Compassion Can Be A Hard Thing To Learn

Mr Cummings, who taught me English at school was an almost registered “Odd Man.” You could see even then, and I was about eleven when he taught me, that most of his conversations were with himself, which he engaged you in if you were in his room or class, but they were not quiet conversations. He was always urgent, engaged, non-conformist and anxious not to waste a breath on just getting by. “Live it” he used to say about almost everything and being young boys, we laughed at him behind his back, and sometimes to his face, but he never seemed upset or distracted by our callow behaviour.

Gradually we understood he was about values, and caring, and looking for the details most of other people miss. He was as urgently alive as anyone I’ve met, and behind that mad eccentric engagement was also the most “knowing” person I knew. There was another side to him, perhaps a darker side, it’s hard to say. He had an empathy with souls who were suffering: if your life had plunged into shadows or been overpowered by grief he was the man you looked at and you knew he understood where you were. He didn’t talk in platitudes; he talked in experience and his compassion was beautifully constrained.

Years later I heard he took his own life using alcohol and pills, and the outpouring of love for him at his passing told you so much about his life. I realised, as well as telling us about the possibilities and beauty in our lives, he was also trying to protect us from those ghosts which haunted him constantly with a powerful stealth.

He made me realise that troubled people are often the bravest and most determined people you will meet. That for them to wake up and live an unexceptional day takes a level of courage and will-power few of us will ever have to demonstrate. He was the kindest and bravest man I met, who fought against demons all his life, and never lost that compassion which suffering gives to us.

Many of us don’t know what we mean to those around us. How our thoughts and routines form part of a pattern that sustains them in their lives, but for Mr Cummings, the whole world was his neighbour, and taking out their trash and passing the time of day with anyone he came across was the simplest expression of humanity. He never married and had no children but those of us who met him feel like orphans at his passing.

Posted in character, Compassion, creative writing, Fiction, Love, Peter Wells, Teaching | Tagged , , , , , , | 31 Comments

A Train-Wreck Love Affair

For me, at least, that “Moment” when you think you’ve met a women who may be “The one” doesn’t happen too often in your life: the moment when a girl or women you find quite pretty or interesting, intriguing or whatever the polite phrase of the day is, actually smiles at you. The day a door of opportunity creaks open to reveal a future you never thought possible, even a week before you met her.

Of course, I already knew that: I had walked through a similar looking door four years previously and now “Mess” describes my personal life, and evidence of poor judgement and lack of will littered my entire circumstance. Still, just because things are messy does not mean I cannot dream or long for opportunity. “Be brave.” I told myself, “Get it right for once. After all, I can clear the current mess up once I’ve drunk from the goblet of romance, and brought some colour back to a monochrome existence. I know you’ll understand.” I cannot let a chance like this slip through my life.

You were a “moment” in my life; a woman whose face softened and then smiled as I drew you to me and embraced you with all the tenderness years without recognition can produce in the emotionally malnourished male. You were that moment when “Being” and passion swept away all practical niceties, reluctant responsibilities or moral sensibility: the moment which will always be treasured and regretted in my memory.

Within days you had a sense that all was not as it should be; that my talk was more of wishes than of facts, and my careless way with promises had caused problems all my life, but, after a years of restrictions, recently widowed and tentatively connecting with your creative spirit once again, I seemed like the promise of some new beginning and you so wanted me to be as I seemed. You wanted me to be everything the man who taught you to celebrate life again should be.

At last, flooded by emotion, and in a moment of reckless candour, I told you “There is a wife located at my home in the country,” and you remarked on the use of the detached third person when I disclosed her presence in my life. “Did you have to wait until I loved you to tell me that?” you asked me, and I said it was not deliberate. “Chaos seldom is” you said, as you left my flat and then my life.

Posted in Affair, character, creative writing, Fiction, Love, Peter Wells, Romance | Tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments

My Uncle’s Philosophy

“Life,” my uncle said, “Is not my area of expertise.” “Oh, it’s complex. Complex indeed, but not something I can fathom I confess.” He said this to me as he bent over his desk, trying to build a radio transmitter with the aid of some poorly scripted magazine.

