The Cats of Ronda

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The Cats of Ronda by Chris Green

If you visit the historic city of Ronda in southern Spain, you are likely to notice that the cats scurrying around under the tables at alfresco restaurants for scraps are slender. While you are wondering whether to toss them the skin from your monkfish, what you may not be aware of is that despite their being small in stature, these Andalusian felines possess age-old mystical powers. It is thought that the cats of Ronda originated long ago in ancient Egypt. The Egyptians knew a thing or two about the magic of cats. The ones that made the millennial odyssey through North Africa and came over during the Moorish invasion were probably the pick of the bunch. Down through the centuries, their progeny may have inherited their ancestors’ numinous gift.

On my occasional trips to Spain, I had not come across them. It was not until one evening over dinner during a stay in the fabled city that I began to notice them.

‘That one is called Layla,’ said the stranger in the white linen suit, pointing to the small black cat at the foot of my table. We were outside a small restaurant just down from Hemingway’s famous bullring. ‘She likes slices of grilled squid. I think that if you tipped your plate up and let her have those pieces you have left, you would in some way benefit from a modicum of good fortune.’

‘Ha! You think it’s as easy as that,’ I said, to humour him, more than anything else. Why was this roué wearing that thick gold earring, I was thinking? It looked ridiculous on him. He was much too old for such adornments.

‘Try it, my friend,’ he said. ‘What have you got to lose?’

I felt I was due some good fortune. Things had not been going well of late. The very reason I had come to Ronda was to get over a failed business venture and put a jaded relationship behind me. The sunshine of Andalusia was a big attraction and Ronda, being some distance away from the teeming crowds of the Costa del Sol, seemed to have a special appeal.

Still a little concerned that my fellow diners would disapprove or that the waiter might come over and read the riot act, I slyly slid the slices of squid to Layla. She gathered them up and took them to a darkened corner of the courtyard to feast on them. The stranger meanwhile finished his Mojito cocktail and got up to leave. He shook me by the hand and, with a glint in his eye, said, ‘Layla will remember you now, my friend. You should be on the lookout out for a pleasant surprise.’

I took this with a pinch of salt. Spain, just like anywhere else today, was overflowing with charlatans. But, when I got back to my room at Hotel Farolito, there she was, waiting. A vision of loveliness. Long black hair, little black dress and a smile like daybreak. At first, I assumed I had walked into someone else’s room. I was about to apologise and take my leave when I thought to check the number of the key I had in my hand. 101. It was the right room. No doubt about it. This was Room 101. I was searching for a rational explanation and mumbling something incoherent, when she said, ‘I thought you wouldn’t mind, querido, if I joined you. I’ve put my things in the wardrobe. I hope that is all right.’

While it seemed fortunate that I had booked una habitación doble, first I had to allay my fears that this was a set-up. When you have been down on your luck for a while, it’s only natural to be a little suspicious of serendipity turning up unannounced. Especially in such a dramatic way. Besides, the shady character in the white suit who had promised the good fortune was hardly the sort you would buy a second-hand car from.

‘I’ve read about you and seen your picture in the paper, cariño,’ she said.

This was strange because the only time I could recall being in the papers was when Jimmy Jazz Enterprises ceased trading. Perhaps she was thinking of someone else, I suggested.

Somehow we got over our uneasy start and before long, we were getting along like a house on fire. A man can never be certain of a woman’s motives, but Isabella presented a convincing case that her intentions were honourable. She spent twenty four hours reassuring me in the nicest possible way, after which time I was too enamoured to care.

We talked a little about cats during this time, as you do. Isabella maintained she knew little about them but I was able to do some basic research on my laptop. I found out about the cat’s place in Egyptian society. Cats it seemed were a symbol of grace and sang-froid and because they possessed mystical powers they were considered sacred. As a result, for over a thousand years, Egyptians, the most advanced civilisation on Earth worshipped a succession of cat deities, the most powerful of these being Bastet, Mihos, Sekmet and Mekal. It was important for citizens to own a cat and well-bred felines were exhibited in shows. When a cat died the family would go into mourning and prized animals were often mummified.

I don’t know how we ended up going to the restaurant I had been at the previous evening. It’s possible that it might have been Isabella’s idea. I was not sure what to expect. While I had mentioned the strange encounter to her in passing, I had kept my cards close to my chest with regard to the detail. This time, it was late, nearly eleven, and there was no sign of the stranger in the white suit, but there were plenty of cats still skulking around. Towards the end of our fried calamari in tartare sauce starter, a slinky white one, so white it was almost luminous, came over and sat expectantly at the foot of our table. My thinking, perhaps helped along by the second bottle of wine, was, if black cats, traditionally thought of as a bad omen, brought such bounteous good fortune, then who knew what delights white ones might bring. I tossed a couple of the fried rings down and the cat gobbled them up.

‘You really shouldn’t have done that,’ said a dark figure emerging out of the shadows. He had long, uncombed black hair and was wearing skin-tight black trousers and a ripped black t-shirt with white lettering in an unfamiliar script. He could have almost been auditioning for the part of Bob in Twin Peaks.

‘You will regret it,’ he said as he stepped into the light, his sinewy tattooed face trembling with menace. He continued in Spanish. ‘No todos los gatos de Ronda traen buena fortuna. Ese gato es malo. Muy malo.’

A bad one? I wanted to challenge him on this. Who was he? How did he know the cat was bad? He clearly intended it to be a short conversation. He said I would find out soon enough. Muy pronto. Adios, amigo. He was gone like a thief in the night. He probably was a thief in the night. He was certainly not Santa Claus.

My attention had been so totally taken up with Twin Peaks Bob that I had not noticed it. But, when I turned back around, I couldn’t help but notice it, There was no-one at my table. To my alarm, Isabella too had vanished. I looked frantically around but she was nowhere to be seen.

‘Did you see where the woman who was sat with me went?’ I called out to the young couple at the only other table that was occupied. ‘La señora? Has visto?’

‘No había mujer. Estabas solo,’ said the man. ‘Hasta que ese hombre llegó.’

No matter how absorbed with one another they were, how could they have not noticed Isabella?

‘What about the man who came up to us?’ I said, ‘El hombre de negro.’

They had not noticed him either. Were they blind, or something?

None of the staff at the restaurant or any of the neighbouring bars could shed any light on what had happened. I didn’t say anything about the cats, as I was still thinking that there might have been some kind of chicanery and clearly, I couldn’t go to the police. I went back to Farolito hoping against hope that Isabella might be there. She was not. I spent the night worrying about her and about what the man in black had said. Was something terrible going to happen? When would it happen? Could he merely have been referring to Isabella’s disappearance? Maybe I was taking a pessimistic view, but I thought not.

What made me decide to return to the restaurant the following lunchtime, I cannot say. Maybe I thought Isabella might re-appear but quite honestly I had to admit I was clutching at straws. I had not been there in daylight before and although there was the distinct possibility that I was courting danger, there was the possibility that revisiting it might offer some clues as to what was going on. When strange things have occurred there is a natural urge to solve the mystery. I realised that I had either been badly distracted or woefully unobservant because I did not even know what the restaurant was called. As I approached in the light of day, I could see the sign, in bold lettering. It was called Los Gatos de Ronda. This somehow put a different complexion on things. The restaurant was a celebration of the contribution of the cat to Andalusian culture.

If I hadn’t been staring so intently at the display graphics, I might have been aware of the rider of the Kawasaki motorcycle bearing down on me. I might have stepped out of the way and avoided the accident which left me with multiple head injuries. Dr Hernandez thought it was too early to tell if there would be lasting brain damage, but he said I needed to stay in hospital for three or four days so they could keep an eye on me.

While I was lying there, the question I kept turning over and over in my mind was whether there was any justifiable reason to connect the Kawasaki ploughing into me with my having fed calamari to the white cat. No matter what the madman in black had said, such a proposition seemed to belong to the world of hocus-pocus. For one thing, I was not superstitious. I never had been. But, there again, rational thought seemed somehow to have jumped ship at Malaga. Whether there had been a causal connection or not, I could not deny that the accident happened in the wake of his warning. Or earlier that Isabella had appeared shortly after the lounge lizard had said something good would happen.

When you are in hospital, time hangs heavy on your hands, in foreign hospitals, even more so. You hear all this chatter going on around you in a foreign language. Admittedly my Spanish had improved of late, and I could make out some of what was being said, but I felt I needed to talk to someone in English. Out of the people on the ward, Javier was the only one who could speak good English. He had spent many happy months, he told me, as a marketing manager for a biscuit manufacturer in Ashby de la Zouche. He was gay, he said but sadly it was not yet fashionable to be gay in North Leicestershire so he came over to Ronda, where there were more opportunities to meet like-minded people. Javier’s tale of how he came to be in hospital was a strange one indeed.

‘You are probably not going to believe this,’ he said. ‘I’m in here because I fed the wrong cat at a restaurant. A tortoiseshell tabby. It looked hungry and I offered it some of my carabineros. A thug dressed like Benito Mussolini shouted something threatening at me and shortly afterwards I was viciously attacked by a Cambodian monk with a prayer wheel.’

I told him about my experience with the Twin Peaks Bob figure warning me something bad would happen after I fed the white cat and afterwards the Kawasaki running into me. Then I told him about feeding the black cat and the fellow in the white suit predicting good fortune followed by my finding Isabella in my room.

‘That’s uncanny,’ he said. ‘I shared my halibut with an Egyptian Mau cat. Pope Francis appeared out of nowhere and said I had done a good thing and would be rewarded and I found a Marlon Brando lookalike in my room.’

‘Early Marlon Brando, I trust,’ I said.

‘I take your point,’ he said. ‘It was The Wild Ones era Marlon Brando. The Godfather version wouldn’t get me going.’

‘So you are saying there is something of a pattern.’

‘Absolutely,’ he said. ‘Fernando over there fed some of his mackerel to a Siamese and was rewarded with a Euro millions win. But after he let a short-haired Burmese have some of his crayfish, he was struck over the head with an Abba statuette by a dwarf in a wheelchair.’

‘Astonishing,’ I said.

‘I believe the whole ward is full of people who have met with misfortune after feeding cats,’ he said.

‘What do you think is going on?’ I asked him.

‘You must have read about the special powers of the cats of Ronda by now,’ he said.

I confided that I had found out a little.

‘Well! Clearly, there are two distinct groups of cats,’ he said. ‘One group uses its special powers for good and the other uses them for evil.’

