Tomorrow Never Knows

Tomorrow Never Knows by Chris Green

Vicky was finding it difficult to remember things. Friends of hers, in their fifties and sixties, suggested that her memory was unlikely to get any better. As you grew older, they said, those peripheral places where the past was stored were harder to find. They told her how they constantly forgot important dates and events, and often asked for the same information over and over. They increasingly needed to rely on the internet and other memory aids to remind them of things they thought they knew.

A diary is essential,’ said Naomi, who was fifty-eight. ‘How else would I know where I have been, or who I have seen?’ Vicky did not see Naomi as someone who led a particularly chaotic life. Taking the dog to the vet was a bit of an outing.

You can use a diary to express your feelings,’ said Emily, who was sixty-one. ‘You can let off steam when you put your mind to it, and I find this helps a lot.’ Married, as Emily was, to Colin, Vicky could see that she might sometimes need this outlet.

A’ve kept a diary since Ah was a wee lassie. an’ noo a’ve got no-ain tae gab tae at nicht, Ah fin’ mah diary’s a stoatin comfort,’ said Fiona, who was sixty-four and recently widowed. Murdo had died last year as a result of a hunting accident in the Highlands, or was it a rare blood disease.

Vicky, who was still only forty-eight, began to put aside five or ten minutes each night before she went to sleep to record the day’s events and to put down her thoughts. She became quite disciplined about this ritual. She quickly found that writing a diary simplified her life. No matter how late she went to bed, she would find time to put pen to paper.

Memory is a fickle apparatus, its performance imprecise and unpredictable. Vicky could remember some things from long ago clear as a bell and she was able to reconstruct large sections of her life around a particular episode from way back. But when she tried to remember what happened last week or earlier that day, she drew a complete blank. Sometimes the reverse was true. This was particularly frustrating. She would lie awake at night trying to piece together what happened in the Summer of 1994 or the Spring of 2001. Or what she had done in the months between splitting up with Hugh and meeting Grant. She would get so far and then draw a blank. She could feel a pulsing ache from the feverish activity taking place in far reaches of the hippocampus as the fruitless search for information progressed. As well as gaps in her recollections, Vicky was also faced with the bewilderment brought on by false memory. Where did random rogue recollections come from? There appeared to be no way of checking the accuracy of her account of anything that happened long ago. She wished that she had started keeping a diary sooner.

It was June 6th, a Friday. Vicky had had a full-on day. It had started well with the news that Alice and Alex were going to make her a grandmother, but had gone downhill with the shunt in the Lexus at lunchtime, and got worse when she found out her car insurance had lapsed. Why hadn’t she had a reminder? Perhaps she had had a reminder. Why hadn’t she put the renewal date in her diary? The office in the afternoon had been a nightmare. Her computer picked up a virus and the photocopier broke. Dinner with Doug at the Dog and Duck had been a disaster. Doug drank far too much and had embarrassed her in front of clients. The phone call from Phil at eleven asking her to work in the morning was all she needed.

To put down her reflections on the day, she took out her diary, which she kept in a drawer in her bedside cabinet. To her astonishment, she found that the page for June 6th had already been filled in – in her neat handwriting, as had the pages for June 7th, June 8th and June 9th, in fact, every day up until July 5th. She read the day’s entry in horror. It gave an accurate description of her day, complete with an up to date appraisal on how she was feeling towards Doug. Those were the exact words she had used when he had asked her to run him home.

Charlotte, Vicky’s friend from the amateur swimming club, was not pleased to get the call. She had been in the throes of passion with her new friend, Piers, at the time, and had only answered on the premise that any call after midnight must be important. It was a few minutes before she put Vicky’s call into this category. But Vicky had been a friend for years and she could tell that she was distraught. Pleas for her to calm down only brought on another outburst.

What does it say for tomorrow?’ Charlotte asked finally. ‘I mean today.’

Vicky read out the diary entry for June 7th.

Simple! Don’t go to work in the morning, then the diary entry will be proved wrong,’ said Charlotte.

I think I do have to go to work. Important deadlines, and all that. June, as you know, is always a busy time at East Asian Travel.’

Then you must make sure that you do not go to town in the afternoon and then the rest cannot happen,’ Charlotte said. ‘You don’t have to buy the surrealist painting of the naked saxophone player with the New York skyline by the unknown Spanish artist.’

I suppose not, but it’s one of a pair along with a blind trumpet player looking out to sea that I’ve already got. The pictures are quite amazing.’

Vicky!’

OK. You’re right, Charlotte. I won’t go, and I won’t buy the cinnamon-scented wax plant from Tree Hugger Nurseries. I won’t even pick up the Lexus from the panel beaters.’

And you don’t really need to get a wetsuit from Albatros Diving, do you? So that’s your diary day cancelled out.’

After a night of tossing and turning, and a dream about drowning in a rip-tide off the Bay of Biscay, Vicky made it into work. Her in-tray reflected the busyness of the summer season. She was faced with a long list of people to phone about their travel plans, and hundreds of tickets and letters to be sent out. Why couldn’t East Asian Travel make greater use of the Internet like everyone else did these days?

Phil, normally so aloof, was being exceptionally helpful and had even brought in some cakes.

I’ll give you a lift in to pick up your car, my sweet,’ he said, putting his arm around her shoulder. Was he flirting with her? No, it turned out. He was just softening her up to work Sunday. She did not find this out until after they had picked up the wetsuit. bought the painting, been to the garden centre and she had helped choose a birthday present for Phil’s wife.

If Vicky had remembered her diary entry for the day, depending on viewpoint, she would have seen that she was going into work, or according to what was written, had been into work, on the Sunday. She would also have anticipated, or recalled, Doug’s unwelcome call in the afternoon. And what was she doing at Frankie and Benny’s with Toni? She never went out on a Sunday evening and she hated pizza.

Following this, Vicky decided to read the entries carefully for the whole period that was filled out. She tried to commit the events of each day to memory. But, over the next few days, no matter how hard she tried to contradict her proscribed schedule, circumstance conspired against her. She ended up doing exactly what was written in her journal. Even the most unlikely episodes took place. How could you predict that a TV celebrity was going to die in a balloon accident? And what were the chances of meeting your primary school teacher who you hadn’t seen for forty years in the traffic-free area outside Monsoon?

I can’t see what the problem is,’ said Naomi. ‘It takes the hard work out of keeping a diary if it’s already filled in.’ Naomi hated surprises. She liked everything to be just so.

It makes it seem like fate,’ said Emily. ‘I met a clairvoyant the other day. She does readings over the phone. Colin says its a load of old crap but I believe things happen for a reason.’ In Emily’s world, everything from tarot to teacup readings could help to simplify life’s great mysteries.

Fiona was more sympathetic. ‘Ah can ken wa yoo’re scared,’ she said. ‘Ah woods be terrified. Quantum leaps ur somethin’ ye expect tae bide in science fection where they belang.’

Much of Vicky’s diary-week was predictable, inasmuch as it consisted of regular activities, like go swimming after work on Tuesday, or go to her evening art class on Wednesday. She did not know why she wrote it down. Half of it was meaningless. Did it matter that she had cooked a casserole or had an erotic dream? Or that the cat had been in a fight or the parlour maple was flowering? After all, it flowered every June at about this time. Because it was written in the diary, she made a special effort not to call Eric, the cooker repairman in to replace the faulty oven fan, but he called around anyway on the off-chance that she might need a domestic appliance repair done. However, some of what she had apparently written for the week was unusual. She had the same dream that she had recorded in the diary of her travelling, as a man, on a bus in Barcelona, listening to The Cinematic Orchestra on a music player with oversized headphones, while the Christmas dinner was cooking. She was looking out for the railway station where she had to catch the 5:25 train to take her back to the place where she caught the bus. She calculated she would just about make it on time. The family, not her family but a family put together from unconnected people remembered from childhood, were waiting in the Las Ramblas apartment and when she arrived back the pheasant roast would be ready to serve. Not the kind of dream you would expect to have twice.

The Mariachi band marching past her house playing Bésame Mucho every morning was a bit random too, and the dead owl on the doormat, unexpected. And what were the chances of finding yourself in a lift with the author, Frank Biro? For the whole week, the mundane and the exceptional matched exactly what was recorded in the diary. It seemed her free will was gradually being broken. By Friday, she was in panic mode.

Confusion of this nature is commonly caused by overwork,’ said Dr Chandrasekar, the young locum who was filling in for her regular GP, Dr Sadness. ‘What is your job?’

Vicky told him she was in the travel business.

Ah!’ he said. ‘This is one of the worst jobs for work-related stress and anxiety. And of course, it’s worse in the summer months, am I right?’

Vicky thought that perhaps he was stating the obvious, but agreed.

Do you drink alcohol regularly?’ he asked. ‘Alcohol as you probably know can make one delusional.’

Vicky confessed that she had popped an extra bottle of red or two into the supermarket trolley in the past few days, to help cope with the trauma, but as a rule, she didn’t overindulge.

How many units a week on average would you say?’

There was a time for honesty, but she felt this wasn’t it. ‘About eight or nine,’ she said.

No recreational drug use, I take it.’

Absolutely none. Not for many years.’

I think what I’ll do is write you out a prescription for some tablets. Now you take six a day and in a few days, I think you should start to feel less anxious.’

Risperdal!’ said Charlotte. ‘He gave you Risperdal! That’s what they give to people with schizophrenia. Six a day! Definitely not, Vicky.’ She listed the side effects. They included hypersalivation, insomnia, mood disorders and suicidal tendencies.

So what do you suggest?’ said Vicky.

I’ve started seeing a Sand Tray therapist,’ said Charlotte.

What on earth?’

She gets me to alter the positions of miniature objects which represent people and events. She says that will help me make the same changes in real life.’

And has it helped?’

Well it’s early days, but I do enjoy playing in the sandpit.’

Vicky went instead to Aurora, a non-directive psychotherapist she found in Circles of Light. Sessions consisted of Aurora listening to a free-flowing narrative of Vicky’s inner world while she clicked a set of coral worry beads.

I am in a large institution, a sort of self-contained metropolis, and I am being initiated into an elaborate catalogue of rules and regulations and procedures that apply there,’ said Vicky. ‘Leader issues me with instructions for classes I have to attend. When I have finished one, he tells me I have to attend the next one which will start at 10 p.m. and then the next one at midnight and then one at 2 a.m. and so on. I accidentally miss one and am reprimanded. He tells me I will have to go to extra classes as a result. The procedures are very rigorous. I have to walk this way or that way along corridors and up staircases by following arrows. I have to take particular colour-coded emblems that I have been issued with along to each class. It has to be the correct colour, and I do not know how to choose. No one has told me and I keep making mistakes. I have to keep a record of my progress. In my small room, I spend hours filling out a spreadsheet, which in turn makes me late for my next class. Other people I meet seem to accept the regime as normal.’

And how do you feel about it?’ asked Aurora.

I feel trapped of course, as if I am imprisoned. I want to get out,’ said Vicky.

Go on,’ said Aurora.

I am walking through one of the large covered spaces and I see a sturdy figure swimming with powerful strokes through a central channel, helped by the flow of a fast-flowing stream. I try to point this out to one of the acolytes and he says there is no stream, it is a gravel path. I mention it to Leader, and he is pleased that I have told him. It means that someone is trying to escape and now he will be able to stop them. As a result, my status within the institution seems to change. I no longer have to go to classes. I am now in a massive glass atrium. I am sitting on the grass along with some others, eating doughnuts, with a texture like styrofoam. The atmosphere here seems much more relaxed. I notice there are tall glass sliding doors at the front of the atrium. I see people on the outside going about their daily life. They appear sketchy, like figures in an architect’s drawing. Someone in a harlequin suit says to me that it is an illusion, fate has no outside. You are always inside. I do not want to believe him, and I make for the doors, which slide open, but close just as I am about to reach them. I try this several times but there is no way out….. Then I wake up.’

I will see you again next Tuesday,’ said Aurora. ‘We can talk more about it then.’

Phil felt Vicky might be able to distract herself by working longer hours while Doug suggested she ought to stop being so selfish and think about others for a change. Vicky wondered if it might not be better to just go with the flow and see what happened. After all, according to the diary, nothing fatal was about to happen before July 5th. She decided that she would not deliberately try to follow what was written, but neither would she try and avoid it.

This scheme worked well for a few days. Everything went according to plan. What was written in her diary and what happened each day continued to match, but on Thursday she noticed an anomaly. She had gone to see True Story at The Plaza and not Never Lose Focus at the Savoy. When she looked through the diary entry again, the original entry had changed, which would mean that in her absence the diary was rewriting itself. It had changed, hadn’t it? Vicky could not be sure of anything anymore. Her memory was not to be relied upon. This was the reason she had started writing her diary in the first place.

The cheque from the insurance company didn’t arrive on Friday and she didn’t win the eBay auction for the Gaggia Espresso machine. It seemed that her real life and the diary account were getting out of sync. When she checked later, however, there was no record of the cheque or the coffee machine on the page for Friday. She was certain there had been. And it was not the hottest day of the year on Saturday as reported; in fact, it was cold wet and windy. On checking, she found this entry too had changed. On Monday she noticed that there had been an omission in the diary account. Surely she would have recorded something as important as winning tickets for Ladies Singles Final Day at Wimbledon.

You’re not sure, are you?’ said Naomi. ‘I told you this would happen to you.’

Join the club! I can’t remember what happened yesterday,’ said Emily.

It’s an early sign ay Alzheimers,’ said Fiona. ‘Age creeps up oan ye, ye ken.’

You’ll have to start making copies of your diary,’ said Naomi.

I don’t think Colin approves but I know someone who does remote viewing,’ said Emily.

Ye coods keep th’ diary oan line,’ said Fiona. ‘An’ save it tae google clood.’

On Monday evening, Vicky scanned the remaining eighteen completed pages on to her PC. She felt pleased with her resolution and that night slept without the usual apnoea or bad dreams. The next morning before work, when she checked, she found that the diary had an updated entry ‘scanned the remaining eighteen completed pages of the diary’. Her meticulous script (the rounded s, the well-formed c, the curls on the a, the lazy elongated n) was unmistakable. The scanned version, to her alarm, also had the same entry. Summer it might have been, but Vicky felt a January chill run through her. She was spooked.

Her apprehension was about to get worse. Vicky had not given much consideration to why the diary entries finished on July 5th. When a possible explanation occurred to her, it hit her like a bombshell. It came as the result of a dream in which she was driving fast towards a level crossing. It was a crossing that she was familiar with. She drove through it most days. Without the warning of the red flashing lights, the gates ahead of her closed. Realising the stopping distance at the speed she was travelling would not bring her to a halt, she tried to turn away from the crossing into a road to the right, but the car’s steering was not functioning, and when she tried to apply the brakes, she found the vehicle only had bicycle brakes. The car pushed through the gates and came to a halt in the middle of the tracks. Large black steam locomotives pulling freight headed towards her from both directions. They were approaching at breakneck speed. She had no time to get out of their path. She was going to die. On waking, it occurred to her that the out of control car signified that she had no control over her life. This was perhaps why her diary finished on July 5th. There being no record of July 6th, she was overtaken by a powerful foreboding was going to die the following day.

She examined the diary once more. The dream was now recorded in detail in both the diary and the scanned document. She unplugged the scanner and took it up to the attic. She shut down the computer. Files could not be updated and no new files could be created if it was not switched on. She turned her attention to the diary. She contemplated destroying it. She decided that this might not be the best solution, but from now on she would keep it with her at all times. She read each page again carefully, looking for clues. There was no mention of a degenerative illness or a scenario that would put her life in peril anywhere. She paid particular interest to the page for Thursday, July 5th. What was written here now became of great importance to her? She felt she had to avoid the sequence of events on this day at all costs.

For the next two weeks, she did not let the diary out of her sight except when she was asleep. Even then, although it was uncomfortable, she had it strapped to her waist under her nightdress. Except for a few omissions and oversights, her day to day experience and the account in the diary matched each other. The same things happened at work and she went to the same activities that the diary said she would. The Mariachi band now played El Jarabe Tapatio each morning and she had lunch at the new Albanian restaurant that no-one had heard of. She even had the same unexpected phone call from Doug in the middle of the night. While the synchronicity was still spooky, she was relieved that nothing untoward seemed to be happening. She appeared to have established an equilibrium. She even wondered whether she now had to avoid the events of July 5th.

On Friday, July 4th in the early evening, Vicky was taking a shower after a hot sticky day at the office. Before stepping into the shower, she had left the diary face down on the top of the laundry basket, but when she stepped out, it was gone. There had been a few seconds that she had her eyes closed while she rinsed her hair, but no one could have got into the bathroom and taken it. The door was bolted and she had not even closed the shower curtain. Caught between panic and desperation, she emptied the linen basket and threw discarded clothes and bath towels this way and that, but there was no sign of the diary, and yes, the door was still locked. She was absolutely certain that she had put the diary face down on the top of the basket, hadn’t she? Once she had given up the search and composed herself, she booted up the PC to check the diary files. These too had disappeared.

That night, in her brief spell of sleep, she dreamt that she was on holiday in a foggy former Eastern bloc country. It was the last day of her holiday and her flight was due to leave in two hours. She had not packed, and her belongings were scattered everywhere. They had a charred look about them as if they had been in a fire. She could not remember who she was with. Her travelling companion’s identity kept changing. Alice was with her now and she produced a large shiny old fashioned black pram with lots of chrome fitments. She wanted to take it on the plane. Vicky wondered how such a large item would fit into the luggage. It did not look as if it would fold away. Next, she was driving to an old church, which had recently been restored. Suddenly the sun visor in front of her dropped down. Somehow, it covered the whole of the windscreen. She could not see where she was going. She could not take her foot off the accelerator. She could hear the loud hum of the traffic ahead. She realised she was heading towards a busy main road. She woke with the sheets bathed in sweat.

Despite her shattered mental state, she made it into work. To her surprise, the day started well with the news that Alice was, in fact, expecting twins. But it went rapidly downhill with a knock in the Audi at lunchtime, and got worse when she found she had not transferred her insurance from the previous vehicle. Clearly, her memory too was going from bad to worse. The afternoon in the office was a nightmare. She spilt coffee over a customer’s suit. Her mobile phone fell into the toilet bowl. Her laptop died. The day did not improve. Her dinner date with Danny at Dino’s was a disaster. Unlike Doug, Danny did not drink. But after a bottle of Argentinian Malbec and a large brandy, Vicky embarrassed herself with her outpouring of emotion. At the end of the evening, Doug did not ask if he might see her again. Phil’s phone call at eleven-thirty, telling her that East Asian Travel was to cease trading and that she was out of a job, was the final straw.

Vicky reached into the drawer of her bedside cabinet for her diary to record the day’s events. It was an instinctive reaction. Even though it had been the mother of all bad days, it had to be done. She had somehow forgotten that the diary had gone missing. Yet, there it was in its usual place. She opened it up where it was bookmarked, only to discover that there were blank pages. Why, she wondered, had she not written in it for nearly a month?

Charlotte was exasperated to get yet another call. She had just put out the light. What was the most diplomatic way way, she wondered, to tell her friend that she was off her rocker?

© Chris Green 2020: All rights reserved

More Weird Shit – an Inspector Boss Mystery

moreweirdshit

More Weird Shit – An Inspector Boss Mystery by Chris Green

It didn’t occur to you that a two-year-old Mercedes Sprinter on sale in Toker’s End for less than two grand might be hot,’ Jonny Geezer says.

To be fair, we were a bit strapped for cash, guv, and there wasn’t that much around,’ Gandy says. ‘And time was of the essence.’

So, let’s get this straight. To do a job, you saddle us with a van that the filth will be all over even before we start,’ Jonny says. ‘You might as well have just nicked one like other blaggers do. ……. What’s in the blue bag in the back there? Looks like one of those Ikea bags.’

It appears to be empty, guv,’ Gandy says. ‘The odd thing is, it weighs a ton. I could hardly move it.’

You’re such a wimp, Gandy?’ Jonny says. ‘Let me have a go.’

With a huge effort, Jonny manages to move the bag a few inches. While he is doing so, the bag appears to change shape.

It is as if the bloody thing is breathing,’ he says. ‘It seems to have a life of its own.’

I meant to tell you about that,’ Gandy says.

Then why didn’t you?’

What do you think it is, guv?’

It’s not someone’s shopping from Ikea, is it, Gandy? What was the fella that sold you the van like?’

Average height. Medium build. Dark hair. Didn’t take much notice, to be honest, guv.’

Not from outer space or anything then?’

No perfectly ordinary guy. He had the registration document for the van. I gave him a fake name and address and handed him the cash and that was it.’

You’re sure it was a kosher registration document?’

Well, now you come to mention it, he seemed to want to get things over with quickly, like.’

………………………………………..

Sorry to spring this on you so early, sir,’ Lennon says. ‘But there’s no easy way to tell you. Another bag has gone missing.’

From your serious expression, I take it you mean a blue Ikea bag,’ Inspector Boss says.

I’m afraid so,’ Lennon says. ‘Like the one you told me about.’

This is not the kind of news that Casey Boss of the Strange Occurrence Detail wants to hear first thing in the morning. His stress levels are already through the roof following SOD’s bungled inquiry into the phone signal hi-jack. And the fallout from the invisibility investigation. With so much weird shit going down lately and landing in his lap, he finds it hard to keep up with it all. His doctor has told him to avoid stressful situations. He has warned him that any more stress could prove fatal. He is on powerful beta-blockers which he supplements this with black-market drugs. He is not sure he should even be at work. Just the trip up in the lift to his fourth-floor office these days raises his anxiety.

That was what started it all off. I was coping well before that, Lennon!’ Boss says. ‘Is that really your name? ….. What happened to Jagger?’

Jagger got shot, sir. Last month. Don’t you remember?’

Oh, that’s right. I do seem to recall now. Outside the corned-beef processing plant that was a cover for a tulpa store, wasn’t it?’

That’s right. What is a tulpa, sir? I’ve been meaning to ask.’

Never mind that now, lad. Give me the lowdown on this new business. We’d better get on to it. What do we know?’

The courier who was supposed to deliver this blue bag to the secret location used by the Department that we are not allowed to mention had his van stolen at 3.30 yesterday morning,’ Lennon says.

I see. And presumably said van hasn’t turned up,’ Boss says. ‘And the thinking is that the bag is jam-packed with arcane ideas, I take it. So it will in all probability be in the hands of a rogue regime or terrorists by now,’

That’s the suggestion, sir. Yes.’

And that’s why we’ve been landed with the case.’

Indeed, sir. And as you keep telling me, the first forty-eight hours is critical.’

I know. I know, lad. Just give me what we’ve got, will you?’

Would you like me to get you your meds, sir, and a glass of water?

………………………………………..

We need to find out what this weird shit is, Gandy,’ Jonny Geezer says. ‘PDQ.’

What about talking to TeeJay?’ Gandy says. ‘You never know. Whatever it is in the bag might be worth money.’

He’s not going to buy something he can’t see, is he?’ Jonny says.

Brett and Bro?’ Gandy says. ‘They’re gullible. Especially Bro. I sold him his own Kawasaki bike once.’

I’ve got it,’ Jonny says. ‘Pete the Maj. He is the man to see. Pete’s a spoon bender. He knows about paranormal shit. He lives around here. Harmonica Road. Just off Tambourine Way. Pete will be able to tell us what is going on.’

They drive the van around to Harmonica Road. Pete the Maj’s house is a quotidian no-fines semi, distinguishable only by the bank of satellite dishes and the black flag flying on the flagpole outside. Pete answers the door. Jonny and Gandy exchange puzzled looks. In their world, men don’t often answer the door wearing orange wet suits with marmosets perched on their shoulders.

Hi guys,’ Pete says. ‘I’ve been expecting you.’

They hadn’t phoned ahead. How could he possibly know they were coming, they wonder?

And what’s more, I know what exactly you have come about,’ Pete adds. ‘What you have is a bag full of concepts waiting to be realised. In a word, my friends, ideas.’

But it looks like there’s nothing in the bag,’ Jonny says.

What do you expect, Jonny? Ideas are invisible,’ Pete says.

But despite this, the bag is heavy,’ Gandy says. ‘It took the two of us to pick it up.’

Of course, it’s heavy,’ Pete says. ‘Ideas are often complex. You didn’t think they just came floating in through the kitchen window, did you? Or that you could download them from the Internet?’

If you can’t see them, how do you know what they are?’ Jonny asks.

Firstly, you need to know where they came from,’ Pete says. ‘I’m guessing by the look of you that you don’t know.’

Not as such,’ Gandy says.

Then you need to have the right equipment and the necessary skills to get them to materialise. I’m pretty sure you are not going to have that,’ Pete says.

So without this equipment, no-one can tell what it is,’ Jonny says.

Exactly,’ Pete says. ‘Perhaps now that you’re here, you might like to sing to my marmoset. She’s called Sacha. She’s very friendly.’

You wouldn’t like to hazard to a guess what the stuff might be, I suppose,’ Gandy says.

Many new ideas come from military sources, microwaves, GPS, 5g, all these are military in origin,’ Pete says. ‘The internet too originated in the military, along with lots of everyday things like disposable razors and superglue. So that’s where my money would be. ……. Although you wouldn’t think the military would transport the raw material in a blue Ikea bag.’

………………………………………..

We’d better get the courier in here, Lennon,’ Boss says. ‘What did you say his name was?’

It’s a hard one to get your head around,’ his sidekick says. ‘Banana Petroleum or something like that. He’s Albanian, apparently. ……. Ah, here it is, Bajrami Pernaska.’

Let’s stick with Banana Petroleum. ….. OK! Get Petroleum in here this morning. He could well be in on it, don’t you think?’

It would certainly make our job easier if he were, sir.’

Look! If you joined the department because you thought it would be easy, Lennon, you’re in for a rude awakening. This isn’t the regular constabulary, lad. This is SOD. The Strange Occurrence Detail. You better be ready for all kinds of weird shit. None of it good or easy.’

I didn’t for a minute imagine it would be easy,’ Lennon says. ‘I knew there would be a lot to learn. I’ve not worked in metaphysical policing before. I have a mind games background.’

Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire, eh, lad?’

What?’

Semolina pilchard climbing up the Eiffel Tower.’

Eh?’

From old songs, lad. I thought you might know them.’

Before my time, I imagine, guv.’

Inspector Boss’s Albanian is not up to speed and Banana Petroleum’s English is not much better. It takes twenty minutes to establish that BP is a delivery driver for Safe as Houses Security and while the van he was using when it was stolen belonged to them, due to an oversight in planning, it had none of the firm’s livery. It was a plain white van.

I stop van for smoke,’ Banana Petroleum says. ‘When I return, van gone. In trouble now. Yes.’

You know what was in the van then I take it,’ Boss says.

Van gone,’ BP repeats. ‘In trouble now. Lose job.’

After an hour they establish that BP probably did not know what he was carrying, and the van was taken from outside the community centre on the Toker’s End estate, a notorious spot for petty criminals and drug dealers.

We’d better get around to Toker’s End, Lennon,’ Boss says. ‘Have you had any small arms training?’

Not really, sir,’ Lennon says. ‘Most of my work involved writing confusing copy for under the counter publications.’

Well no doubt, these skills will come in useful,’ Boss says.

………………………………………..

I don’t know how to tell you this, guv, but the bag seems lighter,’ Gandy says. ‘Like something has escaped.’

And how did that happen, Gandy?’ Jonny Geezer says. ‘I told you to keep an eye on it.’

I kept an eye on it. I didn’t let it out of my sight.’

How did that happen?’

A complete mystery, guv. I even made sure the CCTV was focussed on it. But I’ve played the footage back and there’s nothing to see. The hard disc has been wiped.’

That’s should be impossible. ….. Well. Never mind, Gandy. I suppose it’s a good thing in a way, seeing as the stuff in the bag was invisible anyway and we wouldn’t have been able to sell it.’

Shall I just ditch the bag then?’

To be on the safe side, we’ll hang on to it for now. With all this strangeness around, you never know.’

………………………………………..

Before we rush off to Toker’s End,’ Lennon says. ‘Have you seen this splashed across the front of the paper? It says that all across the country, time is going backwards. In Brighton, it has gone back to Tuesday. In Swindon, it’s Monday last week and in Bristol, it has gone back to January.’

Let me have a look, will you?’ Boss says.

Here you go, boss.’

Don’t call me that, man. How many times?’

OK, guv.’

Nor that. Guv is for hoodlums and lowlife.’

Sorry, sir.’

God’s teeth!. You are right, Lennon. It looks like time is on the blink. Looking at the locations they mention here, there doesn’t seem to be a pattern to it, although all the places are in the south of the country. I hope it’s not heading this way. We haven’t noticed anything different here yet, though, have we?’

I didn’t like to mention it, sir, but the hands of my watch do seem to be going backwards.’

I see. Oh my God! So they are. Not good, lad! I’ve got a bad feeling about this. It could well be connected to the disappearing bag. That’s why the bigwigs have got us on it. I imagine we will get a call from them shortly telling us to pull our fingers out.’

I’ve just had a newsflash come up on my phone,’ Lennon says. ‘It’s from Devon Live. It’s about 9/11. It says planes have crashed into the Twin Towers in New York. A newsflash. As if it’s just happened. Time must have gone further back down south.’

Have I got much of that stuff left, Lennon?’ Boss says.

You mean your meds, sir? Yes, there’s enough for a week or so. But, to be on the safe side, would you like me to order some more. I think I have your man’s number here. Is he really called Razor?’

Yes. I think you’d better. This could be a fraught investigation.’

………………………………………..

Who do I speak to in SOD?’ the Home Secretary, Mercy Creech asks her PA, Dodd. Mercy is new to the job. She has only been in post for three weeks.

That would be Inspector Casey Boss,’ Dodd says. ‘Would you like me to get him on the phone?’

Yes. That would be good. What’s he like, this Boss?’

Well, he’s probably in his late fifties’ Dodd says. ‘He appears to be a little vacant unless this is merely an affectation. But you’d have to say, he’s a bit dour. He’s always complaining how under-resourced SOD is. But don’t they all claim to be undermanned.’

