Reflecting On Circumstances

Do you know how often you were loved? I do; once, though not by my own mother, As children, and as a family, we lived in a sea of wreckage, trying to make sense of our own experiences, and at a loss for feelings or words. Love was not on the menu, but in time, under her direction, I left my childhood home.

Later, during one of those brief periods when I enjoyed something like perspective, a girl’s eyes fell on me, polite, shy in the company of strangers, yet gradually filling with interest, then warmth ,and finally love, as she saw in me all that a girl could wish for in a man or so she thought. I married her, because not to do so would  have been unkind or so I thought: I was wrong!

As what I called “Awareness” returned to me, I looked at what I thought of as being her prosaic ambitions; including a home, children, and an address of suitable anonymity and I became restless until I said, “Life must offer more than this: more than suburban correctitude, church attendance, politeness to neighbours and a sublimation of all desire for adventure,”and so I left her, fuelled by desperation and a determination to tread the unexplored, whatever the cost, because in my youth my brothers in arms were Leonardo de Vinci, Shackleton and John Steinbeck, and to settle for average seemed a despairing comment on the possibilities of life!

Now, after some decades, I have discovered the cost of the vanity which drove me to that action. I have discovered that life really can be both prosaic and beautiful;  wonderful and challenging in a single breath, but now I have no one left with which to share that message.

 I have discovered the price of being “An attendant lord” in the ante-chamber of a hundred noble lives, but I am not yet ready to accept the average day. I will “Rage against the dying of the light,” and refuse to sit on a park bench smiling at the antics of some infant child as if they were endearing.

I will walk on into the darkness seeking an observation worthy of the pain spent in living honestly.  I will not go softly, maturely or with dignity towards my demise. My life has been wild, drunken, joyous, alien and powerfully present, and until I fall into a grave, I hope I can say, “I lived, and happiness or composure, or the correct dress of the hour were never my concern. Somewhere out in this fog bound wilderness we called “Experience,”  is a space named “Profundity” and I am determined to connect with it, though I have yet to do so.”

Emotion is not polite, life is not polite, but, regardless of the cost, I won’t be bound by the conventional. I have become that man, either drunken or mad, who staggers up to you in the Mall, unshaven and possibly un-showered, and says, “Is this it?” and you back away from me because, of course, you are still living a  “Real life,” an ordered life which is something I have failed to maintain for some decades!  I will remain, unless I find myself at last, that most disregarded of individuals: the missed opportunity: a child of the alternative universe, a Sphinx in the corner of your imagination.

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Philosophical Discussions

“Life, to the interested, will always be interesting, regardless of your circumstances,” I tell myself as I work on the forecourt of my local petrol station, guiding customers to a fuelling booth or parking bay, depending on their purpose. Are they going to fill their car with gas or wander into the shop and play themselves a symphony by Simoné de Calorie, before buying a “Slimmer’s choice” chicken curry in readiness for a cosy evening for one in front of the television?

Of course, some people buy food for more than one, demonstrating a life full of emotional richness and a family who dote and live on their every word and glance but others, like me, exist alone, apart from television and a close friend called “Microwave.” Each day I yearn for a smile from the lady I work with, who manages till number four, and whose sense of life and tragedy seem to mirror my own. I’m simple yet complicated, defined and yet confused; a muddle in search of the perfect note but most of all I’m lost.

What can I offer her; with my lack of wealth and a sub-standard career apart from those insights into the experience of living which interest no one apart from those bored by the commonplace. She is beauty in my eyes, and her expression rich in that tragic awareness which speaks of a profound understanding. Can I risk telling her I want to know her, or should I do what I always do: smile politely at her as if she is a character in a film while keeping my hunger to myself?

Each life is a single brushstroke on the canvas of experience, lost within the body of the painting we call history, yet some of us, myself included, long to be seen as that touch, a contrasting insight, which  helps to define human experience. 

I have created a largely hopeless existence, apart from conversations with artists and philosophers of note, so that when I worked as a ticket collector at a provincial railway station I said to Descartes, “I think therefore I am, but I smile because I know” and nodded at him as if I’d added an extra cadence to his words, seeing if he understood my addition to his wisdom or just continued to sip his coffee at the Café Eternité without acknowledging my existence: perhaps he did or perhaps he didn’t, but we’ve no way of knowing either way.

Be that as it may, the object of my affections, to put it discreetly, was in a pub one Saturday lunchtime when I came upon her, me being somewhat the worse for wear, and ignoring the presence of her friends said, “If I were braver, and capable of time-travel I would whisk you away from this place to a café where Descartes, Monet and Gaudí were sitting discussing the importance of landscape, or the way the peripheral can become urgent depending on your circumstances, and introduce you to them as the defining beauty of our age.

