Cor Anglais

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Cor Anglais by Chris Green

I’m guessing many of you haven’t had someone following you in the fog playing The Diabelli Variations on the cor anglais. Beethoven piano pieces aren’t something you expect to hear on a double reed woodwind instrument in a concert hall, let alone while you are taking a morning walk along the coastal path. You will be able then to understand my puzzlement. Here I am on my way to Red Rock and so is the mystery cor anglais player in pursuit. Sea mists have been building in strength throughout the year in these parts and this is the worst one we’ve had. It’s a solid sheet of dense grey. Visibility is down a matter of feet. It is foolhardy to be walking along the narrow path at all. But the dogs next door were barking furiously. I could no longer concentrate on the chess video I was watching. The so-called game of the (last) century, Bobby Fischer versus Donald Byrne. We had reached Fischer’s famous Queen sacrifice on move seventeen. There were only four moves to go but I had to get out of the house.

When I stop to allow my pursuer to catch up so that I can catch a glimpse, he stops too. But he continues playing. I have only a rudimentary knowledge of music but my understanding is that the range of the English horn is a little under four octaves while the pianoforte spans seven octaves. As Beethoven was one to make full use of the keyboard, you would have to say this interpretation of the Diabelli Variations falls short.

My phone rings. ‘Bonjour Monsieur Gibson,’ the caller says.

He continues speaking in French but slowly, as if it is not his main language. Not that this helps. My knowledge of French is almost non-existent. I blame this on my old language teacher, Mr Coot. I don’t think his heart was in it. He spent whole lessons talking about cricket or telling us about the time he met Harold Macmillan. I wasn’t able to learn much French. But argent means money, doesn’t it? And I can make out the words, fils and tuer. Son. Kill. I don’t much like where the conversation is heading. I was wondering why Paul hadn’t phoned me but I had put it down to his being too busy with his Environmental Science assignment and not because he was being held hostage. It appears he’s been kidnapped. There’s not a lot else that kidnappé can mean, is there? I can’t understand much of the rest though. What’s the point in him issuing a threat in a language I don’t understand?

I try to get the caller to speak English but he clearly wants to call the shots. When he hangs up, I still have no idea who he is, how or why he might be holding Paul or exactly what his demands are. Why does he imagine that I have any money, anyway? Since I lost my job at the software company, I have been living on handouts. Could the phonecall even be a hoax? Someone pretending to be French? To confuse the issue, shift the emphasis? Might it even be something Paul has for some reason cooked up with his friends? Probably not. It does not seem like the kind of thing Paul would do. In any case, it would be irresponsible for me to let the matter go. For the time being, I have to assume my son is being held to ransom and it is not a hoax. I need to phone the police. Unfortunately, the Emergency 999 service has been suspended and I don’t have enough credit to phone the 118 Directory Enquiries services to get a number.

It is getting murkier by the minute. I need to take stock and get to a phone I can use. I remember my old chess buddy, Krzysztof lives close by, in a static home in the holiday park. He rents it cheaply during the winter months and I haven’t seen him for a while. Krzysztof is a resourceful man. He is one of those fortunate people that know how to get out of difficult situations. I’m certain he will be able to help. He will know what I should do.

I give him a call and explain my predicament.

Strange things are happening to us all, my friend,’ he says. ‘These days, day is night and black is white.’

I agree with him. Things are indeed upside down. Until recently, Paul’s future seemed guaranteed. The world was crying out for environmental scientists. But how quickly things change. Unlike climate, which is officially not now changing, even though everyone can see it is. I am not a great one for reading the papers but the outlook hasn’t looked good since the big squabble started. Then there was that other business. The one we voted on. It’s a shame the young did not get out to vote because it is going to be worse for them. Wherever you look now there is doom and gloom. Censored internet. Less choice. Poor prospects. Smaller horizons. You probably remember those days not so long ago when you could book a holiday in the sun. You could fly anywhere. Chess players from my club can no longer play any of the guys from overseas. Sundays have been replaced by Mondays, they are fracking in the park, packs of dogs are roaming the streets and a bottle of red wine costs an arm and a leg.

When I arrive at Krzysztof’s, I find to my horror that he has no face. I look at him but no-one is looking back at me. Between the collar of his shirt and his hat, there is a void. No eyes. No ears. No mouth. He did not warn me about this. Would it have been better if he had given me the heads-up? I don’t know. It would still have been a shock. Some of you may not have experienced it but until you get used to talking to a hat bobbing up and down and stranger still, the hat talking back, it can be disorientating. I try not to draw attention to it but Krzysztof detects I am uncomfortable and tries to put me at ease.

It’s not as unusual as you might imagine, Bill’ he says. ‘Many people from my country living here have no faces now. It’s one way we are able to stay put since that vote.’

On the other hand, they’ve made it easier to stay put,’ I say. ‘There’s not even a rail link to the continent anymore.’

© Chris Green 2018: All rights reserved

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Hunky Dory 2019

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Hunky Dory 2019 by Chris Green

It all began one hot stormy night two years back when Hermione and I were living in Joy Street in Bridgewater. I dreamt it was 1972 and the album, Hunky Dory was playing. I was listening to the album, slowly and leisurely as I would have back then if someone had put it on the turntable. One side then the other. It was one of those rare dreams that you stay in for a long time. While my dreams normally comprised multiple interlocking narratives, this one had just a single thread. Hunky Dory. It seemed to move forward in real-time. The music flowed through me and over me. It inhabited my senses. It felt in a curious way like I was the music. The eponymous title track of the album, in particular, sounded sublime.

It was not until I woke that I realised there was no song called Hunky Dory on the album. While most of Bowie’s albums had a title track, Hunky Dory notably didn’t. Where could the phantom tune I had heard possibly have come from? In the dream, the tune was slipped in seamlessly between Changes and Oh You Pretty Things. I was able to recall it note for note. It was still there intact, going around and around my head like an earworm. It was a sweet slow-tempo number with tinkling piano, playful acoustic guitar runs and a haunting melody. Reminiscent perhaps of Quicksand from the album with hints of The Bewlay Brothers. I wondered if perhaps it was a song from another of Bowie’s albums. Maybe a later one. Having been a lifelong fan, I was familiar with most of his work. I spent some time running through the possibilities in my head. Nothing fitted. So far as I could tell, this was an original tune. My original tune.

I remembered reading that Paul McCartney claimed the melody of Yesterday came to him in a dream. Keith Richards made a similar claim about Satisfaction. He had woken up with it and put it down on a cassette machine. Both had worried that they had heard the respective tunes somewhere or other in the past and they were someone else’s work. They both discovered that they were their originals. So perhaps this wasn’t so unusual. Classical composers too, it was said, often arrived at important passages this way. Perhaps musical ideas were in the ether like radio waves and it was a question of tuning in to them. Perhaps sleep created favourable conditions for this. When all the other senses were switched off.

But still! If I was right about the quality of this song, then it would probably have been the standout track on the Hunky Dory album which is frequently cited as Bowie’s finest work. But it wasn’t on the acclaimed album. I couldn’t let it slip away. Starting with the melody, I began to put the notes down on manuscript paper. I then put down the piano and guitar parts. The words were a little harder but with those I couldn’t remember, I improvised. I could always improve these if need be. It was the melody that mattered most.

Many of you will have heard the song by now, perhaps several different mixes of it. Even cover versions. If so, you will understand how excited I must have been that morning two years ago. But, as an unknown artist, it was not easy to get Hunky Dory onto the market. Not being an established name, no-one wanted to even talk to me. I couldn’t exactly tell them I had heard it on a David Bowie album. Even supposing I could have, this would hardly support provenance of authorship. For a start, I would have been about four years old at the time of the album. Even Mozart would have struggled to come up with a decent tune at this age. Nor could I say it came to me in a dream. They would think I was loony tunes and end the call there and then. Someone will get back to you became a familiar line. No-one ever did. I almost gave up.

Hermione had made it clear all along that she was not that keen on the song.

You’ve done all you can, Ziggy,’ I remember her saying. ‘You ought to give up on it. Then perhaps you would have some time and we would be able to go out now and again. We could go and see a band or something.’

The song will never get anywhere, no matter how good it is,’ I remember my brother Nathan saying. ‘The market’s sown up.’

