Ceci n’est pas Une Batte

Ceçi n’est pas une batte by Chris Green

Not many people realise that the surrealist painter, René Magritte was a big fan of English cricket. He discovered cricket by accident in a newspaper article in the 1930s. Although he had a reasonable command of English, the unfamiliar language baffled him. Innings, runs, overs, wickets, stumps, and bails. There were no equivalents to these in his native Belgium. The game was not played here. He was amused too by the names of the fielding positions, short leg, silly mid-on, gulley, backward point, first and second slip, etc. And the rules of the game were not only complicated but surreal.

He learned that there were two sides of eleven men, one in and one out in the field. Each man on the in side went out to bat and the fielding side tried to get him out. When he was out, he came in. Then the next man went in until he was out. When he was out, he too came in. When they were all out, the side that was out came in and the side that had been in went out and tried to get those coming in out. In addition, there were many ways in which the fielding side could get the batsmen, namely bowled, caught, stumped, run out and leg before wicket, whatever this was. When both sides had been in and out twice, the game finished. The team with the most runs won, unless they had not had enough time to finish because of bad light or rain, in which case it was a draw. Runs were made by the two batsmen that were in running between two sets of stumps after the one on strike had hit the ball and the ones in the field had not stopped it. Games lasted for three or five days.

René felt he had to experience this theatre of the absurd first hand. It sounded a lot more interesting than hockey or volleyball. He took a trip to England to watch a local weekend game at a village on the Kent coast. Although he had a little difficulty understanding everything that was going on, he felt it was an entertaining way to spend an afternoon. He was hooked. He began to make regular trips across the Channel to watch Kent play County Cricket at Canterbury. With his dark suit and signature bowler hat, René fitted in easily with the well-to-do spectators in the Members’ Enclosure and the hospitality tents. As he chatted away to his fellow fans, most did not realise they were in the presence of a famous artist.

He gradually got to know the Kent cricketers. As luck should have it, Kent’s captain, Bryan Valentine was a keen amateur artist and knew who René Magritte was. Bryan was aware that new art movements were springing up in Europe and eager to keep up with developments. René became a regular guest in his quarters, where they discussed the connections between art and cricket long into the night.

As cricket looked so much fun, it was only natural for René to want to have a crack at it. He bought all the kit and arranged for a few sessions in the nets. With a little coaching from the Kent players, he mastered some of the batting strokes, the cover drive, the hook, the sweep and the late cut. They told him he was a natural. Encouraged by this, René persuaded Bryan to let him play in a Sunday charity match.

The only reservation René had was in the game’s presentation. If, as he hoped, cricket was ever going to take off in Belgium, this needed a little tweaking. It would need to drop some of its formality. To add a little humour, instead of the standard cricketing cap, he wore his trademark bowler hat for the charity match. Although this was greeted with puzzlement at first, the boozy Sunday crowd soon caught on. It would not be appropriate for regular county fixtures, but once in a while, it was good to break with tradition.

With her husband disappearing regularly, Georgette Magritte began to suspect he was having an affair. The explanation for his absences that he was watching cricket was an unconvincing one. She insisted the next time he went on his travels, he took her along. René tried to put her off. He explained that the shopping opportunities in Canterbury might fall short of her expectations. It was not exactly London. She would be better off going to the department stores in Brussels for her frocks. But this did nothing to convince Georgette. She was going with him and that was that.

René was right. Georgette did not enjoy their wet week in Kent in early September one bit. Canterbury was something of a backwater. It was completely lacking in culture and had no dress shops. The weather made it worse. The sight of twenty-two men sitting around in white trousers and sweaters waiting for the rain to stop seemed to be the ultimate pointless activity. The rain was clearly not going to stop. What could it possibly be about cricket that so fascinated René?​ When she put her mind to it, Georgette could become the incredible sulk. A model of passive aggressive manipulation. René had no defence against this. He capitulated. They returned home early.

September marked the end of the cricket season, so to keep his enthusiasm for the game alive over the winter months, René embarked on a series of surreal cricket paintings. He felt these would help to promote the game in Belgium and who knows, perhaps even France. He used all of his signature themes, cricketers in bowler hats, cricketers with green apple faces, cricketers with bowler hats and green apple faces. Cricketers with fluffy clouds as faces. A picture of a cricket bat with the title, Ceçi n’est pas Une Batte. Sadly, few of these paintings have survived. The ones that have are in a private collection belonging to the reclusive Sebastian Bose-Harrington at Harrington Hall, where the public cannot view them. These were originally a gift to the less reclusive Colin Bose-Harrington, a senior Kent Cricket Club board member in the days leading up to World War 2.

With the outbreak of war, cricket in England came to an abrupt halt. Even had it continued, the Nazi occupation of Belgium would have made it difficult for René to travel. His last cricket painting is believed to have been completed in early September 1939, just days before Belgium fell. The Nazi occupying force considered his work to be degenerate art and destroyed this one along with many others.

It is not clear why René did not resume his passion for cricket after the war, but artists are restless souls. Change for them is a driving force. This versatility, in turn, adds kudos to their work. If, for instance, Picasso had had just one period, he would surely not have stood the test of time. We would no longer be talking about him in such elevated terms today. Similarly, through Magritte’s ability to re-invent himself, his paintings have increased in value logarithmically over the years. His Le Principe du Plaisir recently sold for 27 million dollars in New York. Because of their rarity, the six surviving cricket paintings in the Bose-Harrington collection might expect a similar return should they ever come onto the market. In the meantime, be comforted that the great Belgian painter was once a big fan of English cricket.

© Chris Green 2020: All rights reserved

Waterfalls

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Waterfalls by Chris Green

1:

Through thick and thin, Barney Cisco has followed Bristol City’s fortunes, travelling up and down the country in all winds and weathers to watch his team play. He has been able to finance his fanatical support through a lucrative stall at Compton Regis market selling cheap foreign mattresses at inflated prices. While Bristol City, or the Robins as they are known, might not have the glamour of Manchester United or Chelsea, the club has occasionally excelled. Although he was just a lad, Barney remembers the heady days in the late seventies when City enjoyed top flight football and although they lingered near the foot of the table the entire time, he became hooked by the excitement of their annual relegation battle.

Bristol City’s purple patch was in bitter contrast to what was to follow. In 1982 they became the first club to suffer three consecutive relegations, ending up in what was then Division 4. Remarkably, the young Barney remained undeterred. He watched City yo-yo up and down the divisions over the decades without missing a single match, not even the Third Round FA Cup tie against Carlisle that was abandoned after ten minutes when the north-west suffered the worst blizzard in its history.

As soon as he was old enough, Barney took his son, Sonny to matches with him, that is until Sonny got caught in possession of a thousand ecstasy tablets and was sentenced to three years at Exeter Crown Court. Sonny claimed he was looking after the drugs for a friend, but Judge Girley in his summing up suggested that this may have been his imaginary friend, Pluto.

Barney was shocked by Sonny’s arrest and imprisonment. In his self-absorption, he had failed to notice Sonny’s disappearances after Saturday matches or his recurrent mood swings. Rather than look a little deeper into the possible causes of his downfall, he blamed Sonny’s waywardness on Dolores. Dolores had walked out on them when Sonny was just seven, acknowledged by child psychologists to be a key age in a boy’s development. She went off to live with Shaun O’Shea, a scaffolder from Skibareen. She said she hated football. She said that Shaun was a sensitive man who played the harp. Drank the Harp, more like, Barney told her. Still, Dolores would find out about Shaun’s drink problem and come running back, tail between her legs. Dolores didn’t. Barney was left to look after Sonny’s welfare. He never forgave Dolores.

With Sonny now incarcerated, Barney felt bereft.

Darren Spurlock, a friend of his, told him about Lorelei Angel, a life coach that had helped him to turn his life around.

‘She will take you from where you are to where you want to be,’ he said, over a pint or two at the Dog and Duck one Sunday lunchtime. ‘She worked on my self-confidence and fitted me out with the tools to secure a pizza delivery franchise. Although I had not realised it before, running a pizza delivery operation was something that I had secretly always wanted to do.’

Darren managed to persuade Barney to go along to Lorelei for a consultation.

Barney spent a while nervously explaining to Lorelei how he felt. To his surprise, he found that she actually listened to what he was saying and after the first few minutes, he found it easy to open up to her. He told her how he had put his life on hold to bring little Sonny up. How he had worked every day, except for match days, to put a roof over Sonny’s head with not a word of encouragement from Dolores. How heartbroken he had been when Sonny was sentenced. He had nearly cried outside the court. How he realised that it was now time to put his life in order. Start taking care of himself.

‘You need to make some changes in your life in order to bring about the transformation,’ Lorelei told him.

‘I suppose I could start selling cheap foreign settees at the market along with the mattresses, and perhaps bucket chairs and maybe some rugs’ said Barney.

‘Well, that would be a start,’ said Lorelei. ‘But it’s not what you’d call a big change, is it, Barney? You may find you need to branch out a little more than that. OK. Let’s leave the career change for now. You might want to look into changing some of your habits. What do you do at weekends?’

‘I go to watch the Robins play,’ Barney said. Had she not been listening? ‘That’s Bristol City.’

‘Bristol City. That’s a football team, isn’t it?’ Perhaps she had been listening after all.

‘That’s right.’

‘And you go every weekend?’

‘Well, yes, every weekend from August to May.’

‘There you go then. There’s are unlimited opportunities for some change there.’

‘Oh, I think I see what you are getting at,’ Barney might have been tempted to say. ‘You mean sometimes I could go to watch Bristol Rovers, instead? That would be funny. That would make it a pair of Bristols. Get it! Bristol City and Bristol Rovers. Pair of Bristols.’

‘I can see why your wife left you,’ Lorelei might have said, head in hands. ‘You might want to work a little on your misogyny too. And your sexist humour.’

But such a final exchange did not take place. That Barney showed a new found restraint was testament both to Lorelei’s motivational skills and to his willingness to learn. The session with Lorelei had brought home to him how predictable and unfulfilling his life was. He deserved better. He was tired of playing the victim. If he was to feel fulfilled, he recognised that he needed to change. He made the decision there and then not to renew his season ticket. After all, the Robins had only just seen off relegation – yet again, finishing eighteenth in the table. This was hardly something to get excited about. They would probably do just as badly next year. Into the bargain, season tickets prices were set to rise. He needed to get things in perspective. There had to be better ways to spend his weekends. Perhaps he could go to country fairs or take up yoga. There again, perhaps not. But he would find something that worked for him. What about Art? He could go and visit some galleries or try his hand at painting.

2:

Stacey Jayne has long wanted to be an artist. In such spare moments as family life has allowed, she has got her brushes out and painted tentative watercolours. She has concentrated on subjects around the house and in the garden, still lifes and flowers. To prevent her partner, Dorsey, local councillor and Mayor-Elect from belittling her attempts, she has kept these hidden. Although she has always been uncertain of her ability, one or two of her friends who have happened to call in have caught her working and complimented her on her efforts. Lindy Lou loves her subtle study of the kitchen utensils in the washing up bowl and suggests that she try the classes at the local community centre. They are not expensive and she has heard that the tutor, Lamaar Fike is very good.

