Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Going Down

The sharp suited man jabbed his finger impatiently at the fifth floor lift button. He wanted to get out of here, quick, double quick, to be alone, to take stock of what he'd been told. Here he could not think and he certainly did not want to talk, not to anyone. Hovering in the empty corridor at the lift doors he waited what seemed an eternity. The floor indicators rose, lingered and rose again, crept up to the floor below, skipped his floor, and shot to the very top of the building. Then they started descending slowly, he waited disconsolately as they lingered on the floor above. No sooner had this indicator turned itself off than the lift doors slid open; surprising him with their unexpected zeal.

The opening doors revealed two other men dressed in a more mundane fashion. How could he have anything in common with them? With his sharp suit he briefly glanced at them: could they guess his secret? He had hoped the lift would be empty; that he wouldn't have to acknowledge anyone. The more shabby of the two nodded at him as the doors shut and pressed the ground floor button. He did not respond to the gesture; instead he stared shamefaced at the door with, what he assumed were, their eyes burning knowingly into his back.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Book Review – Leo Tolstoy Short Stories

I've read quite a few short stories recently by Leo Tolstoy along with those of quite a few other Russian authors of the same period. Partly this has been in preparation for the anticipated slog of reading Tolstoy's War and Peace. I must say Tolstoy is emerging as my favourite all time author and the one I have the most to learn from.

The first collection I read was The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Stories.

In the title story – The Kreutzer Sonata (1889) – the narrator takes a railway journey and overhears passengers discussing issues of love and marriage. A range of opinions are voiced and these range from arguments for forced marriage to an upper class woman saying couples should marry for love. Most of the views are sexist in some form and none really challenge sexist stereotypes. Even the marrying for love viewpoint still accepts the subservient role of women after marriage.

The first section is quite long and it is only when all but one of the passengers have departed that the main part of the story begins. Here Posdnicheff relates the story of how he came to kill his wife. It is meant to illustrate the pressures husbands come under and, bizarrely, advocates a sort of celibacy within marriage.

I wonder what Countess Sophia Andreyevna Tolstaya (Tolstoy's wife) thought of this story? It seems to draw on many aspects of the Tolstoy's relationship. For example when Posdnicheff shows his soon to be wife a diary which details his past affairs and visits to prostitutes. Tolstoy himself did a similar thing. Sophia, surely, cannot have been pleased with either that event or the fictional version.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Marginal Quandary

The last theorem.
Perplexing ever since.
Did he ever solve the puzzle?

Friday, 24 June 2011

The Lookalike

Conner had never been to this particular strip club before, connoisseur of such establishments as he was. Often he'd walked these streets, admiring the prostitutes, always looking and never having the courage to ask. So when he happened on the garish lights and enticing posters of scantly clad girls he was sure he had never noticed this club or building before; and he was familiar enough with this area. Inside the club possessed the usual trashy décor. With few customers Conner was able to grab a table near the side of the stage; a great view he hoped. There he sat for over an hour being terribly disappointed and drinking the most expensive of half pints. The promised entertainment on the outside billboard never materialised. He felt cheated. There was no wild exoticism, no wondrous girls, no tantalising extravaganza, and above all no dream to end dreams. Instead was a shallow parade of dull woman who disappeared offstage as soon as anything remotely revealing was promised.

It was a measure of how mind numbingly dull the performances were that Conner found himself reflecting on his marriage. Twenty-two years of claustrophobia with cold frigid Jacky. He wondered why he'd ever became involved with her? Or, indeed, she with him? He had expected her to thaw on their honeymoon – two rainy weeks in Blackpool, even then a holiday resort in decline – but global warming had never reached Jacky's erogenous zones. And today she looked off-puttingly grim, the excess weight, the pitted face, the dank greying mop of hair, and above all the foul scowl of a temper; it was enough to put off the most desperate. Is it any wonder Conner sort the occasional recreation in a discrete club of his choice. Really, what harm could there be in that?

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Bygone Days

He knew he was to old for it. He saw the occasional glances. But it identified him in the office; made him recognisable, an individual in an anonymous world. It was what everyone used to describe him; often with a wry knowing smile, that, somehow, he failed to notice, or had he just become used to those half concealed smirks?

That ponytail was his trademark feature and he'd had it since he'd left school. It had been with him throughout his student days and the music festivals. Through his series of dead end jobs and a failed childless marriage. And then it had been frowned upon in his interview for the a local authority pen pusher some thirty years ago. He'd somehow obtained the job and been stuck with it ever since. At first he'd intended the job to be temporary, to fill a gap, a little gap before something better came along. But now, in these hard times, he was stuck with the most boring job in Christendom; and he'd given up looking or even waiting for something better.

Once the ponytail had been a delicious brown and hung down, almost danced, below the top of his jeans. Though he'd always been offended at being called a hippy; not that he had anything against hippies you understand. And it had originally been accompanied with a trim deep brown beard.

