The Wedding Dance

Our first dance together was at ages five and six. The picture is in an album at my mother’s. We, Clara and I, met at junior school and shared the same senior school.Through planning we managed to go to the same university. She was the sensible one, the careful one: the girl who chided me on my excesses.  Even when we were very young, I behaved as I wanted to, but moderated always by her caring stability and common sense.

She was unadventurous, and crippled by social caution and the opinions of others, and I was always telling her to breath the air and live a little, and on some level we irritated each other or stimulated each other: it was  hard to decide which, but we certainly trusted each other.  She would scold me, always, and keep my behaviour somewhere near the acceptable and I would listen to her, if no one else.

She had a couple of boyfriends of the boring kind and I, of course, was drinking from the trough of experience. In our early mid-teen years she might smile at me in a goofy way and I got the unsettling impression she sought more from me than friendship, but I was hooked on adventure and not ready to be harnessed: the moment passed. She had too much common sense to chase a lost cause and that is what I gradually became.

Over time at university I found myself behaving ever more recklessly in the hope of getting a reaction  but somehow she had let go the reins. She was always warm, and personal, but in some subtle way she no longer spoke our private language, and then there was Nigel.

Somewhere in our second year his name appeared in her conversation, and then  he was present at our meetings. Nothing was said but I was no longer her first concern. Her loyalties had shifted.  Had I missed the point?  Love had waved at me but I did not feel it’s warmth.  “If you are not willing to open yourself up, be prepared to live a life of self reliance,”  I told myself.

At her wedding to the calm and collected Nigel, with whom a house had already been purchased, I sat half way down the church and somewhere near the aisle. I was gripped by a sense of loss and sadness which was never given voice: pride saw to that, because I had always taken the role of the man with nothing to lose, and I was a prisoner of that image.

Time moved on and I saw her less and less frequently. There is a suspicion in my mind that Nigel viewed me with caution, who can say, but in time, as an antidote to drifting and lost opportunities, I became engaged to a girl named Sarah, whose needs were easy to read. I credited her with keeping me just this side of madness, until a wedding seemed the inescapable conclusion to our courtship.

At the reception, where I smiled for the camera’s, and danced with my new bride to John Lennon’s “Woman,” those who knew me looked on at the wild man brought to safety with some relief. By accident, I met with Clara in a passage by the hallway. It was our first moment alone in some years, and she reached up and touched my arm and told me, “It’s so lovely to see you happy.”  Emotion came from somewhere in the shadows  and I lost myself ” But she isn’t you Clara” I said and bowed my head. There was a sense of wrenching and she moved away. When I looked back, her eyes told me I had betrayed her way back then, and I knew I had.

Later that night, in our sumptuous wedding suite, paid for by her well to do father,  my new bride looked up and said, “You make me so happy” and I smiled back at her as a happy man might do , because, for a directionless adventurer, acting is the only sure way of surviving.

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Life Outside The Boundry

I’d entered the winner’s circle: wealth, travel and: ( check,check,check. ) women:  mine and any one else’s I could charm. I could walk into any restaurant and they would say, “On us sir” and I would nod, because modesty is part of the package. I was a known speaker, whose financial visions had been aired on television. I had children by more than two women, all of them cherished and nurtured because that’s what civilised people do. My money was my own to spend in my lifetime, but my children could inherit my insights to light their future, and trust in their own abilities.

All, well and good. Pat on the back for the big man, and mine’s a large one. Oh yes, I could  ” Hang out”  with the crowd and sniff a line of something: drink without regard to safety and spread the word that life’s a party once you find the invitation. Sometimes I might go “missing after action” and wander the streets recalling fragments of my childhood.

I am the product of Manchester parents, a cleaner and a decorator, later divorced. My childhood was scrapped together in those fleeting moments when my father was sober enough to remember he had a home, and my mother was not accepting her compensations from passing strangers. Me and my older sister used to sit up in the attic pretending we had parents, and that somewhere just out of sight, there really was a field of green.

