Lost Conversations

Heard on the radio, a transmission from past decades: a fragment of conversation, picked up as the spacecraft travels its uncharted path. “I’ll see you soon, put the kettle on,” then laughter drifting into silence.

“Who were they” you ask yourself but cannot say; trapped as you are on this lost mission to a distant galaxy; sent out to explore the universe before the Earth was destroyed by meteorites.

“Life on other planets, I hope? ” was all you could think as you turned to look at Greg, the captain of the spacecraft, now piloted without purpose or destination. “Shall I make a note of it” you ask, but he just shakes his head,

What is the purpose? There’s no one left to talk to, and nothing but these fragments of conversation bouncing round in space to stir emotions: brief relics of a vanished home

“Can’t beat the view” you say, trying to keep it light, but routine without purpose drained the magic from this adventure years before: now silence is their only companion. Galaxies pass by unremarked by two souls lost in travelling, robbed of home and context by that catastrophe which destroyed the earth, careless of it’s evolution.

“What does it mean” you ask yourself, staring at the photograph you hold of your young wife and baby boy but mute indifference has no answer to your question. At some unspecified hour, you accept, some black hole or other matter will swallow this lost evidence of man, and suns will rise and planets form without comment or exclamation as you become a particle in space.

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A Question Of Choices

Her stare challenged everything in sight: late twenties and a shaper of events, the answer to many situations lay filed in her experiences: she feared little but some aspects of emotion, and looked on those she knew as reference points. Unmarried and unattached, six years spent with a school-time love now consigned to memory, she had determined, if nothing else, that life was a matter of furnishings and dress.
All her friends were relatives, and home a concept more than place: protected by ability and a career of some significance she had moved to a new property. She had not met the owners yet, and there was no reason she would do so.

Thus the knock on her door was unexpected, and opened more from habit than intent to reveal a boy of around six looking up at her with an enquiring face. “Do you play the piano miss” he asked as if she already knew his name, and before she could control herself, she said “Yes” because music was a dormant passion in her life. “We’ve just got one from my gran, she’s dead” he told her by way of explanation, adding “Come and see”

Why she did we cannot say but there was an openness about him she could not bruise so she followed him to the flat below where , sure enough, a battered upright stood against the wall, lid raised and keyboard in full view. His mother poked her head round the kitchen door, a bit older than herself but not by much, and clearly on a different path and warm.

Both looked at her expectantly, uneasily it must be said, as she sat down and played one of her own compositions, written before her father lost his way and her parental home became a mausoleum. The boy started dancing by her stool and his mother said, “That’s really good” and so it may have been, but written in another time, when flowers bloomed and angels still wore white.

“What do you do?” the mother asked, and she replied, “I am a retail analyst for a large department store.” The mother was impressed, though in a baffled way. “But what about the music?” she asked and the young boy said, “Play some more,” but she replied, “I must get on, I’m sure you understand” and the mother said “Of course” and the boy just shook his head, for he was from that gentle place where flowers bloomed and angels still wore white.

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A Matter Of Appearences

Each day her thoughts were driven by the need to present a positive message starting at 8:30 am, regardless of her mood. She might wake up as she liked, sleep as she may but Monday to Friday her smile was obliged to convey an impersonal welcome to those placed under her charge.

Roger was one of the new candidates who passed by her desk each day on their way to training at the financial services firm where they both worked. One morning she could not prevent herself asking him, “Is that shirt ironed?” noting his crumpled appearance, before he replied “ “Some of it is!”

The previous evening he had moved up to her at the reception marking his and other’s welcome to the firm saying, glass in hand “ There is always light you know? ” and smiling at her in a way which said, “No one has the answer,” before walking off towards his fellow candidates. His presence stayed with her throughout the evening, leaving her wondering how such a man had managed to get through her company’s rigorous selection process. Whatever the mystery, there was something about him which spoke of the world beyond planning

Was his thought an assault or a revelation: the words made more impact than she wished but she fought her response to them. Her father had been an unpublished poet, largely unrecognised, who struggled to protect himself and his family while asking questions all his life without regard for self-advancement. She had loved the tender heart within him though those dependent on him lived with material uncertainty!

Somehow this man seemed an echo of her unworldly father, recalling that time before she achieved maturity and independence. She remembered moments in her childhood, running in the park, or sitting on her father’s lap as a small child and hearing his unpublished yet magical stories which always filled her with wonder . She had not felt that since his early passing

Later in the day and alone at her desk, a wave of emotion flowed through her as she realised there is nothing more unsettling than to discover you are understood. “We cross many lives but are touched by few of them,” her father told her once but. When Roger came up to her at the lunch break she could not stop herself raising her eyes to his.

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Meeting A Dream

She was a prisoner like me, wrapped in invisible chains wrought out of bills, greed and indecision: both the writer and victim of her life history, for none of which she accepted any responsibility. She had a beauty which cuts through complacency, and a smile which unlocks the heart of almost any man. I was “almost any man” I found out later as she walked into my life bringing no answers with her.

I knew that when I first met her: I was much the same as her, trapped in a world of my own making marked by shrinking opportunity. She drank a bit and smoked with rare defiance so even though I did not smoke myself I took to carrying a lighter so our eyes could meet over its flame. I think she knew I liked her and I think she knew we were the same, but I had little to offer her then but admiration, so was added to her list of possible diversions.

I met her in the company of friends, and she saw in me a quality of perception hidden within a lack of social standing. On a whim she conferred her intimacies on me for one night only, though I dreamed she would love me always. She briefly thought I was her bus ride out of hell which I was not but, regardless, she has now left this earth forever.

How do I remain here now without the hope of seeing her? I’ve been “aware” for far too long already, walking among the civilised half-dead, living their customs and showing courtesy to all, but I am tired of that now. The powers of womanhood or manhood are extraordinary but we have sought to make everything ordinary and safe and harnessed, starting with ourselves, so that primitive magic I saw in her eyes is seldom visible elsewhere.

She is gone and the world I walk through is still hiding behind its timetables and furniture and dreams of cultured conduct and looking for answers everywhere but in its heart. She is gone yet I am here with nothing to contemplate but my ongoing chaos, and man’s unfounded dreams of order.

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A Moment Of Profundity

Malinslow was a town which sought prominence through its annual poetry festival and used to gather a decent supply of the well-to-do, as well as a number of dishevelled brillianteens, to listen to readings of original verse by leading poets at its annual festival: sometimes bards from the States and other continents could be encouraged to attend by promises of large cheques and a decent lunch or two. Not bad for those used to living on the thin air associated with having your head in the clouds searching for a misplaced career.

This year Sir Oswald Clarkson, a coal miner’s son from Lancashire, was the guest of honour and booked to give the final reading of the evening. His seminal work, “Thoughts Toward a Conclusion” once battled it out with steamy romances in the best-selling lists. A man of self-confessed sensibility, Sir Oswald had been brooding of late because his pen had run dry, vocabulary withered and, on the quiet, he was having some difficulty in maintaining the air of mysterious brilliance so necessary in the world of cutting edge creativity. This ‘reading’ was a welcome chance to restore his image.
Although his accent had mulled to the fruity purr of the media classes he maintained a faint Lancastrian edge to underline his status as the son of hard-working folk: no mean feat for someone who had lodged in the plumpier areas of London with a succession of wives over the last thirty years. Indeed, his wives had provided the majority of the means by which he was able to sprinkle bon-mots over various dinner tables with other literati of the period.

So here we were then, with Sir Oswald facing a packed hall in the middle of Malinslow, and peering alternately down on the paper before him and the crowd ahead. The Duke of Brookshire, paid to appear but still a trifle more bored than normal, had given a clichéd but thorough introduction to the bard and had done a reasonable job of raising the hall’s sensibility towards a level of consciousness. Hush settled over the room and faces looked expectantly up at the lectern and the distinguished figure behind it. He raised his head and, peering over his bifocal glasses, began to read…


He then bowed to the audience and sat down. The Master of ceremonies, seated beside him and with a growing sense of bewilderment said “Hope ! ?” “The truth is not long-winded” said the sage and with a pleasing air of mystery, leant down to gather up his bag. After a few moments it dawned on the assembled throng that this was it: the whole enchilada, nine yards, performance, cake, meal or whatever you like to call it. He had chosen his word with care and now it was spoken. The silence lasted for a few more seconds and then a murmur rippled through the hall. A failed dieter, with a temper shorter than some, shouted, “Outrage” while a less aggressive voice from the front of the hall said, “Was that profound?” Others comments were of a quality a polite man cannot repeat, even in print.

Sir Oswald, with commendable calm, a characteristic of the noted seer, paid no attention to the noise and, indeed, seemed about to leave the stage. The Mayor, seeing the occasion collapsing into unrest, waved his arms in desperation. “Short and sweet” said the Duke, his morale rising at last, as the threat of disorder became evident in the hall. Pains across his chest stopped the Mayor in his tracks: he was having one of his panic attacks and he heard his strangled voice as he leaned towards his deputy saying “Stop his cheque. Stop his cheque”. “He only accepted cash” replied the embarrassed official. “Five thousand pounds for a single word,” he thought to himself, “That is poetry indeed.”

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In a World Of Dreams

Every day at ten past two, following a sandwich and a cup of tea; the particular filling might change from week to week, 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 stationery suppliers, he could no longer afford to go out on non-productive journeys, 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 as if they were guided by angels: the familiar notes and phrases transported him through episodes and adventures his circumstances would not otherwise 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 been, as they phrased it, “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, 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 cast 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 it 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.”

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A Telling Reunion

She was the daughter of my English lecturer, who specialised in Victorian literature: a kindly man who had invited his tutorial group to spend the night with him and enjoy a day’s walking on the fells. Now it was the evening, and we were back in his house and about to enjoy a meal cooked by his lovely wife. They were a picture of the perfect family, and his daughter the jewel you would expect in such a setting.
I writhed within myself, and wondered what light and casual remark I could use to introduce myself to her when “Mr Glib,” or Andrew Cummings to use his real name, another of the students and one who later went on to enjoy a prominent career in broadcasting, slid in her direction and asked her in the tone of one used to dealing with life and its varied nuances, “So are you at university yourself?” and she smiled at him, revealing she was at the same university as us, but studying medicine. “That’s very clever” said Mr Glib and soon he was oozing himself inside her life and suggesting they might meet for coffee in the student union.
I am confident I was one of my professor’s favourite students because I actually had a passion for the subject he taught, but outside the world of tutorials and precisely worded essays I was socially awkward and with a wardrobe to match. Once more I had to pretend that nothing touched me and “real-life” was a subject of research rather than experience. “How do you put the fun into your day?” I heard Mr Glib ask the unspoilt beauty and soon they were sharing their passion for vintage films, which surprised me, as I had been exposed for extended periods to Andrew’s languid discussions about his interests and “vintage films” had never featured in them.
I ate my meal, and managed to bore everyone but the professor with my discussion on “Fors Clavigera” an interesting text written by the Victorian social thinker, John Ruskin. Finally Mr Glib said “This is not a tutorial Nigel” and smiled at me as if he was being kind, and then at the group with his “Where do we find them?” tolerance: I was never much good at dinner parties.

To make matters worse, Cummings went on to marry her, and enjoy a successful career, no doubt revered by his listeners and fellow broadcasters.

I met him and his wife years later at a reunion dinner where my job as an English teacher drew few gasps of admiration from the group, most of whom were gathered round Mr Cummings, apart from his wife who stood some distance away, staring at a watercolour.

On impulse I went up to her and said, “You know, when we were students, and we had that dinner at your father’s, I wanted to come over and speak to you but Andrew got there first, and the rest is history.”

“I wish you had” she said, and gently touched my arm and I wondered if she might still be my unopened gift from destiny. “How is your father?” I asked, but before she could answer Andrew came over with that smile of his which speaks a thousand languages. “How is life in the classroom?” he asked, cutting across our conversation, “Still banging on about John Ruskin?” and his manner was curiously replete and satisfied.

She looked at me, like a conspirator and said to her husband with something of an edge, “The last word isn’t everything Andrew.”
“What do you mean?” he said, but I think I understood her. I hope I did.

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Poetry In Emotion

Geoffrey Longridge, a widower of twenty-eight years standing, had lost his wife in a car accident leaving him childless and alone. Since that time, emotion was something he expressed sparingly, and in his memory of her he had, he considered, a sufficient reservoir of intimacy to provide all the nourishment required to live an ordered life.

 Her photographs were everywhere in his house, and conversations with her departed soul remained central to his life. She had been his co-conspirator, his map and compass, and without her he had become a mannered, dutiful soul, working latterly as the chief librarian in his local town.

His sensibilities were tuned to connect with ideas and vistas rather than people: he had a quality of civilised distance about him which marked him out in the community. He was a receiver rather than the teller of stories, but you could tell the quality of your words by the power of his response. Sometimes, in a stubborn attempt to awaken interest in an artistic dimension among the local population, he would invite speakers to give talks at the library on matters literary, or sometimes just to recount their recent adventures. He loved the way some small event could help an individual discover themselves.

So it was that he invited a poet, who had recently returned from the tropics, to give a reading from her latest book of poems: the product of her experiences there. Her sense of life and its adventures seemed exotic to a man whose formative, and then more mature impressions, were gathered throughout a life bound by ritual and routine within the small English county where he had lived. At the appointed hour she arrived at the building and he guided her to the room were a small but appreciative audience applauded her entrance. Brief introductions were made and then the poet began her recital.

The audience was moved by her assurance and intensity: her words stirring their imaginations. She was the living embodiment of artistic courage: a dramatic reader of her own verse, and the audience responded to her charged urgency. At last the reading was over and, noticeably, the applause at the end of it was more real and energised than the polite clapping of hands which had signalled her introduction. After the event, poet and librarian sat together on a bench near the entrance and looked at the abstract painting before them, which seemed almost like a conceptual map of imagination.

“Do you like abstract art ?” she asked him earnestly. “Yes” replied Geoffrey and suddenly he seemed to be no more than a puppet. A will stronger than his own pushed him forward and he found himself kissing her forehead, then her cheek and finally her lips with a release and abandon which, till now, had been entirely alien to him. She was the first women to whom he had opened himself in twenty-eight years and he was stunned by his own actions. 

Instead of shrinking away from him she seemed to be somewhere between the polite and receptive as he talked to and then kissed her in turn and again. Finally, without any comment on his behaviour, she told him she had a dinner engagement. They rose from the bench and he showed her to the door.

He had no address for her, apart from her email, or any knowledge of her circumstances, excepting some blurb on her website and after she had gone he sat down again and stared at that painting as if it might supply him with an answer. What does a polite man do, living largely within convention, when he has stepped outside himself and kissed a lady so? The painting offered no advice.

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Retrospective Love

The mourners stood around him eating cakes and sandwiches not made by him. Some catering company he employed to do the work, did the work while he stood near a corner of the room, watching his guests share memories of his wife and stain the carpet with their drink and crumbs. He, who hated fuss above all else, and kept emotions strictly under wraps, nodded as each passing face offering him comfort and support, not realising that all he longed for was their silence. Mavis, his  wife now deceased, who spelt reflection with the word ‘Abyss’ had filled his life with whims and groundless fears, till her death offered him relief and left him with the chance to dream once more, and sit and watch the natural world and catch his breath.

So thorough was his daily care of her that those around her wondered at his discreet gentleness and diligent support for one who loved hysteria as if it were her only child. In fact, by chance or was it luck, the union had proved fruitless in that way, and wardrobes full of dresses and shoes would be her brief legacy. 

He loved her without doubt, but more for herself than him, he always thought, and sought to ease her constant anxieties. Strangely once she knew that she must die, courage came from somewhere in her heart bringing its dignity to her passing. She, who made a fuss of everything, and thought a chipped cup a calamity, faced her death with humour and her spoken thought that, “You’ll be alright,”  was her last comment as her husband sat beside her on the bed.

He, who for years had lived within his wife’s concerns, alone at last, could set his dreams alight, or so he thought. He might explore and get to know people he had not yet met, and tread the path to discovery, and taste adventure ungoverned by her fears.

But now alone, and challenged by his imagination, he realised the very door that kept this world beyond his reach, gave him the licence to shape its landscape and possibilities without cost.  As he reflected thus, a wave of sadness startling in its suddenness, swept through him as he realised how her concerns had shielded him from himself, and allowed him his whimsies without risk. Nothing, he finally understood, makes a dream more frightening than it becoming possible

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Career Changing Moments

As a young teenager my passions swerved between football, and history. You can’t “do” history, or not easily if you’re a small boy, because people like Henry XIII are too busy getting married again to discuss their motivations with you, so, in the end, football became my sole obsession. 

In my imagination I was quietly modest, but with a killing touch on the ball which would see me ease down the wing with lightning speed before swerving past the opposition defence and slotting the ball neatly into the back of the net. The real star players seemed to have little to do but stand around and save their energy for applauding me as another of my goals was marked up on the scoreboard: not a bad life really.

 Sadly these daydreams did not end with a career in professional football,  and me surrounded by bathing beauties holding plates piled high with delicious sandwiches.  Life in the guise of realism and common sense tactfully advised me that a future as a professional footballer  might not be available to a boy whose other hobbies included bumping into furniture and wearing odd socks. 

I am reminded of another scenario where dreams were challenged. In days of yore  during an English lesson, the teacher, a keen sports enthusiast, sets his pupils the task of writing a poem: twenty minutes are allowed and then a selected few can offer them up to the critical skills of their master. “Ok then”, says the teacher,        “Whose first out of the starting blocks.” A small shy boy with dark curly hair raises his hand and waits to be called. “Yes Shakespeare” says the teacher. “Read us your gem”

“To be or not to be” begins Shakespeare quite nervously. “No No NO ” says the master. “To be or not to be” What are you talking about boy ?. ..Either it is or it isn’t, Make up your mind. Do not dither” Shakespeare tries to argue but it is clear his teacher is not going to be impressed. ” All right, sit down and have a go at writing something that isn’t so painfully indecisive.”…  “Right who’s next”

“Ah Partridge, says the teacher, stand up and let’s hear what our bowls captain has to offer.”  Partridge clears his throat and declaimes the following words ….”Custard was a clever Boy,…. He liked to eat a lot….. One day he bit off far too much,…. and found his throat was blocked”

“Brilliant” says the teacher. “Short pithy and with an important lesson on greed. Just what the man on the go needs to read in these days of gluttony. Ah there’s the bell. We’ll have a few more poems in the next lesson boys.”

Despite these gruelling examinations of talent some of these boys went on to forge admirable careers in the world beyond the school gates. Shakespeare, unbowed by his teacher’s comments, went on to become a skilled carpenter who, among other things, worked on the revolving staircase at the Globe Theatre where his old classmate Partridge was busy forging a career as a playwright !

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