‘Good is usually associated with those that are group minded and evil by those who have broken away, isn’t it?’ I said. ‘Civilisation is based on rules and conformity.’

‘But this is all subjective. There are different thought systems, different cultures, different religions,’ he said. ‘There is no consensus.’

‘That’s right,’ I said ‘But, within each of these the notions of good or bad are based on conformity.’

‘I can see what you are saying, but this is still a simplistic view,’ he said. ‘Animal instincts promote survival and aggression.’

‘And in our scenario, we are talking about both people and cats,’ I said. ‘So how does it work?’

‘I can’t explain the supernatural elements,’ he said. But, I think that we ourselves might have a bearing on what happens to us. What each of us considers good or bad comes into play. For instance, I have always gone for hunky men like Marlon Brando, so it’s only natural that my visitor should look like Marlon Brando and I was brought up as a Catholic, hence Pope Francis. On the other hand, I have never liked military uniforms, hence Mussolini. Mussolini was obsessed by military uniforms.’

‘So far, so good,’ I said. ‘But, what about the Cambodian monk attacking you with a prayer wheel? How does that fit in?’

‘Good point,’ he said. ‘I can’t work that one out. Anyway, it was just an idea. I think perhaps we have a long way to go before we come up with a solution.’

‘It probably doesn’t help being in hospital,’ I said. ‘We can’t even get the internet in here.’

‘I’ll see what Pedro can find out,’ he said. ‘He has an iPhone.’

Unfortunately, this was the last conversation I had with Javier. Dr Hernandez wouldn’t tell me but I think Javier may have been discharged early. I never did find out who Pedro was.

My injuries must have been more serious than first thought, because each time I asked when they were going to let me go home, Dr Hernandez told me that I was not ready yet, but as long as I kept taking the medication, he was optimistic that it would not be more than a month or two. During this time, I had dozens of conversations about the cats of Ronda. They followed a similar pattern throughout, some good experiences mixed with some bad experiences, all of these happening after they had fed cats. Luis found himself on a paradise island but was then bitten by a poisonous snake and Maria Elena landed a modelling contract but was badly scarred when a UV light exploded. Diego was hit by a train. Diego seemed to have missed out on the good experience or perhaps he just couldn’t remember. I think they had put him on extra strong medication on the basis the injuries he sustained from the collision. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why it was but I couldn’t help but notice that everyone on the ward seemed to experience complications with their recovery and be kept in for longer than you might expect.

Juan Pablo didn’t think that Dr Hernandez was a real doctor or that we were in a real hospital. He thought that we were being held captive against our will. I told Juan Pablo not to be a fool. Of course we were in a real hospital. They gave us medication every day to make us better, didn’t they? In the end, Dr Hernandez had to restrain Juan Pablo once or twice, which was not at all pretty.

Eventually, I was discharged. It was a fine day and once I had got my bearings and checked back in at the Farolito, I went along to Los Gatos de Ronda. I sat there all afternoon but the strange thing was, despite the menu now consisting entirely of fish dishes, I didn’t see a single cat. What on earth could have happened to them all, I wondered? After my third Alhambra Mezquita, I plucked up the courage to ask the proprietor where all the cats were but he did not seem to know what I was talking about. He told me he had only recently bought the restaurant. He did not even know why the place had been named Los Gatos de Ronda, he said, it was a ridiculous name.

‘I have a painter coming in to change the sign,’ he said. ‘I’m going to call it La Cocina de Pescado.’

I was not sure of the exact translation but it was to do with fish. Something about it was definitely fishy. …… Perhaps all of it.

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

Concerto

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Concerto by Chris Green

1: Allegretto con moto

There are not many famous Spanish concert pianists, fewer still from Cantabria, that rainy green strip in the north of Spain. Nia Buendía might have joined this small elite, if only she had had larger hands. She mastered Mozart’s piano sonatas before she was ten and won regional competitions playing Beethoven Concertos when she was in her early teens. Catalan composer, Isaac Albéniz’s piano works are considered by many to be challenging, but Nia breezed through them. She took on Chopin and Schumann, winning acclaim for her lyrical interpretations of both composers. Even the difficult Carnaval caused her no problems. She was at the top of her game. At this stage, fame beckoned.

Sadly for Nia, classical pianists are eventually expected to have a go at Rachmaninov. Rachmaninov raises the bar a little. Even the greats have trouble. Rachmaninov, of course, had very big hands. He could comfortably straddle a thirteenth, whereas Nia could just manage an eighth. Nia could have exercised caution and elected to play his Piano Concert No 2, which is less challenging, but she chose to perform the famously difficult Rach 3. Somehow she managed to get through the first two movements, but the Third Movement proved to be her downfall. Her hands were simply too small to span and reach the extra notes of the giant chords. This was the Iberian National Young Musician of the Year event and her performance was televised. It was a disaster and afterwards, Nia broke down. She did not perform in public again. She was just nineteen.

For months afterwards, Nia experienced a recurring nightmare about her performance. In the nightmare, instead of shrinking off from the stage meekly at the end of the concerto, she took a blacksmith’s hammer and set about breaking the Steinway into pieces. Her therapist, Juan Loco, suggested that this was a positive sign. He said that by smashing the piano, she was taking control of the situation. It did not feel this way to Nia. Her spirit crushed, she withdrew further inside herself.

She tried to hide her despair under a cloak of normality. She had one or two lovers and eventually got married to Pablo Rodrigues, a provincial town planner in Santander with whom she raised two normal if unexceptional children, Javier and Josefina. But something was missing from her life. Her sparkle had gone. She was just going through the motions of living. Days passed and years passed with nothing to distinguish them from one another. Nia worked part time at the library then came home to cook dinner for the family. She pretended to like the television shows that Pablo liked and to understand golf. He, in turn, pretended to forget her birthday and not notice when she had her hair done. Twice a year they would have Pablo’s friends from the planning office and their wives round to dinner and she would cook paella and twice a year Pablo’s friends would return the compliment. Every year they went on holiday for the last week of August to Gijón, one hundred and forty kilometres along the coast.

Many of us pass our sad little lives never rocking the boat or troubling the pens of history’s copy writers. Perhaps we have nothing to say. The ennui of Nia’s early adult years may indeed be typical. What happens when in the middle of life we discover that time has begun to speed up? The expression mid-life crisis is perhaps apt. Sometimes it takes an unexpected event or a major health scare to jolt us out of our complacency. To show us that life is actually something that is finite.

To paraphrase Shel Silverstein, there came a point in her late thirties when Nia realised that Paris, sports cars and warm winds blowing her hair were not going to feature much in her life. She decided that a stable town planner might be better equipped to deal with the heteroclitic needs of teenage children than a soul in torment. Also, there was the terrible secret that she was not ready to share. She felt it was for the best all round that she made a clean break. In short, one day when Pablo was at work and Javier and Josefina were at school, she packed a bag, cleared out the joint bank account and left. Had she thought a little more about it she might have left a note to explain her reasons, but then Pablo might have pursued her and taken her prisoner again.

2: Largo misterioso

Let’s join Nia Buendía in New Orleans, Louisiana, the centre of voodoo, blues and jazz. Nia has taken an out of season riverboat down the Mississippi from Memphis to New Orleans. The blame for this strange pilgrimage must rest with young Javier’s copy of Las Aventuras de Huckleberry Finn which she found lying around. Reading it made her realise that human beings were nothing without an adventure. She also read Simone de Beauvoir’s El Segundo Sexo, which her friend, Flavia lent her. Why shouldn’t women as well as men have adventures? You had to take your chances in life. This was not a dress rehearsal for something else.

It has been a year or two since Hurricane Katrina brought New Orleans to its knees. Nia is at Po’ Boy’s Bar on the famous Bourbon Street and has had her bag stolen, with her passport and credit cards. This does not come as a surprise to Red Sayles, the jazz musician who has come over to comfort her. ‘Since Katrina, there’s no point in going to the police,’ he tells her. ‘They ain’t that big on crime solving.’

Unable to pay for the hotel and with nowhere else to go, Nia takes up Red’s offer to put her up until she gets sorted. He has an apartment just off of Basin Street, which he shares with some other musicians, but as luck would have it they are out of town. Red takes the opportunity to tell her what life in The Big Easy is like.

‘For the first few weeks after Katrina there was violence, looting, murder and rape,’ he says. ‘Then they sent in The National Guard. But that did not seem to help that much. There was more violence, looting, rape and murder. People was afraid. Except for journos looking for a story they just stopped coming. Everything was closed. There was no work. There was nothing in the shops.’

‘But I thought it was alright now,’ says Nia. ‘Well, until I had my bag stolen.’

‘It is alright. You was just unlucky, ma’am, that’s all. I guess it all takes time for things to settle. The city is slowly recovering. Places are re-opening, but for many it is a hand to mouth existence.’

‘I did see a few beggars.’

‘Yeah, but only a few, because people here have got pride. New Orleans is made up of Cajun and Creole. Cajun is French-speaking white American and Creole is French speaking black American. Now, I’m half Cajun and half Creole and I don’t speak French. Work that one out.’

‘I see.’

‘But I get by. If you know the right people, though, you can still get by. I love New Orleans. New Orleans is probably the only city in the modern world that is not homogenised, it has its own character. Most cities have become theme parks, but New Orleans, ma’am, New Orleans is real. I don’t think I will ever leave. The moonlight on the bayou, a creole tune that fills the air.’

‘That’s nice,’ says Nia. ‘Where is that from?’

‘Satchmo,’ says Red.

‘That’s Louis Armstrong, isn’t it,’ says Nia.

‘Yeah, the one and only. New Orleans got soul, you know. Music is its soul. You don’t play for the money here, you do it for the music.’

Nia is guarded about what she shares. She talks about how her trip down the Mississippi was an attempt to satisfy her vagabond spirit. She says little about her life with Pablo and drops it casually into the conversation that she has two children as if it is something that happened in a past life. Red does not pursue the enquiry.

Nia does not even mention that she once played the piano. But, through a comment she makes here and there, Red begins to realise that she has an understanding of music. One night when he comes home from playing in a club, he catches her tinkling around on his practice keyboard. This is the first time in years that she has played. Red can’t help but notice that she is not a beginner. He listens quietly from the next room. He feels that there is a great sadness about her playing. It is not just the minor key that describes her melancholy but the way she puts that extra space between the descending notes.

‘It might not sound like it, but that’s the blues you’re playing,’ says Red. ‘That there tune your playing is coming from a place deep inside.’

