Best Kept Secret

Best Kept Secret by Chris Green

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

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

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

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

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

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

The man doesn’t take the hint. ‘I was using close on 50 gigabytes a week just browsing on my iPhone and I was texting and messaging non-stop. And then there was the streaming. That took it up to 100,’ he continues. ‘What about you? Tracey, isn’t it?’

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

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

Tracey continues to blank him.

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

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

He awaits some kind of response. None is forthcoming.

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

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

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

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

I’m enjoying it, yes,’ Tracey says.

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

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

Have you reached an exciting bit?’ he asks.

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

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

……………………………………………………

Although one usually thinks in terms of videos, anything can go viral on the Internet. Whether it’s a photo, an animation, an article, a quote, a tweet, a person, an animal, an idea, an argument, a coupon or an upcoming event, virtually anything that is shareable can go viral. Such is the power of hyperspace. All it takes is a handful of shares on social media and the right target audience to trigger an avalanche of sharing. News items, genuine and fake flash round the globe. If the American President were shot it is reckoned that three-quarters of the people in the world would know about it within fourteen minutes.

This is of course under normal circumstances. As it happens the American President has not been shot, but the transatlantic internet pipeline that joins Europe to the US has been down for two days. This is unprecedented. The world is waiting for something to happen. The crisis has generated record sales of newspapers but they have no news. Instead, there is a wealth of speculation. There are suggestions that terrorism is behind the breach in the pipeline. The Telegraph says it has all the hallmarks of a Russian cyber attack. The Sun blames it on Jihadis. The Express is torn between blaming in on illegal immigrants and the storms that are coming this way. The Mail doesn’t refer to it. concentrating instead on statins and house prices.

………………………………………………………….…

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

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

Tracey has now finished her Katie Price, her Sophie Kinsella and her Jojo Moyes novels. Dirk finds her once again on the patio. With nothing left to read, she stares into space.

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

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

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

Tracey has no view about feline celebrities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ve not read The Butter Battle Book then,’ Echo says.

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

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

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

Van Morrison. You like Van Morrison?’

Well yes. I do, rather.’

I adore Van Morrison,’ Echo says.

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

Dreamy?’

No, not exactly.’

Transcendental?’

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

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

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

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

………………………………………………………….…

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

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

………………………………………………………….…

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

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

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

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

What does?’

The freedom to say no.’

Not that you did too much of that.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s north of here. Bude,’ Echo says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Chris Green 2020: All rights reserved

A Blacker Shade of Blue

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A Blacker Shade of Blue by Chris Green

Tiffany Blue wonders why she is so unhappy. If all the things she is doing are so good for her, she should be in seventh heaven. She gets up at five each morning and does a half an hour’s Tai Chi before her bowl of wholegrain cereal with goji berries and manuka honey. She has a healthy outdoor job working with wildlife. She practices yoga, in fact when her friend Indigo is busy, she runs the class for her.

Tiffany meditates to a CD with sounds of running water. Her apartment is awash with Aloe Vera plants to purify the air. She works out at the gym and she takes a veritable orchestra of vitamins and supplements. She cycles everywhere, well nearly everywhere. When she does take the car, she listens to soothing music, Einaudi, Eno or Enya. She never drinks alcohol. She sees Moon two or three times a week. He buys her flowers and they make love tenderly. They go to Inter Faith services on a Sunday. But still she feels her life is empty. Something is missing.

Growing up in Brixton, Jeremy (Jet) Black was beaten up constantly by his big brother, Brad, and he, in turn, hammered his little brother Harry. It was a dog eat dog world where petty crime graduated easily to serious crime. Hierarchies were decided by the length of prison sentences. Jet moved swiftly up the hierarchy as he always seemed to be the one who got caught. Since he was a teenager, Jet has spent roughly half his life banged up. He is thirty-two.

Since his last spell in prison, a two-year stretch in Belmarsh for aggravated burglary, Jet has decided to go straight. He is tired of the predictable pattern his life has followed, the vicious cycle of get banged up, do his bird, get released, share ideas he learned inside with his crim mates, commit new crimes, get away with things for a bit, get grassed up by one of his crim mates who has already been caught, get nicked, and go back inside. He wants to turn his life around. He is going to avoid The Black Horse and The King Billy and give BetterBet a wide berth. And he is not going to take back up with Tracey. He can’t forgive her for what she said to the police the last time he was arrested. He hadn’t laid a finger on her and there he was facing an extra charge of assault. He might otherwise have got away with eighteen months. Now that he is out, he has also decided to stop taking drugs. He has even stopped listening to rap music.

Jet has got himself a part-time job at the community centre. At the moment, it is a voluntary position, but Gavin, the guy with the ponytail who runs the place, says that if he does a good job there might be an opening. Through a prisoner rehabilitation scheme, he has secured a studio apartment in the converted warehouse by the plastics factory. He has started to paint the place with some paint he was given and has discovered a flair for colour. Under the scheme he has also been able to get free items from the Furniture Project. The bed is rickety, and the settee has a few rips, but they will do for now. The microwave works, and that is the main thing. He has been to the animal shelter and got a rescue dog to keep him company, a black and white collie-retriever cross called Bono. He cannot yet afford to join a gym but he has enrolled in a free yoga class. He is not exactly sure what yoga involves, but he has heard it is very good for you. He has been to one session and although he found it a bit of a struggle he is determined to persevere.

Tiffany feels it might help her state of mind if she tried out new things. She needs some excitement to break up the relentless ennui of new-age austerity. Something a little reckless, something dangerous, something wild and edgy. She shows Moon the programme of headline acts for a hard rock festival. Moon is hesitant. He does not like the idea of hard or rock and together, what on earth is she thinking?

You don’t really want to go to this, do you?’ he says. ‘AC/DC are very loud, you know. And Anvil Of Doom. I don’t like the sound of them.’

You only live once,’ Tiffany says. ‘Let’s get out there and do something to show we’re still alive.’

But it’s all so unwholesome,’ Moon says. ‘We’d be camping out in a muddy field with hordes of degenerate space cadets and filthy grebos.’

Not everyone who goes to a festival is a drug addict, Moon’ Tiffany says.

Grim Reaper. Angel Corpse. Do you really want to see bands with names like that?’ Moon says.

I imagine there are all kinds of new-age activities at festivals,’ Tiffany says. ‘Look! It says here, they’ve got necromancy, neo-paganism, tarot divination, and past life regression workshops. And they have a tattoo parlour. I could get some tattoos done. They have everything at festivals. The music’s probably just an added extra at festivals these days.’

I’m not sure about the tattoo idea,’ Moon says.

I could have a rose tattooed on my bottom. How about that? I think you’d like that,’ Tiffany says.

OK. You win. We’ll give it a go,’ Moon says. ‘But can we go on the Saturday, because I don’t want to miss our crystal reading class on Friday.’

I think we could give crystal reading a miss for once,’ Tiffany says. ‘I haven’t got room for any more bloody stones and to be honest, I do find Prism’s talks a tiny bit boring.’

Prism? Boring? Surely not, Tiffany,’ Moon says. ‘It’s not just about finding out what crystals you need. Don’t you remember last week how Prism showed you that your natal chart was a dynamic indicator for your soul’s path of your healing journey.’