After a while he looked up at me again and said, “Enthusiasm is no substitute for knowledge young William. Never get swept into the delusion that you know what you are doing. No one does really.” I nodded as wisely as I could, and then took another bite out of the chocolate bar which he had given me as payment for listening to this conversation. At the age of eight I was not qualified to offer an opinion of note, but my presence and a supply of head nodding seemed to do the trick.

My uncle was my mother’s older brother, would-be academic, inventor and now school teacher specialising in maths. “`Numbers you see William. Two and two always make four regardless of the weather, and as you go on through life, that’s quite a cheering in its own way.” To emphasise the importance of this statement he looked up from the desk and smiled at me, a man searching for his own value, though I was too young to know that then.

“Can we play cricket Uncle Bertie?” I said, hoping he might leave the construction of his radio transmitter, which project was approaching its first anniversary, and after a pause he said “Why not” and so we went out to the garden where he bowled balls at me that were easy enough to hit. Hitting them was my pleasure, and always he would say, “Well done” and scrabble around in the vegetable patch or behind the shed or wherever the ball had gone, while I stood at the crease practising my shots and accepting the applause from a non-existent crowd.

In those days, with my father recently dead, and my mother spending her life at church or in bed, he came to stay and gave our household a semblance of direction. Even at that age I was aware that, before he died, my mother’s comments about my father were not always complimentary. Indeed they seldom seemed to be so, but with his demise, he had grown, according to her, into a titan, a tower of learning and a man who was widely mourned by her and all who knew him.

Unlike her brother, my mother always sought out drama in the dullest day, and “grief-stricken widow” seemed a role rich in possibilities. Dull, by her standards, but also thorough, my father had taken out a life-insurance policy which removed the need to worry about bills for the present, allowing her the freedom to worry about everything else instead. My uncle had stepped into the role of carer for now, and stoically shouldered the burden of “celebrator” in that house of shadows.

That was thirty years ago, and he is no longer with us, although he lives on in the annals of greatness now, according to my mother, for whom he cared until his death. A bachelor almost by design. I remember him saying, on more than once occasion, “You can never be too kind William. It often makes the difference.” Perhaps he was a wiser man than he knew, and my rock, who guided me through childhood.

Posted in character, creative writing, Fiction, kindness, Love, Peter Wells | Tagged , , , , , | 15 Comments

An Unsettling Seduction

My mother was a woman of rigorous order and routine, disregarding a weakness for iced-buns, and few things were allowed to alter the structure of her day or week, including unnecessary “Hysterical” displays, which was the generic term she applied to any expression of emotion. She was neither a warm nor sociable individual but took her faith and her connection with the church very seriously. Still, life being what it is, and clearly it is organised by someone with a very active sense of humour, situations could occur in which her appetite for privacy and solitude came into conflict with her sense of duty: let me give you an example.

At the age of fifteen, I was an unkempt boy with a remarkably absent-minded approach to grooming, who made his own meals, didn’t bother anyone and wandered around the house during the holidays in a pattern unmarked by parental supervision. Only on a few occasions, apart from the mandatory appearance at church on Sunday, was any interest taken in my whereabouts or hobbies.

Be that as it may, as I wandered through the hall one day, aged about fifteen, my mother came in through the front door followed by a woman of unfinished appearance who I would judge to be in her mid-seventies: “Come in come in” said my mother, in a tone of voice normally used by those who enjoy company. My heart sunk, of course, and then plunged beneath ground level when, seeing me, she added, “Make a pot of tea and bring it up to the living room would you” before turning to her mysterious companion and saying, “My son Brian” and waving her hand in my general direction.

Getting sucked into mothers, “I’m a child of the church and all things good” behaviour was a hazard I avoided at all costs, but now I was trapped and would have to get through the visit as best I could. I made the tea, and carried it up to the living room before sitting myself down in a chair across from my mother, while the old lady sat on the sofa between us. My mother poured the tea and said some nonsense along the lines of “Have you always lived in the south?” puzzled that the old lady was looking at me with a growing intensity. “Do you have any relatives here,” she continued, now clearly disturbed by the strange woman’s growing obsession with her son.

As my mother raised the cup towards her, the old lady said, “Where have you been?” and without any further discussion launched herself across the room before sprawling over me and kissing me directly on the lips.