Got you. SOD have lost a few of their officers lately, haven’t they?.’

Yes, Home Secretary. They had one taken out just last month. Jagger, I believe. Terrible business.’

Dodd keys in the number and hands the phone to Mercy Creech. Inspector Boss leaves it to ring for a while before picking up. He has a fair idea of what is coming.

Ah, Boss. Home Secretary calling. Good to make your acquaintance. I take it you are up to speed on the crisis.’

I’ve picked up the gist of it, yes.

Look! I’ve spoken to the Department that I’m not permitted to mention and they tell me that this matter is now Category XX. In a word, time is going backwards. Now, as I understand it, because just one bag of whatever it was went missing, this is only happening in certain places, mostly down south. In other locations, nothing has happened. In most parts of the country, it is still today. But the rupture in time could spread. How is it where you are?’

It’s just stared here, Home Secretary. Weird business. One minute, it’s dark and the next it’s light and then it’s dark again. At a guess, we are about three weeks back at the moment.’

I see. It’s gone so far they are already back on dial-up in some places. In West Somerset, they say it has gone back to 1983.’

Boss wonders how they can tell. It probably always seems like 1983 in West Somerset, but he doesn’t say anything.’

We to need to recover the missing bag quickly,’ the Home Secretary continues. ‘Even then, it might be too late.’

I might need more personnel, Home Secretary. We’ve taken a bit of a hit lately, if you’ll excuse my pun.’

Yes, so I hear. We will look into it and be reassured, we are trying to get to grips with gun crime.’

And my new sidekick, Lennon is inexperienced in the field.’

Lennon, you say? Is that really his name?’

………………………………………..

Casey Boss is always nervous about contacting Colonel Ж of the Department that cannot be named, but if they are to make any progress on the case, he realises he must do so now. To prepare himself, he takes a handful of the Razor’s designer supplements. He has no idea what they are, but they seem to do the job.

Ah, Boss,’ Colonel Ж says. ‘I was wondering when you would call. What’s it like where you are?’

Time is going backwards here. I don’t know how exactly it works but as far as I can tell, we are not going backwards with it,’ Boss says. ‘If you get my drift.’

It is one of those things that is difficult to predict with any certainty,’ the Colonel says. ‘Especially as nothing like this has happened before. Time is still going forward normally here, but, of course, this could change at any moment. The distribution seems to have happened more or less at random. I’m getting lots of conflicting reports. There’s nothing uniform about the spread. Did you know it’s gone back to 1913 in Windsor? They are worried about the military build-up in the Balkans.’

I’ve given the issue some thought,’ Boss says. ‘Off the top of my head, it would appear that we need to get to the depot where the van was loaded. And hope that time in this location has not gone too far back. Then, we can just load the bag or bags that were to be transported on a different van and perhaps that will change things back.’

Good thinking.’ the Colonel says. ‘I’m not sure it will work but it’s certainly worth a try. If I give you the location, can you get another van there quickly?’

I’ll get my man, Lennon on to it right away, Colonel,’ Boss says.

Lennon? Is that really his name?’ the Colonel says.

………………………………………..

From what you said earlier, sir, I gathered we were on a tight budget but guess what, I managed to get us a two-year-old Mercedes van from Gumtree for a very good price,’ Lennon says. ‘Only 100,000 on the clock.’

Good work, Lennon. Let’s get on with it then,’ Boss says. ‘Time is of the essence.’

In more way than one, sir, if you get my drift,’ Lennon says.

Oh, I see, time. Very droll,’ Boss says. ‘Here’s the postcode to key in.’

After driving for several hours through fractured time zones, they find themselves in logistics-land, deep in the heart of the Midlands. Here, the roads are newly tarmacked and have clear white lines and elaborate traffic furniture at all the roundabouts. There are new warehouse buildings lining both sides of the road. Time seems unaffected. It is six-thirty on Thursday evening, which they calculate is what it should be.

Only three more miles, sir, Lennon says.

Perhaps we are in time then,’ Boss says.

In time. You are at it again, sir. Look! That must be the depot up there on the right, don’t you think? The tall one with the camouflage cladding.’

I think that’s probably Colonel Ж getting out of the Hummer.’

You can get quite a lot of people in a Hummer, can’t you? And look! They are heavily armed.’

Military unit, Lennon. All we were given was this pistol. And, as you know, I had to beg for that.’

My watch is starting to go backwards again, sir. But that’s good, isn’t it?’

Perfect. All we have to do then is get out and wait until yesterday.’

That may not be too long. The hands-on my watch are spinning wildly.’

………………………………………..

The cargo always travels by night, the Colonel tells them. The missing cargo set off from the depot with Safe as Houses Security at midnight. The task this time is to pick up the bag an hour earlier than originally planned and head for the secret location. They will be escorted by Colonel Ж and his men in the Hummer. The secret location is a hundred miles away in the direction they’ve come. They will be informed of the exact location once they are near. The latest reports from the secret location suggest that time here is behaving as it should. Boss wonders why the Department could not have done this without them, but his is not to reason why. Why hadn’t they delivered the original cargo by helicopter if it was so sensitive? Or at least put it with a reputable carrier? It seems a bit lax to trust it with a random Albanian dude with a white van. Boss wonders too at what point, time will correct itself. Will this return to normal when the bag is safely aboard the van, when it has travelled further than it originally did or only when it is safely delivered. While logic suggests the first option, there is nothing rational about the current situation. Perhaps, it is a riddle that no-one can be sure of the answer to, not even the Colonel.

We don’t know exactly where the van was stolen,’ Boss says. ‘Banana Petroleum was not very specific and in the end, we found we were just wasting time by grilling him further, but we have a rough idea. So to be on the safe side, we will take a different route.’

OK. Let’s get the show on the road,’ Colonel Ж says ‘We’ll be close behind you. You can be sure of that.’

………………………………………..

We’d better try to get rid of the van,’ Jonny Geezer says. ‘Count our losses. If we don’t ask much for it, someone’s around here is sure to snap it up. Probably someone else who wants a plain white van to do a knock-over.’

I was meaning to talk to you about that, guv,’ Gandy says. ‘The van has, how can I put it? Gone. One minute it was there, the next, it wasn’t.’

What!’

Someone must have half-inched it while my back was turned. I was on the phone to Loulou. The van was only out of my sight for a few minutes, then I went back to lock it up and …… well, it wasn’t there. I didn’t hear anything. It must have all happened very quickly.’

Someone who knew we wouldn’t report it, probably.’

Next time, we’ll just have to nick one like you said, guv.’

You ditched the bag, didn’t you?’

You told me not to. …… Didn’t you?’

Where did you put it?’

It’s in the shed back here, boss. …….. Look!’

Where am I looking, Gandy?’

Oh no! The bag has gone too.’

………………………………………..

As far as it’s possible to tell, time has settled down. To the good folks of Windsor, the military build-up in the Balkans is nothing more than an episode in history. They are once more able to harangue the graceless town planners in neighbouring Slough. In Devon, they have got over the shock of 9/11 and can once again whinge about the legions of caravanners that flock to their beauty spots every year and get stuck in the narrow lanes. Brighton is now straight again too and back on British Summer Time. The urban centres of Swindon and Bristol are back on track, each dreaming that one day, they might be able to produce a successful football team. Maybe eventually field a side to progress beyond the Fifth Round of the F.A. Cup. Throughout the land, clocks and watches are synchronised. Dates for events throughout the year are once again set in the calendar. Yet, for some unaccountable reason, in parts of West Somerset it still appears to be 1983.

© Chris Green 2020: All rights reserved

Homburg

homburg2020

Homburg by Chris Green

Ben Maceo told me about the clock last week. Ben has special powers, you see. He can tell when things are going to happen. Had it been anyone else, I would never have believed them, but as it was Ben, I knew that it would happen and so I was able to prepare. Ben knew that the big clock in the town’s main square was going to explode and that there would be fragments of time scattered everywhere. He knew you would no longer be able to rely on your watch or the numbers you saw on your phone display to tell the time. He knew that time being the key to practically everything, the chaos would spread. Perhaps I should have shared his warning with others, but I did not. I find that not many people are ready for unpleasant truths, and especially not to hear them before the event. The others on the campus already think that I’m a bit weird for hanging around with Ben.

Anyway, time is all over the place now. Not just hours and minutes, but years and months are coalescing, or separating. No-one knows what is going on and from what I can see from the television pictures, there is panic on the streets. Film crews have been shipped in from far and wide to take a look at the chaos that is happening in the town. Many of course have not been able to get here as time is buffeted around, but some have arrived, or are arriving. But others who have arrived are stuck here, whether they want to be or not.

Every aspect of our everyday lives, as Ben points out, is time-dependent. I am not going to even venture outside until things get back to normal. Perhaps they will never get back to normal, but this is a chance that I have to take. In the meantime, I can take some cuttings from my agave plants and practice some Janacek on my ukulele, and there’s that Schopenhauer essay I have to finish off. Schopenhauer’s view on time is that we spend too much of it ruminating on the past or planning for the future that our lives quickly pass us by. So, I’m going to try to get on with mine. After all, Ben has my phone number. He will let me know if and when there is any change. Perhaps he might even call round. We could listen to my new Ozric Tentacles CD. And, who knows what else?

I have learned to trust Ben’s intuition. It was Ben who told me about the man in the Homburg hat’s arrival at the railway station last June. Ben was aware that the stranger’s very presence in the town would bring about the worst snows on record, and this in the middle of summer too when the rest of the country was basking in the seasonal sunshine. The mystery man was also responsible for the disappearance into thin air of the 11:11 train from the capital to the west country on November 11th, somewhere between the ancient burial sites and the land sculptures by the artist with the unpronounceable name. Ben told me this was going to take place days before it happened.

His gift is that he can detect what is happening behind the scenes. He can see the invisible threads that connect all things. He knows that when one of those threads gets broken that something anomalous will happen. By tracing the path of the broken thread, he says, he can tell exactly what will happen, along with when and where it will happen. He does not do any of this consciously. He says that it’s just like having the radio on in the background. This is how he knew that we would have blizzards in June and he knew the train would disappear.

There is more strangeness in the world than most people realise,’ he is fond of saying. ‘Most people cannot see the mechanics of things happening. They just put events down to cause and effect, without understanding what cause might be or what happens in between cause and effect or else they come up with some claptrap about theoretical physics to explain things.’

I’m right with Ben on this one. Theoretical physicists seem to know very little about the universe. Their theories change every five minutes. They talk about red shifts and blue shifts, expansions from the big bang and contractions down to gravity, dark matter, and dark energy, but despite all this blather, their understanding of what is really going on never seems to become any clearer. The great Karl Popper summed it up by saying, ‘Whenever a theory appears to you as the only possible one, take this as a sign that you have neither understood the theory nor the problem which it was intended to solve.’ Ben Maceo takes it a step further and argues that there is no point at all in universal theories, each event is unique and has its own explanation.

……………………………………………….

Time is still all over the place. So far as I can tell, it has been three days, give or take, so far as I can tell since it all went down and Ben still hasn’t been round to see me. He hasn’t so much as called me. You would think that given his intuitive powers, he would have detected the undeniable chemistry between us. Surely he has spotted that I always sit next to him in Paradox and Plurality. He must have noticed that I hang on his every word. What can he possibly be doing that is getting in the way of our blossoming romance? Especially now. He can’t be busy. College has been closed since the upheaval. He has no excuse not to get in touch.

I left several messages on Ben’s phone, but amidst all of the temporal disorder, I suppose he may not have got them. Perhaps he will get them tomorrow or maybe he got them and thought they were from last week. From before the clock exploded. This could explain why I haven’t had a call. On the other hand, the messages may still be up there in the ether, struggling to find its way, along with all the other communications that have been disrupted. They said on the news that messages from weeks ago were still bumping around out there, trying to find their destination. I suspect some people will have made it out of town, but the newsman said that this would be a risky undertaking because of the wormholes. I imagine the term wormhole is perhaps being used here because they have no idea what is going on.

Ben would be able to explain what is going on, but he probably wouldn’t want to tell them. Perhaps they would not understand it if he did. If you can’t understand something without an explanation, then you can’t understand it with an explanation. I read that somewhere. I wonder where it was. There is an innate tendency to feel that things have always been as they are now and always will be. This is the way the human mind seems to work, but there was always a before and there will always be an after. It’s just a question of learning to think this way. We need to take a more Zen approach.

It is dark much of the day. Sometimes light breaks through for a few minutes but then the sky blackens again. With nothing to regulate them properly, night and day seem to be entirely arbitrary. My laptop is continually doing a system restore and my bedside clock is like a random number generator. I keep picking up numerals off the floor from the various clocks around the flat. Living without the certainty of time takes a lot of getting used to.

Ben did say that in the beginning, at least for the first few days, the aftermath of the explosion in the town would be difficult to live with. Perhaps he has left town. He knew that it was going to happen and seemed to understand the effect it would have, so this would make sense. And this is why he can’t communicate. Bit he should have taken me with him. Instead, I am stuck here. Oh well, no use dwelling on it. If it stays light for a while, I think I will paint some yantric mandalas to focus my mindfulness.

……………………………………………….

The stranger in the Homburg hat. …… The one that Ben described. ……. He is outside my house. ……. He’s looking in the window. ……. He has something in his hand. He is holding it up for me to see. It looks like an envelope, a black envelope, one of those A4 folding ones that you use to keep documents in. …… Oh my God! I can see his silhouette through the frosted glass of the front door. He is wearing a long black overcoat and with the hat looks about seven-feet tall. He’s knocking on the door. ……. What should I do? I’m not ready for this. I am terrified. He knocks again and shouts something. I can’t make out what he is saying. His diction is not good, but it does sound like a threat. ……. Suddenly, there is another rupture in time and to my great relief, the man in the Homburg hat is no longer there. But, the black manilla wallet is lying on the coir doormat inside the door, in front of me. Anxiously, I pick it up and inspect it, afraid to open it to see what is inside.

Finally, I pluck up the courage to take a look. The wallet contains nine sheets of A4 paper, each with several paragraphs of text on, but it is like no writing that I have ever seen before. It is perhaps a little, but only a little, reminiscent of Arabic script. In any event, it looks to the untrained eye as unintelligible as Kurdish or Urdu might be. At the bottom of the last page, as if acting as a signature, there is a line-art graphic of a shattered clock. How am I supposed to make anything of this arcane communication? We covered Theosophy and The Golden Dawn and all that Zoroastrian mysticism in a module last semester, along with Rosicrucianism and the Kabbalah, but I can’t pretend that I followed it that closely. It was too easy to get one mixed up with the other and I drifted off a lot. I think I may have just sat in on the module to be around Ben.

The curious thing is, I find that I am able to read this bizarre communication. Not all of it, certainly, but I can make out passages of the strange text. Where has this remarkable ability sprung from? The letter contains none of the mumbo jumbo from esoteric teachings that the blocks of arcane lettering suggest. Instead, it mentions a meeting. I am to meet an undisclosed party, by the statue of Neil Diamond. The statue of Neil Diamond? Crackling Rosie? Sweet Caroline? Why is there a statue of Neil Diamond? The statue, it says, is located next to the harmonica museum. I didn’t realise there was a harmonica museum in the town. Where on earth is the harmonica museum? The letter doesn’t offer a map. Oh well, I expect I will find it. It is not a large town. The main problem might be the one concerning the specified time, midday. Time has not settled down yet, so how will I know when it is midday and if I do find out, will it still be midday when I get there.

……………………………………………….

Light doesn’t necessarily travel at the speed of light,’ says a muted voice. I cannot see where it is coming from and, at first, think it might just be a voice in my head. After all, it is an odd line in conversation.

The slowest recorded speed for light is thirty-eight miles per hour,’ the voice continues. Is it perhaps some kind of coded message? I turn around to see a short stocky one-armed man in a Pablo Picasso blue and white hooped sweatshirt and black sunglasses emerging from behind the statue of Neil Diamond. He has a Siamese cat perched on his shoulder. Even though there is a lot of competition for strange, if this fellow is going for strange, he has surely succeeded.

Would you like to sing to my cat?’ he says. ‘He likes sea shanties best.’

I don’t think I know any sea shanties,’ I tell him. ‘Sea shanties aren’t a very girlie thing.’

Of course, you do,’ he says, dancing on the spot. ‘Everybody knows at least one sea shanty. What about Blow the man down?’

No sorry,’ I say. ‘I don’t know it.’

What about a folk song then,’ he says. ‘My cat likes Wimoweh. My cat is called Trevor, by the way.’

OK I’ll give it a go,’ I say, finding myself somehow being drawn into Pablo Picasso’s veil of nonsense.

Wimoweh is easy as it doesn’t have a lot of words, but as soon as I start singing, Pablo Picasso disappears along with his cat. One minute they are here and the next they are gone like thieves in the night. I am still no wiser as to what the meeting might have been about, or indeed if this was the meeting at all. I wait outside the harmonica museum for a while, but no-one else turns up to meet with me.

I notice that some men are trying to rebuild the town clock. It is a great brute of a thing, much bigger than I remember it being. It is surrounded by crude scaffolding and one of the men is struggling to carry the minute hand up an improvised ladder while another holds the hour hand in place at three o’clock. Perhaps time will soon be back to normal and I will see Ben again. After all this singularity, I’m looking forward to some straightforward metaphysics and philosophy.

……………………………………………….

By the new saxophone shop? Yes, Ben. Of course, I can meet you there. I’ve got my bicycle. The new saxophone shop, though? I’m not sure where that is…… Ah, I see. Jack of Clubs Street. That’s around the corner from the kaleidoscope repair centre, is it?’

At last, to my great relief, Ben has called me. It’s so good to hear his voice. Since he’s been away, I have had to suspend belief with some of the things that have been happening.

Yes, up Jack of Clubs Street and about a hundred yards on the left,’ he says. ‘You can’t miss it. It has a large Selmer saxophone hanging outside. I’ll meet you in an hour.’

I’m concerned that if I let him off the phone then he will be gone out of my life again. ‘Look! I’ve been worried about you,’ I say. ‘And I’ve been living a nightmare. Where have you been?’

I’ve been here and I’ve been there and I’ve been in between,’ he says. ‘You’re right. Things got a bit mad back there for a while, didn’t they? But, I believe the man in the Homburg hat has gone now.’

Thank God,’ I say. ‘He was sinister.’

I hope the dancing painter with the cat wasn’t too much bother,’ he says. ‘He comes out of the woodwork sometimes when he sees an opportunity. I expect you had to sing a song or two.’

It is uncanny the way Ben knows what has been happening, even though he has not been in town. Or has he? He did say he’s been here and he’s been there and he’s been in between. Anyway, I’m thrilled to be meeting him again. I can hardly contain myself.

I pass the clock and see that the hands are now in place and the men are taking the scaffolding down. A small group of cheery vagrants are gathered around it, celebrating with their bottles of cider. I pass the new statue of Neil Diamond, although I have to say, it doesn’t look a bit like him. I take a detour to avoid some men putting up a hoarding to advertise a new blockbuster called Rocket Man, or something. I’ve not been this way often, but eventually I manage to find Jack of Clubs Street. It is a long narrow street and it is enveloped by a haze so I cannot immediately make out where the saxophone shop is. Then, I spot the silver Selmer saxophone shimmering through the murk. It seems to have fallen from its mount onto the pavement.

But, where is Ben? There is no sign of him. What can have happened? I get off the bike and I look frantically up and down the street. Through the haze, I can see the man in the Homburg hat. He is walking slowly towards me. On his shoulder, he is gripping something with both hands, It is difficult to make out what it is. Is it a balloon? Or, is it a surfboard? It seems to be changing shape. Oh, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! Surely it’s not a rocket launcher! Why has Ben brought me here? Jack of Clubs Street does not seem a safe place to be. The haze clears a little. The man keeps coming towards me. He is close now and I see that what he is carrying is carrying is a bucket of dreams. He offers it to me.

It doesn’t have to be bad,’ he says. ‘You can pick one with a happy ending if you like.’

© Chris Green 2020: All rights reserved

When I Was Older

wheniwasolder

When I Was Older by Chris Green

When I was older, I was a saxophonist. I was one of the last living saxophonists before the instrument was banned and all saxophones were melted down to help the war effort. The trumpet suffered a similar fate. Brass instrument detection squads with sophisticated detection equipment were deployed with harsh penalties introduced for possession. But that was then. April 2047, if you want the precise date it became illegal to blow your horn.

I’m Charlie Tooting. You may not have heard of me as I am, at the present time, that is your present time, the time you are reading this, still a journeyman, working out tunes on the blues harmonica. Little Walter and Junior Wells are my inspiration. But at some stage, in what you think of as your future, you will hear my name. You will hear my music. Mark my words! You may even be moved to buy some. Make a note now! Charlie Tooting. Saxophone.

It is difficult, isn’t it, to get your head around the fact that time isn’t linear? This is not what you are led to expect. But, when you look more closely, there is no conceptual distinction between past and future, let alone an objective line of now. You need to drop the idea that time is something that flows. Time, like space, is just there. All of it. More helpful perhaps to view space-time as a four-dimensional structure. The fundamental laws of physics work the same both forward and backwards.

Saxophones were not melted down to help the war effort, of course. Nor were trumpets. By 2047, wars were not fought this way. All conflicts were conducted in cyberspace. The real reason for the ban is a puzzler. It may never be disclosed.

A group of us, a dozen in all perhaps, are sitting in Eve’s garden in the early Autumn sunshine. It is a Saturday morning. It is the time you refer to as now. Eve has put on a spread of cakes and pastries including my favourite, tiramisu. In the background, Chet Baker is singing about a lost love. It is not clear when his love went missing.

Vincent asks Eve if there is any wine.

Eve laughs and says something about 1969.

What on Earth is she on about?

A reference to a lyric from a 1976 tune by The Eagles,’ Holly Wood explains.

Mainstream rock is not really my thing. It lacks subtlety. Little use of counterpoint. Sparing use of minor keys. I prefer jazz and blues.

Is there anything going on today?’ Pascal asks. ‘Something we could all go to.’

I mention the possibility of going to the match. Our local team are playing one of the bigger teams. This doesn’t seem to interest anyone.

The stranger in the harlequin-patterned shirt stroking the Maine Coon cat tells us there is a Street Fair on Monday. With fairground rides, magicians, circus acts, music and dancing. He mentions the names of some bands. They sound like tropical diseases.

Is Monday a Bank Holiday?’ I ask. It seems strange to have one in October. If it is a public holiday, it will probably mean that my harmonica class will have been cancelled. Lou said nothing about this last week. He just told me I needed to learn a new breathing technique and practice my blocking.

Monday is a Bank Holiday,’ Eve says. ‘It’s a new one to celebrate Prince Barry’s birthday.’

Who is Prince Barry, I wonder? Have I missed something? It’s hard to keep tabs on everything. There are so many unanswered questions. Why are red buttons always the most important? Who let the dogs out? And what is that low-pitched hum we’ve all been hearing for the last three months? No-one knows.

I don’t think I’ll be able to go to the Street Fair,’ I say. ‘My war wound is playing up.’

Shrapnel. Operation Olive. The Battle of Rimini. 1944. This was a proper war. A war with tanks and guns. That’s where I came across the harmonica. It must have belonged to a dead soldier. 1944.

Time can be a trickster,’ I say.

Time keeps on slipping, slipping into the future,’ Eve says.

Another tune from the 1970s, apparently. Eve is fond of quoting song lyrics. But does it? Does time keep slipping, slipping into the future? It seems to me this is not always the case. The big white Zephyr with the tail fins has been following me for weeks and I have been following the big white Zephyr with the tail fins for weeks. You may have seen it too. Big white Zephyr. Blacked out windows.

You’ve probably noticed how the night moves. Without warning, you are shifted from one narrative to another. It is said that when we leave somewhere, we leave something of ourselves behind. Even though we go away, part of us remains. We might thus inhabit many places at the same time. I was unable to understand the mechanics of the mystical crossroads until I was older but this is the way it is with time. One day, you will wake to find that the information has silently seeped into your consciousness. You will find yourself zipping about the space-time continuum. It will become so commonplace you will not even notice when it happens. And happen, it will.

I am on stage. The Charlie Tooting Quintet. We are playing at the Rimini Bar. In a small town in the west of England. Maybe you are in the audience. I can see there are quite a few in tonight. If you are not, you can catch up with us elsewhere. You will find details of our touring schedule on our website. Be sure to check the dates carefully otherwise you may find you have missed us. We have a request to play How Long Has This Been Going On. This is strictly speaking a tenor tune but I like to surprise people by playing it on soprano sax. I look around the stage for my instrument. I don’t appear to have brought the soprano. In fact, I have no saxophone at all. All I have here is a harmonica. And there is no band.

These things happen. When I was older, I discovered temporal precision, like many other things, is not something you can rely on. Best to throw out your timetables. They will do you no good. What then can you rely on? Can you rely on what you see? What you hear? What you read? Of course not! Can you rely on Divine intervention? Can you rely on intuition? Chance? Who can say?

Backgammon is considered a game that has the perfect balance between skill and luck. You need to make similar calculations to those you might make in a game of chess but at the same time, throughout the game, you have to rely on chance. The odds of throwing a double six are thirty five to one. The odds of rolling two double sixes in a row, when this is what you require to bear off, I believe, are one thousand, two hundred and ninety five to one. How then is Clancy Edo able to defy these odds? And this, of course, from a losing position and after I have upped the stakes with the doubling dice. Clancy has managed this on several occasions now. Littlewood’s Law suggests a person can expect to experience miracles, which he defines as events with odds of one in a million, at the rate of about one per month. But even so.

It was not until I was older that I realised many things in life are quite probably, unexplainable. The low-pitched hum we’ve all been hearing is unexplainable. The way the big white Zephyr with the tail fins keeps appearing is unexplainable. The way an original tune appears in your head from out of nowhere is unexplainable. Perhaps any revolutionary new idea is. Where can it have come from? Consciousness itself is unexplainable. If you are looking for answers to life’s mysteries, rationality will get you nowhere. There are black holes and it is said by one of our great thinkers that black holes are where God divided by zero.

I think I can hear someone calling me. It could be that my new medication is ready.

© Chris Green 2020: All rights reserved

Nevermind

nevermind

Nevermind by Chris Green

Growing up was never going to be easy for me. I could see from an early age that my parents were simply too distracted to put effort into raising a family. In the circles in which they moved, parenting was not fashionable. They immersed themselves in a series of leisure interests, none of which involved having a youngster in tow. Perhaps it was a generational thing. In the nineteen-seventies and nineteen-eighties, attitudes to family life in society were changing. As a result, I missed out on Santa’s Grottos, pantomimes, seaside outings, board games and skateboarding.

Busy pursuing a series of unsuccessful band projects, Dad was absent a lot of the time but Mum was hardly there at all. After years of talking about movie stardom, she finally left for Hollywood when I was nine, destined to become a film extra in a series of low budget B-Movies. Dad called it a day on performing with bands. It was obviously not going to make him a fortune. From this point on, he began to focus on building his vast record collection and growing a long beard. He looked like some kind of shaman or Eastern mystic. Does he have hidden powers, Phil Dark asked me one time, is he a soothsayer? Eddie Whitlock, who I used to play football with, referred to him as Mephistopheles. It slowly dawned on me that Dad was a bit weird.

I was never sure exactly what he did for a living but it was not a nine to five at the office. As far as I could tell, it involved a lot of sitting around in our smoke-filled front room with groups of dazed-looking people listening to loud music. Whatever it was, he put in very long hours. Clearly, this paid off. He always seemed to have large wads of tens and twentys in rubber bands. From time to time, he would peel off a couple of notes and tell me to go down the arcade or something. I quickly became adept at losing money on the machines. School was never of much interest to me and Dad didn’t even insist that I attended. I’m not sure I missed a lot.

By the time I was fourteen, Dad’s collection of albums extended around all four walls of the front room and beyond. It must have run into thousands. This was before the digital age. In Dad’s world, even the then-new medium of CDs was frowned upon. As for cassettes, he said, you might as well be listening through polythene. It had to be vinyl. He insisted the sound vinyl gave was richer. He was eclectic in his tastes and enjoyed everything from reggae to Nepalese gong music, heavy metal to acid jazz, The New York Dolls to The Third Ear Band. He had everything. The Velvet Underground, The Dead Kennedys. The Psychedelic Furs. He had to my reckoning no less than nineteen Captain Beefheart albums. And probably the only Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs album in existence

While it would be wrong to say I liked all the music he played. Frank Zappa’s Lumpy Gravy and Throbbing Gristle’s The Second Annual Report, for instance, were hard to get into. But Dad’s collection provided me with a musical education way beyond that which I would have got from my peers or by listening to the radio. In the normal run of things I would never have heard be-bop jazz, roots reggae or Creole. And I would have probably only heard the punk they played on Radio 1 and not the gritty New York stuff. Dad was keen for me to show an interest. He actively encouraged my appreciation of music. When he wasn’t too busy, he would take time out and like a history teacher, take me through his collection.

This is Chuck Berry,’ he might say. ‘This is where rock music began. The intro of Johnny B. Goode changed everything. And this is Dick Dale who pioneered the surf guitar sound.’

Or another time, ‘This is Nirvana, son. It’s called Nevermind. You won’t come across this for another ten years. But then you will hear it a lot. There are others too.’

I didn’t take much notice of the ten years bit at the time but I wish I had. If had I taken it in, it may have helped me later on.

Given there was little else happening around the house, I developed a keen interest in music. I discovered a lot of it sounded brilliant, especially on the kit that Dad had set up, the Lin deck, the powerful Quad amp and the massive Kef speakers. Music from all genres. It was also not too shabby on the Sony music centre he bought me for my bedroom. I was becoming hooked. Sometimes we both had our systems on full blast. It must have been hell for the neighbours.

I don’t mind you playing my albums,’ he said. ‘So long as you are careful. But whatever you do, don’t be tempted to play this one.’

With this, he drew out an album with a plain matt black sleeve with no writing or artwork.

Naturally, I asked him why. Was it dangerous? Was it illegal? He did not answer my questions.