‘Oh sorry, I didn’t see you there.’

‘It’s a pretty tune,’ he says. ‘Where did you learn to play like that?’

Nia explains a little about her classical training and about her downfall.

‘Rachmaninov,’ he says. ‘You’re jivin me, right? He sounds like he’s hitting the dang piano with a blacksmith’s hammer.’

‘You mean …… the big chords?’ says Nia, taken aback by the image.

‘Yeah, them big chords, if that’s what you can call them. ……. But I do like some classical music. Satie is cool, you can do something with his tunes, and Debussy. …….. But Rachmaninov and all those Russian cats are a no-no. All artists and musicians should be looking for stillness in their art. You get disconnected when you lose your stillness and this Rachmaninov sure is disconnected.’

Red persuades Nia to sit in on a session at a lunchtime the following day and it goes down well with the punters. In his evening set, he gives her a solo spot. She finds that Chopin lends himself to jazz. She puts in a bit of Bach too.

‘That was great,’ Nia says. ‘I enjoyed that more than turning over pages of music over and over to get to the end of a piece. I wanted it to just go on and on.’

‘That’s cool then,’ says Red. ‘You’re hired.’

‘But it can’t last,’ says Nia, her face dropping. ‘You see. There’s something I haven’t told you.’

She tells Red the secret that she has shared with no-one. She tells him that she has a rare incurable degenerative blood disease and according to the doctors back home has just a few months to live.

‘Nothing’s incurable,’ says Red, composing himself. ‘You wouldn’t believe what I’ve witnessed here in New Orleans. I know a Creole traiteur called Faucon Noir who can make the lame walk and make the blind see. He can probably even bring the dead back to life. They say Faucon Noir is 114 years old but you take a look at him, he doesn’t look a day older that you or me. Have you heard about Haitian voodoo?’

‘Isn’t it all dolls and pins?’

‘That’s the common myth isn’t it? But gris-gris, as we call it, is not just mojo bags of rabbits’ feet and dragon’s blood. It ain’t ginseng or tai chi or acupuncture, this is the real deal. It’s a spiritual force which can be used to heal the body, mind and spirit.’

‘How does this ….. gris-gris work?’

‘I don’t know how it works. All I know is that it does work. Anyone who has lived in New Orleans will tell you that it works. You just wait and see. Faucon Noir will cure you of your rare blood disease or my name’s not Red Sayles.’

3: Allegro con sentimento

Let’s move on. Having herself been spared, Nia Buendía feels she must do something worthwhile to acknowledge her good fortune. The Advance Africa initiative provides her with the perfect opportunity, teaching in a special school in Dakar, Senegal. Senegal has suffered a catalogue of famines and disasters. It is near the bottom of the table in terms of life expectancy, literacy, access to knowledge and living standards. It badly needs people like Nia. She joins a team of committed overseas voluntary workers of various nationalities.

Nia’s role is to teach disturbed children through music. She believes where children have suffered trauma in their lives, that music can help them to develop individual, creative, and social skills in a way that language alone cannot. This is fortunate because although Nia’s French is good and French is the official language in Senegal, it is spoken only by an educated minority. With a population of over two million, Dakar is one of the largest and most cosmopolitan cities in Africa. Many languages are spoken here, but on the streets, the one that you hear the most is Dakar-Wolof, a mixture of Wolof, French and Arabic.

Dakar is all streetlife and primary colours. Everywhere there are vibrant markets selling fruit and fish, weaving medinas with makeshift stalls selling vivid textiles, tribal masks, mosaic tiles and brightly coloured beads. Citroen cars of every vintage criss-cross one another in bouts of traffic chaos. Children play football on swathes of urban scrubland and spin car tyres like hoops between streams of buzzing mopeds. Men carry accordions, bongo drums and curiously shaped koras down to the beach. You can hear the rhythms of mbalax music pounding day and night. It’s a musical culture. Senegal has a rich musical history and has spawned a wealth of talent. There are some brilliant musical role models for Nia to call upon, musicians like Youssou N’Dour, Ali Farka Touré, Amadou et Mariam, and Mory Kanté.

Loup Gaultier is a teacher at Nia’s school. He is French-Senegalese. He has long grey locks tied back. He smiles a lot, revealing a mouthful of gold-capped teeth. He wears a tribal necklace of tusks and shells, and snake rings on each finger of his left hand. He is softly spoken and is the sort of person that people feel they can open up to, sure of a sympathetic ear. He has worked in West Africa for many years. There is not a lot he doesn’t know about this part of the world.

‘What brings you to Senegal?’ he asks Nia. ‘We do not get many people from Spain.’

Nia explains about the miracle in New Orleans. How she was given a new lease of life by a venerable Creole mystic using ancient African spells. Loup understands the power of juju, djinn, hoodoo or voodoo or whatever you want to call it. He is not surprised by Nia’s tale. He has heard many like it.

She goes on to tell him about her previous life in Spain and how she does not feel she can return to her family there. ‘I can’t change what has happened, only what has yet to come,’ she says. Maybe I will be able to return one day, but I have work to do here first.’

Loup nods his agreement. It is always best to be non-judgemental when listening to others’ explanations of their actions. You can’t tell others what to do; they have to reach their own conclusions.

‘Why did I choose Senegal?’ Nia continues. ‘Simple. I found an advert for the voluntary service on the internet, was able to speak French and picked a place where speaking French might be useful. …….. And I’m loving Senegal. It’s so full of life.’

‘You might like what you see today with all the laughter and gaiety in the streets,’ Loup says. ‘But you have to realise that Senegal is putting on a brave face for the world. There is a lot that is hidden. Did you know there are three refugee camps within twenty miles of here? And, Senegal has a shameful past in collusion with the French. Saint Louis just down the coast was once one of Africa’s busiest slave ports.’

Perhaps they had touched on the slave trade at school back home in Cantabria, but Nia had not taken in the grim details.

Loup tells her how slavery was part of a triangular trade. The first side of the triangle was the export of goods from Europe to Africa. A number of African kings and merchants took part in the trading of enslaved people. For each captive, the African rulers would receive guns, ammunition and other manufactured goods. The second leg of the triangle exported enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas and the Caribbean. The third and final part of the triangle was the return of goods from slave plantations included cotton, sugar, tobacco, and molasses across the Atlantic to Europe.

‘In the twenty years from 1720, French ships enslaved two hundred thousand Africans to plantations in the Americas and the Caribbean,’ says Loup.

‘I seem to remember hearing that a quarter of them died on the ships going over,’ says Nia. ‘In a sense, I suppose they were the lucky ones.’

‘Its impossible to even imagine the conditions today. Ships were packed, it was dark and hot and airless and they lived in shit, piss, and vomit. They had little to eat but even worse they had little fresh water to drink.’

‘And, of course, no better when they got there, I imagine.’

‘Many of those leaving from here were taken to sugar plantations in Haiti. During the eight-month sugar harvest, slaves worked continuously around the clock. The accidents caused by long hours and primitive machinery were horrific.’

‘And it went on for years before anyone did anything about it. And, it’s not that long ago.’

‘France continued the trade legally until 1830, long after the rest of Europe had abolished it. Even after this five hundred French ships continued trading illegally. Altogether, a million and a half enslaved Africans were taken by French ships.’

‘So the French were the worst,’ says Nia.

‘No-one comes out of it well. But, if it’s any comfort Spain abolished slavery twenty years earlier.’

‘Not a lot of comfort, really.’

‘Anyway, that’s enough of the history lesson, don’t you think?’ says Loup. ‘Except, of course, to say that the Haitian slaves became the Creoles in New Orleans.’

‘I know,’ says Nia. ‘Creole comes from the Portuguese crioulo, which means a slave born in the master’s household.’

‘Why I really came over is that I have something to ask,’ says Loup.

‘Fire away,’ says Nia.

‘I’ve been given this boy called Jimi,’ says Loup. ‘He can’t read or write but he’s a genius on the guitar and the piano.’

‘With a name like Jimi, perhaps he should stick to the guitar,’ says Nia.

‘I don’t think that Jimi is his real name, but anyway, I thought you might be able to teach him some classical music.’

‘I could take him through some Etudes to get him started, I suppose.

‘I believe he was thinking more in terms of Rachmaninov. He saw a young pianist playing Rachmaninov on television recently.’

‘Does he have big hands?’

‘Yes, he does as it happens,’ says Loup. ‘We think that his father might have been a ..’

‘Blacksmith,’ Nia finishes his sentence.

‘How did you know?’

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon

baadermeinhoffphenomenon

Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon by Chris Green

I’ll start at the end. Jonny Bisco is dead. He met his maker in October 2009 when his Moto Guzzi motorcycle skidded off the road in a freak thunderstorm near the small town of Bovey Tracey on the edge of Dartmoor. He was sixty four years old. You may not have heard of Jonny Bisco yet, but the chances are, you will. Even now. Even though he has been dead for seven years, his star is rising. Posthumous fame is more frequent than you imagine. Think Van Gogh, Kafka, Jesus.

Who was Jonny Bisco, you must be wondering? It is difficult to pigeonhole him but were it not for him you would be without many of the things that you take for granted. You would not have a tiger in your tank. You would not be changing rooms or baking off. You would not have a selfie stick or be enjoying free selfie tuition at your local college on a Thursday evening. Jonny Bisco was undoubtedly an enigma. So let’s establish what we do know about him.

Jonny Bisco was born to Ron and Anne Bisco, the seventh of seven sons. Growing up in Barnstaple in the post-war years, Jonny was a gauche and gangly child. Giving his elder brothers a wide berth and avoiding the gangs and cliques at the Devon schools he attended, he developed a solitary persona, seeking out the places that he knew his contemporaries would not. If he had a best friend, it was probably an imaginary one. He was habitually drawn towards the unusual and fascinated by the unexplainable. At a very young age, he was known to retire to his room for days on end to read the works of Nikola Tesla or the teachings of Krishnamurti. He devoured the early science fiction novels of Kurt Vonnegut and Theodore Sturgeon with equal relish. On rainy days, he often took to going on long walks on the moors to contemplate the nature of the universe and perhaps to seek congress with aliens.

Remarkably, there is no record of Jonny Bisco from 1963 onwards. Until recently, there was little interest in what he might have been up to. But as we begin to realise his monumental importance as an innovator, speculation regarding his whereabouts during the lost years abounds. Was he in hiding or could he have been using another name? Or many names? Was he studying the occult on a barge in Burma or had he perhaps been kidnapped by extraterrestrials? No-one knows.

