A Life And A Half


‘Mackers’ or Mackintosh for the pedantic was one of those fellows who “Packed it in:” four marriages, three of them producing a single child which Mackers called “Spreading the load:” more jobs and ‘vocations’ than you could cram into a career guidance manual and a couple of bankruptcies. “Other than that,” as he used to say, “It’s been pretty quiet”

All that being said, for the last fifteen of his seventy five years on this earth he had been married to Janice, and would often be seen walking with her down to the shops or quaffing ” a glass or two of something soothing” at some welcoming hostelry. Like a volcano once famed for the fury and unpredictability of its eruptions, people now looked at him and the increasingly benign landscape of his life and thought, “We might make plans” or even more unnerving, “Is Mackers becoming predictable in his old age”

Mackers was the master of the ambiguous phrase, touched by humour and a whiff of profundity pitched at greeting card level. “Today’s sorrow is at the heart of tomorrow’s celebration,” “There’s always an encore” and other gentle asides let you know that Mackers was “In the game,” although on what side remained in doubt,till now that is.

Floss, some late retiree, who’d run a gallery in the city and recently moved to this gentle sea side resort joined our chum one day, while he was out enjoying his routine morning coffee.  Always the conversationalist, she had asked him, “What brings you here?” and he had replied, “We are still finding out” which had amused her. A powerful flirt of disruptive determination she flashed him ‘ the eye’ and Macker’s long dormant taste for the reckless rose to accept the bait.

“Have you ever had an affair” she asked him some days later, noting the wedding ring, and he replied, “Only in secret” and she had smiled again. So it was that, within days, morning coffee stretched into a sea-side walk which did not involve much walking.

Janice, whose quiet acceptance of life’s vagaries made her a popular member of any clique where secrets and embarrassment were likely, or that is any grouping involving a significant number of the over fifties, soon picked up a new vigour in his stride

There was an honesty about Mackers dishonesty. A predictability around his recklessness, and Janice had seen every shade of his colourful character in all it’s glory and shame. Long before they wed, they had been childhood chums then friends and only the death of her beloved husband had freed her up to make something of the man who had injected drama into her life and been strangely faithful in an unpredictable way. To his small band of honorary ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’, not all of them now living, he had always been curiously loyal, and it was on this basis, and because he was crying and bruised from some fresh disaster at the time, that she had wed him and kept him safely from himself.

“Quiet is not a word you understand” said Janice when she confronted him: her look was not forgiving. Life, it seemed had granted ‘Mackers’ everything but common sense. “It was never a wife you wanted, more a mother,” then added with a twist of bitterness, “ You’ve destroyed so many lives: look at yourself”  and he replied, “ Starting with my own. “ Perhaps the wisest comment he’d ever made!

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My Father Was A Bank Manager


 

He worshipped steadiness in all things, closely followed by order and then routine: chosen dramas on television were watched to their conclusion whether they entertained him or not, and books finished for the same reason. Holidays involved a trip to Great Yarmouth, staying always at the same bed and breakfast and his cereal of choice, or should we say obligation, was porridge, eaten hot in the winter or cold in the summer, because avoiding the unexpected was fundamental to a decent life, regardless of the season.

As a boy I knew of nothing more than this, and took his punctilious approach to planning to be the norm. His wife, my mother, would raise her eyebrows every now and then but like many men of his era, he presumed always to take command within the home.

So it was until, aged fifteen when as I stood outside the living room I heard him tell my mother. “I’m leaving you! Beatrice, my other half will be around to collect me in fifteen minutes and I must just pack a few things before I leave. I’m sure we will sort out the other details at a later date.”

There was a brief pause and then I heard my mother shriek; a noise  “Not heard in polite society” as my father would say about anything he considered to be impulsive. “What are you doing, what are you doing? ” she asked between sobs and then “Don’t you love me!?” to which he replied

“That emotion has been absent from our lives for many years” before leaving the room, glancing at me without adding further comment, and walking up the stairs to the place I still thought of as my parent’s bedroom.