Seriously,’ he said, to emphasise the point. ‘Don’t be tempted to play it. It would not be a good idea.’

He ignored further protestations and gave me the look that I knew from experience meant business. I put the matter to the back of my mind. No doubt one day I would find out what the record was but for now it didn’t matter. There were plenty of others to get my teeth into.

Inspired by Dad’s collection, and through the twentys, he continued to slip me every couple of days, I began a collection of my own. Marvin Gaye, Miles Davis, The Ramones, Def Leppard, Was Not Was, Nick Drake, Jacob Miller. I liked a lot of different types of music. I felt I was ahead of my peers at school, who were still listening to the likes of Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet.

Although he had given up gigging, Dad still had some of his guitars hanging around and with my new-found interest in music, it seemed only natural that I should learn to play. The Gibson I plugged in didn’t make sweet sounds right away but after a few days practice, I began to get the hang of it. With a view to perhaps forming a group, I began to write songs with my friend, Charlie. Charlie had been playing longer than me and knew more than just a few chords. He could even play keyboards and read music.

By this time, Dad had met Debbie. At last, there was someone who seemed to like his Karl Marx beard. I had felt for a long time the beard had held him back in the romance stakes since Mum left. There was so much beard and it was so unkempt. Not every woman would want to wake up to that. But Debbie clearly didn’t mind. With a new spring in his step, he started to go out more often taking Debbie to exhibitions and concerts. This meant I often had the house to myself. Charlie took to coming around and we began to put together new songs. Charlie was impressed by Dad’s huge collection and we would go through it and play our favourites on the new Bang and Olufsen hi-fi Dad had bought to impress Debbie.

On one of Charlie’s visits, I went out to get refreshments and when I returned, I found him collapsed on the floor. I tried to bring him round by slapping him and shaking him but he did not respond. Had he taken something, he shouldn’t, I wondered? Had he suffered an attack of a mysterious life-threatening condition he had not told me about? I checked his pulse. It seemed to be pulsing and so far as I could tell, he was still breathing which was lucky. I sure as hell wasn’t going to give him the kiss of life. I would never live it down. I called an ambulance. They asked me who he was. They asked me what had happened. I said I didn’t know. The paramedics tried to bring him round. They seemed to become more and more flustered. One of them talked urgently to a colleague over the radio. Evidently, Charlie’s condition was serious. I went with the crew in the ambulance as it rushed him to hospital, alarms sounding.

While I was waiting in Littleton General for news, I got an angry call from Dad.

I told you to leave that album alone,’ he shouted down the phone.

Which album?’ I said.

The one I told you about,’ he said. ‘The black album. I found it in its dust jacket on the floor. …… At least, you didn’t play it. ……. You didn’t play it, did you? No, of course not. You couldn’t have. Otherwise …..’

I suddenly realised he was talking about the black album. As it happened, I hadn’t even thought about it for years.

Without saying where I was or what had happened to Charlie, I told Dad I had more important things to think about and hung up. But, might Charlie have played the album while I was out? Could there be a connection between this and his collapse? Dad had been very definite that I should not play it. There had to be a reason. But this was absurd. It was a ridiculous idea. What was I thinking? It couldn’t realistically have had anything to do with it.

I kept out of Dad’s way for a few days and he was pre-occupied with Debbie’s birthday preparations and he appeared to forget all about the episode. Charlie meanwhile recovered, but he did not come around much after this. I don’t know if this was down to Charlie or whether it was down to me but we never got around to discussing what had actually happened that day. Meanwhile, I found a new writing partner, Jilli who I discovered I could quite happily give the kiss of life to if needed. Things moved forward rapidly as they tend to do for teenagers.

You may not have heard of The Lenticular Clouds but in 1987, for one week in July, our single, Out of Time was in the charts at number 39. Also we recorded an album that we felt might have cemented us in the annals of rock history had it sadly not been shelved by the record company after an alleged wrangle with our manager, Larry Funk. The master tapes of Up in the Clouds mysteriously disappeared. We re-recorded the songs from the album but with poor facilities and wholesale changes in our line-up, they didn’t come out the same. Given the poor quality of the recording, this too was shelved. By the end of 1988, I found I was the only surviving member of the original band. Charlie, Vince, Hank and Freddie had all left, along with Jilli.

Out of the blue one day, I remembered the Nirvana disc that Dad had shown me back in 1981. The one he told me I would not come across for another decade. Why the anomaly had not troubled me before, I cannot say. Perhaps I had never been big on mindfulness. Like Mum and Dad, I was too easily distracted, unable to concentrate on one thing long enough to get to the bottom of it. But surely this was a biggie. How had I let this one go? It occurred to me now that there might be others like Nevermind, other items in Dad’s collection that denied temporal logic. Albums that Dad owned that rightly belonged to a future time. Hadn’t he suggested this was the case when he first mentioned it? How or why this might be, of course, was a different matter. Perhaps Phil Dark and Eddie Whitlock had been right and Dad did have special powers. Might the curious black album that he had made all the fuss about be part of the weirdness as well? It was time for me to investigate.

I did not confront Dad with it immediately but when he and Debbie had gone to see an art-house film at the cinema, I looked through the shelves for the black album. He had moved it but I eventually found it. I slowly took it out of its sleeve. There was nothing written on the plain black label. I placed it carefully on Dad’s new Linn Axis turntable and lowered the arm. I think I knew what I expected to hear but at the same time, I refused to believe it. Sure enough, it was Make Believe, the opening track from The Lenticular Clouds’ original album. The fist song Charlie and I wrote. I tried to get my head around how this could have happened. We had not even recorded it at the time that Dad first showed me the disc. But in a way it made sense because this was on the same occasion that he showed me Nevermind, which would not be available for another ten years. There was no rational explanation for this either. Perhaps there never would be. Dad refused point-blank to explain. What was the point, he said? I never listened to him and anyway, I would not understand. While I was not an expert in these matters, I had worked out that the passing of time was in a sense illusory. There was no tomorrow. Every time I had woken up it was today. But you could play around with concepts for evermore. This was abstract thinking. It did not help towards understanding. Why are life’s mysteries so tantalising?

It was anything but straightforward but I managed to track down Mum in California. I wished I hadn’t bothered. It was distressing. She didn’t seem to know who I was let alone what the score was with Dad’s music collection. Nor did she seem interested in talking. It sounded as if she wanted to get back to her bottle. Why are family units so dysfunctional?

Coda

I left home shortly after this. I left the music business behind and moved away from Littleton to sort my life out. I travelled for a year or two and ended up in New Zealand where I joined a sheep worshipping cult. This did not work out. Sheep worshipping is not for everyone. It is not all it is cracked up to be. I had a breakdown. On my recovery, I struck up a relationship with my psychotherapist’s daughter, Naida. We got married and now have two teenage children who are hopefully better adjusted than I was when I was growing up.

These days, I find it is far easier to stream music. You no longer need to build up a collection. It’s all out there. Apart from The Lenticular Clouds album that is. You may have some difficulty finding this. Nevermind, should you want to, you can stream all of Nirvana’s stuff. And as Johnny B. Goode was sent into interstellar space on the Voyager mission a while back, it is quite likely that aliens from some distant place are heading this way to see what else we have to offer. They are probably ready for Dick Dale’s surf guitar classics and Captain Beefheart’s nineteen albums. They are probably even ready for Impaled Northern Moonforest and Compressorhead. And who knows what they might bring to the table?

So far as I can make out, Dad’s record collection gradually got replaced by CDs and later, digital. I think Debbie was keen to free up the space. I never asked how much he got for it but it must have been thousands. The beard has gone too, I gather. Now and again, I try to recall how strange life was back then. But, it all seems so long ago, I sometimes question whether it happened at all. Memory is not always a reliable servant. I don’t know if I can say for certain that temporal order has been restored or whether it was ever breached. Perhaps its best to be mindful and be on the look out for more surprises, just in case.

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

The Food of Love

thefoodoflove

The Food of Love by Chris Green

1:

I’m Clinton Stroud. Some of you will have heard of me but for those of you who have not, I am composer, multi-instrumentalist and musical coach. A long-standing one to boot. I will be one hundred and twenty three next birthday. This is a little longer than I expected to live, I can tell you. I have now had twenty two telegrams from the Queen, and I still think of her as the little girl stroking the corgi on the Newsreels that accompanied the double features in the nineteen thirties. It is said you can tell you are getting old when policemen start to look younger. Even Chief Superintendents have seemed like schoolchildren to me for as long as I can remember. But there are benefits to being old. As Mark Twain once said, ‘Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.’ It is best perhaps to think of youth as a malady from which we all recover. Old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.

In my lifetime, I have seen the birth of the motor car, the aeroplane, radio and television, antibiotics and sliced bread. Let us not forget the ballpoint pen, the electric guitar, the microwave oven and the atomic bomb. I have witnessed the collapse of Empire, the rise of secularism and the provision and destruction of the welfare state. Oil and petrochemicals have become crucial resources to human civilisation and transformed the balance of power the world over. Oil, of course, is running out. Oil production per year has been greater than oil discoveries every year since 1980. One day soon there will be a lot of disappointed people.

When I was born, Queen Victoria was on the throne, most families had no bathroom and there was horse-muck on the streets. In cities, gas street-lights cut through the ubiquitous smog. Yet you could walk for miles in the countryside in the cool clean air in awe of the bucolic splendour. I have seen the landscape change out of all recognition. Our green and pleasant land has lost out to electricity pylons, motorways, and suburban sprawl. Communication in all forms has been revolutionised. When I was born, we had the penny post and the Daily Mail. Now twenty-four-hour television, mobile phones and superfast broadband are all things we take for granted. The population of the UK back then was twenty nine million. Today it is sixty seven million. People are living longer. I feel I am not helping.

Things change gradually. Except in the case of monumental events, you are not aware that it is happening. The changes are so subtle that you do not notice from moment to moment, day to day. Age creeps up on you with clandestine stealth, as months, years and decades slide inexorably by. You can perhaps only measure change through a succession of befores and afters. Even then, time acts as an unreliable witness, leaving you unsure of precise chronology. But the uncertainty could be exaggerated by my circumstances. I have lived rather a long time. I have been married four times, to Emma, Natalie, Lucy and Sakura. I have, to my knowledge, twenty two great-great-grandchildren and twenty eight great-great-great-grandchildren, and, no, I cannot remember all of their names.

2:

Music goes back a long way. It means literally the art of the muses. Ancient Greek philosophers understood the healing effects music has on the body and soul. Rhythm and harmony represent a universal language: rhythm the heartbeat, the voice the song. Music has been my inspiration. Through my musical calling, I have had the good fortune to meet some of the people who have overseen the historic changes.

Few people realise that David Lloyd George was a keen saxophonist. This does not appear in any of the numerous biographies. The biographers concentrate disproportionately on his political career, with a nod here and there to his Welshness. Not a mention of his musical interests. It was I who taught the Welsh Wizard the saxophone, at the time a marginal instrument even in jazz orchestras. Lloyd George possessed a natural ability and could have easily mastered the clarinet. But he preferred the saxophone. He saw himself as a trailblazer. He bought one of the first Selmer Modele 22, saxophones to come to the UK, and guested in jazz ensembles which, although there are no records of this, played at dance halls in the Manchester area.

Why did we have to fight the war?’ I asked Lloyd one day. I had spent a majority of World War One in Italy with a military band, fortunately well south of the front.

I will tell you why, boyo,’ he said. ‘National pride. Germany expected to find a lamb and found a lion.’

No question of sitting around the table and discussing things first then?’ I said.

Diplomats were invented simply to waste time,’ was his response.

This did not seem like a Liberal view, but I let it go. I was more interested in his progress on the saxophone.

Mohandas Gandhi never really mastered the blues harmonica. But on a visit to London in 1931, he came to me for tuition. Harp players at the time had started experimenting with new techniques such as tongue-blocking, hand effects and the most important innovation of all, the second position, or cross-harp. Mohandas felt the harmonica was an instrument associated with the poor and being able to play it to the starving masses back home would lend support to his great mission.

History would turn out for the better if our leaders learned that most disputes can be resolved by a willingness to understand the issues of our opponents and by using diplomacy and compassion,’ he said.

It is a shame that history has the habit of repeating itself,’ I said.

Mohandas thought this a negative view to take. He was optimistic that a new common sense would eventually emerge if you kept plugging away.

We must become the change we want to see, Clinton,’ he said.

Mahatma’s teachings stayed with me through the years of conflict that lay ahead. He was only four foot nine but he was a huge and inspirational man. I can still picture him, sitting in the lotus position, his bony fingers clenching his Hohner, blowing for all he was worth. I would have loved him to have been able to play Hoochie Coochie Man properly on the harp, but sadly he had to leave to catch his boat back to India for an important fast.

The nineteen thirties are usually associated with the Depression, but I look back on the decade as a happy time. I married my first wife, Emma, and my first two children, Darius and Diana, were growing up. I enjoyed a modicum of success with my work, completing an octet and a jazz concerto. We moved to Pimlico, which then was up-and-coming. It was a great shame to see the clouds of war gathering at such a positive time, but politicians the world over are a stubborn breed.

World War Two may never have happened if Churchill has been better at playing the piano. He showed initial promise when he came to me. I took him through a few easy pieces, early Mozart sonatas and the like. But when we moved on to Chopin, his interpretations were clumsy and heavy-handed. Winston had what we sometimes refer to as butcher’s fingers, not suited to deliver the delicate passages of the Preludes and Nocturnes. He seemed to display a disdain for the instrument in the fortissimo passages. On the occasions I tried to explain this to him he usually stormed off in a huff. He did not take criticism well. His famous Hush over Europe speech in August 1938 came right after I told him that he played Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations with all the subtlety of a tank commander. He growled something unintelligible at me, finished his Remy Martin and went straight off to the House of Commons. Had he been able to control these rages, he may have backed off a little on his warmongering. While we may now all be speaking German, Winston may have gracefully embraced retirement with his Steinway and his watercolours.

3:

How did you come into music, Clint?’ Orson Welles asked me once when he was driving me home after his zither lesson in his big Buick. ‘Do your family have a musical tradition?’

It was 1948. Alfred Hitchcock had introduced us. I had taught Hitchcock to play a weird instrument called the theremin. To be honest, Hitchcock did not really want to learn but thought he might use the sound effects it made in one of his films. Orson, on the other hand, became a bit of a virtuoso on the zither. I heard a rumour it may even have been Orson and not Anton Karas who played the soundtrack music for The Third Man, which went on to be one of the most successful films of all time.

I did not often talk about my background. Not that I was ashamed of my humble beginnings, but somehow I felt it destroyed the mystique. I tried to dodge the question by talking instead about my early musical influences, but Orson had a persuasive way about him.

Are you going to answer my question, god-dammit?’ he said.

I come from a railway family,’ I told him. ‘Both my father and my grandfather worked on the railways. I came into music entirely by accident. I started playing when I was three on a penny whistle that was left in a railway carriage. It had probably belonged to a travelling navvy. I’m entirely self-taught.’

I explained that I quickly found out I was able to play any musical instrument I picked up. It was like opening a box of chocolates and finding all soft centres. I had what my music teacher at primary school, Miss Schnabel, called a precocious talent. I learned to read music before I could read my Jolly Animal ABC.

I got to know Orson quite well. In fact, it was through Orson that I met my second wife, Natalie. Natalie was a nutritionist treating Orson for his recurring obesity. Orson was a large man in every sense and, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me saying, obsessed with his weight. He had flown Natalie in from America to keep an eye on his constitution while he was looking for film locations in the UK.

Natalie introduced me to the benefits of wholegrain cereal, bee pollen, goji berries and noni juice, all of which I have retained in my diet ever since, and are among the things to which I can attribute my longevity. These along with a positive attitude to life, regular exercise and an active sex life. I subscribed to my friend Pablo Picasso’s philosophy that a young partner helped to keep you young. Natalie made me feel like a teenager again. She was nearly thirty years my junior. I was fifty one and she was twenty four. Our extended honeymoon took advantage of the opportunities opening up in air travel and took in all six continents. We were stunned by many unforgettable sights, the multicoloured reefs and cays of The Great Barrier Reef, Machu Picchu in the middle of a mountain rainforest, the boat ride through The Blue Grotto Cave in Capri, the summer sun setting on The Grand Canyon, and the great migration of gazelles and wildebeests sweeping across the Serengeti plain in the early morning, to name but a few. But some less obvious sights were equally pleasing. The colourful paddle steamer chugging down the Orinoco, the silhouette of a camel train crossing the Arabian desert, the reflection of the houseboats on the Dal Lake in Kashmir on a Spring evening. Yes, the air miles were clocking up a little, but young love knew no bounds.

Although always modest about her talent, Natalie was an accomplished pianist. With a youthful ear, she was an inspiration to my music. She helped to take it in new directions. The nineteen fifties were productive. I was on a roll. My compositions began to incorporate dissonance and atonality. In a few short years, I wrote a concerto for orchestra using a small orchestra as a solo instrument against a larger orchestra, a quintet (four cellos and a flute), a jazz ballet, and a tone poem based on The Seventh Seal. I may not have become a household name, but these unusual pieces were well received. Miranda Miercoles, Melody Maker’s classical music critic, not one that one associates with praise of any sort, referred to my work at the time as groundbreaking. I framed the notice.

Natalie persuaded me that we should spend time in America. She was from New York ans suggested we buy somewhere in the city. Money was coming in steadily and we were able to buy a comfortable apartment in Manhattan on The Upper East Side close to Central Park. We were within strolling distance of the museums and galleries that were beginning to prosper and the jazz clubs on 52nd Street. One day, while I was in the apartment tinkling away on the ivories, I had a call from a magazine illustrator. Orson had given him my name, he said. He told me he drew whimsical sketches of shoes. He wanted to learn how to orchestrate. I explained there weren’t any rules as such. You learned mainly through experience and spontaneous discoveries.

It’s very much a hands-on art,’ I said. ‘You have to be aware of point and counterpoint and of the families of instruments, timbres of each instrument in the family, and of course, tonality, but beyond that, it is up to the individual.’

Good!’ he said. ‘That’s uh what I wanted to hear. It should be easy then.’

You mean like major for happy and minor for sad,’ I quipped.

Uh yes,’ he said. ‘Exactly.’ He seemed perfectly serious about this being the case.

I’m not sure orchestration’s something I can teach you,’ I said. ‘What was it you had in mind to orchestrate?’

I have a big plan,’ he said. ‘They say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself. That’s uh, what I’m going to do.’

Well, we can’t do it over the phone, can we?’ I said. ‘You’d better come on over.’

The figure across the threshold had a ghost-like quality. he seemed to be there and not there at the same time. He wore a white suit and a blue and white hooped Breton sweater. His tortoiseshell dark glasses and platinum blond hair made him look a little effeminate. My first impression, as he limply shook my hand, was that he was incredibly shy, but despite this shyness, he had astounding charisma.

Hi, I’m Andy,’ he said. ‘Andy Warhol.’

I invited him in and sat him down.

I’m going to be famous one day,’ he said, deadpan.

How do you know?’ I asked.

In the future, everyone will be famous,’ he laughed.

What? For fifteen minutes?’ I joked.

That’s good,’ he said. ‘I might use that.’

I found Andy’s philosophy interesting and some of the things he said had yet more resonance in retrospect.

We moved on to the subject of orchestration. I told him in terms of musical composition Mozart and Beethoven were a good place to start. Mozart for his precision and flow and Beethoven for his bold innovations.

Andy felt it might be better to start with Debussy and Ravel because they were more contemporary and therefore it would not take so long to learn.

You need to be able to put an idea on one side of Letter paper,’ he explained.

I asked if he had met the minimalist composer, John Cage. 4’33 consists of the pianist going to the piano, and not hitting any keys for four minutes and thirty-three seconds,’ I told him.

Cool!’ he said.

We spent the next session putting together a bullet point list and the one after that at Boosey and Hawkes music store where Andy bought a selection of instruments. He showed no interest at all in playing them; I think they were peripheral to his mission. What he wanted to orchestrate was an Art Movement.

6:

The times, they were a-changing. At least, Bob Dylan thought so. He wanted me to teach him how to play electric guitar to fit in to the changes he felt were taking place. The real reason Bob wanted to learn may have been that he was not very good on the acoustic guitar. Going electric seemed to be a good move. It suited his casual approach to the instrument. And the rest is history. He became the stuff of legend.

It was time too for me to move on. It had been over with Natalie for a while and it was with great sadness, I returned to England leaving her and our son, Adam, and daughter, Charlotte, in New York. I took a flat in fashionable Cheyne Walk, overlooking the Thames.

Hearing I was now in London, Julie Christie called me up. Darling had been a big hit for her and she wanted to stay in the limelight. She was reading the script for Doctor Zhivago. She was wondering whether to take the part of Lara that the great David Lean had offered her. She thought learning to play the balalaika might help her get into the role. Julie was sensual and intelligent. She possessed a luminous beauty the cameras loved. The thing was, she was even more stunning in the flesh. Julie was also a terrible flirt. Most days, it seemed, the balalaika I borrowed from the Russian embassy lay untouched.

What is it that inspires you?’ she asked.

I hear music in the flow of the river, the rain on the window, the clinking of glasses, the hum of late night traffic.’ I said. ‘I hear music in everything, in the everyday and that is what sustains me. I have a tune in my head the whole day long.’

Play me your favourite piece of music,’ Julie said.

I had lots of favourite pieces of music. I had turned down Desert Island Discs as I felt unable to decide on just eight tunes. I wondered what I could play for Julie. The great violin concertos of the nineteenth century were out of the question, as clearly they needed an orchestra. I could have picked Bach or Mozart, but I thought that Julie was hoping for something more contemporary. Despite an age difference of forty years, there was definitely a mutual attraction. Bill Evans My Foolish Heart seemed appropriate. I wondered if we might be going to have a full-blown affair. But we didn’t.

Popular music upped its game in the nineteen sixties. Record producers like Phil Spector, George Martin and Brian Wilson pushed back the boundaries of the art. Pop music spearheaded a huge social change. What had once seemed throwaway now seemed important and vital. London was the new capital of the cultural world. Pop stars, models and photographers were the new elite. Ray Davies was a friend of Julie’s and Julie invited me along to a show The Kinks were filming at Twickenham Film Studios. It was here I met Lucy, who would be my partner for the next fifteen years.

Lucy was on the fringes of the music business. The closest I could come to describing her role would be, musical muse. She hung around gatherings of musicians and had a mystical presence. She was someone you noticed; someone who stood out in a room. She was beautiful; with her deep and lustrous eyes and long dark flowing hair, she looked like a Greek siren, without of course the wings. She was twenty one. My paramours seemed to be getting younger. What was it Shakespeare said about music being the food of love? It was time to play on.

Lucy moved in with me right away. For the next year or two, we played host to the pop world at Cheyne Walk, as young musicians dropped by to learn exotic new instruments. Brian Jones and George Harrison were regular visitors, as were four young lads up from Cambridge who called themselves Pink Floyd. I like to think that in a modest way we changed the direction of rock music. It moved away from the established format of two guitars, bass and drums to utilise a more colourful palette. I appeared, uncredited, on many of the classic albums from this period including Aftermath, Piper at the Gates of Dawn and Sergeant Pepper, playing dulcimer, tsabouna, musical saw and serpent. I also composed my Trio for Violin, Saxophone and Mandolin and my famous Wind Chimes Concerto over the so-called Summer of Love.

In 1968, in a nod perhaps to the hippy ideal, Lucy and I moved to Lanzarote. The ten years we spent living there were among the happiest of my life. Undeveloped at the time and minimalist in its colour palette, Lanzarote offered a perfect spiritual retreat. It was a place for the mind to focus. Our traditional whitewashed casa rural was in an isolated setting on the south-western coast. The artist and architect, Cesar Manrique, lived nearby and was a frequent visitor. His project was to transform the desert landscape, harmonising his vibrant modern design with the traditional architecture and colours of the island. A huge interest in alternative power was developing in the Canaries and through Manrique’s civil engineering team we had both solar panels and a wind turbine to deliver power to our house and the surrounding community. We were pioneers. Why not? Lanzarote is both windy and sunny. The rest of the world seems to still be resisting this somewhat obvious solution to our power needs.

Occasionally our mutual friend, Picasso came over to see us. Although he would not return to Spain, he was happy to visit us in Lanzarote. Other than this, we had few visitors. Darius and Diana and their respective families came over now and again (grandchildren growing in number and it seemed quickly growing up), and once or twice Natalie brought Adam and Charlotte. Mostly though it was just the two of us and a handful of alternative free-thinkers. It was possible to concentrate on the moment, enjoying each minute of every day without rushing towards the next. I gradually found a profound stillness take over my being. I felt young and invigorated. Lucy became a gifted painter of abstract landscapes. As for me, my music began to develop a profound simplicity.

How many Zen masters does it take to change a lightbulb? The cypress tree in the courtyard.

I have always been a great admirer of Erik Satie. He called his Dadaist-inspired musical explorations Furniture music. He saw it as the sort of music that could be played during a dinner to create a background atmosphere, rather than serving as the focus of attention. Satie is the link between early twentieth century Art movements and the work of Brian Eno. Recognising me as a fellow innovator, Brian sought me out and came over. Together we composed music that synthesised melody and texture. Although the expression, ambient music is often attributed to Brian Eno, I like to think I coined the phrase. Ambient comes from the Latin verb ambire, to surround. Our collaboration produced sonic landscapes, atmospheres and treatments. Film directors came knocking. We had inadvertently created the template for movie soundtracks and background to television drama and documentaries for many years to come. You will have heard my music from this period many times without realising it.

4:

The nineteen eighties can be summed up in one word: greed. Why was everyone so blind to the dangers of uncontrolled consumerism? It could only lead to disaster. A new set of guidelines regarding conglomerates, power generation, air travel, transport, and waste management was needed to rein in the excesses. Sadly, those brave enough to challenge Thatcherism and its free market sensibility were picked off and crushed. Lucy and I moved to the New Forest. At least here, we could show our respect for trees.

The politics of the day were reflected in its music. The decade was a singularly poor one. Popular music reduced itself once more to a succession of bland, artless nursery rhymes. Cheap Yamaha synthesisers and drum machines programmed by greedy, tone-deaf computer programmers produced monotonous, predictable, exhaustible and hackneyed three-minute jingles. Flamboyant, androgynous models with streaky makeup and spiked hair pranced around in fancy dress to unrelated storylines in fast-cut short films produced by yuppie film directors. It was a case of nice video, shame about the song. And those awful drum machines at the front of the mix. Even established rock acts became mainstream and mediocre issuing insipid power ballads. And jazz began to sound like elevator music. How could you have smooth jazz? This is an oxymoron. Classical music fared no better during the period. With its fetish for dissonance, it became all but inaccessible.

Zeitgeist means the spirit of the times, but can also be related to the concept of collective consciousness, which describes how an entire community comes together to share similar values. Was this the explanation for the decline in musical quality perhaps? Subliminally, people had agreed that music was no longer important. It was better to get rich, and quickly.

When Tariq Ali came around for his violin lesson. I put this idea to him. ‘What do you think, Tariq?’ I asked.

In times of peace, the arts gravitate towards mediocrity,’ he said.

There was no war in the sixties,’ I said. ‘But there was lots of great music.’

No war in the sixties?’ he laughed. ‘There was the Vietnam War. We may not have been on the front line but as a culture, we were involved. Didn’t you go on any demonstrations?’

I was living in Lanzarote at the time,’ I told him. ‘We had just moved out. But I do remember the Battle of Grosvenor Square. You and Vanessa Redgrave were leading the march weren’t you?’

Indeed. And Mick Jagger wrote Streetfighting Man,’ he said.But to get back to my point. Do you not recall the famous line in The Third Man about the Swiss?’

Not word for word,’ I said.

In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.’

Ah yes, I remember now. That was my old friend, Orson Welles,’ I said. ‘Perhaps we will have another war soon. There are some mad people in charge.’

It won’t a war with The Eastern Bloc,’ Tariq said. ‘Russia is not a country you can invade and occupy. War is about occupation and colonisation. The next war will be against Islamic states, where they can send in an occupying force. And, of course, there’s the oil. Iraq’s my guess.’

In retrospect, it seems he was right.

5:

The days get longer and the days get shorter. As you get older, the heat of summer makes you uncomfortable, so you look forward to the winter, but you can’t cope with the long dark nights and the cold, so you look forward to the spring, and your life passes by, with this contradiction. You are getting older but you are willing the time to pass. Seasons replace one another in a relentless procession as the northern hemisphere tilts towards or away from the sun.

According to Luigi, my barber in Ringwood at the time, the planet Mercury has no tilt and therefore no seasons. Luigi was a prototype Google. He knew everything. He had been a contender on Mastermind, his specialist subject, String Theory.

No seasons,’ I said. ‘That’s good then, isn’t it? Why couldn’t we live on Mercury?’

There is a little problem my friend. It has no atmosphere,’ he said.

Not so good for the old breathing then.’

And its four hundred degrees during the day and minus two hundred at night.’

Bit hard to get used to.’

You’ll like this, though,’ Luigi said. ‘Mercury has a crater called Beethoven which is the largest in the solar system. They have also named craters after Puccini, Verdi, Vivaldi, Schubert, Sibelius and Wagner. It is riddled with craters. You name me a composer and they have probably named a crater on Mercury after him. I’ll find out if they have named one after you, my friend.’

He never did find out. Sadly Luigi died when the steering on his Fiat gave out as he was overtaking an articulated truck near Basingstoke on the M3. He was only sixty two. No age at all.

When you reach your eighties, you understandably find those you have known or admired are dying with increased regularity. When you get a call from a friend you have not heard from in a while, you know it will be to inform you that someone you both know has died. The receptionist at the funeral directors gets to recognise your voice, as you order wreaths for lost friends and colleagues with increasing frequency, and you start getting Christmas cards from the undertaker. You find you know all the words to The Old Rugged Cross and Abide With Me, and your copy of The Times falls open at the obituaries. Death is all around. When you visit the doctors with a routine chest infection, you imagine the grim reaper is sitting next to you.