Well, maybe I don’t feel very healed,’ Tiffany says. ‘Oh, I don’t know, Moon. Perhaps I’m just tired.’

Let me give you an Ayurvedic massage,’ Moon says. ‘I’ve got some organic almond oil.’

I think I’ll just have a bath and go to bed,’ she says. ‘I’ve got an early start tomorrow. I have a wood to inspect.’

Jet Black is walking Bono in Long Ridge Wood when he spots her. She is the lady who was teaching the yoga class, the one in the flesh-coloured leotard who was bent double during the warm-up exercises. He would recognise that body anywhere. Not even the Wildlife Trust uniform can hide such a lovely figure. And she has a smile that could bring a dead dormouse back to life.

Tiffany recognises him by his tattoos. She knows that she shouldn’t, but she finds them attractive. And those muscles. She could tell straight away at the yoga class that although he was lacking in grace, he had been to the gym now and again. She had not seen him though at Jim’s Gym. Perhaps he was new to town.

Hello,’ he says shyly. He is not used to talking to attractive women. You do not come across many babes in The Black Horse or The King Billy. And he was certainly protected from such opportunities in Belmarsh. Not even Tracey had been to visit.

You’re not stalking me, are you,’ she laughs. ‘I’ve heard about people like you.’

I’m just taking Bono here for a walk,’ he says. ‘He loves these woods.’

Ancient beechwood and unimproved grassland,’ she says. ‘Maximum biodiversity to provide the basis for a balanced ecosystem.’

That’s a distinctive aroma,’ he says, edging a little closer. ‘What is it?’

That will be the rotting leaves,’ she says.

Not that smell,’ he says. ‘A sweet minty perfume. Is it something you are wearing?’

Oh, that’s patchouli,’ Tiffany says. ‘Do you like it?’

It’s lovely,’ he says. ‘And so are you.’ There! He has said it. There’s no going back now.

Moon is not sure what is wrong with Tiffany. Something must be troubling her. She said that she is busy at the weekend and now she is not taking his calls. In the two years that they have been seeing each other, nothing like this has happened before. She has always been so accommodating. They have always done everything together. He had hoped they might go to a Channelled Angel Reading on Friday night and then have a snack at Give Peas A Chance. Then afterwards they might try out the ginger dusk scented candle, with some soft music. He has called round several times and even spoken to her neighbours but they have not seen her. River who runs the New Age bookshop says he saw her earlier coming out of BargainBooze with a big bag, but that can’t be right.

Tiffany has invited Jet Black round. She has never done such a thing with a stranger before. It is unheard of in the circles she moves in to be so familiar with someone that you’ve only just met. She is not sure what has come over her. Perhaps it is the rugged profile of Jet’s jaw, the pounding testosterone, the rippling muscles and, of course, the tattoos. Perhaps it is the nascent desire for excitement. Whatever it is, she has never had these kinds of feelings before. She cannot recall ever having strong feelings of any kind. She has always just gone with the flow.

She was brought up in a remote rural location. There was no curriculum at the school she attended, and she remained innocent of the ways of the world. She did not rebel as a teenager because she was unaware of what she might rebel against. Life was uneventful. There were no highs and no lows. There was no site of struggle in her neighbourhood. In fact, there were no neighbours in her neighbourhood. Her parents did not bother with television, which was just as well because a lot of the time there was not even a TV signal in this isolated community. There would probably never be a mobile phone signal.

It wasn’t until she went to agricultural college at nineteen that she had her first boyfriend. Dagon was gentle and over a period of several years eased her into intimacy. Inhibited as they both were, sex never became the driving force of their relationship. She couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. It was three months before she let Moon over the threshold, and another month before she let him undo the buttons of her blouse. She was in no hurry to move things forward. It wasn’t until six months into their relationship that she finally allowed him to pull down her panties. She was twenty-seven and Moon was only her second lover.

Tiffany is on her third glass of wine and feels light-headed. She has turned her phone off in case Moon calls again. While she doesn’t want to upset him, she wishes he would let her have some space. She had to hide behind the curtain for half an hour earlier. He has gone now. Hopefully, he won’t be back until after Jet has had a chance to pin her to the bed, roughly part her thighs and possess her in a frenzy of unbridled passion. Where, she wonders, are these thoughts coming from? What is happening to her?

Something about meeting Tiffany has put Jet in touch with his gentler side. He spent the previous evening carving a Buddha from a chunky stick that Bono picked up in the woods. He thinks the little wooden icon is the sort of thing a girl like Tiffany would appreciate; he noticed when they met she wore a Buddha charm bracelet. He has even read a little about Buddha on Wikipedia. Buddha seemed a sound guy, honest and trustworthy and full of thought for others. Not at all like Charlie, the self-styled guru in Belmarsh. Charlie, named after Charlie Manson, Jet found out, would stick a knife in your throat or steal the clothes off your back.

When he arrives at Tiffany’s though he finds her three sheets to the wind. This is not at all the welcome he was expecting, but he has had plenty of experience of this condition with Tracey. It usually ended in a fistfight and the kitchen getting wrecked. While he does not imagine this will be the case with Tiffany, he needs to tread carefully. He struggles to remember what they were told in the interpersonal psychology class inside. The dude banged on a lot about listening and passivity.

Would you like a glass of wine,’ Tiffany says, filling up a tumbler for him from the half-empty bottle of Rioja.

No thanks. I don’t drink wine,’ Jet says.

Not even for a special occasion,’ she purrs.

Jet remembers the psychology guy saying that distraction was a useful tactic. You could talk someone down who was about to jump or prevent someone with fists raised from hitting you by taking their mind off their subject. ‘It’s hot and humid in Kuala Lumpur,’ he continues. ‘It says on the news they are having a heatwave.’

I’ve got beer in the fridge,’ Tiffany says, lurching towards the kitchen.

I might buy a guitar when I’ve got some money,’ he says. ‘And learn to play like George Harrison.’

I did think of getting some whiskey,’ she says. ‘I could nip down to the off-licence if you like.’

The psychology guy’s reasoning was clearly flawed. ‘What I’d really like is a cup of tea,’ he says. ‘Why don’t we both have a nice cup of tea.’

On the way home on the bus, Jet feels despondent. It is clear to him that Tiffany has a serious drink problem. He had not suspected this when he met her in the woods. She seemed all sweetness and light then. Perhaps everyone has a deep-seated issue if you look for it. At least Tiffany is not trying to hide it. She is not a secret drinker like some he has known, Kathy for instance. Kathy would hide it everywhere, under the sink, behind the potted plants, in the garage and in with the grass cuttings. He is sure that Tiffany is a lovely person beneath it all. He needs to help her. She deserves that much. Helping her will also help him to convince himself that he has changed.

After the embarrassment of the evening though, he decides to leave it a few days and then call her. Or maybe wait until he sees her at the yoga class. He will ask if she would like to go for a walk on the common with him and Bono. There are no pubs or retail outlets near the common. She will probably be able to tell him what the trees are and the names of the wildflowers. He could even put together a picnic.