My mother followed him and then seeing me, their only child, outside the door and clearly lost in shock, paused to give me a hug and somehow we gave each other unsettled comfort.

The story behind his announcement emerged later and involved a bank clerk who he had hired at the branch he managed. Somehow she had, we discovered later, help him “Discover life again” which is a phrase I am sure you will note is full of nuances and thus very unlike my father.

My mother , a shy woman at the best of times retreated into herself and became something of a recluse. My father, ditched shortly afterwards by the girl he had briefly considered the love of his life, was later found to have concealed a theft from the bank in which his new darling was intimately involved: it might be that the discovery of her crime, and his subsequent concealment of it, stood at the heart of his new relationship: we will never know.

My father’s complicity was discovered by the auditor’s and he and his new lover both spent a short time in separate jails, oh the cruelty of the authorities, although it was later discovered that she already had a wealthy paramour some twenty-five years older than herself and had only taken up the banking adventure, and my father, with the full knowledge of her paramour,  as a way of injecting some excitement into her ordinary life.

He sought to reconcile with my mother once he was released, of course, but she was strangely resolute in her rejection. Perhaps the discovery that the diamond she had been so proud of was actually an artificial stone had damaged her faith in him.

Regardless, what I can tell you is five years later, when I was a student at the local university, I encouraged her to join a book club I frequented and, along with connecting with some well regarded texts such as War and Peace” and “Living Life Backwards,” she met Derek, shy to a fault, but strangely determined once his interest was aroused and they are getting married on Wednesday! Perhaps leaving her was the kindest thing my father ever did !

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A Matter Of Perspective


Each day he rose from bed at six, and made them both a cup of tea, “It’s looking cold” he might remark, or “Getting light out there I see.” He was a man of fixed routine, who liked to live predictably and somewhere far beyond his gaze stood the mighty Pyramids, memorials from a distant time: homes to pharaohs long since dead, yet provisioned for eternity.

Each weekday, as he had for years, he sat behind his office desk, working on electoral roles at the town hall office near his home, watching the names come and go, marking out the births and deaths and talked about the voting age, and far beyond this cloistered space, a river flowed inscrutable between its steep and rocky banks: becoming the Niagara Falls,witnessed by an awestruck crowd who stood and ate their sandwiches,

Every year it was the same; he planted out his vegetables, potatoes furthest from the lawn and up against the garden fence, a decent crop of runner beans. A shadow crossed the window frame, his wife was always at her chores and far away, beyond his view, a mighty iceberg broke away and started slowly on its voyage, populated by some birds, and even by a polar bear, watched from a passing ship by  tourists gathered on the deck, wondering at its growling might.

On Sunday’s they might take a walk, depending on the time of year; nodding at familiar sights, or share a coffee with some friends and talk with them on this and that: exchange the news that neighbours share and far away, beyond their sight, the people of the Himalayas, respectful of life’s mysteries and shielded from the bitter cold, could raise their eyes in quiet respect and trace the mountains, carved by ice and forces from the earth below.

And in the evening, home at last, sitting together at their meal  she might raise her eyes to him, and in their depths, for all to see, was all the  wonder of his life: that she with gentle empathy, soft as the light from shining stars, might share with him her purest gift; a love of rare simplicity.

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A Brief Introduction


All you said was “Hello” and I was lost, unable to reply: you were the young wife of a local and rather older dignitary and me a junior staff member of the charity where your husband, the patron, had arrived to share the glories of his documented kindness. He was the man of the hour: a celebrated figure and pleased to be so. You his gentle wife, and “gentle” is the only word that comes to mind when I think of you, touched my heart as you walked past my life. 

We were both prisoners of expectations formed by the world around us, fulfilling duties without regard to harboured dreams: you had that “ Trapped” quality people radiate when they become the sum of other’s expectations. I had as well,or at least I think so.

Perhaps I was wrong, but I sensed a recognition not felt by me in recent adulthood. I will move on through life, filling the roles I can afford to fill, without influence apart from the ability to please but in that moment I did not feel alone. 