Following Lucy’s death from a rare blood disease, I became acutely aware of my own mortality. It became obvious that one day I would die and although I seemed to be in remarkable health, I began to speculate on how I would die and when. None of the ways seemed especially pleasant and most involved a protracted period of pain. Cardiovascular disease was statistically the most likely cause for someone of my age, although hot on its heels were cancer and strokes. Then there were lower respiratory infections, tuberculosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. And worse. How bad could old age be? Constantly worrying about when the door would open and whether you would know when it was going to open. Nostalgia too, I found, was something that could fuel later-life depression. Don’t look back!

Irving Berlin helped to lift my gloom. Irving was a legend. Throughout the twentieth century, Irving had had a greater influence upon American music than any other one man. If anyone could deliver a pearl of wisdom, it was Irving. I was fortunate to gain an audience with the great man on a stopover trip to New York to see my grandchildren, as he was by then famously uncooperative. I asked Irving his secret.

Music is the key,’ he said. ‘Music has been used in medicine for thousands of years. It enhances memory and helps with concentration. It boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure, relaxes muscle tension, regulates stress hormones, elevates mood, and increases endurance. That’s what my doctor tells me. And he’s older than I am.’

I knew Irving to be in his late nineties, so this made his doctor very old indeed.

I’d better start writing some music soon then,’ I said.

Another thing,’ Irving said. ‘I presume you suffer from earworm, where the last tune you hear stays in your head.’

Indeed,’ I said. ‘I don’t even have to hear a tune. Just reading the title of a song I know can set it off.’

The secret is to make the tune in your head a joyful one with happy words.’

What about the old blue musicians?’ I queried. ‘They seem to all live to be a ripe old age despite all the baby left me lyrics.’

What! you mean lived to be twenty seven, like Robert Johnson and Jimi Hendrix.’

He had a point. I was probably being selective. For every John Lee Hooker or Muddy Waters, there was a Blind Boy Fuller or Freddie King.

Look at me as a living example of someone who keeps a happy song going round in his head,’ said Irving. ‘It has worked for me.’

OK, I will try it.’ I said.

At the same time, don’t avoid thoughts of death,’ Irving continued. ‘Remind yourself your death is guaranteed. Facing death should be something that empowers you and heightens your senses. Feel the inevitability of it. Feel the horror of it. And then open your eyes and realise you are now alive. But try not to do this every day.’

It took a little application, but after a while, I arrived at a view whereby death offered an increased opportunity to see what was important. But, as Irving had suggested, music was the way to make my mark. This realisation provided me with motivation. I kept a happy tune in my head and entered a new creative phase. My Tenor Saxophone Concerto was popular, as was my Sextet for Four Pianos, Oboe and Harp. But the piece that gained the most recognition was my opera, Gatto di Schrödinger (Schrödinger’s Cat), which played at opera houses around the world. Who could forget the rousing fortissimo chorus for one hundred voices, ‘Il gatto è tanto vivi e morti.’

7:

Tim Berners-Lee may have been considerably richer had he not come to me for lessons on the cor anglais. Having invented the model for the internet, he was faced with a dilemma. Should he patent the idea and become rich, or should he put it in the public domain for the benefit of all? In between run-throughs of Schumann’s Reverie for Cor Anglais and Piano, we discussed the pros and cons of both viewpoints. It may have been my suggestion that the World Wide Web be royalty-free so that networks could adopt universal standards without having to pay their inventors. He argued that others would make billions out of the idea.

How would you best like to be remembered?’ I asked him. ‘As a universally reviled figure or as a benefactor to humankind?’

Tim must have taken my point. The next day, after we had been over Respighi’s Pini di Roma, He seemed to have come off the fence. He used the very arguments I had used.

The World Wide Web must have an open standard,’ he said. ‘Otherwise, there will be incompatible forms of media, backed by Microsoft and Apple and the like.’

I met Sakura at The Saatchi Gallery in St. John’s Wood at an exhibition called Young British Artists. The show featured work by the little-known Damien Hirst, Mark Wallinger and Rachel Whiteread, all of who would go on to win the Turner Prize. I had not particularly wanted to see the exhibition, having read the press write-up about tiger sharks immersed in formaldehyde. But a friend whose view I respected told me I had to go.

Something important is happening here,’ my friend had said. ‘Damien Hirst’s work is an examination of the fragile boundaries between life and death.’

Sakura caught my look of puzzlement as I took in The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (the fourteen-foot tiger shark in the tank). What was Art, I wondered? Where were the boundaries? Paul Gauguin had once said ‘Art is either plagiarism or revolution.’ I could accept that Art constantly needed to re-define itself. But in my cynicism, I wondered if was just a question of a dealer or curator saying something was important art, a prominent critic supporting him, and collectors with their megabucks being persuaded. It was becoming like an investment bank.

The shark is a metaphor for mortality,’ Sakura said.

I found myself no longer looking at the unsettling spectacle in the tank. Sakura was a much more attractive prospect for my gaze. She possessed an exquisite beauty. She had long raven black hair, obsidian eyes and rich nut-brown skin with a flourish of red across her cheekbones. Her body pushed in all the right places against the fabric of the tight floral print dress. I was transfixed. I felt a profound surge of well-being. Another bout of rejuvenation was on the way.

I must have come up with a clever riposte, because the next thing I recall, we were eating dinner at Claridge’s. Before I knew it, we were living together. I wondered later if our meeting had not been set up as a blind date. Sakura wondered the same. It appeared she had had a phonecall from the same mutual friend recommending the exhibition. Sakura worked in television. I did not watch a lot of television, so I was not aware of any of the programmes she had been involved with. In no time at all, she suggested writing my biography.

I don’t think I’m famous enough,’ I said. In fact, I had many times thought of writing my autobiography, but I was too lazy to start. With so many years to cover, such a project seemed daunting.

Everyone knows who you are,’ Sakura said. ‘But no one knows very much about you. The world is crying out for some insight into your life.’

Sakura had formidable powers of persuasion. The chapters charting my childhood in the Cotswolds were in the bag in a few days. However, after the move to North London, sister Susanna joining the Suffragettes, Walter and I going off to war, and Emma and I marrying, we reached the point where retrieval of memories was becoming more of a challenge. Looking back was becoming vertiginous. It was a long way down.

You should have kept a diary,’ said Sakura.

I started to keep one,’ I said. ‘A long time ago. After the First World War……. I think that they may be up in the attic somewhere in an old leather bag.’

Sakura dug them out, four gnarled Evening Standard Diaries from 1918 to 1921, and eagerly began to devour them.

Why did you stop writing the diary after June 1921?’

It was a fair question. Had my pen run out of ink? Had I had an unexpected illness? Had I sold my soul to the devil? I couldn’t remember.

The biography progressed more slowly documenting the years after 1921. I had some recollection as to when I had met celebrity figures. I had dates for my recordings. But with regards to my personal life, there were no records. All of my contemporaries were dead. Even my children had difficulty remembering with any precision. Either that or they had not wanted to cooperate. To my great sadness, none of them had taken well to Sakura. I could recall the big events like the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley (I had been introduced to one of my early heroes, Sir Edward Elgar) and the General Strike (I was stuck in Dover with Aleister Crowley for twelve days). But the devil was in the detail. You wait until you are my age and Alzheimer’s starts gently kicking in.

Looking back made me question whether the quality of life had changed for the better over the years. We were now able to travel fast over large distances and get information at the click of a mouse. Every year technological gadgets were becoming, smaller, faster, cheaper, and more convenient. But hadn’t we lost our sense of wonder? We seemed to have sacrificed a fundamental simplicity. The time and effort spent learning how to use our time and effort saving technology raised the question, at what point would the cost-benefit ratio no longer be in support of our technology? When I was a child, listening to someone reading the story of Alice in Wonderland aloud, without the benefit of even pictures to look at, would have filled me with awe. Nowadays, if a six-dimensional, four-headed Kraken suddenly materialised in a ring of fire in the room in front of a young child, it would engender no surprise, they would probably just see it as a continuation of a computer game.

Around the time of the millennium, Sakura and I took a walk in the Cotswold Hills. I was showing her some of my childhood haunts. It was a clear day and you could see for miles. We came across a family having a picnic. They were tucking into plastic-wrapped supermarket lunches. The two youngsters played games on hand-held devices, while the parents thumbed through an Argos catalogue looking at domestic appliances, oblivious to the beauty around them. Nowadays they would be able to dispense with the family outing, the countryside and the picnic and buy the Dyson online.

Do you ever regret parts of your life?’ Sakura asked. She was still trying to keep the idea of the biography going.

Of course!’ I said, not going down the Edith Piaf or Frank Sinatra routes. ‘Many things.’

If you could live your life over again, what would you change?’ she asked.

I would get up earlier and I would take more time to smell the roses,’ I told her enigmatically.

8:

One morning I pulled back the curtains and saw a ball of bright light blazing brilliantly in the Southern sky. I was mesmerised. I began to understand how the expression, bright as the morning star came about. The man in Jessops told me that what I was seeing was Jupiter and, what I needed was a Celestron 8 inch Schmidt-Cassegrain computer-controlled telescope. He just happened to have one in stock. It was simple to operate, he said. I would be able to use it right away to discover the delights of star-watching. Once I got it home, I did not find it easy and it sat in the conservatory unused for several months. I had an arts background. I had never learned even the basics about the universe. Finally, with the help of The Beginners’ Guide to the Cosmos, I began very slowly to pick things up.

Each of the billions of stars that I now had access to through the telescope was another sun. The problem was I had no idea where to look. There were so many of them. After a crash course in constellation spotting on the Internet, I could pick out the Plough and use this as a reference point. I was able to distinguish an endless array of spectacular celestial sights. I could now see Jupiter up close, with its four largest moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, strung out alongside it, Saturn and its unmistakable rings, the forever changing crescent of Venus and the fiery red of Mars. I was also able to see distant nebulae, star clusters and the Great Andromeda galaxy that lies about two million light years beyond our own galaxy, The Milky Way.

I learned that our sun is four million times as big as Earth and produces so much energy, that every second the core releases the equivalent of one hundred billion nuclear bombs. Also that a supernova is a luminous stellar explosion that occurs when a massive star dies, releasing a huge amount of gamma rays, which can outshine an entire galaxy. After the supernova, the once massive star becomes a neutron star, white dwarf, or if it is large enough, a black hole. Black holes are so dense and produce such intense gravity that even light cannot escape. We are talking really big numbers when it comes to space. The Universe is at least one hundred and fifty billion light-years in diameter. I had to reconsider my definitions for large. The word that came to mind was astronomical.

The relationship between music and the cosmos probably began with Holst’s The Planets. The work was composed around 1914, just ten years after The Wright Brothers’ first powered flight, and Holst had no idea what was going on out there in space. Little more than fifty years later, we had landed a spacecraft on the moon. The piece of music I always associate with this momentous event is Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, from Stanley Kubrick’s visionary film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Voyager spacecrafts launched in 1977 contained sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth, intended for any intelligent extraterrestrial life form finding them. The music included Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Stravinsky and Chuck Berry. These have left the Solar System and are now in empty space. In around forty thousand years if things go to plan some unsuspecting alien will be playing air guitar to Johnny B. Goode. In 2008, NASA beamed The Beatles, Across the Universe at the speed of 186,000 miles per second towards The North Star, just four hundred and thirty one light years away. Lately we have been pinging stars all over the cosmos in the hope that there is someone out there. Time is not on my side, so I am having my entire back catalogue beamed to Enceladus, a moon of Saturn, which Stephen Hawking (who incidentally was hopeless on the accordion) once me was the most likely place to find life in the Solar system. I am told this will take a mere seventy six minutes.

There are signs that our four hundred thousand year tenure of Planet Earth could be coming to an end. Earth may not be able to support the violations of our stewardship. The forest fires that raged for months in Australia this year were the worst in history, finally doused by storms of biblical proportions, bringing, in turn, the worst floods in history. Bangla Desh was reclaimed by the ocean, after all the rivers that drained the Himalayas cascaded into one. Fourteen million people died in the famine in the African country no one knew was there. I see on the news this morning that an iceberg the size of France has just detached itself from Antarctica. It’s all happening. As the writer, Kurt Vonnegut once said, ‘Dear future generations: Please accept our apologies. We were rolling drunk on petroleum.’

What will tomorrow bring? The answer is up to you. It doesn’t matter much to me. I will be one hundred and twenty three next birthday.

Copyright: Chris Green, 2019: All rights reserved

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents herein are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

 

Why is a Raven like a Writing Desk

whyisaravenlikeawritingdesk

Why is a Raven Like a Writing Desk? by Chris Green

The tall stranger in the Duster overcoat appeared out of nowhere. He was wearing a broad-rimmed sheriff’s hat complete with campaign cord and silver star. I felt this was odd. This was a sleepy West Somerset coastal resort, not Washington County. Perhaps he felt the hat made him look interesting and would help him to get noticed.

What do you think it is that makes things happen?’ he asked.

At first, I thought he must be talking to someone else but there was just the two of us there. Who was he? What did he mean? Why was he asking me this? I was just enjoying a quiet moment watching the tide come in. It must have been the school holidays. Spring probably. The waves, I recall, were huge.

Do you mean, in the big scheme of things?’ I asked, feeling that his question was an unusual opener to a conversation.

Yes,’ he said. ‘If you like. In the big scheme of things.’

We elect people to represent us and they pass laws and other people in other countries do the same,’ I said, trying hard to remember the explanation our Ethics teacher, Mr Jenkins had come up with. ‘We agree with the way some countries do things but not the way other countries do things and according to relative size and strength, we form alliances and trading blocks. Sometimes there’s a disagreement over ideology and then a war and one side vanquishes the other and makes them do what they want.’

Very good! But that’s on a political level,’ the stranger said. ‘That’s what the history books tell you happens. That’s what you read in the papers. That’s surface detail.’

Well, some see a different man in the sky to others and they fight about whose man in the sky is the best,’ I said, trying to inject a little humour into the exchange.

Indeed!’ he said. ‘But how does it all work on a practical level? What are the mechanisms?’

There are improvements in technology and new inventions that bring about change,’ I said. ‘But I suppose innovations are primarily to sell new products to make investors rich.’ Old Josh Jenkins had told us this was the principal reason there were technical advances. To fuel capitalism, the money needed to move around faster and faster, he had said. Other than this, new technology was often developed to win wars.

That’s how it all works, is it?’ the stranger said.

It’s cause and effect,’ I said. ‘Action and reaction. All certainty in our relationships with the world rests on the acknowledgement of causality, wouldn’t you say?’

That’s what you’ve been told, is it?’ he said. ‘That determinism explains everything? All I can tell you for now is there’s more to it. One day, you will find out.’

With this, he took his leave, presumably off to do some strange sheriffing somewhere else. I couldn’t help wondering who he was, why he was there and what he meant. I was only sixteen. What was the purpose of him putting me on the spot? Was he a conspiracy theorist? New World Order and the Seven Sisters? Was he talking about magic? Lord of the Rings and all that mumbo jumbo? Uri Geller and spoon-bending? Or was he just a smartass?

At the time, I may have mentioned the episode in passing to Mick and Keith or Roger and Pete before we went off to smoke dope and listen to Pink Floyd or Dire Straits or whatever was current back then. Apart from music and dope, girls were pretty much the only thing that pre-occupied us. Perhaps I was on my way round to Annette’s to do some ….. revision. I may have told her about the mysterious man but I’m certain we didn’t labour the point. At sixteen, you do not dwell on things for long and the curious encounter was soon forgotten. So much so that as time passed, I was not even certain it had really happened.

Stovepipe hats have not been fashionable since the nineteenth century. So it was strange to come across a man wearing a shiny black one in Vivary Park in Taunton, especially as we were in the middle of a heatwave. 1990 was turning out to the hottest year on record. Following a minor misunderstanding, Tamsin had gone off to stay with her mother in Madeira for a few days and I was taking our Irish Setter, Bono for a walk when the tall stranger appeared. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. In his tall hat, he looked completely out of place. It was not even a Lloyd George style topper, it was a proper vintage Victorian stovepipe. Apart from the hat, he was dressed unseasonally, wearing one of those long overcoats. The overall effect was to make him look like a giant. To cap it all, he was carrying a black violin case. He approached me and struck up a conversation.

Don’t you recognise me?’ he said.

It suddenly occurred to me this was the same fellow I had met on the beach all those years ago. He had the same faraway look in his eye, the same pallor to his skin, making it seem almost translucent. There was no mistaking him. I told him I remembered him.

Have you worked it out, yet?’ he asked.

I tried to recall our earlier conversation. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to have worked out.

You thought everything could be explained by causality,’ he said.

Actions, ideas, even things we put down to synchronicity can probably all be explained by cause and effect,’ I said.

As in a sequence of events, you mean?’ he said. ‘Chain reaction, butterfly effect.’

That’s right,’ I said. All action and reaction.’

Action and reaction, eh? That’s Newton’s Third Law, isn’t it,’ he said. ‘And you think you can apply that to everyday life?’

More or less,’ I said. ‘Things chug along from day to day, one thing follows another in your chain reaction.’

Things chug along?’ he said. ‘H’mm That’s an interesting view. That’s the way it works, is it?’

Everything is loosely connected and each thing that happens affects many others so what we have is a complex web of actions and reactions,’ I said.

Hatman wanted to up the stakes.

What about when a seismic event takes place?’ he asked. ‘Something, for instance, like the Berlin Wall coming down last November. Can that be explained by cause and effect? Action and reaction?’

I would say that is a classic example of cause and effect,’ I said, rising to the challenge. ‘The East was poor, the West was rich. People in the East were finding this out and wanted some of it. The Soviet Union was losing its grip. Gorbachev was liberalising the Party and freedom groups all over the Eastern bloc were taking advantage of this. Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia. With forces chipping away at East German institutions, it was only a matter of time before the Wall fell. It was the final step in a chain reaction.’

I’m afraid you are falling into the trap again,’ he said ‘Like you did the last time we spoke. You are just looking at the surface detail. To understand the way things work, you will need to dig deeper.’

Bono, meanwhile, had run off behind the bandstand to investigate another dog. He had an unfortunate habit of doing this and not coming back. I went over to put him back on the lead. When I returned, the stranger had disappeared. I could hear a violin playing Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, softly in the distance.

The encounter left me perplexed. Who was the mysterious stranger? Why had he picked me? Was I perhaps just one of many unsuspecting people he tried to convert? But convert to what? What exactly was his message? Was he trying to say in his cryptic way that everything was pre-determined? Or that there was a hidden force, an all-powerful master of the universe? He was certainly peculiar but somehow he didn’t come across as a religious zealot. I could not imagine him calling door to door on a Saturday morning with an associate and a handful of thin pamphlets promising to put you on the path to salvation. Perhaps we were back with magic and the supernatural and he was suggesting the real driving force for everything that happens was something mystical. Perhaps he was trying to tell me I needed to familiarise myself with some arcane Oriental wisdom in order to transcend the mundane. But what was it about hats?

Each time I saw someone wearing an unusual hat, I thought it might be him. Bandanas, deerstalkers, turbans. Coonskins caps, fezes, zuchettos. In the street, at concerts, at the races, everywhere. Carnival parades were the worst. But as months went by with each sighting turning out not to be him, the memory of him faded.

I had all but forgotten him when, around the time of the millennium, he appeared again, this time in the Science Museum in Kensington. He was dressed in a black damask robe and a mortarboard. It was a lighter conversation than our previous ones. Moving on from the passing of time, we talked about the walrus and the carpenter and cabbages and kings. We touched on Cheshire cats and mad hatters. Did I realise Lewis Carroll was a mathematician and his work was full of hidden meanings, he wondered? I told him I had always thought he was writing about drugs. ‘

Why is a raven like a writing desk?’ he asked.

I wondered if perhaps he had the answer to the age-old riddle but at that moment, Tamsin returned from her visit to the Natural History Museum next door and he disappeared. I got the impression that beneath his bold exterior, he was rather shy.

We were back on the topic of the driving forces behind world events at our meeting in the bar of The Jolly Slaver. It was the year of the smoking ban, I recall because I had just come back inside after a cigarette when the stranger accosted me. He was wearing a superhero cape and a wizard’s hat. He wondered if I realised yet that things were never what they seemed. The discussion about what lay beneath carried over to our next meeting at the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations in Glastonbury, Somerset. He was wearing a tricolour beanie hat with his white suit. I think he may have been disappointed that I did not appear to always understand what he was trying to tell me.

He was always vague about what exactly his role was. His explanations for everything were frustratingly cryptic. Each time he appeared, I wanted to ask him why he had selected me. Why did he keep coming back? But each meeting was inadvertently cut short. Time, in the abstract sense, seemed to be a subject that kept coming up in our brief exchanges. He kept pressing me on what I thought time was? I have always had an unusual perception of time. I have frequently had to ask people what the order of past events was. When did we do this, when did we do that? Had we done this before that? More often than not, I appeared to have got it wrong. Tamsin was forever correcting my apparent temporal discrepancies, suggesting that I ought to keep a diary. My historical record frequently seemed out of synch with that of others. If I was like this now, I sometimes worried about what I would be like when I was older.

You keep referring to cause and effect,’ he said, the last time we met.

It was in the dining car on the Orient Express. Tamsin was resting back in our carriage. He came and sat beside me. He wore a sombrero vueltiao and big black sunglasses.

These chains of events, if that’s what you want to call them, can be unimaginably complex,’ he continued. ‘With so many crazy people in the world behaving irresponsibly, things can easily spiral out of control.’

I agreed there were some volatile leaders. In my view, most politicians were dangerous. It seemed to go with the job.

Without appropriate intervention, the world would have been blown to pieces by a catastrophic event by now many times over,’ he said. ‘I am one of a group of quantum gnostics whose aim it is to prevent such calamities escalating. We operate in the margins. It is our job to correct the course of rogue chains of events. Frequently, we are called upon to do so retrospectively in order to keep the boat afloat.’

Was he referring to specific events or was he generalising? Was he suggesting that he was able to go back in time? I didn’t get the chance to find out as before I had the chance to ask these questions, Tamsin came looking for me and the stranger upped and left.

Who were you talking to?’ Tamsin asked.

I tried to explain but she did not seem to be listening. She was more concerned with finding out what was on the menu.

Following the meeting on the Orient Express, I began to question whether time was, in fact, linear. The stranger had planted a seed of doubt in the conventional wisdom of a timeline where a series of events progresses regularly from beginning to end. Certainly, my perception of time was not linear. It had never been like that. I was all over the place with times and dates. I discovered I had some backup for the idea. Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity suggested that there was no conceptual distinction between past and future, let alone an objective line of now. Also, he argued there was no sense in which time flowed. Instead, all space and time was just there in an elaborate four-dimensional structure. Furthermore, apparently, all the fundamental laws of physics worked essentially the same, forward and backward.

If this were the case, then did this also put the very idea of cause and effect into question? If there was no objective flow of time, might causality also work backwards, effect now becoming cause? Or like Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter and March Hare, having fallen out with Time, might we too be stuck at 6 pm forever? The very concept of time might, of course, simply be an illusion. Everything could be happening simultaneously, with or without interventions and corrections by quantum gnostics. Everything that has ever been and ever will be could be happening right now.

There are so many ways of looking at it, I don’t see what is really going on in the cosmos ever becoming clear to me. Reality itself is a slippery concept. All things considered, it seems reasonable to assume strangers turned out in whimsical headgear are likely to appear anytime, anywhere.

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

TIME

time2019

TIME by Chris Green

Time is a bitch. You never know quite where you are with it. Einstein, bless him,
argues that the distinction between past, present and future is an illusion, albeit a stubbornly persistent one. This morning as I go through the mail, I begin to appreciate the great man’s uncertainty. These bills are the same ones as yesterday, electricity, phone and pet insurance. Exactly the same. And there’s an identical postcard of an Agadir beach at sunset from Rick and Sammi.

When set against the bigger issues of political corruption, terrorist bombs, and the war in the Middle East, a duplication of personal correspondence is not a big deal. Puzzling, yes, but I do have a large green recycling bin. More importantly, I’m running late. It is 8.15 and the traffic on Tambourine Way will be horrific if I don’t hurry. I scrape the ice off the Skoda’s windscreen and give it a few squirts of de-icer. I put a Johnny Cash CD into the player while the inside windows start to de-mist, and move off into the February frost.

I have a sense of déjà vu as I flash the headlights at Pedro, in his SUV on Solitaire Street, and again on the dual carriageway when I find myself behind a learner bus driver keeping to 30 where you could easily be doing 50 or 60. Does this learner bus driver come this way every day? My progress is further impeded by an accident at the Scott McKenzie roundabout. As I edge through the flashing blue chicane of police vehicles, I notice that the two battered cars seem to be the same two cars as in the accident two days ago, a white Mercedes and a black BMW. The impact of the collision has buckled both cars irreparably, as it had in the previous accident. I shudder. The coincidence is way beyond that presented by chance.

I arrive at Sanctuary Inanimate Pet Crèche and Counselling Service where I work. I greet Boris and Gerhard. I can’t help but notice that the cyber dog that was collected by its owner the day before yesterday is already back. There is also a familiarity about the headline War Dims Hope for Peace in Boris’s tabloid. Admittedly inanimate pet care is a repetitive line of work but the conversation Gerhard is having with Major Churchill about his pet rock seems identical to the one earlier in the week. After Gerhard puts down the phone I tackle him about this.

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

I think of taking up the point. Yes, it is just a job to me. Unlike Gerhard who sees a visit to the dentist as a bit of an outing, I have seen a bit of the world. But I keep quiet instead. What is the point? One pearl of wisdom that comes with age is that past glories count for nothing. I am here, and it is now. My life has taken a bit of a nosedive. Like Orson Welles, I seem to have lived my life backwards, if not quite in the sense I am about to.

Over the days that follow I have a permanent sense of déjà vu. Everything in my every day has happened previously. I have the same conversation with Spiro about West Ham’s problems in defence, spend the same hour chatting to my daughter, Promise on the phone about the dangers of putting too many personal details on Facebook, watch Groundhog Day again on DVD, and buy another new metal detector from The Army and Navy Surplus Stores. The hours on my watch are still going forward but the date is going backwards. The presidential election comes round again and they bring the old president back, and that family entertainer that we all once liked is prosecuted again for entertaining children in an inappropriate way. All the papers on the news-stands each day are yesterday’s papers.

At first, I imagine that it must be a huge practical joke, admittedly one with a formidable amount of complicity. Whilst I do not advertise my predicament in case people think I am a basket case, no one I speak to displays any sense that anything is wrong with their own temporal world. There is 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 appears that I am alone in my renegade perception of time, although there is a short item in The Morning Lite calling for a twenty five hour day. NASA scientists have apparently researched this and found that participants in the experiment benefited by the increased levels of melatonin. The findings it says would come in handy if astronauts go to Mars. A Martian day it points out lasts for 24.65 earthly hours.

There are a number of contradictions of logic involved in whatever it is I am experiencing. My days are still moving forward in a linear fashion. I go to work, come home, go to the pub, walk the dog, watch the rerun episode of Spender on ITV3, and go to bed as normal, but when I wake up the next day, it is the day before yesterday. Each day, I become a day younger. This aspect of my condition is, of course, something that at sixty three I should be pleased about; instead of a creeping decay, there will be a gradual rejuvenation. In a world that places excessive emphasis on artifice, this is what millions of people dream of. Zillions of pounds every week are 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 is the central tenet of our belief system.

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

Despite these deliberations, the sequential upheaval continues to be both disconcerting and disorientating. After a week or so of going over the same ground, I decide to seek professional help. I find myself limited by the need to arrange an appointment for the same day. The medical profession does not operate this way. There is no point in my making an arrangement for any time in future, and clearly, I cannot make an appointment for last week or last month. Similarly, I am 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 do manage to see at the community centre at short notice talks about meridians and explains that there might be blockages on the layers of my energy field. Over a dozen or so sessions she says she can balance my chakras and time will move forward again. I try to explain that she might need to do this in one session and she suggests if this is my attitude, then I should go elsewhere.

I begin to wonder what would happen if I do not actually go to bed. Will the day progress normally to the next, or will I at a certain point be flung back to the day before? It seems that despite my predicament, there is still an element of free will about my actions so I buy a wrap of speed, from Sailor, a friend of a friend in the Dancing Monk public house.

This is wicked gear,’ says Sailor, so named I assume because of his abundance of tattoos. ‘It will keep you busy for fucking days.’

Good,’ I remark. ‘I may need it to.’

I see 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 am not really a late night person and have not taken drugs since my youth, so I am 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 drift off at around 5 or 6, anyway before daylight.

……………………………………………………………………

When I wake up I am not sure where I am. Everything around me looks foreign, almost alien. In a conversation that must be puzzling to my companion, Song, I establish that this is the balcony of one of the upper floors of an apartment block in north-eastern China. It is 1988 – the year before Tienanmen Square. I have gone back seventeen years. Song and I are filming the spectacular estuary of the Songhua Jiang below for a travelogue for Sky TV. It seems the Chinese authorities are keen to promote tourism in the area. It is a Sunday morning and from our high vantage point, Song and I can see for miles. It is late August, near the end of the rainy season, and while the rainfall this year has been concentrated mainly in July, much of the flood plain is still underwater. Around the swollen river basin acres of lush green landscape luxuriate. Song points toward a flooded football field to our right, saying that despite the pitch being waterlogged the locals are 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,’ he says. ‘Is called Cuju. Means to kick a ball.’

Song goes a little deeper into the history of cuju in the region and says that he feels the water football game would look great on film, with a commentary about the history of the game from its Han dynasty roots. I nod my agreement. I am not surprised. Through classes in Tai Chi back in, well, there is no other way to say this, back in the twenty first century, I developed an interest in Sino culture. I came to understand that the Chinese invented practically everything from paper and printing to gunpowder and aerial flight, and most advances in science and medicine can be attributed to them.

I feel distracted. The future seeming like the past takes some getting used to. While I am conscious of my vitality, I have the strange sensation that I am also an observer of my life.

A boat carrying a team decked out in carnival colours chanting something patriotic is coming up the river. It is hot and humid and a dank haze hangs suspended above the water as if waiting for an impressionist painter. The regressing part of me is trying frantically to get a handle on what is happening. According to the log, I am keeping to help with later editing of the film, I have been in the Peoples’ Republic for ten days and am scheduled to be there for another ten. I am missing Monique, Sebastian and Promise. Song says that the phone lines will not be down for much longer but I know in my world they will be down until my arrival, so I will be unable to phone home.

Sebastian is six and Promise is five. It will be Promise’s birthday soon. Then she will be four. She will stop going to school. Before long, I will be reading her bedtime stories and taking her to nursery. It is curious to comprehend that my life going backwards means to all intents and purposes that everyone’s life around me is also doing so. I can only experience their past.

Filming in China goes back day-by-day as the day approaches that I arrive on a flight from Heathrow to Beijing. During this time I ponder my situation continually. When Song says, ‘see you tomorrow’, I know I had already seen him tomorrow but I will see him again yesterday.

I contemplate the age-old question as to whether we control our destiny or follow a preordained path. This seems all the more pertinent to my circumstances. Am I just reliving events in a life that I have already experienced or could my new actions or thoughts as a person coming from the future have any effect? And how will I know whether they do?

More immediately I am concerned as to why time for me has gone back seventeen years rather than the more conservative day at a time that I came to accept. I am anxious to avoid such a dramatic leap happening again. The only clue I have is that I had tried to stay awake at night to find out why time was going backwards.

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

……………………………………………………………………

And indeed there isn’t…. When I become aware of consciousness again I find myself on stage at a Pink Floyd concert. I have some difficulty at first working out the time and place but conclude that it is The Wall tour around February 1981 and this is one of several concerts at Wesfallenhalle, Dortmund in what was then West Germany. What is once again West Germany. I am a sound engineer, and it appears that the tape loops for The Wall have been mixed up with those from Dark Side of the Moon. I suspect I have programmed something incorrectly into the console. Roger Waters is storming around the stage set with a face like thunder and some of the band stop playing.

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

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

I tell her that I have just been sacked by Pink Floyd management. It seems better than saying I have just been jettisoned through space and time from The Peoples’ Republic of China.

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

A long story,’ I reply, intensely aware of two different life forces, the present, and the future in reverse. You cannot expect to have much of a conversation about space-time continuums in an international phonecall to someone, whose first language is not English.

You could come down if you want,’ Astrid said. ‘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 occurs to me that unless I travel the 400 odd kilometres between Dortmund and Rheims by yesterday I will never even meet Monique. It also occurs that I can’t anyway because I have spent yesterday in Dortmund with Pink Floyd. In a devastating flash, having travelled back to before they were even contemplated, I realise I will never see my children again, or for that matter, Monique.

Before The Wall tour starts, or after The Wall tour starts, I spend a month seeing the new year out and the old year in, with Astrid at the house in Rheims. Astrid is a freelance photographer who does shoots for Paris Match and Marie Claire, specialising in quirky subjects like Sumo wrestlers, dwarfs and circus performers. She is successful and works more or less when she chooses to. We make love, morning, afternoon and night, paint, walk along the Vesle, go to galleries, concerts, and French films without subtitles.

During this time I go to see a hypnotherapist and give up not smoking. Almost immediately I find myself getting through a pack of Gitanes a day. It is a revelation to me to discover that one session can change the habits of a lifetime.

With Astrid in Rheims I go with the flow, seize the moment, and try 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 reflection 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 do not think of the excitement of my novel being published or the acclaim I received for the first feature film I directed. I certainly do 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 is history. And the future from a normal chronology of events will now never be. I will not have to endure that period of time later in life when those around you are slowly dying off. Those senior years when if you see a friend you haven’t seen for a while, their news will be that someone else had died. Back in the future when I was sixty three I recall 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.

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

……………………………………………………………………

Astrid becomes Francesca in Barcelona, then Isabella in Rome. In between, there is Natalie in New York, and before I know it I am twenty three. These years are wild and exciting. I go to parties with painters and dine with divas. I work on a film with Antonioni and play with Led Zeppelin. Keith Moon crashes my car and Marc Bolan throws up in my jacuzzi. In a wave of hedonism, I just soak up all the pleasure that is available and cannot recall when I last tried to exercise free will. I have gone with the flow, allowing my youth and libido free rein.

Time going backwards is by now the most normal thing in the world to me. Déjà vu has become so commonplace that it is now unnoticeable. I am no longer surprised that news items and soap opera plots unfold backwards. But I am sometimes made aware of echoes of a future life. A persistent voice in my head seems to narrate stories concerning an older person. The voice is familiar, and comes from within, but while it seems it belongs to me and has some sense of self, at the same time I feel a sense of detachment. I have recollections of having lived through many of the episodes, but they exhibit themselves like false memory.

This older person seems to have experienced considerable misfortune. He found his crock of gold early and bit-by-bit has seen it disappear. As a result of the dispossession, he has suffered some kind of nervous collapse. He lives a lonely life, works in inanimate pet care, drives a brown Skoda and listens to Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. Even if this were to be my own future, it is neither tangible nor attractive. It seems to me that as my life is moving irrevocably in reverse, nothing is to be gained by taking possession of a character surrounded with so much sadness. So the more that it happens, the more I try 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 has been turned to fast forward. I find that as I grow younger a similar thing is happening. Months fly by. One moment it is August and the next it is April and another summer is gone. Christmases and birthdays are closer together. No sooner am I twenty three than I am twenty two, and then in what seems 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 World Cup, I make the decision I am going to fundamentally change the way I live. We have consumed bottle after bottle of genever as Holland lose to West Germany. We continue our drinking into the night, inconsolable that Johann Cruyff, despite being the finest footballer in the world, will never lift the trophy.

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

What brings matters to a head is a chance meeting at Amsterdam bus station with Faith, a friend of my mother’s. Faith is dressed in a miscellany of chiffon wraps, scarves, bead chokers and jangly jewellery. She carries a tote bag with a yantric design on it and has rainbow coloured braids in her hair. Faith greets me with a warm hug, which brings with it an assault of patchouli.

What are you doing here?’ she says. ‘Where are you going?’

I’m not sure where I’m going,’ I say. ‘Because it seems to be more a case of where have I been.’

In that moment I have 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 ensconced in the decorum of the professions, will not. He will go to the races and Rotary Club dinners, while my mother and Faith will metaphorically 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.

Time present and time past are perhaps present in time future,’ Faith continues. ‘And time future is contained in time past. If all time is eternally present all time is unredeemable.’

Where does that come from?’ I ask.

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

But, 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?’ Faith says. ‘I live in Haarlem.’

The bus arrives and we take it. Haarlem is just a few miles. I open up to Faith. I explain I haven’t seen mother since I was twenty six and then only briefly. She looks puzzled so I tried to explain a little of my predicament.

She quotes 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 sequential dysfunction.

On the journey, Faith tells me about the community in which she lives, all the time emphasising how happy she is. The community, she says, support one another, share everything, and work together towards a common aim. It seems idealistic, naive even, but I can see that Faith appears to be happy and feels she has found what she is looking for. Her view of life seems to be in marked contrast with my own.

We arrive at Haarlem. A lengthy explanation about eastern philosophy and the middle way sees us outside Faith’s house.

BEWARE OF THE GOD,’ says the sign on the front gate.

Which God?’ I ask.

It does not matter,’ she replies. ‘How about a Retriever?’

……………………………………………………………………

I come round in the playground of The Frank Portrait Primary School. I am wearing short grey trousers, grey flannel shirt and a blue blazer. I am fighting with a boy called Jon Keating. No!…..Wait! …… I AM Jon Keating. ‘Keating needs a beating, Keating needs a beating’ they are chanting, this swathe of little grey monsters. ‘Keating needs a beating.’ They empty my blazer pockets, and one of them, Nolan Rocco I think it is, takes my wristwatch. How will I know what time it is now?

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

Hunky Dory

hunkydory

Hunky Dory by Chris Green

Writers of self-help books are fond of telling you that life always offers you a second chance, it is called tomorrow. This is all very well. It’s something you can look forward to. But, what if you could have your second chance yesterday? This would mean that you still had the opportunity to avoid your untimely indiscretion, your unexpected misfortune, your sudden fall from grace. You might be inclined to think that such a proposition falls into the realms of science fiction. Time travel, you might say, is impossible. Ed West certainly thought so. This is until he found himself in a situation he was not able to explain. Déjà vu perhaps but here he was about to make the same mistake he had made previously, namely putting all his money on Jumping Jack Flash, a horse in the Grand National. A horse, destined to fall at the first fence.

This time around, despite Jumping Jack Flash being the firm favourite, Ed has second thoughts about the horse’s chances. Maybe he sees it limping a little as it makes its way down to the start. Perhaps something at the back of his mind tells him that the money might be better spent. He could pay back the money he owes to Frank Fargo and still buy a decent second-hand AppleMac. He could perhaps spend a week at Ron and Anne’s place in the Algarve. He could even take the kids. Did he inadvertently peek at a pop-psych article in the out-patients waiting room and realise that his gambling was causing problems and was something that needed to be addressed? Was there perhaps a write-up about impulsiveness in The Daily Lark? Whatever the reason for his decision, Ed puts the two and a half grand he is about to pass through the grill at BetterBet back into his jacket pocket and walks out of the shop.

Suzy Kew may have glanced at the odd self-help book in the hairdressers at one of her monthly Tuesday afternoon appointments but on the whole, she does not go for this sort of thing. Why would she need to? Friends often remark on her resilience, her unshakable air of self-confidence. She may have made the occasional bad decision. Everyone can be impulsive at times but if you make a mistake you have to live with the consequences of that mistake. This is an important lesson that it is a good idea to come to terms with early on in life. Whining about things never gets you anywhere.

Suzy has never to her recollection read a sci-fi novel. She may have gone to see a Star Trek film at the multiplex years ago with Toby or Tony or whatever he was called. But, if she did, she cannot remember much about it. The suggestion that she or anyone else might be able to go back in time is something she would instantly dismiss as nonsense. There is only one reality, she would say. There is a TV world of course but the things that happen in screened dramas have little to do with everyday reality.

Yet, Suzy finds herself driving the same Honda Jazz she wrote off the day before yesterday when she answered her phone while slowing down at the temporary traffic lights on Serendipity Street. She is in the same stretch of road behind the same truck that she ran into. The odometer reads 11111. She remembers noticing this shortly before the prang and the clock display says 11:11. The same as before. Once again, her phone rings. Although she is completely bewildered to find herself in the same situation, driving the car that by rights should be on its way to the breakers’ yard, she has the common sense this time around not to take the call. Instead, she parks the car a little way along the street. Conveniently, a space has just become vacant outside BetterBet.

She gets out and takes out her phone, just at the moment that Ed West, emerging from the bookies is taking out his. They collide.

Sorry,’ Ed says. ‘I wasn’t looking where I was going.’

My fault,’ Suzy says. ‘I had my head in my phone trying to find out who called me. Would you believe it? It was a wrong number, anyway.’

The same number as just before the accident, she can’t help but notice. The caller then had spoken in a language she did not understand.

You look a little flustered,’ Ed says. ‘Perhaps I might buy you a coffee or something in that café to settle you down’

That’s kind of you,’ Suzy says. ‘A camomile tea would be nice.’

Ed is not sure what camomile tea is but it sounds calming. Although he doesn’t like to publicly admit it, life can be a little too cut-throat at times. Perhaps Suzy will introduce him to a gentler world. Suzy meanwhile is thinking the same. She always puts a brave face on but secretly, the adversity of life often gets to her.

A notice inside the café tells them it has waitress service so they take a table by the window. A Bad Suns track is playing. Disappear Here.

I like this one,’ Ed says.

Bad Suns are my favourite band,’ Suzy says. ‘I went to see them last month.’

Disappear Here is followed by Catfish and the Bottlemen’s Fallout. They both like this one too. Ed tells Suzy, he saw them at Community Festival last summer.

Amazing! What about that? I was there too,’ Suzy says.

REM’s It’s the End of the World as We Know It meets with their approval too. They have both liked REM since their seminal album, Out of Time.

As they wait for someone to come and take their order, Ed and Suzy begin to discover more common ground. They were born in the same year, 1980. Uncannily, they were born on the same day too, February 29th. Both have recently become divorced from partners called Alex, even being represented by the same solicitor, Justin Case of Gallagher, Dreamer and Shed. Both have 2.4 children and own dogs called Bailey. Both follow the band, Franz Ferdinand and are fans of Fargo. Could it be a match, made in Heaven? Or might there already be a downturn in their fortunes? After all, things that seem too good to be true often are too good to be true.

Although the café is nearly empty, no-one comes over to take their order. An elderly couple in matching grey zip-up jackets and a jute shopping bag come in and sit at the next table and immediately a slim young waitress in a black uniform is at their table to attend to them. A tall man with a briefcase and a smart-looking laptop comes in and places himself at a table by the specials board. He too gets prompt attention. His fancy coffee with the chocolate sprinkled on top is in front of him before he’s had a chance to check his emails. Dr Petrovic comes through the door and for a moment looks as if he is going to come over. It can’t be him, Ed thinks. My little problem was all a long time ago. It isn’t him. It is a courier dropping off a parcel.

It is nearly lunchtime and a trickle of new customers come in and have the waitresses scurrying about. Meanwhile, no-one so much as glances in Ed and Suzy’s direction. Why are these people being served before them, they wonder? Why are they being ignored? Is it all part of an elaborate conspiracy? Or could it be something more forbidding? A fresh problem to frustrate their happenstance? They are able to see and hear each other and everyone else around them as you would expect but it appears that for some reason others are not able to see or hear them. They look around desperately in the hope that something will occur to suddenly solve the riddle. Nothing does.

Possible explanations for the anomaly, it seems, might depend on whether you get your science lowdown from Stephen Hawking or from Black Mirror. Perhaps it is a question of quantum mechanics. Perhaps the space-time continuum has been breached. Perhaps they have been thrown into another dimension. Something to do with wavelengths or superstrings. Or, perhaps there is a quirkier explanation. Something out of Kurt Vonnegut or J.G. Ballard, one might feel inclined to suggest. With their reality falling apart and nothing firm to hang on to, Ed and Suzy feel a sense of panic.

Someone called me on my phone just now, didn’t they?’ Suzy says. This means……’

You said it was a wrong number,’ Ed says.

That does not matter,’ Suzy says. ‘It’s important not to lose focus. It shows there must still be a connection with ….. what would you call it? The real world?’

Normality, you mean,’ Ed says.

On the other hand, the caller on that number did sound like he was from another place,’ Suzy says.

Like the queer voice that told me not to bet on that horse, Ed is thinking.

Well Suzy,’ he says, taking out his phone. ‘We have to try something. I’ll give my friend, Pete Free a ring.’

It is not Pete that answers. Pete is from Chudleigh. He has a broad Devon accent. This is not a Devon accent by any stretch of the imagination. Ed does not speak a lot of Russian but years ago he had some Russian neighbours and picked up the odd swear word. From this, he recognises that the guttural voice on the other end is not pleased at being disturbed.

Suzy phones her friend, Kirsty and is greeted by an unexpected voicemail message. This too sounds like it might be a Slavic tongue. They get responses in Russian too from Vince, from Carol and even from Gallagher, Dreamer and Shed.

Russia’s cyber-warfare activities are well documented. There is widespread speculation that Russian signals intelligence have targetted vulnerable websites to influence democratic elections, breached sophisticated banking security systems and enabled fraudulent transactions across the globe. They have also probably interfered with personal information on social media sites for as yet undiscovered purposes. We might find out what these are one day or we might not. But are there any limits to how far these attacks can infiltrate our lives? According to the papers, the Russians are to blame for most things these days, the Brexit vote, the hike in gas prices, the bugs on the new iPhone, the recent snowstorms and for Arsenal slipping down the table. Could their influence in cyberspace possibly spill over into our everyday reality?

I know that they can hack into Facebook accounts and emails and all that,’ Suzy says. ‘But surely they can’t manipulate our day to day experiences like this.’

They’ve been watching us through the cameras in our devices for years,’ Ed says. ‘Who knows what is possible?’

I guess that’s so,’ Suzy says. ‘Things are moving on all the time.’

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but the people around us are speaking Russian too,’ Ed says. ‘I’ve only just noticed it.’

You’re right. And look! The logo on the waitress’s uniform says Chekhov’s,’ Suzy says. ‘I’m sure that’s different from when we arrived. Wasn’t the café called Bean Me Up or something like that?’

Things seem to be changing before our eyes,’ Ed says.

Let’s get out of here,’ Suzy says.

Back on the street, Ed and Suzy find things have changed dramatically. BetterBet is now a bicycle repair shop. Next door to it is a waxworks museum. Tesco Metro is now a funeral parlour. Suzy’s car has vanished. There are now no cars on the street. It is unrecognisable. And why are all those soldiers here? What is it they are firing at? What has happened to bring about this madness? Things have spiralled out of control. The situation, they realise, is now grave. How can there be any way back from here? Ed and Suzy worry about what might now happen to the 4.8 children and the Baileys. Luckily, up ahead, they spot the illuminated sign of a new self-help bookshop. It is called Hunky Dory. It has a large double shopfront. It looks as though it might have a good selection.

© Chris Green 2018: All rights reserved

Time and Tide Wait for Norman

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Time and Tide Wait for Norman by Chris Green

Good Lord! There’s Liz Boa. I haven’t seen Liz since…… Well, since she left Grace and Favour, where we both worked. That must have been, what? Ten years ago? She went off to live in Ireland. Skibbereen, I believe. Strange choice, I thought but her partner was a psychologist. Or was it a ventriloquist? Anyway, something like that and he had a job over there. …… No. Wait. He was in shipping and it was a three-year contract in Cork. That was it. …….. There was always something simmering beneath the surface between Liz and I. Given different circumstances, who knows what might have happened? We came close on one or two occasions and even met up after work but we held back because we were both married.

What’s Liz doing here in Newton Abbot? She has looked after herself well. She doesn’t look a day older than when I last saw her. She still looks about thirty nine. She’s moving around the platform now. She hasn’t seen me waving. She doesn’t appear to be getting on this train. Should I get off and have a word with her? I could always catch the next train to Plymouth. There are plenty of them going that way and my appointment with the publisher isn’t until eleven thirty.

Before I have chance to act on my impulse, Liz boards the train that has just pulled in on the adjacent platform. She is heading north. I am still speculating what she might be doing in these parts when I hear a familiar voice beside me.

Hello Phil,’ the voice says.

It takes me a while to realise that the figure in the crimson Paul Smith suit is Andy Mann. In fact, in the end, he needs to prompt me. Andy and I used to play Sunday league football together many years ago. This, of course, was before I became lazy and my girth started to broaden. And, as you do, Andy and I lost touch. What is he doing here? When I moved down here to Devon, I hadn’t expected to see anyone from back home. After all, Scarborough is three hundred miles away. First Liz and now Andy. What are the odds?

Hi Andy,’ I manage to say finally as he sits himself down beside me. ‘I didn’t recognise you for a minute.’

I haven’t changed that much, have I, Phil?’ he laughs.

I don’t quite know how to respond to this. The thing is, that apart from the Paul Smith suit, Andy still looks the same as he did back then. Not a day older. Well, perhaps a day or two, but he certainly looks trim. He has obviously been eating his five a day and getting to the gym regularly. Ten a day, maybe along with a morning swim and an evening run. Or perhaps he has made a pact with the Devil.

No,’ I say. ‘You are looking well, Andy.’

Well, I do my best. None of us is getting any younger, Phil. Still working on that newspaper, are you?’

I have to think hard to bring to mind what he might be referring to. I conclude he must mean the Whitby Gazette. I was a sub-editor there for a short while. Now, that was a long time ago. Nineteen eighties, I’d say. Surely I’ve seen Andy more recently than this.

I’m a writer now,’ I say. ‘Short stories and novels. My pen name is Philip C. Dark. You may have come across something of mine. Time and Tide Wait for Norman, my last collection of short stories sold well. In fact, I’m just off to see my publisher now to discuss some amendments to my new novel, The Knee of the Idle.’

Hey! A novelist. That’s fantastic, Phil,’ Andy says. ‘I’m pleased for you. You’re not on holiday down here, then?’

No, Andy. Shelley and I moved down earlier this year,’ I say. ‘We live in Topsham. By the river.’

Good Lord! That’s just up the road from me. I’m in Exeter. We’ll have to meet up for a drink. I’ve just done some business in Newton Abbot and now I’m just off to Totnes to look at a car. A vintage Apparition. From a fellow from up north, as it happens. Brent Struggler.’

Brent Struggler! Do you know what? Brent Struggler was the name of the guy that I bought my Marauder from. Back in Scarborough. It must be the same guy. There can’t be two car salesmen with a name like Brent Struggler.’

I wasn’t aware of him until I moved down south. But I’m sure you are right. Brent is definitely from those parts. I’ve spoken to him a few times now. It’s a small world Phil, isn’t it?’

How long have you been living down here then, Andy?’

I came down about seven or eight years ago. I had a trial with Exeter City.’

Seven or eight years ago?’

About that, yes. It was just coming up to the General Election. 2010, it would have been.’

I start to do the maths. Andy Mann would have been forty something at the time of the trial. I realise Exeter City are in one of the lower leagues and not able to recruit young talent so easily, but still ……

Perhaps Andy has sold his soul to the Devil after all. I feel suddenly strange being in his company. I avoid his question about whether he is a character in any of my books. I imagine he is joking, but with a writer, the familiar does have a habit of slipping into the narrative now and then. I continue to make superficial conversation with Andy about the issues of the day while I try in vain to come up with a plausible explanation for the apparent slippages in reality. I can’t concentrate on anything he is saying. Words bounce around in my head and rogue thoughts float in and out. I feel light-headed. As we pull into Totnes station, I feel pleased that he is getting off the train. I offer him one of my business cards. With an old friend, it seems like the polite thing to do. He takes it, shakes me firmly by the hand and tells me he will call me. He will take me for a night out, he says, in Exeter.

……………………………………………………

I think the train may have come off the track once or twice between Totnes and Plymouth or taken an unscheduled detour because when I arrive, it is half-past three in the afternoon. Perhaps I fell asleep and have been going backwards and forwards on the same train for several hours. Time is all over the place and no-one at the station seems to be able to explain what might have happened. They just look at me as if I am mad. My brain is certainly doing somersaults, my clothes are a mess and I seem to have lost my phone. I’m not sure what to do but I don’t want to get back on a train so I start walking into the city looking for a place to have a snack and a cup of tea.

I went to Rex Cardiff’s funeral, so I know that he is dead. I listened while his close friends delivered heartfelt eulogies. I watched the pallbearers lower the wooden box into the ground. So, what is he doing here at Costa Coffee in Plymouth? Living and breathing. And by the looks of it enjoying a double espresso. I do a double take but there’s no mistaking Rex. He has looked exactly the same since the first time I met him. He has the same 1970s haircut, the same round glasses and the same brown leather bush hat. Those are probably the same pair of shiny looking skin-tight jeans from back then too. And, of course, he has the ubiquitous Sainsburys carrier bags, three of them inside one another apparently, to carry around his hip flask, his paperback books, his soldering irons and his Tom Waits album. It is Rex Cardiff’s voice, though, as he holds forth about the history of the Isle of Wight Festival, that really gives the game away. That strident articulation of flowery language that he is using to familiarise the unsuspecting stranger in Costa with one of his favourite topics. His BBC voice has the faintest trace of Scouse vowels to dampen it, the legacy of his three years at Liverpool University reading Oceanography, he once explained. Rex was the inspiration for Reuben, a character in my short story, Wolf in Cheap Clothing. I can see the stranger is feigning interest in Rex’s monologue but at the same time seems anxious to get away. I want to get away too.

Seeing Liz Boa and Andy Mann, unexpectedly, out of context and untainted by the passing of time was, to say the least, unnerving. Seeing Rex, long since dead and buried, is in all its implications, terrifying. As my teacup crashes to the floor, I am conscious that my body is making involuntary movements. People are staring at me. How can they know what is wrong? How can they know that the man with the loud voice three tables down is supposed to be dead? His voice is echoing around the walls. The room is spinning. The floor is where the ceiling should be. I feel I am going to pass out.

I find myself on a bench on Plymouth Hoe near the imposing statue of Sir Francis Drake, looking out onto the Sound. How long have I been here, staring into the beyond, I wonder? The water in the historic bay, silver against the stacked cumulostratus, seems still as if there is no tide in these parts. The ship on the horizon, moving slowly from side to side, is little more than a dab of battleship grey. There is barely a sound, save for the blackbird’s song from a nearby tree. This situation should be calming but I can’t shake off the feeling that something is very wrong. How can I dismiss the unlikely series of events leading up to this? Is there a common thread that links the sightings of Liz, Andy and Rex? And where does Brent Struggler fit in?

You only have yourself to blame for your …….. fragile state of mind,’ says a tall man, who appears out of nowhere. ‘What goes around, comes around.’

I don’t recognise him. Yet, at the same time, something about him is disturbingly familiar. He wears a scuzzy seersucker suit several sizes too small. He has an unsightly scar leading up to his forehead. He walks with a limp and wears an eye-patch over his left eye. Where, I wonder, can I possibly know this reprobate from?

You don’t appear to know who I am, do you, Phil?’ he says. ‘But, you should. Oh yes! You definitely should. You should know me very well.’

I have the feeling that I ought to recognise you,’ I say. ‘But, I can’t for the life of me work out where from.’

You should know me like a father knows a son,’ he continues. ‘I’m practically family. After all, Philip, I am your brainchild.’

N n n norman,’ I stammer. ‘You’re Norman? From my story, Time and Tide Wait for Norman?’

Bravo, Philip! You’ve got it at last. Norman Norman. Your very own creation. I’m like flesh and blood and that should have counted for something. But, look how you treated me. Take a good look at me, will you? You made me half-blind. You gave me a limp. You made me wear these ill-fitting clothes. You gave me these hideous features. All in the interest of a story. Not only that but your title, the one that you thought was so clever, was misleading. Time and tide didn’t wait for me, did they, Philip? You subjected me to humiliation after humiliation. You were merciless. Wouldn’t you agree that it is payback time?’

I am scared. What’s written on the page should stay on the page and not leap into the everyday. I look anxiously around me, wondering what is going to happen next. It is then that I spot the brightly coloured Wessex Theatre Company van.

It takes me a few more moments to register that this is the direction that Norman came from. Didn’t I also see the same van earlier on my way to Costa Coffee? And somewhere else too? Might it have been Newton Abbot? Suddenly, everything seems to fall into place. I only wish I had realised at the time that Liz, Andy and Rex were actors too. Surely, I should have picked up on the niggling little things about them that did not add up. The whole business appears to have all been an elaborate set-up. I think I know who is behind it. If you are ever invited to be the guest reviewer of the literary pages of the Wessex Courier, be careful what you say about other writers’ works. Some, it seems, will stop at nothing to exact their revenge.

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved

 

Rainy Day Women

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Rainy Day Women by Chris Green

How many roads must a man walk down, wonders Dylan Song? He feels he has been trudging around the streets of Dalmouth for ages, yet he still can’t find the café where he is due to meet Frankie Lee. He seems to be going round in circles and getting nowhere. Perhaps he should not have left the car in the car park, then he would have been able to drive around slowly, keeping an eye out for the place. There seem to be a few streets without double yellow lines and at this time of year, plenty of spaces, so he could have easily nipped in once he had found the place. Or better still, he should have bought a map. To add to this, there is next to no wi-fi coverage here in Dalmouth. Why does he always imagine that things will be simple when they never turn out to be? Due to the nature of his quest, he could not use his phone to call anyone even if he were able to get a signal because of the security implications. Who is the Frankie Lee he has to meet, he wonders and why on earth are they meeting in the small coastal town of Dalmouth anyway? For that matter, who are the people he is working for? So many questions.

The early morning February drizzle has now turned to rain. At least Dylan Song had the foresight to wear his Drizabone overcoat. This will protect him against hard rain, torrential rain even. But, he can’t keep walking around hoping for the best. Maybe he took the name of the road down wrong or something. The thin man with the pill box hat selling newspapers outside the Tesco Metro looks as if he might be familiar with the area.

‘Do you know where Grand Street is,’ he asks?

‘Sorry, guv. Not heard of it,’ says the thin man. ‘Where is it you are looking for?’

‘The Bean Me Up Café,’ Dylan says.

‘No. That’s a new one on me,’ says the thin man. ‘You sure you got the right name?’

Dylan shows him the piece of paper that it is written on, along with the name of the street.

‘Don’t know it, I’m afraid, guv, but if you want a good cup of tea you could try the Silver Saxophone Café on Fourth Street.’

Surely there is not a café called the Silver Saxophone, he thinks. Does he mean the Silver Kettle, perhaps? Anyway, he doesn’t want a cup of tea. He wants information from someone called Frankie Lee.

He asks two rain-drenched women waiting in the queue for the Number 2 bus and the man in the trench coat selling The Big Issue outside of Peacocks but none of them have heard of Grand Street or the Bean Me Up Café. Dylan thinks it would be a good idea to try the library. He can log on to a computer there to find what he is looking for. But, he finds that since the cuts, Dalmouth Public Library is only open on Tuesday morning and Friday afternoon, and it is Thursday. A pretty poor service, he thinks, for a town of 12,000 people. It suddenly occurs to him that he may have even got the name of the town wrong. This might explain why he cannot find The Bean Me Up Café. As he recalls, he did take down the details in a hurry. It would be an easy mistake to make. There are several rivers coming down from the moors, each meeting the sea at a town ending in mouth. Might it be Drainmouth he is looking for? On the Drain estuary, Drainmouth is just fifteen miles along the coast, just past the historic village of Touchwood.

Apart from being a favourite place for invasions in years gone by, Drainmouth is mainly famous for its annual Jazz Festival which takes place each February. Out of character perhaps for the otherwise sleepy town, the festival attracts some of the bigger names in international jazz. As Dylan drives along the coastal road he sees advertising for the festival everywhere, banners, posters and roadsigns. The local radio station is broadcasting live from the event. Today is the first day. The headliner is Belgian saxophonist, Toussaint Thibault and at the weekend, The Milton Chance Quintet are playing.