I found the line, turn and face the strange crack in the sky a little puzzling,’ I remember my therapist, Rebel saying. ‘Perhaps you might explain what it means to you. And this line, strange fascinations of a hand reaching down. Hunky Dory’s an odd kind of song, isn’t it?’

Although they’re a bit weird, Ziggy, I can’t help thinking some of those lyrics seem familiar,’ I remember Jonny Bisco, the landlord of The Major Tom saying.

It seemed no-one believed in my song. But through thick and thin, I persevered. Eventually, Chris Green at The Kaleidoscope Repair Shop where I worked said he quite liked it. He persuaded his friend, Vic Timov at Unicorn Records, a small independent label based in Devon to give me studio time to record the song properly. Although there were problems with distribution of the CD and vinyl when the tune started selling in tens of thousands, downloads alone took it to the top the charts in several countries.

It’s a pity Mercury Records are taking me to court. They claim that the melody of Hunky Dory is identical to the melody of After All, one of David Bowie’s early tunes. There may be a slight similarity but there are only so many combinations of notes available. Occasionally some duplication is inevitable. And the lyrics to Hunky Dory are completely different. I can’t for the life of me see that they have a case. It’s essentially a different song. My solicitor, Guy Bloke of Chesterton, Pringle and Bloke is optimistic he can deliver a favourable outcome.

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

Only One Reality

onlyonereality2019

Only One Reality by Chris Green

A second did not seem an important integer, but therein lay the problem. It was such a small unit of time. Yet, such was the degree of precision operating in the overcrowded skies that if Quincey Sargent had returned from his break seven seconds earlier or seven seconds later, the dreadful accident would not have happened. Sargent would not have given the instruction that resulted in the collision between the two leviathans that changed, albeit ever so slightly, Earth’s path around the sun.

Had the accident not happened, things would be as they had always been. Earth would spin on its axis once every twenty four hours and revolve around the sun in its normal orbit every three hundred and sixty five days. There would still be thirty one million, five hundred and thirty six thousand seconds in a calendar year. But as you know there are now more. Just how many more has still to be calculated accurately. We hear new estimates every day with eminent scientists forever trying to steal a march on one another. No one can even say for sure that Earth’s orbit is going to settle into a regular pattern. As you will be aware, the uncertainty has played havoc with digital technology and really messed up schedules and timetables. Try catching the eight o’clock Eurostar now.

Quincey Sargent has of course been dealt with, along with Stanton Kelso at ATC who failed to notice that the two giant craft were on a collision course. You probably saw Sargent and Kelso’s execution on television, if you have one that still works. But knowing that they were punished can never make up for the hundreds of thousands of lives that were lost. I expect from time to time some of you still take a look at the film of the explosion on topnet, if you can get topnet, to remind yourselves.

But it is not only the measurement of time that we have to consider. The accident has a far greater legacy, affecting every area of our lives. We’re only just beginning to find out the full extent of the disruption it has caused.

My friend, Ƣ, who works at the spy base calls me up out of the blue. He says that many of the strange phenomena that might be attributable to the catastrophe are being hushed up. Ƣ is not a WikiLeaks scaremonger. When Ƣ tells me something I believe him. I trust Ƣ implicitly. We go back a long way. We belonged to the same motorcycle club, The Diabolos when we were younger. He rode a Triumph Bonneville and I had a Norton Commando. You build up trust when you are riding fast bikes on long runs in large groups like this. Margins of error are small. Ƣ would not lie to me now.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that your satnav no longer works and there aren’t nearly as many websites as there once were,’ he says.

Of course,’ I say. ‘As you know digital is my field.’

Quite! Time is well and truly screwed, isn’t it?’ he says. ‘Anything that depends on time or needs a timer to operate, forget it.’

At least you no longer need to keep looking at your watch.’ I say. ‘Do you know? Even the oven timer is kaput and I’ve no idea when to put the cat out. In fact, the cat no longer wants to go out.’

Who can blame it with all that fog?’ he says. ‘But, there’s a whole bunch of other stuff that for whatever reason is not being reported. Why has an eight kilometre wide trench opened up across Central Asia?’ he says. ‘I don’t think that has been on the news. Why are they keeping the lid on that?’

Perhaps they have been too preoccupied with the floods in Nevada and Arizona to report on it,’ I say.

Why have the people in Australia started talking in a language that no one understands? Why do goats no longer have shadows.’ he says. ‘And what’s happened to all the fish in the sea?’

You think it’s all part of a big cover-up then,’ I say.

The communication satellites weren’t taken out by the explosion like they told us,’ he says. ‘They’ve been shut down since. And it’s not our people that are doing it. There’s definitely something sinister going on.’

I tell Ƣ about the after images that have begun to appear on all my photos. ‘They make it look like people are slowly leaving or arriving,’ I say. ‘It is as if I have set a long exposure or superimposed a series of images on one another.’

Ƣ tells me that others are having the same problem. A friend of his finds he has a Serbian First World War ambulance superimposed on all his pictures and someone else he knows has a spectral German shepherd in every shot. Every day he says he comes across more and more curious things that cannot be explained.

I’m wondering whether we are seeing more strange things lately, Ƣ, because we’re beginning to expect things to be odd,’ I say. ‘Aren’t we looking for weirdness?’

I suppose you might have a point, Bob,’ he says. ‘But I’m guessing that you don’t really believe that what you say explains everything. There are just so many things that have changed. Life bears no resemblance to how it used to be. Look! There is one important thing that has never been revealed and no-one seems to have picked up on it. What was on board those two craft that collided? We just don’t know. The Ministry hasn’t been able to find out. Our allies haven’t been able to find out. Nobody seems to know. Which is where you come in.’

I do? You’ll have to make that a little clearer,’ I say.

Well, Bob. For obvious reasons I can’t go public with any of the information I come across. I mean, look what happened to Eddie Snowden. I don’t want to have to live like that.’

What you are saying is that I can, is that it?’

Pretty much, Bob. I know that the internet is a bit skinnier than it once was, but you’ve got the skills to set up a proxy website and you know all there is to know about SEO, if that is the right expression and assuming that search engines still work. You could at least begin to post information for me. At the same time, you could discretely find out what other people might be noticing that we are not being told and report back.’

But …..’

You will get paid.’

It’s not that. It’s …..’

I know. I know. I work in the secrecy business. But there’s a limit. When something this serious is going down, I don’t think you should keep people in the dark. What do you say?’

I don’t have anything better to do. I no longer have a job. Nobody seems to need digital display designers any more. I suppose I could get a job repairing cars or something. With all the electrics failing that’s where the demand is. But everyone’s going to be turning their hand to that. I agree to Ƣ’s proposal.

I try to think of a suitable name for the site. aintthatthetruth.com, wtfshappening.com, alliwantisthetruth.com, none of them very snappy. Surprised that the domain hasn’t been taken, I settle on whistleblower.com.

Ƣ comes up with staggering tales from the word go, extraordinary stories from around the world. He wants people to know that they have started practising voodoo in Switzerland. He wants it out there that everybody in Japan has become left handed. That there are giant badgers in Nepal. The reason that the fish are all dead it is now thought is that there is no salt left in the sea. They have moved the International Date Line three times in a week and changed the value of pi. The latest on the length of a day is now that it is believed to be twenty five hours and twenty four minutes in old time. Ƣ says that no-one is talking about the number of seconds in a year any more. This he says is going to be impossible to calculate until Earth’s orbit has settled.

My site begins to attract whistleblowers from around the world. Rigatony posts that Venice is sinking fast and that everyone in Padova is having identical disturbing dreams at night. Plastic has become unstable and computer keyboards and TV remote controls are decomposing, posts MercyCaptain. According to Kommunique, all the babies born in Kyrgyzstan since the catastrophe have been female, not a popular option in a Muslim country. There are dust storms in Oklahoma says CrashSlayer. Aren’t there often dust storms in Oklahoma?

A lively online community quickly comes together through the forum. My admin duties keep me busy day and night. In no time at all the analogue hit counter is up to five figures. Although there’s nothing directly relating to the cargoes of the craft, a majority of the posts are constructive and informative. Being an open forum there are of course also time wasters and religious fanatics. Fire and brimstone and Sodom and Gomorrah are mentioned a lot. What we are witnessing, the evangelists claim, is God’s punishment for planned parenthood, spare parts surgery and gay marriage.