Why have you been ignoring my calls?’ Moon says.

Can you not shout please,’ Tiffany says. ‘I’ve got a really bad headache this morning.’

I’m not shouting,’ Moon says. He picks up one of the wine bottles. ‘Perhaps you couldn’t hear them because of the noise from your party.’

Sarcasm is just one more thing that you are not very good at,’ Tiffany says. ‘So why don’t you just shut up.’

What’s got into you?’ Moon says. ‘You have not been yourself lately. Is it all to do with me not wanting to go to this rock festival?’

Why don’t you just go off and find a unicorn or a crop circle or something,’ Tiffany says. ‘Just leave me alone, will you?’

Actual Bodily Harm is not the most serious offence in the lexicon of Offences Against The Person. Jet knows that it carries a maximum sentence of five years, but the charge is broad in its scope. It can refer to quite serious injuries, but it can also refer to just a few bruises. Perhaps Tiffany and Moon were just pushing each other around a little and Moon fell. Tiffany was certainly in a hurry to put a stop to the conversation once she felt that he was prying. But, as Tiffany has no criminal record, she will probably just get a fine, he feels, especially if Moon does not want to pursue the matter.

In Jet’s experience alcohol is at the root of a majority of threatening behaviour, not just physical aggression but verbal abuse as well. God knows, he had threatened enough people when he had been on the pop and Tracey was at her most vicious after a skinful. Before it lost its licence The Prince of Wales on a Friday night could be like Culloden. And, A and E was a who’s who of alcoholics after a darts night at The Caledonian.

Tiffany surely would not have told him to fuck off and mind his own business last night when he offered to come round if she was sober. She might be a bit resentful that he didn’t respond to her come on the other night and in her booze-fuelled haze have seen it as a rejection. Some people he has heard take rejection very badly. Jet realises that Tiffany needs his help more than ever now to turn her life around. He must try to get her off the liquor. An alcohol support group called NewLeaf meets at the community centre. When the time is right, he will suggest that she goes along.

Tiffany does not answer any more of Jet’s calls and she is not at the yoga class. He asks Indigo if she might know where she is.

I haven’t seen her,’ Indigo says. ‘I’ve phoned her a couple of times but she doesn’t seem to be answering.’

I’ve been trying to get her all week,’ Jet says.

It’s not like her at all,’ Indigo says. ‘I’ve known her for years and if she sees that I’ve called she always gets straight back to me. Do you think perhaps something is wrong?’

Look. I probably shouldn’t say anything, but she was arrested last week, says Jet.

Arrested? Tiffany arrested? You’re joking, right?’ she says looking him in the eye.

He does not have the look of someone who is joking.

Yes, for ABH. I think it’s all to do with the juice,’ Jet says.

Juice?’ Indigo says. ‘What do you mean, juice? What kind of juice?’

You know, the sauce,’ Jet says. ‘The booze.’

What?’ Indigo says. ‘No. Never. Not Tiffany. She’s about as teetotal as they come. She doesn’t even drink tea or coffee.’

Well, she may not have used to drink,’ Jet says. ‘But I’m afraid she does now.’

And I can’t imagine her ever being violent,’ Indigo says. ‘Not in a million years. She wouldn’t harm a fly.’

What about this Moon dude?’ Jet says. ‘Do you know anything about him?’

She’s been with him for years,’ Indigo says. ‘Moon’s the nicest person you could ever wish to meet.’

Well, something’s gone badly wrong with the universe then,’ Jet says.

You might not be far off with that,’ Indigo says. ‘There have been some portentous planetary alignments lately. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were roughly aligned with the Sun ten days ago, and Venus and Mars are in alignment again tonight.’

There must be a song there somewhere,’ Jet says. ‘I would like to be able to help Tiffany, so if you do hear anything.’

I know you do. Despite your build and your ….. body art, I can see you are a very sensitive man who is in touch with his feminine side. I could tell as soon as I saw you. You give off a kind vibe.’

His feminine side? This is not something that Jet has been told before. Should he take it as a compliment? Years ago he might have hit anyone who had said this, even if it was a woman. But in the given circumstances, he feels strangely flattered.

Why don’t you come along to my Vipassana meditation class on Thursday,’ Indigo says. ‘I think you’d love it.’

I might just do that,’ Jet says, studying Indigo’s flesh coloured leotard. ‘I think mediation might be exactly what I need.’

Tiffany is with her solicitor, Ray Crooner, a thickset man in his forties wearing a dark blue pinstripe suit that is a size too small and a Tattersall check shirt. Ray has the pallor of a world-weary defence solicitor and his office has that solicitor’s office smell, an odd mix of musk, laser printer toner and disappointment.

It would not be so bad if you hadn’t gone round to your friend Moon’s and beat him up all over again,’ Ray says. ‘He is out of hospital now, I believe.’

Tiffany nods.

We will have to put in a guilty plea and claim mitigating circumstances, but I don’t think that you will avoid a custodial sentence. All we can do is try to limit this to three or six months,’ he says. ‘What would you say we could use as mitigation? Did he hit you? Did he provoke you in any way? Did he crash your car or jump up and down on your iPhone or anything that might warrant retaliation?’

He said that he didn’t like my tattoos,’ Tiffany says.

If it comes to that, I don’t like your tattoos,’ Ray Crooner says. ‘And the judge will almost certainly not like your tattoos What is that one on your forehead?’

That’s the Angel of Death,’ Tiffany says.

Anyway, I don’t think this …. Moon, what kind of name is that anyway ….. this Moon not liking your tattoos is going to get us far in terms of mitigation,’ Ray says. ‘The judge will take one look at those unsightly markings and your ….. barrage of nasal jewellery and make a decision influenced by this.’

Haven’t we got to go to magistrates first?’ Tiffany says.

Yes, we do have to go to magistrates first,’ Ray says. ‘But really, do you think that magistrates are going to look favourably on someone who resembles a degenerate troglodyte. They probably won’t even ask your name or give you the Bible to swear on. They pass cases like yours straight on. I might as well not turn up.’

How about this then?’ Tiffany says. ‘I went to a heavy metal festival where Devil’s Henchmen force-fed me a vicious cocktail of mind-bending drugs and dragged me off screaming to a tattoo marquee. It was like a descent into Hell. While Dark Funeral were playing, Satanic forces took over and before I knew it I was hearing voices in my head telling me to kill Moon.’

Better,’ Ray says. ‘We might just be able to keep the sentence beneath twelve months.’

Jet and Indigo have recently returned from an ashram in Goa, where they have been receiving spiritual guidance from Swami Govinda and buying kaftans for Jet’s new wardrobe. They have moved in together. Jet now gets up at five every morning, takes Bono for a quick walk and does a half an hour’s Tai Chi, before his bowl of wholegrain cereal with goji berries and manuka honey. He now has a healthy outdoor job working with wildlife. He practices yoga, in fact when Indigo is busy, he says he will run the class for her. They meditate to a CD with sounds of running water. Their new apartment is awash with Aloe Vera and weeping fig plants to purify the air. He works out at the gym and he takes a veritable orchestra of vitamins and supplements. He cycles everywhere, well nearly everywhere. When he does take the car, he listens to soothing music, Einaudi, Eno or Enya. He never drinks alcohol.