His worry now is that when he finds Bean Me Up, he is going to have missed the rendezvous. He was supposed to be meeting Frankie Lee at 11 and the midday news is now coming on the radio. As he drives across the road-bridge over the estuary into Drainmouth, his phone springs into life. This is the first time he has had a signal today. The area has the worst coverage in the whole country, the chatty traffic control officer told him when he picked up his car. One after another, a dozen or so messages ping. He decides these can wait. He is still looking out for Grand Street, when a call comes in. It is not a number from his phone contacts but he takes the call.

‘Jones here,’ says the voice. He cannot recall having heard Mr Jones’ voice before, yet somehow it is familiar. It sounds muted, as if it is coming from far away. But at the same time, it seems very close. ‘I’ve just had Lee on the phone. I’ll overlook the breach in security for now but where in God’s name were you?’

‘Mix up with the towns,’ says Dylan Song. ‘I am in Drainmouth now, on my way to the café.’

‘Well, Song! Let’s get down to it then. Time is of the essence. We know that there is a jazz festival taking place in Drainmouth but some other very strange things are also going on. Your mission is to find out what these are, how they might be connected and who or what is behind them. Lee has the details. She will assist in anyway she can.’

She? Did Mr Jones say, she? He had assumed that Frankie Lee was a man.

‘You’ve got that, then,’ says Mr Jones. ‘You’re on to it.’

‘Yes, I think so. Something is happening and you don’t know what it is,’ says Dylan Song. ‘Do you, Mr Jones?’

‘Exactly!’ says Mr Jones. ‘Now I’ve told Lee she has to wait at The Bean Me Up Café until you get there, so get your arse down there PDQ. And no more slip-ups.’

He parks the car and takes a look at the street plan in the car park. Grand Street is close by and fortunately, the rain has stopped. Although it is still early in the day, there is a bustle about the place as animated groups of colourfully dressed people file through Drainmouth’s higgledy-piggledy streets.

Dylan Song finds Frankie Lee at a table outside the Bean Me Up Café. Her table is under a striped awning and sheltered from the rain. She is drinking a posh coffee, a doppio ristretto or something. Although they have not met, he realises who Frankie is straight away. He was told to look out for a blonde and this woman is blonde but she also has that mystifying blend of charisma and aloofness that you find sometimes with people working in covert operations, that unexplainable curiosity and otherness that makes for a successful psi investigator. In a word, she seems like someone who can find things out. Dylan Song orders a banana pancake, sits himself down and introduces himself.

‘So, what’s it all about,’ he says?

‘You are familiar with jazz and its characteristics, I take it,’ Frankie Lee says.

‘I have a few Bill Evans CDs,’ he says. ‘And the odd tune by Miles Davis, but I wouldn’t say I was an expert.’

‘Jazz is, of course, a broad church but basically, it uses syncopation,’ Frankie continues. ‘Rhythmic stresses are placed in the music where they wouldn’t normally occur. Improvisation and deliberate distortions of pitch and timbre make the music unpredictable. Jerky and smooth at the same time if you like. This is kind of hard to get your head around but it looks as if jazz might be spilling over into real life here in Drainmouth.’

‘I couldn’t help but notice a little merriment and frolicking on the streets,’ Dylan says. Look at those guys over there. They are really going for it.’

‘That’s not quite what I mean,’ Frankie says.’According to the regulars at The Jack of Hearts, the tide didn’t come in at all last night.’

‘But it is a pub,’ Dylan says. ‘They probably had a lock-in to sing sea shanties or whatever it is they do round here and had one or two too many.’

‘That’s as maybe,’ Frankie says. ‘But the landlord tells me the tide is coming in like a freight train this morning.’

‘He’s probably mad as a hatter.’

‘Maybe. But, there are other odd things going on. You may not have noticed it yet but all the clocks in the town have stopped. Now, this in itself might have a simple explanation if they hadn’t all stopped at different times. Take a look at your wristwatch.’

‘It has stopped. Five to twelve. That’s about the time I arrived here.’

‘Mine says 11:11.’

‘And look! The one in the café says 3 o’clock.’

’12:35 on that one. That’s about right, isn’t it?”

‘How long do you think we have?’

‘I don’t know. The traders at the market say it has been raining ……… time. Minutes and seconds falling from the skies, they are saying. Something is definitely wrong here.’

‘It is an odd place, isn’t it?’ says Dylan. ‘There are one or two mysteries for us to solve.’

‘But connected, wouldn’t you say?’

The barista brings Dylan Song’s banana pancake over. A familiar tune is playing inside the Bean Me Up Café. In a strange time signature. Dylan Song racks his brain but he can’t make out what it is and he feels it would be helpful to know.

‘You’d better be quick with that pancake,’ Frankie Lee says. ‘It’s time to go.’

As they leave to make their way through the town, they are sucked up into the carnival atmosphere. Jazz is playing everywhere. Dylan is overwhelmed by the confusion of tunes on offer. It is hard to separate one from another. He can even hear a Salvation Army band playing a Dixie tune. That’s the band, he thinks. Trombone, tuba, piano, bass, percussion. That’s the one.

‘Time’s up, Mr Jones,’ says a familiar voice. ‘Please, can you answer the question.’

The answer comes to him. ‘Rainy Day Women Numbers 12 and 35,’ he says. ‘The track on the album, Blonde on Blonde where Dylan uses a Salvation Army-style brass band is Rainy Day Women Numbers 12 and 35.’

‘Correct, Mr Jones,’ says the smiling host. ‘Congratulations! You have got all the questions right on your specialist subject, The Songs of Bob Dylan. You have won the South West Quizzer of the Year 2017.’

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved

TIME OUT

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Time Out by Chris Green

The train has never been this late. It is nearly 10 o’clock. Max has been waiting for over an hour. He has been through nearly all of the Thelonious Monk selections on his iPhone. He may have missed something but so far as he can tell, there have been no announcements giving a reason for the delay. Before the departures display stopped working for some unexplained reason, it stated that the 8:39 to Broadchurch was on time. Thus, Max kept thinking it would soon be along. One or two trains going in the opposite direction have stopped at the other platform and a trickle of people have got on and off. Churston Stoney is not a busy station

Max is in no hurry. It doesn’t matter what time he opens All About Jazz on a Tuesday. Few people come in to buy anything so early in the week. For most, jazz seems to be primarily a weekend fascination. But, curiously, the handful of other passengers waiting on platform 2 for the 8:39 seem similarly unperturbed by the train’s delay. From time to time, one or other of them wanders up to the Take the Train poster to see if it provides a clue or feigns interest in the safety procedures notice but, in the spirit of train travel, each keeps his distance and avoids conversation or even eye contact with the others. The cordylines in their raised wooden planters have never attracted so many admiring glances.

Max is beginning to suspect that something may be wrong. There should be some news by now. There are no railway staff on hand to ask what the issue might be and the ticket office is on the approach to the other platform over the bridge. He takes his earbuds out and sidles up to the broken bench where a young girl in a purple duffle coat is sitting. She is probably a student, he thinks. At Broadchurch College. Positive Pathways, most likely. This would explain why she herself is not in a hurry to get anywhere. In fact, it’s probably a little early for her first class. Most of the students there don’t turn up much before lunchtime.

At Max’s approach, the girl’s fingers stop playing with her phone for a moment.

Max does not want to sound too hung up about the lateness of the train, but equally, he doesn’t want it to seem like he is chatting her up. He is more than twice her age.

Good tune?’ he asks.

She looks the newcomer up and down. She is wary of middle-aged men wearing striped linen jackets and Fedora hats thinking they look cool.

You wouldn’t like it,’ she says, taking her buds out. ‘Rat Boy. Probably not heard of him, have you, Granddad? It’s called Get Over It. Essex hip-hop.’

He seems undeterred by the offhand way she addresses him. Perhaps she should have just blanked him, she thinks, and turned her head. Now he wants to chat about trains. Is there an 8:39 train? What has happened to it? How would she know? She is happy to sit here until one comes along. She has nothing pressing to get on with. She is often the only one at her mime class, so it probably doesn’t matter if she attends or not. The world as she sees it is on her phone. This is where the important things happen. People of a certain age don’t seem to have caught on yet that there is no need for personal interaction.

I’m sure the train will be along soon,’ she says, turning her attention to the screen once more.

I manage a jazz shop in town,’ he says. ‘You might want to pop in sometime to see if there is anything you like.’

Why is he telling her this? Does she look like she cares?

In the nick of time, she is saved by another passenger coming along. This one seems happy to talk to Max about trains and timetables. The new arrival, she thinks, looks considerably more sinister than the other. Although it is Spring, he wears darkness like an overcoat. There is no mistaking that look of serious intent. It does not belong in her world. She puts her head down and gets back to her hip hop. Best to leave the two men to their concerns over punctuality.

I’m hearing that this section of the line is experiencing some unexpected temporal turbulence,’ the newcomer says. ‘A rupture in time, you might call it.’ He has that look of dark formality about him that Max notices when he visits his accountant. But despite his seriousness, there is something other-worldly about him.

A rupture in time?’ queries Max. ‘Is that an elaborate way of saying that the train is late?’

No. Not exactly,’ the shadowy figure continues. ‘While, yes the 8:39 is indeed late, it is on its way. However, you may notice some ……. differences.’

Detecting some activity, at last, other passengers have begun to gather around the two of them, curious to know what the new developments might be.

How are you getting this ……. information?’ asks the man in the ill-fitting beige zip-up jacket and the striped shopping bag who is probably younger than he looks.

Or lack of,’ adds the woman in the orange shell suit carrying a small child in a papoose.

Aliens landed in Westmallow this morning,’ says the man with the long hair and the Syd Barrett t-shirt, who has just arrived. This overshadows all the other comments and gets everyone’s immediate attention. Westmallow is just five miles away, in fact, the next station up the line.

Only joking,’ he adds. ‘Got you going, though, didn’t it?’

So tell us! When will the train be here?’ says Beige zip-up.

And what is happening?’ says Orange shell suit.

Just be aware that the train might seem a little strange today,’ says the shadowy figure. ‘I will not be travelling with you.’

With this, he takes his leave. They watch him aghast as he makes his way down off the platform and hotfoots it down the steps. No sooner has he gone than the train drifts into the station. It appears to be the usual two-car multiple unit that is used for this service with the usual shabby dark blue livery.

Max gets on and takes a seat. He glances around nervously, trying to spot anything that might be considered odd. The layout of the carriage is familiar. There is the usual amount of grime suggesting it might be due for a deep clean. The proportions of old and young, men, women and children are what you might expect at this time of day. In fact, Max recognises many of them. Not that he is in the habit of speaking to any of them, but they are regulars on the route. He decides to settle back and listen to a little Miles Davis. He finds Miles’s mellow mute is perfect for relaxation. He selects Miles Davis from the playlist. To his alarm, what he hears is not Miles Davis at all but some terrible hip-hop music. He glances at the cover art on the phone’s display. The track is called Get Over It by Rat Boy. How could this have happened?

Then he remembers. The girl in the purple duffle coat had been listening to Rat Boy. Perhaps she has somehow bluetoothed the tune to his device. He looks around for her, half expecting to see her somewhere in the carriage laughing, perhaps with Syd Barrett t-shirt sharing the joke, but neither of them is anywhere to be seen. He makes his way down the aisle and into the adjoining carriage. They are not there either. Did they not actually get on the train? The assumption is that passengers waiting for a train board the train but, at the time, he had been too pre-occupied with his anxieties to notice who did and who didn’t get on.

Puzzled, Max returns to his carriage. There now seem to be extra passengers. He is certain, well, almost certain. The lady with the bichon frise was not there previously. Nor the two soldiers. Sometimes the memory can play tricks, especially at times of stress, but surely he would have noticed the soldiers. Shouldn’t they have got off at Gunleigh, where the army base is? That’s two stops back up the line, no wait, three stops. The man in the mac is no longer there, nor the man with the Ronnie Wood haircut and the dark glasses who kept blowing his nose. He can’t see the man who was reading the book on string theory either. Max takes a look at his watch. 8:56. The train now appears to be on time. Proper time. Well, perhaps a few minutes late, but certainly no more than you would expect on a normal working day. Unless. ……….

The train passes through the Blackstone tunnel. This is definitely further back up the line. The tunnel is before you reach Gunleigh. How can this have happened? Max continues to puzzle over this as the train pulls into Gunleigh, where the soldiers leave the train. The train stays in the station for several minutes. There is no explanation for this and the restless murmur of conversation around the train reflects the growing frustration of the passengers. No-one seems to know what is going on.

I’m going to miss my connection,’ says the man in the mac. ‘If I miss it, I’m going to be writing to someone.’

I’ve got an important psychiatric appointment in Broadchurch,’ says the man with the Ronnie Wood haircut and the dark glasses, the one who keeps blowing his nose.

The man who is reading the book on string theory nods his head.

Insulting, the wait they treat us,’ says the man in the mac. ‘It never used to be like this.’

Not so much as a word of apology,’ says the man with the Ronnie Wood haircut and the dark glasses, who keeps blowing his nose.

The man who is reading the book on string theory shakes his head.

Max tries his phone to see if he can find out anything from the internet to explain what is happening but predictably, given the unusual circumstances, he cannot get a signal. He is struggling to work out what he might be doing on the train on this part of the route when he lives in Churston Stoney, which is still eight or so miles up the line, coupled with the fact that he remembers getting on the train at Churston Stoney, just now. To go to work. He is dressed for work.

Max closes his eyes and begins to count slowly from one to a hundred in French, German and Spanish, a distraction exercise he taught himself to overcome confused states of mind. Sometimes he uses this exercise to help himself get off to sleep after a busy weekend at the Broadchurch Jazz Festival. By the time he has reached ochenta y siete, it is ten past ten and the train is pulling into Churston Stoney station. To his amazement, there on the platform are the girl in the purple duffle coat with her head in her iPhone, the man in the beige zip up jacket with his striped shopping bag who is probably younger than he looks, the woman in the orange shell suit with the baby in the papoose, the man with the long hair wearing the Syd Barrett t-shirt and to his great horror, he notices the sinister man from earlier is just leaving the station, hot-footing it down the steps. To his greater horror, there by the cordylines in the raised wooden planters, he himself is, dressed in his striped linen jacket and his Fedora hat, carrying his leather work bag. Up until this moment, déjà vu had been just an expression that he had heard bandied about by people who, he realises now, had no comprehension of what it might feel like to really experience the trauma of it.

The train is soon on its way and hurtling down the line. For the benefit of those who boarded at Churston Stoney, the conductor apologises for its lateness. The delay, he says, was due to a giant clown on the tracks. He goes on to announce that the train will be stopping at Bymoor, Pitfield, Littlechurch and Broadchurch. The man in the mac and the man with the Ronnie Wood haircut and the dark glasses, who keeps blowing his nose are in Max’s carriage, along with the man who is reading the book on string theory. He has been joined by a man who looks a little like him, but is perhaps a little thinner. His lookalike companion, Max notices, is wearing a Heisenberg t-shirt and reading something called The Uncertainty Principle.

The girl in the purple duffle coat, who seems to have made a point of taking a seat opposite him says, ‘There was no need to copy that bloody jazz to my phone. It was terrible. How can you listen to it?’

What?’ says Max. He is still trying to imagine what could have possibly happened to his doppelgänger. Perhaps he is the doppelgänger.

That Duke of Wellington, or whatever he is called,’ says the girl in the purple duffle coat. ‘That Mood Indigo.’

Ellington, it’s Duke Ellington’ one or other of him says.

Whatever!’ says purple duffle coat.

This development suggests to Max that not only is there a rupture in time which is turning all rational thinking on its head but music is getting muddled too. Music and time makes him think of musical time. Musical time makes him think of Dave Brubeck and Time Out, the seminal album based on the idea of unusual time signatures, 9/8, 5/4, 6/4 and the like.

But, Max realises none of this explains what is really happening or why what is happening is happening. Reduced to its simplest form, he had a long wait on Churston Stoney station for the 8:39 train to Broadchurch, during which he had some unaccountable experiences, including travelling on the train that had not arrived. The train that had not arrived has since arrived and he is on it, again, possibly along with his doppelgänger and the other passengers who were waiting at Churston Stoney station, who have not previously boarded the train, with the notable absence of a mystery man who had maintained that something was wrong with the universe.

But, it’s all part of life’s rich pageant. What’s past is prologue. Max must move on. Take what comes and do what he can to have a say in this. This is as much as anyone can do. As the great novelist and jazz enthusiast, Haruki Murakami says, ‘don’t let appearances fool you, there is only one reality.’ But is this really true, Max wonders as his eyes are drawn once more to the man reading The Uncertainty Principle? As he recollects, the principle states that nothing has a definite position, a definite trajectory or a definite momentum. Trying to pin something down to one definite position will make its momentum less well pinned down and vice-versa. What about the other fellow, Max wonders, the one that is reading the book on string theory? Perhaps he would have an explanation for what is going on. String theory, as he understands it, proposes that the fundamental constituents of a nine or ten-dimensional universe are one-dimensional “strings” and not point-like particles. Thus, the universe that we are familiar with is not the only one; multiple universes exist parallel to each other. Any number of different realities then? He could, for instance, also at this moment be still waiting for the train at Churston Stoney, travelling on the train further up the line and travelling on a different train and in another dimension, he could never have been on a train in his life. Equally, the girl in the purple duffle coat and all the others might be on multiple trains or not at all. He decides it might be best not to talk to the fellow reading the book on string theory just yet.

Tickets please!’ says the conductor, making his along the aisle. ‘Anyone who got on the train at Churston Stoney.’

Max fishes around in his jacket pocket and finds that he has dozens of tickets. Baffled, he turns them over in his hand. The conductor eyes him suspiciously. Max glances once again at the man reading the book on string theory. Perhaps he does need to speak to him after all.

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

Barber, Ball and Bilk

barberballandbilk

Barber, Ball and Bilk by Chris Green

The opportunity to see Barber, Ball and Bilk, the three B’s as they are being billed, in Bridgedown is too good to pass by. Bridgedown is eighty miles away and I don’t drive, but the train journey from Sheepdip Halt is easily doable. It involves just one change, at Starmouth. Although it is a Friday and Friday is a busy day I have managed to get the day off from Freeman, Hardy and Willis in Leighton Constable. Mr Littlejohn has not said as much but I think he is a closet trad jazz fan. Once or twice I have caught him sneaking a peek at my Melody Maker during his tea break and I think I heard him humming The Green Leaves of Summer the other day. It’s a shame though that the new stock of tan winkle pickers he said he’d ordered didn’t arrive in time for today, but you can’t have everything.

Chris Barber and Acker Bilk are great of course but it is Kenny Ball that is the real star. I have long been a fan of Kenny’s. The recent chart success of Midnight in Moscow is no more than just reward for his long years on the road, playing trumpet in Sid Phillips, Eric Delaney and Terry Lightfoot’s bands. Belated recognition for all the brilliant records Kenny has made since then with his own band The Jazzmen that have up until now gone unrecognised. Forget all the weak, cissy tunes by Cliff Richard, Adam Faith and the other preening minstrels that you hear on Pick of the Pops. Bloody nancy boys, my mate Matt reckons. I don’t know about that, in fact, I don’t care, but there’s definitely nothing dodgy about Kenny Ball. Or his music. I’m not sure quite how a cool cat would put it, but Kenny’s trad jazz is cool, where it’s at, the cat’s pyjamas, the dog’s bollocks, the real deal and all the rest, daddio.

I was planning to take Maureen to the concert and I even bought her a ticket. But she has an important cross-stitch project she wants to get on with. I began to notice a while back that Maureen was not so keen on jazz as me. I don’t completely understand why. I have played quite a lot of it to help with her appreciation. Sometimes for hours on end. And not just Kenny Ball or Acker Bilk. I have played her Mick Mulligan, George Melly and Mike Cotton too. I realise that trad jazz with its rich mix of instruments can seem a little complicated at first. But Maureen seems to be quite resistant to it. In fact, she has stopped talking to me altogether.

As the 10:40 puffs its way out of Sheepdip Halt station, I am delirious with anticipation of the big concert. Imagine, the three British jazz greats all on the stage within minutes of one another. Perhaps they might even perform together although there probably won’t be room for all of them and their bands even on the Empire stage.

……………………………….

In my reverie about the jazz greats and dreamy thoughts about the lights going up on the stage at the Empire, I must have drifted off. I awake to hear an announcement coming over the loudspeaker.

This is Starmouth. Starmouth. Change here for Biggerchurch, Waverley Bluff and all stations to Bridgedown.’

As I gather up my things, I can’t help but notice that Starmouth station has had what Mr Littlejohn, always one to pick up on the new Americanisms coming into circulation, would call a makeover. The old stone buildings are gone and everything seems to be rectangular and smooth edged. There are strange looking digital displays showing the train times and illuminated glass fronted advertising hoardings. Coke, the great new taste, says one of them. It looks like Coca Cola in a can. Wow, what an idea! There’s another one, advertising 501 shrink fit jeans showing a man in boxing trunks sitting in a laundrette. What is that all about? Admittedly, Sheepdip is a bit of a backwater, lucky perhaps to have a station at all, but we don’t get any of these adverts back home. It’s all Brooke Bond Dividend Tea and Oxo. They haven’t even taken down the Careless Talk Costs Lives poster yet.

I step off the train. I’ve never been a trainspotter so I’m no expert on these matters but I could swear we set off with a normal black steam locomotive with a footplate and a tender pulling three or four coaches. It is now what I believe are referred to as diesel multiple units. I have of course heard that diesel is set to replace steam. This is common knowledge, but the transition seems to have been a bit sudden. I didn’t expect it would happen this way. How in God’s name could this have happened without it waking me up?

I look around frantically for someone to ask what is going on, but the station appears to have no staff. I spot some more adverts. These for seaside entertainment taking place at Starmouth. Paul Daniels, Bernie Winters, Little and Large. I’ve not heard of any of these people. Bloody Hell! There is a poster advertising Kenny Ball and his New Jazzmen at the Little Theatre, Starmouth. But in the picture, Kenny has long hair covering his ears and a strange central parting. He is going grey. What on earth has happened to him? He looks about fifty years old. And the Little Theatre. It is hardly the Empire, is it? As its name suggests it’s tiny. I should think it holds less than a hundred people. Ticket prices seem a little expensive, though. £5, that’s more than I get in a week. I have a confession to make. I don’t really work for Freeman, Hardy and Willis. I’m in between jobs at the moment. Mr Littlejohn doesn’t exist. I made him up. But all the same, is the whole thing some kind of joke?

As the train pulls out of the station, I make my way up the platform, my head spinning. I look this way and that hoping to find someone I can talk to about what might be going on, but the passengers from my train, probably in a hurry to get to the beach, have all left. The platform is empty. Over on the other platform, I spot a dark-skinned man. This in itself is strange as you do not get many coloured people down here in the south-west. Come to think of it, I can’t recall ever seeing one, but this one is black as the Ace of Spades. When the boatloads of Caribbeans came over a few years ago, they didn’t settle any further south than Bristol. That’s a hundred miles away. The man is puffing on a large fat cigarette. He catches me staring at him.

Wot you want, mon?’ he shouts.

What year is it?’ I call over.

You been smokin’ the ‘erb, too have you mon?’ he hollers, waving his long cigarette at me. ‘The year? It’s uh, 1985, mon.’

Surely, he’s having a laugh. I can’t have been asleep for twenty three years.

How can I explain my predicament to him? What can I say that won’t make him think I’m mad? Perhaps I am going mad. It certainly feels like I’m going mad. Perhaps I’ve always been mad. I have had a few distracted moments lately. Dr Rheinhart calls this disassociation. Like the time I accidentally put weed killer in Jon Kandy’s tea. Or the time I tried to bury next door’s cat. It was a good thing that Maureen was there to stop me because Kitty wasn’t dead. So I ……. Well, another time perhaps. Dr Rheinhart has said that the medication should be working by now. While I am mulling over my …… lapses of concentration, the coloured man vanishes into thin air.

I’m still trying to gather my thoughts when a gangly fellow about my age comes onto the platform. He is wearing a brightly coloured shirt and has a strange haircut. It is short on top and long down the sides and back, with green streaks in it. He is wearing a gold earring. He has some kind of headphones on which attach to something hanging from his belt. He is jigging his head and singing along to some tune on his gadget. I don’t know what it is. It doesn’t look like a transistor radio. As I get up close I see it is called a Sony Discman. A Sony Discman. Crikey! I haven’t seen one of those before.

He notices I am staring intently at his Discman. ‘Great sound on these portable CD players,’ he says. ‘Have you heard one? Here! Have a listen!’

He leans over and hands me the headphones. I cautiously put them on. I grimace as my ears are assaulted by what appears to be a man screaming in pain over a barrage of screaming guitars. It sounds as if it was recorded in a foundry or a sawmill. Or perhaps an underground cell in the Soviet Union. It’s torture. It’s making me feel nauseous, like that time before when …….. when. I can’t remember the details right now but I know it was not good. I hand the headphones back to him.

Grim Reaper,’ he says, waiting for me to give my approval. ‘Aren’t they amazing?’

Not wishing to offend him …… or knock him senseless, I nod my head and move quickly up the platform.

Others begin to arrive. It must be nearly time for my connecting train to Bridgedown. A middle-aged woman in tight jeans with a glossy looking magazine smiles and says hello as she passes. Wherever you are, a friendly greeting counts for a lot. For no accountable reason, I think that she is called Magda, but I don’t know where this comes from. Perhaps she is going to the Barber, Ball and Bilk concert. There again, perhaps not. Perhaps I am not going to the Barber, Ball and Bilk concert. Perhaps there no longer is a Barber, Ball and Bilk concert. Without me realising, things have moved on. And perhaps Kenny really is fifty years old. What would that make Acker Bilk and Chris Barber? They are older than Kenny. A man in a business suit, carrying a rolled-up copy of the Starmouth Gazette comes and stands alongside me. I try to make out the headline on his paper. Something about a mass murderer who has escaped. They haven’t caught him it says and he might be dangerous. I think I’ve seen the man in the picture. It’s …….

Coming along the platform now is another scruffy looking ruffian with an earring and a bewildering haircut wearing a Sony Discman. I wonder if he is listening to Grim Reaper too. By the pained expression on his face, he looks as if he might be. And here’s a lad riding along on a painted board with roller skate wheels. Two of them, in fact. Both are wearing ripped jeans. Whatever is happening and whatever year this is there still seem to be pockets of poverty in Starmouth. The lad with the faded blue Tommy Hilfiger t-shirt calls out to the other one. He’s going pretty fast down the slope. He’s heading towards me. He’s not looking where he’s going.

Look out!’ I shout. ‘Look where you’re go…….. ‘

But, it turns out that he is not a scruffy looking ruffian with an earring at all but a uniformed police officer. They are all uniformed officers. Sometimes when you are under a lot of stress, you can get things very wrong. I hope that they don’t think that I ………..

……………………………….

Don’t you remember me?’ says the woman in the blue smock. ‘I’m Magda.’

Hello, Magda,’ I say. ‘So who am I, Magda?’

You are Maxx Madison, Maxx Madison. You must remember that.’

Maxx Madison, I’m Maxx Madison. And I’m a time traveller, aren’t I, Magda? Only the other lady said I was a mass murderer and a fantasist.’

Danuta shouldn’t have said that, Maxx.’ Magda says, typing something into her smartphone. ‘I will have to have words with her.’

I’m glad I’m a time traveller, Magda. And not those other things.’

It’s time for your medication now, Maxx.’

After I’ve had my medication, Magda. Can I listen to that Barber, Ball and Bilk record again? The one with Midnight in Moscow on.’

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

The 16:06

the1606

The 16:06 by Chris Green

The 16:06 from Paddington is usually on time. I rely on its punctuality to catch my connecting train from Taunton to Bridgewater, where I live. It runs at the right time for me. I do not like to work late on a Friday and I don’t want to spend a lot of time travelling. After all I have been up in town all week and feel I deserve a break. I want to get home. As a bonus, in summer this service gives me a chance to listen to the closing stages of Test Match Special on my iphone.

The train is often nearly empty. Most people travelling from the capital catch later trains. But, after five thirty I find the trains are a nightmare, on any day of the week. Paddington station becomes like something out of a wartime evacuation blockbuster. Why would anyone put themselves through this day after day?

Had the 16:06 been on time, the seat next to me would in all probability be empty, perhaps for the entire trip, and I would be able to relax and prepare for the weekend.

‘Is this seat taken?’ she asks. She is wearing an Afghan coat and her hair is braided.

I am tempted to say yes, but my better nature prevails. And she does have a nice smile, but this is as far as it goes. I am twice her age and I think we would have little in common. I mean. Afghan coat? In June? In 2015?

She spends several minutes depositing, arranging and rearranging a startling array of hand luggage. There are haversacks and rucksacks and tote bags of every colour. There are scarves and hats and even a potted plant. The tent alone needs its own seat. How did she manage to carry it all. At least she doesn’t have a dog.

She takes off her coat and places it on top of the tent. She finally sits down. She is wearing a tangerine cheesecloth smock. My nasal passages are invaded by the powerful aroma of incense and patchouli. I try to ignore her by turning away to look out the window, but it becomes clear that she wants to talk. I try turning up the volume of the cricket commentary, but she carries on chattering, as if I am hanging on her every word. Eventually I take my headphones out and look her way.

She explains that she has been camping out. She came up to London last weekend to go to a concert and stayed on.

‘Who did you go to see?’ I ask, out of politeness.

‘Blind Faith,’ she says, excitedly.’ They played a free concert in Hyde Park.’

‘Who?’ I say.

‘Blind Faith,’ she repeats. ‘You know, Eric Clapton. Steve Winwood.’

‘Oh,’ I say, while I turn this over in his mind. To say, have they reformed I feel would just prolong the conversation, but to the best of my recollection the concert she is referring to took place in 1969. I think my parents went …. both of them ….. together.

‘I’m Luna,’ she says. ‘But you can call me Loon. Everybody does.’

Tempted to say, sounds about right, I manage to resist. ‘Pleased to meet you, Loon,’ I offer instead.

‘You’re a Pisces, aren’t you? Luna says, looking me in the eye.

‘That’s right, Loon. I am as it happens. How did you know?’

‘You are imaginative, creative and kind.’

‘Am I?’

‘And compassionate and intuitive.’

‘That’s pretty good, isn’t it?’

‘But, you are lazy, weak willed and pessimistic.’

‘Ah, I see. Not so good then.’

‘But you have Leo rising.’

‘Is that good? I knew a Leo when I was in the army but he wasn’t very good at rising.’

‘And the Moon in Scorpio.’

After a few false starts (what do those whistles and flags mean), the train finally sets off. I look at my watch. It is twenty to five. Even if the driver goes like Harry in the night, there’s no chance of catching the connection now. I have no idea what time the next one leaves Taunton. I am about to check on my iphone, but Luna interrupts me.

‘Don’t be uptight,’ she says. ‘Be here now, man. Just go with the flow.’ These are expressions I remember my dad using, yet oddly he never seemed to practice them. Dad wanted to control everything. And you had to watch out if things didn’t go according to plan. This is why I moved out at eighteen. This was why Mum ran off with Didier, a Belgian gymnast.

As the train powers its way towards Reading, Luna talks about macrobiotics, Malcolm X and The Mothers Of Invention. She talks about International Times and Oz. Everything about her is retro, backdated. She does not seem connected to the modern world. It is as if she carries her own time bubble around with her which keeps her separate from the here and now of this railway carriage. She is either completely unaware of this, or is acting a role. I begin to wonder if it is not perhaps an enormous hoax at my expense, a television spoof maybe. I look around me for cameras. I do not see any.

Luna holds forth about cosmic evolutionary development, transcendental understanding and what she does to balance her chakras. I am not convinced I have chakras. Perhaps my parents had chakras. They were a a bit far out. They seemed to go for all this Eastern mysticism. Guru this and Swami that. I narrowly avoided being taken to an ashram in Rishikesh one time by feigning yellow jaundice and was sent to stay with Aunt Trudi in Fife, while they buggered off to the subcontinent. They came back just the same, arguing at the slightest opportunity.

I try to divert the conversation on to more earthly matters. I am anxious to get back to the Test Match commentary. The match had reached a critical stage when I left it. Following another famous collapse, England were eight wickets down with twenty overs left, trying once more to save the game.

‘What good is all this …… esoteric wisdom?’ I say.

‘Wisdom is your third eye,’ she says. And knowledge is your third arm.’

I do not think I want a third eye or third arm. They sound just plain ridiculous.

Luna is still away with the fairies. She begins to talk about the journey, but it is not the train journey she is referring to, it is life’s journey.

‘Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls,’ she says.

What a load of twaddle, I am thinking. She needs to work in the city for a couple of months. She would soon realise that the universe didn’t give a damn about you.

As we pull out of Reading, Luna says that the train will soon sweep past the Westbury White Horse, a giant chalk horse carved into the landscape. It is meant to represent the Celtic horse goddess, Rhiannon. She explains about The Golden Bough, earth magic and ley lines.

‘Do you know they levitated the stones for Stonehenge from Wales along ley lines,’ she says.

‘I don’t believe in magic,’ I tell her. ‘It’s all done with mirrors.’

‘Watch this!’ she says, and with it she vanishes. Her luggage disappears too. All of it. It is as if she never ………..

In fact everything has changed. I find myself aboard a completely different train. The carriage is old. From the 1970s. It has ripped cloth seats, no smoking signs and windows you can open. It is the type I remember from the trips to Torquay that I was forced to go on as a teenager to please one or other of my parents. Twelve year-olds don’t build sandcastles, I would tell Mum. Or, no thankyou dad, I’m too young to smoke dope. And why would I want to if it makes you listen to Emerson, Lake and Palmer?

To my astonishment I discover that I have a Mohican haircut, a studded leather jacket, ragged drainpipe jeans and an old khaki rucksack. How old would I be? About fifteen or sixteen? Despite the amazing transformation, I find my train of thought is still linear. I am still in the mindset of going home to Bridgewater for the weekend on a train that is a few minutes late which means that I will probably miss my connecting train. I take a look at my watch. It is a old watch. A digital model with a silver strap. It says 17:25. I look out the window to assess the train’s progress. I know this journey like the back of my hand. We are halfway between Reading and Swindon. I do a quick calculation. This is consistent at this stage with the 16:06 being a few minutes late.

In the seat next to me is a girl in her late twenties wearing a charcoal office skirt suit and dark patterned tights. She has long black hair and cakey make-up. She reminds me a little of the actress, Megan Fox. She has kicked off her high heels. Perhaps she has been on her feet all day. At the perfume counter of a department store maybe. Or running up and down the corridors of an advertising agency. She is scrolling through some pictures of celebrities on her laptop. One of the celebrities is in fact none other than Megan Fox. The lookalike Megan Fox seems to be in her own world, protecting her space with an air of disinterest. She does not want a train conversation. When I look her way, she pulls her skirt down an inch or two and turns herself slightly to face the aisle. She is wised up to the ways of teenagers with strange haircuts, frenzied eyes and nasal jewellery.

I pick up the rucksack. It has some half recognised names of bands scribbled on it in felt-tip pen. The 4 Skins, The Slits, The Dead Kennedys. I find a silver Sony transistor radio in the front pocket. It looks oddly familiar. I switch it on. I fiddle around with the tuning dial and find a crackling cricket commentary. It doesn’t take long for me to realise that I am now listening to a different match. One from a bygone era. This one has Viv Richards and Clive Lloyd batting. Ian Botham is bowling. This would make it England versus West Indies….. 1979? Megan looks around, disapprovingly.

I switch the radio off. I feel the sudden need to start a conversation with Megan. I have to find out what she feels might be going on. What is her take on this major lapse in logic and reason? Surely she is out of time in this 1970s railway carriage, the same as I am out of time. We both belong to 2015. The real world. Surely. Why are we so misplaced? Has Luna really had something to do with this ….. this shifting time? Sorcery? Magic? We are passing the Westbury White horse. Should I tell Megan about the horse goddess, Rhiannon as an opener to show her that I am not just a dissident punk? Not an spotty adolescent on an inappropriate train leering at her lovely long legs.

My youthful demeanour precludes much in the way of approaches to an attractive older woman. I cannot for instance say, ‘are you going all the way?’ This would be like saying, ‘are you up for it?’

‘I’m getting off at Swindon,’ she says, looking up from her laptop.

‘Oh,’ is all I can manage. Is she telepathic?

‘So. You will have the seat to yourself, all the way to Taunton.’

‘Thankyou.’

‘Do you really like those bands, by the way?’

‘Which bands?’

‘The ones on your, what would you call it ….. rucksack?’

‘Well. I did. Once.’

‘But you’ve moved on.’

Given my appearance, I figure she is not going to believe me if I says that I go to lunchtime concerts at St Martin in the Fields, listen mostly to chamber music and sing in the choir at St John The Baptist church. I settle for the less committal, ‘I guess so.’

‘I do like Nirvana,’ she says.

I cannot tell if she is winding me up. Is she aware of what is going on? Might she be in on it? Could this be a phenomenon that is more widespread? Something that’s happening all over? Like Mr Jones in the song that Dad used to play, I certainly doesn’t know what it is.

‘Could you log on to some news sites,’ I say. ‘Huffington Post, …… BBC News, …… Google News. See if there’s anything there about temporal irregularities.’

Megan looks at a bit of a loss. These aren’t sites that she visits often. She shrugs.

‘See if there’s anything trending on Twitter or Facebook maybe.’

The train slows down. A hazy announcement comes over the loudspeaker, ‘the next station will be Swindon. Change here for ……….. ‘

Megan starts to gather up her things and gets up to leave. ‘Look out for me in your dreams,’ she says, cryptically.

The train waits, the diesel engine idling. Being alone brings no clarity. It only serves to add to my confusion. My reason is so ravaged that my brain wants to shut down. A sinister tune plays in my head. Descending chords over and over as the sound of the diesel engine resonates. Change here for …… Change here …. Change. ….. Change. ….. Change. ….. Change. The lights go out. It is dark. The blinds are all drawn. Why are all the blinds drawn? Have I descended into …. Descended into? Descending chords. Over and over. Dark. Dark. Dark. Change here for. …..

When the lights come on I find that time has shifted once more. I am no longer a fifteen year old punk. I am a British soldier in uniform. Royal Welch Fusiliers. With service ribbons. Bosnia. Srebrenica. Battle honours. All the stuff you take home on leave neatly packed. The carriage too has been through a transformation. It is cleaner, shinier, newer, the seats no longer torn. I look around. I have no fellow passengers. The couple with the corgi have gone. The old lady who was reading the murder mystery has gone. The man with the silver euphonium has gone. The barber’s shop quartet with the red striped jackets have gone. The carriage is empty. I make my way to the end of the carriage and lean my head out of the window to see what is going on. The platform too is completely deserted.

I decide I must get out to investigate, but just at this moment I feel the familiar shudder of rolling stock as the train starts to move. There is a second or two when I could still climb down if I wish, but the train accelerates quickly and the opportunity is lost. I look at my new watch. Five past six. This one is not digital. It is analogue with a vengeance. With its many dials it tells you the time all around the world. I take a seat and look out the window. I could pull the communication cord, but I don’t want to do this, at least not yet. Maybe there’s no need to panic. I recognise the buildings as we pull out of Swindon. They are the ones I have become familiar with. Perhaps the train is still headed for Taunton, even if everything else about the journey is wrong. I must go with the flow and see what happens.

‘Tickets Please!’ calls out a voice.

A wizened old man in a black uniform with some shiny bits and badges shuffles along the aisle. He is short and thin with little round glasses. He looks like Gandhi.

I ask him if I am on the right train. If I can establish this, the fine details of my misadventures can be worked out later. Along with some rational explanations. At home. On the internet. On the phone. You can get to the bottom of most things retrospectively. The important thing right now is to get home.

‘Yes sir. The train is going to Taunton,’ says Gandhi. ‘Unfortunately, we are 58 minutes late due to an alien spacecraft on the line at Wootton Bassett. It has gone now though, so we should be able to make up some of the time.’

‘Alien spacecraft?’

‘Yes sir. Just down the line at Wootton Basset. Is that where you are from, sir?’

‘No. There’s an RAF base there, isn’t there?’

‘We get a lot of people for Wootton Bassett. It’s where they hold the funerals for the dead soldiers. But then you would know that wouldn’t you sir? Being in the army and all that.’

‘Yes. Yes I suppose I would. Now. About this alien spacecraft.’

‘Yes sir. We get a lot of those around here, too. Salisbury Plain, Stonehenge, Avebury, Warminster. They seem to like this part of the country.’

‘They probably navigate along the ley lines.’

‘Ley lines, sir?’

‘Ley lines apparently are mystical alignments which harness the earth’s magnetic fields. They work like a primitive GPS. Now tell me. Where did all the other passengers go?’

‘They all left the train at Swindon, sir.’

‘What’s going on at Swindon?’

‘Oh. Some TV cook is giving a talk there, I think, sir. I’d love to be able to stay and chat with you, sir, but I’ve got to get along the train. Could I see your ticket please?’

I search for his ticket, but I don’t seem to have one.

‘I realise that you are in the army, sir, but travelling without a ticket is against the law and we cannot make exceptions. I’m going to have to charge you the full single fare plus a penalty which is the equivalent of the full single fare. That will be let me see. London to Taunton is it? Two hundred and eighty four pounds.’

I offer him a Visa card.

‘What am I supposed to do with this?’ he says. ‘In any case it has expired.’

‘Excuse me,’ I say. ‘But could you tell me what year it is?’

‘You can pretend to be stupid if you wish, sir,’ says Gandhi, ‘But it won’t wash with me. I can issue you with an Unpaid Fare Notice, if you like. But you will still have to pay it. Army or no army.’

Isambard Brunel always had a sense of drama. His Great Western Railway from Paddington to Penzance is full of surprises. I know as soon as we enter the two mile long Box tunnel that something is bound to happen. It does. The lights go out once more. We are in darkness. As we emerge from the tunnel, I catch a whiff of patchouli. Luna is back. Not only that, somehow we are back on the original train. I am back in my city suit. I have my iphone in my hand. I am logged in to the cricket live text. The match is in the final over. England are nine wickets down and the tail enders only have to survive three more balls to save the match.

I might be back in present time, but Luna is cutting in to normality like static on the airwaves. She is the radio interference from a rogue FM station on a stormy night.

I take a look around the carriage. All the other passengers are reading their papers, playing with their tablets or talking on their phones. One or two are looking out the window as the 16:06 from Paddington crosses the River Avon on its way to Bath. Each one of them seems confident in the authenticity of their worlds. There appears to be consensus among them that this is 2015. Luna is the stranger at the party. She is stuck in a 1969 mindset. Forget the magic tricks for now, 1969 is clearly her reality.

She starts to tell me more about going with the flow.

‘Going with the flow isn’t about being passive or being lazy,’ she says. ‘It’s not aimless wandering. The flow that you are going with is the ocean of cosmic intelligence. Going with the flow is about wakeful trust and …….. ‘

The train is coming into Bath now. I make the decision to get off here to take a cab the rest of the way. I have made a note not to catch the 16:06 from Paddington in future. It’s a bad choice. It takes far too long. Too much time travelling.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

The Way We Were

thewaywewere

The Way We Were by Chris Green

It was Monday morning and I was not particularly pressed for time. I was off work as a result of an old Pilates injury flaring up. I had been told to rest. I was sorting out some matters that in my busy schedule at the kite repair workshop I never got the chance to attend to. I had updated all of the firewalls, spyware programs and virus checkers on the computer, cleaned the hard drive, and found five friends on Facebook. I had arranged for a tree surgeon to come and take a few feet off the weeping willow in the back garden, contacted the council about the broken streetlights, booked the car in for its MOT, and cleared the mouldy vegetables from the back of the carousel. Although my partner, Danuta, was on the face of it very thorough in cleaning the house, the kitchen cupboard seemed to be one area that escaped her attention.

I spent the rest of the morning watching a welcome repeat of The History of the Harmonica on one of the new Freeview Channels, and over a light lunch, a special report on the prisoners’ strike. This was now into its fifth day with no signs of the prisoners’ demands for an extra £5 per week and a shorter working week being met. ‘The cost of drugs has gone up loads,’ one prisoner who was interviewed had said as justification for their action. ‘Why don’t we just beat the bleep bleep out of them?’ a warden had said not realising that he was on camera. In summing up the presenter, Giles Trevithick took the view of Foucault that perhaps prison was part of a larger carceral system that could not fail to produce offenders, and did nothing to offer a place in society for them if they reformed. It was surprising only that standoffs such as the current one did not occur more frequently.

I had just switched over to the Fishing Channel to watch the semi-finals of the Mid Wales Regional Angling Championships when there was a knock at the door. I was not expecting anyone so, at first, I let it go, but Alan, our Giant Schnauzer, started barking feverishly, so I got up to answer it. Perhaps it was Danuta, home early from her part-time job at the Fridge Magnet Advisory Centre, I thought, but then, she would have a key. Unless she had forgotten it. She had been in a bit of a fluster this morning after Alan had vacated on the hall carpet. ‘You should take him for more walks,’ she had shouted up the stairs. I reminded her that I had been told to take it easy; Dr Shipman had been quite specific on this point.

I found the key and opened it. Standing at the door was Eddie. To say I was shocked would not be an adequate appraisal of the situation. I hadn’t seen Eddie since I was twelve years old. Not since the incident with the cat…… I did a quick calculation. This would have been 1966. The thing was the Eddie that stood across the threshold with a football under his arm still seemed to be twelve years old. He even wore the same red Manchester United football shirt that I remembered with long sleeves and the number 11 on the back and the same green and white Gola Harrier trainers that he had been so proud of back then. He hadn’t changed a bit. He still had the same lank ginger hair and freckles. And the small mark over his left eyebrow where Nick had punched him outside our house and the blood had run down his face. Dad had had to take him to hospital to have four stitches. This definitely seemed to be the very same Eddie. The same gap between his front teeth which seemed too large for his mouth and made him look a little goofy.

Hi,’ he said in a blasé fashion as if he had seen me yesterday. There was no hint of surprise or curiosity on his face. He did not seem to notice that I had changed. That I was over forty years older, with a fuller figure, less hair, and some unsightly facial scars.

Wanna come down the rec,’ he asked.

Eddie had always been the one to organise the kick-arounds. He was the one who owned the football. If his team was losing or if he was having a bad game, he would just say ‘it’s my ball’ and head off home with it, leaving me and Mart and Malc and whoever else was playing stranded. Before that, he had been the one who had the Scalextric or the train set. He was the one whose house we would be able to go round to. He was an only child so his parents had a tendency to spoil him. He was always the first one to have the new trainers or the new football shirt or the new Kinks LP.

Eddie was bouncing the ball now with some vigour, clearly waiting for a reply. I thought perhaps that going to the rec was a little impractical as the rec he was referring to was three hundred miles away. And of course, there was my Pilates injury to consider. I asked him to come on in for a minute, hoping that the improbable situation would somehow resolve itself.

He came in and made his way through to the kitchen. I offered him a glass of Tizer. He remarked on the groovy new bottle. This was the first sign that he might be noticing a time warp.

The phone rang. I let it ring a while thinking perhaps it would make Eddie feel that he was being ignored if I took the call. The phone kept on ringing and Alan started barking at it, so I went into the front room and answered it. It was Danuta to tell me that she would be working late. Magda and Kinga had not turned up for work and things were pretty manic at the Fridge Magnet Advisory Centre. Fridge magnets had apparently featured on a lifestyle programme on Sky and there was a bit of a run on them. She had to go, she said, as there was a queue of people at the desk wondering what would be the best thing to put on their Smeg. I did not get the chance to tell her about our visitor. I wondered momentarily whether Danuta might be having an affair. This was the third time this month that there had been a television-led demand for fridge magnet advice. I dismissed the thought. If she were playing away there would be other signs, like lingerie catalogues coming through the mail, or new bottles of perfume appearing with inappropriate names like Bitch or Hussy. I made a mental note to phone the centre later to see who answered. Meanwhile, I had to get back to Eddie.

On returning to the kitchen there was no sign of Eddie, just an empty glass on the work surface by the fridge. I quickly scurried around the house, then the garden, but there was absolutely no trace of him. He had vanished.

I did not think I would be able to concentrate on the Mid Wales Regional Angling Championship, so I decided to pop to the supermarket to buy some garbanzo beans and some taboule. I had also noticed when I was cleaning out the carousel that we were getting a little low on guacamole and cactus leaf strips. Although Waitrose was not far, I decided to drive. I had recently, against all advice, bought a Chrysler PT Cruiser. The Honest John website had likened it to ‘a Ford Prefect on steroids’, and this was one of the better reviews. Now, even the novelty of its retro styling had worn off, which is why I had got it so cheap. It seemed to get from A to B though, albeit with alarming under-steer on corners.

I had not seen Ros since the spring of 1974 when we had had a brief fling. So imagine my surprise when there she was at the delicatessen counter. With her shoulder length reddish blond hair and flirtatious smile, she was unmistakeable. She was exactly as I remembered her. She had not changed one bit. Her eyes still sparkled the way that they had and she still wore the same pale blue eye shadow and a light coat of black mascara around them. Everything about her seemed suddenly familiar. She even had on the same cheesecloth top that I had bought her from Jean Machine and a pair of flared FU’s jeans with a wide Biba belt. I remembered our first date. We had gone to see The Way We Were, and half way through I had said, ‘this film is rubbish, let’s go back to my place’ and to my surprise, she had agreed.

Back then she was studying to be a chef and around May time, she had found herself with a heavy schedule of exams. With Ros busy revising, I had time on my hands and one night went to the Uzi Bar and come home somewhat worse for wear with a barmaid called Lola. Ros found out that I had slept with Lola when she came round next day and found a bracelet in my bed. I had not heard from her again.

However despite the intervening years, she now appeared to instantly recognise me. And despite my erstwhile infidelity, she greeted me with a big hug and seemed keen to ‘catch up’. Still in a state of disbelief, I struggled hard to find the right words to say, in fact, any words at all. When finally I managed to ask her what she was doing now, she said she was studying to be a chef and had a heavy schedule of exams.

I don’t know if Ros became distracted by the range of Scandinavian furniture and modern art prints in the store or if she was just spirited away, but during the time the delicatessen assistant was weighing out my pitted green olives and taramasalata, she disappeared. I searched the store high and low and even got the shift supervisor to ask for her on the tannoy, but there was no sign.

As I drove away from the store my head was in turmoil. I ran through a red light by Marcello’s All Day Breakfasts, narrowly missing a Murco tanker, and almost mowed down an old lady and her Jack Russell on the zebra-crossing by the Fat Elvis Burger restaurant.

I had read enough of the self-help books that Danuta brought home from the community library to know that I had to pull myself together and get a grip. Perhaps Louise L. Hay or James Redfield had not expressed it exactly in these terms but this seemed to be the general gist of their message. I put my Brian Eno CD on to relax me and tried breathing deeply as I had learned in Yoga. I pulled in by the stretch of water by the leisure centre and sat there for a few minutes, listening to the calming cries of the coots and the moorhens. I closed my eyes and tried to gather my thoughts. I told myself that whatever was happening I was not in a life-threatening situation. Everything could be resolved in fifty-five minutes. This according to someone, whose name escaped me, was the amount of time it should take to adjust to a new situation over which you had no control.

I stretched my legs with a gentle stroll around the park, gradually gaining my self-control. A few joggers were out taking their early evening exercise and one or two people were out walking their dogs. When I noticed that the black collie-retriever bounding towards me looked a lot like Barry, my first thought was that I must have been daydreaming. A lot of dogs look alike. I made a quick calculation. Barry would be about 35. He would surely have died years ago. The dog barked excitedly as he approached. He nuzzled against my leg and then stood on his hind legs with his front paws against my chest, licking my upper arm affectionately. I quickly identified the heavily chewed black leather collar and the gouge on his neck where the fur was missing, the result of Barry’s tussle with a Staffordshire Bull Terrier in the car park at The Gordon Bennett. In the next instant, we heard a loud whistle and Barry went bounding back across the park. I called out to the disappearing figure of Janice in the distance. Janice seemed not to hear. I called again. She did not look around. She was perhaps a hundred yards away but I felt sure it was her, even though she had to the best of my information moved to France shortly after we’d split up in 1983. The tie-dyed green denim jacket and the hennaed hair gave it away. This was how Janice would have looked in around 1983. She had a Walkman on. Probably, although I could not be sure, the one that she used to listen to her Joni Mitchell cassettes on. I stumbled on a patch of rough ground, and before I knew it, she and Barry were getting into the blue Chevette estate that we had bought together at the car auction. I remembered us bidding nervously. Neither of us knew much about cars. We had bought it for £550. I hadn’t seen a Chevette in years; they were not renowned for their durability. This one though seemed to be running well. It moved away with a healthy purr. I looked back. My car was parked too far away to think about driving after her.

The irregularities of spacetime were disturbing. Supernatural forces should remain in the realm of the imaginary. But this temporal upheaval was seemingly real. It was happening, now, and to me. I was scared. I felt like vomiting, my hands were shaking, and I was sweating like a Brazilian on the Victoria Line. Had I unwittingly uncovered a portal for parallel worlds, been sucked into the hypothetical wormhole? I had read about such things in Asimov and J. G. Ballard short stories and, but not given them much credence. It took a good deal of Pranayama breathing and another fifty five minutes of consolidation before I could get up from where I was now crouching. People were coming up to me and asking me if I was all right. A gnarled old crone with a bichon frise attempted to call an ambulance, a scarecrow with a limp offered me a pull on his hip flask, and a rangy Goth with a hair lip tried to sell me some ketamin.

No amount of deep breathing, philosophical principles or stress management techniques could have prepared me for my next encounter, however. Returning to the Chrysler and noticing that the fuel gauge was low, I stopped at the BP filling station to fill up. There, at the adjacent pump, someone was putting fuel into a black Fiat Uno. I recognised the registration plate instantly. It was the Fiat I had owned in 1997. It took a split-second, while I did a double take, before I recognised that the figure in the brightly coloured paisley shirt and combat fatigues bore an uncanny resemblance to me, as I would have looked around fifteen years ago. A lot slimmer and with considerably more hair. This was genuinely scary. I felt a chill run the length of my spine. This was not like looking at old photos of oneself or a video; this was watching a real living, breathing human being in real time. Wasn’t it? Reality was a fragile concept it seemed. Albert Einstein had called reality, ‘an illusion but a very persistent one’. But even this statement suggested there was room around the edges of reality for leakage. Facing myself over a few feet of garage forecourt defied any rational explanation. I was frozen to the spot; I couldn’t move.

I watched as my doppelganger slowly fed the fuel into the tank. I studied his mannerisms and his gestures in slow motion and one by one acknowledged them as my own. I recognised the flick of the neck, the squint against the light showing the lines etched on the forehead, the nervous shifting of weight from one foot to the other as he stood. I remembered buying those cream Converse Allstars cut-offs from a car boot. My heart raced and I felt a tightness in my chest. No doubt about it; the individual I was looking at was me. Amidst the inner turmoil, rational questions like ‘why hadn’t my 1997 personification noticed that the petrol was a little pricey?’ or ‘did the Fiat run on unleaded?’ tried to find a place in my consciousness. These were powerfully swept away by wave upon wave of blind panic as I sensed my whole life might be collapsing into a single moment.

He replaced the nozzle in the pump, and as he did he appeared to look right at me, or right through me. I couldn’t decide which. Could it have been that he did not recognise me? Or to look at it another way, should that be I did not recognise me – now that I was older. No one really knew exactly what form their ageing would take. It was not something you would give a lot of thought to. But of course, Eddie had recognised me, and Ros had recognised me,despite my having changed significantly. And my smell must have been the same to Barry, although this was conclusive. Barry had always been quite a friendly dog.

My other swivelled round. I thought he was about to come over. What would he do? Introduce himself? What would I do? I felt my legs buckle. This was not like one of those dreams where you dream about a past episode and the texture of the scenario as it unfolds is surreal. This was in clear focus in the here and now. I was watching me in an everyday situation in broad daylight. He did not come over. He seemed to hesitate in mid stride and turned to walk in the opposite direction towards the BP shop.

I was not very good on dates but I determined that in 1997 I would have still been with Mizuki. We were very happy back then in our second-floor apartment overlooking the park. At weekends, we would take the children to the pool or go walking in the woods. I remembered Mizuki and I went to see As Good As It Gets at the Empire and realising how happy we were. Our contentment was of course not to last. I had been to see Mizuki’s cherry tree in the park recently. Someone had tied a ribbon around it with a bow. It had made me feel neglectful of her memory. I had lost touch with Sakura and Reiko a long time ago. They would have left school by now. At least, none of them were in the Uno parked at the neighbouring pump; their presence would have cranked my present nightmare up another notch.

My other emerged from the shop with an evening newspaper. I read the headline. It was about Diana’s death. Something about a mystery white car in the Alma Tunnel. As he passed he seemed to look directly at me, or through me again. He could not have been more than twenty feet away. He got into the car. As he wound down his window I detected a hint of recognition….. I didn’t detect a hint of recognition….. I wasn’t sure. My mouth opened to call out to him but no words came. He drove off. The exhaust from the Fiat was still blowing, just as I remembered it. I put the pump back without having put any fuel in the car and set out to follow him.

He turned left down Hegel Avenue. I used to live on the Philosophers’ estate. I had lived there for over fifteen years, and it occurred to me that wherever we were headed was a run that I probably had made many times. I thought back to the types of journey I would have made in the Fiat in 1997. Mostly on account of the Fiat’s unreliability these would have been short journeys. To and from work. To the shops at Kirkegaard Court. Where would I have been likely to have been going at six thirty in the evening? It must have been after I had been made redundant from Gadgets and Gizmos. I usually didn’t finish there till late. Perhaps I was going to visit Mick or Charlie. They both lived in the Schopenhauer Court flats. I might have been going to pick Mizuki up from the Sushi restaurant where she worked. I tried to recall if she had her own car back then. Memories of her came flooding back once again. We passed the Occam’s Razor pub where we used to sit out on summer evenings for a couple of halves of Old Poets.

The exhaust of the Fiat in front of me was now belching out black smoke. We seemed to be heading back on ourselves as we forked right into Rousseau Gardens. A Brimful of Asha (On the 45) read a poster outside The Codfather takeaway. This surely was an old poster. Shouldn’t they have taken it down? We passed the Mahatma Gandhi Primary School where Sakura and Reiko used to go, and then right at the Karl Marx roundabout. It began to dawn on me where we were headed. Usually I would have turned left at the Karl Marx roundabout, taking me home along Darwin Road. Turning right meant we were ………..

I woke up in the Lewis Carroll Memorial Hospital. I had sustained multiple head injuries in the accident. I could not remember very much about the actual collision, but after a few sessions with Dr. Trinidad, I recalled a little about the events leading up to it. An overweight elderly man driving an ugly black Chrysler had been tailgating me. It was a model I had not seen before. It was shaped like a hearse and its registration plate was in an unusual format.

I had first noticed this sinister character with his receding hairline and unsightly facial scars at the BP filling station. My attention was drawn to him because he was behaving very strangely. He stood there at the pump pointing the fuel hose into the air. He stared at me the whole time I was filling up. For a second, I thought he seemed familiar but I could not place where I might have seen him. The more I contemplated this, the more I imagined I had been mistaken. I put my imagined recognition down to the intensity of his gaze.

When I pulled off he got into his car, without putting in any fuel in, and started following me. He kept his distance at first. I took a right at the Karl Marx roundabout into Nietzsche Avenue and ducked into Spinoza Crescent to make certain that he was really tailing me. He was closer now. I slowed down to give him the chance to overtake but he stayed behind. I sped up trying to lose him, but the Fiat was not very fast. The last thing I remember I was driving down Descartes Drive. He was right behind me, driving like a madman.