My sister is my only friend: my constancy. She lives a quiet life married  to a man of routine and then there is me. I have been that watchful, wild man, who knows more than he should and takes more than is his, because we are all bandits are we not: some braver than others?  I walk through a landscape of my own making and leave others to talk of world peace and comfort themselves with new furnishings, until now that is.

Out late at night, and slightly drunk, I met a lady sitting on a step, and of similar mind to mine, staring up at what London street lights allow us to enjoy of the night sky. She looked at me and her face filled with recognition.  “Your that famous fucker” she said and I nodded as modestly as drunks  can do. Just as I was about to accept her admiration she followed up with “You’re full of shit, and the sad thing is you know it.”

Truth is seldom comfortable  and often arrives unexpectedly so I was silent and then I asked her “What her grief was?” and she introduced me to her life. She had been a photographer in Afghanistan, recording the pain and trauma of a besieged population. She had travelled across the Arctic, and sat in deserts in India swapping languages. ” And as for you, ” she said, ” You made money and used it to avoid criticism: the cowards victory. Do something better with yourself.”   I offered to help her, of course, because that’s what patrons do, but she just laughed it off and walked into the night. Brave and independent. she was a women who travelled through life without the aid of maps.

The light does not shine on every diamond. Some jewels are wrapped in modesty and never worn for display, but in her anger, born of weariness and contempt, she brought me to a life of context. In her I found another sister.

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Where Knowledge Grows

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 Matter Of Identity

At work I was one of the team, I got involved and leant my enthusiasm to any project regardless of its merit. You could always count me in, but I didn’t drink. Not at work at least, because a sense of discipline is essential at work is it not, or at least a reputation for it?  I had no strategy as such, but just borrowed mine from the crowd. A house would be nice, and a girlfriend of course, and then a wife, but I can say that without passion to you at least, because, in truth I didn’t care. I couldn’t say that out loud, because not caring is the worst sin of all in a complex society busy cooking a stew of dreams from a thousand fractured cultures. They must have picked up the “not caring” bit because I got made redundant, which is a metaphor of sorts don’t we think ?

We are all in it for the journey aren’t we. I mean we don’t have any choice. You sort of wake up and on the train of life, and then some guy comes up to you and out of nowhere says, “Ticket please” which on this journey means ” What’s Your Purpose”  and you are meant to have an answer. Something crisp and concise, but really I don’t have an answer. At home I play my music, and drink vodka from the bottle and shout out things like “Screw you” at the wall, which maintains its indifference to my tortured angsts. At home I’m free to be lost because no one is watching.

Don’t you love that word “Angst.” it gives the mundane a sense of drama don’t you think, so that was my third identity, out at evening college learning to paint, and mouthing phrases like “Social torture” because to be outside the norm here put you in the middle of the circle. A bit like work, but in a different context if you get me. That’s where I met Angela, who was shy enough to make me feel protective, if you can feel protective but still want something from someone. I mean I wanted to kiss her, because that’s natural isn’t it, and she was pretty enough, but not so much as to make her scary. Nice eyes of course, because you have to say that don’t you. I’ve never heard anyone say a girl was really pretty but had eyes were like flat tyres, unless she was planning to jump of a cliff, in which case it wouldn’t matter.

Mind you Angela really did have nice eyes so I can saying that without lying, which is a first for me. I mean I tell the truth about facts, but most of them are boring aren’t they, but the heart of it, the breathing purpose: I have no sense of that.

Someday perhaps, some mystic giant will walk out of the corner shop  late at night, as I am passing by for no real reason, and say “Phillip Walker. You are born to rescue blind cats” or something like, but till then I’ll keep my purposes short and near at hand. Kissing Angela’s a start don’t you think.

Perhaps I’ll ask her for a drink after class on Wednesday. She doesn’t look as if she knows what is going on either.

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Adventure In The Shadows

I came across her as she was walking down some road in the dark, with the rain pouring off her face and back, and I demanded she just get in the car and out of the weather till she muttered “Pervert” and climbed in anyway.  I’d never met someone like her; who looked at common sense, and then just tossed it out the window like it was last years fashion.