I must admit I was already subject to carnal daydreams, but nothing like this scenario had ever occurred to me. There was a cracking sound as my mother hit the women on her back with her own walking stick, thus encouraging the old lady to loosen her grip slightly and turn towards her assailant. “He’s my husband from a former life” she explained, which sounds odd given she was an apparently orthodox Christian, but the moment seemed ill-suited to the discussion of theological niceties. “Kindly leave” said my mother to whom the women replied, “Tell her Ronnie, Tell her who I am.”
Possibly to aid the explanation, a half empty bottle of vodka fell out of her bag which had tipped over during the commotion. My mother, a strict teetotaller was becoming less amused by the second and rising from her chair repeated, but in a louder voice, “Kindly leave” and then, “Go this instant” which seemed to drag my new love out of her dream-like recollections.

I was “Excused” from the room, but still loitered in the hall anxious to see the end of the drama, and as the women left the house my mother turned to me and said, “I dislike uncontrolled behaviour,” which was near as she ever got to discussing the event or her feelings. Of course, when I got older, I realised the women was troubled and possibly unwell, a detail that possibly lost on my mother, who reserved her understanding of emotional subtleties for her literary studies. Mysteriously, I never saw the women again.

Posted in character, childhood, Creative Fiction, Fiction, old-age, Peter | Tagged , , , , , | 21 Comments

Music And Memories

Every day at ten past two, following a sandwich and a cup of tea; the particular filling might change from week to week; (It’s never an easy thing to define your preference is it), Saul Patrick Brownlow, played Handel’s Water Music in its entirety. Just under forty-two years old, and redundant from his job as a procurement manager with a firm of stationary suppliers, he could no longer afford to go out on non-productive journeys, or on holiday, or anywhere at all if his financial reserves were not to be dented by undisciplined activity.

Through the music, heard while sitting in his chair, his senses left their ordered prison and opened up his heart like magic. The familiar notes and phrases, like trusted friends, transported him through episodes and adventures his circumstances would otherwise not allow. Through music he might journey where he liked, and kiss his ex-wife once again, or see her tear streaked face close to his as she exclaimed, “It’s all been a mistake. I love you” and always he forgave her and opened up his arms in tender reconciliation.

Thorough to the point of exhaustion, and particular in every aspect of his work he might have been, but his exasperated employers had, in their turn, “Been forced to let him go” because, as he became more detailed and particular in researching each contract without regard to time, his “In-tray” threatened to overwhelm his desk. His doctor said he was suffering from anxiety, and so he might have been, who can say, but whatever ailed him proved too much for the company and then his wife, who asked him to leave the family home. Beside him on the table lay the unsigned divorce papers because to lose his wife would caste him into wilderness, and thoughts of such a place must not be engaged.

Once the music drew to a close he sat motionless in his chair watching the gathering winter dusk cast the furniture into shadow. After a while he walked to the window and, regardless of the temperature, opened them up and lit a cigarette. He did not inhale but let the smoke rise up from it, the sight of which brought him a curious tranquillity.

Perhaps it recalled him to a happier time when a boy walking through the park one afternoon, caught a tennis ball lobbed in error from a court, allowing him to engage in conversation with a girl who grew to love him for a time: “A miracle of sorts” he had always said. As he stood there watching the street below, a knock on his door recalled him from his memories. Puzzled he went to see who it might be. Sandra, stood outside, his very wife, and as he looked at her, measured in his politeness although not calm, she said, “What am I going to do with you?” and he said “Take me home.”

Posted in Anxiety, character, creative writing, Fiction, Peter Wells, Romance | Tagged , , , , , | 16 Comments

Perhaps The Wrong Approach

I am a man with a faltering faith in the story of his own destiny, but like a salmon following its instincts, I attempt the waterfall of life because that is the basic expectation. Apart from working, I get through my day by a system of manners and an acceptance of my lot which some people call “character” and others “fatalism,” depending on their point of view. All good and bad, you know the score, and so it would have continued if something like connection had not lifted its skirt and flashed a beguiling glimpse of thigh at a man parched of every nuance of intimacy.

The conversation was innocuous enough: we both liked the same kind of bread, and she was the cashier at the shop where I purchased it. “Life on this planet would cease to be as we know it if they stopped making this bread” I told her, and, amazingly she replied, “I know. I love it too, the seeds the texture, that maltiness.” Astonished by this shared passion I continued, “Even without butter it speaks to me. Just the texture and those seeds: yes. It’s so amazing,” Again she agreed.

I am past my prime, and just beginning to discover what chronic ill health means when mixed with declining vigour but a primal longing surfaced from inside me and, noticing she had no wedding ring, I asked her, “Are you married or involved in a long term relationship involving catering and moments of intimacy?” Her face changed colour somewhat, and became slightly “Arch” if you follow me. Clearly I had stepped outside that circle of generalities which define the conversational norm for casual acquaintances.

I’d had a sense of manners once. Perhaps my mother taught it to me, or I’d picked it up from foreign films. I remember a Polish film about a man who is dying from a stab wound in his back, and spends his final moments holding the door open to the Out-Patients department at the local hospital saying “After you” to some lady suffering from a sprained wrist: “After you” turns out to be his final words. The film was in sub-titles and with music which made little sense to me but you get the idea. I am that man who lacks a sense of proportion, and nothing works for me in terms of “Just being yourself,” but I learnt that, as a last resort, being polite prevents you from being barred from that club called “Casual Connections,” where I spend a lot of my social life.

“Being polite” was my last card in the pack, but this unknown lady, who shared a sense of the pleasure you could gain from a single slice of bread offered up the promise of a new dawn and hinted that something deeper was still possible. Suddenly I was saying. “Are you married or co-habiting with a fellow human being, or possibly a hamster or a cat, with whom you share wardrobe space and a similar taste in television programmes?” Alright I agree the “Hamster or cat” bit might have been a little bit “Out there”, but that’s what comes from being a failed lawyer among other things, and attempting to “Define your differentia” which is a baffling academic concept.

By now she was backing away from the till, and saying “One pound ninety-eight,” which was the price of this hallowed product. I said nothing more to her but offered up the correct change. At that point the manager, possibly seeing her discomfort, walked over and said, looking at her, “Is everything alright here,” and I said, “Fine, I was just reminding her that we didn’t know each other.” before turning to leave the shop. I wonder if they sell this bread anywhere else.

Posted in character, creative writing, Fiction, humour, Life, Peter Wells | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

A Lifetime’s Introduction.

“What’s your name” I asked all those years ago and you said “Sheila” which I soon turned into “Shells:” we seemed to know each other which was odd, given that we were both eighteen and had never met before. In the hurly burly of life, that was our “Jackpot” moment and so we grew to share things when life went right or wrong: sometimes the sun filled every room as when our first child was born, and at other times we felt so crushed by anxieties that we thought awareness was the door to torture; but in each other’s eyes and hearts we always found our centre and that spring of life which stops the water we drank from becoming stagnant.

Seventy- four years old, and married for most of them, we’ve faced all sorts of struggles but never without each other. Nothing was harder than losing our eldest son when he was only twenty-four, in some stupid motor accident, not even his fault, but experience teaches you things happen, and life is not always merciful or fair. You are left to deal with what must be dealt with or fall victim to your own emotions and circumstances: the choice is yours, or with us was always ours, but that was our blessing: to share all things with each other.

We came through it, mindful that our two remaining children needed the sunlight that loving parents bring if they are to blossom in their turn, and they did I like to think, although there was that cupboard we could no longer open, and that old pleasure of sitting there at Christmas playing films of our children’s early years ceased to be a pleasure and then an event: we both understood.

All in all we had little to complain of in the larger scheme of things because, without meaning to, and more by luck than talent, we got the main thing right: the building of a home with someone who shares your sense of what is real and makes you laugh regardless of the facts. Through joy and sorrow we always had each other, and that made us wealthy in that special way which brings rhythm to discordant lives. The point of all this is that here we are but you are no longer present. I hold your hand, as I always have, but life is no longer in it. You taught me everything there is to know except how to live without you.

Posted in character, creative writing, Fiction, Life, Peter Wells, Romance | Tagged , , , , , | 15 Comments