She, as you may understand, just looked embarrassed, and explained to her companions that I was that odd man who worked on the forecourt at her garage. I smiled at them as if I had been joking, which is amusing given it was one of the few times in my life when I have been sincere.

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Post-Life Reflections

I lived in the age of social engagement where we chatted on Blogs and even smiled at dentists before they drilled holes in our teeth: a celebration of biological generosity which involved spreading our DNA to the four corners of the surgery.  “Being open and friendly,” was MEE.  It’s what I was, regardless of how many teeth I had left. It defined me. It regulated me. It… … Oh well you get the picture.

I believed in “Making it real,” not letting us become prisoners of our  cultural norms and formalities.”  That is before Oblivion visited Earth in the shape of an impressively large meteorite.  I learnt all this in the waiting room outside the “Infinite Experience” facility otherwise known as Purgatory, before our final destination was revealed to us!  

 This tale concerns me. Did you hear that. Me ME MEEEE. ( Oh God this is fun ) and what I felt about life and that troubling pain I got in my wrist every time I tried to use the can-opener; which, to me, was the device making the difference between starvation and putting on a decent amount of weight while watching Television: the defining advance in life-style engineering enjoyed by the final generation.

By the way, this rambling post is brought to you courtesy of the “Random-Experience-Process Facilitator ” which I was introduced to at birth. Let me give you an example. I spent a large part of my early employment as a traffic warden, posting tickets on the windscreens of upscale cars: a profession I chose on the basis of material envy, mean-spiritedness and lack of career satisfaction, but which meant I could blight the lives of the successful, until a freak incident catapulted me to national stardom.

During a general election, when politicians were pretending to be nice, and not gloating over their status and fame at the “Your Vice Is Safe With Me Sir” nightclub for decadent Notables,  Sir Reginald Worthless, leader of the “Honest Laundry Party” came across me as I was ticketing his Bentley Continental:  he was being followed by TV cameras.

In order to make his point, he waved his arm towards me and said, “Should I be elected as  your next Prime Minister, this finely groomed gentleman will become my Minister of Transport. I turned towards the camera, and smiled in a way which said, “I am too modest to reveal everything I understand about life but it’s quite a lot you know,” and somehow I grabbed the public imagination as an example of an extraordinary talent trapped in an ordinary job, house, marriage and salary.

The rest is history, or embarrassment, depending on your point of view.  Suffice it to say, after a brief period of notoriety as a minister in Her Majesty’s government, I was sacked for telling the visiting President of the  United States that his car was parked illegally outside a small hot-dog stand in the West End of London where he was engaged in buying a snack with  currency supplied to him before he left 10 Downing Street. 

My last words to you before I am moved to my final meeting with Dr Oblivion are, “Just because it is in the brochure, does not make it real”  I was invited to experience a world beyond my station and lived, or died, depending on your perspective,  while trying to understand the consequences.

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A Dating Alternative

Rocky was easing himself inside his treasured Elvis jacket made from what he considered to be beautiful white leather, created in the days when it was still thought civilised to use such materials, complete with the tassels regarded as essential in the age of his hero: he was smiling to himself. Two reasons: he could remember going to see the legend in Las Vegas and the jacket always brought back that memory, and tonight was the night he was going to ask Alina out on a date, having had a couple of pretty cheering conversations with her during the previous night at his local nightclub.

At eighty-three many people thought him past his best, but as Rocky said, “I still know how to comb my hair and I’ve still got hair to comb” which remark was always finished with a knowing wink. He’d got one or two marriages under his belt so, as he said, “I know my way round the domestics” and generally had an air of confidence with the opposite sex when cutting some shapes on the dance floor, taking account of his walking stick and arthritis. I remember him saying, “Temporary difficulties son; temporary difficulties: nothing death won’t sort out,” and he walked away laughing and wheezing to himself,

Sure enough, there he was at ten-thirty in the evening, groomed to the point of oblivion, and getting a sense of the rhythm before easing himself onto the dance floor, when the lovely Alina slid into view. At twenty-eight years old you could say she was in her prime and ready to taste any adventure life threw in her path. Life being in a good mood deposited Rocky firmly in front of her, and as she smiled at him Rocky said, “I thought you and I could spend an evening together, what do you think?”

She thought about it for a few seconds and said, “I think you’re a little sophisticated for me Rocky, but I know someone who might be little closer to your range.” “Who’s that” said Rocky, who always clung to optimism in the face of facts. “My mother” said Alina. “She always feels safer with an older man and at fifty-four she still has, what you say, mileage in the tank: tread on the tyre” and she smiled up at him.

“Flexibility” said Rocky, “The secret of success” and smoothly changed his target from daughter to mother, No face was lost or offence taken in the change of tack: how lucky he was to be in such a circle. Thus two days later he found himself in a tearoom in the centre of town, noticing the lack of beer with a touch of sadness before Alina and a woman of groomed appearance who was clearly her mother, walked through the door.

“No dance floor here Rocky” said Alina, “But my mother is not for the nightlife are you Mama?” Her mother nodded, and seemed to be there more under the instruction of her daughter than of her free will, but that can happen can’t it? After a chat, and a sip or two of tea, the mother said. “You’re a little out of my range Mr Rocky but you are a gentleman. I know a woman who could be very pleased to meet you.”

Both versatile and optimistic, Rocky took his rejection in good part and asked who it was. “My mother, ” said Alina’s mother, and Alina said, “Oh yes. The perfect match no?” which means yes in some language usages.  Both mother and daughter started smiling at each other and a date at the same venue was swiftly arranged.

Two days later , there was Rocky, sipping a cup of Earl Grey, and moaning about the penalties of healthy living to the waitress, when the door opened and three women walked in: Alina, her mother and an older women who was clearly Alina’s grandmother. The pink framed glasses on the grandmother’s nose gave a hint of  inner wild, and soon the two veterans were chatting like old friends about “Hits” of the past and adventures enjoyed before the birth of the iPhone: she agreed to go out to Sunday lunch with him on the following weekend. As she said, pointing at her daughter and granddaughter, “Why settle for copies when you can have the original!”

Could Rocky manage one more shuffle up the aisle?  Only time will tell!

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A Brief Tribute To Common Sense

Charles Junkett, a surname he hated by the way, and Samantha Prigg met on the first day of University at a ‘Freshers’ gathering where both were meant to throw caution to the wind and drink deeply from the froth filled chalice of freedom and irresponsibility. Charles, dressed in a suit and sipping carefully at his lime cordial and mineral water, noticed that the girl beside him, dressed in a brown below the knee skirt and matching blouse was also supping from the same cocktail, if we can hurl that name at such a concoction.

“Great Minds” he said to her raising his glass, and she replied, “Wished they were somewhere else”.  “Don’t they just. “ he said, “I say, do you fancy wandering off and having a coffee somewhere else!?” and she did not mind. So began a courtship which had lasted for fifteen years. They both lived in the same suburb of the city and while he worked as a Financial Analyst she plunged into the wilder professional waters afforded by a career as a Loss Adjuster. “The recklessness of some people” she might say, and he would add, “Fools rush in” and so they might, but not into these lives. “No Sir, No way, Not on my watch,” and “Kindly get your hands off my DNA reading,”  characterised their responses to those who led a life free of planning.

They did not share a house or flat, but they lived in the same street, and commuted with each other every day to offices which were also close to each other: “Ah the benefits of  organisation!”  At the end of the day, from Monday through to Thursday, as they reached her house, which  they did first, he would say “Enjoy your evening” and she would add “That is the plan” and then “I’ll ring you at 10pm” which was fifteen minutes before their agreed bed time.

On Friday they would repair to the same Greek Restaurant, and examine the menu thoroughly before always ordering the same meal. Their unchanging toast was “To the good life” said just before their mineral water charged glasses chinked in a moment of controlled euphoria. Even in the most ordered of lives, the subject of intimacy and its effect on order and routine might come up and so it did with them, a mere three years after they began spending significant amounts of time together.  “There are grounds” he said to her one Friday evening, for upgrading our kiss on the cheek to a ritual involving the meeting of lips ”. She looked at him carefully, and considered any possible downsides.” I think that’s reasonable” she said, and so their lips met for the first time at nine-thirty five on the conclusion of their night out, and just before they retired to their separate accommodations: two souls joined in the worship of order and planning.

Within two years this alteration had led to them spending Friday and Saturday nights together under one roof, and, dare we reveal it, one duvet. Rules of engagement were discussed and intimacies conducted with due notice taken of noise levels and disorder to the bed linen: time went by and both enjoyed successful careers free of unsightly boasting or unplanned excitement.

So it might have continued until, one Friday evening, as they met in town prior to him saying, “Would you enjoy a Greek meal this evening” as if it was a new idea, he noticed that she seemed a trifle edgy: emotional might be over stating it, but there was something of the off-guard about her manner. All was revealed as they nibbled at the customary pita bread and hummus. Samantha said, “I have to tell you I am expecting a child”. “How is that possible,” Charles replied and again, even with his best efforts, some emotion was evident in his demeanour.

“I suspect in the normal manner, although indulging in a peppermint cream instead of my normal pill might have influenced things. “ she said.  “Is it mine?” he asked, nervous, but sure of her answer. “Oh no” she said, “It’s a present from the heating engineer” who told me to “Get a Life”, and so I did, with him. “How do you explain this conduct?” he asked. “I think boredom might have had something to do with it”. “Ah boredom” said her long-time companion.  “Difficult to deal with under all circumstances. Very nice to have met you” and with that he left and placed his house on the market before moving to the Philippines where he tried his hand at professional surfing.

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Wisdom On The Go

He was nonchalant about his abilities and discrete about his history. “We get by,” or “Done a bit” was all he said but when he looked at you his eyes had knowledge.  “The thing about life is”, he said to me, “It’s not personal, It just feels like it is but it ain’t. We’re just the wire the current runs through”.  He seemed to shine in the moment, bringing life to the tired and rudderless, making the agèd  smile and the children laugh but that was it. How and where he came from was shrouded in mystery: he had no personal agenda.

He knew plants; could use their Latin names and talk their history: he might even point out a bloom or leaf and dwell upon its life but more as an aside than as a lecture. He had sat on beaches the world over, and watched the tide come in; seen the sun settling to its rest and wildlife easing through their unmapped rituals. All this I got from conversations but in no order: he was not interested in age or chronology, just in the experience time afforded him.

He had a reputation for competence as a carpenter and worked on recommendation but contract work only. Nothing permanent. When on a job his sandwiches always seemed to be the same. “Variety”, he said if questioned “is not a luxury enjoyed by many species”

You might ask him about his history, about children or look for scars from past experience but he was neither secretive nor revealing. When it was over he would be walking, job done, out of your life: a prophet without a fixed address. “Nice to have met you” was always his final compliment.  The world was his neighbour but lived in without intimacy. He was not reckless, but seemed carefree of his personal circumstances.

I worked with him for a short while; shared a smoke after our sandwiches and nodded over music we both loved. “I do not dance”, he said, “but I know how to listen,” and he did. Music could transport him for a while to some secret garden from which he returned refreshed. His tastes were eclectic. I asked him if he had been in the army and yes he had. “I was a soldier. You do things because there is no choice, because you have to:” that was all he said, but the shadow lingered for some time in the room. Of course he was the subject of gossip and speculation but he neither confirmed nor denied any intrusive questions. He regarded speculation of that sort as unnecessary. “You’re not lending me money, and I’m not dating your daughter so what’s to know” I heard him say this to some lady whose flamboyant hat spoke of a disciplined and reflective approach to life.

Home was a camper van: neat and orderly. He parked it in the yard of the plot we worked on. “Don’t you ever want to make roots I asked him. “I like a change of view” he replied, that seemed to be the last of it. He had stepped aside from ambition, using the fruits of his competence for petrol and food. His clothes were always clean but ‘how’ remained a mystery. I never saw or heard him speak of any tending regarding himself.

At the end of the job I asked him “Have you anywhere to go?”  

“Anywhere I want” he replied. He didn’t do specifics.

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Remembering Emma

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, but my children could inherit my insights to light their future while trusting 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, told me her name was Emma and then 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 coward’s 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 away into the night. Brave and independent, she was a woman 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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Beneath The Tree Of Dreams

However much she teased at life, dismissing the words of “frail” men, trauma would haunt her waking hours. She said she felt like an empty void, haunted by uncertainties.

Yet to find answers in her life, and out on a reflective walk, she introduced herself to me while I sat under some ancient oak, dreaming of tranquility. She threaded her arm through mine, and said, “I could love you if you choose.” 

I had no centre in my life, I can not say it otherwise, but in her gaze I discovered hope, gaining a purpose in my life, that she might find her home with me. 

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A Sort Of Merry Christmas

Hello one and all. I just wanted to say I hope you all have a lovely Christmas regardless of the strange circumstances we all find ourselves in.  

Nothing is certain at the moment but at least I hope you have the pleasure of being with your family and the comfort of a decent mince pie

Cheers from all at Countingducks !!

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A Misunderstanding

Ruth was getting ready for her date with Herman, but her heart was not singing. She knew in moments of honesty that she had rung Herman to annoy another man, and not from any real desire to see him or get to know him romantically or for any reason at all, come to think of it.