I hug this thought repeatedly , and your kindness is like the autumn sun. The beauty of a life can remain unspoken, dreams kept secret, but for that fragmentary moment, to a man living on the edge of solitude, you brought a sense of harmony.

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Bottled Emotions


“Threadbare” Jo was not a man rich in material or emotional blessings but a surprise win backing Random Crosswords to win in the 3:30  at Chepstow gave him “Money to burn,”and now he was determined to enjoy himself. As a rule men did not walk up to him in the street and say, “I wish I was you” or girls murmur “Oh to lie in your stinking, unwashed arms in some public park, and watch the sun setting,” but this was his lucky day

 Threadbare, now flush with funds and more formally known as  Joseph Leek, walked into “The Shop of Love” to see, emotionally at least, if he could re-equip his circumstances and experience a moment of living in the promised land.

This was no sleazy joint where women leaving the gentle slopes of youth might squeeze one out last ingénue pose for the camera, or men who avoided mirrors, with more desire than youth cause unsettled comment when they entered the premises. No, this was a shop offering the ultimate in  emotional experience, if only for a while or possibly a moment , captured in a corked bottle which could be opened and enjoyed within the privacy of your own home. Every hue and shade of feeling, from joy through to despair, ( a surprisingly good seller), was on offer.

Samual Sackly, who liked to weep while others smiled, was found recently, walking inconsolably through the gardens of an historic home  crying, as he held a tender flower in his hand, saying, “They will die. You will die. All of them will die” which was true, but not for several months given it was early Spring, after he purchased a deliciously soul-bleaching bottle of “Melancholia” to heighten the experience before he set off on his afternoon ramble.

 Joseph Leek just wanted “Love:” The nice old fashioned sort which we enjoyed before sensibility barged into the frame and made strong men weep just by looking at a cloud-tipped view while music soaked them with a sense of loss. “I’m after Love” said “Threadbare” and the attendant nodded sympathetically. He saw every kind of ill-fitting decision, or no decisions at all, walk through the door. Here, as I said, they did not offer the physical experience of being loved, but just the essence of it, in every shade and strength of expression, so you could return home, make an egg sandwich and, quite literally, take the cork out of the bottle.

Now at last, as the yolk spilled down his cheek in the splendid isolation afforded by worn-out curtains and the lack of a phone, his emotion of choice flooded the room, bathing him in sweet recognition until, sated by an unaccustomed sense of acceptance and celebration, he  slumped down on his bed and recalled those days when people cared and loved without recourse to manuals or instructions: that lost era before works like, “How To Live The Natural Way,” were to be found in the homes of gym-hardened aesthetes everywhere.

 

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Life Without Boundaries


He’d lived a different life to mine; climbing mountains I had never heard of but his eyes lit up with understanding when I spoke. You do not have to be young to be lost, and living a life marked by disapproval was a fate we both shared. I was twenty four and he “just over seventy” as he’d said for several years.

He was difficult by all accounts, and refusing to be wrapped in his memorial: we shared an aversion to the commonplace which is arrogant I know. By normal standards his morals were doubtful, his career patchy, yet he remained exuberant about life and a celebrator of the smallest episode.

He was there by force of circumstances and I, because I lacked direction, but our bond was to “Enjoy the moment and let the morrow damn you if it can. “

“Drink and smoke forever, and dance till your legs betray you, and never let the buggers see you beg for a reprieve.” Such was his advice to me, barely comprehensible, but his defiance of the fates was born on every breath. His eyes were full of mischief and his dreams clearly undisciplined: he knew the urgency of wanting “a good night out.” His mind was free to travel, his memories were infinite and in our wish to be “free of it,” we shared a common bond.

“Take me away with you. Let me see the moors once more, sit in a bar and share a smoke with friends” he pleaded, and so one night I stole him from the home, sneaking him out during a shift change, and helping him into my wreck of a car, “Nearly as old as me” he said, smiling at the thought.