Now the ponytail hung like a limp grey mop and was hardly enhanced by the expanding bald patch. The once luminous beard had shrunk to a thin grey moustache; almost too neatly clipped and manicured for the rest of his persona. To lose the ponytail after all these years would make him just like all the others; another old man shuffling paper in an office. It would have been like losing a loved one; sad, no matter how grey and decrepit they may be.

The ponytail was a sign of his rebelliousness, his desire not to conform, or at least that's what he hoped people would believe, as he'd never really been that rebellious, never marched to free Palestine or protested against the catastrophic invasion of Iraq. He'd just sat at home and seen it on the telly and grumbled, a sad disconsolate moan. The really rebellious ones had passed him by and were gone before he'd ever dreamt of getting involved. And then he'd regretted his passivity, thought he should have stood up for something, demonstrated for a better world, even if he believed it was all a totally futile exercise.

He hated his mundane office job. Sitting at the front desk of the municipal offices, collecting the forms that locals were to stingy to post or email. He was always quiet, tried to be civil, he took the forms with a smile and placed them on the right pile. The forms that others, more senior than he would process. Then he'd slink back and pretend to be doing something on the computer, try to look like he was busy, to suggest that he had something better to do.

“Did you see the ponytail,” the women would chatter, sniggering, as they left the building.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

A Better Day

I'm looking for a quite place to sit, to think, to get my thoughts in order, to rest my aching legs. I desperately need to make sense of this torrent of runaway misconceptions. To attempt to get a little of it straight; to understand what happened; some these wispy ideas may even make sense, be worthwhile, be worth remembering, who knows?

It's supposedly summer and the grey sky's are meandering passed; warning, hinting at rain which never arrives. It's not been a good summer. The occasional glimpse of sunshine does little to assuage the chilly air and I pulled my thin coat tightly around my body. Why do these small town streets enhance the wind so?

Alas there are few seats near the shops and all are occupied or have pedestrians storming, distractingly, passed. All those shoppers chasing that last sale item or bargain. I walk around the square again just in case a single space has suddenly become free. I often end up resting in the nearby park some half a mile away. But at this time of day it is filled with kids and screeching and seems just so off putting. And it's just as miserable here; all around are apparently busy, fulfilled, sane. While I wait for that wistful meaning that never quite arrives.

I give up wondering the town centre and venture into the park. There the wind is more forgiving; being stifled by the trees. These parks have even fewer places to sit, most likely down to petty vandalism, but down by the pond there is one hard metal bench that seems to survive and is often unoccupied. Here the wind strokes the trees and the leafs caused by the summer dryness blow. Few people stroll passed and I try not to notice those that do; try not to see their envious lives, there excited chattering, the bickering, and those ignoring each other.

I hang on until late afternoon and then linger, linger, linger; watching nothing but the wind. I don't want to return to my grimy bedsit. The single room that reminds me of you, the room we temporarily shared, and you all too quickly vacated. Finally I thought this was it, I had found the one, the only one, and then you're gone. One day you just vanished, no note, no message, just vanished. All that's left is the cup you chipped, some forgotten clothes and a painful memory. A memory too disagreeable to endure.

Back home then after a tiring day wondering the streets, to the place that is no home and another night of bitter remembrance.

I'll be back here tomorrow, wondering these small town streets, as there's nowhere else to go, nowhere else to escape to. The poetry of life is so perplexing.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Gawky in the Park

Walking along the footpath hand-in-hand with that monstrosity of a boyfriend she was taller and noticeably more gawky; her slender brown dress did not fit where it was supposed. Where it promised sculptured, sleek designer lines it just hung limply, sadly. Below the ragged hem two clumsy legs scuttled along; bright and vibrant, almost glowing, reflecting the sunshine.

Her face was clasped, virtually locked, within shoulder length straight mousy hair. Peaking beneath the fringe you could just discern she was near to tears, and he, clasping her hand, couldn't see it coming. But it had to be done; done on this very walk in the park. Alongside the bowling greens and the tennis courts, she'd wait until then, that's the place, on that seat with the old men watching anxiously on, she'd have to tell him, somewhere public enough for him not to make his usual fuss.

She'd known him about a year or so and at first she'd been flattered. The gawky one getting that good looking boyfriend. But she quickly discovered he was not what he first seemed. So she'd waited for something better to turn up, and kept him in tow as the backup to go out with, the problem was the something better had never arrived.

At last her life was moving on, another job, another city, new friends beckoned, even a career, maybe, who knows? The something better was not another boyfriend – though that would be his accusation. She knew he would take braking up badly, that he'd be imploring, picky demanding, accusing, and that in public he'd have to resist the temptation of being abusive.

The Big Bang

My fault.
A fire ball.
One hell of a bang.
Us Gods should never play with matches.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Film Review – Dr. Strangelove

I watched the Stanley Kubrick 1964 film Dr. Strangelove last night. And when you start to watch a classic like this again you wonder if it will live up to your expectations and memory. It sure did; it was thoroughly enjoyable. There is a wonderfully witty script with some brilliant one liners. (There's no point in listing them here as they are best first heard from within the film.)

Peter Sellers is the star for sure. But this time around I was equally impressed by some of the other performances. After all the Dr. Strangelove title character did occupy less screen time than I seemed to remember. For example George C. Scott is just wonderful as the maverick General "Buck" Turgidson, and there are many other intriguing characters.

The really terrifying thing about the film is that the kind of buffoons lampooned here are still in charge of the military. Details may have changed, such as the Russians now calling themselves capitalists, but fundamentally we still suffer the same insanity. And still the lunacy of nuclear weapons is with us. It always was criminal to build these monstrosities and it is even more pointless today. After all these years isn't it amazing: we haven't learnt anything. Or at least the military types haven't, the proof: just take a quick look around the world.

Monday, 13 June 2011

The Perfect Childhood

She did not look like anybodies mother; she didn't appear to have the time. Her neat pin striped suits were always pristine; not a hair, not a speck of dust would dare settle, the sharp pleats were always immaculate. The caustic blonde hair and red fingernails were not made for mothering. And she commanded those around her with a steely determination. Always proclaiming she had the most demanding of standards, that she could never tolerate fools, which sort of ended his relationship with his mother. (He only realised, years later, that this was just an excuse for bullying and even the most skilled of staff quickly moved on.)

He wasn't sure when he realised he was a trophy child. Something to be occasionally shown off, in appropriate company, then hidden away upstairs and out of sight. Something to be paraded in the sterile downstairs rooms when absolutely necessary. Then rapidly bundled off to the next underpaid girl in a stream ever changing nannies.

Had she ever wanted him? Even now he dare not ask.

There were no proper photos of him and his mother, not what you would call family snaps. All he had were cuttings from the Sunday magazine business sections and articles filled with glowing, supine reports of the feminist business executive mixing family life with a high profile financial career.

He half remembered the scene: his nanny carefully inspecting him for the merest transferable stain, being tentatively positioned upon his mother's lap, the photographer encouraging, his mother unsure how to hold him, and being whisked away moments later – just in case. All for the perfect glossy family portrait.

Mechanical Affection

Can kill when aroused.
Use carefully, at your own risk.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

The Machines of Promise

The buzz inside always excited her; on every visit she took a moment to linger in the doorway and drink in the atmosphere, the expectation, the thrill. She loved the glitzy flashing lights, the bustle of laughter, the jangling, clink and clatter of coins, that was real hard, metal money; money you could feel, had some weight. Cash that held out the promise of a better future or at least some respite from the misery outside and her humdrum life.

She had her own machine, her own lucky machine, the one on which she had scored her first big win. This was off to the side and away from where the hoodies and school kids loitered. Under the plastic flashing lights she played the arcade slot machines with an intense concentration. Coin after coin clattered and buzzed, cartoon fruits, bells and notes spun and so many times she almost won. The occasional little win kept her going and excited. That twenty or thirty quid, just what was needed in the chase after the big one. The excitement was obsessive and it was one of her few joys; the joy where she lost all track of time and petty responsibilities.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Friday, 10 June 2011


She screams out:
"Intrigue me."
He, without reply, leaves annoyed.

The Café

We sat in the supermarket café at a table that really could have done with a wipe. We watched as our mothers had joined the queue and chatted and assumed they were talking about us. We had sat and waited, all embarrassed, while we usually had so much to say to each other. They arrived back with what the menu valiantly described as buffalo mozzarella, vine ripened tomato and pesto on a toasted ciabatta and we all ended up with an additional mixed salad – which I really did not want and never would have asked for. There were lukewarm cappuccinos to drink as we were supposed to be grown ups now.

They fussed and we all started to eat. The mozzarella now cold but dribbling a greasy oil over our hands and arms. With the napkins too thin to mop up the humiliation. Somehow I felt my hands would never be clean again, there would always be this greasy lingering shame.

Our two mothers had gotten together and taken us teenagers out, a special treat mine had claimed; for you and your new boyfriend. All afternoon we had to suffer the indignity as they watched our every move, and now our every mouthful. They monitored every salad leaf dangling from our lips, every drip of coffee, every awkward glance.

Talk was of all the usual inane chatter: weather, work, the state of the economy, Aunt Clara's leg. It all drifted over us and we fell into an embarrassed silence. The grown ups seemed not to notice the silence and prattled on. Mothers: how easily they make first love mundane.


“When then?”
“Never with you.”
“But you suggested...”
"I've changed my mind... maybe forever."

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Punk Vision

She was not the kind of girl he usually found desirable; the unshaven legs, the unfamiliarity with the shower, the chain smoking, the brazen punk buzz of her iPod, above all the smoke that hung on her every breath and impregnated her garish clothes.

He didn't know what she had, he just knew he liked it, liked it a lot. Above all he wanted to explore what ticked inside her head; underneath that cropped black and green hair and decorative piercings. She must be such an unusual and fascinating person.

Every day he tried to see her; he knew roughly when she left her flat opposite for work and roughly when she'd be back. He would look out from his top floor flat on the long straight road of Victorian houses all broken up into bedsits. A typical student area even if he, and he expected she, were not students. He hated it when she arrived back, often laughing, sometimes sullen, with friends – especially if they were male. And longed to know where she'd been when she alone strode to her doorway.

Monday, 6 June 2011


It was British racing green, or so I told myself, but really it was a disappointment. First glanced at everything seemed superficially correct: the five speed gears, the drop handlebars, the uncomfortable racing saddle. But the other kids knew: it was not the branded model, nothing to boast about, it was a discount bike.

During the summer rain it rusted outside. The thin paintwork became scratched and dented. We played out on the fields at the back of the estate; no time or land for cycling. The bike was only retrieved late afternoon for my paper round.

I told my friend, from two doors down, that the bike had been hit by flying bullets while escaping the police. The rusty scratches were proof, absolute proof. I still don't know if he believed me.

Friday, 3 June 2011

A Family Excursion

“Just say what you want.”

My husband was concentrating on fitting a life jacket on our daughter and did not hear me remain resolutely silent.

“We'll do what you want,” he uttered, fiddling with buckles, “you just have to say. How's that,” his half baked inattention evaporated he concentrated totally on our daughter, “tight enough? See how that is.” He tugged at the life jacket and our seven year old daughter ran off to join her two older brothers waiting in the boat.

Finally he looked in my direction; I could feel the condemnation: “Tell me what you want. I've never been able to read your mind.”

I turn as if walking back up the slipway to the car but only manage a few steps. Looking at the ground the desired words become jumbled and inarticulate, they stick in my chest with a harsh stabbing pain.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

We Lived

I glimpse. She nonchalant. I watch. She tantalises. I grin. She entranced. She spoke. I mumbled. She flirted. We parted. I wished. I longed.

We meet. I desire. We walk. She fascinates. We sit. She intrigues. We talk. She enraptures. We embraced. She captivates. I love. She loves. We kissed. We loved.

We talked. We hugged. We drank. We danced. We laugh. We drank. She sips. I drink. I drink. I insult. She cried. We reconciled. She admonishes. We kissed. I love. I loved. I love.

I dreamt. We touched. We snuggled. We laughed. She smiled. We hugged. We undressed. We kissed. We played. We romped. We lingered. We revelled. We entwined. She mounted. We moaned. She thrust. I came. She slept.

I awoke. I smoked. She arose. She smiles. She bathed. She cooked. I ate. Parents disapprove. Friends warned. Friends disapproved. We holiday. We relax. We explore. We sleep. Friends scatter.

We marry. She waitresses. She studies. I sweat. I earn. She conceives. We celebrate. We move. I work. She decorates. She miscarries. I blame. She sulks. I blame. We argue. I threaten.

She disappoints. She flirted. She lusted. She sinned. I accuse. She denied. She wept. I swear. I shouted. I explode. I hit. I hit. I hit. She screamed. I apologised.

I promised. I remembered. I joked. I plotted. I belittled. I demanded. She betrayed. She disobeyed. I raged. I beat. I beat. She fell. I wounded. I hospitalised. I apologise.

She left. I followed. I confront. I pleaded. I assured. I implore. She relents. She returns.

We loved. I promised. I schemed. I compelled. She disappoints. I struck. I smash. I apologise. She departs. She hid. She divorced. She remarried. I hate.

I aged. I cried.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011


Everything here is so drab: my claustrophobic accommodation, the sluggish work transports, the dull lighting of the work arena, this entire city. I just long for colour.

I crept down the fire escape of the accommodation compound into the still silent air. It was well after sunset and the curfew. Little light penetrated this part of the city and everything was dull brownish monochrome. Even in daylight it wasn't much brighter. I'm not giving you my name. That would be dangerous, far to risky, I don't know you. I could be detained for just thinking about this crime.

My eyes adjusted to the familiar darkness. The biggest risk was right outside the accommodation compound. I ran through the large open arena reserved for work transports. Once in the surrounding shrubbery I breathed a sigh of relief. Slowly I hedged passed the derelict hangers and warehouses. Only occasionally flitting across an abandoned road. It was a long route and not particularly scenic, determined by not getting caught. And it was all so monotonously drab.