Do you think we should visit Tiffany in Holloway?’ he says to Indigo, as he mixes the fruit smoothies. It has been on his mind lately that she may not have had any visitors.

Indigo wants him to get back to massaging her thighs. ‘Soon,’ she says. ‘Perhaps we will visit her soon.’

© Chris Green 2020: All rights reserved

Now

now

Now by Chris Green

The day-to-day proclamations of doom and gloom and celebrity indiscretions in the media were getting me down. It seemed none of it had anything to do with me. Why did I need to know what they were squabbling about in Parliament if I could do nothing about it? Or that a gay piano player and his partner had had another baby? And the talk of military conflicts that made the news with monotonous regularity. Should we attack? Would they attack? Should we retaliate? Would they retaliate if we attacked? Should we retaliate before they attacked? Should we set up a false flag incident and pretend we were defending our territory? Warmongering had been going on all my life. As George Orwell pointed out, wars weren’t meant to be won, the state of war was meant to be continuous with the current enemy, subject to periodical adjustment. But the realisation that this was the case made it all the more depressing. Climate change featured heavily but only inasmuch as no-one seemed to want to do a lot to tackle it. Then there was all the fake news we were fed daily through the mainstream media as vested interests aggressively pushed their jaundiced points of view. News and advertising were now almost indistinguishable. I wanted none of it.

What would happen, I wondered, if stopped watching news or current affairs programmes on TV, in fact, if I watched no TV at all and turned off the internet on my computer and my phone? If I read no papers and averted my gaze each time I passed a newsagent or found myself in a public space where I might inadvertently be subjected to the news? What awareness would I have about what was happening in the world if I relied on snippets of conversation I might accidentally pick up during the daily round? How much would I miss? Would my being out of touch even matter?

I resolved to never get involved in discussions around current affairs with friends and colleagues. Nor would I ask them questions about what was going on. As a seenager, retired and lived in a rural area, I reasoned it ought not to be too difficult to avoid the saturation news updates we were subjected to daily. I might miss Facebook a little and experience mild Twitter withdrawal symptoms but I felt sure I could cope with these. Surely, on the whole, my life would be enhanced. I could follow Eckhart Tolle’s advice and spend more time staring into space. Being here now. Oh, wait! That was the other fellow, wasn’t it?

Shopping presented one of the first big challenges. Everywhere that sold food, supermarkets, general stores, filling stations, etc. also sold newspapers. Watching people plonk their Daily Mail or Daily Express on the belt with their shopping, face up with its screaming headline visible had been one of the big problems in the first place. I found it distressing that these people believed all the stuff they read in these rags and come election time, they voted accordingly. I found that if I left it until later in the day to do my shopping, there was less chance of seeing the headlines. I took to shopping at four in the afternoon. This, of course, did not stop the rain on the way type chatter at the checkout or if they had got their information from The Express that day, the record-breaking temperatures or fourteen inches of snow that was expected before the weekend. It did not stop the racial stereotyping, the casual put-downs of minority groups or the demonising of the youth of today. I was thankful that the checkout operators at Lidl were quicker than most.

My regime also meant that I needed to avoid some of my friends. Roger Burdon was a definite no-no. He talked about little else but the political rough and tumble. He had given me an unremitting blow by blow account of both of the recent leadership elections. Trevor Bailey too was out. He could converse about nothing other than the looming terrorist threat and whether security levels were sufficient. I couldn’t imagine Trevor staring into space or being here now. Ellie Barnes-Wallis’s bizarre fascination with the plump, gay piano player’s burgeoning family suggested I needed to give her a wide berth too. Once I had written off Vince Castle (neo-liberalist alienation and Russian interference in elections), Stan Lee (tax evasion and offshore investments), Cliff and Sarah Richards (LGBT rights and BAME rights respectively), Rosey Parker (Harry and Meghan and celebrity culture) and I had stopped going to The Red Lion and The Black Horse in case conversations touched on current affairs, I was left with no-one to chew the fat with.

Solitude was not as grim as one is led to believe. Being alone was not scary at all. I had more time to stare into space. Without the constant chatter of others, I was no longer tugged this way and that by rogue thoughts. I began to appreciate the world around me. I became aware that I had a fabulous array of wild birds in the garden and took in the sweet songs they sang as they went about their day. How could I have not noticed this before? I watched the clouds float across the sky, mesmerised by their forever changing patterns. It didn’t matter I did not know what the clouds were called. The names we gave to things were just names, they had nothing to do with their essence. I felt somehow connected to it all. I talked to the wind but the wind did not know it was called the wind. It just carried on blowing. I wished upon a star but the star did not know it was called a star. It just carried on reflecting light as it had always done. Everything seemed to be in capricious harmony with everything else. I had a sense that I belonged. Was this what it meant to be in the present moment? Was this the essence of now that Eckhart Tolle talked about? Others referred to the state as mindfulness. Was this it? Free from concepts, was my personal history now just another story?

Occasionally I speculated how many Facebook notifications might have built up or what my email inbox would look like but I didn’t dwell on it. The electricity had not been cut off and the water was still running so presumably the direct debits were still being paid. I was able to resist the temptation to take a peek at any of my online accounts. The past, as someone famously once wrote, was another country. They did things differently there. Or to put it another way, there was no past and there was no future, there was and could only ever be now.

Of course, when I was out and about, I overheard snatches of conversation but did my best to shut these out. It would be the same old stuff. Moans and groans about something inconsequential. I caught the anxious looks on people’s faces but hadn’t this always been the case? Hadn’t anxiety been the norm for most people? I wasn’t about to be sucked back into their world of doom and gloom. If you took the time to look for it, there would always be something to worry about. Insecurity and dissatisfaction made up the backbone of the economic system. Capitalism depended on free-floating neediness. There was always plenty of bad news circulating, a good proportion of it manufactured or fake. To justify their existence, it seemed to be the politicians’ job to make sure of that at there was always a crisis. The role of the media in all its forms was to spread concern about it far and wide.

Retsina seemed an unlikely topic for everyone to be talking about. Retsina was an odious wine, probably only palatable to those born in the Attic peninsula and surely of no interest beyond this. Why then was it suddenly the word on everyone’s lips? I had gone into town to get supplies and the tension was palpable. Anxiety levels were off the scale. On the street and in the shops, there were heated exchanges. People were cursing Retsina. Blaming Retsina for all manner of problems. Retsina was the reason that phones were dead. Retsina was to blame for the power cuts. Retsina was the reason the shopping arcade was closed. There were no newspapers on the news-stands so it could be that Retsina was behind this too. With each step I took, people’s agitation became more and more vigorous. Panic was setting in. It was mayhem. I could contain myself no longer. Being in the present and being at one with oneself was all very well but sometimes curiosity could not be contained. I had to find out what was going on.

I would not normally seek out Ron Smoot, popularly referred to at Wet Blanket Ron but you had to hand it to Ron, he was a mine of information. If you really wanted to know something, he was your man. More importantly, he lived close by. He would no doubt be able to give me a detailed account of whatever it was that was freaking people out.