Stacey Jayne decides to go along to check out the opportunity and as luck should have it, a new course is due to start the following day. She signs up for a term. From her very first effort, Lamaar tells her that she has a good eye for detail. He says that she might be ready to move on to acrylics or oils and that she should have a proper space at home to paint in, so she buys an easel and sets up a makeshift studio in the spare room. Having arranged the space to her liking, she decides what she needs is a bucket chair to be able to sit comfortably at her easel.

The man in the David Hockney tee-shirt at the stall at Compton Regis market is very helpful. He shows her a range of comfortable looking bucket chairs.

‘I rather like this red one,’ she says, after she had tried a few. ‘But ….. it says, Made in Romania. Romania? Is that good?’

‘It’s a little-known fact but all the best bucket chairs are made in Romania,’ he says. ‘And of course, I only stock the best. I have my reputation to think of.’

‘I think, I’ll take it, then,’ she says. ‘I hope you don’t mind me inquiring, but I couldn’t help noticing your tee-shirt. I love David Hockney. Do you paint?’

All that Barney knows about Hockney is that he is some kind of painter, a pop artist he thinks or is he an Impressionist? Perhaps they are the same thing. He is not sure. Nor has Barney actually started his venture into art yet, he thought he would buy the tee shirt first. This, however, is not the time for him to admit these shortcomings. His customer is a very attractive woman. And, she seems to be taking an interest in him. This is not something that has happened very much lately.

‘A little,’ he says, with a shrug, hoping that hinting at modesty might suggest he has insurmountable talent. ‘I paint a little.’

Deceit does not come naturally to Stacey Jayne. Perhaps this has something to do with her convent education. She is anxious therefore not to exaggerate her artistic prowess. But, at the same time, she would like to show this talented painter with the sideline in market trading that she is versed in the language of fine art techniques. ‘I’ve just started a course,’ she says. ‘I’m learning acrylics and oils. We’re doing stippling, dabbing and flicking at the moment.’

Acrylics? Stippling? Dabbing? Flicking? Oils? H’mm, thinks Barney.

‘That’s good,’ seems the safest response. He goes with it.

Stacey Jayne’s ‘What kind of things do you paint?’ is parried with Barney’s ‘Well, you know. A bit of this, a bit of that.’

Her bold ‘Oh really! I’d love to see some of your work,’ meets with an uncertain ‘Sure.’

‘That’s great,’ she says. ‘I look forward to that.’

Her phone rings and she moves away a little. A voice appears to be shouting down the phone at her. Her serenity vanishes. Her posture changes. Her brow furrows. Her fists clench.

‘You’re going to do what?’ she screams. ‘If you do, that’s it!’

Perhaps things at home are not hunky dory for Stacey Jayne, he thinks. Might this present him with an opportunity, later on? Probably not. But then, you never know.

3:

Stacey Jayne has been bothered by Dorsey’s petulance for some time. Toys, pram and propulsion spring to mind. If he doesn’t get his own way, he goes into infant mode and throws a tantrum. He is controlling, dictatorial. He has always shown a deep resentment of her having hobbies of her own. She recalls the time that she went a cake decorating demonstration when, apparently, she should have been raising the Union Flag in the garden for the Queen’s birthday. Dorsey went ballistic. And the occasion that she wanted to go to a belly dancing class with Donna. He hid her house keys and locked her in the house. But, returning home to find that her husband has torn up her watercolours and trashed her easel is the final straw. What would the people of the town think if they knew that Councillor Dorsey Pitts, Mayor-Elect was guilty of such wanton destruction over his pretty wife wanting to express herself? She had only joined an art class, not boiled his favourite bunny or slept with Satan.

But if she really wants to bring Dorsey’s name into disrepute, she will bring the public’s attention to his connections with the English Defence League, the English Volunteer Force, or the one with the Germanic name. When she had taken the matter of his involvement up with him, he had tried to pass his clandestine communications off as freemasonry, but bit by bit Sarah Jayne discovered his connections were more sinister. While he might not be a leading light in any of these far-right organisations, the fact that he has associations with them at all would surely be enough to ruin his mainstream political career. After all, this is a cosmopolitan town, not somewhere where a local politician of any party should be holding extreme views. However hidden Dorsey’s connections or however convincing his subsequent denial of them might be, suspicions about him would remain. The old saying there’s no smoke, and all that.

But, this is something to keep back for later, a negotiating tool if you like. He can communicate with her from now on through solicitors. She is leaving him. What he has done is unforgivable. She can go and stay with Donna until she finds somewhere. And she will give Barney Cisco a call. He is bound to know where she can rent some studio space to paint in.

4:

Hi. Barney Cisco speaking,’ he says. He does not recognise the number.

‘Hello, Barney. I don’t know if you remember me. I’m Stacey Jayne,’ she says. ‘I bought a bucket chair from you a few days ago.’

Remember her? Of course he remembers her. He’s been thinking about nothing else since their meeting. Not even Bristol City’s problems in defence or Sonny’s upcoming parole hearing. ‘Ah, yes. I think I do remember you,’ he says, trying to muster up cool indifference.

‘I was just wondering if you might be able to help me,’ she says. ‘What with your connections in the art world. My circumstances have uh …… changed and I wondered if you might know of a small studio space to rent where I could paint.’

‘I’ve think I might have the very thing,’ he says, trying desperately to think of the very thing he might have.

‘Could I come and have a look?’ she says.

‘I’ll tell you what, Stacey,’ he says. ‘Give me a day or two and I will get back to you. Is this the best number to get you on?’

Barney is thrown into a panic. Facilitating the space for Stacey Jayne to paint presents no problem. He can set aside a couple of rooms at the back of his warehouse. He will need to clear it out a bit of junk, and clean up, but this can easily be done. He can buy some easels and paints from Nicki Bello’s artists’ supply stall. But, what about the paintings? He needs to make it look like it is a working studio and that he has completed a few canvases and has others in progress. Where on earth is he going to get hold of these? Suddenly, he has the light-bulb moment. There is a prestigious exhibition on at Art Attack by an overseas artist with an unusual name. He knows this because his friend and fellow Bristol City supporter, Jarvis Vest works as a security guard there. Given favourable circumstances, and a little guile, he can borrow some paintings from there.

5:

‘These paintings are brilliant, Barney,’ says Stacey Jayne, as she moves slowly round the four large canvases of Tuscan landscapes in the makeshift studio. ‘You are so talented. I don’t know how my poor daubings will look alongside these.’

‘It’s good of you to say so, Stacey Jayne,’ he says. He is pleased with how he easily he managed to blot out Lili Stankovich’s signature and replace it with Barney Cisco using some black paint on the wrong end of a small brush. You can hardly notice the alterations.

‘What are you working on at the moment?’ she asks.

‘I’m doing another landscape in oils,’ he says. ‘I took it home to do a bit on it last night. Sometimes I find that the light is better in my conservatory.’

‘Ah, I see.’ says Stacey Jayne. ‘Look! I’ve got my bits and pieces in the car. I’ll bring them in, if that’s OK, then if you are interested, I was wondering whether you might want to go and see that Lili Stankovich exhibition that’s on at Art Attack.’

‘I’ve a lot on today, maybe next week,’ says Barney. Procrastination is a tried and tested strategy and in his line of work maybe next week means never.

‘Oh look, Barney!’ says Stacey Jayne. ‘Isn’t that the police outside?’

‘What?’ says Barney. ‘Oh my God!’

He busies himself trying his best to cover up the canvases that are on show while he tries to remember what Sonny’s solicitor was called.

‘They’re peering through the window, now,’ says Stacey Jayne. ‘I wonder what they might want. I hope you are not in trouble, Barney.’

Why, oh why had he listened to Lorelei Angel? Why had he tried to better himself? And what made him think he had a chance with a babe like Stacey Jayne? He should have followed the advice of that song that was always playing on Tonya Ludovic’s bric-a-brac stall. ‘Don’t go chasing waterfalls,’ it went, or something like that. ‘Stick to the rivers and lakes that you’re used to.’ He should have stuck to what he was good at, supporting Bristol City through thick and thin and selling cheap foreign mattresses at inflated prices at his market stall.

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

This Old Art of Mine

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This Old Art of Mine by Chris Green

It all began when my electric kettle exploded. One expects setbacks now and again. But, they seem to happen at the worst possible time. Because the government had for some undisclosed reason not paid my pension for two successive months, I had no money to replace the kettle.

Since I retired, I have slowly but surely become a creature of habit, pacing myself with regular cups of tea throughout the day. Eight o’clock, nine o’clock, ten, etc. With no kettle to boil the water, I began to use a small saucepan. Slower, certainly. Less convenient, for sure. But it did the job. As I listened to Toscanini’s recording of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg with my third cup of the day, I calculated that if my pension didn’t come through for another month, I would need to put the saucepan on the hob three hundred and twenty seven more times. While I could get most of my provisions from the food bank in the Methodist church, it seemed unlikely they would have an electric kettle to give away. This was not the kind of thing people donated. I needed to rethink how I spent my days.

The lightbulb moment came during the quiet passage at the end of Act 2 of the opera. I had no money, but I had plenty of Art. I had never been able to afford originals by famous artists but Art had always been my passion. I had collected posters and prints for nearly forty years. There were hundreds in the attic. I could fill the spot where the kettle was with a painting. Van Gogh’s sunflowers perhaps or Monet’s water lilies. Or, what about a Magritte or a Dalí? Might these not be more appropriate? After all, surreal ideas demanded surreal solutions.

The Magritte cloud painting looked perfect in the spot where the kettle had been. Much more calming than the noisy old kettle ever was. Inspired, I decided to replace the toaster with Picasso’s La Rêve. An abstract simplification of line and form by the master, this was altogether more pleasing. I had never liked the toaster. It was a cheap model, made in Taiwan. No matter how you set it, the toast always came out black.

Days passed but no pension payments came through. I was forced to continue to frequent the food bank. I discovered too that you could get a free meal at The Salvation Army in Christopher Street and, it seemed, unlimited cups of tea. If I planned it right, I could arrive for a late breakfast, have six or seven cups of Yorkshire’s finest throughout the morning and play one or two games of chess with Dmitri. Dmitri usually beat me but this didn’t matter. He was a good conversationalist, waxing lyrical about his shot-putting days back in Omsk Oblast. With a word in the right ear, I found I could also stay for lunch at the Sally Army and Mads was a pretty good chef. Before he lost his job through a drugs conviction, he had worked at one of the top hotels.

After lunch, I could return home for a lengthy nap on the Chesterfield. I could get through the rest of the day by opening a tin or two from the food bank, peaches in syrup perhaps or fruit salad and boiling one or two saucepans of water for my PG Tips. I could sit back and relax with an old Wagner favourite or perhaps even Verdi or Donizetti, without having to worry about shopping. Il Campanello always sounded good with my final brew of the day.