For one night only, we sat and smoked and drank where no one would know us, as if we’d discovered home. I was not and never have been, “Romantically gifted” but he told me, “If you find a woman who’ll love you, discover her every day: eighteen or eighty, or somewhere in between, will not matter in the slightest: their eyes will be the pool in which you swim and their happiness the point of every day, and as he said it, I felt him shut down for a moment.

His Annie was sixty-nine when she died, he told me, and chided him every day for all that she celebrated him, and in the central well of values he loved her without question missing her presence always. “She was a corker” he said holding up her photograph, taken on their fortieth wedding and just before she died; and she was smiling up at him and her look was saying, “What will I do with you?” but she’d made an odd man happy which is a hard thing to do.

I got sacked the next day and was barred from seeing him because common sense will stand no reckless acts, but I will raise a glass to him forever: the boldest man I know.

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My Moment Of Fame


Looking back it was like my moment in the limelight;  my “Heyday,” as I like to call it; marking my charge toward hoped for fame and glory with a photograph or two: me, Sarah, Sir Nigel as he became, and the rest, sitting like victors round some table in Windsor with a bottle of wine or six, careless of the world around us.

I was there by default; the inexplicable choice of Nigel’s sister as her boyfriend, smiling out of the photograph as if I were a chosen member of the company: I was not. Nigel and the rest, friends from school, had gathered round for a picture and I just happened to be there, but I don’t emphasise that bit. 

His sister, Sarah, dropped me soon afterwards, but I still treasure the photograph as if I were a central member of the company: I show it to whoever might be interested and some that clearly  are not. “There’s me with Sir Nigel Horrocks, I was dating his sister at the time,” I say, and then I pause as if I might be asked a question or two but seldom am: to be honest everyone has heard the story many times, and the sight of that photograph acts like a fire alarm, emptying the space around me of any company.

I work in some obscurity deep within the corporate jungle: dreams of glory are  strongly muted but I still can’t resist pointing out my brush with fame. Balding I may be, and my family are tired beyond weariness of the whole anecdote, but I still like to share my “Moment with the famous.” 

Apart from Sir Nigel and his glamorous entourage, I only have one other interest, excluding the wife and my two adult daughters of course, and that is model railways. Like other nutters, similarly engrossed, I have a train line set up in my attic, complete with two stations, fields, and some model sheep. I read about steam engines a lot and write articles for “Model Railway Layout Quarterly.” who’s editor I know quite well: a vicar by trade but he keeps that to himself in railway circles. 

It’s been my hobby for years, learnt off my favourite uncle, long since dead, who, in his time, bored all around him except me. I seem to have inherited his social profile but that is life or mine at least. In truth that’s why Sarah, Nigel’s sister, ended our romance: I like to call it that, but not when the wife’s around: Sarah was into jazz and painting and model railways didn’t light her fire. 

“I sort of love you Wayne” she said to me, “But you’re so boring:  I’ve had enough” which is the last thing she said to me. No one in her group seemed sad at our parting and I never heard another word from any of them.

The reason I’m telling you this is last Saturday, as I was in the hallway with the wife, the post dropped through the door, and one of the envelopes was blue in colour, handwritten and addressed to me. I could see my wife was curious, as was I, so I opened it and we both read the following lines,

Lovely Wayne,

I traced you through that railway magazine and the editor kindly gave me your address. Of all the men I’ve known, you are the nicest and most special, and I realise how stupid I was to let you go. You are kind and I didn’t know how rare that was back then. Nigel is having his sixtieth at the Grosvenor Hotel and I want you to come to it. It would be lovely to spend some time with you again.

Love Sarah xxx

I looked up at my wife to see what she made of it and I can’t say she was looking pleased. “You’re too busy for that” was all she said, and that’s the nearest to jealous I’ve ever seen her. “Best let sleeping dogs lie, especially the wife” some wise man said, and I’m sure he’s right, but perhaps a quick word back to say hello won’t do us any harm. What do you think?

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