I first became aware of Jonny Bisco a week or two ago when I was researching for a short story about an eccentric inventor. I found that the patents for virtually everything I had mentioned in the draft of the story were actually owned by him. Somehow, over the years he had accumulated a prodigious portfolio. The patents for the plug and play pet rock, the edible pen and the silent trumpet that in the story I had attributed to my character were items already patented by Jonny. Each time I tried to substitute another unlikely invention, I found that this too had already been thought of by Bisco. Imagine someone else thinking of a USB frog, an invisible kettle or a luminous badger. It was uncanny. When I tried to bring a little more realism into the tale by having my protagonist come up with a self-cleaning, solar-powered smartdog and a universal healing balm, it turned out that Jonny had also thought of these and patented the ideas.

I wondered if other people were aware of Jonny Bisco’s clandestine enterprises but no-one at the office where I worked seemed interested. They were an incurious lot at Ideas R Us. When I brought the subject up with my partner, Carrie after dinner one evening, she said, you’re not going to go off on one of your flights of fancy, are you, dear? She reminded me of the time I became preoccupied with the idea that lines in the sky left by planes might contain chemicals that were being used as a form of mind control, before I found out they were after all just lines in the sky. She told me that I was so obsessed with my writing I no longer spent any time with the children. I argued that at eighteen and nineteen, they no longer needed to be mollycoddled. Besides, I said Simon spent most of his time at his girlfriend’s and Garfunkel was out of his head the whole time. I managed to parry the inevitable ‘and whose fault is that’ with a compliment on Carrie’s casserole.

I decided to phone my friend, Grant. Grant would surely know something about Jonny Bisco. He read the Financial Times and watched Newsnight.

‘Good to hear from you Chet,’ he said. ‘Is it about the pigeons?’

‘Not the pigeons, this time, Grant,’ I said. ‘The pigeons are fine. I’m calling about Jonny Bisco. Have you heard of him?’

‘You mean Jonny Bisco, the snakes and ladders magnate?’ he said. ‘Didn’t he die in a ballooning accident a while back?’

‘Is there …… maybe not another Jonny Bisco?’ I said.

‘Just kidding you, Chet,’ said Grant. ‘You are clearly referring to Jonny Bisco, the wish fulfilment engineer who grew the magic poppies.’

‘That sounds like him,’ I said.

‘Dreamer of the Year 2001,’ he continued. ‘Runs the Dreams Come True corporation.’

‘That’s definitely the fellow,’ I said.

‘Sorry Chet,’ he said, laughing. ‘I made that one up too. …… But look here! You just don’t hear about some of these innovators. They don’t make the front pages. They keep a low profile. Have you heard for instance of David Sun?’

‘No,’ I said.

Sun? What kind of name is Sun? I wondered if Grant was still winding me up.

‘Sun founded Kingston Technology,’ said Grant. ‘Flash drives and flash cards. He is worth billions. What about Harvey Ross Ball, the inventor of smiley faces? Or Gary Dahl who invented the pet rock? Jonny Bisco is probably just another in a long line of diffident maverick inventors.’

Once you become aware of a word, a name, an object or a situation that is new to you and your brain has registered it, you begin to notice it all the time. Somehow it was there all along without you realising it. The newly-discovered word or name or object or situation comes up in conversation, in the paper, on the news, on the posters at tube stations and in the book you are reading. Suddenly, it is everywhere. You wonder how it was that you did not notice it before, especially because you now realise that whatever it is has been around for a long time. I’m sure that you must have experienced something like this. If you google it, you will find that this is called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, sometimes referred to less colourfully as frequency illusion.

Following my conversation with Grant, Jonny Bisco’s profile seemed to grow exponentially. Most days, I would see his name in the local paper in connection with something or other. As I made my way through the Saturday shoppers, I’d hear his name. People would be talking about him in the queue for cinema tickets and at supermarket checkouts. His picture began appearing on adverts on the side of buses for a range of products. He featured in the tabloids I found left on train seats, then the broadsheets. His name began to appear in the credits at the end of TV shows, new ones and repeats of old favourites. He had a Wikipedia page. This kept updating. I may have imagined it but thought I saw him on the cover of Time magazine. He was becoming a popular culture icon. He was even on the cover of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I’d owned the album for years and I’d never noticed his face there before.

I felt certain none of these instances had been there until recently. At least, I thought I was certain but truth be told, I just didn’t know anymore. Several times I asked Carrie what her view is but she now seemed to have stopped speaking to me altogether. Simon and Garfunkel too were conspicuously silent at meal times. In fact, they were not there at meal times. Or any other time. Apparently, they had both left home. Grant was no longer answering my calls. Ideas R Us had suspended me. My world was falling apart. I did not know which way to turn. Was that the Bisco browser that has appeared on the desktop with an advert for the Bisco Bank? Without warning Jonny Bisco appeared as a Facebook friend. He began trolling me on twitter. Everything appeared to be closing in.

Perhaps I did not start at the end. I don’t think it was the end. I just wanted it to be the end. Perhaps it was just the beginning. How could all this be happening if Jonny Bisco were dead? Perhaps he survived the motorcycle accident. Perhaps there was no motorcycle accident. Perhaps there was no motorcycle. I have just checked his Wikipedia entry. There are now a dozen Jonny Biscos, all offering different information. Does Jonny Bisco operate outside the normal parameters of existence? Is he a time traveller? A time traveller, hungry for recognition and hell bent on acquisition, who keeps coming back for more.

In which case, prepare yourself. Jonny Bisco will appear in your life soon.

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

INVISIBLE

invisible

INVISIBLE by Chris Green

‘You can call me ….. Neumann,’ he says. Why Neumann? I wonder. He does not look German. He is skinny, dark skinned and has crusty dreadlocks. He has a scar running the length of his cheek. He looks menacing and clearly has no intention of engaging in unnecessary conversation. I had become accustomed to Zoot. Zoot was friendly, amenable, chatty and we had a mutual interest in 1950s West Coast jazz. Stan Kenton, Chet Baker, that sort of thing. Zoot had even burned me a CD of a rare Shorty Rogers recording to play in the car. I can’t imagine the new fellow doing this. While I appreciate that secrecy is part and parcel of the deal, at the same time, I have to form an association with the new man but, without ceremony, he thrusts the small package into my hand and is gone.

Anyway, this is no time to wonder what might have happened to Zoot. It isn’t the courier that is important, it is what is inside the package. I’ve no idea what this might be. Each package contains a completely unique set of instructions. There seems to be no pattern. FIX might be sending me on a mission to infiltrate an organisation, rescue someone, act as a minder, possibly even terminate someone. I haven’t had to do this yet but I never know what is going to come up. Whatever it is I because of my training I find it easy to get into role.

FIX operates in the margins. I am unable to divulge too many details here because there aren’t many. However I do have access to firearms, should they be needed. All of the assignments seem to be a little strange. Once I had to fabricate an historical event, by creating convincing bogus archives about a coup in a country I had not even heard of. Another time, I had to become a circus performer to infiltrate an Armenian circus to bring in someone called Kardashian. Until you’ve tried it, you’ve no idea how difficult it is being a clown. The instructions for my mission come as a file on a thumb drive. I’m told that this is a more secure way of delivering data than sending it over the internet, where it can be easily intercepted.

…………………………………………….

Scott Walker! I have to find Scott Walker and bring him in. Not the singer, Scott Walker, a different one. But, this one is apparently every bit as reclusive as his more famous namesake. All the bio I am given to go on is that he has connections with Invisible Men, an organisation so secret, there is no reference to it anywhere online. FIX Central give no reason why they want Scott Walker. Everything is on a need to know basis and they must deem I don’t need to know. Perhaps he is a FIX agent who has overstepped his brief. Perhaps he is a FOX agent, who they want to interrogate. Or even a FAX agent. They’ve been rather quiet lately. Perhaps he is a tinker or a tailor. Who knows? The only photo of the man on the encrypted word document is a grainy shot of him in profile, taken ten years ago outside a farrier’s in Totnes, Devon. The farrier’s, I quickly discover, has since closed. Even in rural Devon, horses are on the way out.

I trawl through dozens of pages of Google images. To my surprise, there is an American politician called Scott Walker, who is even more famous than the sixties singer. But, not a single image matches the guy that I am looking for. Nor is there any reference to him on a Google word search. I try Scott Waller, Scott Walter and even Scott Wanker, in case there has been a typo. Amazingly, there is a Scott Wanker on Facebook, from Illinois. I come up with nothing on our Scott Walker. My targets usually enjoy a higher profile. Finding this fellow looks like it might be a bit of a challenge.

Having little to go on, the place to start looking seems to be Devon. This is the only lead I have. But, as the internet seems to have completely bypassed our Scott Walker, it is time for some leg work. Newton Abbot might not be the obvious place to look for someone connected to a secret society but as all roads in Devon appear to lead there, it seems a convenient place to start. Also, Newton Abbot has a racecourse. It must have some horsey connections. I drive in past the racecourse and make my way to the library without a particular plan, except that libraries are the places to find out information. I go up to the desk and a shapely librarian with a flirtatious smile hands me an envelope. Suzy Somerset says her name badge.

‘This is for you, Mr Fixer,’ Suzy says.

‘Not Fixer,’ I say. ‘Temple. Sebastian Temple.’ This is one of many names I go under.

‘Sorry, Mr Temple,’ she says, bending forward a little to reveal an abundance of cleavage. ‘My mistake.’

Inside the envelope, I find a handwritten note offering instructions. I am to log on to machine number 1 in Newton Abbot Library where I will find a message waiting for me on the screen. I log in and as promised, there is a message waiting for me. It reads, ‘access the document, scottwalker1.docx.’ The document is password protected. I do not know the password. I try abracadabra. To my amazement, this works. It opens up a story called The Invisible Man by Dario Benitez.

In the story, the protagonist, Logan Daley accidentally renders himself invisible by drinking too much Honey Orchid tea and, realising the power of his unintended gift, goes on a killing spree in Belstone, Sticklepath and Sourton, far-flung villages of north Dartmoor, before being hunted down by a posse of left-handed fiddlers sent from the Highwayman Inn on the night of the harvest moon, the only time that Daley casts a shadow. Other than the Devon connection, I cannot see what relevance this has to the task at hand. However, I’m always ready to be corrected. My life is full of surprises. If you are looking for a straightforward, run of the mill life, it is best not to be a FIX agent.