The microwave had to go. It was grey and drab and looked completely out of place alongside the new artwork, especially once I had painted a colourful Mondrian design on the kitchen door and up-cycled the kitchen cabinets into Hokusai diptychs. I tried replacing the unsightly Curry’s monstrosity with a vibrant Hockney landscape and then a Rothko multiform before settling on a brightly coloured, Kandinsky. The kitchen was taking shape.

Most of the food from the food bank came in cans so I found I no longer needed the fridge freezer. I decided to put it to rest in the shed. This left plenty of room in the kitchen for The Henry Moore sculpture I picked up for a song at an auction in Tavistock years ago. The kitchen table made good kindling. The Salvador Dalí settee fitted nicely in its place. Finally, I replaced the cooker with a large Jackson Pollock and turned the music up loud.

Outside the Bumblebee Conservation Trust charity shop on Lance Percival Street one day, I bumped into Freda Mann.

I heard about your kettle,’ Freda said. ‘I have a spare one. Would you like me to drop it round?’

That’s very kind of you, Freda,’ I said. ‘But I don’t think I have room for it.’

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

DARK

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DARK by Chris Green

I am in the garden at The Pig and Whistle on a hot August evening. About a dozen of us are sat around a table. Darkness is descending, rapidly, the way it does in mid-August. The English summer is so fleeting. Blink and it is gone. Every year it seems the locals try to hold on to the disappearing season by savouring these last moments. Soon it will end. It is not like this back home.

I have been holding forth about a painting of Jim Morrison that I have just finished. I have called it Lizard King. It is part of my Twenty Seven Club series.

I’m Matt,’ says the man sitting opposite me. ‘They call me Matt the Hat.’

I already know this of course because I have been sleeping with his girlfriend, Saskia. The last time, not two hours previously, as it happens. But Matt the Hat doesn’t know this. Nor does he know that I know who he is, but even if I didn’t, I might have been able to guess the Hat part of it.

I’m Sebastian,’ I say.

I love The Doors,’ he says.

I’ve just picked up on their music,’ I say.’They did some great songs.’

Did you know Jim had an IQ of 149,’ he says?

No,’ I say. ‘Clever guy, then.’

Or, that his favourite singer was Elvis Presley?’

I did not, Matt,’ I say.

I’m not sure where this conversation can go. I don’t want to come across as too friendly because I must remain incognito. I am not really Sebastian. I took the name from an old Cockney Rebel song that I heard a while back, Somebody called me Sebastian. Quite a dark tune, I suppose. Most of the others around the table know me as Clive and a few of them are amused by the situation, but no-one is letting on. For now, I am enjoying this subterfuge, although I am aware that Saskia, who I am fond of, will be leaving with Matt the Hat at the end of the evening.

I quickly dispense with the Doors conversation and guide the topic round to hats. I ask him if his hat is a Borsalino, knowing full well that it is not. It is not even a Fedora. Matt says he doesn’t know.

What are you doing with a man who doesn’t know what hat he’s wearing, Saskia?’ says Paddy the Poet.

Well, Matt, it’s not a sombrero, is it?’ I say.

Don and Gina chuckle. They are fully aware that I am trying to rile Matt. If it came down to it, they would be on my side. They only know Matt the Hat through Saskia. In fact, most of the people around the table only know Matt through Saskia. Saskia is a popular girl in these parts. The life and soul of the party sort of girl. Matt is seen here as a bit of an interloper. He is not one of the regular Pig and Whistle crowd, whereas I have been coming here for months. When did Matt appear on the scene? Where did he come from? Doesn’t he usually drink at The Blind Monkey along the road?

It’s not a crash helmet, Matt,’ is it?’ says Biker Dennis.

And it’s not a leopard skin pill box hat,’ says the guy who used to be in The Manic Street Preachers.

Hats move on to shoes, windsurfing and Damien Hirst via New York, Dark Side of the Moon, fairground rides, drink drive limits and aliens. The summer evening passes in the way that summer evenings do in the yard of the Pig and Whistle with details becoming more and more blurry. People come and people go, some familiar and some unfamiliar. Who, for instance, are the two Roy Orbison lookalikes dressed in dark clothes sat in the shadow of the brooding zelkova serrata? No-one pays much attention to them. Perhaps I am the only one to notice them.

We have Stella Artois and Fosters to fuel us, Old Thumper ale and something called Stagger scrumpy. Take your pick. They all seem to do the job. The noise level rises, drinks get spilt and spliffs are surreptitiously passed around. By and by, Saskia gets up to leave with Matt the Hat. She gives me a knowing look and says, ‘It was nice to meet you, Sebastian,’ This is the last I ever see of her. Or for that matter Matt the Hat. I’m not too concerned about Matt the Hat. He was never going to be a big feature in my life, but Saskia could have been.

Their disappearance is shrouded in mystery. No one seems to know what happened to them. I may have been distracted as they were making their way out of the pub, but did the two men in dark suits who were sitting under the brooding zelkova serrata follow them out? By the time I looked round for them, they too had disappeared. Might they originally have been looking for me, found out I was seeing Saskia and when they came to the Pig and Whistle formed the impression that Matt was me?

……………………………………..

I like to go walking in the hills, sometimes even when it is dark. It gives me time to reflect on my journey and how far I have come, since. ……. Well, that all seems a long time ago. I usually go walking on my own, although I have met someone called Abi who enjoys the countryside too. From time to time, when the weather is favourable, she tags along. Abi is a little younger than me. Sometimes it appears that everyone is younger than me, but I guess this is all relative. Einstein thought so.

I am fortunate that I can make enough money from my paintings not to worry about having a job or keeping regular hours. Watching the distress that working for some exploitative multinational corporation seems to cause the toiling millions makes me feel that I a blessed to have such a talent. If you should care to look me up on the internet, Augustus Dark, that is, not Sebastian or Clive, you will find my work referred to as iconic nostalgia, fantasy portraiture, outsider art and even pop art, but I am perhaps none of these things. I seem to have discovered a lucrative but as yet untapped market. I have an exhibition coming up at a top gallery. I’m quite excited at the prospect but I hope that it doesn’t attract unwanted visitors. They may have realised their earlier mistake and still be out there somewhere.

……………………………………..

What kind of car do you think that is?’ I say to Abi, pointing to the car in front of us. We are driving down Black Dog Way on our way to the hardware store for storage boxes. I have been living with Abi for a few months now and we are about to move into a new house, out of town. The car we are following appears at first glance to be a run-of-the-mill large hatchback with the tinted rear screen, triangular shaped red tail lights, centre high mount stop lamps and twin exhausts you would expect to find on such a car. Despite these consistencies, it somehow doesn’t look right. There is something unexplainably other about it.

It’s says Hyperion,’ says Abi.

I can see that,’ I say. ‘But Hyperion is the model name. What make is it? Who’s the manufacturer? I’ve not seen that badge before.’

Neither have I,’ says Abi. Abi is normally quite observant.

The design is a rounded M shape over a what looks like a rounded W inside a circle. It’s surprising how easily logos and trademarks from everyday life become ingrained in one’s consciousness and this one has not registered yet. I can’t make out who is in the car or how many of them there are because of the tinted rear window but I have a bad feeling about them. As soon as I get the chance, I take a left turn.

As we move through the slow moving traffic, Abi and I rack our brains, with each of us suggesting names of far-eastern car manufacturers that we are half-familiar with. None of these seems to be the right one. Something about this is not right. Perhaps I am being anal but when we get back home, I do a Google search for Hyperion. I am aware of course of what Hyperion is and my search does no more than confirm this. It comes up with nothing vaguely automobile-related. I then draw the logo design as I remember it and spend an hour or so trying to match my drawing with an image of it on the web, but to no avail. The brand apparently does not exist. The registration number I took down, I discover, belongs to a white Renault Clio. Next, I try to find a picture of a black hatchback to match the shape but this is hopeless. All cars of a certain size look similar these days, at least from the rear.

I am still searching, when Abi comes in, scrolling down her phone. She is wearing the anguished expression she wears when something bad is trending on social media.

Oh my God!’ she says. ‘Lol Popp has died. Under mysterious circumstances, it says here. Drugs, they think.’

Lol Popp? Doesn’t he live somewhere around here?’ I say. ‘Some big house on the hill.’

It says, the star who has sold twenty million albums was found dead by his bodyguard earlier today in his West Country mansion.’

That’s a real shame,’ I say, trying to stay calm. ‘I really liked some of his tunes, Men in Black and what was that other one? Lost in Space? Lol was quite young, wasn’t he?’

Twenty seven,’ she says. ‘I suppose you have to do a painting of him now.’

Does a desire to join the twenty seven club, that growing list of rock icons that died at twenty seven, explain his demise? Or could there be a more sinister explanation? Lol always seemed a bit …… other-worldly. The way he wore that black face mask. The way he always wore purple. The way he never gave interviews. I am back on my laptop now, scanning the news sites. To my alarm, there is a report in Huffington Post saying only hours after he had been found dead Lol’s body disappeared, along with the bodyguard. That’s weird. It was the bodyguard who found him. I don’t share the development with Abi or let her know what I am thinking. She will tell me I am being paranoid.

Over the next few days, I continue to look out for the car with the rogue badge. There are Buforis, Peroduas, Acuras, Hyundais and Ssangyongs aplenty and even an old Lada Riva, but no Hyperion. The thought occurs more than once that the original Hyperion we saw might just have been someone playing a prank. But, I have a nagging suspicion that this isn’t the case. I can’t get rid of the thought that there is a more sinister explanation. I hope I am wrong. I like it here.

……………………………………..

The black Hyperion is at the gate. Two men in dark suits and dark glasses step out. This is it. They have come for me. They will escort me to the landing craft. They will take me back home. It is time. I should be pleased that Abi has gone to Pilates, that she is not here. They would take her too. That would be unfair on her. She might not like it where I’m going. But, I can’t help wanting her to be with me, even though she is from this world and not from ours.

© Chris Green 2018: All rights reserved

 

Moondog

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Moondog by Chris Green

All Airbnb hosts have different ideas about promoting their space and a different interpretation of hospitality. Emphasis might be on the style of the rooms, the location of the property or even the size of the breakfast they offer. Each let has a different vibe about it, dependent to some extent on the owners’ personalities. The top-floor apartment in the Somerset village is one of a succession of lets Birgit and I have taken in order to explore southern England.

Perhaps we ought to take a closer look at reviews before we book but even then you can never rely on the accuracy of the comments. Suffice to say, ahead of our visit, we are not sure what might await us as the only photo of the accommodation on the site is the lovely view from the window. It is clear though from the off that Ray and Susan’s let is going to be more quirky than the others.

Birgit is on a dairy-free diet and has stopped off at the farm shop down the road from the accommodation to buy some fresh fruit and soya milk. They have left the key under a ceramic pot for us so I let myself in. Ray hears me and comes to greet me. He is a tall man in his mid-fifties with a receding hairline. He is wearing a floral waistcoat and has a silver tenor saxophone around his neck which strikes me as a little unusual.

I hope you like Moondog,’ he says.

I am not sure who or what he is referring to but to be polite, I answer, yes, of course.