I never got to the heart of who she was, but she ‘got’ me in her lucid moments, more than anyone else I’ve ever met, or that was my impression. Between her affairs with ‘Weed,’ and drunken nights of partying with men she picked up somewhere in a bar, she might come to me and tell me  ” You are the only one who understands me” and I took that to be praise, or the sign I had strength, or was someone special or stupid. Nothing, I now understand, disarms a man of certain years more than tenderness.  We get so little don’t we? Once we leave our home, and only then if we’ve been lucky, and I was as hung out as any man can be but didn’t know it.

Her stock phrase, “Whatever gets you through” was often in use about me, or any topic we might discuss. She was exuberant when high:  up for anything, and in those blissful hours and  days, when we were first together, I became the happiest man alive. She made me feel understood:  celebrated even, like no one had before. Oh how I loved her in those months, but we both know the story don’t we. I mean I already knew the story, but attention makes you forget what you know. Someone pretty, like her, smiling at me, and saying you’ve got nice eyes, was like something out of a film and I just drowned in a smile I took to be tender and loving and personal. She had the understanding which comes from being lost, and meeting her dismantled my certainties

Later, as the vapour cleared my brain, I realised the moment was not personal. It was more about regret, and the lives she would never lead: the unborn children, the house with mown lawn and paid-for furniture she feared would never be hers.  She longed to be ‘normal’ as much as I longed to be reckless and we met somewhere in the middle. Crashed is, perhaps, the better word, as our needs and dreams ground against each other in this unformed universe.

I loved the look and feel of her, and the way her hair tickled me as she lay on the pillow by my side, and how the fear and aggression flowed out of her face as she slept.  She became that sweet being I would protect and love above all things. Vulnerable was a word she hated, but at night she could be that, to me at least.

I  remember saying to her one morning, “It may be necessary for me you to marry me” and she just laughed at me as if I was clutching at a dream, which, of course, I was. Is there some note we play, which only a few people can hear, and as the sound of it rises and is lost among the clouds they reach out to seek its origin. Am I dreaming too much? Was I that note for her or was I merely a roadside café where she stopped to catch her breath.

One day she was gone, no explanation given, and that window to another world closed with her exit. Where she went, or why, I cannot tell you, but she has spoiled me for life. I no longer want death by common sense, or low-carb food, or tending to the normalcies of routine.  I want to drink from darkness and adventure, and the religion of a moment, but now, with only timidity and lack of imagination as my guides, I am both cowardly and lost

Our lives are unwritten epics, everyone of them, and patterns and circumstance repeat themself in the cycle of  unlearned lessons we call history. Our ancestors look down on us from above and shake their heads. We dance between fear and courage, and flirt with fragments of self-knowledge but she taught me this: that love may be worth more than ‘common sense.’ Through her, adventure  waved to me from the shadows and was gone.

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Windbag Nige

Lets get the hard facts out of the way, and I choose my words with care.  I was sitting next to the head of the “Stomachs Must Be Filled But I Don’t Feel Like Cooking” committee ,and reflecting on the problem that offered up of a Sunday evening, when the solution came to me. “Do not worry, oh dearest one, I will walk beyond the world of streetlights and along the river bank and buy a ready meal from our local store”

No praise required here. I know when to step up to the plate as well as the next man, and I’m always armed with my favourite knife and fork. Off I went up the darkened path, whistling a selection of notes from my favourite tunes when “Whack, ” my foot caught on some raised object in the path and before I knew it I was almost flying through the air, and landed fully spread-eagled on the tarmac, who announced its pleasure at this rare moment of intimacy by leaving a number of cuts and bruises about my person, no doubt to act as a memorial of our late night tryst.

I managed to get to my feet, carry onto to the shop and return home, slightly shaken, but armed with those snacks which promise TV heaven. All well and good.

This morning I am off for my early morning walk and wondering who I can bore with my account of this minor incident when I notice, as if armed with a sixth sense, that all the people I know, even by sight, have scuttled into doorways or little-ventured alleys and left my walk conversation free. Blast.