… heading for Descartes Drive, where years ago I had been rammed by an old maniac in a forties style gangster getaway car. About fifteen years ago. I had been trapped in my …. Fiat Uno.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

Retriever

retriever

Retriever by Chris Green

Einstein posits
that the distinction between past, present and future is no more than a stubbornly persistent illusion. I can see where he was coming from this morning as I go through the mail. This certainly seems like the same CheapCall bill I received the day before yesterday. And the same BestPower statement? The circular from PayLess Insurance looks more than a little familiar too.

At fifty nine, it has to be said, my memory for detail is sketchier than it once was. When set against the political corruption, the floods and the threat of war in the Middle east, a duplication of paperwork is not a momentous problem. I have a large green recycling bin. More importantly, I am now late. It is 8.15 already and the traffic on Tambourine Way will be horrific if I don’t hurry. I scrape the ice off the Skoda’s windscreen and give it a few squirts of de-icer. I put a Johnny Cash CD into the player while the windows start to de-mist, and move off into the February frost.

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

I arrive at Sanctuary Inanimate Pet Crèche and Counselling Service where I work. I greet Boris and Gerhard. I notice that the cyber dog that was collected by its owner the day before yesterday is already back. There is also, I feel, a familiarity about the headline War Dims Hope for Peace in Boris’s tabloid. And Gerhard seems to be having the same telephone conversation that he had a couple of days ago. Admittedly inanimate pet care is a repetitive line of work but the conversation with Major Churchill about his pet rock seems identical to the one earlier in the week. After Gerhard puts down the phone I tackle him about this.

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

I think of taking up the point. Yes, it is just a job to me. Unlike Gerhard who sees a visit to the dentists as a bit of an outing, I have seen a bit of the world. But I keep quiet instead. What is the point? One pearl of wisdom that comes with age is that past glories count for nothing. I am here, and it is now. My life has taken a bit of a nosedive. Like Orson Welles, I seem to have lived my life backwards, if not quite in the sense I am about to.

Over the days that follow I have a permanent sense of déjà vu. Everything in my every day has happened previously. I have the same conversation with Spiro about West Ham’s problems in defence, spend the same hour chatting to my daughter, Promise on the phone about the dangers of putting too many personal details on Facebook, watch Groundhog Day again on DVD, buy another aspidistra from Marks and Spencer, 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 comes round again and they bring the old president back, and entertainer Rolf Harris is prosecuted again for entertaining children in in an inappropriate way. The hours on my watch are still going forward but the date is going backward.

At first I imagine that it must be a huge practical joke, admittedly one with a formidable amount of complicity. Whilst I do not exactly advertise my predicament in case people thought I am a basket case, no one I speak to displays any sense that anything is wrong with their own temporal world. There is 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 appears that I am alone in my renegade perception of time, although there is a short item in The Morning Lite calling for a twenty five hour day. NASA scientists have apparently researched this and found that participants in the experiment benefited by the increased levels of melatonin. The findings it says would come in handy if astronauts go to Mars. A Martian day it points out lasts for 24.65 earthly hours.

There are a number of contradictions of logic involved in whatever it is I am experiencing. My days are still moving forwards in a linear fashion. I go to work, come home, go to the pub, walk the dog, watch the rerun episode of Spender on ITV3, and go to bed as normal, but when I wake up the next day, it is the day before yesterday. Each day, I become a day younger. This aspect of my condition is of course something that at my age I should be pleased about; instead of a creeping decay, there will be a gradual rejuvenation. In a world that places excessive emphasis on artifice, this is what millions of people dream of. Zillions of pounds every week are 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 is the central tenet of our belief system.

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

Despite these deliberations, the sequential upheaval continues to be both disconcerting and disorientating. After a week or so of going over the same ground, I decide to seek professional help. I find myself limited by the need to have an appointment on the same day. The medical profession does not operate this way. There is no point in my making an arrangement for the any time in future, and clearly I cannot make an appointment for last week or last month. Similarly I am 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 do manage to see at the community centre at short notice talks about meridians and explains that there might be blockages on the layers of my energy field. Over a dozen or so sessions she says she can balance my chakras and time will move forward again. I try to explain that she might need to do this in one session and she suggests if this is my attitude, then I should go elsewhere.

I begin to wonder what would happen if I do not actually go to bed. Will the day progress normally to the next, or will I at a certain point be flung back to the day before. It seems that despite my predicament, there is still an element of free will about my actions so I buy a wrap of speed, from Sailor, a friend of a friend in the Dancing Monk public house.

‘This is wicked gear,’ says Sailor, so named I assume because of his abundance of tattoos. ‘It will keep you busy for fucking days.’

Good,’ I remark. ‘I may need it to.’

I see 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 am not really a late night person, and have not taken drugs since my youth, so I am 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 drift off at around 5 or 6, anyway before daylight.

When I wake up I find myself on the balcony of one of the upper floors of an apartment block in north-eastern China. My associate, Song, and I are filming the spectacular estuary of the Songhua Jiang below for a travelogue for Sky TV. It seems the Chinese authorities are keen to promote tourism in the area. It is a Sunday morning and from our high vantage point, Song and I can see for miles. It is late August, near the end of the rainy season, and while the rainfall this year has been concentrated mainly in July, much of the flood plain is still underwater. Around the swollen river basin acres of lush green landscape luxuriate. Song points toward a flooded football field to our right, saying that despite the pitch being waterlogged the locals are 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,’ he says. Is called Cuju. Means to kick a ball.’

I show no surprise. Through classes in Tai Chi, I have developed an interest in Sino culture, and have 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 can be attributed to the Chinese.

Song goes a little deeper into the history of cuju in the region and says that he feels the water football game would look great on film, with a commentary about the history of the game from its Han dynasty roots. I nod my agreement, but in reality I feel distracted.

In a conversation that must be puzzling to Song I establish that it is 1988 – the year before Tianamen Square. I have gone back seventeen years. While I am conscious of my vitality, I have the strange sensation that I am also an observer of my life. I can remember my yesterday quite literally as if it were yesterday but this is seventeen years forward. I am aware of this as I resume the dialogue with Song.

A boat carrying a team decked out in carnival colours chanting something patriotic is coming up the river. It is hot and humid and a dank haze hangs suspended above the water as if waiting for an impressionist painter. The regressing part of me is trying frantically to get a handle on what is happening. According to the log I am keeping to help with later editing of the film, I have been in the Peoples’ Republic for ten days and am scheduled to be there for another ten. I am missing Monique, Sebastian and Promise. Song says that the phone lines will not be down for much longer but I know they will be down until my arrival, so I will be unable to phone home.

Sebastian is six and Promise is five. It will be Promise’s birthday soon. Then she will be four. She will stop going to school. Before long, I will be reading her bedtime stories and taking her to nursery. It is curious to comprehend that my life going backwards means to all intents and purposes that everyone’s life around me is also doing so. I can only experience their past.

Filming in China goes back day-by-day as the day approaches that I arrive on a flight from Heathrow to Beijing. During this time I ponder my situation continually. When Song says, ‘see you tomorrow’, I know I had already seen him tomorrow but I will see him again yesterday.

I contemplate the age-old question as to whether we control our destiny or follow a preordained path. This seems all the more pertinent to my circumstances. Am I just reliving events in a life that I have already experienced or could my new actions or thoughts as a person coming from the future have any effect. And how will I know whether they do?

More immediately I am concerned as to why time for me has gone back seventeen years rather than the more conservative day at a time that I came to accept. I am anxious to avoid such a dramatic leap happening again. The only clue I have is that I’d tried to stay awake at night to find out why time was going backwards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘A long story,’ I reply, intensely aware of two different life forces, the present, and the future in reverse. You cnnot expect to have much of a conversation about space-time continuums in an international phonecall to someone, whose first language is 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 occurs to me that unless I travel the 400 odd kilometres between Dortmund and Rheims by yesterday I will never even meet Monique. It also occurs that I can’t anyway because I have spent yesterday in Dortmund with Pink Floyd. In a devastating flash, having travelled back to before they were even contemplated, I realise I would never see my children again, or for that matter, Monique.

Before The Wall tour starts, or after The Wall tour starts, I spend a month seeing the new year out and the old year in, with Astrid at the house in Rheims. Astrid is a freelance photographer who does shoots for Paris Match and Marie Claire, specialising in quirky subjects like Sumo wrestlers, dwarfs and circus performers. She is successful and works more or less when she chooses to. We make love, morning, afternoon and night, paint, walk along the Vesle, go to galleries, concerts, and French films without subtitles.

During this time I go to see a hypnotherapist and give up not smoking. Almost immediately I find myself getting through a pack of Gitanes a day. It is a revelation to me to discover that one session can change the habits of a lifetime.

With Astrid in Rheims I go with the flow, seize the moment, and try 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 do not think of the excitement of my novel being published or the acclaim I received for the first feature film I directed. I certainly do 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 is history. And the future from a normal chronology of events will now never be. I will not have to endure that period of time later in life when those around you are slowly dying off. Those senior years when if you see a friend you haven’t seen for a while, their news will be that someone else had died. Back in the future when I was fifty nine I recall 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.

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

Astrid becomes Francesca in Barcelona, then Isabella in Rome. In between there is Natalie in New York, and before I know it I am twenty three. These years are wild and exciting but I begin to feel like Dorian Gray, without the immortality. I go to parties with painters and dine with divas. I work on a film with Antonioni and play with Led Zeppelin. Keith Moon crashes my car and Marc Bolan throws up in my jacuzzi. In a wave of hedonism I just soak up all the pleasure that is available, and cannot recall when I last tried to exercise free will. I have gone with the flow, allowing my youth and libido free rein.

Time going backwards is by now the most normal thing in the world to me. Déjà vu has long since become so commonplace that it is now unnoticeable. And that the plot of soap operas and news items if I can be bothered with them unfolds backwards is completely normal. But I am frequently made aware of echoes of a future life. A persistent voice in my head seems to narrate stories concerning an older person, in fact a much older person, someone perhaps in his fifties. The voice is familiar, and comes from within, but while it seems it belongs to me and has some sense of self, at the same time I feels a sense of detachment. I have recollections of having lived through many of the episodes, but they exhibit themselves like false memory. This older person seems to have experienced considerable misfortune, have found his crock of gold early and bit-by-bit, have seen it disappear. As a result of the dispossession he has suffered some kind of nervous collapse. He lives a lonely life, works in inanimate pet care, drives a brown Skoda and listens to Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. Even if this were to be my own future, it is neither tangible nor attractive. It seems to me that as my life is moving irrevocably in reverse, nothing is to be gained by taking possession of a character surrounded with so much sadness, so the more that it happens, the more I try 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 find that as I grow younger a similar thing is happening. Months fly by; one moment it is August and the next it is April and another summer is gone. Christmases and birthdays are closer together. No sooner am I twenty three than I am twenty two, and then in what seems 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 World Cup, I make the decision I am going to fundamentally change the way I live. We have consumed bottle after bottle of genever as Holland lose to West Germany. We continue our drinking into the night, inconsolable that Johann Cruyff, despite being the finest footballer in the world, will never lift the trophy.

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

What brings matters to a head is a chance meeting at Amsterdam bus station with Faith, a friend of my mother’s. Faith is dressed in a miscellany of chiffon wraps, scarves, bead chokers and jangly jewellery. She carries a tote bag with a yantric design on it, and has rainbow coloured braids in her hair. Faith greets me with a warm hug, which brings with it an assault of patchouli.

‘What are you doing here?’ she says. ‘Where are you going?’

‘I’m not sure where I’m going,’ I say. ‘Because it seems to be more a case of where have I been.’

In that moment I have 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 ensconced in the decorum of the professions, will not. He will go to the races and Rotary Club dinners, while my mother and Faith will metaphorically 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.

‘Time present and time past are perhaps present in time future,’ Faith continues. ‘And time future is contained in time past. If all time is eternally present all time is unredeemable.’

‘Where does that come from?’ I ask.

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

‘But, 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?’ says Faith. ‘I live in Haarlem.’

The bus arrives and we take it. Haarlem is just a few miles. I open up to Faith. I explain I haven’t seen mother since I was twenty six and then only briefly. She looks puzzled so I tried to explain a little of my predicament.

She quotes 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 sequential dysfunction.

On the journey, Faith tells me about the community in which she lives, all the time emphasising how happy she is. The community, she says, support one another, share everything, and work together towards a common aim. It seems idealistic, naive even, but I can see that Faith appears to be happy and feels she has found what she is looking for. Her view of life seems to be in marked contrast with my own.

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

‘BEWARE OF THE GOD,’ says the sign on the front gate.

‘Which God?’ I ask.

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

I do not go in. I say my goodbyes. I know what I have to do.

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

I come round in the playground of The Frank Portrait Primary School. I am wearing short grey trousers, grey flannel shirt and a blue blazer. 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 2015: All rights reserved

ArtWorld

artworld2

ArtWorld by Chris Green

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or in fifteen minutes everyone will be famous?’

That sounds to me like liberalism.’

Or will fifteen people be famous for everyone?’

That would be an oligarchy, he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it serious? I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Chris Green 2014: All rights reserved

 

 

Black Fiat Uno

blackfiatuno2

Black Fiat Uno by Chris Green

It was Monday morning and I was not particularly pressed for time. I was off work as a result of an old Pilates injury flaring up. I had been told to rest. I was sorting out some matters that in my busy schedule at the kite repair workshop I never got the chance to attend to. I had upgraded all of the firewalls, spyware programs and virus checkers on the computer, de-fragmented the hard drive, and found five friends on Facebook. I had arranged for a tree surgeon to come and take a few feet off the weeping willow in the back garden, contacted the council about the broken streetlights, booked the car in for its MOT, and cleared the mouldy vegetables from the back of the carousel. Although my partner, Danuta, was on the face of it very thorough in cleaning the house, the kitchen cupboard seemed to be one area that escaped her attention.

I spent the rest of the morning watching a welcome repeat of ‘The History of the Harmonica’ on one of the new Freeview Channels, and over a light lunch, a special report on the prisoners’ strike. This was now into its fifth day with no signs of the prisoners’ demands for an extra £5 per week and a shorter working week being met. ‘The cost of drugs has gone up loads,’ one prisoner who was interviewed had said as justification for their action. ‘Why don’t we just beat the bleep bleep out of them?’ a warden had said not realising that he was on camera. In summing up the presenter, Giles Trevithick took the view of Foucault that perhaps prison was part of a larger carceral system that could not fail to produce offenders, and did nothing to offer a place in society for them if they reformed. It was surprising only that standoffs such as the current one did not occur more frequently.

I had just switched over to the Fishing Channel to watch the semi-finals of the Mid Wales Regional Angling Championships when there was a knock at the door. I was not expecting anyone so at first I let it go, but Alan, our Giant Schnauzer, started barking feverishly, so I got up to answer it. Perhaps it was Danuta, home early from her part-time job at the Fridge Magnet Advisory Centre, I thought, but then, she would have a key. Unless she had forgotten it. She had been in a bit of a fluster this morning after Alan had vacated on the hall carpet. ‘You should take him for more walks,’ she had shouted up the stairs. I reminded her that I had been told to take it easy; Dr Shipman had been quite specific on this point.

I found the key and opened it. Standing at the door was Eddie. To say I was shocked would not be an adequate appraisal of the situation. I hadn’t seen Eddie since I was twelve years old. Not since the incident with the cat…… I did a quick calculation. This would have been 1966. The thing was the Eddie that stood across the threshold with a football under his arm still seemed to be twelve years old. He even wore the same red Manchester United football shirt that I remembered with long sleeves and the number 11 on the back and the same green and white Gola Harrier trainers that he had been so proud of back then. He hadn’t changed a bit. He still had the same lank ginger hair and freckles. And the small mark over his left eyebrow where Nick had punched him outside our house and the blood had run down his face. Dad had had to take him to hospital to have four stitches. This definitely seemed to be the very same Eddie. The same gap between his front teeth which seemed too large for his mouth and made him look a little goofy.

Hi,’ he said in a blasé fashion as if he had seen me yesterday. There was no hint of surprise or curiosity on his face. He did not seem to notice that I had changed. That I was over forty years older, with a fuller figure, less hair and some unsightly facial scars.

Wanna come down the rec,’ he asked.

Eddie had always been the one to organise the kick-arounds. He was the one who owned the football. If his team was losing or if he was having a bad game, he would just say ‘it’s my ball’ and head off home with it, leaving me and Mart and Malc and whoever else was playing stranded. Before that he had been the one who had the Scalextric or the train set. He was the one whose house we would be able to go round to. He was an only child so his parents had a tendency to spoil him. He was always the first one to have the new trainers or the new football shirt or the new Kinks LP.

Eddie was bouncing the ball now with some vigour, clearly waiting for a reply. I thought perhaps that going to the rec was a little impractical as the ‘rec’ he was referring to was three hundred miles away. And of course there was my Pilates injury to consider. I asked him to come on in for a minute, hoping that the improbable situation would somehow resolve itself.

He came in and made his way through to the kitchen. I offered him a glass of Tizer. He remarked on the groovy new bottle. This was the first sign that he might be noticing a time warp.

The phone rang. I let it ring a while thinking perhaps it would make Eddie feel that he was being ignored if I took the call. The phone kept on ringing and Alan started barking at it, so I went into the front room and answered it. It was Danuta to tell me that she would be working late. Magda and Kinga had not turned up for work and things were pretty manic at the Fridge Magnet Advisory Centre. Fridge magnets had apparently featured on a lifestyle programme on Sky and there was a bit of a run on them. She had to go, she said, as there was a queue of people at the desk wondering what would be the best thing to put on their Smeg. I did not get the chance to tell her about our visitor. I wondered momentarily whether Danuta might be having an affair. This was the third time this month that there had been a television-led demand for fridge magnet advice. I dismissed the thought. If she were playing away there would be other signs, like lingerie catalogues coming through the mail, or new bottles of perfume appearing with inappropriate names like ‘Bitch’ or ‘Hussy’. I made a mental note to phone the centre later to see who answered. Meanwhile I had to get back to Eddie.

On returning to the kitchen there was no sign of Eddie, just an empty glass on the work surface by the fridge. I quickly scurried around the house, then the garden, but there was absolutely no trace of him. He had vanished.

I did not think I would be able to concentrate on the Mid Wales Regional Angling Championship, so I decided to pop to the supermarket to buy some garbanzo beans and some taboule. I had also noticed when I was cleaning out the carousel that we were getting a little low on guacamole and cactus leaf strips. Although Waitrose was not far, I decided to drive. I had recently, against all advice, bought a Chrysler PT Cruiser. The Honest John website had likened it to ‘a Ford Prefect on steroids’, and this was one of the better reviews. Now, even the novelty of its retro styling had worn off, which is why I had got it so cheap. It seemed to get from A to B though, albeit with alarming under-steer on corners.

I had not seen Ros since the spring of 1974 when we had had a brief fling. So imagine my surprise when there she was at the delicatessen counter. With her shoulder length reddish blond hair and flirtatious smile she was unmistakeable. She was exactly as I remembered her. She had not changed one bit. Her eyes still sparkled the way that they had and she still wore the same pale blue eye shadow and a light coat of black mascara around them. Everything about her seemed suddenly familiar. She even had on the same cheesecloth top that I had bought her from Jean Machine and a pair of flared FU’s jeans with a wide Biba belt. I remembered our first date. We had gone to see ‘The Way We Were’, and half way through I had said, ‘this film is rubbish, let’s go back to my place’ and to my surprise she had agreed.

Back then she was studying to be a chef and around May time, she had found herself with a heavy schedule of exams. With Ros busy revising, I had time on my hands and one night went to the Uzi Bar and come home somewhat worse for wear with a barmaid called Lola. Ros found out that I had slept with Lola when she came round next day and found a bracelet in my bed. I had not heard from her again.

However despite the intervening years she now appeared to instantly recognise me. And despite my erstwhile infidelity she greeted me with a big hug and seemed keen to ‘catch up’. Still in a state of disbelief, I struggled hard to find the right words to say, in fact any words at all. When finally I managed to ask her what she was doing now, she said she was studying to be a chef and had a heavy schedule of exams.

I don’t know if Ros became distracted by the range of Scandinavian furniture and modern art prints in the store or if she was just spirited away, but during the time the delicatessen assistant was weighing out my pitted green olives and taramasalata, she disappeared. I searched the store high and low and even got the shift supervisor to ask for her on the tannoy, but there was no sign.

As I drove away from the store my head was in turmoil. I ran through a red light by ‘Marcello’s All Day Breakfasts’, narrowly missing a Murco tanker, and almost mowed down an old lady and her Jack Russell on the zebra-crossing by the Fat Elvis Burger restaurant.

I had read enough of the self-help books that Danuta brought home from the community library to know that I had to ‘pull myself together’ and ‘get a grip’. Perhaps Louise L. Hay or James Redfield had not expressed it exactly in these terms but this seemed to be the general gist of their message. I put my Brian Eno CD on to relax me and tried breathing deeply as I had learned in Yoga. I pulled in by the stretch of water by the leisure centre and sat there for a few minutes, listening to the calming cries of the coots and the moorhens. I closed my eyes and tried to gather my thoughts. I told myself that whatever was happening I was not in a life-threatening situation. Everything could be resolved in fifty five minutes. This according to someone, whose name escaped me, was the amount of time it should take to adjust to a new situation over which you had no control.

I stretched my legs with a gentle stroll around the park, gradually gaining my self-control. A few joggers were out taking their early evening exercise and one or two people were out walking their dogs. When I noticed that the black collie-retriever bounding towards me looked a lot like Barry, my first thought was that I must have been daydreaming. A lot of dogs look alike. I made a quick calculation. Barry would be about 35. He would surely have died years ago. The dog barked excitedly as he approached. He nuzzled against my leg and then stood on his hind legs with his front paws against my chest, licking my upper arm affectionately. I quickly identified the heavily chewed black leather collar and the gouge on his neck where the fur was missing, the result of Barry’s tussle with a Staffordshire Bull Terrier in the car park at The Gordon Bennett. In the next instant we heard a loud whistle and Barry went bounding back across the park. I called out to the disappearing figure of Janice in the distance. Janice seemed not to hear. I called again. She did not look around. She was perhaps a hundred yards away but I felt sure it was her, even though she had to the best of my information moved to France shortly after we’d split up in 1983. The tie-dyed green denim jacket and the hennaed hair gave it away. This was how Janice would have looked in around 1983. She had a Walkman on. Probably, although I could not be sure, the one that she used to listen to her Joni Mitchell cassettes on. I stumbled on a patch of rough ground, and before I knew it, she and Barry were getting into the blue Chevette estate that we had bought together at the car auction. I remembered us bidding nervously. Neither of us knew much about cars. We had bought it for £550. I hadn’t seen a Chevette in years; they were not renowned for their durability. This one though seemed to be running well. It moved away with a healthy purr. I looked back. My car was parked too far away to think about driving after her.

The irregularities of spacetime were disturbing. Supernatural forces should remain in the realm of the imaginary. But this temporal upheaval was seemingly real. It was happening, now, and to me. I was scared. I felt like vomiting, my hands were shaking, and I was sweating like a Brazilian on the Victoria Line. Had I unwittingly uncovered a portal for parallel worlds, been sucked into the hypothetical wormhole. I had read about such things in Asimov and J. G. Ballard short stories and, but not given them much credence. It took a good deal of Pranayama breathing and another fifty five minutes of consolidation before I could get up from where I was now crouching. People were coming up to me and asking me if I was all right. A gnarled old crone with a bichon frise attempted to call an ambulance, a scarecrow with a limp offered me a pull on his hip flask, and a rangy Goth with a hair lip tried to sell me some ketamin.

No amount of deep breathing, philosophical principles or stress management techniques could have prepared me for my next encounter however. Returning to the Chrysler and noticing that the fuel gauge was low, I stopped at the BP filling station to fill up. There, at the adjacent pump, someone was putting fuel into a black Fiat Uno. I recognised the registration plate instantly. It was the Fiat I had owned in 1997. It took a spilt second, while I did a double take, before I recognised that the figure in the brightly coloured paisley shirt and combat fatigues bore an uncanny resemblance to me, as I would have looked around fifteen years ago. A lot slimmer and with considerably more hair. This was genuinely scary. I felt a chill run the length of my spine. This was not like looking at old photos of oneself or a video; this was watching a real living, breathing human being in real time. Wasn’t it? Reality was a fragile concept it seemed. Albert Einstein had called reality, ‘an illusion but a very persistent one’. But even this statement suggested there was room around the edges of reality for leakage. Facing myself over a few feet of garage forecourt defied any rational explanation. I was frozen to the spot; I couldn’t move.

I watched as my doppelganger slowly fed the fuel into the tank. I studied his mannerisms and his gestures in slow motion and one by one acknowledged them as my own. I recognised the flick of the neck, the squint against the light showing the lines etched on the forehead, the nervous shifting of weight from one foot to the other as he stood. I remembered buying those cream Converse Allstars cut-offs from a car boot. My heart raced and I felt a tightness in my chest. No doubt about it; the individual I was looking at was me. Amidst the inner turmoil, rational questions like ‘why hadn’t my 1997 personification noticed that the petrol was a little pricey?’ or ‘did the Fiat run on unleaded?’ tried to find a place in my consciousness. These were powerfully swept away by wave upon wave of blind panic as I sensed my whole life might be collapsing into a single moment.

He replaced the nozzle in the pump, and as he did he appeared to look right at me, or right through me. I couldn’t decide which. Could it have been that he did not recognise me? Or to look at it another way, should that be I did not recognise me – now that I was older. No one really knew exactly what form their ageing would take. It was not something you would give a lot of thought to. But of course Eddie had recognised me, and Ros had recognised me,despite my having changed significantly. And my smell must have been the same to Barry, although this was conclusive. Barry had always been quite a friendly dog.

My ‘other’ swivelled round. I thought he was about to come over. What would he do? Introduce himself? What would I do? I felt my legs buckle. This was not like one of those dreams where you dream about a past episode and the texture of the scenario as it unfolds is surreal. This was in clear focus in the here and now. I was watching me in an everyday situation in broad daylight. He did not come over. He seemed to hesitate in mid stride and turned to walk in the opposite direction towards the BP shop.

I was not very good on dates but I determined that in 1997 I would have still been with Mizuki. We were very happy back then in our second floor apartment overlooking the park. At weekends we would take the children to the pool or go walking in the woods. I remembered Mizuki and I went to see ‘As Good As It Gets’ at the Empire and realising how happy we were. Our contentment was of course not to last. I had been to see Mizuki’s cherry tree in the park recently. Someone had tied a ribbon around it with a bow. It had made me feel neglectful of her memory. I had lost touch with Sakura and Reiko a long time ago. They would have left school by now. At least none of them were in the Uno parked at the neighbouring pump; their presence would have cranked my present nightmare up another notch.

My other emerged from the shop with an evening newspaper. I read the headline. It was about Diana’s death. Something about a mystery white car in the Alma Tunnel. As he passed he seemed to look directly at me, or through me again. He could not have been more than twenty feet away. He got into the car. As he wound down his window I detected a hint of recognition….. I didn’t detect a hint of recognition….. I wasn’t sure. My mouth opened to call out to him but no words came. He drove off. The exhaust from the Fiat was still blowing, just as I remembered it. I put the pump back without having put any fuel in the car and set out to follow him.

He turned left down Hegel Avenue. I used to live on the Philosophers’ estate. I had lived there for over fifteen years, and it occurred to me that wherever we were headed was a run that I probably had made many times. I thought back to the types of journey I would have made in the Fiat in 1997. Mostly on account of the Fiat’s unreliability these would have been short journeys. To and from work. To the shops at Kirkegaard Court. Where would I have been likely to have been going at six thirty in the evening? It must have been after I had been made redundant from Gadgets and Gizmos. I usually didn’t finish there till late. Perhaps I was going to visit Mick or Charlie. They both lived in the Schopenauer Court flats. I might have been going to pick Mizuki up from the Sushi restaurant where she worked. I tried to recall if she had her own car back then. Memories of her came flooding back once again. We passed the Occam’s Razor pub where we used to sit out on summer evenings for a couple of halves of Old Poets.

The exhaust of the Fiat in front of me was now belching out black smoke. We seemed to be heading back on ourselves as we forked right into Rousseau Gardens. ‘A Brimful of Asha (On the 45)’ read a poster outside the ‘Oh My Cod’ takeaway. This surely was an old poster. Shouldn’t they have taken it down? We passed the Mahatma Gandhi Primary School where Sakura and Reiko used to go, and then right at the Karl Marx roundabout. It began to dawn on me where we were headed. Usually I would have turned left at the Karl Marx roundabout, taking me home along Darwin Road. Turning right meant we were ………..

I woke up in the Lewis Carroll Memorial Hospital. I had sustained multiple head injuries in the accident. I could not remember very much about the actual collision, but after a few sessions with Dr. Trinidad I recalled a little about the events leading up to it. An overweight elderly man driving an ugly black Chrysler had been tailgating me. It was a model I had not seen before. It was shaped like a hearse and its registration plate was in an unusual format.

I had first noticed this sinister character with his receding hairline and unsightly facial scars at the BP filling station. My attention was drawn to him because he was behaving very strangely. He stood there at the pump pointing the fuel hose into the air. He stared at me the whole time I was filling up. For a second I thought he seemed familiar but I could not place where I might have seen him. The more I contemplated this, the more I imagined I had been mistaken. I put my imagined recognition down to the intensity of his gaze.

When I pulled off he got into his car, without putting in any fuel in, and started following me. He kept his distance at first. I took a right at the Karl Marx roundabout into Nietzsche Avenue and ducked into Spinoza Crescent to make certain that he was really tailing me. He was closer now. I slowed down to give him the chance to overtake but he stayed behind. I sped up trying to lose him, but the Fiat was not very fast. The last thing I remember I was driving down Descartes Drive. He was right behind me, driving like a madman.

… heading for Descartes Drive, where years ago I had been rammed by an old maniac in a forties style gangster getaway car. About fifteen years ago. I had been trapped in my …. Fiat Uno.

 

© Chris Green 2014: All rights reserved