Good,’ Ray says, and we leave it at that. As we make our way upstairs, he starts talking about trees. Do I think the shellbark hickory requires clay or loam soil, he wonders? I shrug. I do not know much about trees. He tells me you can eat the nuts of the shellbark hickory. I make an encouraging remark about the Picasso-patterned stair carpet. Susan is nowhere in evidence.

As I walk into the apartment, the first thing that hits me is that the walls are painted bright red and decorated with a collection of Abstract Expressionist paintings by New York artists. Pollock, De Kooning, Yamamoto, Rothko. Not originals of course but nonetheless, in the context of rural Somerset, dramatic and unexpected. Perhaps I do not register any surprise but if I do, Ray certainly doesn’t appear to notice it.

I’ll leave you to it,’ he says dismissively and with this, he is gone.

Birgit arrives with her provisions and I let her in. We laugh a little about how odd the flat is. The multicoloured tiled floor, for instance, is on several levels like a series of steps, something to be aware of in the night perhaps. However, it is not the accommodation that we came for. We do not plan on being indoors much during our stay. It is June and after all, we are only here for one night. We are moving on to Dawlish in the morning to explore Devon.

Once Birgit has changed outfits a few times, we take advantage of the warm evening sunshine and go for a drive in the beautiful Somerset countryside. Although it is reputed to be flat as a pancake, we manage to find some hills and fine hills they are. The Quantocks. We stop off for a bite to eat and a drink at a pub in Dunster and arrive back at about ten.

The cat that is slinking about the front garden looks to me like an ocelot, but surely it can’t be. Perhaps it is an overfed Bengal or something. In any case, there is no-one around to ask. There is no sign of our hosts. We get ourselves settled and potter around making more remarks about the unusual layout of the apartment. In our kitchenette, I look for glasses for our nightcap. I find the Warhol print cupboard is packed with Brillo pads. Boxes on boxes of them. Eventually, I find two orange Penguin book-cover cups, both of them novels by Clifford Font.

At first, I think it is the knocking of old-fashioned plumbing that wakes me. Then I realise the rhythmic drumming sound is interspersed with snatches of violin and oboe. Birgit is awake so I ask her. She says she can’t hear anything.

It must be in your head,’ she says.

But it’s really loud,’ I say. ‘How can you not hear it?’

There’s nothing,’ she says ‘Go back to sleep.’

The sound continues. This is not the saxophone but Ray might play any number of other instruments. But surely not all at the same time. And there’s definitely a lot going on here. Some strange minor chords on the piano. Lots of percussion. Bells, voices. It’s strangely hypnotic. Isn’t that a foghorn? Might this perhaps be the mysterious Moondog, whoever or whatever Moondog is?

When Birgit drops off, I key in a search on the tablet. I discover Moondog was a blind American composer, street musician, poet, theoretician and inventor who from the late 1940s lived and worked for thirty years in Manhattan. He recorded dozens of albums, all of them difficult to categorise. Amongst his friends in the music world were Philip Glass, Leonard Bernstein, John Coltrane and Charlie Parker. Moondog was heavily into Nordic mythology and built an altar to Thor in his country home in New York State. His long white beard and long white hair gave him a distinctive appearance, along with the Viking cloak and horned helmet he wore to protect his head because his blindness meant that he kept walking into things. He moved to Germany in 1974, where he claimed to have been in spiritual communication with Beethoven.

My curiosity raised to stratospheric levels, I creep downstairs to see where the weird music is coming from. I suppose I’m expecting to find Ray slumped in a chair in some kind of comatose state listening to it on his Bang and Olufsen hi-fi. Perhaps he has old Moondog LPs on vinyl. Surprisingly, no-one seems to be around. I cannot make out the source of the music now. Suddenly, I notice it is quiet. There is no music. ……… It occurs to me that Birgit could have been right. Maybe there never was any music. It might just have been in my head. But, if this is the case then I must be losing my marbles.

I spend a fitful night, dreaming of moons and dogs but at seven thirty, Birgit is up and ready to go. She says she is ravenous. I tell her I’m not sure that Ray and Susan are up. She says she is certain she heard someone moving about downstairs so we make our way down to the breakfast room. It is Susan who greets us. Long red hair and long red Bohemian dress aside, Susan’s appearance is surprisingly conventional.

The breakfast room has half a dozen bright paintings on the wall. David Hockney in style I feel although Birgit thinks they are more Matisse than Hockney. We cannot make out the signature on any of them. I ask Susan. She tells us they are her work. I congratulate her and tell her I like them a lot.

Very different from the Abstract Expressionist works upstairs though,’ I say. ‘I expect those are Ray’s choice.’

Don’t you like them?’ Susan says.

I love them,’ I say.

Anyway, I adore them too. I like all styles,’ she says. ‘I chose all the works in the house. Ray doesn’t care much about art.’

With a view to perhaps mentioning the strange sounds I heard in the night, I tentatively ask Susan where Ray is.’

Ray is in New York,’ she says. ‘He went last Thursday. He’s at a Moondog Appreciation event. Then he’s going to look at trees. Apparently, they have a lot of woodland in New York State. He says he will be back next week.’

Over breakfast, I scan the reviews for our Dawlish accommodation. One guest mentions that she feels the place might be haunted. I’m not sure I like the thought of that.

© Chris Green 2018: All rights reserved

FEDORA

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Fedora by Chris Green

It is often difficult for an author to appraise his own work. Sometimes a story that he thinks is the real deal, goes down like a lead balloon. Other times a throwaway piece of nonsense is acclaimed by readers as a masterpiece. There seem to be no rules. It can help the writer’s objectivity a little if, when he finishes a story, he puts it away for a couple of months and then goes back to reappraise it. This can offer a fresh perspective on the story. It is almost like reading someone else’s work. I have started to use this method as a means of quality control.

It is also beneficial to get someone else to have a look. With many of my stories coming from a male subject position, there is always the danger that one or two them might be a little sexist, so when I can, I like to run them past Jody to get a female perspective. Statistics show that more women than men read fiction, so there is no sense in alienating the female reader. It is common practice to get a second opinion on a written work. Some writers have a professional editor, some use a work colleague, others a close friend. Some are more unconventional in their approach. My friend, Dale Head, who you might describe as a bit of a loner, reads his stories to his macaw, Gerald, to get his view. It’s possible that Gerald doesn’t add a lot to Dale’s efforts. I can only guess but I think I may be the only one who actually reads Dale’s blog. I haven’t the heart to tell him that people don’t go a lot on stream of consciousness narratives these days.

I decide to take another look at a short story that I wrote back in February. It’s called Fedora and it is a mystery thriller. I read through it carefully and am pleasantly surprised by how well it reads. It has some inspired turns of phrase, the characters are believable, the dialogue is crisp and the theme is topical. It has intrigue, mystery, tension, and subtle humour here and there to break up the tension. Most of all, out of the blue, it delivers a clever twist. I think it might even be one of my best. It is surely a contender for the lead story in my next collection. To my surprise, Jody agrees. She waxes lyrical about the sexual tension that runs through the narrative. She keeps using the expression, frisson. She particularly likes the bit at the end where the mystery man in the hat appears unexpectedly out of the haze. It is archetypal, she says, although as a Jungian therapist, she does see a lot of things as archetypal. However Jody is my fiercest critic and if she likes Fedora that is good enough for me to post it.

I now need a dark, mysterious picture to use as a cover to attract readers to it on my website. The aim of my site is to try out my stories to see how they go down with readers, before presenting them for publication in printed form. Without this safeguard, self-publishing can be a bit hit and miss. When the time comes, I know I will have to come up with an original image for the book cover. Copyright considerations are paramount when it comes to the printed page. You can’t just use someone’s picture without permission. But, on a website these days, copyright with regard to images seems to count for very little. Anything goes. Very few writers create their own artwork from scratch and there are billions of images on the internet to choose from. When you search google images it’s almost impossible to judge which ones require licences. After all, their just being there for you to download, often from a number of different web addresses, is probably in itself an infringement of someone’s copyright. These people can’t all be licenced to display all the images.

What I am looking for is a striking image of a sinister figure. Alas, all the pictures of men in hats on the web seem to be of film stars or models posing and they all seem to be wearing either Homburgs or Trilbies. I cannot find a single photo of a nefarious character wearing a Fedora. While this detail may not matter to the average Joe, sartorial accuracy is something the writer takes seriously. A Fedora must be a Fedora. I briefly consider changing the style of hat in the story to a Homburg, but I decide I don’t really want to. The type of man that wears a Homburg is altogether different to the one who wears a Fedora and a Fedora definitely suits my character better.

Finally, after a few frustrating hours, I manage to come up with a picture. It is not exactly what I am looking for but with a little cropping and manipulation it might be OK. I get to work on it in Photoshop and end up with a dark foreboding image of a tall man in a long overcoat and a black Fedora hat. He hovers menacingly in the shadows with his back to the camera. It is reminiscent of the famous shot of Orson Welles in The Third Man. I add the title of the story along with my name in a nicely-kerned Gothic font in white and post it as a link to the story on my website.

In the first couple of hours of putting a post up, I like to keep a close eye on its progress. In no time at all, Fedora racks up an encouraging number of views and half a dozen likes. ‘Okay, I give up. You win,’ comments BravoYankee, a sporadic visitor to my site. ‘I could never imagine anything so clever. This is the best story I’ve read, on or off the internet, in a long time.’ BravoYankee’s words are indeed encouraging.

The email I receive just after lunch comes as a bolt out of the blue. It is from a Corey Hicks from Godmanchester in Cambridgeshire and it reads: ‘It has come to my attention that you have used my image Man in a Fedora Hat as the cover image for your story Fedora. I have no record of providing you with a licence to use my image in this way. Please let me know where you sourced my image and what rights you have to use it.’

I email Corey back to apologise and say that if there is a breach of copyright, it was an honest mistake. I point out that his image and others like it are available in many locations through a google image search.

Corey emails back almost straight away to say without prejudice that this is not the case. Man in a Fedora Hat was and is only available, he says, on two websites, one is an agent that provides commercial licences for the image and the other site is the one that manages his portfolio. His portfolio site clearly references his copyright and provides a means to discuss potential uses of his images with him. He says that I have used his image to promote my work without any discussion with him, no notification whatsoever, no acknowledgement of his work, no licence to do so and certainly no payment. In addition, I have taken the trouble to crop his watermark from the image that I used in order to hide the provenance. He offers me the opportunity to pay £250 to settle the copyright infringement out of court.