Suzy comes over and asks me how I am getting on. Clearly, I cannot disclose details of my mission so I tell her that I am looking for a brass instrument for my daughter on eBay. I thank her for being helpful.

‘I finish work soon,’ she purrs, flashing an amatory smile. ‘Perhaps you would like to keep me company. We could maybe go for a bite to eat in Lemon Jelli and then go back to my place to chill out and listen to some music. Do you like West Coast jazz?’

In my line of work you need to be a little suspicious of women that come on to you strongly but at my time of life, pushing fifty, and in my situation, divorced and lonely, you are entitled to a little diversion now and again. I was not expecting that women in Devon would be so forward. But, what have I got to lose? In fact, Suzy might have been recruited to help me find Scott Walker. I mean, why did she address me as Mr Fixer, and in a lighthearted way, if she wasn’t on board? I don’t think I misheard her.

‘That would be pretty much perfect,’ I say, looking her up and down. ‘And yes, I love West Coast jazz.’

…………………………………………….

I can’t recall much about the night with Suzy, but I have the feeling in my loins that something must have taken place between us. I also have a hangover, suggesting I may have drunk a lot of wine. I can vaguely remember the Pinot Noir being opened but I can’t piece together the rest of the evening. I definitely have no recollection of how I come to be on a train to Barnstaple. This is strange because I normally have total recall, no matter how drunk I was the night before. Being able to handle one’s liquor is important in my line of work. Perhaps Suzy put Rohypnol in the wine and topped it up with a large dose of Benzodiazepine before putting me on the train from Newton Abbot. But wait! Wouldn’t a manoeuvre like this have attracted too much attention at a provincial railway station like Newton Abbot? Besides, if I was unconscious, how would I have changed trains at Exeter? Surely any untoward activity would have raised suspicions in this quiet neck of the woods. Why am I on a train anyway? What has happened to my car?

I am still busy trying to figure all this out when I notice that the woman in the aisle seat in front of me and opposite has her laptop open and is typing a report. She is using a large font, 14 point bold or larger even and to my alarm, I can make out the name, Neumann. No, I’m not imagining it. It says, Neumann. I surreptitiously scan down the page and see there is a reference to The Invisible Men. Plural. As in the secret society. My head is spinning. Things seem once again to be getting out of control. Like they did when ……. Back then. …. How? Who? What? I struggle to regain my composure. My breakdown was a long time ago. Before I became a …… It’s the here and now that counts, not something that happened in the past. But, what is going on? Who is this woman? Am I now drawing attention to myself by leaning over? By staring at her? She is not easy on the eye, that’s for sure. She is built like a Russian hammer thrower. She has severe cropped auburn hair and is wearing a thick tweedy suit. I lean over a little more, as much as I dare, to read the name badge pinned onto her lapel. It says Sasha Ivanov but I can’t make sense of the organisation lettering printed beneath her name. Is it in Cyrillic script or something? What on earth am I mixed up in?

I take a walk along the central aisle to the toilet, turning around a couple of times to see what reaction I might get from her. Will she come after me in case I get off at one of the little Halts along the line that the train stops at? She doesn’t. I take a few moments in the toilet to calm myself. When I return to my seat, Sasha Ivanov is gone. There is no sign of her. No bags, nothing. She can’t have got off. The train has not even slowed down yet, let alone stopped.

There is no sense in taking the train all the way to Barnstaple. Breathtaking though the scenery might be with its tors and river valleys, it will only take me further from my car, assuming this is still in Newton Abbot. I decide I’ll get off at the next station. Copplestone, I think it is, sandwiched between Dartmoor and Exmoor. I should be able to get a cab from the station. It would be handy to make some calls but my phone has no signal out here in the sticks. They probably haven’t even got television out here yet.

To my consternation, the cab driver seems to know who I am and be expecting me.

‘Alright or wha Mr Temple?’ he says.

‘Newton Abbot, please,’ I say.

‘Thought so,’ he says. ‘Lovely day, isn’t it, boyo?’

He breaks into a lengthy report on the sorry progress of Merthyr Tydfil Rugby Football Club followed by a list all the things you can buy at the new Merthyr Tydfil branch of Trago Mills. I assume he is Welsh, but gradually I form the opinion that he could be from the Moon. He talks as if this is the first chance he’s had to talk to someone for months. He tells in great detail me about his hots for Suzy Somerset, the librarian. How does he know her, I want to ask? But, seemingly without pausing for breath he breaks into a potted history of The Invisible Man. Why?

‘The original The Invisible Man was a novella by H. G. Wells, see,’ he says, in his sing-song delivery. ‘Not being funny, but written in 1897, it was. They made it into a film in 1933, starring Claude Rains. Then, in the fifties, they made a TV series called The Invisible Man. I’m only saying, but they were not looking for authenticity, like. They changed Dr Griffin who was the character in the book to Peter Brady. This Peter Brady is a scientist who becomes invisible when an experiment goes wrong. He is initially declared a state secret and is locked up, like, but he manages to convince the British government to allow him to return to his laboratory so he can search for an antidote.’

I keep trying to interrupt his narrative flow, but he I can’t shut him up. Perhaps he is on amphetamines or something.

‘Anyway, MI5 recruits him for an assignment, see,’ he continues. ‘But, Brady’s security is breached and he becomes a celebrity and uses his invisibility to solve crimes and help people in trouble. Then there is the 2,000 TV series called The Invisible Man about Darien Fawkes, a thief facing life imprisonment who is recruited by a down-at-heel spy agency and given the power of invisibility via an implant of a special Quicksilver gland in his head. The gland, alas, also makes Fawkes’s behaviour unpredictable, so the agency is unable to control his growing psychotic tendencies. But, look you! I wouldn’t want you to confuse any of these with Invisible Man, which was a civil rights novel by Ralph Ellison. This is about an Afro-American man whose colour renders him invisible, see.’

‘What about the secret society, Invisible Men?’ I manage to ask, ‘Who are they?’ But he is not listening. Instead, he goes on to tell me about his friend, Dafydd’s pet parrot and before we know it we have arrived back in Newton Abbot. Ninety four pounds seems a bit steep for the fare but I’m getting nowhere with Lunar Lewis. I just want to be shot of him and get on with my life. Get back to finding Scott Walker. Ar least my car is still where I left it but has a parking ticket on the front windscreen. I rip it off and bin it.

…………………………………………….

It is time to take stock, once more. Time to dust off the old grey matter and get back to work. What have I got to go on? There is not so much as a sniff of Scott Walker and to date, I have encountered a surly fellow FIX agent, a femme fatale, a possible Russian spy, and a spaceman, all of which seem to be, in their various ways, untrustworthy and in some unlikely way connected. There would need to have been an orchestra of collusion to explain the connections. Not having had a wi-fi signal on my phone, I have not had a chance to use the BugU app to check if Suzy, or indeed any of the others, has planted a tracking device on me. I do so now. They haven’t. I’m surprised. I check the car too. Clean.

I call in at the library but Suzy is not there and predictably I suppose, with the way things are shaping up, no-one has even heard of her. I’m once more back to square one. There’s something of a pattern forming here. I need a new approach. I could pursue the equine angle and phone around all the vets in Devon. And, perhaps get acquainted with the racing fraternity. A long-shot, perhaps. There again, there might be a simple explanation for Scott Walker’s absence. He might be …..well, dead. But, if he were dead, wouldn’t FIX know about it. They would hardly be paying me to find a dead man. Unless he somehow still presented a danger.

I phone my friend, Quinn. It is strictly against protocol as he is not with the agency but sometimes you have to ditch protocol. Quinn knows about zombies, ghosts and things that go bump in the night.

‘Good to hear from you, Ambrose,’ he says. ‘Long time.’ Ambrose Dove is another name that I use.

‘We’ll have to catch up soon, Quinn,’ I say. Tell me! Is it true that some people are less substantial and harder to see than others?’

‘Ah! I think I see what you are up to, Ambrose,’ he says. ‘You’re in Devon, aren’t you?’

How does he know this, I wonder. My location would not show up from my mobile.

‘Devon is the home of the paranormal,’ he continues, perhaps answering my question. ‘And, you want to know if all that folklore about ghosts and the like is true, don’t you?’

‘Something like that, I suppose,’ I say.

‘Well some of it is and some of it isn’t,’ he says. ‘It all depends on your point of view. And of course how susceptible you are.’

‘I was thinking specifically about invisibility,’ I say.

‘I don’t think that it is me you need to be talking to. You want a scientist. Probably one working with the US military. I believe they are experimenting with invisibility,’ he says. ‘They are trying to come up with an ultra-thin skin to cloak certain wavelengths of light around an object to render it invisible.’

‘I see,’ I say, not seeing at all.

…………………………………………….

I hear the mellow sound of Paul Desmond’s alto saxophone drifting on the wind. It is the Dave Brubeck Quartet playing Slow and Easy.

I turn around and see that the heavenly music is coming from Zoot’s red Pontiac convertible. Never one to undersell his presence, Zoot.

‘We’ve got him,’ Zoot calls out. A strange greeting I feel, after so long.

‘Who?’ I say.

‘Neumann,’ he says.

‘What are you talking about, Zoot?’ I say.

‘Neumann. The bogus agent,’ says Zoot. ‘Except his name is not Neumann. It’s Tyson Dark. Dark is not one of our agents, Nick.’ Nicholas Spain is another of my aliases.

‘He must be FOX, then. One of theirs. That makes sense,’ I say.

‘That’s right Nick. FOX. And he definitely tried to take you out. We intercepted some intel and discovered that the package he handed to you contained a fast acting poison that would kill you within a matter of hours.’

‘But I opened the package. There were just some instructions on a memory card.’

‘That was all just a bluff. There was ricin in the package too.’

‘So, what about Suzy Somerset, the librarian at Newton Abbot?’

‘Don’t know,’ he says. ‘I guess you just got lucky there. By rights, you should have been reeling from the effects of the poison, stumbling about, not knowing where you were, with just minutes to live.’

‘I suppose that might help to explain the rest of my weird adventure then,’ I say. ‘The unexplained train journey into the back of beyond with the vanishing Russian spy and the cab ride with the urban spaceman. I was delusional.’

‘Probably even more delusional than you normally are, Nick,’ laughs Zoot. ‘I guess you were just too tough to be killed.’

‘And there never was a Scott Walker.’

‘Who?’