There have always been conspiracy theories, so it is unsurprising that some of these also find their way on to whistleblower.com pages. Everything going wrong it is claimed is part of a plan by ruthless aliens who want to force us into submission so they can take over Earth. It is an Illuminati or Zionist plot to take over the planet. It is part of a big budget surreality television show. Everything is an illusion anyway. Some things you have to take with a pinch of salt. Nothing resembling a conclusive explanation for the upheaval appears, although the illusion explanation, while clearly impossible to confirm, is tempting. Everything that is happening might well be part of someone’s dream. Or a hologram. Gravity in the universe comes from thin, vibrating strings. These strings are holograms of events that take place in a simpler, flatter cosmos. The holographic principle suggests that, like the security chip on your credit card, there is a two-dimensional surface that contains all the information needed to be able to describe a three-dimensional object, our universe. In essence, the information containing a description of a volume of space, be it a person or our Earth could be hidden in a region of this flattened real version of the universe.

It’s a bit of a head-banger. I put this to Ƣ as best I can.

He agrees that multiverses and strings are legitimate lines of enquiry and the Ministry has been putting resources into their research. But how does this help?

We have a whole heap of strangeness, that we didn’t have before,’ he says. ‘If parallel worlds could explain what is happening, we would have had the kind of anomalies we are getting now all along. There would have always been parallel worlds. That’s not what it is.’

It is difficult to disagree with him. Quantum mechanics even in its simpler form is something I have never been able to grasp, despite watching many programmes about it on television.

Ƣ goes on to tell me I am doing a good job and if I keep at it, all should be revealed. There is bound to be an explanation for the apparent rupture in the space-time continuum. So that’s what it is, a rupture in the space-time continuum.

One moment I am sat at my computer, keying in a report about the dense swarm of black moths that has appeared over London, the next I am in a darkened room. The space is unfamiliar. It is small. There are no windows. There is a dank smell. The door is locked. I can hear the hollow sound of a slow but steady drip of water. I have always suffered from claustrophobia. Being confined like this has always been my deepest secret fear. I am terrified. This feels like the grave. Is this what death is like? Is this how it happens? Could this be it? No blinding light. No life flashing before your eyes. No white tunnel. Is this it? The other side? Or, perhaps it’s the waiting chamber, the holding bay.

This is not it. Sometime later, it may be hours, minutes or even seconds, my captors reveal themselves. Not before I have been to hell and back. The door opens and they materialise slowly as if they are made up of dots, like a half-tone in an old newspaper. There are three of them. As my eyes get used to the light I can see that they are three-dimensional figures and they are wearing military fatigues. They don’t look friendly. There are no welcoming gestures. They have guns.

The one on the right of the group opens his mouth to speak. The sound appears to come from the one on the left, the one with the scar down his cheek and the alligator grin. ‘You will close the website down,’ he barks.

Immediately,’ says the one on the right. The sound appears to come from the one on the left. This one has a gallery of Japanese Dragon tattoos on his arms.

We would have taken it down ourselves, but you did something ……. smart with it,’ says the one in the centre. He is built like a Sherman tank and aptly he is the one with the biggest gun. It is pointing directly at my head.

Beneath my fear, I can’t help thinking that this is a heavy-handed approach. Just one of them, any one of them could have knocked me up at home, pointed a gun at my head and expected to get results. You would not mistake these people for boy scouts. They really look like killers.

We are the time police,’ says Alligator Grin. This may not be what he says, but this is how I hear it. Perhaps they are the time police. Perhaps they are not. Perhaps they are hallucinations but I am not taking that chance. My survival mechanism tells me that they are armed and I am not.

We are here to set the record straight,’ says Dragon Tattoos.

To put an end to all that nonsense you’ve been publishing,’ says Tank.

Lies,’ says Alligator Grin. At least I think that’s what he says. His diction is not good.

There’s only one reality,’ says Dragon Tattoos.

And it’s not yours,’ says Tank.

You are going to start again on your server and tell people the facts,’ says Dragon Tattoos.

The real facts,’ says Tank. They have lost the rhythm. It’s not his turn to speak.

The day is twenty Ferraris,’ says Alligator Grin. I’m getting the hang of it now. He means twenty four hours.

And there are sixty minutes to the hour, and sixty seconds to the minute,’ says Dragon Tattoos.

The same as it has always been,’ says Tank. For a moment, I think he is about to pull the trigger, but if he does that then the website is still going to be there.

And the earth sorbet has always been the same,’ says Alligator Grin. Perhaps he means Earth’s orbit.

You will say all the rest was a misapprehension.’ I lose track of who is saying what. They are firing phrases at me like bullets. I feel dizzy. The room is spinning.

A result of an over-active imagination,’

Too much science fiction,’

Choo many movies,’

Too many video games,’

One moment I am face to face with three menacing mercenaries, the next moment I am back in front of my computer at home. The mercenaries must have been an hallucination caused by the stress of being in the darkened room. The darkened room might itself have been a delusion. It’s hard to tell what is really happening any more. But, here I am at home. I breathe a sigh of relief. But I’m not out of the woods yet. Two men in dark suits are with me in the room. One looks like a Mormon missionary, the other looks like Napoleon Solo. They both have guns. They are both pointed at me.

You have not heard from Ƣ,’ says Mormon missionary. This is a statement.

You are not going to be seeing Ƣ,’ says Napoleon Solo. This too is a statement.

Ƣ died in a motorcycle accident in 1999.’ Mormon Missionary again.

So let’s get started on the new website,’ says Napoleon Solo. He is beginning to look less like Napoleon Solo. More Reservoir Dogs. Is it the way he angles his gun? Or is it the look of intent he has on his face? Mr Blue, perhaps.

People need to know what’s really going on,’ says Mormon Missionary. He begins to look a little less like a Mormon missionary. More Men in Black.

sameasiteverwas.com,’ says Mr Blue.

And put this little piece of …….. worm software on the back of it,’ says Man In Black. ‘It will take over all internet browsers and stop anyone getting access to any …….. rogue sites.’

People will be able to sleep easy in their beds, with the assurance that everything is OK,’ says Mr Blue.

And know that someone is looking out for them,’ says Man In Black. ‘Like a big brother.’

I begin to see how it is that history is always written by the ones with the guns, the ones with the biggest guns, whoever they might be. The ones who can manipulate the media, whatever the media might be. How science at any point in time is what the scientists of the day tell us, however erroneous, and why God persists, albeit in one or two different versions. The people who are in charge make the rules, all the rules. They are the ones that dictate what is true and what is lies and that their way is the way it has always been. They establish their set of beliefs as facts and employ militia to enforce their truth, their version of events. They quash dissent. They find out what people’s fears are and work on them until they are too frightened to disagree. There are no ways of seeing. There is just the one way, their way. Their version of events will always be the one that has always been. If necessary they will burn books and rewrite history. They will put worms onto your computer. They will destroy civilisations to make the oven timer work. You will know exactly when you have to put the cat out.

Earth will revolve around the sun in the same way at the same distance and there will always be thirty one million, five hundred and thirty six second in a year until such time as the people in charge say otherwise. Goats will always have shadows, Switzerland will never practice voodoo. Plastic will continue to be stable. Venice will not sink. There will always be fish in the sea. There will never be a multiverse. Pi will always be three point one four one six. The same as it ever was. There will only be one reality. All the rest will be make-believe. That’s just the way it is.

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

Hitman

hitman

Hitman by Chris Green

You don’t expect to see hitmen at English village cricket matches. But the man dressed in black with the Moscot sunglasses on the bench on the other side of the ground is Cosa Nostra. Sophie and I are sure of it. He is wearing a gun beneath his dark suit. We could tell he was armed as soon as he got out of the black Mercedes with the tinted windows. He parked by the sight-screen and walked slowly over to the seat with the olive skinned lady in the red floral dress. She is clearly his cover.

Little Dissing are playing Over Snowey, the combined population of both villages is less than three thousand. Why would a Mafioso have an interest in what is going on here, we wonder? I think of mentioning it to PCSO Trescothick but I can see there would be no point. He is three sheets to the wind. There was a lunchtime session at The Butchers Arms before the game and everyone went out of their way to buy him a drink so he would overlook some minor misdemeanour or other. I look around for Ken Bicknoller the manager of the village gun shop but he seems to have disappeared. Probably gone off to shoot some flightless birds.

