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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One Last Cappuccino

With six months to live at best, two with mobility he had determined to make the best of what he was given.

Sometime after the onset of middle age, and after one of those periodic calamities which had marked his later life, he had become adept at whittling out nourishment and emotion from the bleakest of scenes: making a feast from titbits, treasuring a passing view, but now his time was mainly spent in solitude with music as his companion.

Friendships cost money, and now that was in short supply. “Not to worry,” he thought, “I’ve got memories”. and so he had: journeys abroad filled with adventure; parties where common sense had left the room; meetings with minds who touched base with life’s eternal questions; women who moved him with a tender curiosity:he recalled the tousled sheets and bric a brac of a careless life before they left him for more certain landscapes, but always without rancour: they had their needs, and knew he could not fill them.

He recalled moments of suspended intensity while walking late at night but now these events were firmly in his past and memories were all he had to take with him to infinity. By and large the place he sat in was full of known and unknown faces typical of a tourist venue. The rusty stalwarts like himself: same table, same coffee and a newspaper sat among the passing tourists who talked more loudly than the locals: excited by their new adventures.

Chance and coincidence were all that refreshed him, and there she was, a visitor from another land, another time and just across the shop. He remembered their conversations, lying there in bed. Her red hair, now grey, spilled out across the pillow. “You love life don’t you. You drink it up.” Her words had never left him. “It’s all I have!” he replied and they had laughed. Now here she was, forty years on and sitting with a family, settled with her grandchildren and the picture of an ordered and polite common sense. Across the room, their eyes met and hers were warm: familiar but final : a nod is all it takes to share a history.

He had six months to live but now he knew that a part of him would live on in others . He would live on their memories: perhaps that was the right place for him.

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A Question Of Values

Rosie Lotteridge is a woman who, she suggests, “Adds colour to many lives.” My aunt, who was connected to her in some way, something to do with committees I understand, said of her when her name came up in conversation. “At least she is a moral person: I know for a fact that she had been married for over four years before she had her first affair, and that says a lot about character don’t you think?”

Her husband, Rosie’s that is,  who she patronised dreadfully, “Do get us some bubbly Freddie” and “Oh you darling” when he brought in the bottle and glasses before she returned her full attention to her new friend of the moment, seemed unnaturally patient: he worked long hours in his attempt to keep real life from spoiling her delicate absurdities and was extraordinarily forgiving regarding her casual approach to marital or any other conventions: always placing her interests above his own, but then he was just a stockbroker while she was that beauty for whom any man would lose his reputation, or that had certainly been the case.

By the time I came to know her, her “legendary beauty,” could be best seen in old photographs as her current physical appearance owed more to the ruthless passage of time, softened in her case by a comforting friendship with cake. This being the case, lovers had become harder to acquire and Freddie, loyal and punctilious to a fault, was left to protect her vanity without the aid of passing romance which he did, regardless of his personal enjoyment: I never heard him discuss his personal circumstances. Her brother, who sometimes came to visit them was “Talented” and we all know how tiresome that can be.

It was a subtlety of the situation that, in time, he was perceived to be something of a hero: a mixture of that noble knight who protects his charge from any trace of suffering, and a discreet valet who endures the mindless posturing of his charge without complaint: perhaps the greatest gift we can give another is our kindness and he always offered his without reserve. No one ever asked him why he stood for it, and nothing in his demeanour suggested he was anything but content, although a clue to the true cost of his attentions might be found in his early death: I suppose even the most unregarded of plants still require watering.

Not all heroisms are obvious and many heroes don’t see themselves as brave, but in protecting her from herself, he granted that most fragile of characters a period of tranquillity. Some people spend their lives pandering to the vanities of another, and some may also be paid for their endeavours, but in the case of Rosie and Freddy I think the manner in which he conducted himself became his purpose. To those of us who are puzzled by his conduct, may we employ compassion in the face of mystery? It will be interesting to see how she manages on her own?

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