How on Earth can you not know?’ he said. ‘Everyone’s talking about it. Retsina is the most deadly computer virus yet created. It is rootkit, worm, bot, trojan, multi-purpose all-in-one. In no time at all, it appears to have knocked out all communications worldwide. It’s going to be back to the carrier pigeon and the horse and cart, old buddy.’

Was this a joke? Ron didn’t normally do jokes. He was famed far and wide for his dour delivery.

Then I may have been spared,’ I said. ‘I switched off all my devices a month or two ago.’

It won’t make any difference,’ Ron said. ‘Retsina will have found a way to reactivate them and infect them.’

So just how bad is it, Ron?’ I said.

As soon as I had said it, I realised that you asked Wet Blanket Ron how bad something was at your peril.

It’s bad!’ he said. ‘Nuclear power stations and automatic guided missile systems will have been affected. There’s probably something heading this way as we speak. We’ve no way of knowing, of course, but it could well be the end of civilisation.’

I see,’ I said. ‘Tell me! Why is it called Retsina?’

Good question!’ he said. ‘It is abominable I suppose. And it is thought to have originated in Athens. As Greece was the birthplace of Mathematics and for that matter, modernity, it’s perhaps fitting that it should be involved with the end.’

I am pleased that Eckhart Tolle taught me that there is no past. And no future. There is only now. There can only ever be now. It will always be now. I need to find a quiet space to get down to some serious Omming to contemplate the eternal.

© Chris Green 2020: All rights reserved

A Change is as Good as a Rest

achangeisasgoodasarest2

A Change is as Good as a Rest by Chris Green

‘I recommend you listen to two hours of Einaudi each evening,’ said Dr Hopper. ‘His soft piano music is perfect for quiet contemplation. You will notice a remarkable improvement in just a few days.’

‘Two hours of Einaudi,’ I repeated. I had explained to Dr Hopper that I liked listening to experimental jazz on my ipod, when I went jogging around the heath in the evening. Ornette Coleman, Captain Beefheart, The World Saxophone Quartet, that sort of thing.

‘And cut out the jogging altogether,’ Dr Hopper continued. ‘Exercise is no good at all for relaxation. No wonder you feel so stressed out. You need to be still. Focus the mind. Get some Rothko prints to focus on.’

I pointed out that Rothko had suffered aneurysm of the aorta as a result of his chronic high blood pressure and had committed suicide, overdosing on antidepressants. I had watched a series recently on the tragic deaths of 20th Century American painters.

‘Did he now? H’mm interesting…. All the same, his paintings instil a sense of calm. His aim was to relieve modern man’s spiritual emptiness. Take my word! You will sleep much better with the influence of Rothko’s paintings and Einaudi’s music. Try some Gorecki some evenings as well. The Third Symphony is a good place to start’

‘Isn’t that The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs?’ I queried.

‘That’s the one,’ confirmed the doctor. ‘Not sorrowful at all in my opinion, though, quite uplifting in fact. I like to listen to it when I am driving to the surgery. Now, let’s see. What else can we do? I expect you’ve got a houseful of unnecessary consumer durables, probably a plasma screen TV, a computer and a kitchen full of white goods and gadgets. Am I right?’

I nodded

‘Be a good thing too if you got rid of those too. Clear the house a bit. Too much clutter is one of the principal causes of stress. What colour are the walls of the rooms in your house?’

I conjured up a mental image of each of the rooms, in turn, a mishmash of orange, pink and purple and explained that Sandy and I didn’t have a unifying colour scheme.

‘Best to paint them all blue then,’ he announced.

I had not seen Dr Hopper before. He was new to the practice, and his approach to medical matters was, I was beginning to feel, a little unconventional. Dr Bolt, my usual practitioner, was on sabbatical, the receptionist had informed me when I phoned. Dr Bolt would have blamed my symptoms of stress on the long hours I put in at the charity shop, written a prescription for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and left it at that, but Dr Hopper seemed determined to pursue a more holistic approach to the problem.

‘Phones, of course are the worst thing for stress,’ he continued. You are constantly on edge in case they ring and so you never get to completely relax. Mobile phones especially are producing a race of utter neurotics. I get half a dozen people in here a week suffering from various neuroses and I ask them, have they bought a new mobile phone recently, and the answer is invariably yes. I take it that you have just bought a new mobile phone.’

‘Last week,’ I admitted. ‘I can get on the internet and download ringtones, play mp3s and take photos but I still can’t work out how to make phone calls with it.’

‘You need to get rid of it,’ said the doctor. ‘You can leave it with me if you like and I will send it to Africa.’

Why did the people of Africa need these pocket neuroses, I could have argued. Weren’t their own lives already stressful enough with the AIDS and the famines? But I was in Dr Hopper’s space and in any case still feeling quite vulnerable.

Over the course of the consultation, the doctor told me to avoid red meat, red peppers, red cabbage and red wine, in fact, anything red, and where I would be able to find an Auric Ki practitioner or attend Buddhist meetings. He even gave me the contact details of a group of Yogic flyers.

When I got home Sandy was hoovering the lounge carpet, a Mashad design in a mixture of reds blues and purples, which now given Dr Hopper’s insight, did seem to clash with the orange and yellow geometric pattern of the wallpaper. Sandy was always very thorough with the Dyson, so I escaped to the kitchen, to try a cup of the jasmine oolong tea that Dr Hopper had recommended and was struck by just how much clutter there was. It was quite a large kitchen with enough space for a dining table, but possibly not two. How long had we had the second one, I wondered? It did make it hard to get to the sink. All the work surfaces in the kitchen were covered in blenders and toasters, slicers and grinders, squeezers and juicers, coffee machines and waffle makers.

‘Why do we need three microwaves?’ I shouted through to Sandy, but she was now cleaning up behind the brocade settee with one of the new attachments she had bought for the Dyson and she did not hear me.

While looking for the kettle to boil water for my tea, I found an arsenal of new kitchen devices, an ice cream maker, a yoghurt maker, a salami slicer. I didn’t know what many of the gadgets were. Was this an avocado flesh remover or a fish descaler? The competition for the most useless kitchen device seemed to be fierce. The drawers were crammed so full of pea podders, tin openers, knife sharpeners, garlic crushers and mango stoners that I could hardly get them open. I began to realise that I might have a little trouble persuading Sandy that de-cluttering the home was a remedial imperative. Most days boxes from Amazon arrived, with more prospective chaos and confusion, and some days when I came home from work early, a collection of catalogues from couturiers were piled up on the mat in the vestibule waiting for Sandy’s approval.

Clearly what I needed was a strategy. While I was drinking my soothing cup of jasmine oolong, I weighed up my options. I could start moving things that we did not use up to the loft, except that the loft was already full of things we did not use, and the garage too. I could accidentally cancel the home insurance, disconnect the intruder alarm and arrange a burglary. Too risky. And there would be the guilt and the stress of being found out. I could, of course, come right out with it and say that Dr. Hopper had given me three months to live if we did not embark on a life laundry. Sandy came into the kitchen.

‘How did you get on?’ she asked.