Like many of us, she was too proud to admit her mistakes when they affected someone else, so, sure enough, she smiled warmly when she answered the door to him, saying, “Herman, come in, come in, how lovely to see you” and offered him her cheek to kiss.

It was clear that he had been cheered, and possibly emboldened by her call, and felt a romance with her was actually possible. In truth, he had tossed and turned restlessly at the prospect of the date and the teasing prospect of being loved again. The thought had made him smile, because, if he was honest with himself, it was more than possible that his first wife had married him more on the grounds of common sense than emotion. 

He could not dwell on that, but let his imagination focus again on Ruth and her pleasing and sophisticated manner: she seemed, as they say, to be ‘well out of his league,’ but then she had rung him, and that must mean something. What it actually meant was that she was hurt and irritated with another man: a fact she  would not recognise

Once at the restaurant they sipped their drinks and studied the menu, then Herman’s hand moved over hers as it rested on the table. That symbol of gentle connection did not settle her. She looked up at his bland and pale face and saw the cautious and possibly clumsy agenda in his eyes.

“Let’s not get carried away, Herman” she said.

“Sorry,” he replied, and the hand was withdrawn.

She could act as she wanted, but after all, it was she who had rung him, and that must mean something he thought. More certain of his purpose now, he was sure the evening and atmosphere would provide him with another chance to establish their new connection: he was famous for his patient pursuit of goals. For her part, Ruth was looking increasingly at the evening as a test of endurance.

Clearly, the man, as she now thought of him, had forgotten their previous conversations and was embarking on a flight of fancy which could only cause embarrassment. It was important to nip that error in the bud, so she did what most people do: nothing. The food was delicious, the music played by the orchestra in the restaurant was both skilful and unchallenging, the atmosphere at the table tentative and unsettling.

 No one had the courage to say the ‘date’ was clearly based on misunderstanding mixed with pride. Her evening ploughed on through the expensively provided courses towards coffee and release or, in his imagination, a promise of some sweet union which might rescue him from his path of isolation.

In the corner of the restaurant, near the band, was a small area set aside for dancing. Already, in this expensive place, Ruth observed some middle-aged guy with balding head dancing with a girl clearly young enough to be his daughter and wondered what their relationship was. Looking at him, and then back again at Herman, she felt the whole evening to be tragic, possibly even sordid. How stupid she could be?

It seemed a place to her, where men clearly used their money to gain the favour of ladies who would otherwise pay them no attention. The food, produced with diligent thoroughness and some attention to flavour did nothing for her. The sweet, tempting love songs from the band floated over her head unnoticed, and all she could long for was the chance to return to her own dwelling, unmolested or desired. Anything she wanted in her life was not in this room or in his company.

“More wine,” he said, and his eyes shone with brilliant anticipation.

For his part, he could not fail to notice her uncertainly and uncomfortable demeanour. He could not say why, but the image excited him. He mistook her nerves for frailty and anticipation, and did not realise she was suffering from a mixture of boredom and claustrophobia.

“Where would you like to go after the meal?” he said.

“Home,” she replied, and seeing his eyes light up added, “On my own.”

Finally, some sense of her mood seemed to enter his consciousness, and he settled back in his chair. The expensive merlot, now free of that undertone of celebration, tasted inconsequential in his mouth. He would not be ordering another bottle.

“Have I misunderstood something?” he asked her. “Yes, I think you have. I rang you because I was angry with somebody else, and not because I especially wanted to see you. I don’t want to hurt you, but I don’t want to give you the wrong impression either.”

No one can fault her candour, but candour is seldom appreciated. On this occasion, Herman sat back in his chair and looked at this woman, who now clearly wished to exit his life with a gathering urgency.

He smiled and said, with a hint of iciness, “Glad to be of service. Shall I get the bill?” Ruth just nodded. The evening suddenly seemed to have become unpleasant, and she couldn’t wait to get away. “This is awkward,” she said. “I think I’ll leave you with it and get a taxi home. Thank you for a lovely meal.”

The surprise announcement and offhand use of cliché did little to settle Herman’s battered confidence, and he said nothing as she collected her bag and left the restaurant. The waiter, when he arrived, managed to neither raise an eyebrow, smirk, nor say anything clever, which was impressive given the fact that the first thing he did when he got to the kitchen was say, “That old codger at table 15 has been dumped. The lady just got up and left him to settle the bill. It was brilliant.” It was moments like these which made his job bearable.

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