Finally I arrive at the newspaper shop and recount my adventure., ( see paragraph two for those too bored to recall the entire incident ) to the guy who I know through loose- change dialogue only, who stands behind the counter at that shop. He goes by the name, in my imagination, of “Windbag Nige.”

After I conclude the abridged version of my adventure he replies, “Do you know Marlow Street in Hampton” . “No” I say. “Do you know Hampton Station” “Not really” I offer  “Do you know Hampton Court Roundabout,”

” Yes” I admit

, “You take the second exit at Hampton Court roundabout, then after about two hundred yards you turn right onto Southampton Row. After one hundred and fifty yards you take the left hand fork and then second on your right is Buckingham Road. At the bottom of that road is a T-Juntion, and Marlow Street is on the right hand side”

“Ah yes” I say, but now I am grinning weakly in the way I did when I realised I had walked into a talk on “Astrophysical Changes in the context of Matter” when I thought I was going to watch the local darts contest, and finding myself to be in an audience of one, namely myself.  I didn’t have the heart to leave,

Windbag Nige droned on about the big handsome trees which are on the wide pavements of his street. a possible connection to my original story, before inviting me, figuratively speaking, to enter his house and admire the “very best in furnishings” with which the place is crowded apparently, and the presence of “Wide-screen televisions” in every corner of the house and its passages so that “Not a moment of your favourite soup opera will be lost if you have to go quickly for the biologicals. We are both men, I think we can mention them,” he explains, before  displaying a selection of polished teeth.

Finally I manage to get out of the shop and go and drink my coffee in total, utter and blissful silence. Still, you can’t keep a good man down so, now I have recovered, I find it impossible to stop lifting my keyboard onto my lap and telling you all my tale.  Please ensure that any comments made do not include details of your house furnishings.

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Near The Real World

Characters on the silver screen, living their unlikely lives, seemed more real to him than ordinary folk, clinging to unsought routines. No different to the rest of us, he would sit silently nodding his head in some complex out of town, willing the changing character’s on to a happier time, because that is where we want to be. Am I right? Perhaps you know ?

He knew those people on the screen, but that unpolished flesh he saw pass by him on the street once the theatre closed its doors, and the sound of drunks yelling abuse, or  people frowning impatiently at him because he had lost  his point , was not the world he wished to know.  He longed to leave his mundane life, and climb the Pyrenees with friends, or escape some inferno dodging flames, holding a gentle heroine in his arms who rewarded his bravery with undying love. He would accept it modestly.

He worked as a Librarian, and on the book shelves were his friends, walking streets where heroes walk,  speaking with profound clarity. His  age was an embarrassment, and progress in real life was small. His address drew no envious glance, but in the pages of books he read, or unfolding on the silver screen, as he sat wrapped in gentle dark, were tales he knew and understood. Sitting in his single room, unencumbered by romance, and pecking at some ready meal, Thai was what he liked I’m told, his mind was free to roam once more, and leave those walls on which hung nothing of artistic note.

One day at the library, checking out some books, and watching the impassive face of  a stranger who did not know his name, he saw, over his shoulder, a girl spill her drink, and drinks were not allowed he knew. As he walked over to tell her this, he saw her close to tears and clinging to her privacy. His heart was moved by this harrowing scene: a heroine trapped by her distress. He found the love within us is often damped by lack of hope.

But now, woken by the sight of a life more wretched than his own, he found compassion for a figure, not sprung from fiction but real life who, it was clear, did not regard him with the normal censure. He took her to the office and gave her another drink  Moving to help her, clumsily it must be said, he saw her raise her eyes to his, and something in that forlorn gaze, more lost it seemed any than he had met, made him calm and brave and willing to chase her ghosts.

He found in the unlikeliest circumstances,as some men do, that dignity lies in loving something larger than ourselves: a faith, a night sky or call to ancient chivalry. Heroes, he found, are not always in uniform and so this poor unrecognised knight found compassion, and in protecting her weakness discovered his own strength. She was beautiful, but not for him he understood: chivalry must have no personal agenda. Her name was Laura, and she had lost her home.


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