‘Scott Walker. The instructions that Tyson Dark gave me said I had to find someone called Scott Walker.’

‘Aha! I see No. Your Scott Walker doesn’t exist.’

‘So, where were you, Zoot?’ I ask. ‘Why wasn’t it you at the meet to hand over the package?’

‘That’s the thing, Nick,’ he says. ‘Just as I was getting into my car to drive to meet you, a FOX agent sprayed me with something that made me temporarily invisible. I was informed that an invisible man driving an open topped Pontiac would draw too much attention. And you can’t imagine how difficult it is to hail a cab when you are invisible. Twenty four hours it took to wear off. But, I’m here now. What do you say we take it that new jazz club?’

…………………………………………….

‘Cut!’ says Dylan Song. Song is new. I’ve only seen him once or twice. He’s part of our second line support team. He turned up last week with a spare set of keys to open up that warehouse so we could reclaim the hard drives that FOX had stolen. Perhaps he should have come along yesterday when Zoot became invisible. Instead of ….. Neumann. Why is Song fooling around with a movie camera? What we are doing here is supposed to be covert. He shouldn’t be drawing attention to us. In the wrong hands, this could be interpreted as breaking and entering. Who are all those people in the dark clothes with sound equipment? Do they think we’re making a movie or something?

‘That was great, guys,’ Song calls out. ‘I think that’s a wrap. I’ll run these over to Dario Benitez to see what he thinks.’

Zoot takes Dylan Song aside, but I have very good hearing and I can still make out what he is saying.

‘You’re supposed to stay out of sight,’ he says.

‘You mean be ….. invisible?’ says Song, laughing.

‘Absolutely!’ says Zoot. ‘I’m not sure Nick knows about any of this. He thinks that we’re all real agents or something.’

‘What? You mean he hasn’t seen any of the movies,’ says Song.

‘Well! They don’t get around the multiplexes or anything like that, do they?’ says Zoot.

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

Light Fandango

lightfandangostory.jpg

LIGHT FANDANGO by Chris Green

July 1966: Sunny Afternoon

We are in the midst of a heatwave, there are smiles on people’s faces and Sunny Afternoon is at Number One. It seems that the gloom and austerity of the post-war years, which in my nineteen years is all I have known, have finally been stripped away. There is a new sense of optimism. According to Magic Max, the time is right for change. It’s the dawning of a new age, he says. A cultural shift is taking place. You only have to look around you to see that people are getting out a bit more and beginning to dress more colourfully.

There isn’t often a lunchtime rush at Licensed to Fill sandwich bar, more of a steady trickle of customers throughout the day. Although local artist, Gooch did some creative sign-writing to draw attention to our little establishment, we are not in what you might call a prime position. We are off the lower end of East Street. We are at the wrong end of Blind Alley to get the office workers from the banks and insurance companies and too near to the Eight Bells to be attractive to browsers from the gift shops in Coleridge Close.

However, today we are inundated. Swarms of young people in their gladrags are tentatively looking the place over to see what is going on. The singer from the Small Faces came in yesterday. I don’t know what he was doing here in the provinces but he seemed to know what he wanted. So, word has probably got around that there is more to be had at Licensed to Fill than cheese and tomato toasties and tuna mayonnaise baguettes. What we have is hashish. Nineteen kilos of Morocco’s finest that Arlo brought back last week in his converted camper van, along with his stories of how they smoke it freely everywhere in Marrakesh and Tangier. We can’t really put a sign up at Licensed to Fill advertising our new line as it is definitely illegal in the UK, but by the interest we are now getting perhaps we won’t need to advertise it. Word of mouth might be sufficient. Arlo says we just need to be cool. I think he means we need to keep an eye out for the law. Not that we see them too much in Sinton Green. It is not a crime hotspot.

Arlo runs Licensed to Fill with his partner, Orla. They bought the lease from Mr and Mrs Broccoli a few months ago. I am helping out at Licensed to Fill through the summer to supplement my meagre student grant. It was either this or deckchair attendant at Broad Sands beach which is ten miles away. An easy decision, as I have no transport. Licensed to Fill is a relaxed pace to work. We have a background soundtrack of all the latest releases as they come out. Arlo and Orla are hip to what’s happening. We’ve got Stan Getz, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. We’ve got Blonde on Blonde, Pet Sounds, Love, The Byrds’ Fifth Dimension and something by a new band called Jefferson Airplane. All to be played loudly.

September 1966: Tomorrow Never Knows

Magic Max might be right. Things are moving on. We have the Mothers of Invention. We have Seven and Seven Is. We have Revolver, with the transcendent, Tomorrow Never Knows. There is a new word, psychedelic. It’s not in the dictionary yet, but it will be. The whole language that we speak is changing. Guys are now dudes or cats and girls are now chicks or babes. Good things are a gas or a blast and bad things are a drag or a bummer. We’re having a name change too. Arlo and Orla have decided that the name Licensed to Fill is yesterday. James Bond is old hat. Gooch is painting a new sign. I’m not sure about the durability of a name like New Hat. People might think that it refers to a milliners, but it is Arlo and Orla’s decision. If they really were set on a hat theme, perhaps Mad Hatter might have been a better choice, considering the clientele we are getting lately. The dude in the floral brocade trousers and the lime green cowboy boots and the tall one in the orange boiler suit with the corkscrew hair, for instance. And the cat in the space suit, the one we call Major Tom. Someone should write about these people. They would make a great story, or a play, or maybe a song.

Our trade links with Morocco have been streamlined. Now the hash is brought over, hidden in cases of clothing and textiles. Being shipped it may be, but it is flying off the shelves. I think Arlo has an arrangement with the police, whereby he bungs them a few quid now and again and they turn a blind eye to what is going on in Blind Alley.

We have a monkey called Harold who performs magic tricks and a crimson-bellied parakeet called Oscar who mimics every sound he hears. Oscar can say hello, how are you today and would you like coleslaw on that. In addition, he warbles and whistles his way through the day like an accomplished flautist. His repertoire includes Autumn Leaves and Blue Rondo a la Turk along with passable imitations of Paint it Black and Norwegian Wood.

November 1966: Sunshine Superman

I missed enrolment. Somehow, it just slipped my mind and it’s been six weeks now. I won’t be going back to university. I can’t see the point. Sociology seems such a waste of time. All that number crunching about people’s lives and examining the ins and outs of matters that should simply be allowed to run their course. Besides, the opportunities for gratification are so much greater in this brave new world I am exploring through my connections with New Hat.

The cultural landscape, as Magic Max refers to it as, is becoming stranger by the week. I’m not sure who the Foucault and Bourdieu dudes that he speaks of are, but we do have conversations about the likes of Andy Warhol, Marshall McLuhan, RD Laing and Kurt Vonnegut, well, mostly Kurt Vonnegut, as I have just read Cat’s Cradle. We have started selling International Times, a cool new underground newspaper at the café. The editor, Miles is a friend of Arlo’s. But most importantly for us, the music is breaking new ground. With Sunshine Superman, Good Vibrations, Da Capo, and Don Cherry’s Symphony for Improvisers, stylistic boundaries are being expanded. Melody Maker is calling it progressive pop.

We have begun showing art-house films on Thursday evenings, Jean-Luc Godard, Truffaut, Resnais. I’m not sure what some of them are about but perhaps that’s not the point. They are ambiguous, dreamlike, surrealistic. Perhaps this is enough. Weird is cool. Last Year in Marienbad was long and baffling but oddly enjoyable. Orla says you should not look for meaning in everything, you should go with the flow, whatever that means. She punctuates her conversation with aphorisms, like, be here now, do not hate, meditate, and you’re either on the bus or off the bus.

Lately, I am finding it hard to get in to work on time. Ten am. seems very early. It’s not that work at New Hat is strenuous. It’s the changes in lifestyle. Late nights now seem obligatory. I’m often not in bed before six. It’s a good thing that most of the customers also seem to be late risers and that Arlo and Orla are not too concerned with New Hat attracting breakfast trade.

By midday, New Hat will be crowded with colourful people. There’s Satan Ziegler and the earth magic crowd, waxing lyrical about ley lines and UFOs. There are the dandies of the underworld and the laid back musos. Then there are the jugglers and the clowns. Denny, Lenny and Bozo are usually buzzing around doing their business and Spike and Stoner will be doing drug deals with anyone who comes in looking to have a little scene. Although they should be at odds, macrobiotics and toking sit surprisingly well together. By mid-afternoon, the seating area will be awash with half-empty dishes of millet and buckwheat, being used as ashtrays and the place will be bathed in a thick fug of blue smoke.

January 1967: Light My Fire

Arlo brought in an album called The Doors by a new band from Los Angeles called The Doors. The title refers to Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, the celebrated author’s exaltation of psychoactive drugs. The music is minor-keyed, spacey and subterranean, with lyrics unashamedly about sex, death and getting stoned. It’s wild and free. New Hat has changed its name again. It is now called Soul Kitchen, after a track from the album. Soul Kitchen with the tagline, the doors are open.

Lots of cool things are starting to happen. The underground is burgeoning. It’s being called the counter-culture and its long-term aim is to overthrow straight society. This make take a few years but even Magic Max is surprised by the speed of change. A restless energy has taken hold. The emphasis is now firmly on youth. It’s a great time to be nineteen. Nineteen months ago I was still at school and now here I am living the most extravagantly decadent of lifestyles. There are Dita and Rita and Suzie and Pixie and, of course, there’s Mary Jane. Life is an endless party. I feel so alive, I’m probably going to live for ever. …….. There again, perhaps not. I’m with Pete Townshend on this one. I don’t think I’d like that. Imagine what it’s like being thirty five or forty. It must be awful.

April 1967: Strawberry Fields Forever

Soul Kitchen has been so successful that Arlo and Orla have taken out the lease on the vacant premises next door. It is colossal. We are going to have live entertainment and circus acts. You will be invited to bring flowers, incense, candles, banners, flags, families, animals, drums, cymbals and flutes to happenings here. Arlo feels that a few of these will really put Sinton Green on the map.

Artists and musicians from far and wide are already starting to drop in, despite the fact that we are miles from the capital. Peter Blake, the artist who is working on the cover for the new Beatles album has become a regular at Soul Kitchen and that dress designer who does the geometric prints comes in quite a lot. Salvador Dali, at least I think it was him, called in with a Siamese cat on his shoulder and promised to paint a mural. Brian Jones and his entourage dropped by last week, resplendent in their Berber finery and, I’m not sure, but do believe I saw Stanley Kubrick secretly filming here a day or two ago. I can’t be sure of everything. Things can be a bit blurry round the edges at times.