By this time, I cannot remember exactly which site I found the image on and now I cannot find its source at all. Half an hour’s trawling through the internet with a range of different search terms does not locate it. I am now panicking a little. I wish Jody were here to put a reassuring spin on things but she has a two-hour dream interpretation session with a troubled client. I do not feel I can interrupt and she is hardly going to respond to a text. But, I don’t feel I can leave the matter up in the air so I email Corey back to say that he is being a little dramatic and that in any case £250 is excessive. In his next email, he offers the location of the site and he has mapped out where and how I have cropped the original image. I see that I have only taken a small proportion of what is a much larger picture, so I let him know that this is the case. He is quickly back saying that the amount I have used does not matter in the slightest. He attaches reports of some legal case studies where thousands of pounds have accrued in cases where a small percentage of the original image were used. I get the impression that Corey Hicks has done this before. He is practised in the art. Perhaps this is even his main source of income. I scan through the attachments he has sent and slowly come to the realisation that he is right. The settlements mentioned involve colossal sums. And most of the cases involve self-publishers who appear to have made a genuine mistake. Under the circumstances, it seems to me that fighting the case would be foolhardy. I don’t have that kind of money to lose. In the cut-throat world of copyright law, £250 for an infringement is apparently small potatoes. I settle.

If my book sales pick up a bit, I should be able to recoup the sum in five or six years. All I can say is, please buy my books.

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved

Famous For Fifteen Minutes

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Famous For Fifteen Minutes by Chris Green

It was already the middle of July. Only a few moments ago it seemed it was June, or May even. The Bank Holiday Mondays, the Chelsea Flower Show, Royal Ascot, Summer Solstice, Glastonbury, Wimbledon and the British Grand Prix had come and gone like thieves in the night. In quick succession, each of my shrubs had flowered and gone over. Already the hydrangeas were out and the sunflowers were beginning to open. My life was playing on fast forward. Any day now someone would say, ‘the nights are drawing in,’ somehow, it seemed, stating the obvious. A friend of mine was fond of saying, ‘change is the only certainty.’ As I grew older, I was beginning to appreciate the wisdom of his words. ‘Now’ was forever slipping away. Time was, as Bob Dylan had observed back in the seventies, a jet plane.

It was polling time. A by-election had been called following the death of our local MP, Rickie Hamilton, in a sword-fight with the landlord of The Belted Galloway. I had begun to receive a plethora of political pamphlets through the door. Each day I would come home from work at the brass instrument advice centre to find a new pile of brightly coloured electoral fliers on the mat. There must have been more than a dozen different candidates. There were a range of views on local issues but most of them agreed that the country was in a bit of a mess. Some promised to put more police on the streets to help fight crime while others wanted to see a volunteer police force to save money. One or two wanted to make such deep cuts they suggested closing hospitals, schools and libraries, and deporting the disabled and unemployed.

In my neighbourhood there seemed to be a predominance of VOTE WARHOL stickers in the windows of the houses, although there were half a dozen or so VOTE ROTHKO stickers, several VOTE POLLOCK and one or two VOTE EMIN.

I was cooking liver and onions for my supper one evening, when Mr Warhol called round.

Hi! I’m Andy,’ he said by way of a greeting. He was an odd-looking man with pale features and large glasses. I could not tell whether he was wearing a wig or not, but I didn’t like to ask.

I asked him instead ‘If you get in, will everyone be famous for fifteen minutes?’

That would be communism,’ he replied, circumventing the reference. Perhaps he had become immune to smart-aleck remarks.

Or in fifteen minutes everyone will be famous?’

That sounds to me like liberalism.’

Or will fifteen people be famous for everyone?’

That would be an oligarchy, he said.

I could not fault Andy’s ‘political theory’.

Will I notice any difference if you get in?’ I asked.

Put it this way,’ he said. ‘If you like your life, I’ll be trying to keep things as they are; if you don’t like your life I’ll be trying to change things. You choose’

Very diplomatic,’ I thought. Despite my occasional propensity to complain, I liked my life. I was forever wishing I could hold back the relentless progress of time. This feeling was especially strong at this time of year. It seemed important to capture and hang on to those precious fleeting moments when summer was at its most vital, those few brief days when the celestial magic cast its powerful spell. Light evenings were nourishment to the soul. The Sunday at the seaside. The walk in the woods with the birds singing. These would be the times that one would look back to and remember as special in the dark winter months ahead.

If I could choose I’d like things to stay pretty much as they are,’ I said, with this in mind.

Good,’ he said. ‘Vote for me and I’ll see what I can do.’ He shook my hand and made his way across my front lawn to Mr and Mrs De Kooning’s next door. I suspected the De Koonings would give him a tougher time as they had a VOTE TURNER sticker in their window. Furthermore, I had always found them confrontational, particularly over the issue of my rhododendron, which they claimed spoilt their view of Hogarth Hill.

Despite his unconventional appearance and his lack of political conviction, or perhaps because of these attributes, I liked Andy. Although I didn’t usually bother to vote, I made my way down to the John Constable Primary School on polling day and voted for him. It was a close contest but after three recounts Andy Warhol was elected MP for Sisley South by a margin of two votes.

On Mondays, I go to a Flower Arranging class at the Francis Bacon Memorial Centre, and on Tuesdays, Snake Charming at the Hindu Community Centre. On Wednesdays, I have a head massage and on Thursday I attend a bricklaying course at the college. At the weekends, I spend time with my girlfriend, Yoni. I have been described as a creature of habit. While it is good to have varied interests I do like to keep to a routine. Most evenings I get home at 9 to 9.30, although sometimes Snake Charming goes on a little late. During the second half of July, the sun sets just over one minute earlier each evening so it was not until the end of July that I began to notice that it was still light as I drove home when perhaps it shouldn’t be.

I looked up the sunset times for Sisley on the Internet and found that there indeed appeared to be a discrepancy, between when the sun was due to set and when it was actually setting. As near as I could tell the difference was twenty minutes. I checked my watch against the clocks in the house and dialled the speaking clock (accurate to within five-thousandths of a second). All agreed the time to within a minute. Either there was a huge conspiracy to dupe me or something strange was really happening.

It was hard not to feel a sense of panic, but in the interest of my sanity, I decided I would do my best not to draw attention to the situation. I felt it was better to keep it to myself for the time being, in case there was a rational explanation that I might have overlooked. I did not even tell Yoni, although once or twice, she remarked that I seemed distracted during our lovemaking. I explained that we were having a lot of intonation problems at the centre with four-valve euphoniums. Over dinner at Vettriano’s, she noticed that I kept looking at my watch and looking out of the window.

Are we expecting someone or should I not be here?’ she asked.

Sorry darling,’ I said. ‘I just thought I saw Paul Gauguin from my Snake Charming class.’

I read the broadsheet newspapers thoroughly, kept a close eye on the television news and trawled the Internet to see if I could find any clarification, but drew a total blank. It appeared no one else had noticed the celestial upheaval that was upon us. Not even climate change sites had any helpful information. I alone had spotted that the seasons were playing up.

Shaving had never been an activity that I had particularly enjoyed. But, when around the beginning of August, I noticed I no longer needed to, I felt a little unsettled. Furthermore, while I felt that I would miss the convivial conversations about football, opera and pizza with Leonardo, my barber, this was not my prime concern when I found that my hair was no longer growing longer. Doctor Hopper, the only doctor at the Rembrandt Surgery I could get an appointment with at short notice checked me over to ascertain whether I was dead, and after finding a pulse and a heartbeat, began to ask me questions. Had I been feeling any stress? Was I eating a balanced diet? Had I taken any narcotic drugs? Had I been near a source of nuclear energy? I told him that life had been fine, and I ate healthy meals like butternut squash bakes and sardine salads, made sure I ate an apple a day and took regular exercise. He took a blood sample and said he would send it off for some tests to be done.

How long do you think the tests will take?’ I asked.

Well, the tests will only take a couple of minutes,’ he replied, a little smugly. ‘But there might be another 40,000 samples already waiting for tests at the lab. This is how the NHS works, unfortunately. Three to four weeks maybe. In the meantime, I’ll just give you something to help and I think I had better sign you off work’

Is it serious? I asked.

It may be, but there again it may not be,’ was his reply. Why could no one commit themselves these days? ‘But I don’t want you to worry about it.’

I picked up the lithium that Doctor Hopper prescribed and took my sick note into the brass instrument advice centre. For the next few days, I sat in the garden taking stock of the floral inertia. The hydrangeas and the borders I had planted from seed were still in full bloom. The lawnmower had stayed in the shed and the grass was exactly the same length as it had been in the middle of July. I hadn’t had to water the garden, not even the rhododendron. While it must have rained during this time, it certainly hadn’t rained excessively. I could think of absolutely no explanation for these phenomena.

I began dropping comments into conversations with friends and neighbours about it being a strange summer, or about how manageable my garden seemed this year, hoping that one might come back with something like, ‘the night’s don’t seem to be drawing in at all this year,’ or ‘fantastic isn’t it the way that the flowers are lasting this year, I haven’t had to deadhead my petunias once.’ There was, however, no hint from any of them that they were experiencing anything untoward. The nearest to a result was when Graham Sutherland from number 44 had said his roses were doing well compared to last year. I was momentarily cheered but it transpired that this was because last year they had been attacked by leafhoppers, spittlebugs and whitefly. It seemed I was alone in my predicament.

My waking turmoil reflected itself in my sleep. I began having disturbing dreams at night. In one series of dreams, I was falling from a tall Gothic building. But whereas in such episodes I was accustomed to waking up before I hit the ground, in these dreams I didn’t. I splattered all over the pavement. In the one I remembered most vividly, people had come to stand around and watch me fall. A television crew were filming the spectacle. At one point I was watching their film of my fall on television and I tried to switch off the set with the remote control, but the batteries were flat and I screamed as I watched myself hit the pavement. I woke up terrified. In another dream, I was driving along a very straight, featureless, dark road and all the other vehicles driving in both directions along the road were AA vans. In the next frame, they had all become ambulances. I was unable to control the car and was struggling to avoid a collision with the ambulances. In yet another I was trapped in windowless rooms in a dark house, unable to move or make any sound. People dressed in red with voices talking backwards were searching for me. I did not know whether they wanted to harm me or rescue me.

I began to dread going to bed. I found myself staying up later and later watching Murder She Wrote, Beach Volleyball and repeats of CSI on television.

One morning I got up and the green light on the phone was flashing. I played back the message on the answer machine. ‘Hello,’ it said ‘this is Doctor Hopper. I hope you are all right. I have a feeling I may have prescribed you the wrong … beep beep beep’ My answering machine was a cheap one I had bought at a car boot and had had no instructions of how to reset the message allocation time. It did not matter anyway as I had looked up lithium on HealthLine and decided that it might not be a good idea to take it, especially not 1800 milligrams per day.

I am not one of these motorists who continually check their mileage, but I could not help but notice that the milometer on my Citroen Xsara Picasso had been registering 33333 for several days, during which I had been to my acupuncturist twice, and had also driven to the health centre for an extra head-massage. There was nothing subjective about my perception regarding the mileage. This was entirely scientific; the car was moving along the road, the speedometer was registering the speed, but the odometer was not recording any mileage. In some ways, this seemed more sinister to me than some of the other examples of torpidity. I set the journey distance register to zero and drove off to buy a newspaper and some groceries. The register remained on zero.

It was the evening of my snake-charming exam. I had decided to confide in someone about what was happening to me. I had chosen Sanjay, my tutor as the most appropriate candidate. Aside from being a damn good snake charmer, he was well versed in phenomenology. He seemed understanding, non-judgemental, and had a mystical presence.

Considering the stress I was under, my exam went well. I had the cobra dancing to the music of my flute as if I was a professional. This is of course not completely true. Snakes are actually deaf. They only appear to be dancing to the music. The thing to remember is that the cobra is expecting an attack so you have to keep the flute moving from side to side as you play and the snake will mimic the movements. A cobra’s striking range is roughly one-third of its total length, so it is also a good idea to keep a few feet between you and the snake in case it is having a bad day.

After the exam was over, Sanjay came over to congratulate me, presenting me with an ideal opportunity to have a chat. Once Sanjay had finished shaking my hand and bowing politely, I said, ‘Sanjay, something’s been bothering me for a while.’

Yes, I can see that,’ he said. ‘Would like to tell me what is this thing that is bothering you?’

Today is the eleventh of August,’ I continued. ‘And it’s still as light in the evenings as it was in the middle of July. It’s not dark until 10 o’clock. You must have noticed’

No. I have not been noticing that,’ he replied.

Let me show you what I mean,’ I said. ‘It’s 9.15 now. If we go outside you will see that the sun has not quite set.’

First I have to put the snake basket away so they will not be escaping and poisoning the streetwalkers. But I can see from your expression that you have been worrying so I will not be long.’

Sanjay came back from putting the snakes away and I pushed open the double doors at the back of the community centre. I was about to say to Sanjay, ‘there, you see what I mean,’ but instead, I found we were confronted by almost total darkness. You could just detect a tinge of pink in the bottom corner of the sky over the moor, where the sun had set, but otherwise, the sky was a dark grey and the orange streetlights were shining brightly. I was stunned. I checked my watch. It confirmed that it was 9.15. It was August 11th. It was dark – as one would have expected. I did not know what to say, or what I should feel.

What is happening to me, Sanjay?’ I gasped.

I have observed for two or three weeks now that you have been stressing,’ Sanjay said. ‘You should not worry you know, many people are stressing before their snake charming exam. Stress can make you imagine strange things.’

But yesterday at 9.15 it was still light,’ I protested.

Life can be illusory,’ he said. ‘Reality is not necessarily what you are seeing.’

I took a detour on my way home and called in at The David Hockney for a drink. The journey was exactly 303 miles according to my milometer, which now registered 33636. I ordered a Carlsberg Special and phoned Yoni. She did not pick up, which probably meant she was researching for her dissertation on Dissertation Research Methods. I sat by the window, looking out across the moors and noticed that there was a full moon. I had not seen a lot of the moon during the light evenings. I wondered momentarily whether the moon’s phases had been consistent over the past few weeks. I sipped at my drink idly brushing my beard with my hand. Beard! I had a beard. Quite a thick one too. Why had Yoni not remarked on it? She must surely have noticed. Why from day to day had I not noticed it growing in the mirror?

I arrived home around midnight, after another two or three medicinal Carlsberg Specials. The first thing I noticed was that my neatly manicured front lawn was now like a wild meadow. The grass had grown several inches and there were weeds everywhere. Most of the flowers that were in bloom had dropped petals and all of the border plants needed dead-heading. It provided a complete contrast with my neighbours’ gardens, which were fastidiously well maintained. I wondered briefly if my nascent wilderness might be the reason behind the For Sale sign outside the de Koonings. I dreaded to think how much the rhododendron had grown.

I opened the door. The green light on the phone was flashing. I played back the message on the answer machine. ‘Hello,’ it said. ‘This is Andy Warhol. It’s now 8.30 pm on Wednesday 11th August. You may remember when I called round you told me you’d like things to stay as they are. I expect if I asked you now you might answer differently. So I’ve … beep beep beep’

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

ART OF DARKNESS

artofdarkness
 

Art Of Darkness by Chris Green

It seems a long time ago now that Passion and I arrived at Kemble station, in the Gloucestershire countryside. We had taken the Great Western train down from London and were planning to explore the Cotswolds. Passion and I have always been keen walkers and had been told that there were some fantastic walks in the area. Little did we know then that ‘fantastic’ was to be interpreted quite so literally. We had planned to stay in Cirencester, a small market town on the southern fringes of the Cotswolds, a few miles from Kemble station. We had left the car at home to get into the slower pace of rural life. From the station we climbed in the back of a waiting taxi to take us to a family run hotel in the town.

Uzoma, as our driver had introduced himself, had skin that was black as night. He was dressed in African tribal clothing, a swathe of bright red material wrapped around like a skirt and an abundance of multi-beaded necklaces, bracelets and earrings. Passion and I had expected that a Cotswold cab driver might be decked out in something more provincial. We said nothing. What could we have said? It would have been pointless to enter into a conversation about African tribes, as we did not know anything about African tribes. And there was political correctness to be considered.

Leopards are not common in Gloucestershire, so it was something of a surprise when Uzoma, pointed one out through the taxi window. The leopard was busy finishing off its lunch, a large rodent perhaps or a small pig. Uzoma said something that we did not quite catch, his delivery of English being a little difficult to understand. I remember at the time thinking of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, as his voice was way down in the bass register and had a musical inflection. Was he trying to tell us something about the leopard? In the back of the car I nodded. Perhaps I was agreeing for us to be taken into the Heart of Darkness.

It was a fine day and Passion and I settled back to take in the Cotswold scenery. This is what we had come for. Shepherd’s Bush might sound as if it’s in the country, but believe me it isn’t. We played ‘what’s that tractor.’ Passion’s nephew, Gulliver, had instructed her about tractors the previous week when she had been babysitting. John Deere was green, Massey Ferguson red, and Ford blue. Through the hedgerow, we caught a glimpse of what seemed to be a tractor painted sky blue with fluffy white cumulus clouds over it. Passion, apparently unphased by this curious customisation, said it reminded her of a painting she had seen in Tate Modern. ‘I can’t remember the artist’s name, but there was another one by him of a steam train coming out of a fireplace. Oooh! What’s his name?’

I know who you mean. It’ll come to me,’ I said, trying to get to grips with the idea of surrealist farming in rural Gloucestershire.

We turned into a B road (if not a C or a D) leading us into a thickly forested area. Surely, we thought, there must be a more direct route to Cirencester. It hadn’t looked far on the map. After a mile or two taken at a slow pace to avoid the potholes, tree roots and fallen branches, Uzoma pulled up in a clearing and uttered a few words, ‘boom bah bah boom,’ the gist of which we took to be that he would be back shortly. We conjectured that he had gone to relieve himself, but when he had not returned after about an hour and we had ruled out even a severe case of constipation, we became concerned. After lengthy discussion – we can’t stay here – why don’t we just drive off – we can’t do that -he may have fallen – he might be dead – one of us should stay – you go, I’ll stay – no, what if you get lost, I’ll go, you stay – why don’t we both go, sort of thing, we set off together to look for him. Whether this was pioneering or foolish is a moot point. Suffice to say that when we returned without Uzoma to where we thought we had parked there was no sign of the cab.

We were up the proverbial creek without a paddle. It occurred to us that it would be a smart move to try to contact someone to help us, or at least register our predicament, but although we were both with different networks, neither of our very expensive smartphones registered a signal. Whether a map or a compass would have been helpful at this point is hard to say, but we followed the track we had come in on, only to find that it led into progressively thicker jungle, until the track finally disappeared. Passion and I argued a little about our relative orienteering skills. I suggested that hers were poor; she maintained that mine were non-existent. After a few more pots at each other about sense of direction and spatial awareness, we determined that bickering would get us nowhere. We took stock of our surroundings. The guidebooks had not prepared us for the exotic backdrop we witnessed. Monkeys swung from the trees, parrots called to each other, and the air was thick with insects. The temperature seemed to have risen by several degrees and the humidity was stifling. Had we suspected that the Cotswolds were so tropical we may not have come.

By nightfall, we had seen no sign of anyone. We had encountered layer upon layer of gruelling jungle terrain and had become more than a little scared by our isolation. Apart from being lost in an inhospitable alien environment, with the possibility of a visit from the leopard, or a poisonous snake, or a lion, or the new giant ape we had read about in New Scientist, or a tribe of Northleach headhunters; we had absolutely none of life’s comforts. We had no food or water, and no change of clothes. Neither Passion nor I smoked so we did not even have a lighter to start a fire with. Passion remarked, rather cruelly I thought at the time,

Bear Grylls would have been able to get a fire going.’

This was hardly the point. After all Bear Grylls would probably have understood Uzoma’s English or even been able to converse with him in his tribal tongue. Bear Grylls certainly wouldn’t have got lost. Mostly though Bear Grylls was not here. We were. We had the clothes we stood up in, t-shirts and jeans, and that was it. Even our jackets had been left in the taxi. We might have used these to wrap around us as a makeshift blanket. After some late night debate about whose fault it really was that we were in this predicament (Shaun and Dawn, our next door neighbours for recommending the Cotswolds, Darren and Karen, from our Ceroc Dance class for saying how stimulating it was to travel by train) we huddled together exhausted on a mossy log and tried to sleep. The Cotswold jungle however does not sleep. The rustling of nocturnal wildlife and plants that go bump in the night kept us awake until nearly dawn. This allowed us plenty of time to listen to the jungle hubbub and imagine any number of grisly fates. Being swallowed whole by a twenty-foot anaconda was my anxiety; Passion’s deepest secret fear was being covered head to toe by tiny spiders.

We were woken shortly after dawn by a steady shower of falling fruit, which was quite fortunate as we had not eaten since our sandwiches on the train the previous day and were very hungry. The fruit were large and red and orange in colour and looked like a variety of mango. I peeled one and bit into it. It was ripe and sweet so we tucked into our windfall greedily.

Looking around, the canopy appeared to have re-invented itself since the previous evening. We were still surrounded on all sides by rampant vegetation. But it was denser, or less dense. It was greener, or less green. The elements that made up the landscape seemed oddly mismatched, its shapes and images cast few shadows giving an overall stage-like effect.

Passion said it reminded her of an Henri Rousseau painting.

I said, ‘it reminds me of a Francis Ford Coppola film, do you want to try to guess which one?’

We decided to let the sun be our compass and headed south east, or was it south west, arriving eventually at a lane. We thought soon a car would be along, and we would be rescued. We waited an hour or two. No car came. The sun was now overhead. On the basis that that all roads lead somewhere, we decided to start walking. I suggested we headed right; Passion suggested we headed left and used her extra vote. The jungle had given way to more sparse vegetation but there were sufficient clumps of trees and hedgerows to prevent us being able to see more than fifty yards ahead at any one time. The lane twisted and turned. We walked for miles. We cursed Shane and Germaine, our teenage children for suggesting we leave the car at home. There were no junctions, no water sources, not a single car, no phone signal, no hint of habitation, no animals grazing, in fact no sign of life apart from small lizards basking in the sun by the side of the road and the occasional flock of geese flying high above us.

Around mid afternoon a bright red object in the mid distance flickered in and out of our vision. As we approached it became clear that it was a red telephone kiosk. We hurried towards it and pulled the door open. We were enveloped by a cloud of smoke. On the shelf by the side of the receiver was a small brown briar pipe, a wedge of tobacco smouldering in its bowl. A rogue thought, some kind of intuitive connection of this surreal spectacle to the ‘real world’ struggled to surface, like a dream into waking consciousness, as I picked up the headset. There was no dialling tone. The insight, along with the promise of contact, vanished. Nothing in the box helped us to establish the whereabouts of our location.

We went through our customary decision making process about whether to stay put or move on, and by the time we had arrived at one, it seemed too late somehow to contemplate going after mystery pipe smoker, so we waited. The scrubland became bushier or less bushy, but no one turned up at the phone box for the rest of the day. We spent an uncomfortable night inside. With all the unconscious turbulence that accompanies such a night. I dreamt that someone had taken the road away and I had to traverse twenty or so yards high above the ground with a huge cauldron of wriggling snakes beneath me. Passion dreamt she turned on the shower and was showered with ants.

We had never actually seen an Airstream Trailer before. When we came across one on our extemporaneous ramble the next day, it looked from a distance like a slender silver marshmallow. Or a very large toaster. Or an alien spacecraft. It was certainly an imposing sight, its painstakingly polished aluminium glistening in the sunlight. We approached it cautiously. No one was about but this was not too much of a shocker. We were getting used to being the only visible people on the planet. The door to the Airstream was open and we stepped inside, taking in its aluminium interior walls, its cosy little bed settee and kitchenette. Most of all though the two roast beef dinners with a platter of hot vegetables (warm-ish as it turned out) laid out on a small aluminium table caught our eye. We were starving. If someone was thinking of coming back to eat them, then bad luck. We devoured the meal with some gusto. And the bottle of Californian Cabernet Sauvignon went down a treat.

There were photos of a couple, perhaps in their late forties around the place. The state flag in the background of many of the photos suggested that they were from Texas and it seemed they were called Hank W. and Honey Pie. Dressed in a variety of checked country and western shirts, bolo ties, cowboy boots, Stetson hats, buckled belts, and cowgirl skirts, they were pictured variously at a line dance, at a rodeo, at a hoe down, at a barbeque, and at Gracelands. We made ourselves comfortable, dipping into nachos, pretzels and other goodies from the cupboard, before dropping off to sleep in each other’s arms around early evening.

Hank W. and Honey Pie did not return. We woke with the dawn and looked out of the window of the trailer – on to open prairie. We ventured outside. Our vista today was a wide plain of rolling, grassland. This was pretty much the middle of nowhere and there were no signs of habitation. There were no trees to be seen from there to the horizon in any direction.

We could see for miles; all there was to see was a large sculpture of a penguin and a trombone, and a fifteen foot frosted glass onion. We had ceased to be amazed by unusual sights in the Cotswolds, it was clear we were dealing with strange people.

How far away do you think the horizon is? asked Passion. She was putting faith in my spatial awareness again.

I used to know, but I couldn’t remember. ‘Twenty miles, as near as dammit,’ I said, without any hesitation. It was a figure off the top of my head.

We can’t walk twenty miles across prairie,’ she said.

My thoughts exactly.’

Hank W. and Honey Pie certainly kept the trailer well stocked. We had enough tinned food to last weeks and there must have been a year’s supply of nachos and pretzels in the cupboard. And there was plenty of water.

We began to see the Airstream as home and we became accustomed to looking out across the empty prairie. One day a new sculpture appeared of an eyeball, a spiral staircase and a rubber glove. One evening holographic Beatles played Helter Skelter backwards on a blue and white chessboard stage while hooded plasticine ayatollahs set fire to faceless conquistadores nailed to Ikea crosses. But the prairie itself remained relatively constant. From day to day, it seemed grassier or less grassy, greener or less green, the grass taller or less tall. The horizon, twenty miles away, continued to look a long way off. The sky provided us with greater variety. Some days it had a blood red hue and other times there were vivid rainbows, even when it wasn’t raining. One day it was dark all day, not just grey, but end of the world dark. The next day there was no sky, just a void where the sky had been.

Yesterday Passion and I arrived in the Gloucestershire veldt. We had been given a lift down from the north by Hank W., a country and western singer, and his wife, Honey Pie. They were friends of ours and they had left us their trailer and had gone off to explore the Cotswold jungle. They themselves were going to make camp in the jungle. They were keen explorers and told us about leopards and lions they had come across on previous Cotswold expeditions. They had a guide who was called Uzoma and they hoped to spot the new giant ape that they had read about in New Scientist.

Passion and I arrived in Cirencester by bus last week.

Passion and I. Turned left. There was a mango tree.

Passion and I. Climbed in the back of a sky blue taxi with our heads in the clouds.

Passion and I. Went to a hoe down dressed in our ‘country’ costumes and the stage was ablaze.

Passion and I. Could see for miles and miles

Hank W. and Honey Pie. Were going to Gracelands in Memphis Tennessee.

Passion and I. Hank W. and Airstream.

Passion. And I. Had rented a trailer in the middle of the desert.

Desert! My God! It was desert outside. I woke Passion to tell her about the sandy incursion. We had been sleeping most of the afternoon, after a large lunch of tinned paella and nachos, and a glass or two from Hank W. and Honey Pie’s ‘cellar.’ Together we looked out the trailer window. The silhouette of a camel caravan against the horizon as the sun is going down is a breathtaking sight. Unfortunately this is not what we saw. No camels. No sun. What we saw instead was a developing sandstorm. Until you’ve had the experience of being inside a tin can that is being pounded relentlessly by trillions and trillions of tiny fragments of the earth’s crust, you cannot imagine how loud this can be. The Airstream rocked backwards and forwards. Several times we thought it was going to be blown over. We were terrified. Cans emptied out of cupboards and the furniture slid up and down the trailer. The storm lasted for three or four hours, by which time we were nervous wrecks.

After a lingering look outside to take in the perfect patterns of the spectacular sand dunes that had been formed, under the light of a full moon, we went back inside the trailer and started to clear up. We gathered up cans of linguini in white sauce, chicken vindaloo, wiener schnitzel, borsch, okra, veal fricassee, chilli con carne, to name but a few, along with packs of pretzels, Pringles, assorted crisps, nachos and a lobster radio.

Lobster radio is not a dish. This was in fact a transistor radio shaped like a lobster. Passion took it to be homage to Dali’s lobster telephone. I tried to tune in the radio but the batteries were very low and we were only able to pick up one radio station and this faintly. It was Radio Gloucestershire and there was a local news bulletin on. We listened to items about a fire at a superstore in Cheltenham and a little about the alarming rise in binge drinking in Stow on the Wold, before an item much more close to home.

The search is still on for the couple, Milan and Passion Mandalay, missing in the Cotswolds since Monday last week. They were last seen at Kemble railway station………..’

The battery died at this point so were not able to find out what Radio Gloucestershire thought might have happened to us.

Next morning we looked across the moor. Yes, the moor. A little hilly at first glance, but there seemed to be a clear path through the bracken and heather, so having packed a few provisions in a bag to keep us going, we took it.

It was a bewildering landscape. Soft watches hung from winter trees. A double bass stood upright amongst the heather, and a large bunch of ceramic bananas pointed to a large limbless stone torso. Sculpted rocks resembled the profile of misshapen figures, and contours of faces formed in the sky. A London cab painted in sky patterns was suspended in mid air. Overseeing the landscape was a giant statue of a fish.

Bonjour.’

Walking briskly towards us was a figure in a black suit and a bowler hat eating a large green apple. Passion thought she recognised him from a painting.

Je m’apelle Renee,’ he opened, kissing us both in turn on each cheek.

Had we inadvertently crossed the channel?

J’ai plaisir……’

Renee began to grasp that we did not understand French. He continued in English.

I’m very ‘appy to tell you that you ‘ave passed the audition to take part in Surreality TV. If you would just like to waltz up here to the walrus, I’ll introduce you to the other contestants.’

We did not ask to be on this – what did you call it – Sur’ Surreality TV,’ I stammered. ‘Why? I mean how?’

You remember Errol and Cheryl who you met at the Cocteau Twins reunion concert last year?’ Renee beamed, as the cameramen dressed as penguins moved in closer. ‘Well they dropped us a line at Surreality TV.’

I remember the painter’s name,’ said Passion. ‘It was Magritte’

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

ArtWorld

artworld2

ArtWorld by Chris Green

It was already the middle of July. Only a few moments ago it seemed to have been June, or May even. The Bank Holiday Mondays, the Chelsea Flower Show, Royal Ascot, Summer Solstice, Glastonbury, Wimbledon and the British Grand Prix had come and gone like thieves in the night. In quick succession, each of my shrubs had flowered and gone over. Already the hydrangeas were out and the sunflowers were beginning to open. My life was playing on fast forward. Any day now someone would say, ‘the nights are drawing in,’ somehow it seemed stating the obvious. A friend of mine was fond of saying, ‘change is the only certainty.’ As I grew older, I was beginning to appreciate the wisdom of this. ‘Now’ was forever slipping away. Time was, as Bob Dylan had observed, a jet plane.

It was polling time. A by-election had been called following the death of our local MP, Rickie Hamilton, in a sword-fight with the landlord of The Belted Galloway. I had begun to receive a plethora of political pamphlets through the door. Each day I would come home from work at the brass instrument advice centre to find a new pile of brightly coloured electoral fliers on the mat. There must have been more than a dozen different candidates. There were a range of views on local issues but most of them agreed that the country was in a bit of a mess. Some promised to put more police on the streets to help fight crime while others wanted to see a volunteer police force to save money. One or two wanted to make such deep cuts they suggested closing hospitals, schools and libraries, and deporting the disabled and unemployed.

In my neighbourhood there seemed to be a predominance of ‘VOTE WARHOL’ stickers in the windows of the houses, although there were half a dozen or so ‘VOTE ROTHKO’ stickers, several ‘VOTE POLLOCK’ and one or two ‘VOTE EMIN’.

I was cooking liver and onions for my supper one evening, when Mr Warhol called round.

Hi! I’m Andy,’ he said by way of a greeting. He was an odd looking man with pale features and large glasses. I could not tell whether he was wearing a wig or not, but I didn’t like to ask.

I asked him instead ‘If you get in, will everyone be famous for fifteen minutes?’

That would be communism,’ he replied, circumventing the reference. Perhaps he had become immune to smart aleck remarks.

Or in fifteen minutes everyone will be famous?’

That sounds to me like liberalism.’

Or will fifteen people be famous for everyone?’

That would be an oligarchy, he said.

I could not fault Andy’s ‘political theory’.

Will I notice any difference if you get in?’ I asked.

Put it this way,’ he said. ‘If you like your life, I’ll be trying to keep things as they are; if you don’t like your life I’ll be trying to change things. You choose’

Very diplomatic,’ I thought. Despite my occasional propensity to complain, I liked my life. I was forever wishing I could hold back the relentless progress of time. This feeling was especially strong at this time of year. It seemed important to capture and hang on to those precious fleeting moments when summer was at its most vital, those few brief days when the celestial magic cast its powerful spell. Light evenings were nourishment to the soul. The Sunday at the seaside. The walk in woods with the birds singing. These would be the times that one would look back to and remember as special in the dark winter months ahead.