You did pay your income tax bill in the end, didn’t you?’ Sophie says.

The day before the deadline,’ I say. And I moved on that money that was resting in my account.’

Perhaps the lunchtime celebrations were a mistake. Wickets are tumbling. Rob Mullis is out to a reckless sweep shot to a ball he should have left. Little Dissing are now 29 for 4.

Aren’t you supposed to be doing the scoreboard?’ Roy Tackler says. ‘It’s still saying 13 for 0.’

Sorry,’ I say. ‘I got distracted. What do you make of those two sat over there, Roy?’

Probably holidaymakers,’ Roy says.

But why are they sitting over there? Why not come over here where the refreshments are?’

I’m sure there’s a good reason. Perhaps they want some privacy. They might be talking a few things over. You’re married, George. You know how these things work.’

They don’t look like they’re here for a cosy little chat. He is a hitman, Roy. I’m certain.’

Look! You missed it,’ Roy says. ‘29 for 5 now, mate,’

What happened?’

Ugg White charged down the wicket, missed the ball completely and was stumped, first ball. Pissed as a fart, I’d say.’

Oh dear. Ugg is not a hitman then.’

Ha, ha. You need to pay attention, man, instead of going off on these flights of fancy.’

Duggie Douglas and Wayne Bridgewater are dispatched in quick succession without adding to the score. I add the numbers to the wickets tally on the board. The man in the dark suit and his friend sit impassively the other side of the field. They offer no applause when Slogger McNally hits the ball skyward and there is no interaction with the boundary fielder when he takes the catch. 29 for 8. These are not cricket fans. They are here on some nefarious mission. Before the day is out, someone from these parts is going to be sleeping with the fishes.

Sophie’s friend, Mandy comes over to us and asks if we know who the two strangers on the bench are. Mandy has been organising the catering in the hospitality tent and wonders if she ought to take something over to them.

They are not from around here, are they?’ she says. ‘But they look so left out over there. They are probably too shy to come across. And it’s such a hot day. I’m sure they would like a glass of something cool. Perhaps I could take them a plate of sausage rolls and vol au vents too. Why don’t you come, Sophie? We could ask them over and introduce them to everyone.’

They do look as if they might want to be alone,’ Sophie says. ‘George thinks the fellow might be, well, I suppose there’s no other way to say it, from the Mob. The Mafia, you know.’

Oh, don’t be silly. Come on, let’s go and see who they are. …. Oh, that’s a shame. They seem to be leaving.’

I look up and notice the Mafioso and his companion are slowly making their way back towards the car. His gait is definitely the gait of a gangster. You can tell he is armed to the teeth, weapons hidden all over his person. Is it my imagination or is he whistling the theme tune to The Godfather? He is probably going off to make someone an offer they can’t refuse.

From a safety point of view, I should be pleased that the pair are leaving. But in a sense, I am disappointed. I will miss them. Very little of any consequence ever happens in Little Dissing. Graffiti appearing in the play-park is a bit of an event here. We look forward to the fish and chip van calling every second Thursday and the annual cricket match with Over Snowey is on a par with Glastonbury Festival or the World Cup Final. There is a cheer from the crowd now as Ed Lock tries to hit the ball back over the bowler’s head but misses it by a mile. Oblivious to the cricketing shenanigans, the visitors quietly get into the parked Mercedes.

Who on Earth were they?’ Tony Ostler the racehorse trainer from Nether Dissing asks.

I don’t know, Tony,’ I say. ‘But if I were you, I would check on your horses when you get home. Or at least before you and your good lady go on up to bed.’

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved


Slumpton 1980

slumpton1980

Slumpton 1980 by Chris Green

The door to number 16 slammed in Harry’s face, as it had more times than Harry cared to remember. Its split green and orange panels were all too familiar. Familiar too were the plywood and chicken wire that was nailed over the space where the window had once been. The force of the door closing caused a liberal sprinkling of masonry to dislodge itself from an upstairs window, landing on the shoulder of Harry’s paint-smeared donkey jacket. Harry brushed it off with the palm of his hand and moved on down the street, past two boarded up terraced houses and a pile of rubble where others had until recently been, before arriving outside number 28. Sounds consistent with marital discord could be heard. Harry shuddered. He felt a strong urge to go back home. He was too old for this kind of aggravation. He lit a Woodbine and struggled to regain his composure. He must be resolute. After all, the Luker family had been slum landlords since the thirties and this was 1980. His grandfather, George Luker had collected from these very houses during ‘he blitz. What would George have thought if he knew Harry was such a wuss?

His composure restored, Harry rapped firmly on the front door with his knuckles. This had the effect of bringing a corpulent, unshaven hulk of about forty face to face with him across the threshold. This was Natt, or Nasty as he was known locally. There were signs of a recent breakfast or perhaps last night’s vomit, on the front of Nasty’s vest, which was, in fact, the back, Harry observed, the garment being both back to front and inside out. Nasty towered above Harry and looked far from pleased at having been disturbed.

M’morning N’nasty,’ Harry stammered. ‘Nice day again.’

Pishoff,’ Nasty snarled. He was not wearing his false teeth.

Wasting no further energy on social pleasantries, Nasty returned to the arena of family strife. Harry wiped his glasses with a grubby paint rag. A black and white dog with one eye missing sniffed around his heels. Harry motioned to kick it. Resisting the temptation to sink its teeth into Harry’s leg, the animal slunk off to explore the gutter. Harry wondered how long it would take it to find the remains of the dead cat.

Next door to Nasty’s, the heavy bass line of a reggae track pounded out. A Babylonpolicyafolicy chanted a flat and mournful voice. The volume grew alarmingly as Harry approached. Through a haze of ganja smoke that had certain times of day seemed to envelop this particular stretch of the street, an assortment of brightly-clothed and dreadlocked children bounced out of the house. The eldest was no more than seven. They formed a circle around Harry.

Money missa!’ the biggest boy demanded, holding out his hand. They began to pummel Harry’s lower body with their fists, chanting in unison. A downstairs window opened and the space was taken up with a rainbow of colour, a mass of braids and locks as a large Jamaican woman appeared.

A oo dat a knock pon di door. Ras ‘im not ‘ome,’ she bawled. ‘Im ain’t bin ‘ere since long-time so.’

Ras claat ‘im never ‘ome,’ Harry mimmicked, missing the rhythm of the patois by a considerable margin.

Ain’t no mi fault mon. ‘Im not come round no mo’ mebbe. You wan’ buy ganja mon.’

Harry indicated that he didn’t.

Then goweh now you dam lagga head.’

Harry’s reply that he had come to collect the rent was swallowed up by the agitated roar of powerful motorcycle engines. The Desperados were revving up their machines with some venom outside number 48. They were wearing full colours. They seemed to be off out for the day. Harry was cheered a little by this. It would mean he had one less call to make. Each time he had called at number 48, a progressively more menacing ruffian had answered the door. Harry could only guess at how many of them lived there but it seemed to be well into double figures and he had to admit he was terrified of each and every one, more so even than he was of Nasty.

Harry glanced at his clipboard. This must have been instinctive for he needed no reminder that he had collected no rent on this particular morning. He turned over a few pages as if playing a game with himself to see who owed the most rent. If so, there was no doubt about the outcome of such a contest, for in the three years he had lived in Slumpton Terrace, Nolan Rocco had paid no rent at all. Nolan Rocco was the bane of his life. If Harry could find a way to get rid of Nolan Rocco he would be able to put up with all of life’s other disappointments.

The Tacklers’ had a new board nailed to their front window. Already it had been daubed with offensive comments. Roy Tackler had once been a footballer. Scoring four own goals in Slumpton United’s 4-3 defeat to Arsenal was the only time however that Roy made the headlines. Without his dubious contribution, Slumpton would have made the semi-finals in the cup for the only time in their ninety-five year history. What made matters worse for Roy was that the fact that his last two own goals had come in injury time. After 90 minutes his side had miraculously been leading 3-2, when Roy’s mistimed overhead kick surprised goalkeeper, Gareth Garry, and went in the top right-hand corner of the net. This was reprised two minutes later by his backwards header into the top left-hand corner. He was summarily dismissed by his club. After this, Roy gave up football. He tried his hand at a number of occupations, failing, sometimes dramatically to fulfil his potential in each one. He now lived here. Harry had heard recently that even his long-suffering wife, Deidre had left him,.

Harry reminded himself of Slumpton United’s brief glory days before the FA had closed the ground. Slumpton United had nearly been promoted to the Third Division. He prided himself that he could still name the entire first team. Slumpton was a place on the map then. There were three cinemas and a gymnasium, where you could learn to box. Slumpton had had a thriving Sunday morning market, one of the most prestigious in the city. The dog track that now was only of interest to those dumping toxic waste had once attracted thousands every Thursday and Saturday night. There was hope on the horizon back then for residents of the borough of Slumpton. There were bingo halls and pubs that still had a licence. And there were several Jewish tailors. Now, what was there? Prostitution, all night blues, boarded-up shops, the longest dole queue in the city. And the likes of Nolan Rocco. But Nolan Rocco was another story.

A Police siren struck up from across the car park. It was still euphemistically thought of as a car park, although it had fallen into disuse and become a rubbish tip of some renown. Cars no longer parked in Slumpton. Taxis refused to take fares within several blocks, and even Police cars could not be left unattended. Harry had been around long enough to remember the days before the riots when Slumpton was up and coming. It had not always been a no-go area.

Harry sidled down the street, examining the graffiti on the walls of the houses and blocks of flats, these run by the Slumpton Squatters Estate Agency, Harry’s only serious rival in the area. Even graffiti was subject to declining standards, he reflected. What had become of the imaginative daubings of yesterday? – gems like IS THAT A LADDER IN YOUR STOCKINGS OR THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN and PLAIN CLOTHES DRUG DEALERS ARE WORKING IN THIS AREA. Now, the graffiti was was monochrome and unimaginative. It was all SHARON SHAGS and FUCK OFF HOME PAKIS And here was a new one HARRY LUKER IS A CHILD MOLESTER. It was all so personal. He reached number 52. Cats had attacked the black bags outside and their rubbish was strewn across the pavement. A rusty bin full of holes stood beneath the window, its contents incinerated. Arson was one of the major pursuits now, Harry reflected. That and ram-raiding. Harry looked up. The guttering had detached itself from the upper part of the house and hung groundwards like a drainpipe. The drainpipe had long since gone and there was a slimy green stain all down the wall. There were few unbroken windows. The odd thing was that Tardelli did not seem to mind the squalor. While other tenants would tackle him periodically about repairs, Tardelli never did. He differed from his other tenants in every way. For one thing, insofar as Harry could judge, he was educated. What was it Tardelli had told him he did when he had met him in The Builders Shovel public house on the night the O’Neills were arrested? Write film scripts? Tardelli had charm and charisma, rare commodities in these parts. Why then did he choose to live in such a slum? And even sometimes pay rent. After all few others on the street seemed to bother with this nicety.

Tardelli,’ Harry shouted. The front door was already open.

Tardelli,’ he shouted again as he peered inside into the gloom.

In the hallway stood a huge dresser, which housed a collection of stone jars and old stained glass bottles. On the floor was a tall pile of yellowed newspapers and a couple of open holdalls that appeared to be full of dog-eared paperback books. The walls, where they were visible were painted a dark brown and one or two cheap Indian dhurries hung from them. A sour and musty odour hung on the air. It reminded Harry of his National Service days in Singapore. An inside door opened and the sound of an operatic tenor singing a Puccini aria floated through. Tardelli emerged from the shadows, a tall, lean, almost skeletal figure with dark Indian features and slicked-back hair, which even in the half-light was noticeably greying. His style of dress seemed to belong to a younger man. His blue jeans had reached the peak of their fade and were almost white and he wore a pink T-shirt with the logo I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT emblazoned across the front. A red silk scarf was tied around his waist.

Harry,’ he beamed. ‘How nice. Come on in.’

Harry followed Tardelli along the hallway. He was of a broader physique by far than Tardelli. He edged himself carefully past the dresser and a pile of cardboard boxes full of assorted bric-a-brac. He ducked beneath the painted alligator skin and found himself in a room piled high with sundry lumber. The walls were decorated a la Jackson Pollock, although it could be argued without the artist’s flair. A black corduroy blind over the window kept daylight out with a vengeance and the room was lit by oil lamps. A large black paraffin stove heated the room – unsparingly. It probably heated the whole block. Harry’s eyes nervously explored their surroundings, as he tried to establish where he was, even who he was and what he had walked into. He and Tardelli had in the past conducted their business at the front door. The room they were in was or probably had been the kitchen, but with so much disorder, it was difficult to tell. There were no pointers, like cooker, fridge or food. The room certainly fulfilled no culinary function. Tardelli led Harry through to another room. This room too was dark but at least the walls had been painted red. On the floor, a stone sink was filled with water with guppies swimming in it. The sink itself was painted luminous green. An abnormally large ginger cat was lapping up what appeared to be blood from an intricately sculptured bowl on a marble slab, balanced, precariously on a purple trestle table. Papers were scattered everywhere. A cuckoo clock had stopped at twelve o’clock.

To what do I owe this pleasure?’ Tardelli enquired, picking up a bag of carrots and handing one to Harry.

You seem to owe me some rent,’ Harry said, as he wondered what to do with the carrot.

It’s a carrot. You eat them,’ Tardelli said. He could see that Harry had not come across such a vegetable in his travels.

Yes. A carrot.’

You seem tense Harry. Loosen up.’

You don’t have to collect rent in the Terrace on a Saturday,’

And neither do you, Harry. You choose to. If it upsets you, don’t do it.’

That’s all very well’

Look! How do you think I manage to live around here? Do you think I’m completely insensitive to my environment? Do you think I don’t notice how bad things are?’

You seem not to.’

The tenor had given way to a soprano. Harry noticed the music was coming from an old radiogram in the corner of the room, underneath a large poster of Ayatollah Khomeini, holding a 50p piece aloft.

For the gas meter,’ Tardelli explained, for he could see that Harry was puzzled. ‘I’ll tell you my secret, Harry. I fantasise. I put my fantasies into writing you see. I create my own world. This way, dreams can come true. If you could, what would you have happen in your life right now.’

Harry considered the question for a moment. His fingers played almost instinctively with the papers on his clipboard. Taking the piss was one thing. A slum landlord had to be used to people taking the piss. But three years. And after all he, Harry had done for him. Not to mention the business with the O’Neills. If only – he would be able to put up with all of life’s other disappointments.

It can happen, Harry. Take my word. But perhaps you may not need to take my word. Now! About the rent. I can let you have some next week when my advance arrives. Is that OK?’

I suppose it will have to be. It’s the nearest I’ve come to a result today,’ Harry whimpered, pathos not absent.

Don’t be so negative, Harry. Loosen up. When you step out of here, you are the master of your own destiny. The author of your own script, Harry. If you believe then something will happen……..You’ll see.’

With an air of despondency and a marked feeling that Tardelli too was taking the piss, Harry negotiated the obstacle course to the door and stepped outside.

A profound feeling of time disorientation hit him in the way it did after a lunchtime session at the Shovel. Perhaps Harry felt, more like the time he had been spiked with acid when he had collected rent from the Dohertys on the night Boozy Farrell was arrested. The street seemed to have altered somehow, it seemed less hostile. He thought he could hear birdsong. Surely a songbird could not have found its way to Slumpton. There were no trees. A brass band seemed to be playing, although it was rather a dull tune, with just the two notes.

Slowly as if he was coming to consciousness after a dream, Harry began to notice that a large crowd had gathered a distance down the street. Two police cars and an ambulance were parked. Outside Nolan Rocco’s in fact. Harry watched spellbound as a stretcher bearing the body was carried slowly out to the waiting ambulance. It couldn’t be …… could it?

Copyright: © Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

The Hurdy Gurdy Man

The Hurdy Gurdy Man by Chris Green

It is after midnight. Lois and I are watching a nail-biting episode of Bad Break on Horizon when the old man in the threadbare purple duffle coat calls round. He is selling violins. In these uncertain times, traders are likely to call round at any time of day or night but it is unusual for a violin seller to call so late. You expect people selling camping gear and kitchen utensils to knock on your door up until three a.m. And of course, carpet sellers. But we are usually in bed by then. As a rule, we go to bed at two, after Cricketers’ Wives on Bygone finishes, unless it’s a Thursday and we happen to be watching Black Lens on Extra. This does not finish until two-thirty.

Lately, there is a non-stop procession of hawkers, selling anything and everything. Fishing tackle, jet skis, garden gnomes, overspill from car boots, sometimes things that even charity shops won’t take. Having been encouraged to buy all manner of merchandise at every opportunity, people are constantly clearing out. Add to this the swathes of people who have been hit by the dramatic downturn, desperate to sell a few bits and pieces to be able to put food on the table and you begin to understand why you get so many callers. We now recognise some of the regulars. The late-night transient selling boxes of knock-off DVDs, the Frankie Dettori lookalike selling fake signed photographs of sports celebrities, the down-at-heel vagrant selling Lambretta badges and Gilbert O’Sullivan CDs. Sometimes we have to put the light out and pretend we have already gone up the wooden hill.

We don’t normally buy violins on the doorstep. Neither of us plays. Yet this does not stop me from purchasing a Cremona Premier. I have not seen a green violin before. And he is only asking ninety-nine pounds for it. I recognise a bargain when I see one and a green violin for ninety-nine pounds is a bargain in anyone’s book. The man in the purple duffle coat knocks off a catchy Fritz Kreisler tune and says that he will accept an IOU if necessary. Although money is tight, I don’t like the thought of being in debt so I pay him in cash. He says his name is Quinn and if we are interested, he may have some trumpets next week.

Buying from door-to-door sellers is all very well but you have to be on your guard. Life was easier when you could buy goods over the internet. You had eBay and Amazon and Gumtree where practically everything you could ever want was available. I knew someone who bought a bottlenose dolphin and Ravi next door used to buy all his drugs this way. In addition, most businesses had an online purchasing facility. Admittedly, you were deluged with adverts but with practice, it was easy to ignore these. And for specialised markets, there was the so-called darknet.

But all of this is gone now. It might only be six months or so but it is as if the internet never existed. It just goes to show how quickly you get used to things. It is surprising how easily a new common sense develops. Lois and I used to work for Google and now and again, we hear a rumour from an ex-colleague that the internet will soon be back. But then, we hear nothing further. This leads us to believe that whoever or whatever is blocking it is determined to keep it that way. While it is difficult to say for certain, it appears cyber-networks are down worldwide. It seems you would need the internet to find out why there is no internet. Without the internet, news media has struggled. The stories we get have become more localised, the re-routing of the bypass, the search for the missing teenager or the closure of The Goat and Bicycle.

People are throwing out their iPhones. With their functionality reduced to that of making calls, they are of little use. Even making calls is hit and miss due to the breakdown of communication links. Someone from the discount store in town called round last week in the middle of the final episode of Killing Steve offering a job lot. £50 for ten, he said.

When the internet was still up and running, you could stream your favourite TV programmes on your portable devices or on sixty-inch screens in the comfort of your living room. Lois and I used to watch our shows in the middle of the afternoon after we had finished our shifts at Google. We became accustomed to binge-watching box sets. We frequently used to watch three or four episodes of Twin Peaks or Black Widow on the trot. And we could get Alexa to put the kettle on or turn the central heating up while we looked through reviews of hundreds of new series that were available to stream. We took it all for granted. Without the internet, there is no catch-up television. You have to view everything in real-time and there are strict rules about what can be shown on TV before the nine pm watershed. Tame sitcoms and vapid soaps. Auctions of tat and tired quiz shows. Channels are required to put any programmes with adult content on after nine. So, Lois and I no longer enjoy our cosy early nights. Although today’s serial dramas are only poor imitations of those of yesteryear, each night we find ourselves in front of the TV until the early hours.

For some unexplainable reason, recording devices no longer work so we cannot time-shift programmes. Even the techies I know cannot understand why this is. But I suppose we should consider ourselves lucky. We still have television although from time to time there is talk of this too disappearing completely, in the same way that the internet did. You never know what to believe. In this post-truth age, it is nearly impossible to find out what is really going on.

Now there are no longer any internet-related services, Lois and I are unable to find work. We now grow much of our own produce in the garden and door-to-door grocers come around each morning to supplement this so we do not need to go into town often. When we do, we come across groups of noisy protestors, no doubt angry about what is going on. It means I have plenty of time on my hands to learn to play my new violin. The first few days are probably agonising for the neighbours. If you’ve ever had a son or daughter learning the instrument, you will understand. The violin in the hands of a novice does not immediately produce sweet music. I suspect Ravi is able to find a way to shut it out but once or twice, I hear the Domingos the other side of us banging on the wall.

In the middle of an episode of Found, Quinn calls round as promised with his trumpets. He plays a pretty little Chet Baker number on a shiny Selmer. Lois is transfixed and decides she wants it.

You can have it for ninety-nine pounds,’ he says. ‘And I’ll even throw in an interesting little primer.’

That’ll be a great help,’ Lois says. ‘No YouTube instruction videos these days, are there? I’ll take it.’

And next week I’ll be round again with a surprise,’ he says. ‘Something a little different.’

I make slow but steady progress on the violin but with her somewhat unusual primer, Lois’s trumpet playing comes on in leaps and bounds. In no time at all, she masters, Should I Stay or Should I Go and Rock the Casbah. The Domingos appear to be enjoying these Clash numbers as we hear no further knocking on the wall.

Without warning, television goes off the air. All the channels show static. None of our friends or neighbours has any information about what has happened. Who is behind it? What is their aim? At first, the hope is that the blackout is temporary but it continues day after day. There is no way of knowing but it gradually becomes apparent that it is a worldwide phenomenon. It looks like TV will not be back anytime soon.

Lois and I start going to bed at nine o’clock. It is often difficult to sleep though as more and more people knock at the door with goods for sale. Without the internet or television, perhaps there is nothing left for folks to do with their spare time but life-launder. We debate whether we ought to do the same. Should we have a big clear out? Should we get a handcart and go door-to-door, selling some of the teapots Lois has collected over the years and my model aeroplanes?

Where have you been?’ Quinn says. ‘I’ve called round several times.’

We don’t answer the door after three in the afternoon,’ I say. ‘Too many people selling things and we don’t need anything else. We don’t have room.’

You’ll want this,’ Quinn says. ‘I’ve been saving it for you.’

He opens his bag and pulls out the most curious musical instrument I’ve ever seen. It is shaped a little like a violin but has a silver crank at the butt end. Its strings appear to be covered by an ornate wooden board and it has a small but prominent keyboard on the underside of this. It is a work of art.

What is it?’ I say.

It’s a hurdy gurdy,’ Quinn says.

With this, he deftly knocks out an old English folk tune. So far as I can gather, the crank works like a bow and the keyboard blocks the strings to produce notes.

Ninety-nine pounds and it’s yours,’ he says. ‘You might find it a little tricky at first but I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it. No primer for this one, I’m afraid.’

It still seems remarkably cheap so once again I go to see what cash we have left under the mattress. There is just enough. I tell him I will have plenty of time to learn to play now that there’s no television to interrupt me. ‘

Of course,’ Quinn says. ‘The old goggle box has finally gone. Never watched it myself. Constant stream of babble. Frank Lloyd Wright called it chewing gum for the eyes. Anyway, you probably won’t believe me but I have a theory about what has happened to the internet and TV.’

Everyone, it seems, has a theory but no one is able to back up their thoughts. The Earth’s magnetism gone haywire. Mass malfunction of satellites. Divine retribution for our sins. The Illuminati perhaps. Religious zealots, Muslims, Jews, Seventh Day Adventists. Tech companies holding everyone to ransom to raise their prices. The Chinese or the Russians using it as a tool for world domination. The precursor to an alien invasion. Is Quinn’s theory going to be any different?

We hear him out. His idea is absurd. Surely he cannot be serious. How could it be down to a small bunch of anarchists to highlight climate change? Granted Google’s servers used the same amount of power as whole continents and televisions were getting larger and larger. Certainly, taking out the main channels of advertising would hit capitalism where it hurts. But how would they have had the funding or the means to take down secure well-established global communications networks? And how would the ensuing chaos benefit the Extinction Rebellion cause? Surely they would need a voice and a means to transmit their anti-capitalist, save the planet, peacenik, no nukes message. To to do so by word of mouth on a day-to-day basis worldwide would be a big ask for a small disorganised unit.

Nice try,’ I say. ‘But I really don’t think that’s likely.’

I did say you may not believe me,’ Quinn says. ‘After all, it does seem a bit fanciful. But, we shall see. Enjoy your hurdy gurdy and don’t forget to look out for me. I may be round again with another surprise.’

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

FIFTY – five vignettes

fifty

FIFTY – five vignettes by Chris Green

Fifteen:

It is May 1967. I am fifteen years old. I am walking through Wellesley Park with my friends, Dave, and Keith. I should be at school but I’m not. Dave is two years older than me and should be at college but he’s not, and Keith has tagged along. I’m not sure where he’s supposed to be. The park is a cool place to hang out. We can do what we want. No-one bothers us, except occasionally Tom, the park-keeper, who tries to sell us pornography and tells us about his days in Cairo when he was doing his National Service. He has told us several times now the story about the woman and the snake. Tom is old, he must be well into his thirties. My name is Mike, but for some reason, he calls me John.

Today, Dave has brought his Roberts radio and we are listening to Radio London, the best of the pirate radio stations. Radio London has an eight-day UK exclusive on Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. One by one, they are trickling the tracks into their playlist. A couple of days ago, Dave and I heard A Day in the Life for the first time. Dave had been unable to get any hash that day and he had read that you could get high by smoking dried banana skins. We were in the front room of his parents’ house trying some. His parents had gone away. We had the radiogram on loud. We decided A Day in the Life must be the greatest piece of music of all time. This may not have had anything to do with the dried banana skins.

Dave, Keith and I update one another with how far we have got with our respective girlfriends. I wonder if perhaps exaggeration is de rigueur for teenage boys sexual narrative. Or is it that Judy is just too inhibited? I have not got past the outside of her lacy bra. To save face, I pretend otherwise. We talk about the film Blow Up, which we saw at the Colosseum last night.

What did it all mean?’ Keith asks.

There is no individual meaning,’ Dave says. ‘Meaning can only be agreed socially and that’s why the film ended without closure. Because the David Hemmings character was on his own, we do not know if the murder really took place.’

You mean because there was no one to corroborate what he saw?’ I say. ‘And the photos had disappeared.’

It’s existential,’ Dave states, in summary. I can see by the expression on Keith’s face that he isn’t sure what it means either.

As we are walking up the hill past the zelkova tree towards the Pump Room, the opening notes of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds break through. It has not been announced, but we know instantly that this is The Beatles. It may seem a little sad but I have known the titles to all the tracks on Sergeant Pepper for about a month since they were announced in Record Mirror. I guess which one this is right away. Dave turns the volume up. What is that instrument? Surely it is from another world. We are sitting on a commemorative bench now, hunched around the radio. The words to the song are incredible, like a dream: ‘cellophane flowers of yellow and green towering over your head.’ ‘rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies’, ….’newspaper taxis’,…. ‘plasticine porters with looking glass ties’. What vivid imagery, I’m thinking, as this surrealistic masterpiece captures me. This is a moment of transcendence, and I have my whole life in front of me. Time is on my side. On Tomorrow’s World, they say we will not have to work much in years to come. From here on in, life will be easy. Technology will replace drudgery. In a few years, we will be able to travel on starships to Jupiter.

When I get home at 5 o’clock, the house is swarming with police. There are police in uniform and police in cheap macs and trilby hats. It is like the set of Z Cars.

There’s been an accident, Mike,’ one of them says. He has a grave look on his face.

Your parents stood no chance,’ says another.

The lorry driver’s name,’ the uniformed Sergeant tells me, injudiciously I can’t help feeling, ‘was Paul Lennon.’

My English teacher, Mr Percy, had been banging on all term about irony. Was this the kind of thing to which he was referring? Or was it coincidence? All I can remember is him saying that it is important not to confuse the two.

Twenty-Four:

I am at Ben and Holly’s wedding reception. Rachel, my girlfriend, left earlier in a huff. We have been together long enough for me to be used to our disagreements. It is late in the evening. Everyone is off their faces. The band has finished their set and the DJ with the Rod Stewart haircut is playing Bohemian Rhapsody over and over. It is Ben and Holly’s favourite song and seems to have been Number One forever. Uncle Dutch, bored as I am with Ben and his friends air guitar demonstrations, is telling me how he lost his leg.

I was working as a locations finder for Columbia Pictures. What a great job, you are thinking. How did a country boy like me get a job like that?’

I am thinking this very thing. My dad’s younger brother, Uncle Dutch and I had never been particularly close. I had last seen him in the late sixties. He ran a motorcycle courier business. Quite a new idea back then. I remember too that he used to ride horses. It would be hard for him to do this now.

I lived in a 1930s house in Beverly Hills,’ Dutch says, ‘with a fantastic view of the foothills of the Santa Monica mountains. The sun came through my window every morning. I could have freshly squeezed orange juice on the lawn with Laura and look out on to the palm tree canyon. A short drive to Topanga and Malibu and a short drive to the studio in Burbank. It was like paradise. I met all the stars, Burt Lancaster, Jack Nicholson, Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper, Natalie Wood, Faye Dunaway, Barbara Streisand. You name them, I met them. I had a season ticket for The Dodgers. I lived among the rich and famous. I went to the same shrink as Tony Curtis. You have to have a shrink in Beverley Hills, or everyone thinks you are mad. David Crosby and Mickey Dolenz were neighbours. I went to The Beach Boys barbecues in Bel Air and swam in Joni Mitchell’s pool. Life couldn’t have been better. And Laura looked more beautiful every day.’

He takes out his wallet and shows me a well-thumbed photo of Laura, She is a real stunner. She has long dark hair, and an hourglass figure with rounded breasts, thin waist, and voluptuous hips. She has a perfect California tan. She has beautiful brown eyes and her smile is like the sun coming up. He shows me another picture of the two of them at a Hollywood première. His eyes mist over. He hands me the photo. I’m not sure what to say.

Is that Dustin Hoffman in the background?’ I ask.

Dutch doesn’t seem to hear me. He studies the original photo of Laura reflectively.

The hall seems to have suddenly become more claustrophobic. It is a chaos of empty bottles and fuddled friends and family. The DJ has put on Sailing. He is juggling the microphone like Rod does and encouraging people to sing along. It is painful to watch. Why do people hang around at these embarrassing gatherings once the business is over? I suggest to Uncle Dutch we go outside to smoke a joint. Despite the limitations of movement presented by his sticks, he seems to move remarkably well. After negotiating a maze of corridors and lobbies, we find ourselves in the hotel’s landscaped grounds. The recent snow sparkles under the floodlights. We pick out a discreet table and Dutch lights up.

I was driving around the Monterey, Big Sur area,’ Dutch continues, ‘looking for a spot to film some shots for a remake of Vertigo that the studio was planning. All I had to do was select a few vertiginous spots. Not that difficult on the Californian coast. The views from Highway 1 take your breath away. I had a 1971 Dodge Challenger. Bright red it was with a black stripe. They call them pony cars in California. God knows why. Anyway, it had a big six-litre engine and handled more like a pig than a pony. Nothing sensible about it. That’s the way they like their cars out west. Anyway, I had put the thing in for a service the previous week but they had not checked the brakes.’

Dutch looks me in the eye and passes me the joint. I wonder if he wants me to put two and two together rather than continue with the story. He can see I am holding out for the story and laughs.

Drove it over a cliff,’ he says. ‘I have this image in my head of a sound like the distant rumble of thunder and a line of Harley Davidsons coming the other way. There is a bend coming up. I must have tried to slow down to negotiate the bend, I guess. The Challenger goes straight ahead, through a clump of trees and down a ravine. I was trapped inside the car for three days before a Japanese hiker found me. They had to cut me out. The leg was severed off above the knee. I had lost pints of blood and was unconscious when they found me. I don’t know; I may have had a drink or two. I often stopped by at a little Hispanic bar in Salinas, but the truth is I can’t remember.’

I am silent. I do not know what to say.

To cut a long story short, I was in the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital for months,’ Dutch says. ‘Laura didn’t visit me once. The day before I got out, I found that she was divorcing me. She didn’t like the idea of living with Long John Silver. Life is quite simply before the accident and after the accident. They didn’t film Vertigo in the end.’

Twenty-Nine:

I have split up with Rachel after six years. She moved her things out the week before last. I have let my friend, Karl, stay for a while. Karl got back from India a few days ago. He has been to Southern Asia many times, but the political situation is changing, and he says it is now much harder to travel around that part of the world. Chitral, Kashmir, and Nepal are now hostile areas, and he thinks the Shah of Iran may soon be deposed and word is going around that the Soviets might invade Afghanistan. The end of the hippie trail. It also looks as if the cowboy actor might become President, I point out. Dangerous times ahead, we agree.

Karl is helping to redecorate the flat. It is a spacious conversion, on three floors of a Regency building, if that is not a contradiction. We are painting the large front room burgundy and Venetian blue, picking out the pictures rails and the cornice. He says it will look theatrical, like a stage set. We have some modern art planned for the door panels, Piet Mondrian, maybe. Karl isn’t your stereotypical hippie. He wears a tweed jacket, listens to classical music and is a fan of The Archers. You can pick it up on BBC World Service, he says. He tells me how he had to be near a set every day when Shula was stranded in Bangkok after her money was stolen, and how he hopes that the hapless Eddie Grundy’s turkey farm will take off. Eddie and Joe add some spark to the programme. I have no idea what he is talking about.

Karl has brought back some Nepalese temple balls and after three days of painting, we are only halfway through the second wall. We are taking a break for a cup of Darjeeling Spring Flush tea. Apparently, Darjeeling tea reduces mental and physical stress and promotes a feeling of relaxation and well-being.

It’s to do with the amino acids,’ he says. ‘I’ve noticed that you seem to be on edge.’

Six years is a long time,’ I say. ‘It takes some adjustment. I miss Rachel’s perfume on the pillow, her books on the bookshelf, her notes around the house, her piles of clothes on the bedroom floor, the condiments and spices in the kitchen, and even the sound of the hoover on a Sunday morning.’

And the sex.’

Yes, the sex obviously.’

She wasn’t having an affair, was she?’

Not that I was aware of.’

And you aren’t having an affair.’

No. Why do you ask?’

Nothing. Just a thought. So the split was her decision.’

I suppose so.’

When people live together for a long time, they are likely to gravitate towards stasis.’ Karl says. ‘How much of what you are feeling is down to not wanting change?’

I don’t know. Some of it, I suppose. I like to be able to pick up things where I left them.’

But change is the only certainty.’

But all the same….’

You wanted happy ever after,’ he says.

I just want to be happy,’ I say.

There is no happy ending,’ he laughs. ‘You only find happy endings in books. Happiness and sadness are like yin and yang. One chases the other in a never-ending cosmic circle. Therefore, you must not put all your effort and energies into clinging to them. It is much better to detach yourself from these illusions and go with the flow.’

How do I do that?’

You will learn to. As Ibsen said, We sail with a corpse in the cargo.’

Thirty-Nine:

Is that for me?’ says Joi, her gaze taking in the bulge in my jeans.

She has just come through the door and is putting her travelling bag down. Joi and I have been seeing each other for about three months. She has been away for a few days, and I have missed her. She is tanned and her dark hair is hanging loose around her shoulders. Her Louis Vuitton skirt hugs her hips tightly and her breasts seem to be powering their way out of the low-cut top she is wearing. I have Miles Davis’ Tutu playing. I pretty much only listen to jazz now. I find pop and rock in the mid-nineties so unsubtle.

Joi leads me off to the bedroom. She has a wicked smile. She slips her skirt off slowly to the sound of Miles’ muted trumpet. She is wearing sheer black tanga panties. She guides my hand towards her favourite spot. It is warm and wet. I kiss her urgently and pull her down onto the bed, where frenzied passion takes over.

What was that all about?’ she says afterwards. My unrestrained ardour seems to have taken her by surprise.

I wanted you badly,’ I say.

I must go away more often,’ she laughs.

I think I’d rather you didn’t.’

I’d rather I didn’t too. Perhaps I should move in. We’re good together, aren’t we?’

I hesitate before I answer what was probably not a question, anyway. I give her a warm post-coital hug to give myself time to consider my words. I feel like a million dollars but at the same time I feel a creeping melancholy. When things are this good, I worry that my credit at the Metaphorical Bank of Serendipity might be running out and somehow will be paid for with something in-fortuitous. My experience suggests that epiphanies have a tendency to foreshadow calamity. I am also unaccustomed to sharing my deepest secret fears. It is dangerous to let down your guard. I want what I say to come out right.

Sometimes when everything is going well,’ I say. ‘I have this sense of foreboding that something bad is about to happen. That something is going to be taken away.’

You mean like Happiness, that state you dare not enter with hopes of staying, quicksand in the marshes and all.’

Certainly the quicksand in the marshes part. That’s very good. Where’s does it come from?’

It’s the opening of a poem. Stephen Dunn.’

The thing is, I’m usually right, which scares me a little.’

I relate to her the occasion that I had climbed the North Face of Ben Nevishttps://bennevis.co.uk/, the highest peak in the UK with my fellow climber, Roy Tavistock. Roy had been my instructor at the Everest Climbing Club in the Brecon Beacons.

I was a comparative novice. I had never attempted anything so daring before. I had never been particularly good at physical sports, so for me, the climb was a supreme accomplishment. Roy congratulated me. Its Grade he explained was Difficult. There had been a number of fatalities over the years. We stayed on the plateau at the summit for a bit, taking it all in, the wind whistling around us. I felt literally on top of the world. By world standards, Ben Nevis may not be the highest, but it was to me. I understood how Sir Edmund Hillary must have felt. Late in the afternoon, we began our descent. Roy warned me this would be more difficult than the ascent and would need concentration. About halfway down I was struck by a flying crampon. I was concussed and had to be rescued by air ambulance. I was in hospital for over a week.’

Dramatic stuff,’ says Joi. ‘So, my hero, what is it you think it is that is going to happen?’

That’s the trouble. You never know. If you knew then you could prepare for it.’

They say that every action has an opposite and equal reaction, you can’t have night without day,’ Joi says, sounding like she had just been on a Buddhist workshop.

Or day without night,’ I say. ‘It’s the day part that is the problem because you know that it must be followed by night.’

And then day again. Look! Why can’t you view it another way, crisis contains the opportunity for growth and bad luck becomes good luck? Adversity spawns creativity. But we’re not talking about adversity. I don’t see much adversity.’

I think about what Joi has said. I’m sure she has a valid point, but she is looking at the thing the wrong way round, so in a sense, she is missing the point I am trying to make.

My analogy is that if you have had a run of six green lights, then you are unlikely to get a seventh’, I say. ‘Each green light increases the chances that the next one will be red.’

Don’t you think that is a little negative,’ she says, sitting up and folding her arms over her breasts in a defensive gesture. ‘You could see every red light as positive because the chances of a green light next time increase.’

How does that help when you get the feeling that things are going too well?’

I seem to have dug myself into a hole. The conversation ends there. Joi gets dressed. She says she is going out for some air. She doesn’t return. She doesn’t come round again. Life it seems is a series of losses

Forty-Nine:

Maya is awake now. She has been asleep for most of the flight.

Funny how some situations bring unrelated memories flooding back,’ I say to her. ‘With me, it’s air travel.’

You mean involuntary memory. Like Proust’s madeleine,’ she says.

I give her a disapproving look because I feel she should know I have not read Proust.

In the last volume of À La Recherche du Temps Perdu, Proust describes how he was eating a madeleine that he had dipped in tea when a series of memories from his past came flooding back to him,’ she says. ‘He felt those things you remember involuntarily contain the essence of the past.’

I guess that’s it,’ I say hoping that it isn’t the case as each of my wayward reminiscences has been an episode that turned out badly.

It is September 2001. Maya and I are flying to New York to celebrate my fiftieth birthday, which is on the eleventh. We are on a Boeing 747 flying at 35,000 feet. We are over the tip of Greenland. This seems a little off course to me, so I take the opportunity to ask a stewardess.

Transatlantic flights go this way because it is quicker. It is known as a Great Circle route,’ she says, knowledgeably. She explains that this is the shortest distance between two points on a sphere and that westbound flights tend to run more northerly due to the prevailing westerlies. I am more confused than I was.

We are going to stay in Lower Manhattan. Maya knows New York quite well and for my birthday, she is going to take me to breakfast at Wild Blue in the Windows of The World Restaurant, which is on the 107th floor of the World Trade Centre. Through the full-length windows, Maya tells me, you get unrivalled views of the southern tip of Manhattan, where the Hudson and East Rivers meet. The weather forecast is good.

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved