Lady and Red

ladyandredpic2016

Lady and Red by Chris Green

Lady doesn’t like going up in the elevator to Red’s ninth floor apartment. It moves so slowly that sometimes it doesn’t seem to be moving at all. She is afraid that one day she will get stuck in it with a killer. Not that you often have to share the lift. Belvedere Heights, in contradiction to its name, is one of those modern blocks where living in the accommodation seems to be an afterthought. Red is possibly one of a handful of full time residents. Lady understands that rents are prohibitively high. The chance of encountering an assailant is small. Security is tight. Belvedere Heights has a uniformed concierge who is there to vet unwanted visitors. The concierge is armed. And there are legions of CCTV cameras.

Belvedere Heights is not however designed with ostentation in mind. The discrete black and white interior of the building is lit by sunken wall lighting that changes colour with mood. You can view the different hues between floors as you go up in the elevator. The block is built for function. There are few features. It is minimalist, secretive. The casual observer could guess nothing of the people that might live there.

Lady sometimes wishes she did not have to visit Red. It can be a lonely experience. She gets so little back from her visits. It is as much as he can do to say hello. She will arrive at the apartment and let herself in. Red might be typing into his imac, playing his tenor saxophone, or just gazing out the window. The view to the west is admittedly a fine one, taking in a sweeping panorama of the city with the skyline settling against blue hills in the distance. When silhouetted against the sunset, the twin peaks are heavenly. Red might be mixing up some oil paints, watching a European movie without subtitles, or stroking his white Persian cat. He might be gazing at the Picasso prints on the walls or feeding his parrots. Whichever, he doesn’t appear to see Lady’s arrival as an important interruption. He will just continue as if she weren’t there.

Lady and Red have been lovers. Are they still lovers, she wonders. Sometimes she supposes they are lovers, but if they are this is very much on Red’s terms. He hardly casts a glance in her direction. Yet they have a deep understanding. Necessarily so as they work closely together. Red though is a man of few words. He does not speak unless he has something important to say. Lady seldom gets to start a conversation. Their communication just does not work that way. Given her background, this dynamic might appear to outsiders as a little strange. Although she is not a Lady as such, she does come from a long line of mid European aristocrats. Lady is a soubriquet to reflect her connections with nobility. She studied Philosophy at Cambridge, can speak nine languages and is a gifted painter. In addition in her mid thirties she is in her prime. She has wisdom and wit and a dazzling beauty.

What is it then that draws her even through the winter months several times a week to drive across town and wait for a response from this man of mystery? Certainly, there is an allure. Red has mystique, poise, charisma even. But this is not the primary reason that Lady comes to visit. She needs to be there. Just in case there is an assignment. After all, they are a team.

She knows little of Red’s background. What you see is what you get. He is matter of fact but enigmatic, passionate but objective. But he can also be a ghostly presence. He can blend in, become one with his surroundings. Sometimes when he is playing an extended solo, he and the instrument become one. He becomes the saxophone. His physical form drifts off into space. He becomes invisible to the eye. The soft arpeggios of his improvisations are left hanging in the air like celestial smoke-rings. It is such a moment now. The silver saxophone is suspended in mid air radiating the most sublime passage. Red is elsewhere, on his astral plane, intangible, quintesscent. Lady sits in the lotus position, silent, serene, mesmerised. Red is both the fool on the hill and the gypsy in her soul. For now, in this space, Lady is an acolyte of the transcendent spirit.

Yet, Lady is no flower child. That there are contradictions in everyone is something that is often overlooked and Lady is no exception. In another space Lady may well have killed people with her bare hands. The world is like that. There are many paradoxes. The greater the achievement, the greater the divergence. Mozart may have been a mass murderer, Bin Laden a brilliant water-colourist.

The door entry phone buzzes. It is a hollow sound. Instantly the atmosphere in the room changes. Red is back down from the heavens. He speaks on the intercom and admits the caller. It is Black. Black has no interest in jazz. Black calls round to Belvedere Heights on business. His business has to do with adjustment, temporal and psychic adjustment. He has called to give them a mission. They will be required to stop something that has happened from happening. This is known as a correction.

Everything that happens is governed by the principles of cause and effect, action and reaction. Sometimes apparently inconsequential actions by ordinary people can set off a chain of events that results in catastrophe. It is important that the likes of Black and Red have the ability to intervene, otherwise the world would have been blown to smithereens long ago. The undocumented presence of quantum gnostics like them is the force that ensures relative stability in a jumping universe. Their concern is not a political one, not about East and West, nor is it about right and wrong. It is purely about balance, to keep the world turning.

‘Stockholm,’ says Black. ‘Here are the tickets. They are for yesterday.’

Neither Red or Lady show surprise. They are accustomed to these impossible missions. To do what they do it is necessary to operate in the margins.

‘Understood,’ says Red.

‘Understood,’ echoes Lady.

‘Hemming Olofson mustn’t take that train to Malmo,’ says Black. ‘He will not then meet Marita Blom. They will not travel to Copenhagen together. They will not therefore discover the document that implicates his brother, Björn in the cover up by the Danish lawyers over the ownership of patent on ……. well you get the gist. And then finally Guatemala won’t then be destroyed by a plague of giant moths. And there won’t be a stand-off between the US and the Russians.’

‘Chains of events can be quite complex, can’t they?’ says Red. ‘We are on our way.’

The air crackles with the electricity of déjà vu. Two conversations are taking place simultaneously, one in the past and one in the present. The secret Red says is to stay focussed on both. They must coalesce. In between words, in between worlds, the air becomes turbulent as they tumble through space. They are buffeted this way and that in a whirling cyclone of uncertainty, like the Tower of Babel. Gradually Black’s presence fades. The job is over. Lady and Red are back to where they were.

‘I’m relieved that one is out of the way,’ says Lady. ‘These escapades can be so exhausting.’

‘It can be very strange,’ says Red. ‘But when you’ve seen through as many corrections as I have it will become second nature.’

‘I think Black was pleased,’ says Lady.

‘There aren’t too many people who can do what we do,’ says Red.

‘Is that a blessing or a curse?’ says Lady.

‘Nothing is ever straightforward,’ says Red. ‘Paradox is at the centre of everything.’

‘Red, I’ve been coming up here for a long time and for some while I’ve been meaning to ask you a question. I get a very strange sensation every time I come up in the elevator. It’s difficult to describe the feeling. On the one hand it feels as if someone is watching and they might at any moment attack me. But on the other hand it feels as if I’m not there anyway so how can I be being watched? What happens in the rest of the building?’

‘I’ll let you into a secret,’ says Red. ‘There is no rest of the building.’

‘But the lift and the corridors and the cameras?’

‘All an illusion.’

‘But the concierge with the gun. He says hello every time I come round.’

‘There is no concierge with a gun.’

‘But I do come up in the lift. And the lighting changes colour between floors?’

‘Its all held in place by auto suggestion and the subsequent belief that it is there.’

‘The space below?’

‘Ah! There is no space below as such. But would it help if I told you that the space you are referring to, the space where you imagine you are when you come into the building and come up in the elevator is the repository for curious matter?’ Red says, cryptically. With this said, he goes off to attend to his parrots.

Lady realises she now has an existential issue. She has always found Red’s information to be reliable and if he says that Belvedere Heights is nothing but an illusion then it is nothing but an illusion. But, therein lies the rub. If she stops believing in the substantial nature of Belvedere Heights, then she will not be able to get out. It occurs to her, not for the first time, that Red probably has not through normal channels left the building in years.

Lady goes into the hallway. The door through which she came, and more recently Black came, is no longer there. How is this possible? Whatever the explanation there must have been a way in. She has not always been here in this space. She has through belief or otherwise come and gone many times. Many many times. Nothing inside has changed. She goes into the westerly facing room. Red is still attending to the parrots. He has that look of detachment that she has become used to. He does not want a conversation. He feels he has said what he wanted to say and that is the end of the matter. Lady goes over to the window that looks out on to the city with the hills in the distance. The tall buildings and the blue hills look real enough, but might they too be an illusion to support the illusion of Belvedere Heights.

It takes Lady a while to get used to the idea of isolation. Rather than fight against it, she remembers learning long ago that the healthiest option in adverse circumstances like this is to go with the flow. Silence those voices that vex the spirit and nurture that peace that lies within the heart. This is a time for quiet contemplation. Besides, situations can change, in fact in life change is the only certainty.

Red is of similar mind. This is after all his world. He is philosophical about his role. His wisdom and poise begins to captivate Lady once more. He reads her sonnets and teaches her to play the violin. They watch the colours change in the evening sky as the sun sets over the twin peaks. They make love to Debussy. It is in one such tender moment, they are disturbed by a new caller. The door is back. Across the threshold is Gold. If Gold comes to call at Belvedere Heights then the matter is serious. Gold on this occasion is accompanied by Silver. Silver has never been before.

‘Three days ago Curt Dodge, a thirty two year old hacker believed to be from the Detroit, Michigan area hacked into the servers of the global communications satellites network and planted what is known as a blended threat that within fourteen days will have completely brought down the entire global system. You will have noticed already that your phone can’t detect its location.’

‘GPS is unable to detect Belvedere Heights anyway,’ says Red.

‘Ah yes. Of course. I see,’ says Gold. ‘Anyway, the threat that Dodge has come up with acts in an entirely random way. But, here’s the killer. It also gathers up any virus, worm or trojan it encounters along the way and adds them to the blend to increase its potency. One by one the satellites have gone down. There appears to be no defence against the attack.’

‘There are, or there were thirty one operational satellites. To take out the entire network is no mean feat,’ says Silver.

‘Now, clearly the objective is to go back to last week and liquidate Dodge before he has done any of this,’ says Gold. ‘The problem is that without GPS we have no idea where he is.’

‘A tricky one,’ says Red.

‘How long do you think we have?’ asks Lady.

‘I’d say three days at the most to make the correction. After that the damage might be irreparable,’ says Gold. ‘Even the Russian military satellites are failing.’

‘We know the length of time before you make an adjustment should not make a difference to its ultimate effectiveness, once you have made the adjustment. But with the entire system of global communication crippled this might not be the case here,’ says Silver. ‘There might be no way back.’

‘OK. Its down to our intuition then,’ says Red.

‘And good old fashioned occult powers,’ says Lady. ‘Witches broom and Abracadabra.’

I expect you have noticed that your satnavs and mobile phones have recovered from their momentary blip. You can assume from this that through the efforts of Lady and Red the correction was made. And until now you’ve not seen the name of Curt Dodge anywhere. These things just don’t get out into the public domain.

It would be difficult to describe how the job might have been done. Highlights could include mental projection, psychic navigation, invisibility, time travel, force field generation, teleportation, experimental jazz, and pranayama breathing. Planes? Guns? Maybe, maybe not. Illusion, willpower and luck will have played their part. And passion. Yes, passion is important. The operation would have been held together by imagination and belief, just like the things you see around you every day. Imagination and belief. Seeing is believing, but everyone sees things differently. Everyone constructs a different reality. No two are the same. Even should information about the exact techniques used here be available to governments, these would be classified. Better then that the secrets of their methods stay under wraps.

Make no mistake, your life will have been affected in some way by the corrections that quantum gnostics have made. Things don’t just run smoothly of their own accord and there’s no point in trusting politicians and government departments to get it right. Too much of their energy is invested in courting catastrophe. Just be thankful that there are hidden forces at work. That Lady and Red are there in the background refining their arcane skills.

If you are driving through the city you might be surprised at the circuitous route your satnav takes you on, but you might put this down to a poorly planned one way system. If you are on foot, at a certain point you might begin to feel dizzy. You might wonder what The Fractal Centre is and why you cannot go there. Either way there will be no sign of Belvedere Heights.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

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Sticks

sticks5

Sticks by Chris Green

1.

‘Broadband?’ says Mr Silver, scratching his head. ‘No, we don’t have broadband here. Whatever that is when it’s at home.’

‘The internet,’ I say. ‘Are you still on dial up round these parts, perhaps?’

He looks around for someone else to ask, but there is no-one else in the shop.

‘It’s OK, I can manage without it for now,’ I say, sensing his embarrassment. It is well known that fibre optic coverage is poor in rural areas. I don’t want to come across as too metropolitan.

‘Sorry,’ he says, sheepishly.

‘But I do need an aerial for my TV,’ I say.

‘We don’t actually stock them,’ he says. ‘But we can probably order one for you. You want one that gets BBC and ITV, I expect. It will take about two weeks. And then if you want we can get Mr Eager to fit it for you. Mr Eager has a ladder.’

‘Is that all you can get here, BBC and ITV?’ I say. ‘No digital?’

‘We’re a hardware store not a magic show,’ he says, fiddling with the buttons on his knitted waistcoat. ‘You’ve moved into the Devlins’ cottage by the old mill haven’t you?’

‘I moved in yesterday,’

‘How are you settling in? ‘

‘It’s OK,’ I say. ‘But it’s not well equipped.’

‘You’ll probably be needing a kettle then. Would you like a whistling one or a standard one? We’ve got both types.’

‘I’ve got a kettle,’ I say. ‘An electric one.’

‘An electric one, eh? I don’t think I’ve seen one of those.’

‘But I will need a new plug. At the cottage they are still using the round pin sockets.’

‘We do have plugs. How many would you like?’

‘I’d better take a dozen then while I’m in here.’

‘Anything else we can help you with?’

‘I can’t seem to get a signal on my phone. I suppose that it drops out a lot out here in the sticks. I know Vodafone is not the best, so I might have to change networks. I thought you might know.’

I take out my Samsung and show him. It’s as if I’ve shown him the Orb or the Diadem.

‘What the blazes is that?’ he says.

‘You are a bit behind the times here,’ I say. ‘It’s a 3G smartphone,’

‘A 3G smartphone. Well, I never. What does it do?’

‘Well, not very much without a signal.’

The shopkeeper’s bell rings and another customer comes in. He exchanges a rustic greeting with Mr Silver. I am anxious not to become the centre of attention in this small community. I have come down to this hinterland to keep a low profile. I tell Mr Silver I will call in later for the plugs.

I had not been to view the cottage before taking on the six-month tenancy, as it was too far away and due to the turn of events, I felt I needed to move quickly. Conway and Tillotson were very helpful in finding me somewhere, but the pictures they sent did little to convey the degree of isolation of this community. I realised that Littlechurch was something of a backwater, but I had expected it to have a few concessions to modernity. The juggernaut of progress tends to take no prisoners as it ploughs its path, but somehow it seems to have completely bypassed Littlechurch.

But, shouldn’t I have realised when I first arrived yesterday that something was odd? The sit up and beg bicycles left unlocked outside the houses were relics from a bygone age. The fact that all the cars were old and that there were so few of them should also have given me a clue. How could I have missed the headline on the board outside the grocers come newsagents about Sputnik? Or the poster advertising The Ladykillers starring Alec Guinness at the village hall next Thursday afternoon. Yet I noticed none of these things. All I can say in mitigation is that I was tired after a long drive.

I make my way back to the cottage to take stock. As I drive up, some boys in grey flannel short trousers take a keen interest in my Ford Focus. It’s an everyday sort of car but they behave as if they have never seen anything like it before. Concerned by their interest, I decide to park it round the back out of harm’s way.

The prices in the village are still in pounds, shillings and pence. Surely this is taking heritage and preservation too far. It occurs to me that my cash might not be accepted here, nor I imagine my Visa or Barclaycard. Fortunately, I do still have a cheque book. I can use this to make purchases and just write the cheques in the old money. On the plus side, I expect everything will seem remarkably cheap, which is just as well because I do need a whole range of provisions. I do not even have milk to go in my tea. For that matter, I do not even have tea to go in my tea.

I figure that it is best to try and fit in here while I discover what is happening. I call in to Coward’s General Store and Newsagents, a brown and gold double fronted shop with period detail. You don’t see those cutaway typefaces much any more. The art of the sign-writer is disappearing. A vintage green and cream BSA Bantam is parked on the pavement. There are adverts outside the shop for Senior Service, Craven A, Gold Flake, and Woodbine. My first cigarette I recall was a Woody in the bicycle sheds in my last year at Frank Portrait Junior School, over forty years ago. I was sick and could not go into Mr Crudd’s afternoon class. But somehow this did not deter me. Smoking for young lads was less of a life choice then, it was almost compulsory.

I step inside. The shelves resemble Robert Opie’s packaging museum. Brooke Bond Dividend Tea, Bovril, Fray Bentos, Bournvita, Golden Wonder, Daz, Omo, Sunlight, Brylcreem, Alka Selzer, all these forgotten brands. Ah Bisto! brings back memories of Sunday lunches, beef one week and lamb the next, my sister Sarah and I subjected to the horrors of Two Way Family Favourites on the radio while we waited for the joints of meat to catch up with the stewed vegetables. There was no daytime TV then.

A middle-aged man wearing a starched white shirt, striped braces with a polka dot bow tie emerges from a cloud of cigarette smoke and interrupts my reverie.

‘Hello. I’m Mr Coward,’ he says. ‘Mr Silver was telling me about you.’

I don’t introduce myself by name.

‘You’ve moved into the Devlins’ cottage by the old mill haven’t you? he says.

‘News travels fast in these parts,’ I say.

‘Long John said something about a strange phone you have,’ he says.

Given my situation, I should know better, but Mr Coward seems one of life’s innocents, so I show him the phone. He thinks that it is very clever that you can take photos, add up numbers and type into it, but he is disappointed that you can’t use it as a telephone.

‘LJ also said you were talking about something called the enternet,’ he says. ‘He thought I might know what is was, but I’ve never heard of it. I even had a look through my Pears’ Cyclopaedia. What is this enternet?’

‘Internet, not enternet,’ I say.

‘Internet,’ he repeats, waiting for me to elaborate.

It is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite to link several billion devices worldwide, and it is an integral part of our everyday lives,’ though simplistic, seems too complicated an explanation for this situation. How can I begin to explain browsers, search engines, surfing, emails, streaming, gaming, social networking, VOIP and podcasting to someone who has not come across the Internet.

‘It’s a bit like the post office,’ I say instead. ‘But a lot quicker with its deliveries.’

Mr Coward tells me it can take as long as two weeks for a letter from London to reach them, then launches into a brief history of Littlechurch which is brief because Littlechurch has little history. It used to have a lot of sheep and there are now not so many. They built a little church in the fourteenth century but parishioners stopped going so it was de-consecrated in the 1930s. It has never been a market town and the railway missed it by ten miles. Most of the houses now have electricity. There is a pub called the King’s Head and the police station is open every second Wednesday.

After I have put away my provisions, I venture up the hill to the King’s Head, thinking I might be able to have a hearty meal there along with a pint or two. The King’s Head it turns out does not serve food.

‘Never has, never will,’ says Amos, the landlord. ‘Pubs are for supping.’

‘I’ll just have a pint of your best,’ then I say.

‘Fraid we’re right out of beer,’ he says. ‘Been waiting for a delivery for over a week. All we’ve got is farmer’s cider.’

‘I’ll have a pint of that then,’ I say.

‘Draymens’ strike,’ Amos continues. ‘I’ve lost nearly all me regulars. There’s just these two left.’

Albert and Joss look up from their cloudy green liquid.

‘You’ll be the new bloke what’s just moved in to the Devlins’ place,’ says Albert.

‘What’s it like up there since old Ma Riley got butchered?’ says Joss.

‘What?’ I say. I am surprised that Mr Coward omitted this from his potted history. This elevates Littlechurch from a sleepy backwater to somewhere where something happened.

‘You mean you didn’t know about Ma Riley,’ says Albert studying the look of shock on my face.

‘Right gruesome it was. Cut her into little pieces and put her in plastic bags in the dustbin, he did.’

‘Place has been empty ever since,’ says Joss. ‘Couldn’t let it. No bugger wanted to live there. How long has it been, Amos? A year or more do you think?’

‘Take no notice of them,’ says Amos. ‘They’re pulling your pisser.’

2.

I don’t know if you have ever found yourself in a place where there is no stimulation whatsoever. A place where you wish there were church bells to liven things up or wish that Jehovah’s Witnesses would drop by for a chat. You will be familiar with the expression stir crazy, especially if you know someone that has been in prison. Perhaps you yourself have been in prison. Well, let me tell you, you don’t need to be locked up to be stir crazy. After two weeks of living in Littlechurch I am climbing up the walls. I am completely without home entertainment. Although I have fitted round pin plugs to my laptop and to my phone charger there is no sign whatever of wifi and no hint of a phone signal no matter where I take them in the village. Not only is there no wifi but I have no TV and LJ’s store has just sold out of radios. To to cap it all the mobile library which is seen as a bit of a highlight here has stopped coming. I go in to Cowards to get an evening paper each day but for some reason they have always just sold out.

‘Local people have become very interested in news about Sputnik,’ Mrs Coward says. ‘The Gazette says they might send a man into space soon.’ Mr Coward has not been in the general store much lately. Perhaps he’s been selected as a candidate.

Mrs Coward is a much duller conversationalist than her husband. Yesterday was a good day for drying the washing but today not so good. The best day was about a week ago when the washing dried in a matter of hours. I am wondering what Mr and Mrs Coward get up to that requires her to do so much washing.

The draymens’ strike has not been resolved and the Kings Head hasn’t had its delivery of beer. Even the supply of farmers’ cider has run out. Without even Joss and Albert to entertain, Amos has closed the pub altogether. There is not another pub nearby, in fact there is not another village nearby. Sputnik’s progress aside, people in Littlechurch appear so incurious. They don’t appear to venture outside their houses very much. It is rare to meet anyone on the street. When I do come across someone, they have that faraway look in their eye. About half a dozen of them come along to the village hall screenings. It turns out that The Ladykillers starring Alec Guinness was not just a one off, they show it every Thursday afternoon and on a Friday evening as well. After the third viewing, the jokes begin to wear a little thin.

I decide it is time to find out if the heat has died down back home. One day I suppose I will have to go back and face the music. While it is hard to imagine vandalism being a big problem in Littlechurch, I find to my chagrin that both phone boxes have been vandalised. Perhaps it was the boys in grey flannel short trousers I have seen a couple of times. I take a trip to the Fina filling station a mile or so from the village, but as I feared it does not sell unleaded petrol. To add to my isolation, they have just started major road works on the only road in and out of Littlechurch. The signs say that the road will be closed for seven days. LJ explains that this is due to a recently discovered geological anomaly which if not attended to will cause dangerous subsidence in the future. They have to reroute a stretch of two hundred yards of road. I tell him that they seem to have closed about four miles and they have an armed guard.

‘You should have had a notice through your door about it,’ he says. ‘Quite interesting geology we have around here. There are elements of the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.’

‘No, I didn’t get anything through the door.’

‘No, neither did I, come to think of it, but that’s the Ministry of Transport for you.’

‘Aren’t you worried that it will affect your business?’ I ask.

‘I only run the shop as a kind of hobby,’ he says. ‘I started off making nesting boxes and before I knew it I was making raised planters and garden furniture. People started buying things that I made and I couldn’t keep up with demand. But, still it keeps me off the streets.’

‘I’ve been meaning to mention that, there never seems to be a soul on the streets.’

‘Oh really! I hadn’t noticed that myself. I’ve always thought of Littlechurch as a busy little place. There was even talk not so long ago of having a coffee morning at the community centre. That was before it closed of course.’

3.

Just a few days behind schedule the road opens again and I manage to get the Focus to a filling station that sells unleaded. It is touch and go, with the fuel gauge on red all the way. I am fortunate, the forecourt attendant says. They are one of the first garages to stock unleaded. He is curious about my car. Did I import it? he wonders. He finds the number plate a little puzzling too. I just play along with him. It’s astonishing how backward things are in this part of the world.

From there I am able to drive the final ten miles to Biggerchurch. Biggerchurch is a thriving metropolis compared to Littlechurch. It still has a church I notice as I drive around looking for a quiet spot to park. Apparently Biggerchurch even used to have a branch line railway station before the Beeching cuts and was once a market town. It looks much more cosmopolitan than its neighbour. It has a fish and chip shop, an off-licence, a laundrette and even has some 1960s housing. Vodafone still isn’t connecting though. I spot an un-vandalised phone box. All I need now are some coins that fit.

I see from a psychedelic poster on the bus shelter that there is a free festival in a farmer’s field nearby starting later with Jethro Tull, The Pretty Things and The Incredible String Band. This explains why the town is packed with hippies. Groups of them in uniform of jeans with sewn in patches to make them flared topped with tie died green and orange safari jackets maraud the narrow streets. One such group gathers outside Keith Shakespeare Radio and Television to watch an old black and white set showing footage of the moon landings.

‘Far out, isn’t it, man,’ says a flower child lost in a menagerie of decorative neck-scarves. ‘Those cats are too much.’ It takes me a moment to realise firstly that he is talking about the astronauts on the TV and secondly that he is addressing me.

I give a non-committal reply and turn down the spliff he offers me.

‘Hey! Look! He’s jumping up and down. What a gas!’ says a hippie chick with lank blonde hair and a plague of nasal jewellery. She nudges me in case I miss the action. She is wearing an Afghan coat. In July.

On the screen, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in their spacesuits are demonstrating zero gravity. It is difficult to get excited about something that happened so long ago. I am more concerned about my own here and now, or my own here and then. But, whatever is happening in my own personal hyperreality, at least, I am a dozen years further along.

‘They’re not really on the moon of course,’ says a swarthy freak with big Afro hair and chin curtain beard. ‘Look at the shadows, man. They’re just like you would see from studio lights on a Hollywood film. The whole thing’s a fake.’

This sounds a familiar argument. Is this the very genesis of conspiracy theory? I ask them if any of them have change for a five pound note so that I can make some phone calls.’

‘You’re jiving me, man,’ says the dark skinned one in the brightly coloured Moroccan hat. ‘That’s Monopoly money or something you have there.’

This has the effect of killing negotiations with any of the others.

I take my fiver into the nearest shops and I find a similar reluctance to acknowledge the currency. The man in the saddler’s holds it up to the light, before shaking his head. The butcher waves a meat cleaver at me. The lady in the pet shop threatens to call the police.

This was how it had all started. With the police. The arrest. Perhaps I overreacted by disappearing before the court case. Perhaps I shouldn’t have come down here. I might have got off with a community sentence. After all, it was an innocent mistake. You’ve probably done the same. Purely by accident you’ve probably put the shop takings for the week into the wrong account. Into your account. I have to admit that I did think at the time the cashier at the bank looked a little surprised. Did you find this too?

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

 

Beware of The …….

bewarenew

Beware of the … by Chris Green


‘Isn’t this the same
CheapCall bill I received the day before yesterday?’ I thought, as I went through the mail. And the same BestPower statement? The circular from PayLess Insurance looked more than a little familiar too. I dismissed any concerns as I did get a lot of unsolicited cheaper car insurance mail, CheapCall did send me a lot of unexpected bills and I wasn’t with BestPower.

At fifty six, it had to be said, my memory for detail was sketchier than it had once been.When set against the political corruption, the floods and the threat of war in the Middle east, a duplication of paperwork was not a momentous problem. I did have a large green recycling bin. More importantly, I was late. It was 8.15 already and the traffic on Tambourine Way would be horrific if I didn’t hurry. I scraped the ice off the Skoda’s windscreen and gave it a few squirts of de-icer. I put a Johnny Cash CD into the player while the windows started to de-mist, and moved off into the February frost.

I had a sense of déjà vu as I flashed the headlights at Pedro, in his pickup on Princes Street, and again when I found myself behind a learner bus driver keeping to 30 where you could easily be doing 50 or 60, along Albion Avenue. My progress was further impeded by an accident at the Scott McKenzie roundabout. As I edged through the flashing blue chicane of parked police vehicles, I noticed that the two battered cars seemed to be the same two cars as in the accident two days previously, a white Fiat Stilo and a red Fiat Stilo. The impact of the collision had buckled both cars irreparably, as it had in the previous accident. I shuddered. The coincidence was way beyond that presented by chance.

I arrived at ‘The Sanctuary Inanimate Pet Crèche and Counselling Service’ where I worked and greeted Boris and Gerhard. I noticed that the cyber dog that had been collected by its owner the day before yesterday was already back. There was also, I felt, a familiarity about the headline ‘War Dims Hope for Peace’ in Boris’s tabloid. And Gerhard seemed to be having the same telephone conversation that he was having a couple of days ago. Admittedly inanimate pet care was a repetitive line of work but the conversation with Major Gove about his pet rock seemed identical to the one earlier in the week. After Gerhard had put down the phone I tackled him about this.

He looked at me challengingly and said, ‘what are you taking about? I have never spoken to Major Gove before. And this may be just a job to you but the Major’s pet rock does seem to be pretty sick.’

I did think of taking up the point. Yes, it was just a job to me. Unlike Gerhard who saw a visit to the dentists as a bit of an outing, I had seen a bit of the world. But I kept quiet instead, what was the point? One pearl of wisdom that seemed to present itself with age was that past glories counted for nothing. I was here, and it was now.

My life had taken a bit of a nosedive. Like Orson Welles, I seemed to have lived my life backwards, if not quite in the sense I was about to.

Over the days that followed I had a permanent sense of déjà vu. Everything in my every day had happened previously. I had the same conversation with Spiro about West Ham’s problems in defence, spent the same hour chatting to my daughter, Promise on the phone about the dangers of putting too many personal details on Facebook, watched ‘Groundhog Day’ again on DVD, bought another aspidistra from Marks and Spencers, another new metal detector from The Army and Navy Surplus Stores and another Corby trouser press from the charity shop by the library. The presidential election came round again and they brought the old president back, and Rolf Harris was prosecuted again for entertaining children in the wrong way. The hours on my watch were still going forward but the date was going backward.

At first I imagined that it must be a huge practical joke. Admittedly one with a formidable amount of complicity. Whilst I did not exactly advertise my predicament in case people thought I was a basket case, absolutely no one I spoke to displayed any sense that anything was wrong with their own temporal world. There was nothing in the papers or on the news to suggest anything irregular in the cosmos. Just the usual reports on war, politics and celebrity indiscretions. It appeared that I was alone in my renegade perception of time, although there was a short item in ‘The Morning Lite’ calling for a twenty five hour day. NASA scientists had apparently researched this and found that participants in the experiment benefited by the increased levels of melatonin. The findings it said would come in handy if astronauts went to Mars. A Martian day it pointed out lasts for 24.65 earthly hours.

There were a number of contradictions of logic involved in whatever it was that I was experiencing. My days were still moving forwards in a linear fashion. I went to work, came home, went to the pub, walked the dog, watched the rerun episode of Spender on ITV3, and went to bed as normal, but when I woke up the next day, it was the day before yesterday. Each day, I became a day younger. This aspect of my ‘condition’ was of course something that at my age I might have been encouraged to feel pleased about; instead of a creeping decay, there would be a gradual rejuvenation. In a world that placed excessive emphasis on artifice, this was what millions of people dreamed of. Zillions of pounds every week were spent by slavish consumers on a staggering array of products promising the reversal of the inevitable. The consentient sorcery of keeping flowers in full bloom was the central tenet of our belief system.

If I was reliving the past there was plenty for me to look forward or backward to. I had on the balance enjoyed my life. There were all of the special places I had been with lovers or friends that I had felt I wanted to go back to sometime. All of the times I had said or thought, ‘I’ll always remember this.’ Things that just could not be captured on film. I reasoned I would also know when to expect the difficult moments, like the divorce from Monique, Sebastian’s fatal illness, or the bankruptcy hearing. Painful though it would be, I could be ready for these episodes. And I could go on to experience youth with a wise head. What was it Oscar Wilde had said? Youth is wasted on the young?

Despite these deliberations, the sequential upheaval continued to be both disconcerting and disorientating. After a week or so of going over the same ground, I decided to seek professional help. I found myself limited by the need to have an appointment on the same day. The medical profession did not operate this way. There was no point in my making an arrangement for the any time in future, and clearly I could not make an appointment for last week or last month. Similarly I was unable to arrange to see a priest, a mystic, a philosopher, or even a time traveller at a few hours notice. The Auric Ki practitioner that I did manage to see at the community centre at short notice talked about meridians and explained that there might be blockages on the layers of my energy field. Over a dozen or so sessions she said she could balance my chakras and time would move forward again. I tried to explain that she might need to do this in one session and she suggested if this was my attitude, then I should go elsewhere.

I began to wonder what would happen if I did not actually go to bed. Would the day progress normally to the next, or would I at a certain point be flung back to the day before. It seemed that despite my predicament, there was still an element of free will about my actions so I bought a wrap of ‘speed’, from Sailor, a friend of a friend in the Dancing Monk public house. ‘This is wicked gear,’ said Sailor, so named I assumed because of his abundance of tattoos. ‘It will keep you busy for fucking days.’

Good,’ I remarked. ‘I may need it to.’

I saw the exercise as a demonstration of free will, and not therefore merely a duplication of what happened on the corresponding day a couple of weeks previously. At my age I wasn’t really a late night person, and had not taken drugs since my youth, so I was not sure what to expect.

Despite taking the whole wrap of ‘wicked gear’ with four cans of Red Bull and playing some ‘kicking’ music, I must have drifted off at around 5 or 6, anyway before daylight.

When I woke up I found myself on the balcony of one of the upper floors of an apartment block in north-eastern China. My associate, Song, and I were filming the spectacular estuary of the Songhua Jiang below for a travelogue for Sky TV. The Chinese authorities it seemed were keen to promote tourism in the area. It was a Sunday morning and from our high vantage point, Song and I could see for miles. It was late August, near the end of the rainy season, and while the rainfall this year had been concentrated mainly in July, much of the flood plain was still underwater. Around the swollen river basin acres of lush green landscape luxuriated. Song pointed toward a flooded football field to our right, saying that despite the pitch being waterlogged the locals were about to turn out to play.

We are used to a bit of water. We have long tradition. Chinese invent football in the Han period over two thousand years ago. ‘Cuju,’ he said. ‘Means ‘to kick a ball.’

I showed no surprise. Through classes in Tai Chi, I had developed an interest in Sino culture, and had come to understand that the Chinese invented practically everything from paper and printing to gunpowder and aerial flight, and most advances in science and medicine could be attributed to the Chinese.

Song went a little deeper into the history of ‘cuju’ in the region and said that he felt the water football game would look great on film, with a commentary about the history of the game from its Han dynasty roots. I nodded my agreement, but in reality I felt distracted.

A conversation that must have been puzzling to Song established that it was 1988 – the year before Tianamen Square. I had gone back seventeen years. While I was conscious of my vitality, I had the strange sensation that I was also an observer of my life. That is my yesterday, which apart from the small hours I could remember quite clearly, quite literally as if it were yesterday was seventeen years forward.

I was aware of this as I resumed the dialogue with Song. A boat carrying a team decked out in carnival colours chanting something patriotic was coming up the river. It was hot and humid and a dank haze hung suspended above the water as if it were waiting for an impressionist painter. The regressing part of me was trying frantically to try and get a handle on what was happening.

According to the log I was keeping to help with later editing of the film, I had been in the Peoples’ Republic for ten days and was scheduled to be there for another ten. I was missing Monique, Sebastian and Promise, but Song had assured me the phone lines would not be down for much longer.

Sebastian was six and Promise was five. It would be Promise’s birthday in two weeks. Then she would be four. Soon she would stop going to school. I would be reading her bedtime stories and taking her to nursery. It was curious to comprehend that my life going backwards meant to all intents and purposes that everyone’s life around me was also doing so. I could only experience their past.

Filming in China went back day-by-day as the day approached that I arrived on a flight from Heathrow to Beijing. During this time I pondered my situation continually. When Song said, ‘see you tomorrow’, I knew I had already seen him tomorrow but I would see him again yesterday. I also knew that the phone lines would be down until my arrival, so I was unable to phone home.

I contemplated the age-old question as to whether we control our destiny or follow a preordained path. This seemed all the more pertinent to my circumstances. Was I just reliving events in a life that I had already experienced or could my new actions or thoughts as a person coming from the future have any effect. And how would I know whether they did? More immediately I was concerned as to why time had gone back seventeen years rather than the more conservative day at a time that I had almost come to accept. I was anxious to avoid such a dramatic leap happening again.

The only clue I had was that I’d tried to stay awake at night to find out why time was going backwards.

I began to become anxious about sleeping, and visited one of the four thousand acupuncturists in Harbin. I also bought various traditional Chinese remedies from a 114 year-old herbalist named Ho Noh at the local market. Not that Ho instilled any confidence. He did not look as if he had ever slept. But I was particularly concerned that the flight on which I was to arrive at Beijing came in at 5am local time. There seemed to be no way of rescheduling the flight and reducing the risk of more temporal upheaval.

And indeed there wasn’t…. When I became aware of consciousness again I found myself on stage at a Pink Floyd concert. I had some difficulty at first working out the time and place, but concluded that it was ‘The Wall’ tour around February 1981 and this was one of several concerts at Wesfallenhalle, Dortmund in what was then West Germany. I was a sound engineer, and it appeared that the tape loops for The Wall had been mixed up with those from Dark Side of the Moon. I suspected I had programmed something incorrectly into the console. Roger Waters was storming around the stage set with a face like thunder and some of the band stopped playing.

Back at the hotel, I had a call from Astrid from the house in Rheims.

‘You seem upset baby,’ she said. ‘Is something not good with you.’

I told her that I had just been sacked by Pink Floyd management. It seemed better than saying I had just been jettisoned through space and time from The People’s Republic of China.

‘Why?’ she asked. ‘They seemed so nice at the party in Paris.’

‘A long story,’ I replied, intensely aware of two different life forces, the present, and the future in reverse. There seemed to be more than one could reasonably explain in an international phonecall to someone, whose first language was not English.

‘You could come down, if you want,’ said Astrid. ‘I have missed you, you know. The only thing is I’ve got Monique staying. Have I ever mentioned my friend, Monique? I’m sure you would like her. She came yesterday.’

It occurred to me that unless I travelled the 400 odd kilometres between Dortmund and Rheims by yesterday I would never even meet Monique. It also occurred that I couldn’t anyway because I had spent yesterday, or was to spend yesterday, in Dortmund with Pink Floyd. In a devastating flash, having travelled back to before they were even contemplated, I realised I would never see my children again, or for that matter, Monique.

Before ‘The Wall’ tour started, or after ‘The Wall’ tour started, I spent a month seeing the new year out and the old year in, with Astrid at the house in Rheims. Astrid was a freelance photographer who specialised in quirky subjects like Sumo wrestlers, dwarfs and circus performers. Last summer just before we met, or just after we would meet, she had an exhibition in a Left Bank gallery of photographs of Siamese twins. She also did shoots for ‘Paris Match’ and ‘Marie Claire’. She was successful and worked more or less when she chose to. We made love, morning, afternoon and night, painted, walked along the Vesle, went to galleries, concerts, and French films without subtitles. We went to see Jean Michel Jarre play in Paris and at the party afterwards met Pink Floyd.

During this time I went to see a hypnotherapist and gave up not smoking. Almost immediately I found myself getting through a pack of Gitanes a day. It was a revelation to me to discover that one session could change the habits of a lifetime.

With Astrid in Rheims I went with the flow, seized the moment, and tried not to think about the disappearing future, about the first time Monique and I saw the Grand Canyon a morning in May, or looking down at The Great Barrier Reef through a glass bottomed boat, walking amongst the mystical stonework of the sun temple of Machu Picchu or watching the spectacular patterns form in the Sossusvlei sand dunes in Namibia, the sun’s refection on the water in the Halong Bay in Vietnam, about Promise’s wedding, or Sebastian getting in to Oxford, sadly just a month before his fatal illness took hold. I did not think of the excitement of my novel being published or the acclaim I received for the first feature film I directed. I certainly did not think of the months in The Jackson Pollock Recovery Home, the job at Don Quixote or about anything else that happened after my breakdown. The future was history. And the future from a ‘normal’ chronology of events would now never be. I would not have to endure that period of time later in life when those around you were slowly dying off. Those senior years when if you saw a friend you hadn’t seen for a while, their news would be that someone else had died. At fifty four I recalled that this had already begun to happen. My parents had died and of course Sebastian had died. Also, in a few short months, my friend Giorgio had died from liver cancer, Jacques had died from a heart attack, and Marianne had died from complications during surgery. In other exchanges we would get each other up to speed on our respective ailments, a kind of free-floating decrepitude.

I felt I could live with going back a day at a time, and being aware of what would happen next was not a huge problem. With Astrid, life seemed easy. I was twenty six years old and it seemed that this was a time for pleasure. Each day the mystery of our attraction unfolded as we knew less about each other. An affair lived backwards is very exciting. The fascination increases day by day, the first time you get a mutual invitation, the first time you go away together, the first time you get or buy a present, the first time you have breakfast together, the first time you undress one another, working toward that glorious, breathtaking moment when your eyes first meet, when intuition and desire form an immaculate, unstoppable, mystical union, that split second when love is heaven-sent.

Astrid became Francesca in Barcelona, then Isabella in Rome. In between there was Natalie in New York, and before I knew it I was twenty three. These years were wild and exciting but I began to feel like Dorian Gray, without the immortality. I went to parties with painters and dined with divas. I worked on a film with Antonioni and played with Led Zeppelin. Keith Moon crashed my car and Marc Bolan threw up in my jacuzzi. In a wave of hedonism I just soaked up all the pleasure that was available, and could not recall when I had last tried to exercise free will. I had gone with the flow, allowing my youth and libido free rein.

Time going backwards was by now the most normal thing in the world to me. Déjà vu had long since become so commonplace that it was now unnoticeable. And that the plot of soap operas and news items if I could be bothered with them unfolded backwards was completely coherent to my consciousness. But I was frequently made aware of echoes of a ‘future’ life. A persistent voice in my head seemed to narrate stories concerning an older person, in fact a much older person, someone perhaps in his fifties. The voice was familiar, and came from within, but while it seemed it belonged to me and had some sense of self, at the same time I felt a sense of detachment. I had recollections of having lived through many of the episodes, but they exhibited themselves like false memory. This older person seemed to have experienced considerable misfortune, found his crock of gold early and bit-by-bit, saw it disappear. As a result of the dispossession he suffered some kind of nervous collapse. He lived a lonely life, worked in inanimate pet care, drove a brown Skoda and listened to Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. Even if this were my own future, it was neither tangible nor attractive. It seemed to me that as my life was moving irrevocably in reverse, nothing was to be gained by taking possession of a character surrounded with so much sadness, so the more that it happened, the more I tried to block out the voice.

It is often said that when you are young life is a timeless flight, but as you get older time seems to fly by like it had been turned to fast forward. I found that as I grew younger a similar thing was happening. Months flew by; one moment it was August and the next it was April and another summer was gone. Christmases and birthdays were closer together. No sooner was I twenty three than I was twenty two, and then in what seemed the blink of an eye, twenty one.

After, or before, an especially profligate drinking session, with a group of Dutch football supporters, in a bar in the red light district of Amsterdam during the 1974 World Cup, I made the decision I was going to fundamentally change the way I lived. We had consumed bottle after bottle of genever as Holland lost to Germany. We continued our drinking into the night, inconsolable that Johann Cruyff, despite being the finest footballer in the world, would never lift the trophy.

The binge was just the last in a long line of testimonies to guileless self-deprecation. I was unhappy with myself. I had begun to feel that my youthful comportment was frivolous and empty. My behaviour was inconsiderate and hurtful, and I despised the person I was becoming – or had been. I frequently caught myself saying really immature things, and acting badly towards those around me.

What brought matters to a head was a chance meeting at Amsterdam bus station with Faith, a friend of my mother’s. Faith was dressed in a miscellany of chiffon wraps, scarves, bead chokers and jangly jewellery. She carried a tote bag with a yantric design on it, and had rainbow coloured braids in her hair.

‘What are you doing here? Where are you going?’ Faith asked after she had greeted me with a warm hug, which brought with it an assault of patchouli.

‘I’m not sure,’ I said. ‘It seems to be more a case of where have I been.’

In that moment I had a profound sensation of being disengaged from time.

In the 1960s both Faith and my mother will live on the fringes of a bohemian lifestyle. My father, a man ensconsed in the decorum of the professions, will not. He will go to the races and Rotary Club dinners, while my mother and Faith will burn their bras and go on demonstrations. It is not hard to see how they will grow apart and the disagreements and separation that will be the backdrop to my early life will arise.

‘I expect you will know where you are going when you arrive at where you have been,’ Faith continued. ‘Time present and time past are perhaps present in time future. And time future is contained in time past. If all time is eternally present all time is unredeemable.’

This seemed a tad philosophical for early Tueday morning. ‘Where does that come from?’ I asked.

‘Those are the opening lines from T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets,’ she replied, looking me in the eye. It was an English teacher kind of look. I looked away.

When I am younger my mother will try to educate me in poetry, but I will prefer The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. I will get an appallingly bad grade in English by reading none of the books. My father will not notice because I am too unimportant to be of any significance.

‘If you do not know where you are going, you should not be at the bus station. Why don’t you come and have some lunch with me?’ said Faith. ‘I live in Haarlem.’

The bus arrived and we took it. Haarlem was just a few miles. I opened up to Faith. I explained I hadn’t seen mother since I was twenty six and then only briefly. She looked puzzled so I tried to explain a little of my predicament.

She quoted T. S. Eliot at me once again.

‘We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started. And know the place for the first time.’

I began to wonder if T. S. Eliot might have shared my experience of sequential dysfunction.

On the journey, Faith told me about the ‘community’ in which she lived, all the time emphasising how happy she was. The community, she said, supported one another, shared everything, and worked together towards a common aim. It seemed idealistic, naive even, but I could see that Faith appeared to be happy and felt she had found what she was looking for. Her view of life seemed to be in marked contrast with my own.

We arrived at Haarlem. A lengthy explanation about eastern philosophy, and ‘the middle way’ saw us outside Faith’s house.

‘Beware of the God,’ said the sign on the front gate.

‘Which God?’ I asked.

‘It does not matter,’ she replied. ‘How about a retriever?’

I did not go in. I said my goodbyes. I knew what I had to do.

If I could do nothing about life in reverse, it was time to take a step back and try to get in touch with my spirituality. I took a bus to Athens and from there a boat to Santorini, a small Greek island, where there was a meditation centre. I hoped, I suppose, to discover the meaning of life.

I came to in the playground of The Frank Portrait Primary School. I was wearing short grey trousers, grey flannel shirt and a blue blazer. I was fighting with a boy called Jon Keating. No, wrong tense, I AM fighting with a boy called Jon Keating. No, wait, I AM Jon Keating. ‘Keating needs a beating,’ they are chanting, this swathe of little grey monsters. ’Keating needs a beating.’ Oh shit!

I am going to ask Dr Self to take me off Paradoxin. Before he went on holiday, he did stress it was an experimental drug and there was the possibility that there might be undocumented side effects.

© Chris Green 2014: All rights reserved