filled with unease, and he said, “There is something odd about that chair, clearly. Those in it are sometimes posted to another time although only to people who have previously owned it, as you do, if only for an interlude. Would you like a drink while you are here?”

“Yes please, a large whisky would be nice” I said and he smiled, “My favourite tipple too” Every life’s a battle between the lies and the unsettling truth or at least mine has been. How about you?

“ Do you speak  in anything apart from profundities” I asked. “I thought it was about surviving and supporting your family” but still I think I knew what he meant: I hope I did. I looked back at the wreckage which was my past and laughed as people do when they meet someone who  might understand them. He replied. “If you meet someone who has travelled through time you don’t tend to waste the moment discussing the weather, or at least I don’t” and he smiled.

“What year is it anyway?” I asked and he told me it was 1906. From my pocket I pulled out my mobile phone and said to him, “Do you know what this is?“ and he smiled and shook his head so I continued, “There are going to be many changes and events in your future but I will let you discover them for yourself. ” I did not want to alarm or depress him by saying his world was moving towards the numbing destruction which was the First World War!

Strangely, he seemed almost untroubled by my reticence and said, “The essentials are the same: you know everything changes but then nothing does”

As he said that I moved from one “present” to another or awake; you take your pick: the whole thing seemed a fantasy apart from the glass I was holding in my hand!

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