Rock music is reaching dizzying new heights. We have Cream. We have Pink Floyd. We have Purple Haze and Strawberry Fields and we now have paper suns. Paper suns are LSD. LSD or acid, as it is becoming known, heightens your awareness of yourself and your surroundings. You feel that you are floating and have a great sense of well-being. You experience things that were probably always there but you could never reach before. Acid helps you to appreciate music with all of your senses. You not only hear it but taste, smell, feel and see the music too.

Meanwhile, a moral panic is breaking out about acid. Nathan Blocker in The Daily Mail says that it makes you strangle kittens and jump out of fourth floor windows. That the God that people have claimed to see under its influence is not the Christian God but Beelzebub. Blocker goes on to says its advocates like Timothy Leary, Ram Dass and even Paul McCartney should be boiled alive, hung drawn and quartered or keel hauled. Well, something like that. Sufficient to say the paper is not in favour of LSD. My parents read the Mail, and aren’t what you might call free thinkers, so this will be their view too. I haven’t spoken to them since the row about Mao Tse Tung a year ago. I was only trying to wind them up; I didn’t really carry the Little Red Book around with me.

June 1967: A Whiter Shade of Pale

A Whiter Shade of Pale is at Number One. Everywhere people are skipping the light fandango and feeling kind of seasick. The crowd is calling out for more. Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is blaring out from living rooms across the country. The Fourteen Hour Technicolour Dream at Alexandra Palace in London, a tripped-out psychedelic gathering of the underground has set the scene for the summer. We are going to stage some far out gatherings of the tribes at Soul Kitchen.

But, philosopher-poet, Christian Dara, who sometimes pops in for his mint tea and Lebanese crêpe, says that this is it. The dream is already fading. It will soon be over. The underground, as it has been called, is becoming visible at ground level. The quiet revolution, he says, is being appropriated by the mainstream. There, it will be neutralised, cleansed and absorbed into the everyday. There will perhaps be a summer of beads and bells, love and peace and false sentiment and then it will be back to business. On to the next thing.

Why would turning on, tuning in and dropping out be any different to say, angry young men, teddy boys, mods and rockers?‘ he says. It’s just another fad. ……. In any case, it would not work.’

‘Why?’

‘It lacks substance. It’s impractical.’

‘How?’

‘OK, you’ve all turned on. That’s fine. You’re all sitting cross-legged on the floor. You all feel mellow yellow. The sun is shining. The birds are singing. ……. You’ve tuned in. You’re listening to some groovy music. You’re turning cartwheels across the floor. ……. You’ve created some cool art. You‘ve painted your rooms in a colourful way and everything around you is dripping in psychedelic patterns.

‘That’s what we want. Get loaded. Groovy music. Cool art. What’s wrong with that?’

‘Nothing. That’s fine. ……. But now, you’ve all dropped out. You’re calling out for another drink but there is no waiter to bring a tray. The waiter too has dropped out.’

‘Hey.’

There’s no plan. You have no plan.’

‘Perhaps we don’t need a plan. Life is organic, not mechanical.’

First of all, you need to identify how you want to shape your organic life. Decide what you want to create. Not what you want to stop, but what you want to make.

‘We’ll make love, not war.’

‘Well, that’s a start, I suppose, but what will you do then. You’ll have lots of babies.’

‘We’ll use contraceptives.’

‘But remember, the pharmacist who sells the contraceptives has dropped out. He’s off somewhere kissing the sky. You’ll have a growing population and no means to feed them. There are no crops. The farmer has dropped out. Or perhaps he has grown a different crop and he’s eight miles high. Should you not have factored all of this in? Everything will fall apart if you don’t have a plan. You will perish. You will …….. wait for it, turn a whiter shade of pale.’

That’s not going to happen.’

No. You’re probably right. Once they’ve woken up to what is going on, the powers that be will be on your case. And you‘ll be busted, busted and busted again and your dealers will end up in jail. And then you’ll have no drugs. And no motivation. At best, you’ll end up as small enclaves of weekend hippies, working at dead-end jobs to pay for damp basement flats, saving up to go to occasional pop festivals to listen to long-haired bands singing protest songs about police brutality and conflicts in far off lands. A far cry from skipping the light fandango.

© Chris Green 2016 : All rights reserved

Best Kept Secret

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Best Kept Secret by Chris Green

‘Van Morrison wanted to be a vet,’ the man says.

‘Who?’ says the girl, not looking up from the book she is reading.

‘Van Morrison, you know. Brown Eyed Girl, Bright Side Of The Road.’

‘Oh! Him!’ the girl says, hoping this will put an end to the conversation. She is not here to listen to geeky middle-aged men in paisley shirts talking about portly crooners. She has aspirations. She just needs a little down time at the moment to get over a disappointment.

‘When he was at school he wanted to be a vet. Then his father bought him a saxophone.’

‘That’s nice,’ says the girl, pulling her black sunglasses down from their resting place on her forehead.

The man doesn’t take the hint. ‘I was using 50 gigabytes a week just browsing on my iphone and I was texting and messaging non-stop.’ he continues. ‘What about you? Tracey, isn’t it?’

‘I think I was probably on more than that,’ says Tracey. ‘If I had used it any more they would have had to surgically remove the phone. Now. …… Can I get back to my book?’

‘I don’t know how I became so addicted,’ Dirk says. ‘I’m more of an outdoor person really.’

Tracey continues to blank him.

‘In the end, I had to bite the bullet and come along here,’ he says. He doesn’t tell her that his partner, Domino was knocked down texting a friend while crossing a busy London thoroughfare. Domino died from the injuries she sustained. Although this was six months ago Dirk can’t bring himself to talk about it. Instead, he continues to elaborate on his own habit, which through his days and nights of loneliness became worse.

‘When I wasn’t on the phone,’ he says. ‘I was on the tablet. When I wasn’t on the tablet I was on the phone. I took it to bed. I had an app to wake me if there were any status updates, another to tell me if I had any messages, another to let me know if I had any tweets. In the end, I was awake all night. I don’t like being awake all night.’

He awaits some kind of a response. It is not forthcoming.

‘Unless of course it’s with someone nice,’ he adds, boldly. ‘I’m Dirk by the way.’

Tracey doesn’t respond. She feels he is getting more creepy by the minute. Why is it that men feel that she is another country to be conquered or colonised?

They are at Best Kept Secret, a digital detox retreat in Cornwall. There is no phone signal here and no wifi. You would have to drive several miles to get any kind of reception on your device. It is in fact so remote that even the postman has trouble finding it. In addition, no TVs or radios are allowed here. You are permitted to bring just two books for a week long stay. The centre has the express aim of changing people’s habits. Best Kept Secret goes one step further than Unplugged Weekend, reSTART and other establishments dealing with internet addiction disorder. It is not interested in weekenders. It is so serious in its aims that during your stay it doesn’t allow you off site. They store your car keys in a safe in case you are tempted to leave.

‘Katie …. Price,’ Dirk reads from the cover of the novel that Tracey is holding aloft. ‘The …. Comeback ….. Girl. Is it good?’

‘I’m enjoying it, yes,’ says Tracey.

‘I’m reading Van Morrison’s biography,’ he says. ‘You can borrow it when I’ve finished if you like.’

‘Well, Dirk, did you say? Perhaps, Dirk, you might want to get back to it and let me get on with my novel.’

‘Have you reached an exciting bit?’ he asks.

Tracey ignores him. She pulls her faux leather jacket around her to cover her cleavage and turns away.

Dirk looks around for someone else to talk to. There is no-one. Some of the guests are in the life drawing class and some are in the Pilates session. Others are in NLP therapy or else in the quiet meditation room. A couple of them are in physiotherapy for RSI. Dirk finds the whole atmosphere of withdrawal within the centre claustrophobic. He prefers it out here on the patio. He can listen to the birdsong and take in the aroma of wild roses and pennyroyal.

……………………………………………………

Although one usually thinks in terms of videos, anything can go viral on the Internet. Whether it’s a photo, an animation, an article, a quote, a tweet, a person, an animal, an idea, an argument, a coupon or an upcoming event, virtually anything that is shareable can go viral. Such is the power of hyperspace. All it takes is a handful of shares on social media and the right target audience to trigger an avalanche of sharing. There are slow burners like Gangham style or the ice bucket challenge and then there are those like Je Suis Charlie that are worldwide phenomena within a matter of hours. News items flash round the globe. If the American President were shot it is reckoned that three quarters of the people in the world would know about it within fourteen minutes.

This is of course under normal circumstances. As it happens the American President has not been shot but the transatlantic internet pipeline that joins Europe to the US has been down for two days. This is unprecedented. The world is waiting for something to happen. The crisis has generated record sales of newspapers but they have no news. Instead, there is a wealth of speculation. There are suggestions that terrorism is behind the breach in the pipeline. The Telegraph says it has all the hallmarks of a jihadist attack. The Guardian maintains that they had seen it coming and offers a lengthy analysis of the Dark Internet. The Sun blames it on aliens. The Daily Express is torn between blaming in on illegal immigrants and the storms we are about to have. The Mail doesn’t refer to it concentrating instead on house prices and asylum seekers.

…………………………………………………………….

Dirk is unaware of the turn of events in the wider world. He doesn’t know that there has been a hiccup in hyperspace. All he knows is that he is completely at a loss in the non-digital world. Without his devices, he finds it difficult to bond with the others at the centre. Most of them seem to come from the corporate world, whilst he is a bit of a dreamer. He has always eked a living in the margins of society, drifting aimlessly from one job to another. Domino shared his alternative views. The irony of her demise is that she was an eco-campaigner, she hardly used her phone. It was always him, Dirk, who was seduced by the technology. Life is full of contradictions.

Being in the confines of the centre has only served to remind him how much he misses Domino. Some of the others at Best Kept Secret have managed to find a modicum of solace in treatment or quiet contemplation, but he has not. In three days there he has become increasingly restless and edgy. He is desperate for some human contact, some love and understanding.

Tracey has now finished both her Katie Price and her Kerry Katona novels and Dirk finds her once again on the patio. This time, without anything to read she is staring into space.

‘It is against the law to have a pet dog in Iceland,’ Dirk says, hoping that Tracey might either be a dog lover or a dog hater in which case he has interesting facts about cats at the ready.