‘Dr Hopper said that I have to give up jogging,’ I began.

‘What! After I bought you that new Le Coq Sportif jogging suit and those Nike trainers. Why’s that?’

She seemed to be suffering from post-hoovering tension, so I proceeded cautiously. I would leave the Einaudi part until later. I had picked up The Essential Einaudi from the specialist classical music shop on Morricone Street, and a couple of Philip Glass CDs that he had recommended too. Sadly, Gorecki’s Symphony of Sad Songs was out of stock.

‘And he thinks we might benefit from living more simply,’ I continued. I thought including her in those benefiting might help to involve her later in the idea of a life laundry. ‘And perhaps get a nice painting or two.’

‘It was a doctor you went to see wasn’t it? she said. ‘Not a shaman or an art dealer.’

Sandy put on her FatFace coat dismissively. ‘I’m going to Homebase to buy a new lava lamp for the alcove in the study,’ she announced. ‘I might have a look around the sales too. Can you think of anything we need?’

‘Forty litres of moonlight blue silk paint,’ was on the tip of my tongue, but I judged that the moment was not the right one.

It did not matter, because while Sandy was out at the shops, a trip that I judged from past experience of the January sales would take all afternoon, I found some blue paint in the shed and in no time at all I had done a passable job in rag rolling the walls of the spare bedroom. Although the room was in estate agents’ terms, ‘compact’ I felt it could serve at least temporarily as a meditation room. Sandy had been trying to get me to decorate the room for months, and while we had not decided on the colour scheme, I felt she would soon grow to like the calming effect of blue. I was pleased to find that there had been sufficient space in the loft to accommodate Sandy’s exercise bicycle, the sunbed, the standard lamp and the writing desk, in fact, the desk broke down quite easily. I then turned my attention to a search for the recommended art work. I discovered a surprising number of Rothko prints available on ebay so I ordered several, all of which were enigmatically titled ‘untitled’. I felt better than I had for weeks. I had no headache or nausea or anxiety. My body felt relaxed and my breathing steady. I could hardly wait to try out the Einaudi.

Sandy returned at about six and asked me to help her in with the bags. Accessorize, Blacks, Blue, Cargo, Clarks, Debenhams, Habitat, Heals, Homebase, Holland and Barratt, Jigsaw, John Lewis, Marks and Spencer, The Body Shop, Waterstones, and White Stuff, I think, but I may have missed a few.

‘I’m exhausted,’ she said. ‘The shops were a nightmare. You’d never know there was a recession on. I tried phoning you but the number was unavailable. Can I smell paint?’ From her tone, I detected an air of disapproval and could see trouble ahead.

I met Anisha at Transcendental Meditation classes at the community centre. We hit it off right away. We had so much in common; we both adored the music of Einaudi and Gorecki and loved Rothko’s paintings, and we were both drawn towards the colour blue. Besides this, we both felt that jogging was pointless and disliked experimental jazz. Anisha said that it sounded as if all the musicians were playing different tunes at different tempos. I agreed that this just about summed it up. Anisha had also resisted the idea of having a mobile phone or even a landline and did not own a computer or a TV. It was through Anisha that I became properly introduced to the concept of minimalism as a lifestyle. ‘Zen’ was a word she frequently used. ‘Less is more,’ she was fond of saying.’An over-abundance of possessions breeds discontent. I feel free from the worries of acquiring and maintaining things that I don’t really need.’

Anisha did not ask me to move in with her immediately, but at the end of February when she found out I was sleeping in the spare room at home, she suggested it. Since her daughter had been at university she had she said missed the company and while she was at one with herself as she put it, she would love to have a soul mate. Not that moving in with Anisha involved very much; I took two holdalls of clothes, a toothbrush, my meditation mat, and a book of Haiku verse. And of course, my small collection of ambient CDs.

The interior of Anisha’s house was decorated entirely in complimentary shades of blue. Even her Rothko prints were primarily blue. The plan of the house was uncompromisingly minimalist with no bookcases, shelves or chests of drawers. All the hard furniture was built-in and the storage was behind false walls. The house was so tidy one could be forgiven for thinking that no one had been living there. The bedrooms had foldaway beds. The living room had a blue rug and a solitary vase with a single artificial blue bloom in one corner. In the kitchen, there was no evidence of its culinary purpose. Even the kettle was tidied away. The only sound one could hear came from a subtle water feature in the Japanese garden behind the contemplation room. ‘Hidden storage and a sense of order,’ she explained were the key. ‘All clutter is a form of visual distraction. Everything in our vision pulls at our attention at least a little. The less clutter, the less visual stress we have.’ She did not have to convince me. She was preaching to the converted.

Each evening after we had tidied away the wok, we would listen to Einaudi in the music room. We sat in silence and let Ludovico’s trance-inducing melodies calm us. Sometimes we would give each other massages with essential oils and twice a week make tantric love on the low deco bed. We both shared the belief that it was beneficial to have a routine. We still went to Transcendental Meditation classes of course on a Monday evening. Transcendental Meditation has been described as tranquility without pills and has had many famous followers including George Harrison, Clint Eastwood and the writer, Kurt Vonnegut. The film director David Lynch whose Foundation runs Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace describes transcendental meditation as ‘diving within’. By diving within he says you can experience the field of silence and bliss and harness the enormous reservoir of energy and intelligence that is deep within all of us. This is exactly what Anisha and I were finding too. TM gave us stillness, serenity, and peace of mind. We discussed other approaches to spiritual awakening with our friends, Dream and Echo, who we had met at the Monday classes, and found that they went to Tai Chi on a Tuesday, Angel Readings on Wednesday, Crystal Healing on Thursday, and Astral Projection on Friday. We did consider joining Dream and Echo for perhaps one of the classes. Or whether to invite them round for a vegetable and spinach dim sum and some Einaudi one weekend. In the end, we decided that it would be a mistake to allow our social calendar to become too crowded.

One evening while Anisha and I were listening to Dolce Droga, I suggested that we bought a baby grand piano and learnt to play. I had seen a second hand Yamaha at a reasonable price. From Anisha’s reaction, you might have thought I’d suggested playing an Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers CD.

‘Where would we put it?’ she screamed, and I could see what she meant; it would be a hard item to hide away.

This was the closest I had seen her to becoming agitated. As a compromise I suggested we might buy a small keyboard instead. She sulked all the way through Giorni Dispari. She was clearly against the idea of anything that took up surplus space, so I did not mention the subject again. The only purchases we made were, in fact, new Einaudi CDs and a new Rothko print. With our shared interest in calm contemplation, we were it seemed perfectly suited. Weeks went by without a cross word.

It must have been sometime in May that I had occasion to go back to the marital home to pick up some important papers. There had been changes. Gary, a soft furnishing salesman Sandy had met when she was browsing the shops in the Avarice Retail Park, had moved in. The house now resembled a DFS warehouse, but with all the furniture crowded into about a tenth of the space. The hallway was an obstacle course and the front room barely navigable. I found the clutter deeply upsetting and felt physically sick. I couldn’t even find a way to get into the study to find the important papers. Sandy said that she would get Gary to clear some stuff and I could come round again another time. I very nearly stopped at The Black Hole Inn on the way home for a Carlsberg Special. Fortunately, the New Age radio station I had taken to listening to while driving put on a particularly soothing piece by Brian Eno just as I was coming into the car park.

With the coming of summer, Anisha and I made the decision that we would both work part time in order to enjoy the shade of the Japanese garden through the long afternoons. After all our needs were few, it wasn’t as if we needed the money. We could we felt through the quiet contemplation offered by the garden harmonise the spirit with the essence of all things. This worked well through June. Listening to the gentle trickling of the water feature we felt calmer and more centred day by day. The heat of July, however, seemed to increase my libido and I found myself wanting to make love more frequently. Anisha was determined to that we should stick to the routine of Wednesday and Saturday evenings. ‘Breaking routine is not healthy,’ she maintained. One Wednesday evening she insisted that it was too hot and that she would like us to wait until the heatwave had finished before we resumed our passions. I thought of trying to reiterate what she had said earlier about breaking a routine being unhealthy but I let it go. It was always bad to have an argument so late in the day. It must have been a couple of evenings later that I felt the urge to go jogging and asked Anisha if she would mind.

‘Jogging,’ she yelled. ‘I thought you hated jogging. I suppose you’ll be wanting to listen to experimental jazz next.’

I thought it best not to tell her that I had been listening to a Mulatu Astatqe and The Heliocentrics CD in the car.

By way of an apology I bought Anisha a large spray of blue carnations which I hoped might heal the rift. She, in turn, apologised for shouting at me. It seemed that things were back on an even keel. That afternoon we sipped valerian tea and listened to the soft cascading of the running water in the garden. The occasional fluted warble of a blackbird provided us with music. We cooked a nourishing vegan stir fry in the wok and settled down to listen to Einaudi. Later that evening I found that the flowers I had bought had been tidied away.

Before my visit to Dr Hopper, when he had sent my mobile and my laptop off to Africa, I had suffered from all the classic symptoms of stress and paranoia. I was forever anxious that the phone would ring or worrying that the computer might have a virus. Had I installed the latest anti-spyware? Was the firewall up to date? Anisha had steered clear of these things. She wouldn’t even have known how to send a text message or what a firewall was. At home, Sandy and I were always on the go and there was no space. It seemed that we forever waiting for a service engineer to come for one of the electrical items that had gone wrong, or choosing this item from a new range in a catalogue or sending an item back that had been wrongly described at Amazon. The hedges needed clipping or the lawns needed mowing. The house insurance needed updating or the one of the cars’ MOT was due. The HD TV needed retuning because there was a fresh channel or we had to go shopping because there was a new coffee jug in The House of Fraser. Life was too short for all of this nonsense.

Since my initial de-cluttering and the very first meditation classes, I felt I had been able to think more clearly. Even my early experiences of Einaudi and Rothko in the blue room had brought about a positive change in my thought patterns. I had fallen in easily with Anisha’s obsession with harmony and things being in their proper place. ‘Be empty, be still. Watch everything. Just come and go.’ was a favourite piece of Zen wisdom of hers. With this as my mantra I had found living in her space calming. I felt safe. I liked order and tidiness.

But, just lately, I was beginning to think that perhaps there might be a limit to the control one should try to exert on ones living environment. Now and again I had this nagging feeling that we were missing out on something. Maybe just once in a while, it would be nice to listen to some music that had words. Or occasionally watch a film. Was there any room for growth with the unremitting stasis of a strict routine and everything in place? Perhaps there was no need to have everything apart from the Rothko prints hidden away out of sight. The incident with the flowers had made me realise that too much was being hidden. Not just around the house, but on a personal level too. There were too many secrets. Perhaps Anisha in the months we had been together might have opened up a little about her background and her life before she met me. What for instance had become of her daughter who had gone off to university? She never talked about her and there were no signs of her around the house. I did not even know her name and Anisha had never once mentioned the father. The only time I recalled her being mentioned was in the very beginning when Anisha had said that she missed her company. Admittedly I did not talk a great deal about my past, about Sandy, or for that matter Lucy or anyone else before Lucy. And of course, I had no children. But considering all the ‘diving within’ that we had been doing, it did seem bizarre that so little about Anisha’s past had been brought to the surface. If the relationship was going to work, I would have to find a way of bringing things out into the open.

An opportunity arose the next day. I had just finished raking the gravel in the garden into its wave pattern and Anisha had just brought out the Tibetan tea on a flower tray. I decided it would be best to start at the beginning with a gentle enquiry on an innocent subject.

Anisha took a sip of her tea.

‘What is your favourite childhood memory?’ I asked.

Anisha looked at me as if I had just rapped her around the head with a rifle butt. …. After I had cleared up the broken cup I went to find her in the meditation room. She had by then stopped crying. I put my arms around her and she responded by putting her arms around me and we stayed this way for some time.

‘I’m sorry for my outburst,’ she said finally. ‘Things have just be getting on top of me lately.’

I had been wondering for a little while if we might benefit from a holiday. Something to take us out of ourselves. I recalled that Dr Hopper had been singing the praises of Mundesley, a quiet backwater in North Norfolk with spectacular views and miles of deserted sands. He went there every year he had been telling me and described it as a perfect place to relax and be in the present moment. As I massaged Anisha’s shoulders I suggested it. I told her about Mundesley’s blue flag beach, its rural location, the bordering fields, and its proximity to the picturesque village of Trunch. To my great surprise, she said that she would think about it.

When I got home from work a few days later Anisha told me she had been to the doctors. She had never mentioned going to a doctor before and, given her views, I had assumed that she had always avoided medical practitioners, preferring instead new age remedies to tackle ailments. I wondered momentarily if she might be pregnant. This might explain her recent mood swings a little. How would I feel about being a father? I wasn’t sure. First thoughts were that the wheels on the bus going round and round would put substantial pressure on our minimalist lifestyle.

‘I was worried about how I was feeling. I’ve never told you this but there’s a history in my family of obsessive compulsive disorder,’ Anisha said. ‘So I phoned for an appointment with Dr Bolt at the local practice, but he was on paternity leave, so they gave me an appointment with Dr Hopper. He’s a new doctor I think. Quite young with green hair. Anyway, he was very understanding and once I had given some background details he told me that I had nothing to worry about. My behaviour was perfectly normal, exemplary in fact. Rituals were healthy and to be encouraged and that my life sounded very harmonious. He was pleased to hear that I did not overdo the exercise or go jogging.’

I decided there was nothing to be gained by telling her about my earlier visit to Dr Hopper.

‘He approved of Einaudi,’ she continued. ‘In fact, he lent me a new CD. And he felt it was good that I was a vegan. But he told me to be careful of red peppers and red cabbage.’

‘Which we don’t eat anyway,’ I said.

‘He suggested I might need a holiday, a change being as good as a rest. He said he knows just the place and you’d never guess where he goes every year with Mrs Hopper.’

‘No,’ I lied. ‘I probably wouldn’t be able to guess.’

‘Go on! Guess!’ she prompted.

‘All right, Poland.’ I said. It was good to see that she was being playful. The meditative life could be a little intense at times.

‘Now you’re being facetious. They go to Mundesley, in North Norfolk,’ she beamed excitedly. ‘Dr Hopper describes it as a quiet backwater with spectacular views and miles of deserted sands. He said he thought I would enjoy it there. He says that there is even a meditation centre nearby, and there’s a reiki practitioner in the village. So, I think we should go. This is synchronicity, don’t you see.’

I agreed that it was an astonishing coincidence.

‘How did you hear about Mundesley?’ she asked.

I was however prepared for this. ‘My parents used to take me to Cromer,’ I lied. ‘Just a few miles up the coast.’

I went on the internet at the library and did a search on Mundesley to make sure that it was going to be quiet enough for us at the end of September. Little of any note happened after the end of the summer holidays I discovered. All of the accommodation in the area appeared to be vacant and I had no trouble in finding us a small cottage in between Mundesley and Trunch with a super-king sized double bed and a French window which opened out onto the patio. It did not have a TV or a telephone I was told by Margery Gedge when I enquired. And it was, she confided, a long way from a shop, so we would need to bring provisions. It sounded perfect.

The cottage was pretty much as it had been described, compact but offering peace and quiet in beautiful scenery. Tranquil and secluded had been the favoured terms in the brochure Mrs Gedge had sent. The cottage was built of Norfolk flint and had a small flagged patio with a cherry tree. The rooms were small but were quite tidy. Even so, Anisha managed to find a few items that needed putting away, kitsch ornaments, pictures of boats, and the rubber plant. There was enough room under the stairs for most of the unsightly bric a brac, but the glass fronted bookcase with its collection of Danielle Steel and Dick Francis paperbacks would not fit and she had to cover it with a throw. We read through the visitors book and noticed the cottage had been occupied infrequently over the summer months. Among the comments was one from a ‘Sandy and Gary’ saying ‘kitchen poorly equipped, no cappuccino machine and only one microwave.’ We were briefly taken aback, but reading on we noticed that this pair were from Essex, so it must have been a different Sandy and Gary.

Sadly there was no CD player to play the Debussy CD I had bought Anisha for her birthday. Although Debussy was a bit of a departure for her, she had seemed happy with the present, and had even read the cover notes about the composer and the pentatonic scale. Having no meditation music in the evening worried Anisha a little at first, but we just could not face the thought of going to Cromer to buy a player. Cromer would be bustling with fractious shoppers and unruly day trippers. Probably a pensioners coach trip or two, and nowhere to park. We listened instead to silence in d minor and we had thought to bring a Rothko painting to hang on the wall to gaze at.

Experimental jazz was not something that I had expected to find much of in North Norfolk, but on Monday when we went into the store in a nearby village to buy some rice and vegetables, I noticed a flyer in the window for JazzNorfolk. An experimental jazz workshop was taking place at the Overstrand Parish Hall at 10.30 on Thursday. It was only a small poster in a WordArt style that blended in with the rest of the ads in the window and I did not think that Anisha noticed it. I realised that it was likely that she would disapprove if I told her about it and expressed a wish to go to such a function. Before we came away I had been playing a Groove Collective CD in the car and realised how much I had missed the edgy unpredictability of contemporary jazz. I had not told Anisha of course. I had felt a guilt that I should not feel, as if I were looking at porn on the internet. I had however managed to introduce Erik Satie into our small repertoire and had slipped in a Ravel piano piece one evening but there was perhaps a long way to go before she stopped thinking of radical artists like Groove Collective as the devil’s music.

We fell into a daily ritual of a morning walk along Mundesley’s endless stretches of beach, our bare feet sinking in the soft sand. Apart from the occasional dog walker most days we had the beach to ourselves. Anisha seemed particularly relaxed on the walks and once or twice began to open up about her past. I found out that her daughter’s name was Gaia and the she had in fact gone off to university in Vancouver and was living close to Anisha’s ex-partner, Gideon. Gaia had not replied to any of her letters for nearly a year. Anisha naturally found this upsetting, which is why she had never mentioned it to me. While it was encouraging that Anisha had started to confide in me, each time I tried to dig deeper she would clam up. I was only able to find out snippets of information. She had once owned a Coventry Eagle bicycle and liked to go cycling in the country. She had been a girl guide young leader and had been good at netball. This was about all I knew. I still did not know where she had grown up or if her parents were alive. This did not bother me I realised as much as it should have. I wondered in fact if Anisha’s apparent lack of baggage had not been part of the initial attraction. There was no past for me to wrestle with.

As the week went by I found myself wanting to go to the experimental jazz workshop more and more. It was so tempting. An opportunity too good to miss. Overstrand was just a mile or two up the coast. Going through my head were the late night improvisation sessions after hours at Ronnie Scott’s all those years ago. All you had to do was take along an instrument and you could join in and play some avant-garde jazz. I used to take along my bass clarinet. I was not very good, but that didn’t seem to matter. None of the musicians at these sessions would be playing in tune anyway. This was the heyday of free jazz with its contrapuntal tempos, polyrhythmic drumming, honking saxophones, washboards, bass clarinets and muted trumpets. You might get a band made up of two basses, violin, and kazoo. Someone came along one time with a conch shell into which he’d drilled a mouthpiece and played a cracking duet with someone else on musical saw. I remembered a composition of mine for slide guitar, clarinet and garden strimmer. My favourite unusual improvised instrument from those sessions was Ronnie Scott’s floor polisher. We had the blues player, Big Bill Broonzy on floor polisher one time with Memphis Slim on hatstand.

All Tuesday and Wednesday I tried to think of a way that I might be able to slip out for a few hours to go to the workshop. Anisha and I did everything together at home in the normal run of things and as we were on holiday she would expect this arrangement to be the same. She was unlikely to go off on her own to the hairdressers or the shops for the day as Sandy might have done. I wondered if I might go on an errand to get some runny honey or some Greek yoghurt or something and pretend that the car had broken down in Overstrand and that I was waiting for the AA to come. Not that I had a phone to phone the AA, or any means to let Anisha know. ‘I’m just going out to buy you another birthday present,’ I could perhaps say ‘It’s a special surprise.’ Or what about a sudden toothache and the nearest dentist would be in Cromer. Or I could, of course, come right out with it, say I was going to the workshop, and face the consequences.

On Thursday morning, we were pacing briskly along Mundesley beach bright and early. The wind had turned round to the east and it felt bitterly cold. It was nearly ten o’clock.

‘Not a day for being outside,’ the lone dog walker on the beach called. ‘Come on Tarquin!’

A dishevelled schnauzer stopped sniffing the clump of seaweed that had been detaining it and moved on to inspect a piece of driftwood. Anisha and I agreed that on a day like this we ought to be indoors and drew our coats around us in a demonstrative shiver.

‘Wind’s coming off the North Sea,’ the dog walker shouted back. ‘It’ll be raining cats and dogs by midday. Leave it, Tarquin!’

We felt a few spots of rain. We quickened our pace until we were almost jogging. Out of the blue, Anisha said ‘ I’ve got an idea. Why don’t we go along to that experimental jazz workshop in Overstrand?’

© Chris Green 2014: All rights reserved