If I could choose I’d like things to stay pretty much as they are,’ I said, with this in mind.

Good,’ he said. ‘Vote for me and I’ll see what I can do.’ He shook my hand and made his way across my front lawn to Mr and Mrs De Kooning’s next door. I suspected the De Koonings would give him a tougher time as they had a ‘VOTE POLLOCK’ sticker in their window. Furthermore, I had always found them confrontational, particularly over the issue of my rhododendron, which they claimed spoilt their view of Saatchi Hill.

Despite his unconventional appearance and his lack of political conviction, or perhaps because of these attributes, I liked Andy. Although I didn’t usually bother to vote, I made my way down to the John Constable Primary School on polling day and voted for him. It was a close contest but after three recounts Andy Warhol was elected MP for Wallace South by a margin of two votes.

On Mondays I go to a Flower Arranging class at the Francis Bacon Memorial Centre, and on Tuesdays, Snake Charming at the Hindu Community Centre. On Wednesdays, I have a head massage and on Thursday I attend a bricklaying course at the college. At the weekends, I spend time with my girlfriend, Yoni. I have been described as a creature of habit. While it is good to have varied interests I do like to keep to a routine. Most evenings I get home at 9 to 9.30, although sometimes Snake Charming goes on a little late. During the second half of July, the sun sets just over one minute earlier each evening so it was not until the end of July that I began to notice that it was still light as I drove home when perhaps it shouldn’t be.

I looked up the sunset times for Wallace on the Internet and found that there indeed appeared to be a discrepancy, between when the sun was due to set and when it was actually setting. As near as I could tell the difference was twenty minutes. I checked my watch against all the clocks in the house, to be more accurate both the clocks in the house and dialled the speaking clock (accurate to within five thousandths of a second). All agreed the time to within a minute. Either there was a huge conspiracy to dupe me or something strange was really happening.

It was hard not to feel a sense of panic, but in the interest of my sanity, I decided I was going to do my best not to draw attention to the situation. I felt it was better to keep it to myself for the time being, in case there was a rational explanation that I might have overlooked. I did not even tell Yoni, although she remarked once or twice that I seemed distracted during our lovemaking. I explained that we were having a lot of intonation problems at the centre with four-valve euphoniums. Over dinner at Vettriano’s, she noticed that I kept looking at my watch and looking out of the window.

Are we expecting someone or should I not be here?’ she asked.

Sorry darling,’ I said. ‘I just thought I saw Paul Gauguin from my Snake Charming class.’

I read the broadsheet newspapers thoroughly, kept a close eye on the television news and trawled the Internet to see if I could find any clarification, but drew a total blank. It appeared no one else had noticed the celestial upheaval that was upon us. Not even climate change sites had any helpful information. I alone had spotted that the seasons were playing up.

Shaving had never been an activity that I had particularly enjoyed. But, when around the beginning of August, I noticed I no longer needed to, I felt a little unsettled. Furthermore, while I felt that I would miss the convivial conversations about football, opera and pizza with Leonardo, my barber, this was not my prime concern when I found that my hair was no longer growing longer. Doctor Hopper, the only doctor at the Rembrandt Surgery I could get an appointment with at short notice checked me over to ascertain whether I was dead, and after finding a pulse and a heartbeat, began to ask me questions. Had I been feeling any stress? Was I eating a balanced diet? Had I taken any narcotic drugs? Had I been near a source of nuclear energy? I told him that life had been fine, and I ate healthy meals like butternut squash bakes and sardine salads, made sure I ate an apple a day and took regular exercise. He took a blood sample and said he would send it off for some tests to be done.

How long do you think the tests will take?’ I asked.

Well, the tests will only take a couple of minutes,’ he replied, a little smugly. ‘But there might be another 40,000 samples already waiting for tests at the lab. This is how the NHS works, unfortunately. Three to four weeks maybe. In the meantime I’ll just give you something to help and I think I had better sign you off work’

Is it serious? I asked.

It may be, but there again it may not be,’ was his reply. Why could no one commit themselves these days? ‘But I don’t want you to worry about it.’

I picked up the lithium that Doctor Hopper prescribed and took my sick note into the brass instrument advice centre. For the next few days, I sat in the garden taking stock of the floral inertia. The hydrangeas and the borders I had planted from seed were still in full bloom. The lawnmower had stayed in the shed and the grass was exactly the same length as it had been in the middle of July. I hadn’t actually had to water the garden, not even the rhododendron. While it must have rained during this time, it certainly hadn’t rained excessively. I could think of absolutely no explanation for these phenomena.

I began dropping comments into conversations with friends and neighbours about it being a strange summer, or about how manageable my garden seemed this year, hoping that one might come back with something like, ‘the night’s don’t seem to be drawing in at all this year,’ or ‘fantastic isn’t it the way that the flowers are lasting this year, I haven’t had to deadhead my petunias once.’ There was, however, no hint from any of them that they were experiencing anything untoward. The nearest to a result was when Graham Sutherland from number 44 had said his roses were doing well compared to last year. I was momentarily cheered but it transpired that this was because last year they had been attacked by leafhoppers, spittlebugs and whitefly. It seemed I was alone in my predicament.

My waking turmoil reflected itself in my sleep. I began having disturbing dreams at night. In one series of dreams I was falling from a tall gothic building, but whereas in such episodes I was accustomed to waking up before I hit the ground, in these I didn’t. I splattered all over the pavement. In the one I remembered most vividly, people had come to stand around and watch me fall. A television crew were filming the spectacle. At one point I was watching their film of my fall on television and I tried to switch off the set with the remote control, but the batteries were flat and I screamed as I watched myself hit the pavement. I woke up terrified. In another dream I was driving along a very straight, featureless, dark road and all the other vehicles driving in both directions along the road were AA vans. In the next frame, they had all become ambulances. I was unable to control the car and was struggling to avoid a collision with the ambulances. In yet another I was trapped in windowless rooms in a dark house, unable to move or make any sound. People dressed in red with voices talking backwards were searching for me. I did not know whether they wanted to harm me or rescue me.

I began to dread going to bed. I found myself staying up later and later watching Murder She Wrote, Beach Volleyball and repeats of CSI on television.

One morning I got up and the green light on the phone was flashing. I played back the message on the answer machine. ‘Hello,’ it said ‘this is Doctor Hopper. I hope you are all right. I have a feeling I may have prescribed you the wrong … beep beep beep’ My answering machine was a cheap one I had bought at a car boot and had had no instructions of how to reset the message allocation time. It did not matter anyway as I had looked up lithium on HealthLine and decided that it might not be a good idea to take it, especially not 1800 milligrams per day.

I am not one of these motorists that are continually checking their mileage, but I could not help but notice that the milometer on my Citroen Xsara Picasso had been registering 33333 for several days, during which I had been to my acupuncturist twice, and had also driven to the health centre for an extra head massage. There was nothing subjective about my perception regarding the mileage. This was entirely scientific; the car was moving along the road, the speedometer was registering the speed, but the odometer was not recording any mileage. In some ways, this seemed more sinister to me than some of the other examples of torpidity. I set the journey distance register to zero and drove off to buy a newspaper and some groceries. The register remained on zero.

It was the evening of my snake-charming exam. I had made the decision to confide in someone about what was happening to me. I had chosen Sanjay, my tutor, as the most appropriate candidate. Aside from being a damn good snake charmer, he was well versed in phenomenology. He seemed understanding, non-judgemental, and had a mystical presence.

Considering the stress I was under my exam went well. I had the cobra dancing to the music of my flute as if I was a professional. This is of course not completely true. Snakes are actually deaf; it only appears that they are dancing to the music. The thing to remember is that the cobra is expecting an attack so you have to keep the flute moving from side to side as you play and the snake will mimic the movements. A cobra’s striking range is roughly one third of its total length, so it is also a good idea to keep a few feet between you and the snake in case it is having a bad day.

After the exam was over, Sanjay came over to congratulate me, presenting me with an ideal opportunity to have a chat. Once Sanjay had finished shaking my hand and bowing politely, I said, ‘Sanjay, something’s been bothering me for a while.’

Yes, I can see that he said. Would like to tell me what is this thing that is bothering you?’

Today is the eleventh of August,’ I continued. ‘And it’s still as light in the evenings as it was in the middle of July. It’s not dark until 10 o’clock. You must have noticed’

No. I have not been noticing that,’ he replied.

Let me show you what I mean,’ I said. ‘It’s 9.15 now. If we go outside you will see that the sun has not quite set.’

First I have to put the snake basket away so they will not be escaping and poisoning the street walkers. But I can see from your expression that you have been worrying so I will not be long.’

Sanjay came back from putting the snakes away and I pushed open the double doors at the back of the community centre. I was about to say to Sanjay, ‘there, you see what I mean,’ but instead, I found we were confronted by almost total darkness. You could just detect a tinge of pink in the bottom corner of the sky over the moor, where the sun had set, but otherwise, the sky was a dark grey and the orange streetlights were shining brightly. I was stunned. I checked my watch. It confirmed that it was 9.15. It was August 11th. It was dark – as one would have expected. I did not know what to say, or what I should feel.

What is happening to me, Sanjay?’ I gasped.

I have observed for two or three weeks now that you have been stressing, said Sanjay. ‘You should not worry you know, many people are stressing before their snake charming exam. Stress can make you imagine strange things.’

But yesterday at 9.15 it was still light,’ I protested.

Life can be illusory,’ he said. ‘Reality is not necessarily what you are seeing.’

I took a detour on my way home and called in at The David Hockney for a drink. The journey was exactly 303 miles according to my milometer, which now registered 33636. I ordered a Carlsberg Special and phoned Yoni. She did not pick up, which probably meant she was researching for her dissertation on ‘Dissertation Research Methods’. I sat by the window, looking out across the moors and noticed that there was a full moon. I had not seen a lot of the moon during the light evenings. I wondered momentarily whether the moon’s phases had been consistent over the past few weeks. I sipped at my drink idly brushing my beard with my hand. Beard!! I had a beard. Quite a thick one too. Why had Yoni not remarked on it? Why from day to day had I not noticed it growing in the mirror?

I arrived home around midnight, after another two or three medicinal Carlsberg Specials. The first thing I noticed was that my neatly manicured front lawn was now like a wild meadow. The grass had grown several inches and there were weeds everywhere. Most of the flowers that were in bloom had dropped petals and all of the border plants needed dead-heading. It provided a complete contrast with my neighbours’ gardens, which were fastidiously well maintained. I wondered briefly if my nascent wilderness might be the reason behind the For Sale sign outside the de Koonings. I dreaded to think how much the rhododendron had grown.

I opened the door. The green light on the phone was flashing. I played back the message on the answer machine. ‘Hello,’ it said ‘this is Andy Warhol. It’s now 8.30pm on Wednesday 11th August. You may remember when I called round you told me you’d like things to stay as they are. I expect if I asked you now you might answer differently. So I’ve … beep beep beep’

© Chris Green 2014: All rights reserved