Tracey does not seem to have a view about the Nordic lack of tolerance for man’s best friend. She continues to stare into space. This provides a cue for Dirk to play his cat card and also refer to Tracey’s gaze.

‘The first cat in space was a French cat named Félicette in 1963,’ he says. ‘She was black and white.’

Tracey has no view about feline celebrities.

Dirk has other facts at his fingertips. Before he came in here, he often spent the whole day browsing trivia sites. He is about to tell Tracey that Coca-Cola would be green if colouring weren’t added to it, when they are joined on the patio by Echo.

Echo looks tanned and sporty and is probably nearer his age than Tracey. She has beautiful brown eyes and a winning smile. He feels he might be able to get along with Echo. And, what a great name! He first noticed her when she arrived in a brightly coloured VW camper earlier. She came straight over to him and introduced herself. He was further encouraged when they both showed a preference for the mung bean dahl over the oatmeal power bowl at lunch, and, he might have imagined it, but didn’t she compliment him on his floral print shirt? She seems more relaxed than most of the burnt out event organisers and ad executives inside. It is hard to imagine that she has internet addiction disorder. She is even able to keep from fidgeting her fingers.

Without a device to play with, most of the others, himself included, do not know what to do with their hands. This is one of the often overlooked difficulties of digital device withdrawal. They don’t tell you about all of the side effects associated with internet addiction disorder when you arrive. Some are fiddling with their spectacles, their zips, their shoelaces, or rearranging the salt and pepper pots and the cutlery on the table. Dirk has found himself playing a lot with the loose change in his pocket.

Following her break up with Blake, the last thing Echo needs is another alpha male who has to be the centre of attention. Nor does she want someone who will stare with wonder at her hair or hang on her every word. She is looking for a sensitive man who will understand her needs. She looks Dirk up and down. They smile at one another.

‘What is your favourite Dr Seuss book?’ she asks.

It is not a question that Dirk has often been asked but as the only one that he knows is The Cat In The Hat, this is his answer.

‘You’ve not read The Butter Battle Book then,’ Echo says. ‘Because that is clearly better.’

‘What’s it about?’ asks Dirk. He is anxious to keep this conversation going.

‘It is about a land where two hostile cultures, the Yooks and the Zooks,’ says Echo. ‘They live on opposite sides of a long curving wall. The Yooks wear blue clothes and the Zooks wear orange. The dispute between the two cultures is that the Yooks eat their bread with the butter-side up, while the Zooks eat their bread with the butter-side down. The conflict between the two sides leads to an arms race where each comes up with ever more deadly weapons, the result of which is mutually assured destruction.’

‘There is a moral to the tale then,’ says Dirk. ‘I will have to read it when I get out of here. I’ve nearly finished Van Morrison’s biography, so it’s a shame that I didn’t know about it before I signed up.’

‘Van Morrison. You like Van Morrison?’

‘Well yes. I do, rather.’

‘I adore Van Morrison,’ says Echo.

‘That’s great. Only some women find him ….. a little …..’

‘Dreamy?’

‘No, not exactly.’

‘Transcendental?’

‘No. ….. I was going to say, shouty. Some women find him a little shouty.’

‘Surely not,’ says Echo. ‘Van is the man.’

‘Well, it’s a marvellous night for a moondance.’

‘It’s the middle of the day,’ says Echo. ‘But you are right. Why not?’

…………………………………………………………….

It seems improbable that all the global communication pipelines could be breached at the same time. There are over three hundred different submarine cables, spanning every ocean. But, this is what appears to be happening. One by one they are failing. With just the transatlantic pipelines out, the possibility of some kind of rational explanation remained, excessive movement in a major tectonic plate causing sudden or greater than expected continental drift perhaps. But, what about those spanning the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean? The likelihood of the failings being from natural causes has now completely disappeared. There must be a more sinister explanation. And what is happening to the satellites in orbit? Little by little the digital world is breaking up. Sabres rattle, but then this is nothing new. Power struggles seem to be part of the human condition. The internet pipeline crisis is unlikely to fuel much of a conflict as most of the weapon systems will no longer function.

While across the board the younger generation starts to experience withdrawal symptoms, many of the older generation can remember that just twenty or so years ago, there was no internet. Perhaps it is a case of selective memory, but many reflect that life was better. Things were simpler. There was not the urgency to be in communication with everyone all the time. You could put things off, chill out. Up and down the country older people begin to experience a feeling of relief that they do not have to check their missed calls and emails, respond to social media statuses or put updates on to their computers. Before all this technology took hold, things still got done. In many ways it was easier to get things done. Back then there were a few mobile phones, but all you could do with them was make person to person calls. And you had to be in range. And even then you had to shout loudly. And they were not what you would call compact. You would have difficulty getting one in your jacket pocket.

…………………………………………………………….

‘Do you know. I don’t miss my devices at all,’ says Dirk. They are about to leave Best Kept Secret after their stay. Dirk has been there ten days and Echo a week.

‘Nor do I,’ says Echo. ‘I don’t think I will even switch my phone back on.’

‘Better off without them. I’ll think I will give my tablet away.’

‘Gives you a different perspective on life doesn’t it?

‘What does?’

The freedom to say no.’

‘Not that you did too much of that.’

‘Ha, ha,’ says Echo, hitting him on the arm with her Quicksilver backpack.

‘Just think of all those poor people that still have to grapple with that insane deluge of trash in their feeds day in day out.’

‘They will find out one day …… or not.’

‘Anyway, here we are, footloose and fone free,’ says Dirk.

‘Shall we go surfing to celebrate?’ says Echo. ‘Summerleaze Beach, I think would be good. It’s west facing. The swell should be just right.’

‘Don’t know it,’ says Dirk. ‘Is it far?’

‘It’s north of here. It’s near Bude,’ says Echo.

‘Bude? Isn’t that where the secret listening base intercepts the traffic from the transatlantic internet pipeline?’ says Dirk.

‘You are still doing it,’ says Echo. ‘You have to let go of all this mental floss.’

‘But don’t you wonder what’s been happening in the world while we’ve been in there?’

‘Same old, I should think. Political posturing, smouldering racism, celebrity indiscretions. Nothing ever changes really does it.’

‘You’re right.’ says Dirk. ‘Let’s go and get some air into our lungs.’

‘Then perhaps we can book into that nice hotel that looks out on to the ocean,’ says Echo. ‘And you can show me that thing you want to do with dark chocolate.’

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

 

Andromeda Dreaming

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Dreaming of Andromeda by Chris Green

It was a warm Wednesday in September. I was walking the dog in St Peter’s Park and there was Lars Wimoweh on a seat eating his lunch. Lars could tell straight away from my demeanour that I was feeling a little below par and he asked me what was wrong. I began to explain my recent disappointment over our house sale falling through.

‘Open yourself up to the universe,’ Lars said. ‘You will discover that things begin to fall into place. The universe only knows abundance.’

This sounded encouraging. Abundance was something I felt I could live with. Despite Rover wanting to get back to the stick game, I asked Lars to elaborate.

‘It’s all to do with cosmic energy,’ he continued. ‘What you must do is learn to connect with the cosmic forces.’

In the time I had known him, I had noticed that Lars appeared to get over his own problems easily. He possessed an inner calm. He did not get flustered. So, I followed his advice and took the plunge. I opened myself up to the universe. I started dreaming of Andromeda. I had, up until now, been under the impression that action brought good fortune. This was how it was according to the song from Piper at the Gates of Dawn. But, from what Lars was telling me, it appeared that the reverse might be true. You should let the universe make the decisions.

Things began to change, just as Lars suggested they would but they did not change for the better. Things came flooding in but not in the way that I had hoped. They were not the right things. First off, I lost my house keys in the car park at the transcendental meditation centre and thus found myself unable get in to prevent our house being flooded through Leanne having left the bath tap running. To make matters worse I discovered that the house insurance had elapsed the previous day and I had failed to spot that the renewal was due because, I suspect, I was dreaming of Andromeda. Next, I lost my job at Bricks and Mortimer and although I quickly found another position at Job Done Building Services, I quickly lost the position as I was constantly dreaming of Andromeda and, as the gaffer, Jimmy Jazz explained, not getting the job done.

Take my word, once you start dreaming of Andromeda, you find it hard to break the habit. If you have a tendency towards Andromeda dreaming then it is important to balance this out with discipline and routine. Lars had not mentioned this. He omitted to tell me that you need to be rooted, to have your feet on the ground. But, of course, you do need to be careful here. You must not be too inflexible. Being too set in one’s ways can easily lead to stagnation, frustration and, as a result, you will become a magnet for drawing in negative energy. I can’t help but bring to mind the tragic case of an acquaintance of mine, Ron Smoot, who was so downbeat that his life became a catalogue of disasters, which in turn made him more downbeat, earning him the moniker, Wet Blanket Ron.

It is not, therefore, a simple case of being open to the universe or closed to the universe. You need to be open to being open or closed to the universe dependant on the circumstances. You clearly need to develop a strategy which takes all factors into account. Mindfulness might be the key. It seems that mindfulness amalgamates dreaming of Andromeda with sprinklings of rationality. Mindfulness focusses attention on the present moment, therefore on the task at hand. If I had been focussing a little more on the present moment and not recklessly dreaming of Andromeda, perhaps I might not have had the accident with the blue tractor on the blind bend in Leafy Lane on the way to the Sparklehorse concert. The one that landed me in hospital with multiple fractures.

Following these episodes, the obvious answer would have been for me to take a reality check. The problem was that, having started dreaming of Andromeda, it was difficult to stop. I found myself distracted pretty much all of the time. Concentration on the mundane became impossible. My thoughts meandered like a restless wind inside a letter box. Where did that come from? Oh yes. On and on across the universe. I’m sure this must have been how John Lennon felt when he wrote the song. Perhaps he had had a friend like Lars, who told him he should connect with cosmic forces.

I decided to contact Lars to ask him how he managed to balance his life. How did he keep the restless wind in check? I called him up but repeatedly found that his phone was switched off. Why, I wondered, was this? It was not until a week later when I was walking Rover in St Peter’s Park and still irrepressibly dreaming of Andromeda that I found out. Lying on a bench was an old copy of The Falconmarsh Gazette with the headline Unlucky Strike. Lars Wimoweh, it said, had been struck by freak lightning at a Tai Chi workshop at Stonehenge. What cruel irony in a universe that only knows abundance. I wonder if it is time to stop dreaming.

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved