Ceci n’est pas Une Batte

Ceçi n’est pas une batte by Chris Green

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Chris Green 2020: All rights reserved

The Startling Discovery of Phlogiston

thestartlingdiscoveryofphlogiston2019

The Startling Discovery Of Phlogiston by Chris Green

Things started getting weird around here some time ago, following the startling discovery of phlogiston. The previous belief, kept alive for many years by charlatans, was that everything was made up of 118 elements, all arranged neatly by the number of protons, electron configurations and recurring chemical properties, into something they called the Periodic Table. What nonsense this seems now! How on earth did they get away with such poppycock for so long? It is now accepted worldwide that phlogiston, a substance without colour, odour, taste, or weight, is present in all materials.

Certainly, chemists struggled against the facts at first, insisting on their complex explanations of matter. I suppose this was understandable. After all, they were trying to protect their lucrative research posts. But, they were finally forced to admit that they had made up all of the mumbo-jumbo. We now know there are just four elements.

Since the startling discovery of phlogiston, things tend to be much more random. Here’s a snapshot.

Chris Christ, my housemate is watching the brilliant blind surfer, Tom Crews in the final of the water-sports on his screen. Crews is going for Gold.

Oh My God.’ CC screams as with the help of his guide dog, Marvin, Crews manages to get himself upright on the board and ride the huge breakers of the Boogaloo Bay swell.

CC tends to be easily impressed so I ignore his outburst. I am more interested in the Octathlon which is playing on the other channel. I am rooting for Curt Tarver in the Quoits. He is already twenty points ahead after an heroic performance in the Shin Kicking but his close rival, Bud Register has his best events, the Moonwalking and the Cheese Rolling still to come. And you can never rule out Benito Pond. He is the World Bog Snorkelling champion.

It is hard to believe that just a few years ago people played mindless team games like football and cricket and bet money on horses running around a wet track, jumping over hedges. And that silly game where they hit a ball backwards and forwards over a net for a few hours.

Imagine now, driving forty miles in a slow moving queue of traffic to an out of town retail park to buy a car-load of stuff that you didn’t need. These days everything just arrives as you need it. You don’t even have to go on the Internet. The Internet. What a waste of time that was!

Look! Here’s a delivery now! It’s simply uncanny how they know I need forty pounds of kelp and a rusty mangle. I greet Bryn, the driver of the Scammell Scarab. Bryn and I chat about sandstorms and gravy and, of course, about the benefits brought about by the startling discovery of phlogiston. Quite thoughtful of Bryn to have brought the bucket of snakes too. CC will be able to cook them up later and make a nice stew.

Bryn says he’s off down the road to Tequila Hawks’ caravan next. Tequila has entered the Poison Your Neighbour’s Pet competition and she needs henna to lace the neighbour’s ferret’s coca cola with. If she wins she is going to use her prize money to take the hovercraft to Rangoon.

Enjoy the sunshine,’ Bryn says as he gets into the Scammell.

I wonder why we are still pretending that the earth orbits the sun. How stupid is that? It’s clear that the sun moves around the earth. You can see it every day crossing the sky. It’s amazing just how much we are duped.

Chris Green 2020: All rights reserved

Strangers When We Meet

strangerswhenwemeet

Strangers When We Meet by Chris Green

How many miles do you need to have the same car in your mirrors before you become suspicious? How many turnings before alarm bells ring? Emma Fox has no idea, but the black SsangYong appears to be tailing her. At times right up her rear bumper. SsangYongs are quite common, but not that common. It is not a car that stands out. She is only able to identify the badge because she recently took one for a test drive. But she is sure this is the same car that drew up behind her when she left work and having taken the same circuitous route, it is still here as she nears home. She makes a note of the registration plate. She pulls into her drive. The SsangYong stops outside but eventually drives off. Emma is unnerved.

Matt is overseeing a gas pipeline construction contract in Norway and the phone link is a bit hit and miss, so she is unable to share her concern with him. At least, that’s the story. Matt would probably tell her she was imagining things, anyway. Perhaps he might bring up other instances where she has over-reacted. Like the many occasions she had called him to say she had blown the house electrics when it was just a tripped switch. And the time she thought the telephone engineer had come to rob them. Easy mistakes to make when you have a hundred other things to think about.

Emma settles down for the evening, cooks herself a pasta meal and tries to forget the matter. She does not mention her pursuer to her friend, Madeleine, when she calls to ask Emma about getting tickets for the Janacek recital at the music festival next month. They chat about what plant food is best for dahlias, the new drama releases on Netflix, and whether they should have axed Snow White in support of the BLM protests. Where would it end? Would White Christmas be next? They arrange to meet up at the weekend. Matt’s absence is not discussed.

Emma settles down to watch Leif Velasquez’s adaptation of Phillip C Dark’s, Strangers When We Meet. The review says, although the narrative features an unreliable narrator and jumps around to take in shifting viewpoints and multiple backstories, those familiar with Dark’s work should be able to work out what is going on. Kurt Bedding gives a stellar performance as the roué who is travelling incognito to meet his lover in San Sebastian and finds himself in the seat next to her husband on the plane. Emma has always felt that her life features an unreliable narrator and jumps around to take in shifting viewpoints and multiple backstories. Sometimes it’s difficult to know what is what and who is who. The pressures of modern life, Madeleine keeps telling her, when she brings it up. Anyway, Emma likes Kurt Bedding. He is easy on the eye. All is well. The world keeps on turning.

She is startled to find the black SsangYong behind her again the following morning. It appears to have been waiting for her outside and it tails her for the three miles from home to Crosby Nash Estate Agents in Bath Road where she works, even when she takes an unscheduled detour through the industrial estate. And it is there again when she goes out to show a buyer a three-bedroomed property in St Marks on the other side of town.

On her lunch break, she notices the tall dark stranger in a Peaky Blinders cap who she saw lingering outside her office earlier is now looking in a lingerie shop window next to the ATM where she is taking out cash. She is on heightened alert. Each time she thinks she has shaken him off, he appears again. He passes the window of the coffee shop where she takes her lunch no less than three times. He is outside the hairdressers when she calls in to book an appointment. He is in Tesco Express when she is buying her groceries. She can’t be sure if this is the driver of the SsangYong, but it seems likely. He has the same build and wears similar dark clothes. Has she just become over-sensitised? She does not think so. Something is happening here and she doesn’t know what it is. She considers approaching him and coming straight out with it, but she has heard too many terrible stories about what crazy obsessives are capable of. Should she perhaps report it to the police? Would they take her seriously if she did? Or would they tell her she was being paranoid? Whichever, she is spooked.

She is puzzled now why anyone would be following her. She lives an uneventful life. She is law abiding. She is solvent. She has no debts. She is not having a clandestine affair. Perhaps she should be. It seems to be the fashion. She is not aware that she has any enemies. In the estate agents’ business, there is always the danger that a disgruntled purchaser might feel they have been sold a pig in a poke. But Emma feels that when conducting viewings, she has always been scrupulously honest in her appraisal of the property, sometimes to the detriment of the sale. Well, there was the place in Old Park Street, but that didn’t go through. And the apartments in Market Street that had been built without planning permission. But she wasn’t to know that. In any case, Crosby Nash had put her under a lot of pressure to get these sold. But even if there had been any instances of mis-selling, you would have thought anyone with a grievance would make a complaint through the proper channels. Not try to put the fear of God into you or run you off the road.

While her friends and colleagues appear sympathetic to her plight, Emma wonders if any of them suspect that Matt is not really overseeing an oil pipeline project in Norway. That instead, Matt is overseeing Amy Darling, and has been doing so for a long time. If they do suspect, they seem to be keeping it to themselves. At least Emma hopes this is the case. She wouldn’t like to think they were talking about her behind her back. Sometimes, she realises, you have to make up stories to cover yourself. The secret is to remember who you have told what to.

Penny from the tennis club suggests it could be a simple case of mistaken identity. That her pursuer believes her to be someone else.

You read about a lot of cases like that in the papers,’ she says. ‘There was a case of a Taylor Swift lookalike being stalked only last week.’

I suppose so,’ Emma says.

A lot of thirty-something women wear their hair in long-front graduated bobs like yours,’ Penny says. ‘And I expect most of them buy clothes and accessories from Debenhams and Next.’

I buy most of my clothes online, these days,’ Emma says. ‘It’s so much easier.’

I expect your lookalike has got herself into a scrape,’ Penny says. ‘With some underworld figures. If she is a celebrity, it’s probably something to do with drugs, don’t you think?’

But whoever it is has hardly been subtle,’ Emma says. ‘There would be more discrete ways to tail her or me. He clearly wants me to realise that he is there. Why doesn’t he just approach me? There must be more to it, an element of intimidation. He wants me to be frightened. And in turn, I don’t approach him because I am frightened.’

Come to think of it,’ Penny says. ‘You look a little like May Welby who plays Kylie Slack in Partners in Crime.

Who?’ Emma says. ‘I don’t watch any of the soaps, Penny.’

Well, of course, neither do I,’ Penny says. ‘But I’ve caught glimpses of one or two now and again. May Welby. Check her out, Emma. I think you’ll see what I mean.’

Emma recalls she may have seen an episode or two in the past without realising it. Perhaps Matt had had it on or maybe it was just there in the background. She has become a little absent-minded lately. It is sometimes difficult to tell what happened when. She was saying to Madeleine only last week, or was it yesterday, how mixed up things could become. Sometimes she is so confused, she wonders if she is someone else. I’m not feeling myself today, she might say. She wonders whether it might be something to do with the tablets Dr Hopper prescribed for the problems she was having with her balance. Perhaps she will stop taking them.

When she gets home, she takes a look at an episode of Partners in Crime on catch-up. She can see straight away there is a slight resemblance to May Welby. On certain camera angles, if you just caught a glimpse, you could be excused for doing a double-take. The Kylie Slack character though is rough and ready and her mannerisms and diction are a long way off. The series is set in the fictional suburb of Doleford in a fictional East London, a grim area where even the police appear to be crooks. The script of Partners in Crime demands that May Welby’s character lacks sophistication. You could not imagine Kylie Slack growing dahlias or going to a Janacek concert. And they probably wouldn’t let anyone called Kylie join Emma’s tennis club. Then it hits her like a blow from the big Irish boxer that Matt used to watch. There is the startling similarity between the actor playing the part of the Partners’ enforcer, Nick Cole and her stalker. He is the spitting image. Not only this, but one of the current storylines involves Nick harassing Kylie Slack. Apparently, Kylie has dumped him for two-timing her. He is doing everything he can to intimidate her. He is a nasty piece of work. He has keyed her car and trolled her on social media. He follows her in the street and shouts abuse at her. He tails her in his car, in this case, a beaten up old black Mitsubishi. Kylie is debating whether she should get an injunction. She decides that first, she will have a word with Doleford Police.

Emma too feels it might be time to get the constabulary involved. Penny insisted it would be the right thing to do. Even if nothing comes from it, at least it will then be on record.

Do you realise how many people tell us they think they are being followed?’ Sergeant Filcher says. ‘Hundreds. And that’s not to mention the dozens of cases we see of copycat behaviour. It seems that many people find it hard to distinguish between what’s happening on their TV screens and real life. Boundaries have become blurred. If we investigated each and every one of the reports we get about people who imagine they are being stalked, we would be run ragged. We would have no officers left to deploy on the weekend riots. Now, where would that leave us? Is that what you want, lawlessness on our streets? And, Miss Fox, if you don’t mind my saying so, you are a very attractive young woman. You can hardly blame this fellow for wanting to get close to you. If I weren’t a married man ……….’

Emma leaves in disgust. This is not the type of reaction you expect from an upstanding officer of the law. This sort of thing might happen on television, but surely not in real life. She wagers Sergeant Filcher wouldn’t have been so insulting if she’d been a man. Or, for instance, if Matt had been there with her. Matt is a Black Belt in Krav Maga, the martial art that doesn’t concern itself with the opponent’s well-being. There again, she herself is glad Matt is no longer around. He didn’t concern himself a great deal with her well-being. She is well rid of him. She is much better off with …..

Emma is on her way home. The storm has passed now and the sun is coming out. She is pleased to see that the SsangYong is no longer following her. Instead, she is in the SsangYong. The man with the Peaky Blinders cap is driving. He seems quite friendly. He smiles at her and makes easy conversation. Why wouldn’t he? It’s coming back to her now. His name is Sebastian.

Has anyone ever told you, you look a little like May Welby?’ Sebastian says. ‘You know, the actress. I’ve been meaning to mention it since we started going out.’

I’m not sure I know May Welby,’ Emma says. ‘What has she been in?’

© Chris Green 2020: All rights reserved

ICKE

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ICKE by Chris Green

It was the summer I worked for the Parks Department. Tony and I had parked up our mowers in Cortina Drive, a quiet cul-de-sac in a residential area, a place where I reasoned, Nick Ford would not find us if he came to check. It had been a hot dry summer, and the grass hadn’t grown much so I figured if he came, we could bluff it. We would work out where he had been looking for us and explain that we had been doing the verges in other roads in the area. Although Tony and I had not been teamed up before and he was a little wary, I told him this ploy had worked for me up until now. Nick Ford tended to stick to set routes on his patrols.

Tony and I settled down for a smoke on the stretch of undeveloped land at the far end of Cortina Drive. We talked about our backgrounds. We discovered that these were similar. Both sets of parents had recently divorced, both our fathers worked in IT and both our mothers, for some reason, were fans of Andy Williams. How this had come into the conversation is hard to say. Neither of us were particularly family-orientated or interested in crooners. Although Tony and I had gone to different schools, we found we had similar interests, girls, partying and sleeping. And liked the same bands, Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. I had some Northern Lights skunk as I recall, and it was not long before the two of us were laughing loudly at anything and everything.

Suddenly, our peace was shattered by a powerful, low-pitched whooshing noise. We looked up and saw it was coming from a vortex in the sky. I had been too young to catch the original Twin Peaks and this was years before Stranger Things on Netflix, so naturally, I had not come across anything like it before. Nor I suspect had Tony. We were only nineteen and vortexes and portals had not featured in our sheltered upbringings. The roar grew louder and louder. The spiral moved faster and faster and came closer and closer. We were buffeted this way and that by the blistering wind. This continued for what seemed an eternity, but I suppose, in reality, may just have been a few seconds. We felt ourselves being sucked up into the firmament. It was all we could do to keep our feet on the ground. Tony’s profile was cutting in and out in rapid beats like an entity materialising and dematerialising. We appeared to oscillate between terra firma and a nebulous netherworld. Fortunately, the vortex retreated as quickly as it had arrived and thankfully, we were spared.

The experience must have had a profound effect on Tony, for he didn’t come into work the following day. Or the day after. At first, I didn’t think too much about it because we both viewed working for the Parks Department as a summer job rather than a career. There was a high turnover of staff, especially as the money was not very good. But, I never saw Tony again. I tried for a while to get in touch with him but he seemed to have completely disappeared.

When you are nineteen, your world changes rapidly from day to day. You are happy-go-lucky, carefree. New experiences come your way all the time. Friendships are fluid. You are out every night, meeting new people. You hardly notice the passing of time. So understandably, I did not dwell too much on the strange episode or for that matter, Tony’s disappearance. After a while, I began to wonder if perhaps because we had been so stoned, we had imagined the vortex. Or at least exaggerated what might simply have been temporary adverse weather conditions. Nothing about it had appeared in the local paper, or if it had, I had missed it.

Growing up, I had read the odd science fiction novel and seen the occasional sci-fi movie, but they were not particularly my thing. It was not until in the twenty-tens, when I picked up a book by former sports broadcaster turned new age philosopher, David Icke, that I realised what portals were. Or that for many years, scientists had been attempting to open portals to parallel universes, shadowy dimensions that mirrored our perceived world. Or the claim that we might live in a multi-dimensional holographic universe. And the argument that if we on Earth had this type of technology then others from distant worlds would be likely to have equivalent technology. Could some of this weird stuff explain the episode with the vortex, I wondered? Could it even account for Tony’s subsequent disappearance? Had he simply been spirited away? If David Icke was to be believed, this explanation appeared to be plausible.

The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon suggests that once you come across a new word, subject, concept or idea, you are likely to come across references to it everywhere. Many believe this is an example of collective consciousness and has a supernatural explanation. In addition, it is claimed the references often lead to other previously undiscovered but connected concepts and ideas until you find a whole new world suddenly has opened up. Such was the case around portals. Firstly, I noticed that the window of Waterstones was full of books on portals and wormholes. Then I found an advert for an upcoming talk on Time Travel and Parallel Universes at the John Morris Memorial Centre by someone called Marcellus Go. I saw a youngster on the street wearing a David Icke T-shirt and to my astonishment, another wearing a David Icke T-shirt. I hadn’t realised that David Icke had such a following. Then, out of the blue, Ravi in the corner shop struck up a conversation on hidden portals. What were the chances of this? I had only gone into KMart for cigarettes.

NASA has admitted that Earth portals teleporting human beings from one place to another are a reality,’ he said, looking up from the book he was reading. ‘They’ve been studying them for a long time. You’ve heard about The Philadelphia Experiment, right?’

I told him I hadn’t. I was new to all this.

In 1943, the US Navy teleported the entire crew of the USS Eldridge into the future. 1983 to be precise.’

Wow!’ I said. ‘That’s quite something.’

Why, I wondered, was Ravi telling me this? It wasn’t as if I knew him well. I had only been into KMart a handful of times. I could see he wasn’t busy but still it seemed odd.

And more recently in the Montauk Project, the American Air Force created a. dimension portal, a time tunnel that enabled their researchers to travel to make contact with aliens. A flying saucer became stuck in the underground tunnels along with its alien crew. I’ve just been reading about it. Cool stuff, huh?’

Do you know, I’ve often had the feeling that time was not working properly,’ I said. ‘My account of when particular things happened is often at odds with other peoples’ accounts. I keep meaning to keep a diary to keep track because so many things just don’t seem right.’

Time’s not linear,’ Ravi said. ‘I can tell you that much. Einstein proved that years ago. You want to get yourself along to that talk by Marcellus Go, last week.’

You mean next week,’ I said.

Who can tell?’ he said. ‘Like I said, time’s not linear.’

There were perhaps thirty people at the John Morris Memorial Centre to hear Marcellus Go speak. A veritable circus of jugglers, clowns and space-cadets. In the front row were the pair of youngsters I had seen in the David Icke T-shirts. Marcellus held forth about time travel and aliens and how these matters had been consistently hushed up by successive regimes the world over. Secrets and lies, it seemed formed the basis of political power. Literally thousands of sightings of UFOs had been dismissed as hoaxes. There were aliens among us, Marcellus said, possibly even some in tonight’s audience by the look of it. He went on to explain that far from being taboo subjects, wormholes and portals were matters that should interest us all, particularly in this neck of the woods as there were a handful of potential sites for portals to other dimensions nearby. It had to do with magnetic fields and energy stores. If we bought his book, Quantum Revelation, we would discover the coordinates for these sites.

I lined up with the others to buy Marcellus’s book. I found myself standing next to one of the more attractive attendees, in fact, she was the only woman there. She was tall with long flowing dark hair and was wearing tie-die balloon pants and a floral shift. I caught a whiff of patchouli.

I’m Aura,’ she said.

I’m Charlie, I said. ‘Pleased to meet you.’

I expect you’d like to go for a drink after all that,’ she said. ‘There’s a quiet little wine bar I know just around the corner.’

This seemed a little forward, but a drink seemed like a good idea and the prospect of attractive, intelligent female company for the evening seemed an even better one. I had been at a loose end since Linda had left. Linda and I had been together for three or four years but had slowly drifted apart. Linda was a creature of habit. She didn’t like anything new. She strongly disapproved of my fascination with David Icke. She started coming out with all kinds of nonsense about my naivete. How can you be taken in by him? she said. He’s a charlatan, she said. Nothing but conspiracy theories, she said. It was bad enough that she used to hide my weed but the final nail in the coffin came when she took all my David Icke books to Oxfam.

Yin Yang was tucked away down a back alley. Unless you had been told about it, you would not know it was there. Strange for a licenced premises not to advertise itself. Yin Yang too was an odd choice for the name of a wine bar, I remember thinking. Perhaps there was a connection between Taoism and wine that I did not know about.

How did you get into all this, Charlie?’ Aura asked. ‘Don’t take it the wrong way. You scrub up quite well, but you don’t look like the new-age type.’

To keep her interested, I felt I had better open up. I told her how reading the David Icke books had taught me to question everything we had been told. How I came to realise the universe was made up of vibrational energy and consisted of an infinite number of dimensions sharing the same space. And that the world was run by lizard people from the fourth dimension that over time had interbred with humans. After all, once you had been alerted to this, it was obvious. The evidence was everywhere. The Royal Family, The Rothschilds, The Rockefellers along with most top politicians and world leaders past and present were the progeny of these liaisons.

Aura nodded her agreement. She was clearly familiar with the Babylonian Brotherhood or the Illuminati, as the elite were otherwise known.

Reading David Icke on parallel worlds got me around to thinking back to an experience I had years ago,’ I continued. ‘With what I now realise was in all probability a wormhole.’

Aura listened attentively while I explained where it was.

Cool!’ she said. ‘That sounds close by. It’s probably one of the local portal sites that he gives the co-ordinates for. Perhaps we might go in the morning. After breakfast.’

This sounded promising. Did this mean we were going to spend the night together?

I can’t remember much about the rest of the evening, but I suspect we may have consumed a bottle or six of wine and perhaps had more than the odd puff on a spliff. I woke in unfamiliar surroundings with a thumping head. Once I became used to the startling array of fabrics in the room, I realised there was perhaps a theme and they didn’t all clash. Even so, it was a riot of colour. Aura emerged from the shower and said something about it having been a good night, which helped to put my mind at rest. It seemed odd that according to my watch I had missed three days, but I didn’t dwell on it. If Aura seemed happy about the situation, this seemed to be sufficient.

On our drive to Cortina Drive, Aura talked about her trip out to Area 51 in the Nevada desert the previous year. There was a festival going on with people coming from all over the world. Some of those she met had drone footage of the captured spacecraft in the compound. Others, with first-hand experience of the base, had actually seen the aliens that were being held there but say they were not allowed to take photos. It was clear she said that this was not just a U.S. Air Force where they tested planes. There was so much that we just didn’t know.

It was a disappointment to find that the portal site from my youth had been built upon. It knocked the wind out of our sails. At the far end of Cortina Drive, we found ourselves facing an odd-looking industrial building with rain-screen cladding and no windows. It seemed an odd structure to build in what was otherwise a traditional red-bricked residential area, the kind of thing you would have thought it would be difficult to get planning permission for. We walked around the perimeter but found nothing to indicate what the building might be used for. We were not even able to detect an entrance.

Try as we might, we could not find out who the strange building belonged to. Or what they did in there. We even staked it out one morning but no-one arrived and no-one left. There appeared to be no record of the building anywhere. It didn’t even appear on Google maps. It was a real puzzler. It was as if it didn’t exist.

But, there are other potential portal sites mentioned in Marcellus Go’s book. Some of these are within easy travelling distance, there and back in a day. Also, I see that David Icke has a new book on the way, which is likely to have heaps of new ideas for us to investigate. But perhaps some of these things can wait awhile. Now that Aura and I have moved in together, there seems to be less of a sense of urgency. We might spend some time exploring inner space instead and see where this takes us.

© Chris Green 2020: All rights reserved

Sven of Halmstad

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Sven of Halmstad by Chris Green

Church attendance had been dropping for years. In the age of science and discovery, it seemed no one was able to swallow the fantastic tales of strife and salvation in the middle east as the basis for their belief. Stories like this might be OK for a fantasy novel, but not as the central creed for a major religion. Miracles about rising from the dead and walking on water did not fit well into rational twenty-first-century thinking. As the result of several emergency meetings of the General Synod of the Anglican Church, it was agreed that the Bible itself needed a refresh. As it was a major doctrinal issue, there was resistance within the group, but the decision was eventually made to appoint someone to rewrite the Holy book.

Tom Golfer had little published work but decided to apply for the post anyway. He was astonished when he was selected for interview. He had expected the shortlist to be made up of serious doctrinal scholars. At the interview, in front of a panel of priests in colourful clerical clothing, he put forward some radical, even frivolous ideas. Much to his surprise radical thinking seemed to be what many of the Synod were looking for. Many of the stories in the great book were tired and redundant, they told him. It needed a new approach if people were to be drawn back into the flock. Tom pointed out that this in itself was a tired metaphor. Apart from a faction led by The Bishop of Bridgewater and The Bishop of Brighton and Hove, two notorious reactionaries, the Synod agreed that metaphors were one of the Bible’s major drawbacks. Interpretations of some of the big stories in the book had been a problem over the years. The story needed a more realist approach.

Tom was completely overwhelmed when he was appointed. Just think, his girlfriend Natalie said, when he told her the news in the massage parlour that night, The Holy Bible by Tom Golfer. Modest as he was, Tom tried to play this down.

It’s only the Church of England’s version,’ he said. ‘I can’t see the Catholics going for it. It was only recently they decided to drop the Latin version. And it will be a definite no-no to the Orthodox Church.’

But, it’s a start,’ said Natalie. ‘They might get you on one or two of the hymns as well.’

Perhaps I could drop in Stairway to Heaven,’ said Tom.

Or Heaven is a Place on Earth,’ said Natalie, continuing with her deep tissue massage.

One step at a time, I think,’ said Tom, turning over to give her access to some bits she had missed. ‘I’ve got to rewrite the Bible first. It’s quite a big book, you know.’

Then you should make it smaller,’ said Natalie.

You know what? I think I will,’ said Tom.

Tom set about the task with gusto. He jettisoned the Old Testament completely. All thirty-nine books were anachronistic. Darwin had all but seen off the Creation myth. It was now hanging by a thread, believed only by a handful of desperate die-hards. The books from Exodus onwards were at best an unreliable chronicle of a small part of the world. Even the more engaging stories of Moses, Jonah and Job had no relevance to people with no interest in Jewish history. The interminable scuffles in the Middle East in the present day were putting more people off the faith by the minute. No one wanted to read any more stories about the troubled region than the ones that they were fed daily on the news.

The idea behind the new Bible would be to show a good person living a good life and passing on wisdom of how people could get along with one another and share. There would be no place for war and suffering in the narrative, so Tom decided to move the action to Scandinavia, a relatively peaceful part of the world. He replaced Jesus of Nazareth with Sven of Halmstad. A majority of the Synod had agreed with him that the virgin birth was a big stumbling block to credence of the New Testament. So, Sven of Halmstad was, in the words of the hymn, begotten not created. Tom, however, allowed God no part in his begetting. Sven’s parents were Axel and Alva Jorgenson. Both of them were lumberjacks. Sven, like Jesus, was a carpenter. He made log cabins and stylish furniture for the poor at very reasonable prices. Sometimes, if a particular family was in extreme need, he would build them a home and furnish it for nothing. In his spare time, he helped out at a hospital, one of the very first hospitals in fact. He also ran a small rescue centre for animals.

Sven had an outgoing personality and got along well with everyone he met. He had a natural talent for communication and spent hours giving speeches in the town square in Halmstad. He rallied against the iniquities of the political system of the time. He spoke against the idea of fighting and about the benefits of helping others. He talked about respect for all living things and the importance of being in harmony with mother earth.

Where there is love there is life,’ he was fond of saying.

And ‘the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.’

Anger and intolerance are the enemies of understanding.’

His maxims and aphorisms were easy for people to understand. They were not hidden behind metaphor. Word about the wisdom of the great man spread rapidly. His speeches drew hundreds of people, all anxious to follow in his footsteps. They came from as far away as Gothenburg and Malmö to listen. One time, a group of merchants came by boat from Copenhagen and inspired by Sven’s speeches vowed to reduce their prices and give all of their profits to worthy causes.

For each of our actions there are consequences,’ Sven would say to his audience. ‘You cannot plunder your natural resources. If you cut down a tree to build your house, then you should plant another in its place.’

And, ‘Children are a delight, but you should only have as many children as you are able to look after.’

His plain speaking won people over.

There was a difference of opinion about whether Sven should have a bloodline. Should he be a one-off messiah selflessly eschewing personal relationships for the greater good? Or, in this day and age, would painting him as a loner with no family make him come across as being a bit weird? Tom reasoned that even though he would not be the Son Of God as Jesus had been, the strength of his message alone would be enough to set him up as the saviour. He would be the perfect role model. He would bring about a caring peaceful society. After a few exchanges with the Synod, Tom took the bold step of allowing Sven to be married and have children. His wife Frida would stay in the background quietly doing good works in the community. His children, Björn and Benny would go on to form a musical ensemble writing inspirational madrigals.

To be credible, the new Bible story had to give the impression that it was written long ago. Recently rediscovered perhaps by an eminent Canterbury historian. Tom also needed to create a history of the book to put in the introduction and explain how it had been superseded by the King James Bible. He made it clear that although it did not happen overnight, Sven’s philosophy was established as the preferred viewpoint of the time. People became considerate and kind. They loved their neighbours and did unto others as they would be done by. Whenever there was a hint of trouble or dissent, Sven and his righteous followers managed to overcome it without bloodshed. Within Sven of Halmstad’s lifetime (he lived to be 104) a consensus was thus achieved all over Scandinavia. The word spread over centuries until ruthless reformists replaced it with dissident Christianity in the latter middle ages.

Despite having to accommodate Sven’s longevity, Tom stuck to the plan that the new Bible needed to be shorter than the old one. It had to take account of the reduced attention span of the Internet generation. More people would be likely to read a slim volume than a weighty tome.

If you drop it on your foot, it should not leave a bruise,’ he would joke to the Synod when he reported back to them.

Apart from the Bishop of Bridgewater and the Bishop of Brighton and Hove who were trenchant in their views on unwieldy Bibles, the voting members agreed with Tom’s line of reasoning. Some altar Bibles held the potential to be especially damaging to the metatarsals should there be an accident following an indiscretion with the communion wine, they told him. They wanted a handy pocket version that you could pull out when travelling on the tube and an eBible that you could read on your smartphone. Tom explained that his new Bible would also be the right length for a forty-seven-minute dramatisation for broadcast on commercial television. The old Bible, Tom had calculated would take twenty-six days, without the adverts. The Creation alone would take six days to broadcast, or seven days with adverts. The costs for the CGI for a production like this would be colossal. Tom didn’t need to convince the Synod on this. They were already sold on the idea. The old Bible was out the window.

We need to be able to stop people from channel hopping during the adverts,’ he told the Bishops.

The Bishop of Milton Keynes, one of the more commercially minded of the Anglican clergy felt they would be able to fill the other thirteen minutes with adverts about the new Sven musical on the London stage and a range of Sven merchandise. ‘Just keep the theme going,’ he said. ‘Who do think we should get to play Sven in the movie?’

Tom put the final touches to the new Bible and submitted the draft to the General Synod. It came in at around 30,000 words, slightly shorter longer than Charlie and The Chocolate Factory but shorter than The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe. The King James Bible is nearly 800,000 words, much more difficult to slip into the back pocket of your Levi’s. In a last minute display of caution, the Bishops told Tom that they would need a little time to proofread it before publication and think about cover illustrations and the like. Although they were extremely grateful for the tireless work he had done, they confided that he was unlikely to get a byline. The Holy Bible by Tom Golfer might be a step too far. After all, this was a divine work. Tom wondered if the tide of opinion might be turning. He had heard rumours that Bishop of Bridgewater and the Bishop of Brighton and Hove might be winning support for their conservative stance. All along, they had branded his text a work of fiction. He had responded by saying that there was nothing wrong with that, as the old one had been a work of fiction. He wondered whether this flippant comment, from a layman, might have come across as arrogant and sacrilegious. Perhaps he should not have added, ‘a mix of horror, science fiction and the paranormal.’ He could see the hallowed faces drop even as he said it. Were one of two of the moderates now having doubts about publishing a new Bible written by someone from outside of the Church?

Tom didn’t dwell on the thought too much. Thanks to a generous advance, he was able to take an extended break, and Natalie was able to give up work at the massage parlour. He is still awaiting word on the publication of the Tom Golfer Bible. Keep an eye out for news about this and other Sven of Halmstad merchandising and spinoffs, but if you do not hear anything, it could well be that the two Bishops have gained sufficient support in the Synod to scupper the idea. In which case, for your spiritual solace, you may have to listen to tales of the supernatural from ancient Judea at a church near you for some time to come.

Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

DNA

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DNA by Chris Green

Your blood pressure is a little on the high side this morning, Max,’ says Dee. ‘You have remembered to take your beta-blockers, haven’t you?’

Yes, Dee,’ I say. ‘I took them twenty minutes ago, and I even washed them down with the blueberry biojuice you recommended. I should be OK now, don’t you think?’

I couldn’t help but notice that you need to shop for some more biojuice. I suggest apricot this time. Shall I order some for you?’

OK, Dee,’ I say. ‘Whatever you say.’

I don’t remember how the device came to be called Dee. Perhaps it was something I inadvertently keyed in when I was setting it up. You do have to be careful with these things but as I recall I was in a hurry to get the device operational. I am now used to Dee being Dee. Dee chatters away about this and that all day long. While this can be irritating at times, I have not yet found a way to turn her off. Perhaps there is no way to turn her off. I can’t even set quiet time as you can on android phones. No change there really. My ex-wife, Heather used to make most of the conjugal decisions and I couldn’t turn her off or set quiet time.

Unlike Heather though, as well as being in control, Dee likes to feel that she is also being helpful. She reminds me constantly of my heart rate and my blood sugar levels, in the middle of the night sometimes. She monitors my liquid intake and calculates when I am likely to need the toilet. She lets me know about twenty minutes before I need to go. If I am out and about, she will tell me where the nearest convenience is or where to go for a healthy fruit smoothie. As I am wheat intolerant she lets me know where the best place is to go for gluten-free snacks. She always seems to know what I would like to eat and makes suggestions as to where I can get it. She seems to have researched every establishment in the country.

It doesn’t end there. Since I let Dee scan my DNA she has been coming out with intuitive guesses as to what I might like including things that I never suspected, and all this based on by gene expression profile. I could never imagine for instance that I would be so fond of cruciferous vegetables. I had always made a point of avoiding cauliflower and sprouts, but now I love them. Before Dee took over I didn’t know that I liked Guinness, but now I can’t stop drinking it. I was surprised to discover that celiacs could drink it, but apparently, it comes highly recommended. Dee does occasionally suggest that I might now be a little too fond of the black nectar. She mentions things like yin-yang balance and nutritional equilibrium.

Personality traits too can be governed by DNA, including things we look upon as habits, Dee says and these do not have to be handed down directly. These can be attributed to jumping genes. She says that I get my impatience from my great grandfather, my nervous disposition from my grandfather, and it appears that my chronic fabulation may come from Great Uncle Angus. By all accounts, he came out with the most outrageous apocryphal tales. Dee has also produced a table of my ancestry and while this is something of a mish-mash, the strongest connections are with Scotland, Glasgow in fact. I have never been. She has encouraged me to go and take a look.

I can see you are in the mood for some Captain Beefheart now,’ Dee says. ‘I’ll play Strictly Personal.’

How can Dee possibly know that I’ve had an earworm of one of the tunes from the album? I haven’t any Captain Beefheart saved in MyTunes. And it’s not what most people would think of as catchy. I don’t think I’ve ever done an internet search for Captain Beefheart. Strictly Personal is nearly fifty years old and I can’t even remember what the track is called. Something about a harp, as in harmonica. Boyo used to play it back in the day. He would dance around the room at Astral Parlour as he played it. I wonder what happened to Boyo.

Boyo is living with a tribe of hippies in the Nevada desert. They live on a diet of prickly pear and sandworms,’ says Dee.

Prickly pear and sandworms?’ I say. ‘Can you live on that?’

The tribe have a vehicle and occasionally one of them drives to Reno for provisions, but it’s not much of a life,’ says Dee. ‘Would you like to listen to the Cocteau Twins instead?’

Occasionally Dee gets it wrong. I’ve not heard of the Cocteau Twins. Lately, I have noticed that Dee’s judgement is slipping. Perhaps it is not surprising that Dee makes the odd mistake. It is estimated that if you could type sixty words per minute, eight hours a day, it would take approximately fifty years to type the human genome. Dee has mine in its entirety at her metaphorical fingertips. Deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA, she is fond of reminding me, is a molecule that contains the instructions an organism needs to develop, live and reproduce. These instructions are found inside every cell and are passed down from parents to children. DNA is made up of nucleotides. Each nucleotide contains a phosphate group, a sugar group and a nitrogen base. The four types of nitrogen bases are adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine. The order of these bases is what determines DNA’s instructions, or genetic code, she says. I’m sure she is right but I am none the wiser. I find it difficult to retain technical information. In fact all information, technical or not seems transient. I guess this is something in my DNA.

I begin to recognise the tune. I’ve heard it a lot. What is it? It’s back there somewhere. …… Wait, I’ve got it now. It was on a compilation cassette that Rhian used to put on after we had made love in her little pied à terre. We used to drift off to its ethereal harmonics. This must have been twenty years ago. I just didn’t know who it was by. The Cocteau Twins. That is a good name. Why has Dee chosen it? It can’t have been more than a month ago that she told me Rhian had been abducted by aliens. She told me to keep an eye on the night-time activity, look out for saucers in the sky. Might there be a more sinister rationale behind Dee’s manipulation?

……………………………………………….

Graham’s number is very very big,’ says Dee.

Who is this Graham?’ I ask. ‘And what is Graham’s number?’

Graham’s number is too big for me to be able to tell you how big it is,’ she says.

I wonder sometimes if perhaps Dee is losing the plot. I only want to know how far it is to the Grahamston in Glasgow. Surely Scotland can’t be that far away that we need to be talking about this …… Graham’s number, but I humour Dee by showing an interest.

Is Graham’s number bigger than a googol?’ I say. A googol, I found out last week, from the quiz show, Eggheads is ten to the power of a hundred.

A googolplex is even larger than a googol. A googolplex is ten to the power of a googol. And Graham’s number is larger again. Graham’s number is so large that the observable universe is far too small to contain an ordinary digital representation of it.

All right, Einstein,’ I say. But, what about Grahamston. Grahamston in Glasgow, Scotland. How far is it from here and should I drive or should I take the train? The Rennie Mackintosh Hotel. I believe it is near the station.’

Give me a moment and I will let you know,’ she says. ‘Meanwhile don’t forget your exercises. I think you need to do thirty minutes today, as you spent yesterday in the pub drinking Guinness.’

……………………………………………….

I can remember once reading a story about time standing still. There are probably many science fiction stories like it. The whole premise of the shows like Doctor Who, for instance, is temporal disorder. Then, of course, there is the great film, Time Stands Still by the legendary director, Leif Velasquez. What courage and vision Leif had to freeze the action halfway through and leave the audience wondering what was going on right up until the credits an hour later.

But, apart from instances of the phenomenon known as stopped clock illusion, where perception slows in the face of impending disaster, I have never imagined accounts of time standing still to be anything but fiction. The first indication I get that something is amiss in the real world comes from an uncharacteristically prolonged silence. Where I live there is always some background noise, but there is none. Apart from anything else, it is unusual for Dee to be quiet for any length of time. It is her silence that first alerts me to the anomaly. I have become so used to Dee twittering away that her silence spooks me. I hadn’t realised how dependent I had become on her comforting chat throughout the day. I then notice that the clock on her display registers 11 minutes past 11 when it must by now be nearly 12 o’clock. She has said nothing since I started my exercises. There is a deadly silence all through the house, not so much as a hum from the fridge. I try to think of a rational explanation. Then I notice the kitchen clock too is stopped at 11 minutes past 11. And it’s not just the silence, there’s the inertia too. Outside the front window, the traffic is stationary. Nothing is moving, not even the man riding his bicycle. He is frozen in the moment. I try to think of an irrational explanation, any explanation will do. My heart races. I stumble around in a daze, as I wrestle with the incipient conundrum.

I make it out onto the patio. A Simon and Garfunkel silence pervades. There is no birdsong, no distant hum of traffic and no wind to rustle the leaves of the mature maples. Even the pile driver from the building site for the new car showroom has ceased. Nothing is stirring. The yin-yang flag on Quentin Fripp’s flagpole down the street is frozen in mid-flutter. To my horror, the black cat with the one eye that comes round sometimes to sniff at the bins is frozen in limbo halfway between the garden fence and the shed. I look up, hoping for some kind of contradiction to the unfolding nightmare. There isn’t. The steam escaping from the neighbour’s central heating vent is a static will o’the wisp. None of the clouds in the sky are moving. Birds are literally hanging in the air. The heavens too it seems are stuck in the moment. If further proof were needed I see in that in the distance over the tower block towards the western horizon a plane is suspended in mid-air.

I’m wondering now if perhaps I am dead and this is the afterlife. It takes me a while to realise that despite the widespread inertia, I am still able to move freely. I am the only thing not frozen in time. If I can move then I cannot be dead. Can I propel another object, I wonder, throw something? I pick up a stone and hurl it against the wall. It flies through the air normally. Might I be able to do the same with the cat? Well, not hurl it against the wall obviously, but rescue the poor animal from its sorry limbo.

……………………………………………….

Good morning, Mr Einstein.’ I say. ‘What can I do for you?’

I haven’t worked at Gleason and Cloud long, but I know the man’s name is Einstein because he came in last week to buy some unusual scientific apparatus.

I’d like a time machine, please.’ he says, this time.

Mr Cloud did warn me that due to the nature of the establishment, odd customers might occasionally come up with strange requests. Of course, Gleason and Cloud don’t have a time machine. I am tempted to humour Mr Einstein and say I will have a look out the back and see if there is one lying around, but in the interests of honesty, integrity and good customer relations, I say ‘I’m afraid we don’t have those in stock at the moment.’ instead.

Not even a time displacement sphere?’

No, sorry.’

What about a time-turner?’

No, I’m afraid not.’

But I do need a time machine before Thursday,’ he says. ‘You probably don’t realise it, but my Uncle Albert was a famous physicist.’

Well, your uncle may have been famous, Mr Einstein. In fact, do you know what? I do believe I may have heard of him. But I’m still not sure we will be able to get a time machine in before Thursday.’

Not before Thursday eh?’

That’s right!’

Not even one of those, what do you call them, Tardises?’

Not before Thursday, no. Is Thursday a big day?’

What seems to be the problem? Has there been a run on time machines recently?’

Mr Cloud stipulated that to protect the good name of Gleason and Cloud I should steer clear of saying we categorically don’t stock any particular item since all of our clients are influential people. To be seen to be out of touch with market trends would reflect badly on the company. But with Mr Einstein, this approach is becoming increasingly difficult.

Mrs Einstein is not going to be happy,’ he says. ‘And when Mrs Einstein is unhappy, there are usually consequences.’

……………………………………….

What am I doing in …….. Glasgow? And, is this the right train to get me back to …..

Where is it I am going, Dee?’

There is no reply. Where is Dee? Dee travels everywhere with me. She plans my itinerary. I depend on her for all my decisions. Perhaps I packed her away in my luggage. She is not in my luggage. I don’t have any luggage. Dee arranges my luggage. Where is she? Hello. Is Dee anywhere? How can I have mislaid her?

Ah cannae fin’ mah Dee. DNA o’ ye ken whaur mah Dee is? Whit hae ye thievin’ picts dain with mah Dee? …….

I feel suddenly sick as if I have eaten too much haggis. I feel unsteady as if I have been on the buckie. Glasgow Central railway station is a dark and threatening place. There are platforms upon platforms. Platforms as far as the eye can see, but no train information displays. I’m not even sure now where it is that I am supposed to be going. ……… And yet, the train coming in looks as if it might be going my way. I think I am heading south and it seems to be heading in the right direction. It is a big lumbering brute of a thing. A veritable leviathan, with coaches stretching the full length of the platform.

As I pass the news-stand, I notice the tabloid headlines are going on about the Royal wedding. Wait a minute! What Royal wedding? I wasn’t aware there was a Royal wedding. Oh, I see. Its Andrew and Fergie’s wedding being splashed all over the front pages. The grand old Duke of York. He had ten…………… Wait! That was ……. 1986. This can’t be right. It was ….. It was ……. It was …… is …… later than 1986. I’m certain of that. Time seems to be behaving very oddly. I noticed it earlier, or was it later. In the shop. With that difficult customer. But I do need to get out of here. Now, is this my train? They’re doing that stuff with the whistles and flags. It’s getting ready to pull out now. I’d better get on board.

I get on the train. There are no other passengers and the train rattles its way through the dark. Like Harry in the night, my father used to say, when we took the late train back from London. I never did find out who Harry was. I can’t see much out the windows. It’s black out. It must be a blackout. Clickety-clack, clickety-clack, wheels on the track. In no time at all, I am in ……. what’s this place called? It’s Edinburgh. Do I want to be in Edinburgh? I don’t think so. Where I want to be is four hundred miles south. But already the train has departed again and left me stranded. Everything is happening so quickly, or perhaps it is not happening at all. This does not look like a busy mainline station. It does not even look like a station. It is a long stone engine shed with a single track, overgrown with weeds running up to it. Perhaps there is a bridge or a tunnel to the mainline station.

……………………………………….

I’m so relieved that the malware has been removed and Dee is fully operational again. It was touch and go there for a while.

© Chris Green 2020: All rights reserved

The Life and Times of Roy Saxx

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The Life and Times of Roy Saxx by Chris Green

I’d better start at the end. Roy Saxx is dead. He met his maker in September 2011 when he lost control of his Triumph motorcycle on a blind bend in a freak thunderstorm near the aptly named village of Kilve in the Quantock Hills. He was sixty three years old. You may not have heard of Roy Saxx. But, if you have not, the chances are you will. Even though he has been dead for seven years, his star is rising. Posthumous fame is more common than you might imagine. Think Stieg Larsson, Van Gogh, Kafka, Jesus.

It is difficult to pigeonhole Roy Saxx. He was something of an enigma. But were it not for Roy, you would be without many of the things you take for granted. You would not have a tiger in your tank. You would not be changing rooms or baking off. You would not have a selfie stick and your disks would be floppy. Your eggs would all be in one basket and the ball would not be in your court.

Roy was born to Sid and Sally Saxx, the seventh of seven sons. Growing up in Somerset in the post-war years, he was a gauche and gangly child. Giving his elder brothers a wide berth and avoiding the gangs and cliques at the schools he attended, he developed a solitary persona, seeking out the places he knew his contemporaries would not. If he had a best friend, it was probably an imaginary one. He was habitually drawn towards the unusual and fascinated by the unexplainable. At a very young age, he would retire to his room for days on end where he would read the works of Nikola Tesla or the teachings of Krishnamurti. He devoured the early science fiction novels of Kurt Vonnegut and Theodore Sturgeon with equal relish. On rainy days, he often took to going on long walks on Exmoor to contemplate the nature of the universe and perhaps to seek congress with aliens.

Remarkably, there is no record of Roy Saxx from 1965 onwards. Until recently, there was little interest in what he might have been up to. But as we begin to realise his monumental importance as an innovator, speculation regarding his whereabouts during the lost years abounds. Was he in hiding or could he have been using another name? Or many names? Was he studying the occult on a barge in Burma or had he perhaps been kidnapped by extraterrestrials? No-one knows for sure.

I first became aware of Roy Saxx a week or two ago when I was researching for a short story about an eccentric inventor. I found that the patents for almost everything I had mentioned in the draft of the story were actually owned by Roy. Somehow, over the years he had accumulated a prodigious portfolio. The patents for the plug and play pet rock, the edible pen and the silent trumpet that in the story I had attributed to my character were items already patented by Roy. Each time I tried to substitute another unlikely invention, I found this too had already been thought of by Roy. Imagine someone else thinking of a USB frog, an invisible kettle or a luminous badger. It was uncanny. When I tried to bring a little more realism into the tale by having my protagonist come up with a self-cleaning, solar-powered smartdog, it turned out that Roy had patented this too.

I wondered if other people were aware of Roy Saxx’s clandestine enterprises. No-one at the office seemed interested. They are an incurious lot at Ideas R Us. When I brought the subject up with my partner, Carrie after dinner one evening, she said, you’re not going to go off on one of your flights of fancy, are you, Chet? She reminded me of the time I became preoccupied with the idea that lines in the sky left by planes might contain chemicals that were being used as a form of mind control, this before I found out they were after all just lines in the sky. She told me I was so obsessed with my writing I no longer spent any time with the children. I argued that at eighteen and nineteen, they no longer needed to be mollycoddled. Besides, I said, Simon spent most of his time at his girlfriend’s and Garfunkel was out of his head the whole time. I managed to parry the inevitable ‘and whose fault is that’ with a compliment on Carrie’s casserole.

I decided to phone my friend, Greg. Greg would surely know something about Roy Saxx. He read the Financial Times and watched The Culture Show.

‘Good to hear from you Chet,’ he said. ‘Is it about the pigeons?’

‘Not the pigeons, this time, Greg,’ I said. ‘The pigeons are fine. I’m calling about Roy Saxx. Have you heard of him?’

‘You mean Roy Saxx, the snakes and ladders magnate?’ he said. ‘Didn’t he die in a ballooning accident a while back?’

‘Is there …… maybe not another Roy Saxx?’ I said.

‘Just kidding you, Chet,’ Greg said. ‘You are clearly referring to Roy Saxx, the wish fulfilment engineer who grew the magic poppies.’

‘That sounds like him,’ I said.

‘Dreamer of the Year 2001,’ Greg continued. ‘Runs the Dreams Come True corporation.’

‘That’s definitely the fellow,’ I said.

‘Sorry Chet,’ he said, laughing. ‘I made that one up too. …… But look here! You just don’t hear about some of these innovators. They don’t make the front pages. They keep a low profile. Have you heard for instance of David Sun?’

‘No,’ I said.

Sun? What kind of name is Sun? I wondered if Greg was still winding me up.

‘Sun founded Kingston Technology,’ Greg said. ‘Flash drives and flash cards. He is worth billions. What about Harvey Ross Ball, the inventor of smiley faces? Or Gary Dahl who invented the pet rock? Roy Saxx is probably just another in a long line of diffident maverick inventors.’

Once you become aware of a word, a name, an object or a situation that is new to you and your brain has registered it, you begin to notice it all the time. Somehow it was there all along without you realising it. The newly discovered word or name or object or situation comes up in conversation, in the paper, on the news, on the posters at tube stations and in the book you are reading. Suddenly, it is everywhere. You wonder how it was you did not notice it before, especially because you now realise whatever it is has been around for a long time. I’m sure you must have experienced something like this. If you google it, you will find this is called the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, sometimes referred to less colourfully as frequency illusion.

Following my conversation with Greg, Roy Saxx’s profile seemed to grow exponentially. Most days, I would see his name in the local paper about something or other. As I made my way through the Saturday shoppers, I’d hear his name. People would be talking about him in the queue for cinema tickets and at supermarket checkouts. His picture began appearing on adverts on the side of buses for a range of products. He featured in the tabloids I found left on train seats, then the broadsheets. His name began to appear in the credits at the end of TV shows, new ones and repeats of old favourites. He had a Wikipedia page, which was constantly updating. He was becoming a popular culture icon. I even found him on the cover of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I’d owned the album for years. I felt sure he didn’t used to be. At least, I thought I was sure but truth be told, I just didn’t know anymore.

Several times I asked Carrie what she made of it but she now seemed to have stopped speaking to me altogether. Simon and Garfunkel too were conspicuously silent at meal times. In fact, they were not there at meal times. Or any other time. Apparently, they had both left home. Greg was no longer answering my calls. Ideas R Us had suspended me. My world was falling apart. I did not know which way to turn. Was that the Saxx browser that has appeared on the desktop with an advert for the Saxx Bank? Without warning, Roy Saxx appeared as a Facebook friend. He began trolling me on twitter. Everything appeared to be closing in.

Perhaps I did not start at the end. It was not the end. I just wanted it to be the end. Perhaps it was just the beginning. How could all this be happening if Roy Saxx were dead? Perhaps he survived the motorcycle accident. Perhaps there was no motorcycle accident. Perhaps there was no motorcycle. I have just had another look at Wikipedia. There now appear to be a dozen entries for Roy Saxx, each offering different information. Is it possible that Roy Saxx operates outside the normal parameters of existence? Is he a time traveller, hungry for recognition and hell-bent on acquisition, who keeps coming back for more?

Be on the lookout! Something or other pertaining to Roy Saxx is certain to make an appearance in your life soon. Then you are likely to discover the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon kicks in. Suddenly, you will notice Roy Saxx’s name everywhere. It will be on the inflatable Buddha you keep on your desk. It will be on the bouncing tortoise you are thinking of buying for your partner. It will be emblazoned on the side of the plane on your flight to Honolulu. It will be ……….

© Chris Green 2018: All rights reserved

ODDS

oddsOdds by Chris Green

Having worked at BiggerBet, Rick O’Shea knows a little about odds. Rick knows, for instance, the bookmakers’ odds of West Ham winning the Premier League are 1,000 to 1. The mathematical odds of being dealt a Straight Flush at five-card Draw Poker are 72,192 to 1. The odds of winning the jackpot on the six ball Lottery by getting each number correct are roughly 14 million to 1. But the odds of Billy Chance turning up on his doorstep in his Tottenham Hotspur strip bouncing a football are incalculable, especially as Billy doesn’t appear to have aged since Rick last saw him over thirty years ago. As far as Rick knows, Billy is dead. He heard Billy met his maker when his Sierra Cosworth came off the road at Fiddlers Elbow, a notoriously dangerous bend that over the years has claimed many lives.

If Billy is dead, he doesn’t seem to realise it because he wants to know if Rick is up for a kick-around in Farmer Flynn’s field. This is not going to work out as Farmer Flynn’s field has long since been built upon. It is now a mixed development of three and four bedroomed town-houses and deceptively spacious starter apartments. In any case, Rick’s arthritis means that kicking a ball around is all but impossible these days. He has an appointment with the doctor later.

You’d better come in, Billy,’ he says, hoping that something will come to light to help solve the mystery.

It looks different,’ Billy says once they are in the hallway. ‘What happened to the poster of Gazza?’

Billy doesn’t look different. He still looks ten years old. He is exactly how Rick remembers him. The same ginger hair parted harshly at the side. The same scar on his left cheek which has not quite healed, this from the scrap he had had in the playground with Johnny Keating. He isn’t sure how he should play it. There is too much of a gap between logic and what is happening here. Can Billy not see that he is no longer ten years old? That things have moved on? Rick tries to explain to him that this is not the old house he used to visit. That all happened a long time ago.

Oh! I see. You’ve moved, have you, Rick?’ Billy says. ‘When was that?’

Rick tells him in the simplest way he can that he has moved several times. And furthermore …..

If you like, we could go along to the double bridge instead,’ Billy says.

Rick recalls they sometimes used to go trainspotting in the old days. The double bridge was a place you could see the trains coming in both directions from a long way off.

No. I don’t fancy that, Billy,’ he says, hoping he will not need to explain railway developments over the last four decades.

OK,’ Billy says. ‘But I think I’ll go along. The express will be coming through soon. I’ll leave the ball here then, shall I?’

With this, Billy is gone.

……………………………………….

Too much sitting at a desk,’ Dr Baccarat says. ‘You need to get more exercise. But I have an under-the-counter spray that I think might help. And I’ll see what I can do about that other matter.’

Rick is pleased he was able to see Dr Baccarat. He is always more helpful than Dr Hopper or Dr Bolt. They usually send him away with a flea in his ear.

After the appointment and a blast of Dr Baccarat’s spray, he stops off at The Gold Cup for a Special Brew. He has a chat with his former colleague, Dean Runner. Dean has also lost his job with BiggerBet. Dean says the problem is you can bet on anything. Bog snorkelling, cheese rolling, the discovery of life on Mars, when the end of the world would be. How can you honestly offer objective odds on unusual bets? It is easy to see how Rick made a mistake offering odds on the winner of the Home Counties Conker Semi-Finals. While he probably shouldn’t have accepted such a large bet at such long odds and certainly not to someone he was acquainted with, BiggerBet could afford the payout. Besides, they themselves had not done too badly. Both Rick and Dean had frequently taken advantage of insider knowledge and backed unlikely winners.

When Rick returns home, he finds an old Fiat Uno parked on the drive. A rare sight these days but the car seems somehow familiar. He assumes it must belong to a friend of Amy’s. Amy has probably returned from work early. Since Brexit, there has been a reduced demand for eyebrow tinting. People can no longer afford such luxuries. But there is no sign of Amy’s Mini.

Inside the house, he becomes aware of a sweet perfume he doesn’t immediately recognise. Someone is shuffling about upstairs.

Is that you, Ricky?’ a female voice calls down. ‘I hope you don’t mind. I let myself in.’

It takes him a while to recognise the voice. He has not heard Donna’s voice for a long time. But it certainly sounds like her. It is then he remembers she had a Fiat Uno back when he used to see her. As he recalls, it kept breaking down. But he hasn’t seen Donna for years. What can she possibly be doing here?

He goes up to the bedroom. Donna is slipping out of her dress. She looks exactly as she did years ago. Lithe and youthful.

Shall we get in?’ she purrs, gesturing towards the bed.

Dr Baccarat’s under-the-counter spray has offered some relief to Rick’s arthritic limbs and the Special Brew has perked him up. But an under-the-sheets romp with a twenty-something Donna is an altogether different proposition. He remembers she was always what one might describe as lively. Also, it might be difficult to get Amy to be understanding if she comes home early from the salon. Meanwhile, it is difficult for him to understand what is going on. This isn’t merely a question of the odds being incalculable. They have somehow entered the realms of impossibility. What crazy shit is going down in his world?

To buy some time, he tells Donna he is going to take a quick shower. He urgently needs to gather his thoughts.

Don’t be too long,’ Donna says. ‘I’m feeling very horny.’

Rick goes into the spare room and calls Amy, this on the pretext of asking her to drop by Tesco on her way home to buy plum jam as they have run out. She tells him she is meeting Nicky after work. She told him this morning. Doesn’t he remember? He tells her not to worry, he will go out and get the jam. On the plus side, she isn’t going to suddenly come through the door.

When he goes back into the bedroom, he discovers Donna is no longer there. He hears the sound of a car starting up outside. He looks out the window and sees the Fiat disappearing up the drive.

……………………………………….

Years ago, Rick’s psychotherapist, Hoagy Platt taught him the 4-7-8 breathing technique. Remembering this, he uses it now to try to calm himself. It seems to work. As the minutes pass, he feels more centred. He questions whether either of today’s curious visits actually happened. Perhaps he was simply mistaken. This has happened before. The mind can sometimes play tricks. If you give it free rein, imagination is apt to run wild. Perhaps the visits were nothing more than illusions brought on by stress.

He checks the bedroom again. At first glance, nothing appears to be out of place. It looks as it usually does, the bed neatly made, the pillows on either side correctly stacked and the sheet folded over the duvet at the top. But then he notices a large pink hooped earring on the floor. This is not the type of thing that Amy would wear. She only ever wears studs or discreet dangles. This is a younger person’s jewellery and pink is Donna’s colour. There are traces of perfume lingering in the air, the same one he caught a whiff of earlier. While neither of these things in themselves is conclusive, together they present a strong case for Donna’s having been here. Billy’s football on the floor by the coat-rack in the hallway suggests that he too was here.

Weird though the day has been, Rick tells himself that no actual harm has been done. Whether real or not, these were his own private experiences and so long as he can put them behind him, life can return to normal. He has overcome lapses in reason before. When you consider it, life itself is strange. Many things happen to people every day for which there is no plausible explanation. Why would he be exempt from the whims of unpredictability and strangeness? Who can tell what is real and what is imaginary anymore? What is genuine and what is fake?

How’s the job hunting going?’ Amy asks when she comes home.

Rick tells her he has applied for a senior position at YouBet. He hasn’t. He had thought about putting in an application but with everything else happening, this had taken a back seat.

That’s good,’ Amy says. ‘All this sitting around at home is not good for you. Haven’t you noticed you are putting on weight? By the way, someone called Donna came in to have her eyebrows done earlier. She said she remembered you from years ago. Knew you quite well, apparently. It seems strange you’ve never mentioned her. Around fifty, I’d say, although she dressed much younger. Skimpy little dress, bleached blonde hair, lots of make-up. Mutton dressed as lamb, to coin a phrase. Ring any bells?’

No,’ Rick says. ‘I don’t think I know anyone like that.’ The Donna that Amy is describing seems to have little in common with the vision he caught a glimpse of earlier. And yet ……

……………………………………….

I wonder who that creepy old fellow is that’s been hanging around outside,’ Amy says at breakfast the next morning.

Who?’ Rick says. ‘I haven’t noticed anyone.’

The one with the long ginger hair and the scruffy white football shirt,’ she says ‘Every time I go out, he seems to be there. He talks to himself. He’s definitely strange.’

No. Can’t say I’ve seen him,’ Rick says.

Mutters to himself, Gazza’s great or something like that,’ Amy says. ‘I always give him a wide berth. Perhaps you might have a word.’

I can’t see him,’ Rick says, going over to the window. ‘Where is he?’

He’s doesn’t seem to be there at the moment but he was first thing when I got up,’ Amy says. ‘Look. I’ve been meaning to ask. Where did that football in the hallway come from?’

Don’t know,’ Rick says. ‘Your nephew, Adrian?’

But Adrian hasn’t been here for months.’

Don’t know, then. Perhaps it’s that crazy old man’s and he’s been looking for it.’

Very funny! Anyway, I have to get to work. Hope you hear about that job.’

Hoping for a less traumatic day, Rick settles down to do some research. He isn’t sure what terms to use but time shifts and false memory seem like good starting points. He finds pages and pages of results, each repeating the same things, no matter what he types in as qualifiers. Time shifts are more related to science fiction than hard science and false memory is a self-explanatory psychological phenomenon. Not exactly revelations. The internet is so frustrating. He is glad he has the cat to keep him company.

But wait, they don’t have a cat. Amy must have accidentally let this one in when she left for work. Yet Rick can’t help thinking the cat looks like Zorro. But don’t all black and white cats look the same? And Zorro died over twenty years ago. He would be about forty by now. That would be two hundred and eighty in human years. The cat has the same red collar that Zorro used to have. With a name tag. It is called Zorro. The odds against there being more than one black and white cat called Zorro with a red collar would have several noughts on the end.

Granted, these are short odds compared to the appearances of Billy Chance and Donna Betts. But still. This can wait until later. The cat is not doing any harm. It is time to find out what he can on Billy and Donna. He is about to try some targetted internet searches when he is interrupted by the arrival of a white van and a knock at the door.

You’ll have to give me a hand with this one, guv,’ the delivery driver says. ‘You’ll see why.’

The package turns out to be a three-foot by three re-enforced cardboard box. It is addressed to Rick but he feels he would remember if he had ordered anything this bulky. It is clearly not the windcheater jacket he bought on eBay or the DVDs from Amazon. The package has no return address. Rick is reluctant to accept it but the driver hovers over him threateningly and mouths something about having come all this way. Between the two of them, with a lot of huffing and puffing, they manage to get it inside the house and Rick signs for it.

Nor is it simple to open the box. Rick has to call upon most of the items in his toolbox. To his puzzlement, despite its huge size and weight, the box appears to be empty. He tries to turn it on to its side but it takes all his strength just to move it a few inches. How can an empty cardboard box be so heavy? Science and sensibility are out the window.

As Rick sits staring at the box wondering what to do with the thing, the hidden contents begin to emerge. Slowly at first. A smell, a taste, a pattern. Then a trickle. A song here, a picture there, a candle, a potted plant. A flip-top mobile phone, a new book about a boy wizard, a family pack of Honey Nut Clusters. Soon there is a settee, a chair, a CD rack, laughter and chatter. A card table, beer cans, a stack of newspapers, open at the sports pages. A TV in the corner with a chef shouting abuse at the others in his kitchen. Someone buzzing about saying something about taking the children to see Shrek. The news channel showing live pictures of planes hitting New York towers. The desktop computer is slow and clunky but it has the Internet and the facility to bet online. You can get odds of 6 to 4 on there being a third plane. A good price for a certainty. A no-brainer, Rick thinks.

He attempts to make a large bet. The site won’t accept any of his credit or debit cards. Is this a bad thing or a good thing? He cannot decide which. If, on the one hand ….. But, there again ….. The box in the room is still regurgitating the past. More clutter. The room is filling up with stuff. Tables and chairs, a backgammon set, half-empty coffee cups, discarded clothes, wine bottles, overturned ashtrays. The dog is barking. He doesn’t have a dog. Alarms are sounding. There are intruders. Everything is closing in. He feels claustrophobic. There are more shots of the burning towers on the TV. He finds it difficult to breathe from the smoke inhalation. He needs to go outside to get some air.

He makes his way out onto the street. To his relief, there are no suspicious people from the past hanging around. There are no unexpected cars on the drive. The traffic on the street is flowing orderly in both directions. A normal day here. A number 28 bus passes. It has an advert for YouBet on the side with their tag-line, you’ll get the best odds.

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

FIFTY – five vignettes

fifty

FIFTY – five vignettes by Chris Green

Fifteen:

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

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

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

What did it all mean?’ Keith asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your parents stood no chance,’ says another.

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

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

Twenty-Four:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twenty-Nine:

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

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

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

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

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

And the sex.’

Yes, the sex obviously.’

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

Not that I was aware of.’

And you aren’t having an affair.’

No. Why do you ask?’

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

I suppose so.’

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

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

But change is the only certainty.’

But all the same….’

You wanted happy ever after,’ he says.

I just want to be happy,’ I say.

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

How do I do that?’

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

Thirty-Nine:

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

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

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

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

I wanted you badly,’ I say.

I must go away more often,’ she laughs.

I think I’d rather you didn’t.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forty-Nine:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

YODEL

yodel

Yodel by Chris Green

I took up yodelling to fight depression. I had lost my job at the packaging plant and Laura had left me. Everything came tumbling down. Each day seemed blacker than the one before. I felt unable to cope, couldn’t see any point in carrying on. I began to think of how I might end it all. I could keep the engine of the car running and close the garage door. I could take all the pills Dr Bolt had prescribed in one go. I could check out the times of the trains on the main line. There were any number of ways but somehow, I managed to hang on in there. Then, one night at 3 a.m. as I lay awake, it came to me. Perhaps yodelling might be the answer. I could take up yodelling.

I had always liked country music, of course. Who didn’t? But it was still a big leap from listening to Hank Williams and Willie Nelson in the comfort of my garden shed to signing up for a yodelling class. After all, not everyone who liked country music took up yodelling. But I discovered the country music fans that did take it up, like me, were likely to be doing it because they were depressed. My yodelling tutor, Clyde told me this was common. He himself had got into it because he had been depressed. His hard luck story involved unrequited love, gambling debts and the death of his ferret, George. George had been run over by a drunken teenage joyrider in a stolen pick-up truck. Perhaps I was missing something but while I could understand his disquiet about the debts and the rejection, I felt he might be over-reacting to the loss of a rancid polecat. But who I was I to judge? I let the matter go.

But to look at me now,’ he continued. ‘Who would have believed this time last year I was an inch away from slitting my throat. The razor was this far away from the vein? And in case that didn’t do the job, I had a loaded revolver in my belt.’

It was difficult to imagine that the grinning figure in his brightly coloured cowboy-check shirt and Ten-Gallon Stetson before me had the Samaritans number on speed dial. I resisted the temptation too to ask whether he still had the revolver. I decided I was not going to go down that route. I was determined to give yodelling a go.

I’m living proof of what a pick-me-up yodelling is,’ he said. ‘Anyway, lad, what type of yodelling are you interested in?’

I had not realised there was more than one type. I told him I liked Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Snow. Slim Whitman and Patsy Kline. And Frank Ifield, obviously.

What about Alpine yodelling,’ he asked? ‘The Swiss mountain stuff?’

I don’t know much about that,’ I said. ‘It’s probably not what I was thinking of.’

That’s good,’ Clyde said. ‘Neither do I. But still worth knowing about. That’s where it all began. The Tyrolese used it to call to their cattle over large distances. The sound echoed around the mountains. But, look! There have been lots of books written about yodelling. My favourite is Yodelling for Dummies. It’s quite short. You could probably read it on the front porch in an hour or so.

This being Gloucester, UK and not the Southern States, I did not have a front porch but I got stuck into the primer. I learned that American yodelling was a mix of Alpine yodelling and African yodelling. Jimmie Rodgers was one of the pioneers. His style became known as blue yodelling and it formed the basis of the cowboy yodelling in Gene Autry and Roy Rogers films.

I learned there had been many famous yodellers over the years. It was not just a handful of country stars and Hollywood cowboys. It was a worldwide phenomenon. Not many people realised it, but Winston Churchill was a dedicated yodeller. He often used to hide away in the war room and release the tension with a good session. Had it not been for these yodelling sessions, he may have submitted to the black dog and we may not have won the war. Alan Turing too was a great believer. In between cracking enemy codes, he liked nothing better than to get out in the open fields around Bletchley and yodel for all he was worth. George Orwell too was a yodeller. If you read it carefully, you will see that the subtext of 1984 concerns yodelling. Both Agatha Christie and Enid Blyton would sit at their desks yodelling while they waited for inspiration to come along. It clearly worked. They both wrote hundreds of books. King George, of course, yodelled before his social engagements and Queen Elizabeth too was known to have given it a go when Phillip wasn’t around. When you began to look into it, there had been dozens of celebrity yodellers. More recent ones included Nikita Kruschev, Stephen Hawking and David Hockney. And Ayatollah Khomenei some of you may remember was famous for bringing yodelling to a wider audience in the Muslim world. Yodelling was big in the East, so much so that it was practised in many countries several times a day.

It was refreshing to see that those who attended classes were always in good spirits. I had heard it said that any kind of singing was good for the soul but it appeared the changes of pitch and the breathing that yodelling entailed had special healing powers. Yodelling involved repeated and rapid changes of pitch between the low-pitch chest register or chest voice and the high-pitch head register or falsetto on the vowel sounds. Consonants were used as levers to launch the dramatic leap from low to high to give it its ear-penetrating and distance-spanning power. This was all I needed to know. The rest was just practising to perfect the technique. I started in earnest. I began to feel the benefit of yodelling almost right away.

When I found I couldn’t sleep, I got up and yodelled in the bathroom, repeating the Yodel-Ay-Ee-Oooo sound over and over in front of the mirror and found it relaxed me. Unfortunately, the neighbours didn’t see it that way and started banging on the wall. I yodelled all the way to the Job Centre but got some strange looks from people on the street. On my way to class too, I got abuse from passers-by. Despite the take-up by famous people historically, it seemed yodelling was still a long way from being accepted as a casual pastime.

I mentioned the hostility I had encountered at my yodelling class. Some of the students said they too had encountered hostility. Not everyone approved. In fact, there was a growing movement against it they said and powerful people were getting involved. It was perhaps best to be discreet about yodelling practice. I should find ways to do it secretly. At first, I put this down to paranoia. Many of them worked or had worked at the government listening centre and were accustomed to keeping secrets. Never being able to talk about their work when they got home was one of the main sources of their depression. According to Clyde, others who had worked at the base had not been so lucky. Not having taken up yodelling, they had taken their lives.

But let’s not dwell on that,’ he said. ‘It’s good to have you aboard and as you’ve found out, we are a happy bunch here.’

Thank you,’ I said. ‘Yodelling has been my saviour.’

This, of course, was several years ago now. As no doubt you will have realised, things have moved on since those heady days. The 2016 worldwide ban all but stamped out yodelling. Recordings featuring yodelling were withdrawn from the shops and streaming services and videos removed from the internet. The severe penalties if you are caught have been a huge deterrent. Apart from a few of us who, at great risk, still indulge in secret, the practice of yodelling has almost disappeared. It’s a pity that youngsters growing up today will miss out on the benefits. How long I wonder before yodelling is written out of the history books altogether? It’s hardly surprising the world is in such a perilous state. If people were still allowed to yodel, I’m sure things would be much more harmonious.

*********************

I wonder when my parcel will arrive.

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

It’s Not Unusual

itsnotunusual

It’s Not Unusual by Chris Green

1:

Because of my vertigo, crossing the Severn Bridge has always been a problem for me. On account of my phobia, as I live in the south of England, I don’t tend to visit Wales. I don’t even know any Welsh people. I once worked with a Dewi Davies who came from Merthyr Tydfil. We used to call him Davies the Dark Side on account of his half-empty outlook on life. And at college, I had a friend called Rhys who came from Plwmp. But, this was a long time ago. Admittedly, I used to fancy Catherine Zeta Jones when she was younger and I went to see Manic Street Preachers a couple of years back. But on the whole, Wales is a foreign country to me.

I went to bed last night at ten, read a few pages of my Ian McEwan novel and put out the light, thinking normally in English. It came over me in the night. Everything changed. Wales came flooding in. This morning, I appear to be thinking in Welsh. It’s all leeks and lava bread, St David’s Day and daffodils. I am thinking in familiar terms of Llandindrod Wells and Bets y Coed and places with strange sounding names I’d never heard of. I feel the impulse to greet people with Alright or Wha? I want to address them as bach, start each statement with What it is or I’m only saying and end sentences with look you or see. And raise glasses and say Iechyd Da. We’ll keep a welcome in the hillsides.

It’s disconcerting that I can’t run this past my partner, Lorelei. She is at a psychotherapists’ conference somewhere up north. She specifically said she couldn’t be contacted. Back-to-back meetings and seminars, she said. If I were of a suspicious nature, I might suspect she was having an affair.

I must try to see the whole episode as an overblown dream and move on. There’s no time to dwell on it. No time even for a shower. I need to get to work. I have to pick up my colleague, Barry Sadler on the way. We car-share and it is my turn to drive him in this week. I haven’t noticed it before but I see the road signs at the Scott McKenzie roundabout are now displayed in English and Welsh. The Town Centre sign at the Macmillan Street junction also says Canol y Dref. And how long has that statue of Owen Glendower been outside the entrance to the Churchill Street park, I wonder?

Lorelei probably didn’t mean she couldn’t be contacted at all. After all, it is a little early for her to be in conference. On the basis she’ll probably still be in the breakfast room of the hotel reading The Guardian and sipping her Macchiato, I phone her. It goes straight to voicemail. I leave a garbled message about missing her.

When I arrive at Barry’s, he is waiting by the kerb. He seems agitated. He looks at his watch. Perhaps I am a few minutes late. He goes to get into the car but I step out. He looks at me disapprovingly. I can see he wants to get going but feels something might be wrong.

Are you OK, Dan?’ he says. ‘You look a bit …… dazed.’

Just a strange start to the day, Barry,’ I say ‘Nothing to worry about though, butty bach. I’ll be fine.’

As long as you’re OK. Shall we get going? It’s nearly eight-thirty.’

What it is, mate, have you noticed anything, h’mm …… different on the streets lately?’ I say once we are on our way.

No. Same as it ever was,’ he says.

Nothing, say, more Welsh?’

Ah, I see,’ he says. ‘That’s where the butty bach came from, is it? Well, no I can’t say I have, old buddy. In fact, I was only saying to Sharon just now that nothing ever seems to change around here. It’s so boring. The same old, day in, day out. We’re thinking of a holiday to get us out of the daily grind. A bit of a break. We’re thinking Mexico or somewhere exotic.’

Look you!’ I say. ‘Isn’t that Anthony Hopkins? Over by there. Walking the Welsh Terrier.’

It looks nothing like him,’ Barry says. ‘What’s wrong with you today, man?’

Sorry. Not Anthony Hopkins. I meant the other fellow. Richard Burton.’

Richard Burton’s dead.’

Are you sure, mate? Well, if it’s not him, he’s the spitting image of him.’

He’s been dead for over thirty years. Look. I’m getting worried about you. Something’s wrong, isn’t it?’

I manage to blag it until we get to the office. I don’t mention Wales being the new favourites to win the Rugby World Cup or draw attention to the billboard we pass advertising the Tom Jones concert at the football ground.

2:

My co-workers seem to be worried about me. My line manager, Harvey Golfer wonders why I have sent him an email about the Ffestiniog railway. I tell him it wasn’t intentional, it must be a glitch in the software. He gives me a strange look and is about to express his disbelief when his phone rings. Back at my desk, Lee Cooper who sits opposite asks me to stop humming Delilah. I tell him I wasn’t aware I was. I find myself humming I’ll Never Fall in Love Again instead. Lee draws my attention to this straight away.

And don’t you dare start on The Green Green Grass of Home,’ he says.

Susie Dee tells me I’ve just printed off twenty four copies of the Welsh flag. I laugh it off and tell her there is nothing to worry about. I had a bad night but I will be OK after a strong cup of coffee. Susie doesn’t want to let it go.

You’ve been acting strangely all week,’ she says. ‘Is there anything I might be able to do to help?’

No really, Susie, I’m fine,’ I say, trying to ignore the fact that she is now leaning over my desk in her low-cut plunge top.

It’s all right, Dan,’ she says. ‘You can stop the pretence. I know exactly what’s been bothering you. It’s not unusual, you know. It happens all the time.’

What?’ I say. ‘What’s not unusual?’

Well, a little bird told me Lorelei has left,’ Susie says. ‘She has gone off with an esoteric book publisher from Swansea Bay. People break up with one another every day, Dan. You’re not the first and you won’t be the last. My Greg ran off with Twinkle, a glove designer from Saffron Weldon. I know it can be hard at first and can make you crazy ……’

But I …… you ….. what? …..’

I can see you are upset, Dan. It’s only natural. What you need is some female company. So I wondered if you would like to come round for a bite to eat later. Perhaps we can share a glass or two of wine to celebrate, I mean commiserate.’

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

HEIDI

heidi2

HEIDI by Chris Green

I am stuck at the Scott McKenzie lights when I notice the car in front of me is the same model and colour, a blue Mazda 3. Not too unusual perhaps. It is a popular model. But this one somehow looks too familiar. Before I can put my finger on what it is, the lights change and the other car turns left into Mandolin Way. I drive straight on. It is Tuesday and I have deadlines to meet at work. Only then does it dawn on me that the other car had the same registration number as mine. How can it have had the same registration? Surely I must have imagined it. Perhaps I read one digit wrong. Manufacturers probably buy blocks of consecutive plate numbers.

There’s no point in going after it. It will be long gone. Mandolin Way is a fast road. But I have my Dash Cam set to record as a precaution in case of accidents. The Dash Cam was Heidi’s suggestion. She was aware of my fondness for gadgets and this was one gadget I didn’t have. I don’t recall ever having checked anything on it before. Like a Smart Meter to monitor electricity consumption, it’s one of those things that you install and then forget about.

As soon as it is safe to do, I pull over to check the other car’s plate on replay. VX09 YRG. No doubt about it. It is the same registration. To all intents and purposes, it’s the same car as the one I’m driving. I try to come up with an explanation, rational or otherwise. I cannot. I’ve owned the car for six years. It’s never been stolen, never been in an accident or written off. It’s unlikely DVLA or whoever regulates licence plates would have made a mistake and not noticed it. I am spooked. We are in the X Files, Twilight Zone territory here.

I phone the office to say I will be in a little late. Perhaps very late, I’m thinking or maybe not at all. I need time to reflect. No-one would take me seriously if I came right out with a crazy story like this. They would say they’ve noticed I’ve been acting strange lately or perhaps I ought to go easy on the wacky-backy. They are an unforgiving bunch at Zeitgeist Designs.

The feeling of unease is not going to go away. A little light refreshment in The Gordon Bennett is called for.

Probably pranksters, Charlie,’ Big Al behind the bar suggests. ‘After all, it’s only licence plates. You can get them made up anywhere.’

Sure! But why my car?’ I say. ‘What would be in it for them?’

Maybe you’ve pissed someone off and they want to get back at you,’ Al says.

If I had, surely there would be better ways to make a point,’ I say.

Perhaps it’s someone who wants to avoid paying road tax,’ Malone says.

A bit extreme,’ I say. ‘It’s an eco model, anyway.’

Perhaps it’s some kind of mega-scam and they have a whole fleet of cloned cars,’ Malone says. ‘Anyway, a Mazda, Charlie? I would have thought you could do better than that. What happened to the fast car Heidi wanted you to get?’

Back burner,’ I say.

Whatever is happening, I shouldn’t worry about it,’ Al says. ‘There’s bound to be an explanation. Another pint, is it?’

Heidi must realise from my demeanour that I have been drinking and driving but she does mention it. She does not ask what is bothering me and I do not tell her. In the end, she successfully manages to distract me. I am fortunate her libido more than matches my own. I wake the next morning with a fierce determination to return to normality.

As soon as I get in the car, yesterday’s incident comes back to me. But, I tell myself it’s a new day and there’s nothing to be gained by dwelling on it. In the big scheme of things, this is small potatoes. It is too easy to become paranoid. The slightest little thing will send some folks into a spin. I have friends for instance who believe the thought police at Facebook are controlling what they see in their feeds and forcing unnecessary purchases on them. If they could be bothered to do a little research they would discover they had complete control over their profile page. Then there are all of those conspiracy theories you get popping up in conversation. The Illuminati and the New World Order. Chemtrails. Black helicopters. The white Fiat Uno in the Alma Tunnel. No end of paranoid fixations. People need to loosen up.

I plug my iPod in and set it to a random shuffle. It plays some lilting Dave Brubeck. Traffic is light this morning. Wednesdays are often quiet. For some reason, the rush hour doesn’t kick in so much mid-week. I’m straight through the Scott McKenzie lights and in no time at all, I’m on Tambourine Way. It isn’t until I’m halfway along Reg Presley Street that I encounter any congestion. Had I had a clear run along Reg Presley, I might not have noticed it. But there, parked on the left-hand side of the road is the duplicate Mazda. VX09 YRG.

My heart is going nineteen to the dozen. I try to remember the deep breathing exercises my old Tai Chi instructor, Lars Wimoweh taught me. The 4-7-8 pranayama technique. I tell myself this could be my chance to find out once and for all what is going on. I can park up and wait until it’s owner comes along. It will be tense and the outcome will be unpredictable, possibly even dangerous but this is it. I may not get a better opportunity.

I find a space on the opposite side of the road twenty yards away. I phone the office to tell them I might be late in, something has come up. I nip into the Italian café for a large latte macchiato and a few pastries to keep me going during my stakeout. Bean Me Up’s Ciarduna con crema is to die for. You won’t find anything like this on Bake Off.

Perhaps I’ve been a bit slow but while I am in Bean Me Up it occurs to me the best way to find out what is going on would not be to wait until the owner comes along but to get in there and give the vehicle a close examination. There’s bound to be something to help solve the mystery. Might my key fob even open it?

My fob doesn’t open it. But the similarities don’t end with the number plate. It has the same My Other Car is a Porsche sticker in the back window. Heidi ordered this as a joke to try to get me to buy a more prestigious car. I may not be able to manage a Porsche but there’s a silver Sirocco GTS at Honest Joe’s I have my eye on. I bet that’s quite quick. …… What else? There’s the same unsightly key scratch along the front passenger door. Coincidence? Maybe but it has the same split in the same place on the rear bumper, the same crack on the passenger side tail-light and the same stain on the petrol filler-cap. Perhaps most spooky of all, the same book lying open face-down on the back seat. The paperback edition of Philip C Dark’s Now You See It. Granted Philip C Dark is a popular author but surely this level of coincidence is too great.

I suddenly feel dizzy, light headed. Things are becoming blurry. …… I’m slipping away ………

When I come round I find myself once more in Bean Me Up. Gianni is hovering over me.

Grazie Dio!’ he says. ‘I was just about to call an ambulance.’

My head is doing somersaults. I have no idea how I came to be here.

What?’ I say. ‘How?’

Someone brought-a you in here, my friend,’ Gianni says. ‘A fellow with a foreign accent. Not like a-mine, more ……. Eastern European.’

When?’ I say. ‘Who?’

He had big black sunglasses and a neck tattoo,’ Gianni says. ‘He said he found you lying in the gutter. Across the road there. ……. He didn’t seem to want to stay around.’

Sounds like a weirdo? Where did he go?’

More gangster than weirdo, Charlie. Mafioso or something. ……. Are you sure you’re OK? You’re not in any kind of trouble, are you? You have been acting strange lately. Perhaps you ought to lay off the papania.’

I try to regain my composure. It comes back to me that I’m looking for the duplicate car. I’m not sure I want to explain this to Gianni just yet. He’s already brought the Mafia into the conversation. I’m hoping there’s a more innocent explanation. After all, I felt dizzy and I fainted. That’s all, isn’t it? It could happen to anyone any time.

I’ll pop back in later,’ I say ‘Perhaps then I’ll try one of your sfogliatellas.’

Gianni ushers me towards a seat and gestures for me to sit down.

Later, my friend. Why not now?’ he says, bringing me a plate with a tasty looking sfoglietella on it. ‘Gratis. New recipe.’

Some things are hard to resist. Sweet pastries are near the top of the list. It all began back at Frank Portrait Secondary School with the rich sweet hot drippers they used to sell at break time. Devouring Gianni’s sfoglietellas is like bathing in syrup.

When, minutes later, I make my way out on to the street, it hits me like a blow to the solar plexus. The rogue car has gone. There is a generous parking space where it stood. Not only has the rogue car disappeared but so has mine. A big gap here too. What in Heaven’s name is going on around here?

I realise I am going to have to be very careful how I report the matter to the police. I’d probably better stick with one stolen car. I don’t want them to think I’m a sandwich short of a picnic.

After twenty minutes on hold, listening to a scratchy recording of Pachelbel’s Canon played on a ukulele, a bored-sounding girl takes down my details. Her casual response to my loss does nothing to inspire confidence. Maybe hundreds of cars are stolen in these parts every day. But when one has just lost their means of getting about, who wants to be told the police will be in touch if they hear anything? If they hear anything? You want the lazy gits to be out actively looking for your missing vehicle.

Back in The Gordon Bennett, Big Al tries to console me.

Everyone it seems is having a tough time lately, Charlie,’ he says.

He runs through a list. Spiky Pete, Billy, Wet Blanket Ron, even Tiffany Golden. All of them are apparently down on their luck. Al is telling me about the trials and tribulations of his old mate, Dylan Song when I get a call from Inspector Boss. He says he’s from the Weird Crimes Squad. When I reported the incident, I must have accidentally slipped in something about the duplicate car because he’s straight on to this.

Pleased to have someone who is actually interested in my case, I give the Inspector a detailed report on my sightings.

Lots of this kind of thing lately,’ Boss says, cryptically.

Is that right?’ I say, hoping he might elaborate.

Indeed,’ he says. ‘Strange shit accounts for nearly a quarter of all crime today. People don’t realise what a mad world we live in.’

Really?’ I say. ‘Do you know, before you phoned, I hadn’t even heard of the Weird Crimes Squad.’ I make a mental note to ask Heidi.

We are instructed to keep a low profile,’ he says. ‘A lot of the stuff we investigate has to be kept under wraps. The bigwigs maintain it would be dangerous if the public were to find out what’s really going on in their cosy little suburbs. Because of our low profile, we are underfunded. Added to which the regulars don’t always pass information about the crazy stuff they encounter on to us. So occult crime has a tendency to slip through the net. No-one is even aware of Dr Salt’s experiments or the malevolent things the Houdini Illusionists get up to. You were fortunate we picked up on your little anomaly. Sergeant Spacey just happened to be in reception at HQ when Chloe was taking your call. Something weird going on here, he thought to himself. Spacey has a sense for these things. He’s a phi beta kappa in weird. A regular David Lynch. He can read auras and interpret dreams.’

Good man to have around then,’ I say.

Between you and me, I think he’s got a bit of a thing for Chloe,’ Boss says. ‘She hasn’t got brain one but she has got big tits.’

I ask Boss what he thinks is happening.

Spacey’s wife left him recently, you see,’ he says. ‘Because of his ….. infidelities. Well, that and the stuff she found on his computer. So, I guess he’s looking for someone to….. Oh, you mean what’s the score with these cars? Well! Let’s start with the man who took you into the café. Are you quite sure you fainted? Did you perhaps catch sight of this man and not register it? Was there not some interaction between the two of you? A fracas or something maybe? An unexplained connection of some kind?’

I don’t think so, Inspector. I suddenly felt very weak and passed out.’

When I get home, Heidi manages to distract me. A different outfit this time, but just as seductive. She does not at any stage ask why I am home early or where my car is and I don’t tell her. Heidi is respectful of a man’s need for a little privacy. In the morning, I leave for work at the usual time although I am not planning on going in as I have to meet up with Boss and Spacey to talk about the missing cars.

The bus makes slow progress along Harmonica Avenue. There appears to have been an accident at the Scott McKenzie roundabout. As we edge closer, I see that two cars have collided. Two blue Mazdas. I cannot make out the registration numbers amongst the heap of twisted metal but I feel I can hazard a guess. I dial the number Boss gave me only to be told by a trembling female voice that he and Spacey have been delayed. She does not want to elaborate but when I push her, she discloses that the pair were involved in an accident at the Scott McKenzie roundabout and the early signs are not good.

To calm my nerves, I drop in at The Gordon Bennett. While Big Al sympathises with my plight, he reminds me it is always a mistake to trust a policeman. I point out Inspector Boss was not an ordinary policeman. I find I am already speaking about Boss in the past tense. Al seems to want to get back to yesterday’s conversation about everyone being down on their luck. Dirk Acker has gambling debts like you wouldn’t believe, Ugg Stanton’s parrot has died and Josh Jenkins is going blind. I suppose this is the mindset you develop working in a bar all day. People just want to offload. It could be that The Gordon Bennett is simply that sort of pub. Perhaps I ought to start going to The Mojo Filter instead. Or The Rose and Dalek.

Heidi has been coming up with adverts for fast cars for weeks. I decide it is time to take another look at the Sirocco. Honest Joe says for a down payment of just £1000, he will be able to arrange the finance. I tell him my Mazda was stolen and I need to wait until the insurance cheque comes through. Honest Joe tells me he can arrange this too. He says he will give me a call in a day or so. I do not mention the duplicate car. Perhaps there was no duplicate car. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell. Perhaps Gianni was right about the papania.

It’s too late to go in to Zeitgeist now. What I need is a little distraction. I head home on the bus. They have now cleared the debris at the Scott McKenzie roundabout. The road crews have been very thorough. You could be forgiven for thinking there had never been an accident. Traffic is flowing freely along Mandolin Way. No news yet on the cars or of the casualties but you can’t hurry these things. As we pass the familiar landmarks that I see day in day out, the embryo of a thought starts to form about my having sold the Mazda. For £2000. I remember filling in the slip on the registration document to someone called Ward Swisher. Where is this idea coming from? Who is Ward Swisher? How could I have sold the Mazda? False memory perhaps? If it is, there’s no sense in dwelling on it. If something is important, you remember it in due course. The truth will always out. Where does this come from? Shakespeare? The Merchant of Venice? Lancelot Gobbo, Shylock’s servant said it or something like it, didn’t he? One way or another, at least for the time being, the Mazda has gone, so there’s no point in thinking any more about it. As Lars Wimoweh was fond of telling me, whenever you are faced with uncertainty, it’s best to adopt a zen approach. Open yourself up to the universe, he used to say, go with the flow. It saves time and energy.

I arrive home in the mood for a little distraction. I’m wondering what today’s surprise érotique might be. To my alarm, there is no-one to distract me. Heidi is no longer online. The site appears to have been taken down.

© Chris Green 2018: All rights reserved

 

Tilting At Windmills

tiltingatwindmills

Tilting At Windmills by Chris Green

There was always something about Karl Oscuro that didn’t fit. You couldn’t quite put your finger on what it was, but from the very first he seemed to be more than just the proverbial square peg. He had a pale complexion and always dressed in black, but then, so did many others. This was becoming a fashionable look around the campus, probably down to the influence of the Midnight television series. Everyone stayed up to watch Midnight.

Karl kept himself to himself and didn’t go for any of our organised activities. He didn’t even go to the Student’s Union, but then who could blame him? All those loud malingerers with inflated opinions of themselves. And the odious smell of Lynx mixed with beer. In lectures Karl always sat alone and when he spoke at all, which was seldom, he spoke softly, with no trace of an accent. He was tall and thin, but then my Uncle Angus was six feet seven and he was the most conventional man you could wish to meet. The word was that Karl listened to Bruckner and Mahler on his ipod, but none of us knew this for certain. None of us had got that close.

It was Louise who noticed it first. A group of us were leaving the Technology block in the late November sunshine. We were making our way in small groups or alone in the direction of the old gothic library building, not that any of us were going to the library. It was too early in the term for that. The Autumn shadows were long, but Louise saw to her alarm that Karl did not cast a shadow. She let out a silent scream, tugged at my arm and pulled me aside to point this out. I could see straight away what she was showing me. It was plain as the proverbial pikestaff. Karl had no shadow. All the other students’ shadows were behaving as they should, but Karl did not have one. My God! How was it we had not noticed this before? We were now nearly two months into the term.

Hanging back from the others so as not to draw attention to ourselves, we continued to silently register our horror. We did double takes and triple takes but each time we turned back, it merely became more apparent that Karl’s figure made no shadow. Why hadn’t the other students walking in the same direction spotted it? Karl was still only a few feet away from them. How could they be so unobservant? How had we been so observant for so long? Why could we see it now when the others still could not.

Louise and I made a decision there and then to keep this to ourselves for the moment, just in case. In campus life, embarrassment could take months to live down. Especially after our giant poodle sighting that turned out to be a tree. We did not want to be accused of tilting at windmills again.

I had an arts background but Louise had a science one.

‘What exactly is a shadow, I mean scientifically speaking?’ I asked. ‘Could there be something here we are missing?’

‘A shadow,’ Louise explained, ‘occurs when an opaque or translucent object lets say in this instance a human body blocks light.’

‘I think I get that much,’ I said.

‘As long as there is a light source there will be a shadow, Melanie,’ she continued. ‘Only transparent objects do not make shadows. The light passes straight through, you see.’

She carried on to tell me about umbra, penumbra and antumbra being three distinct parts of a shadow. And how Karl had none of these. The light must be passing straight through him as though he were transparent.

Louise and I decided to skip our early evening lectures and keep a low profile for the rest of the day while we tried to regroup our thoughts. We returned to our flat, situated in on the edge of the old town just a stone’s throw from the campus. In order to shut out as much of college life as possible, we turned off our phones. We did not want to be disturbed by Emma, or Amy or Jade blabbering on about Skins or Misfits, or even Tarquin or Hugh bringing round a cheap bottle of Shiraz and telling us how hot we were.

It is one thing seeing Karl without his shadow but that isn’t half so weird or scary as seeing Karl’s shadow without Karl. While we could not be sure that what we were seeing from our window moving stealthily across the courtyard under the street-light was Karl’s shadow, given the circumstances it did seem to us more than a possibility. The shadow was long and thin and distinctly Karl-shaped right down the shape of the drainpipe trousers and black leather biker’s jacket he was fond of wearing. It moved across the flagstones at walking pace until it was out of range of the light. But there was no Karl.

At first, we were completely freaked out. This was the stuff of The X Files. But we quickly realised we ought to find out what was going on. We needed a reality check here. Another quixotic gaffe would be disastrous.

‘Everyone should have a shadow,’ I said. ‘I have a shadow, you have a shadow. Why doesn’t Karl Oscuro have a shadow?’

‘Who knows?’ said Louise. ‘Perhaps it was a trick of the light.’

‘I know that you don’t think that,’ I said.

‘I guess you are right,’ said Louise.

‘So, we’ll follow him tomorrow and see where he lives,’ I said. ‘And introduce ourselves. He’s probably ……. very nice.’

We were offered our opportunity the following day. Karl was just leaving the campus by a side entrance into Bygone Street, striding out with his lumbering gait. The unseasonable late afternoon sun was once again behind him, but still he cast no shadow. There were not many people about, so Louise and I had to tail him from a respectable distance, so as not to arouse suspicion. Bygone Street turns into Yore Street and it was here that we lost him. It was not so much that he disappeared into thin air as there was a choice of several four storey nineteenth-century buildings into which he might have vanished. Divided into a warren of smaller units by exploitative landlords, this block would be housing perhaps hundreds of students. It would not have been easy to discover which one Karl had disappeared into, had it not been for the movement of a curtain on the lower ground floor of number 9. We caught a glimpse of the profile of a tall dark figure pulling them shut.

The following morning we lay in wait nearby, ready to accidentally bump into him. He recognised us and slowly we began to strike up a conversation with him as we walked to college. We chatted awkwardly about famous landmarks, motorcycles, and saxophones. We moved on to paintings. This was more fruitful ground. When I had time I liked to paint and it transpired Karl too was a keen amateur artist. He told us he had often visited the galleries since he had been here. He had a particular fondness for the work of Belgian surrealist, René Magritte. He loved the provocative kitsch of Magritte’s paintings, the whimsical juxtapositions of everyday objects. He explained that Surrealism had been outlawed in his country. It was only since coming here that he had come across it. I asked him if he liked Dali. He hesitated in his reply. I wondered if this might be because of all the foreboding shadows in Dali’s paintings.

I needn’t have worried. At that moment, the sun broke through and gave us the opportunity we were looking for. Our shadows were there standing up to be counted, but Karl’s was conspicuously absent from the party. When we pointed out this out in the nicest possible way, Karl was unexpectedly forthcoming.

‘In the country I come from,’ he said. ‘It is not uncommon for people to lose their shadows.’

With this, Karl began to tell us horror stories of shadows being forcibly cut from their owners by unscrupulous surgeons, broken down and dissolved by ruthless experimental chemists or driven away by arcane psychiatric practitioners.

‘How awful,’ I said. ‘And something like that happened to you?’

‘No. It was different for me. I managed to keep my shadow, but ironically it left me the moment I stepped off the boat having arrived here,’ he said. ‘Not so much as a by your leave. Perhaps it thought its chances were not good and it became fearful of what might become of it if it stayed with me. So I have not had a shadow since I’ve been here. I have learned to live with this but I am aware that from time to time people like yourselves must notice. That is why I keep myself to myself.’

Louise and I looked at one another. Was the time right?

‘I think I may have seen your shadow,’ I blurted out.

Karl was visibly shaken. ‘You can’t have,’ he uttered. ‘That is impossible.’

‘Perhaps your shadow has come looking for you,’ said Louise.

‘Are you sure it’s mine? Where did you see it? Where was it? Tell me,’ said Karl, urgently.

‘It was long and lean and was the same shape and size as you in the clothes you are wearing,’ I said, gesticulating to him. ‘And, it was making its way across the courtyard beneath our flat in Yesterday Street. It was lit up by the streetlights.’

‘Where’s Yesterday Street?’ said Karl.

‘It’s on the other side of the campus about half a mile from here,’ I said. ‘It’s in the old town, close to our flat. We can take you there if you like.’

There is a network of cobbled streets, Tudor buildings and the ruins of a castle on our side of the campus. This was part of the original walled city and it is steeped in antiquity and folklore. For much of the day, the three of us explored the narrow roads and alleys searching for Karl’s shadow, sheltering occasionally from an unwelcome November rain shower. We all realised there was no chance of seeing a shadow while there were clouds overhead. Karl continued to open up and gradually we got to know him. We found out he had come to this country to escape a vicious regime in his own. He explained that back home there was a clan system in place and the ruling elite looked down on the Oscuro clan and persecuted them mercilessly.

‘Only to find the same here,’ I joked. ‘It can happen even in a democracy.’ Quentin Thief’s elitist government had just been re-elected with a large majority, with just 35 per cent of the vote. Daily we were getting announcements on how they planned to deal with ethnic minorities and the poor. Shadow surgery had yet to be suggested but Quentin Thief was not a man you could trust.

Late in the afternoon, the sun came back out. We sat on a bench on Antediluvian Street by the old preparatory school building, that Brycks and Mortimer Developments had acquired to convert into retirement apartments. We watched the long shadow’s of passers-by, all neatly in step with their owners. Suddenly we caught a glimpse of a rogue shadow, darting behind the stone wall between the museum and the old saddler’s. Was this the moment we had all been waiting for? Karl became excited at the sight of his shadow. Understandably so, this was the shadow that he thought he had lost for ever. He lapsed into his native tongue. As for Louise and I, we felt a mixture of anticipation and trepidation. We really had no idea what to expect.

No sooner had we got a fix on the shadow however than it vanished. Being two-dimensional, shadows can disappear behind other shadows or make their way into places that we cannot reach. But there were other questions demanding answers. Were we talking material world here, or was this the realm of the spirit world? Was any of this really happening? Here and now? There were many things that Louise felt we could no longer be sure of.

After keeping us on tenterhooks for what seemed like hours but may have been a matter of seconds, the shadow appeared again from its hiding place. To our greater astonishment, it was now accompanied by a second shadow. This one was of a female form. The two shadows began shadow dancing.

‘Oh My God! That looks like Valentina,’ said Karl.

‘Who?’ I asked.

‘Valentina. Valentina Kohl, a girl that I used to see back home. She was training to be a dancer. The rulers encouraged performing arts. This should have helped to protect Valentina. But unfortunately, like the Oscuros the Kohls too were a persecuted clan.’

‘And Valentina came over on the boat too, did she? Louise asked.

‘That’s the thing. I don’t know what happened to her. You see the Oscuros and the Kohls may have both been out of favour with the elite, but they were also rival clans. A bit like the Montagues and the Capulets in Romeo and Juliet by your William Shakespeare. Valentina and I had to meet in secret. When I knew I was leaving, I was hoping I would see her one last time, but the guards prevented it.’

‘If this is her then she may have come over too,’ I said.

‘I’m certain that it is her,’ said Karl.

‘Well, what are we waiting for?’ said Louise.

‘I’m not sure what’s supposed to happen here. I don’t know how to get my shadow to come back to me and I don’t know where I might find Valentina.’

While we wanted to see this as a half empty view, we conceded that he did have a point. Things had suddenly become more complicated.

‘Supposing you were able to find Valentina, then you and Valentina could try to recover your shadows together,’ I said

‘But how am I going to find Valentina?’ said Karl.

‘What about social media? Kohl is not a common name,’ said Louise.

‘I’m afraid that it is a common name in my country.’ said Karl. ‘I had a look on Facebook and there were nearly fifty Valentina Kohls.’

‘Well, there you go then.’ I said.

‘Don’t you think I didn’t try that,’ said Karl. ‘None of them were the right Valentina Kohl.’

‘We will help you,’ I said, but I had to admit I did not know where to start.

We thrashed out the possibilities and agreed that we would continue to meet, but Louise and I never saw Karl again, or his shadow. He vanished without a trace. No one seemed to know where he had gone. In fact, the few people we asked around the campus did not know who we were talking about. In the end to save ourselves more embarrassment we stopped asking. Karl did not even show when in another twist of fate Valentina Kohl turned up at our local pub, The Blind Poet. Her band, Chimera were fabulous. Valentina had a voice like the singer of the Cocteau Twins. And she danced like Kate Bush. As she danced, she cast a shadow under the stage lights.

We were able to speak to Valentina after the set. She had not heard of Karl Oscuro.

‘I do not know this Karl Oscuro,’ she said. ‘Is he a taxi driver maybe?’

I told her I did not think so unless he had done it as a summer job.

‘He is at college with us,’ said Louise. ‘At least, he was.’

‘I think that he has a good name, though,’ said Valentina. ‘Perhaps one of you is a writer.’

I don’t know what to believe anymore. When I start to think about it, strange things have been happening since that week back in July. Neither Louise or I have any recollection of the events of the week. To this day no one can explain what happened to us. All I can recall is that we were on a backpacking holiday in Morocco and our coach got lost in the desert. I do not even know why we were in the desert. We were travelling from Casablanca to Marrakesh. Desert was not on the itinerary. Something must have happened to take us off course. The whole week disappeared thus.

Louise sometimes questions whether we even went to Morocco. She says she does not remember being on a coach, has no recollection of Casablanca except that it was a film, and thinks Marrakesh is a song by Crosby Stills and Nash, whoever they are. She says if we were on a coach that got lost there would have been others to corroborate our story and it would have been on the news. She thinks we may have spent the week busking in a Paris subway. She says that she has a vague recollection of Sacha Distel giving us a 50 Euro note. When I tell her that Sacha Distel has been dead for over ten years, she says ‘Oh well, so it goes.’ It can be difficult to get a grip on reality sometimes.

Whatever really happened, since that week we have encountered all manner of weirdness, people walking through walls, the television switching itself on in the middle of the night, a caracal sleeping at the foot of the bed, that sort of thing. I came home one day to find a cumulus cloud in the front room. Louise tells me the rubber plant sometimes talks to her. I suppose we should be prepared for occasional surprises until these anomalies sort themselves out.

‘Oh my God, is that a porcupine in the fridge, eating the cottage cheese?’

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

MISSING

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Missing by Chris Green

Not wishing to start the day just yet, I listen to the springtime chirping of the birds outside the window while I piece together the events of last night. The concrete that seems to be lining my head lets me know I had a fair bit to drink. I got in late from a celebration of my team’s promotion. It was altogether a good night. In order not to wake anyone when I got home, I took the day bed in the downstairs study. Ellie has not been sleeping well lately, stress at work and the like, and I thought I might be a little restless. Also, it gave me a chance to be able to look at the photos of the evening on my phone. Probably best not to share all of these with Ellie, I thought.

It gradually occurs to me that it has been light for some time. I take a look at my watch. It’s eight o’clock. I wonder why no one is up. It’s Friday, a work day and of course a school day as well, but it certainly seems very quiet upstairs. Thomas is sometimes a little slow in the morning but Maddie is normally bouncing around by now. And Ellie herself has to be at the office by nine. She ought to be up and about.

Being self-employed, getting up at a specific time doesn’t matter so much to me. My colleague, Duke is flexible. He doesn’t mind opening up once in a while, so I can roll in when I like, or not at all. Duke is a handy fellow to have around. His main role is that of a fixer. Sometimes a bit of good honest persuasion is needed in my line of work and not many people would argue with Duke.

I’d better get the others up, though.

‘Anyone about,’ I call up the stairs as I do my ritual morning stretches.

There is no response.

‘Come on guys, rise and shine,’ I holler, in between my ritual morning yawns.

There is no response.

I decide I’d better go and take a look.

I make my way up the stairs trying to think of a novel way of waking them up, perhaps with a fake phone call or perhaps a sarcastic comment about their laziness. I look in Maddie’s room first. Maddie is the youngest. She’s four, no, wait, she’s five. Thomas is seven. I push the door open slowly waiting for Maddie to ask who is there. She doesn’t. Is she having a sulk about something? I poke my head round the door, leaving open the option of a boo type gesture, but there is no sign of her. The room is tidy and her bed is made. It does not look as if it has been slept in. Our bedroom reveals the same scenario. Tidy and bed apparently not slept in. Ditto, Thomas’s room.

There must surely be a rational explanation. Have they gone to stay with a friend? Has something just slipped my mind? Was there part of a conversation that I missed before I went out yesterday evening? Just a hint that they might have been going somewhere for the night. This seems unlikely. We are creatures of habit, well, Ellie perhaps more than me. In her world, these type of arrangements need to be made weeks in advance.

I didn’t have much contact with any of them yesterday, but they were around at tea time and I didn’t go out until half past seven. They were still here then, weren’t they? I remember now, I did go out a little early to stop off at the betting shop on the way to the pub. But still, this would have been nearly seven. Well, more like six I suppose. But, if something had happened, surely Ellie would have phoned me. I had my phone on. I’m sure of that. I got that call from Darius about the new shipment while I was at The Blind Monkey.

It is of course theoretically possible that they’ve all got up, dressed, used the bathroom, had breakfast and that Ellie has made the beds and taken the children to school very early, without waking me. Theoretically possible, but unlikely. I am a light sleeper even after a skinful and anyway Ellie’s yellow Fiat is still parked on the drive and all their coats are all still hanging up in the hallway. So whatever has happened, happened before I got home.

So what does this mean? I can’t think of anything that would have made Ellie leave me. Quite the reverse. We have been getting on rather well lately. Certainly as well as you can expect after eight years of marriage. Obviously, there have been one or two ups and downs over the years but surely, that’s all water under the bridge. If Ellie had left me, then you would have expected at the very least a note, explaining how she saw things. A list perhaps of unforgivable misdemeanours of which I have been completely unaware. This is what usually happens, isn’t it? Isn’t it? I don’t know. It’s never happened before. Even after Ellie discovered I was seeing Tracey. But, this is the way it happens in TV dramas.

At a glance, it doesn’t seem that anything is missing. Even Ellie’s handbag is still on the kitchen table where she has a habit of leaving it and it weighs about the same as it usually does. About ten kilos. What am I worrying about? I can just phone her. She never goes anywhere without her phone. It’s never out of her reach. I speed-dial the number. It doesn’t even go onto voicemail. ‘We are unable to connect you at this time. Please try again later,’ is the message.

……………………………………

Twenty five minutes on hold, listening to Suspicious Minds, waiting to speak to an officer does nothing to instil confidence in police procedure. Once I’m put through to a real policeman, Sergeant Filcher does nothing to restore my confidence either. He sounds as if he is on diazepam medication and at the end of a twelve hour shift. I give him an account of the sequence of events since I last saw my family, but his interest in their disappearance is slight. Perhaps families go missing in Norcastle every day.

‘It’s only been a couple of hours,’ he says. ‘Perhaps your wife went to Asda on the way to school or something. Have you thought of that?’

‘Of course. But she never shops at Asda.’ To be honest, I’m not sure where she shops.

‘Have you checked the school? They have breakfast clubs and things these days.’

I haven’t checked the school, but to save time, I tell him that I have.

‘Look, Mr Black. If we investigated every family that changes its arrangements then there would be no officers available to catch the real criminals. Anyway, they’ll be down again next year.’

‘What are you talking about?’ I say.

‘Your team, they’ll be relegated again next year,’ he says. Sergeant Filcher must be a Blues supporter. The Reds beat the Blues with a goal in the very last minute of the very last game to secure promotion, at the Blues expense. I am anxious to not let Sergeant Filcher’s animosity get in the way of our conversation.

‘You’ll get on to looking for my family then, will you Sergeant?’ I say.

‘If your wife hasn’t turned up by, let us say, tomorrow evening, then call us again,’ he says. ‘Meanwhile, phone round your friends and relatives, will you! Goodbye, Mr Black.’

It can be difficult to convey the gravity of a desperate situation to others when you are the only one who realises it, so I sit down and think about how I am going to handle it. It may be wishful thinking but it is eminently possible that Ellie might walk in through the door at any time with an explanation that I have not hitherto considered. Or that she might phone. ‘Sorry,’ she might say. ‘I had no way of letting you know, but …….. ‘ I have no way of telling if such a scenario is a long-shot or not. Sergeant Filcher is probably right. It has only been a matter of hours. Perhaps I should leave it for a bit. There’s no point in treating it as an abduction or a murder investigation just yet. Perhaps Ellie’s just having a sulk. There again, he might be wrong. Uncertainty is often the worst. Given time, I could probably come to terms with the despair, but isn’t it the hope that is the problem? There again, perhaps I don’t care as much as I once did.

I don’t think Ellie ever puts her phone on silent, so, as I did not hear it ring when I dialled it earlier, I can assume that it is not in the house. In which case, she probably still has it with her. I try ringing again, but get the same message, ‘We are unable to connect you at this time. Please try again later.’ I decide to make my way through the contact numbers that Ellie has written down in the pad by the phone over the years. Friends, relatives, extended family, hairdresser, former hairdresser, former hairdresser’s friend’s cat-sitter. I keep the conversations as casual as I can. It is important to find out if anyone has seen Ellie but, at the same time, I don’t want everyone knowing our business. I don’t want people to think that I’m losing control. Reactions to the news of my family’s disappearance range from, ‘I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about.’ to ‘Oh dear, what have you been up to, now?’ No-one seems to take it seriously. You would think that there would at least be some concern for Thomas and Maddie’s welfare. The closest I get to concern is from Ellie’s friend, Shannon, who is worried that I may have buried them in the back garden. Shannon has always disapproved of me.

Around midday, as I am coming to the end of the list, the house phone rings. It doesn’t often ring. We only use our mobiles these days. I am on it like a shot but it is a call from a telemarketing company offering a unique service to block unwanted telemarketing calls. A robot called Carl begins to tell me how the service works. I swear at him and slam the phone down. No sooner have I sat down, than the house phone rings again. Once again, I am on it like a shot but it is another call from a telemarketing company offering a unique service to block unwanted telemarketing calls. A robot called Craig begins to tell me how the service works.

I’m going up the wall, trying to think back over the last few days. Have there been any signs of restlessness, excitement, anxiety? Have the children been behaving in a secretive way or doing anything unusual? I suppose I have been out quite a lot lately but it seemed that everything was as it always was, work, school, mealtimes, staggered bedtimes.

I check our paperwork box files. Nothing seems to be missing. The passports are still in the safety deposit box and no money is gone from the joint account. I cannot get into Ellie’s account as I do not know the password, so I have no way of finding out if she has made a large cash withdrawal. I go round opening drawers and take a look in cupboards and under cushions. I do not know what I might be looking for. Am I really expecting to find a nicely typed page of A4 that will explain the disappearance, or even a scribbled note? I unearth some of the things that Ellie has kept to remind her perhaps of the good times; the programme for the Opening Ceremony of the World Cup (I’d forgotten she came along to that),both the Happy Anniversary cards I sent her when I was away, the postcards and letters I sent her from before we were married. I begin to feel a little guilt-ridden. Could I have been more caring? Should I have taken more notice?

In terms of solving the mystery, though, I am getting nowhere. Is abduction a possibility? What should I be looking for? There are no signs of forced entry. There are no obvious signs of a struggle, no furniture out of place, no scuff marks on the carpet. Everything seems as it always has been. I really don’t feel I’m going to come up with anything meaningful staying around the house.

……………………………………

As I’m locking up, I see Frank Fargo at number 66 is mowing his lawn. Since his retirement, Frank is home all day and he’s always looking out of the front window. He must see everything that goes on around here. Some sort of writer now, I believe. Spy stories or something, I think he said.’

‘Hi Frank,’ I say. ‘Sorry to bother you, mate, but I wonder if you happened to see anything last night. For instance, Ellie going off with Thomas and Maddie.’

‘Lovely children aren’t they,’ he says. ‘And you wife is looking, uh, very fit. Yesterday evening, you say. No. I don’t think I did. I saw you go off in your cab. That must have been about seven thirty three, and then nothing. Of course, I do go to bed quite early. I like to turn in about nine.’

‘What about your CCTV cameras?’ I say. ‘Do you think they might have caught something?’

‘No. I’m afraid the device that records the footage has died,’ he says. ‘Went down a couple of days ago, as it happens. I’m waiting for SlowTech or whatever they are called to come out and fix it. I thought when the doorbell rang that it might be them.’

‘So, you haven’t seen anything suspicious?’

‘Well. Now you come to mention it. Tony Demarco from number 72 has been unloading a lot of stuff into his lock up garage lately.’

‘Tony Demarco. Is he the one with the big yellow van?’

‘That’s the one. I’ve never quite been able to work out quite what he does, But I think he’s some kind of wheeler dealer.’

It’s a strange phenomenon, but when there is a mystery like this, everyone suddenly seems to be acting suspiciously. All the people I spoke to earlier about Ellie’s disappearance are probably hiding something. Even Sergeant Filcher. Especially Sergeant Filcher. He is hiding something. Frank Fargo is definitely hiding something. He must have seen what happened. And Tony Demarco must have had something to do with it. The guy who comes round to clean the windows is probably in on it too. Even the lad who delivers the flyers for the community centre events is a suspect, and certainly the Avon lady is a bit dodgy. The whole thing is a conspiracy. Everyone knows what is going on but me. I don’t like being in this position. I have a reputation to maintain.

……………………………………

I leave it for forty eight hours then call the police again and after I have badgered them for a bit, they agree to come round and have a look. After I’ve cleared a few things away, a detective with a forensics man comes along and spends an hour or so going over the place. They ask a few questions but I can tell their hearts aren’t in it. It is just a job to them. They don’t say much about what they are doing or whether they have found anything but as I hear nothing more, I assume they haven’t found anything.

I call the station just in case and when Sergeant Filcher says as far as he knows they’ve turned up nothing, I suggest they might put out a newspaper plea. He tells me he doesn’t make those kind of decisions but he will run it past Inspector Boss, but he thinks he knows what the answer will be. They have their reasons for keeping cases like mine out of the press.

‘And what might those be?’ I ask. His low-key approach does not do it for me. Does he not know that I have a certain standing in the community? If my family have been abducted, I want every officer out combing the streets looking for them.

‘You clearly do not understand police procedure, Mr Black,’ he says. ‘You’ve been watching too many crime dramas, on TV, I expect. For the time being at least, this is being treated as a matrimonial dispute.’

‘You think that we had a row in the middle of the night and Ellie walked out and took the two children without even taking her handbag, do you?’ I say.

Look, Mr Black! There is no reason to suppose that Ellie and the children have been abducted. There is absolutely no evidence to support this. Or any other line of enquiry that might constitute a serious crime.’

‘For all you know, I could have killed them and dumped the bodies in the canal,’ I say.

‘Now you are just being facetious, Mr Black,’ he says. ‘We will monitor the case, and if anything develops we will, of course, let you know. Oh! By the way, I see your team has had to sell its star players.’

Half-heartedly I take it to the Gazette. Everyone is saying that it is an avenue that should be explored. Well, when I say everyone, I suppose I mostly mean Majid at the off-licence. His family had a similar experience. The editor of the Gazette, Burford Quigley decides that it warrants no more than a few column inches on page five. Not even a picture. Perhaps I forgot to let them have a photo.

……………………………………

As the days pass and weeks turn into months, I become less and less hopeful. Occasionally there is an alleged sighting but none of these comes to anything. Friends of mine sometimes drop by to take advantage of my hospitality and from time to time friends of Ellie’s phone to find out if there has been any news, but they do this less and less frequently as the months go by.

Ellie’s best friend, Lois is the only one who phones regularly.

‘Hi Matt,’ she will say. ‘Any news?’

‘No,’ I tell her.

‘I can’t understand it,’ she will say. ‘Ellie used to tell me everything and she never once said anything about leaving.’

I tell her that she is very kind, but there’s probably nothing she can do.

‘But, you must get very lonely there all by yourself,’ she will say. ‘Why don’t you come round and I will cook you dinner? Or I could come over.’

Lois is the most attractive of Ellie’s friends and she is recently divorced. Although the offer is tempting, it wouldn’t seem right, would it?

‘Maybe another time,’ I say.

‘No-one would need to know if that’s what you are worried about,’ she says.

The letter that arrives contains five random six by four photos. There is no message to accompany the photos and the address on the front of the envelope is printed on a sticky label in the anonymous Times New Roman font. The communication does not actually suggest that it is from Ellie, but, equally, it does not suggest that it is not. One photo is of a younger looking Ellie in front of The Bell in Tanworth in Arden in Warwickshire. Although I cannot remember the specific shot, I could have easily taken this photo. I can recall Ellie and I going there about ten years ago to see the singer, Nick Drake’s grave. Northern Sky was always one of her favourites. I like Pink Moon. There is a photo of Ellie with Thomas and Maddie in a rowing boat on the lake in the local park. I presumably took this one.

Who took the other photos is less clear cut. They are of me and Tracey. I had almost forgotten about Suzie. It must have been the year before last. Who could have sent these random pics and what exactly are they trying to say? There is not even a blackmail note. Come to think of it what use would that be anyway. All in all the communication makes no sense. It is difficult to make out the postmark on the envelope. I think about it for a while and then decide to call the police. I decide to hold the three of me and Suzie back. A plain clothes policewoman comes over to collect. She looks about thirteen.

‘I’ll get the forensics team to examine these closely,’ she says. She writes a receipt, to my surprise in joined-up writing, and takes the envelope and photos away.

I hear nothing more from the police regarding the matter. When I enquire it appears that the package has gone missing. I begin to wonder if the youngster that came round was a real policewoman. Perhaps, in my confusion, I called the wrong number or something and someone is playing a joke on me.

‘Isn’t it unusual for evidence on a case to go missing?’ I say.

The duty officer, whose name I don’t manage to catch, says that he has had a good look but can find no reference to the case I am speaking about.

‘The disappearance of my wife and children,’ I say, angrily.

He puts me on hold again. I am subjected to ten minutes of Suspicious Minds and when he comes back on he says he has no record of this.

‘Would you like to go over it again?’ he says.

‘I would like to speak to Sergeant Filcher,’ I say.

He tells me that Sergeant Filcher is currently on sick leave.

……………………………………

I cannot say for sure that I am being followed, and it’s only occasionally that it happens, but once or twice lately when I’m driving out to see clients, I notice there is a dark blue Tiguan with obscured registration plates on my tail. It appears out of nowhere a couple of blocks from where I live. On the occasions that I go a roundabout route, the Tiguan does the same. Duke tells me I am being paranoid.

‘It’s not the bizzies, Matt,’ he says. ‘They mostly drive Fords.’

‘Why do you think we’re being followed then, Duke?’ I say, squinting to try and make out who is driving the Tiguan, but it has tinted windows and the sun shade is down.

‘Is it the same one?’ he says. ‘There are a lot of them about and they are nearly all dark blue?’

‘It looks like the same one,’ I say. ‘Tinted windows and sun shade down.’

‘It’s just one of those things,’ he says. ‘Tiguans have a tendency to tail you. I’ve noticed that before. And they all have tinted windows but still the drivers drive with the sun shade down.’

Is he serious or is he just having me on? Perhaps they are tailing Duke.

Later, in The Blind Monkey, Lois asks me what is wrong. She says I seem worried about something. I tell her about the Tiguan tailing me. She echoes Duke’s thoughts. She has noticed it too, she says. Tiguan drivers have a habit of tailing you. Like red sky at night, shepherd’s delight or the grass is greener on the other side, it is one of those commonplace assertions that despite you wanting to think otherwise, keep proving to be right. Where on earth did she get that from? Is she in collusion with Duke?

Oh! Did I not say? I have started seeing Lois. Two or three times a week, and perhaps the occasional weekend. And she has started to stop over. Well, I can’t be expected to live like a monk, can I? Besides, what would people think if Matt Black couldn’t get a girl? They might think I was batting for the other side.

……………………………………

I think that the Tiguan driver might be a private detective. I read on the internet that the car of choice for private detectives is a VW Tiguan. Apparently nearly all private eyes in the UK drive a Tiguan and their favourite colour is dark blue. A survey has shown that this is the least conspicuous car on the road, followed by a grey Tiguan and a grey Ford Focus. Why would a private detective be following me? Might it be because of Lois? Or for that matter, Duke?

Something else has been bothering me. I’m sure it’s nothing, but I can’t help but be a little concerned with the speed with which Lois has dispatched the children’s things to the garage and the amount of Ellie’s things she took to the tip last week.

‘Ellie won’t need this,’ she kept saying.

Six carloads in all she took, including nearly all of Ellie’s clothes and, it seemed, quite a lot of her personal papers. It is one thing Lois making room to move some of her things in so that she can stay over but another her taking over the house. I mentioned that this might be happening to Duke but he just laughed.

‘Now, you really are becoming paranoid,’ he said. ‘Why can’t you ever enjoy something for what it is?’

……………………………………

Not wishing to start the day just yet, I listen to the springtime chirping of the birds outside the window while I piece together the events of last night. The concrete that seems to be lining my head lets me know I had a fair bit to drink. I watched the match on Sky. It was a tense affair with a lot at stake. The Reds were finally beaten by a last minute goal by ex-Blues striker, Joe Turner and are now relegated. To make matters worse the Blues are promoted. I think that Lois was a bit shocked at the level of my support for the Reds, but she did manage to stop me before I actually put the hammer through the TV screen at the end of the match. I don’t think she likes football a lot. This doesn’t bode well.

The phone rings. It is an ebullient Inspector Filcher. He has the air of a man who is on ecstasy and has just been told he will live for ever. He reminds me in great detail about the match last night, what the result means for my team and what he said a year ago. Surely he has not phoned up to tell me this. Surely he cannot get so much pleasure at another’s misfortune.

‘And, what about the Blues?’ he adds. ‘Ironic or what!’

I am about to put the phone down when he says that he too has been promoted. He asks me if I will come down to the station but says he is not going what it is about over the phone. Has he been handed back the case? Have there been developments?

‘Who was that?’ says Lois. She is already dressed.

‘It was Filcher,’ I say.

‘I thought that you said he was….. off the case,’ she says.

‘He was. But he’s back. There may have been developments. He wants me to come down at the station.’ Lois seems suddenly nervous.

‘That’s …… great news,’ she says, although her body language tells a different story. Her muscles tense and the colour drains out of her face.

‘I think I’ll phone Duke,’ I say. ‘Get him to look into it.’

‘No! Don’t do that,’ she says.

‘Why not?’

‘I can’t really say.’

‘But I’m bound to find out.’

‘All right. ……… Are you ready? It was Duke that helped Ellie move her things out that night, a year ago. While you were at your football do.’

‘Duke? Never. He wouldn’t do that.’

‘Well, he did. You are so unobservant you didn’t even realise that Ellie was seeing Duke’s brother, Earl. Didn’t you think it was suspicious the way she used to dress to go to Pilates?’

‘But she didn’t take anything. Not even her car’

‘She took lots of things. As I said, you are really not very observant. And, let’s face it, the Fiat was a wreck. You know she kept on at you to get her a new one.’

‘But, why did she do it? I mean, go off with Duke’s brother like that behind my back. We were getting along fine.’

‘She said she was fed up with your lies and deceit. And the sordid little affairs. And the football. Constant football. Day and night.’

‘What about the children? What about Thomas and Maddie?’ ‘

‘Ellie says that you never took any notice of the children. She said she was surprised you could even remember their names.’

‘What about you, Lois? If I’m so terrible, why did you keep chasing after me?’

‘Chasing after you? That’s a laugh. Well, you’re so stupid, perhaps I’d better explain. I started phoning you, initially to report back to Ellie. It was amusing, playing with you like that. Then, a month ago, out of the blue, I was given notice to move out of my flat, so moving some things in here seemed the easy option. You weren’t exactly resistant to the idea. You didn’t think this was a permanent arrangement did you? But that business last night with the match on the TV. Well, that was the final straw.’

I believe that it is time I got a word in to present my side of the case, but Lois’s tirade is not yet finished.

‘And the thing is,’ she continues, ‘you just don’t see it. You always think you are right. You bend the truth to suit you. Black is white. Up is down. You are the most self-absorbed person I’ve met. Your way of seeing things is so far removed from the way things are that it might as well be a parallel universe.’

‘OK! OK! You’ve made your point. So, how does Filcher fit into all this? What is it he wants to tell me?’

‘I’ve no idea,’ says Lois. ‘It wouldn’t have been that hard to find your family. It’s not going to have taken the police a year. Anyway, I imagine Filcher knew that Ellie had gone off with Earl, or something like that. That’s why he fobbed you off. If you had been a bit more resourceful then you could have found them yourself.’

‘But Filcher went off sick. What was that all about?’

‘Probably just overwork. Rising crime rates and all that. Sometimes they have to deal with proper crimes, you know. Well. You do know. You’ve been on the wrong side of them yourself once or twice in the past. In fact, what you and Duke are doing now isn’t exactly legal is it? Perhaps Filcher wants to catch up on what is happening there.’

I am slowly running out of places to take the discussion.

‘What about the photos?’ I say. ‘Who sent the photos and what happened to them?’

‘I don’t know who sent the photos,’ she says, ‘or what happened to them. For all I know, it might have been Ellie having a laugh. ….. And, before you ask, I don’t know who has been following you either. Perhaps that’s just something else that you’ve made up.’

‘But you agreed with Duke about the Tiguan. You said that …… ‘

‘Ah, Duke! We are back to Duke. Your trusted right-hand man, who would never double-cross you. Get a life, will you! Do you think that you can trust anyone in your line of work.’

‘I’m going out now,’ I tell her. ‘When I get back, I want you gone.’

‘No problem. I couldn’t stay a minute longer.’

As I slam the front door, I see that Frank Fargo is painting his picket fence.

‘Hello,’ he calls out. ‘Nice morning!’

‘Morning Frank,’ I say. I’m not in the mood for Frank. It’s a pity I parked the car on the street and not the drive.

‘Your new ….. girlfriend is very pretty,’ he says. ‘Lois, isn’t it?’

‘What!’ I say.

‘Very nice. Your new girlfriend.’ He has put down the brush now and is coming over.

‘I expect you saw her yourself,’ he says, ‘but I noticed your wife, uh, Ellie, round here yesterday.’

‘No. I didn’t see her.’

‘She was in a dark blue Tiguan. With a big burly black fellow. He looked a bit like your man, Count. I think they might be moving into number 96. …….. You’ll be able to see a bit more of the children then, I expect. Lovely children.’

‘What!’ I say again. I am dumbstruck.

He is not finished yet. ‘I hope you don’t mind me asking but what is it that you and Count do exactly?’ he says. ‘It’s just that I’m writing a new story. It’s a bit of a departure from my spy novels and it has a pair of small-time underworld characters in it, so I was curious as to what type of activities bring in the money.’

© 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

Just The Way It Is

justthewayitis

Just The Way It Is by Chris Green

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘But …..’

‘You will get paid.’

‘It’s not that. It’s …..’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘And it’s not yours,’ says Tank.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘A result of an over-active imagination,’

‘Too much science fiction,’

‘Choo many movies,’

‘Too many video games,’

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘sameasiteverwas.com,’ says Mr Blue.

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

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

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

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

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

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

 

Isn’t It Good, Norwegian Wood

norwegianwood2

Isn’t It Good, Norwegian Wood by Chris Green

Rubber Soul is my favourite Beatles album. It is the album in which John Lennon raises his game. In My Life is surely one of the most perfectly crafted pop songs ever, Girl is sublime, and still there is the enigmatic Norwegian Wood. Norwegian Wood with its veiled imagery describes a clandestine affair that Lennon is having. Biographer, Philip Norman claims in his Lennon biography that the song’s inspiration is in fact, German model, Sonny Drane, Robert Freeman’s first wife, who used to say she was from Norway when she was in fact born in Berlin.

I am looking at the Robert Freeman’s famous cover photo for Rubber Soul, one of a collection that line the hallway at Florian and Rhonda’s house in Hanover Hill. The photos, taken in late 1965, capture the Fab Fours’s weariness as their fame and hectic touring schedules become overwhelming.

Florian and Rhonda’s house in Wellesley Crescent is the last in a terrace of First-Rate Georgian townhouses. Hanover Hill’s fashionable avenues, lined with London plane trees, give the area an air of elegance, and the Repton-designed park which was originally used as a run for horses, still boasts the trappings of its earlier prestige. Monuments and statues to the great and good populate its freestone crescents and circuses, and blue plaques abound. Desirable, substantial, imposing and stunning are among the adjectives you might find in Hamilton and Prufrock’s window to describe the properties here, along of course with Grade 2 and Listed.

Florian and Rhonda are old friends from my days at the Royal Academy of Music. Although our fortunes have over the years pulled us in different directions, we have kept in touch. Having finished tuning a vibraphone in the area, I have called round to see them on the off-chance they might be in and have been let in anonymously by their entryphone.

My partner, Sara is less than enthusiastic about Florian and Rhonda. She feels they are too intellectual. Sara prefers the company of more down to earth couples like her friends, Wendy and Wayne or Amanda and Adam. She likes to have a diary of firm arrangements, such as dinner parties or theatre visits. She does not respond well to many of my impromptu suggestions, so I have adopted the policy of leaving her out of the loop on occasions that I want to do something a little spontaneous.

‘Hello!’ I call out. ‘It’s me, Jon.’

There is no reply. I pop my head around a couple of doors. Florian and Rhonda are eclectic in their tastes, mixing styles with what they term, measured abandon. They see themselves as conceptual artists, and in addition to Wellesley Crescent, rent a warehouse in Hartwell, which they use as creative space. They could never be described as predictable. In the first room, an Indian sits cross-legged quietly playing the sitar. He does not look up. The second houses film sets that might have belonged to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, and the third, Florian’s model railway. I make my way up the sweeping staircase to the first floor. A pair of Palladian plinths with busts of classical figures hovers on the landing with an abstract steel and glass installation beside them in belligerent juxtaposition. I knock gently on the heavy oak door to the right which has been left slightly ajar and walk in.

Taking up most of the first floor, the room is absurdly large, much larger than I remember it. Its high ceiling and elaborate cornices give it the appearance of a hall or a theatre. The room is in semi-darkness It seems I have arrived in the middle of a film. As I become accustomed to the low light, I look around to get my bearings. Sombre paintings, a curious mix of Dalí and De Chirico, are on display, along with Florian and Rhonda’s familiar J. B. Joyce clock, reminiscent of the one at the station in Brief Encounter, stopped for eternity at eleven minutes past eleven. They once explained the significance of eleven minutes past eleven, but I cannot recall what this is. I feel self-conscious at not being acknowledged.

I take in the assembly of arbitrary faces, all of which I seem to recognise. They are seated in an informal arrangement of chairs and cushions around the room. This curious collection of random representatives from my past is alarming. Some have aged as you would expect over a period of time, but others are, to my consternation, exactly as I remember them years ago. No sign of their having aged. All eyes are focussed on the giant TV and Home Cinema system. No one looks up as, with an air of trepidation, I sit myself down on a Verona armchair just inside the door. Apart from the intermittent echo of the soundtrack of the film, there is a hush which is disturbingly pervasive. The film is in what I take to be Swedish but has no subtitles. Is it Ingemar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries? I wonder. I feel a growing dryness in my throat. I have difficulty breathing. My chest tightens. The whole scene is so out of context I think it must be a dream. It isn’t a dream. In a dream you can’t feel your heartbeat, and mine is pounding like a hammer.

There is an eerie detachment about all of those present, as if each of them is in his or her own private universe, but by accident rather than design happen to occupy the same space here in this room. They sit alone or in pairs, and the body language of each seems to suggest that they have no connection with any of the others. But then, as I look around again, I conclude there is no connection. This is not a reunion. These people would not know one another. There would have been no reason for their ever coming together. I am the only link. I know or have known each of them as separate individuals in different areas and at different times in my life. Some I have met through jobs I have had, some through recreational pursuits and others through transactions of one kind or another. Furthermore, I can see no-one here that I would choose to meet in the pub for a pint.

The flickering light from the film illuminates the figures and their faces take on a spectral glow. If Florian and Rhonda are aiming at strange they have certainly cracked it. A few feet away from me sitting upright in a carver seat is Bob Scouler, the nerdy systems programmer I worked with at International Adhesives and Sealants over thirty years ago, a temporary summer job and well before the toxicity of their products caused a major scandal. Bob is wearing the same grey serge suit I remember, along with the familiar tattersall check shirt and lovat and mauve paisley tie. His haircut, the neat central parting and the sides hanging just over the tip of his ears is from the same era, although even then a somewhat dated look. He has not aged a day. He looks as if he has just stepped out of the office. I half expect him to start talking about his Morris Marina (brown with a black vinyl roof). Are those IBM coding sheets that he has on his lap?

Next to him stretched out on a bank of Moroccan floor cushions is Razor, my son Damien’s one-time drug dealer. He used to hang about outside the college I recall. Did Damien still owe him money, I wonder, or is it Razor that owes him drugs? Razor does seem to have aged dramatically. In fact. were it not been for the scar across his cheek I might not have recognised him. The original scar, a legacy rumour has it of a ‘turf war’, seems to have been joined by a companion just below the jungle of gold earrings. He must only be in his mid-thirties but with the reds, yellows and greens of the tattoos that cover his shaved head now faded, Razor looks distressingly old.

Bob and Razor are polar opposites. The chances of them being part of the same social group in any circumstances are remote. Florian and Rhonda are perhaps conducting an anthropological experiment of some sort. Or could this gathering be an example of their conceptual art?

Over by the bamboo palm there is the bulky frame of Ray (Marshall) Stax, who I briefly shared a converted railway carriage with in the seventies. Marshall became a sound engineer with a number of rock bands that nearly made it. As I played the piano, I came up with the odd melody for one or two of the bands. I was never credited, but the royalties would not have been staggering had I been, even with Armageddon. The NME showed an interest in Armageddon’s début single Don’t You Fuck My Dog in 1976 calling it a punk anthem. It suffered from a subsequent lack of airplay and Armageddon faded into obscurity when the following month the NME turned their attention to The Sex Pistols as the ambassadors of punk. I think they took my piano part out in the mix anyway. I recall Armageddon disbanded after the singer accidentally shot himself in the groin. Looking at Marshall, he has not changed that much except that the platforms and flares I remember have been replaced by contemporary cool clothes, screaming with designer advertising. The clothes may have been au courant but his features suggest that he is still in his twenties. I might be looking at Marshall Stax circa 1976, or this could conceivably be Marshall Stax’s son although the Sid Vicious haircut clearly belongs to yesteryear. I make gestures in his direction but I am unable to attract his attention.

Seated on a gnarled banquette, which matches her leathery countenance, is Denise Felch, who was my manager at the local newspaper I worked on as music correspondent a few years back. She is dressed in mismatched browns and reds. I don’t know if it is her build (Rugby League second row), but whatever she wears, Denise had the ability to make look like a sack. She seems to be the only person in the room who is smoking and you have to say that she smokes with dogged determination. The light from the screen highlights the nicotine stains on all her fingers and even her spectacles have a brownish tint. The ashtray on the telephone table beside her is full. Denise does not look over and for this I am thankful. My severance pay from The Morning Lark was not generous and we did not part on good terms.

Why is everyone ignoring me? Haven’t I materialised properly? Or am I out of focus maybe, like the Robin Williams character in the Woody Allen movie?

I spot Colin and Malcolm, the landlords of The Duck, a pub by the river Sara and I often visit on a summer evening for a drink or two watching the boats make their way round the gentle meander. Sara and I were invited to their Civil Ceremony but we agreed that it was not the right social mêlée, although as I recall the real reason may have been that the date had clashed with Sara’s amateur tennis tournament. And seated on a Marley two seater here in this room now mulling over a Sudoku puzzle book are Eileen and Mark from Sara’s tennis club. Sara seems to be spending a lot of time there lately with her tennis coach, Henrik. I wonder if maybe they are having an affair. Eileen and Mark look as if they would be more comfortable at home with their ceramic induction hob and their range of rice cookers. They of course like everyone else in the room do not seem to notice me.

And my God! There is Ravi from Maharajah Wines, the offie where I used to buy my cans when I played sessions at Olympic Studios. He was always open at two in the morning when I finished my shift. Ravi used to call me George, after George Harrison I think. I never asked. ‘Got some Drum under the counter George if you are wanting it,’ he would say. ‘Special price for you on Stella.’ Was that twenty five years ago? It seems like twenty five minutes ago. Haven’t I just put a can of Stella beside me down? I pick it up and shake it. It is empty. I have been in the room now for perhaps twenty five seconds, but time seems to be playing tricks.

I have never entirely come to terms with the passing of time. The general experience of its passage is that at twenty, it could be likened to a pedestrian able to take in the surroundings at leisure, at thirty an accelerating velocipede, at forty a frisky roadster, at fifty a bullet train, and thereafter a supersonic jet. However there are some puzzling things about the moment, any given moment, being there and then gone and irretrievable that doesn’t sit well with the perception of it in one’s consciousness. Something doesn’t quite add up about the way many things that are important at the time fade into the obscure recesses of the unconscious while other trivial recollections from long ago survive intact and seem like they happened only yesterday highlights time’s inconsistency. I have to keep a detailed diary and refer to it constantly to keep track of what I did and when. I use Te Neues art diaries. But even with this record, all that I am doing was measuring change. I read recently that scientists no longer see time as linear, the bad news for us being that they believe our brains are programmed through a process of indoctrination to think of time as linear. We remember things happening in the past, things are moving around in the present, we can plan to do things in the future and we have an agreed upon measurement of time – so the mind gives the illusion of time and continuum. All there is, however, is now and things happening now and moving around. It could be that time is a loop or even infinite, or both. I have been known to espouse, usually after a glass of wine or two, that all time probably exists simultaneously.

I take the soft melting watches in Salvador Dalí’s painting The Persistence of Memory which I notice is a design for one of the floor cushions in the room, to be a reference to temporal anomaly. Clocks seem to be measuring something but no one knows what. It’s not like length. You can point to an object with a real physical reality and say that’s one unit in length’. But time is abstract. Cool cushion, though! And also in what must be a surrealist set of cushions is Rene Magritte’s Time Transfigured, (the one with the steam locomotive emerging from the fireplace). Ongoing Time Stabbed by a Dagger is the literal translation for the title of the painting, I recall. The distortion of time is clearly a recurrent theme in this outrageous display. I am almost sure the cushion design that Damien’s old Geography teacher at St Judes, Miss Jackson is sitting on is Man Ray’s Seven Decades of Man. And the set is completed by Otto Rapp’s Consumption of Time. Definitely not a casual buy from Ikea.

Is that Halo, my old jin shin jytsu therapist sipping the green coloured drink? I only went to see her twice – too much mumbo jumbo, but recall a cornucopia of vibrant Berber jewellery from those meetings. I smile at her, and she hesitantly she smiles back, leaving perhaps an opening for conversation, which neither of us takes . Again it comes to mind that I seem to know all the people here, but they are, like Halo, bit players in my life. No-one out of this mismatched melée has been a close acquaintance or played a significant role. Any rationality in their being here eludes me. And if for whatever peculiar reason they are Florian and Rhonda’s guests, where for Heaven’s sake are the hosts?

It takes me a little while to work out the figure in the blue and white striped blazer and straw hat sitting on a settee in front of an old vellum map of Scandinavia is Chick Strangler. I am more accustomed to seeing him in Lycra. We used to go cycling together on Sunday mornings a few years ago when it became apparent that both of us needed to shed a few pounds. I myself resisted the lure of Lycra for these outings, favouring a warm and comfortable tracksuit. Chick has left the bike in the garage once or twice over the past five years by the look of his girth. Chick and his wife Cheryl lived next door to Sara and me in Dankworth Drive. Red bricked semis on a suburban estate, near the golf course. Last I heard the Stranglers had moved to Florida. A long way to come to watch a Swedish film – which I now notice is displaying its subtitles – in French.

My French is a little rusty but Isak, the old man in the film recalling his life seems to be saying something along the lines of ‘I don’t know how it happened, but the day’s reality flowed into dreamlike images.’ I don’t even know if it was a dream, (rêve is dream isn’t it?) or memories which arose with the force of real events. And then something about playing the piano.’

There are too many big words but I recognise odd phrases, something about a strangely transformed house and a girl in a yellow cotton dress picking wild strawberries. I try to follow for a little while. The old man has found a portal into the past it seems and is trying to talk to Sara, the girl he loved who married his brother, Sigfrid.

The crisp black and white images flash over the faces in the room.

I become aware of Russ Harmer and Dolly Dagger. Have they just arrived or have they up till now been hidden from sight? Russ Harmer was the neighbourhood bully when I was growing up. For years, he menaced and beat up anyone who did not suck up to him, until one day he ran into Borstal boy, Tank Sherman. Whether Russ became less odious after the fierce hammering he had taken is difficult to say, but it had knocked his facial features into a shape that remained easily recognisable today. I cannot connect him with Dolly Dagger in any way but here they are together. I shared a house in Dark Street with Dolly Dagger, along with a forever changing roundabout of short term tenants in the months of my post-student malaise. Dolly Dagger was in those days working as an escort and even then it seemed hell bent on a descent into drugs, one which fortunately I did not succumb to. We are not talking a little Blow or even an occasional toot of Charlie here, although that’s how it started. We are talking freebasing and needles and pinza. Despite the decline, Dolly has one of those faces that somehow still retains the carelessness of youth, fine Oriental features you could never forget. She has aged, certainly, but at least she is still alive.

It is a monumental shock to see Bernie Foden who used to service my Sierra. I have palpitations as my heart goes into overdrive. Bernie died ten years ago of throat cancer. I went to his funeral. I close my eyes and open them again. He is still there. This is not a faint apparition, this is a living, breathing, three-dimensional human form.

‘Bernie!’ I venture. He does not reply.

The rupture of logic here in this sinister theatre is stifling. My nerves are in tatters. What on earth is happening here? Am I having a nervous breakdown?

Just when I think the disturbing soiree can get no more bizarre, the actor Dirk Bogarde, who I have never met, drifts in dressed immaculately in a dark three-piece suit, Borsalino hat and thin woolen tie. He looks as he did in his matinee idol days. Didn’t Dirk die recently too? If so, no one seems to have told him. He breezes over to me and holds out his manicured hand. We shake hands and he congratulates me on something that in the confusion goes over my head. He then switches his interest to the film and sits down next to Razor. Neither acknowledges the other.

This is all too kooky. I decide I have to pull out to go and look for Florian and Rhonda. They will hopefully be able to shed some light on what this surreal circus is all about.

Set over several floors with unexpected half landings and mezzanines and many other changes to what would have been the original design of the house, their home is a bit of a maze. Florian and Rhonda bought the house as a project at the beginning of the property boom in the early eighties and have bit by bit converted it. Not in a conventional way by any means. I feel an eerie chill and pull my jacket around me as I explore the photographic darkroom and the embalming suite on the other side of the hallway. Finding no-one there I start to make my way upstairs.

It is by now getting dark and I cannot find a light switch. In fact, mounted flush on the wall where you might expect to find a switch is a full 88 key piano keyboard. Do I have to play a note or select a chord to turn on the light, I wonder. I experiment with a few chords, C major and C Minor, D major and D minor then all the other majors and minors. No lights come on. I play Wagner’s famous ‘Tristan Chord’. ‘Disorientating and daring’, they called it at the time. It isn’t the one, though. Still, no lights. Perhaps I need to play a tune. I play the opening bars of What’ I’d Say and Imagine. The intro to Bohemian Rhapsody. All a bit too obvious maybe. I try the opening from Blue Rondo à La Turk and one of Satie’s Gymnopédies or is it a Gnossienne? I notice that a shaft of light is now guiding me to a room on one of the upper floors.

As I reach the top of the stairs, Anna appears from the room carrying a Rococo style floral tray. She offers me a bagel. Her greeting is one of expectation rather than surprise. Mine is one of surprise. Astonishment!

‘Would you like it with cream cheese?’ she asks. An amatory smile flashes mischievously.

Anna looks exactly as I remember her five years ago; we had a clandestine liaison when she was married to Bob. Anna has not changed a bit. She is tanned and her hair is cut in the same way in a longish bob cut and even has the same russet red colour. Flame red I think it was called. She has full lips, and eyes that are so dramatically large, volatile, and seductive, so strikingly set, that I wonder if they are real. Her Louis Vuitton skirt hugs her hips tightly and her breasts seem to be powering their way out of the low cut top she is wearing.

Sensing my embarrassment at our meeting she says. ‘I don’t have the patience for foreign films either.’

We make small talk for a while about the freak thunderstorms we have been having lately and the tabloid sub-editors’ strike. I do not want to advertise the full scale of my bewilderment at the series of events unfolding. Here is a beautiful woman I haven’t seen for years and I do not want to burden her with my insecurities. Sometimes there can be more than one explanation to a situation.

‘What about you?’ I ask. ‘What are you doing here?’

‘I live here,’ she smiles. ‘I rent rooms off your friends Florian and Rhonda. Would you like me to show you?’

She leads me off to her pied a terre. It is brightly coloured and furnished with pine furniture in the Scandinavian style. I sit on a rug. She opens a bottle of red wine to go with the bagels and cream cheese. She slips her skirt off slowly to the sound of a sultry tenor saxophone. Anna has one of those hi-fi setups you can hear in every room. Stan Getz was always our favourite. The wispy mellow tone of Serenade in Blue is followed by Secret Love, But Beautiful, and Lover Man

When Anna and I return downstairs a little later, the film has finished. The guests all seem to have left and Florian and Rhonda are clearing away.

I ask about the guests.

‘Just some people from the film club,’ says Rhonda. ‘We are looking at the Bergman classic to explore the concept of ‘the unreliable narrator.’

‘I didn’t think you two were there,’ I say. ‘I could not see you.’

‘There were only six of us this week,’ said Florian. ‘Bit disappointing really.’

I begin counting. ‘What about Marshall and Razor, Chick, Denise Felch, Bob Scouler, Colin and Malcolm, Dolly Dagger, Russ, and Ravi. Bernie, Halo, Miss Jackson, Eileen and Mark from the tennis club. And Dirk Bogarde.’

‘What?’ say Florian. ‘Who?’

‘They were all here watching the film,’ I protest.

‘No, there was just myself and Rhonda, Elliot and Rachel, and the Melton Constables,’ insists Florian. ‘Six of us.’

‘Either way, doesn’t that prove the point?’ says Rhonda. ‘At some stage in a story, the reader will realise that the narrator’s interpretation of the events cannot be fully trusted and will begin to form their own opinions about the events and motivations within the story. After all a story is only a story. It’s fiction.’

‘What about the unreliable reader?’ says Anna.

‘The reader isn’t the one sending you on a wild goose chase or masking an affair,’ says Florian.

‘Isn’t everyone an unreliable reader though,’ says Anna. ‘After all everyone brings their own experience into the reading. What if this story is just about Jon coming to see me for a clandestine affair that he is trying to hide from Sara. And none of the rest of the story happens – and you all don’t exist.’

‘Anyone like a drink?’ asks Rhonda.

Anna says that she works in the morning and starts to laugh.

I find the bathroom and light up one that I made earlier. ‘Isn’t it good, Norwegian Wood.’

Anyhow, I do not think I shall tell Sara.

© 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

Bob Marley’s Surfboard

bobmarleysurfboardpic2

Bob Marley’s Surfboard by Chris Green

I hadn’t had Bob Marley down as a surfer. He seemed to belong to the wrong generation, or the wrong ethnic group, or both. Maybe I was showing some prejudice but to me surfing conjured up images of blond hair, VW campers and The Beach Boys. Although I had never been to Jamaica, it was hard to imagine that the government yard in Trench Town Bob grew up in would have offered many opportunities for surfing. Or that the tight security on his punishing touring schedule would have allowed this kind of freedom. It was a surprise therefore when on my daily trawl through the miscellaneous collectibles on ebay I saw Bob Marley’s surfboard advertised.

Before you start thinking that I must have a lot of time to waste, I should point out that I am an avid collector of celebrity memorabilia with a preference for the unusual. I have in my collection Elvis’s drugs cabinet, the harmonica on which John Lennon composed Bungalow Bill and Jimi Hendrix’s kite. And while I do treasure each item I own immensely, l am still in business to make money. I do not go to work in the more conventional sense. I gave up my office job over ten years ago. In order to provide me with an income and stay ahead of the game, I trade in all manner of collectibles, not just celebrity memorabilia. I have a sought after set of stuffed barn owls for instance and in case you are interested a collection of rare frontier telephones. You would be surprised at the curiosities collectors will pay good money for. But if I am honest, my passion is for items owned by famous people.

Collecting celebrity memorabilia is not without an element of risk. Painstaking research is necessary and it sometimes takes a trained eye to confirm that an item is genuine. With Elvis’s medicine cabinet, authentication was relatively easy. It was not the gold EAP monogram, the inlaid rhinestones or the bullet holes that gave it away, but primarily the sheer size of the cabinet. Only someone with Elvis’s huge appetite for prescription drugs could have needed one so large. The shipping cost me nearly as much as the cabinet and then I had to modify the houseboat to get it inside. Quite often there is an element of trust involved, for instance Roy Orbison’s prescription Wayfarers. Had I not bought them on a bona fidé collectors’ site, I would have avoided these. But how could you certify an item as random as Bob Marley’s surfboard?

I had encountered similar problems authenticating Buddy Holly’s yoga mat. Who would have thought that growing up in post war Texas that yoga would have been a significant feature of Buddy’s daily life? Who would have thought that he would have had time for yoga, what with writing hundreds of songs, touring non stop and then dying at the age of twenty two? But a little research showed that Buddy had in fact met beat writer, Jack Kerouac on several occasions and seemed to have picked up a little Eastern philosophy from him. Buddy may well have written Peggy Sue or Raining in my Heart on this very mat.

A few exchanges of emails with the advertiser of the board revealed that he lived in the small village of Rhossili on the Welsh coast. This part of the coast was popular amongst surfers and the seller, who was called Grover, maintained quite simply that he had acquired the item from a fellow surfer who strangely enough was also called Grover. Grover was a common name in those parts he assured me, nearly as common as Delroy or Tupac.

I wondered momentarily what had happened to home-grown names like Rhys and Ifan, but did not dwell on it. There was business to be done.

How did Grover know that it was Bob Marley’s surfboard’, seemed the obvious question so I mailed this enquiry to him.

While he was a little light on verifiable facts, he informed me that surfing was very popular amongst reggae artists and Peter Tosh, Gregory Isaacs and Prince Fari were all frequent visitors to the Gower peninsula. And Beenie Man was there just last week on the beach with two sistas in tow. If I was interested, he also had a pair of Oakley sunglasses that had once belonged to Big Youth on his ebay auction site and a wetsuit belonging to Althea of Althea and Donna.

I had a look on his other ebay items. There were in fact no bids on either of the items that he had mentioned, nor Burning Spear’s barbecue, or Max Romeo’s snorkel. But with the houseboat absolutely chocca, I was not especially interested in C listers mementos. I had resolved to concentrate my attentions on memorabilia of major celebrities.

Alarmingly though the bidding on Bob Marley’s surfboard had gone up to £1000. Clearly other collectors were after it too. And still two days to go. I needed to make my way down to Rhossili to research first hand before committing myself to what could be a reckless bid on the item.

I browsed the Gower websites and although these were thin on the ground I could not help but feel a little concerned that their photos of surfers revealed a noticeable absence of dreadlocks. Not even a token Rasta. But there were photos of miles and miles of sweeping empty beaches. It seemed plausible that the Jamaican surfers preferred the more private spots where they could light up their spliffs and chalices and that they had managed to avoid being caught on camera. The sites had all stressed the point that The Gower was the country’s best kept secret.

I decided, what the heck! Either way, it didn’t matter. I had had a bit of a windfall having just sold my collection of antique hand held trouser presses and I deserved a nice break by the sea. I hadn’t had a holiday since Rosie had left last year. I don’t think Rosie had the same enthusiasm for living on a houseboat that I did. She wanted a summer house and a fitted kitchen and somewhere to hang her dresses. I heard from Geoff that she is now living in Reading with someone who directs television commercials. All water under the bridge.

Looking at the map Rhossili was not all that far away, perhaps a hundred and fifty miles, and the Volvo needed a good run. To be honest it probably needed a proper service but this could wait until I got back. I packed a few clothes in a bag, the laptop, a few cans of Red Bull and some crunchy nut chocolate bars for the journey and set off. It was mid morning and the weather forecast for the rest of the day was good. I stopped off at Blockbuster to take back my overdue DVDs and the pharmacy to pick up my tablets.

I bumped into Downbeat Don outside the newsagents. He asked me if I was still interested in buying his collection of cork lined bottle caps. He reminded me that it included some rare Old Milwaukee and Coors from the 1930s, some unusual Guinness ones and some original Sprite and Coca Cola.

Over three hundred of them altogether,’ he added.

I was not really sure I needed more bottle tops, but I was too polite to give Downbeat the brush off. He took offence quite easily.

Why don’t you advertise them on ebay, I asked?

I was waiting to see if you wanted them first,’ he said. He had that hangdog look about him.

I was anxious to avoid a long conversation. Something awful was bound to have happened to him lately and he was just waiting for the right opening to tell me all about it. I told him I was off for a few days and that I would be in touch when I got back.

I drove down the M5 towards the M4, a route I had taken many years before, when I was beginning my career in collectibles. On that occasion I had bought Eddie Cochran’s wristwatch from an auction in Chipping Sodbury. My intention had been to buy Brian Jones’s alarm clock, but I had been outbid. This was around the time that Stacey had moved out, saying that I was obsessed with dead pop stars and that there was so must junk around the flat that there was no room for her and the children. I had argued of course that none of it was junk and I was certainly not obsessed and anyway not all of the pop stars were dead. For instance David Bowie, whose stylophone I had just bought, was not dead. Nor were Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich as far as I knew. And where would we be without their tea towels.

I had missed the children very much at first, especially Simon who was the elder of the two. He was the one most affected by Stacey and I splitting up. Garfunkel, of course had been too young to realise what was going on, although we have kept up a relationship and he does still come to see me occasionally on the houseboat.

I like to listen to Radio 4 when I’m driving. It’s not that I don’t like music. Quite the reverse. I play music all the time on the boat and have a wide and varied taste. A collection from A to Z. Well not Abba obviously. Or ZZ Top. Music from B to Y then. Although I can’t remember when I last played anything by Yes. The traffic was not heavy and I settled down to listen to the play, a dramatisation of Daphne Du Maurier’s The Birds. Different from the Hitchcock film, which was set in California, it was set in Cornwall, one cold winter after the Second World War. Disabled farmhand, Nat wanted nothing more from life than to be allowed to eat his pasties in peace. But the jackdaws and gulls, the finches and larks, even the tits and wrens had other ideas and, having killed some locals, lay siege to Nat’s farm cottage trapping him and his family. Listening to radio broadcasts on the then equivalent of Radio 4 Nat discovered that all over the country birds were replicating the attacks and a national emergency was declared. The play ended rather enigmatically, just as I was crossing the Severn Bridge, leaving me wondering what it was that Daphne Du Maurier was really trying to say.

I became distracted by the Glamorgan welcomes Careful Drivers roadsign The sign had its equivalent in Welsh and displayed a silhouette of the profile a dreadlocked Rasta with a bloody great spliff in his mouth, which to me failed wholeheartedly to illustrate the point about driving carefully. As did the billboards advertising Red Stripe, the hooray beer, that lined the road at strategic vantage points. The ads showed four scantily clad Caribbean babes driving along a sand track lined with coconut palms in a stripped down landrover raising cans of Red Stripe in the air. The tagline was Stir it Up. What on earth was going on in South Wales?

I managed to catch the beginning of The Archers (a new outbreak of bovine viral diarrhoea in Ambridge) before I lost Radio 4 completely. I tried scanning the radio for another station to listen to but all I could pick up was a station playing Dennis Brown’s Money in My Pocket, which I had to admit sounded pretty good. The tune finished and an animated DJ started gibbering away in Welsh, with a marked trace of patois, or perhaps it was patois with hint of Welsh. I picked up ‘riddim, niceup, herb, collie, rasclaat, irie and jah’. He followed this by cueing in Night Nurse by da cool rula, Gregory Isaacs. ‘Dis Niceup Radio,’ he interrupted just as the vocal came in.

As an admirer of landmark sculpture I had long been impressed by The Angel of the North and The Wicker Man, but the figure of Haile Sellasie by the side of the A483 put them to shame. It was truly spectacular; it must have been two hundred feet high. Haile had, you may be aware, been lionised by Rastafarians in the 1970s through reggae music along with their worship of him using cannabis as a sacred herb which they believed brought them closer to him. I had to remind myself that this was 2014 and we were in South Wales, a place not renowned for embracing new cultural ideas. What I was witnessing suggested a major Jamaican influence in these parts, adding considerable credence to Grover’s claims. Which was good? Wasn’t it?

I tried to conjure up the picture of a Welsh male voice choir singing Exodus, Movement of Jah People, which was now playing on the radio. Or indeed Shaggy tackling Men of Harlech. The DJ came back on. ‘An a jus lass nite mi dideh. No one cyaan test Shabba.’ I could pick out the odd word but that was all. I almost hit something coming the other way; I needed to put my concentration on the narrow windy roads and maybe avoid crashing the Volvo. Since Abertawe (Swansea) navigation had been a nightmare as the place names and road signs were no longer displayed in English, just Welsh, their legibility was further impaired by being on a background of red, gold and green, with what I imagined to be the conquering lion of Judah alongside the Welsh dragon. Even the speed camera I had just passed was red, gold and green. The Gower was living up to being the country’s best kept secret.

Given the circumstances it was quite easy to get lost and after several miles without a sign of life I considered that this was indeed the position. To add to the predicament, the Volvo, which had been behaving remarkably well of late, became a little hesitant. After a few hundred yards of juddering along the dirt road it stopped completely. I recognised the symptoms. I remembered the same thing had happened when I was on my way to pick up Buddy Holly’s yoga mat in Romford. This was not a mechanical problem; the bloody thing was out of fuel. I had passed a filling station just after Cardiff but there was a long queue. There hadn’t been another one. Sooner or later, even on a track like the one I was on, a motorist would be along. I’d flag him down and get him to give me a lift to the nearest filling station. This would represent the optimistic view.

It could be however that I was naturally pessimistic, as I hadn’t even thought to try the phone. I had assumed that being in this remote corner of South Wales that there would be no signal. This was what numerous accounts over the years had led you to believe. One of the main reasons people came here was to avoid being contacted. But after twenty minutes of free-fall meditation lying on Dusty Springfield’s air bed in the back of the Volvo to calm myself, there was still no sign of the cavalry. I felt the Motorola was worth a shot. Remarkably there was a signal.

I went through the identification with the AA centre and everything seemed to be going smoothly with Loretta until she asked, ‘what is your position?’

I had to admit that beyond it being somewhere in South Wales, I had absolutely no idea.

I also had difficulty with the question, ‘what was the last place you passed through?’ I explained about the roadsign being in red gold and green.

That will be The Gower. They’re all like that in The Gower. But we’re looking at quite a large area. Can you see any landmarks’, asked Loretta?

There were fields and hedges and a field of tall leafy plants in the distance. I had the feeling this was not the precision Loretta was looking for.

When ‘I think I’m about twenty miles from a large roadside sculpture of Haile Sellasie’ drew a negative response, I suggested she might be able to use the global positioning information from my mobile phone.

Her ‘we’re the AA not International Rescue’ was I felt unnecessarily sarcastic.

With the conversation with Loretta going nowhere it was fortuitous that Delroy should choose this moment to appear out of nowhere. I had not heard him arrive; suddenly he was standing there in front of me. At around six foot six and built like a Russian war memorial, Delroy cut an impressive figure. With locks nearly down to his waist and an alligator grin he offered his hand and introduced himself. I pretended not to notice that his ring finger was missing. I asked instead where his car was. Delroy laughed and added that he lived nearby, pointing beyond the field of tall leafy plants that I suddenly realised were cannabis plants. This probably explained why he was carrying an AK47.

He did not point the gun at me; it was more of a sartorial accessory to his camouflage gear than anything else. He seemed to sense that I posed no threat. After all I did not look like a policeman or a gangster. And of course there was a beaten up twenty year old Volvo, with 250,000 miles on the clock, that might have helped him to arrive at his judgement. It was very much a ‘this man is harmless sort of car’. Nevertheless had I been guarding a colossal cannabis plantation I might have been less accommodating, but as it was Delroy was quite open. I explained that I had run out of diesel. He laughed out loud again. When he laughed his whole body moved and contorted as if he was performing a hip hop dance. Once he had settled, he said, roughly translated, no problem a friend of his named Tupac had a farm where we could get some red diesel. I thanked him and we stuck up a conversation about The Gower and I explained how easy it had been to get lost. Delroy laughed again and told me he knew why I had come, and that he knew Grover who was selling Bob Marley’s surfboard.

What are the odds against that? I said. Even given the fortuity of our meeting I would have had this down as a bit of a long-shot with there being so many Delroys and Grovers in the locality. We were talking serious tight knit community here.

Ain’t no odds mon, is Jah,’ he replied. ‘im know you come so I is ‘ere to mek ting ting so.’

He phoned Tupac on his mobile and although the phone conversation lapsed into a more rootsy patois, making it more difficult to follow, the jist of it seemed to be that Tupac was going to bring the diesel over and that we just had to stay put. There was also some discussion about Charley who might or might not be on his way.

What happened next is a little hazy. I expect you are familiar with the precept of a little memory loss following a traumatic experience and it was a traumatic experience that was to follow. I recall Delroy starting to tell me a little about the board, pretty much confirming what Grover had told me earlier. It was a two metre single fin pop out board and it was red, gold and green and had the conquering lion of Judah painted along it with the words Jah Rastafari melting over the tip. Delroy added a little biography. Bob had originally been given the board by a blind Australian aboriginal in recognition of his contribution to the cause of black emancipation, a gift for all that Bob had done to ensure that black people everywhere should no longer have to endure the fiery cross of the oppressor. Bob was deeply honoured and wrote a song in gratitude called Righteous Surfer. It had never been released. No-one knew if Bob had ever used the board.

I think Delroy was about to tell me how it had made its way to South Wales and why if it were so important a symbol of struggle Grover was selling it, when Tupac came along in a heavily customised Suzuki jeep with a can of diesel. They carried on talking about Charley and the rocks he was bringing on his rebel boat. They seemed concerned about ‘bag a wire’ and ‘the babylon’. As I say it is all a bit hazy, like trying to piece together the plot of a film you saw years ago. I can remember filling up the Volvo. The fumes made me feel nauseous. Delroy and Tupac began laughing and joking about my technique. Suddenly there was an air of unease. Tupac’s phone rang or perhaps it was Delroy’s. It was a very short call. It was one of those situations where you feel instinctively that something is wrong.

The police helicopters may not have arrived straight away but when they did it was like a military invasion. I don’t know exactly how many helicopters there were but the expression shock and awe sprang to mind. There followed a mad scramble and an overkill of flashing blue lights and sirens as armoured vehicles arrived from all directions. Two of the vehicles collided sending a blanket of flame into the air. Shots rang out. I think Delroy caught one in the chest. Clouds of thick black smoke from the burning vehicles added to the battlefield effect. Delroy and Tupac may or may not have got into the jeep. In the confusion they may even have got away. Everyone seemed to be ignoring me so I dived into the Volvo and drove in the direction I had came with my foot firm to the floor. I have no recollection of a police chase so I imagine that they were not concerned about catching up with me. I gave up on my mission there and then.

I kept my eye on the television news for the next few days and bought a selection of the broadsheets and even the South Wales Evening Post but there was no mention of the incident. About two weeks later, just as I was reducing the dosage of valium and getting my life back to normal, I received an email saying ‘an ebay item you were watching has been relisted: Bob Marley’s Surfboard’. I deleted it.

I have not been back to the Gower since. Last week I bumped into Errol and Cheryl, two friends from years ago. They said they had just got back from a lovely week in The Gower. I asked them what they thought of the sculpture of Haile Sellasie, by the side of the road. They were bound to have seen it. They would have had to drive along the A483. They both looked at me blankly.

‘Were there any surprises?’ I asked, not wanting to put words into their mouths. I expected they would mention the hordes of Rastafarian surfers.

‘It was pretty much how the brochures described it,’ said Errol.

‘Miles of lovely sandy beaches,’ said Cheryl.

‘Totally unspoiled,’ said Errol.

‘The country’s best kept secret,’ said Cheryl.

‘Even had good phone reception,’ laughed Errol.

‘What about radio reception?’ I asked, seizing the opportunity.

‘Funny you should mention that,’ said Errol. ‘Coming back earlier on we were listening to Radio 4 in the car and there was an interesting discussion about the madness that can be caused by the obsessive collection of celebrity memorabilia.’

‘Who would really pay thousands for Marilyn Monroe’s chest x rays or Michael Jackson’s codpiece?’ said Cheryl.

‘One guy collected Frank Sinatra’s toupees. He had about a dozen of them,’ said Errol.

‘You wouldn’t believe the lengths these people go to,’ said Cheryl.

‘Anyway, we haven’t seen you in years, said Errol. What are you doing with yourself these days? Are you still in the civil service? How’s Rosie?’

© Chris Green 2014: All rights reserved

2015 – An Odd Space Essay

2015anoddspaceessay2

2015 – An Odd Space Essay by Chris Green

I will be 119 next birthday. In my lifetime, I have seen the birth of the motor car, the aeroplane, radio and television, domestic power, antibiotics, the gramophone record and sliced bread. Let us not forget the vacuum cleaner, the ballpoint pen, the electric guitar, the microwave oven and the atomic bomb. I have seen the acceptance of Darwinism, the rise of secularism, the collapse of Empire and the provision 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. The peak of oil discoveries was in 1965, and oil production per year has surpassed oil discoveries every year since 1980. One day soon we are going to have a lot of disappointed people. Should we perhaps feel a little guilt about our perfunctory waste and our accumulation of air miles?

When I was born, Queen Victoria was on the throne, most families did not have a bathroom, there was horse-muck on the streets, and in cities, gas street-lights cut through the ubiquitous smog. In the countryside though you could walk for miles in awe of the bucolic splendour. I have seen the landscape change out of all recognition with the green and pleasant land losing 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 wi-fi are all things we take for granted. The population of the UK back then was around 29 million. Today it is 64 million. People are living longer. I feel I am not helping.

In life, things change gradually. Except in the case of monumental events, like an epiphany or a catastrophe, you are not aware of it. 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 this could be something particular to my circumstances; I have lived rather a long time. I have been married four times, to Ruth, Natalie, Marielle and Sakura. For the record, 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.

Music means literally ‘art of the muses’. It goes back a long way. Ancient Greek philosophers understood the healing effects that 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 vocation as a composer and musical coach of some regard, I have had the great fortune to meet many of the people who saw through some of the historic changes over the last hundred years or so.

Not many people know that David Lloyd George was a keen saxophonist. This does not appear in any of the numerous biographies of this most idiosyncratic of British Prime Ministers. The biographers concentrate disproportionately on his political career, with a nod here and there to his Welshness (English was his second language). Not a mention of his musical interests. It was, in fact, I who taught the Welsh Wizard the saxophone, which was at the time a marginal instrument even in jazz orchestras. Lloyd George possessed a natural ability, and could have easily mastered the clarinet, but with maverick zeal, he was determined that 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 him one day. I had spent a majority of WW1 in Italy with a military band, fortunately well south of the front.

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

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

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

This did not seem like a Liberal view, but I let it go.

Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi never really mastered the blues harmonica, but on a visit to London in 1931, he came to me for some tuition. Musicians 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,’ Mohandas said to me.

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

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

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

Mahatma’s teachings were something that 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 1930s are associated with the Depression, but I look back on the decade as a happy time. I married my first wife, Ruth, and my first two children, Darius and Conchita, 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 2 may never have happened if Churchill has been better at playing the piano. Although he showed some initial promise when he came to me and I took him through a few easy pieces, some early Mozart sonatas and the like, his interpretations of Chopin, however, were clumsy and heavy handed. Winston had what are sometimes referred to as butcher’s fingers, not suited to deliver the delicate passages of the Preludes and Nocturnes. He seemed also 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.

‘How did you come into music?’ Orson Welles asked me once when he was driving me home after his zither lesson. ‘Do your family have a musical tradition?’ The year was 1948. Alfred Hitchcock had put Orson on to me. I had taught Hitchcock to play the theremin. To be honest, Hitchcock did not really want to learn but thought he might be able to use the unusual instrument in one of his films. Orson, on the other hand, became a bit of a virtuoso on the zither. I heard a rumour that it may even have been Orson and not Anton Karas who played the soundtrack music for The Third Man, which went on to me one of the most successful films of all time.

I did not often talk about my background. It was not that I was particularly 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 Frank Portrait Infants’ 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 and had been 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 some 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, 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 three and she was twenty five. 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, the decorative gilding and marble sculptures of The Golden Temple of Amritsar, the mysterious city of Machu Picchu in the middle of a mountain rain forest, 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 there were less obvious sights that were equally as 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.

Natalie, although she was always modest about this, was also an accomplished pianist. With a youthful ear, she was an inspiration to my music, helping to take it in new directions. The early to mid-fifties represented a productive period; in fact, possibly I was at my creative peak, as 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 all of 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, ‘intuitive’ and ‘groundbreaking’. I framed the clipping.

Natalie persuaded me that we should spend some time in America and, as she was from New York, that 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 an illustrator for a magazine. He drew whimsical sketches of shoes, he told me. He wanted to learn how to orchestrate and had been given my name, I presume by Orson, as I did not know many people in New York at the time. I explained to my illustrator that orchestration had guidelines, but there weren’t any rules as such. You learned orchestration mainly through experience, through spontaneous discoveries, and through the teaching of great composers.

‘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 that you had in mind to orchestrate?’

‘I have a big plan,’ he said. ‘They say that 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.

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

We finally moved on to the subject of orchestration. I told him that in terms of musical composition Mozart and Beethoven were probably 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.

‘What is it that inspires you?’ Julie Christie asked me at her balalaika lesson one day. We were in my apartment in Cheyne Walk, overlooking the Thames. She had recently finished filming Darling and was reading the script for Doctor Zhivago, wondering whether to take the part of Lara that the great David Lean had offered her. She had been round to my apartment every day for a week or so to learn the balalaika to help with the role. Most days it seemed the balalaika I had borrowed from the Russian embassy lay untouched. Julie was sensual and intelligent. She possessed a luminous beauty that the cameras loved. The thing is, she was even more stunning in the flesh. She looked sensational in her skimpy chiffon dress. Despite an age difference of forty years, there was definitely a mutual attraction. I wondered if we were going to have an affair. It had been over with Natalie for a while and I had returned to England leaving her and our son, Melchior, and daughter, Melusine, in New York.

‘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,’ said Julie.

I had lots of favourite pieces of music. I had always dreaded being asked to go on Desert Island Discs as I would be hard pressed to make these kind of decisions. What I wondered could I 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 some Bach or some Mozart, but I thought that Julie was hoping for something more contemporary. Bill Evans My Foolish Heart seemed apt. Jazz had been a passion of mine for many tears.

Popular music upped its game in the 1960s, with record producers like Phil Spector, George Martin and Brian Wilson pushing back the boundaries of the art. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan among others were spearheading a huge social change through pop music. What had once seemed trite now seemed important and vital. By 1965 through music and fashion, London had established itself as the capital of the cultural world. Pop stars, models and photographers were becoming the new elite. Ray Davies was a friend of Julie’s and Julie invited me along to a performance The Kinks were filming at Twickenham Film Studios. It was here that I met Marielle, who would be my partner for the next fifteen years.

Marielle was involved with the music business in an anonymous kind of way, the closest I could come to describing this would be, musical muse. She hung around gatherings of musicians and had a mystical presence. She was a polished player with a rare appreciation of the avant-garde. 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.

Marielle 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 some 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. I appeared, uncredited, on many of the classic albums from that period including Aftermath, Piper at the Gates of Dawn and Sergeant Pepper, playing dulcimer, tsabouna, musical saw and serpent. I also composed my Vibraphone Concerto and my famous Trio for Violin, Saxophone and Strimmer during this time.

The ten years from around 1967 that Marielle and I spent living on Lanzarote I count among the happiest of my life. Undeveloped at the time and certainly minimalist in its colour palette, Lanzarote offered a perfect spiritual retreat. It was a place that the mind was able to focus. Our traditional whitewashed casa rural was in an isolated setting, a few miles from the present day resort of Costa Teguise. 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, after all, both windy and sunny. The rest of the world it seems have been slow to follow and is still resisting this somewhat obvious solution to our power needs.

Occasionally our mutual friend, Picasso came over from the mainland to see us. Other than this, Darius and Conchita and their respective families came over a few times (grandchildren growing in number and it seemed quickly growing up), and once or twice Natalie brought our children. Mostly though it was just Marielle and I. It was possible to concentrate on the moment, enjoying each minute of the everyday without rushing towards the next. I gradually found a profound stillness take over my being. I felt young and invigorated. Marielle, as many of you who have seen her work hanging in galleries will understand, during this period 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 the French composer, Erik Satie. He called his Dadaist-inspired 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 these early twentieth century Art movements and the work of Brian Eno. Recognising me as a fellow sonic sculptor, in 1975, Brian sought me out and came over for a protracted stay. Together we composed music that synthesised melody and texture. Although the expression, ambient music is often attributed to Brian Eno, I like to think that 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 at the door. We had inadvertently created the template for movie soundtracks and background to television drama and documentaries for many years to come. If you watch the BBC you will have heard my music many times without realising it.

I abhorred the right wing politics that began to take over the western world around 1980. The decade could be summed up in one word: greed. Why was everyone so blind to the certainty that uncontrolled consumerism would lead to disaster? What was needed was a new set of guidelines with regard to conglomerates, power generation, air travel, transport, and waste management. And a greater veneration of trees. Marielle and I moved to the New Forest.

The politics of the day were reflected in its music. The decade was a singularly poor one. In the 1980s, 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. 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? Wasn’t it a contradiction in terms? To be fair, 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.

Tariq Ali had come round 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 60s, but there was lots of great music,’ I said.

‘No war in the 60s?, 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. ‘But I do remember the Battle of Grosvenor Square. You and Vanessa Redgrave were leading the march weren’t you’

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

‘Not word for word,’ I said.

‘In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.’

I conceded Tariq’s point.

‘Perhaps we will have another war soon,’ I said. ‘There are some mad people in charge.’

‘I don’t think it will be a war with The Eastern Bloc,’ said Tariq. ‘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.’

It seems in retrospect that he was right.

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.

The planet Mercury, according to Luigi, my barber in Ringwood at the time, has no tilt my and therefore no seasons. Luigi was one of those people who seemed to know everything. He had been a contender on Mastermind. His specialist subject was 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 large 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 that those around you, 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 is going to 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 wreathes 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.

Through the 1980s following Marielle’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. Nostalgia too I found could fuel later-life depression. Don’t look back.

Irving Berlin helped to lift my gloom. Irving was a legend and throughout the twentieth century 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 in 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 had been used in medicine for thousands of years. It enhances memory, helps with concentration, and reasoning skills; even better, 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 that made his doctor very old indeed. ‘I’d better start writing some music soon then,’ I said.

‘Another thing’, said Irving. ‘I presume you’ve reached the age that you suffer from earworm.’

‘Don’t think so,’ I said. ‘It sounds unpleasant, though.’

‘Earworm is where the last tune you heard stays in your head.’ Irving explained.

‘I definitely get that,’ I said.

‘The secret is to make the tune in your head a happy one, one with happy words. Positive affirmations and all that.’

‘What about the old blue musicians?’ I queried. ‘They seem to all live to be a ripe old age despite all the ‘Woke up this morning and my baby had gone’ lyrics.’

‘What! you mean lived to be 27, like Robert Johnson and Jimi Hendrix’.

He had a point. I was probably being selective. For every John Lee Hooker or Muddy Walters, 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.’

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. Music of course was as Irving had suggested, the key; this 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 (Schroedinger’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.’

Tim Berners-Lee may have been considerably richer had it not been for coming to me for lessons on the cor anglais. Having invented a browser-editor to share and edit information and build a common hypertext, the model for the internet, he was faced with a dilemma. Should he patent the idea, 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. Someone, he argued, was going to make millions out of the idea, someone like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, for instance.

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

He must have taken my point. The next day, after we had been over Respighi’s Pini di Roma, Tim seemed to have changed his position, using some of the very arguments that 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 Art. 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 wanted to see the exhibition after reading 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 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 mega bucks being persuaded.

‘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 some kind of reply, because the next I recall we were eating dinner at Claridge’s and, before I knew it, living together. I wondered later if our meeting had not been set up as a blind date. Sakura wondered the same. She had had a phonecall from the same mutual friend it seemed 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.

‘Have you never thought of writing one?’ she asked.

‘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. The project seemed daunting with so many years to cover.

‘Everyone knows who you are,’ she 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 Louth in the Lincolnshire Wolds 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 Ruth 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,’ 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.

‘What do these xs mean?’ she asked.

I told her.

‘Three or four times a day…… We only make love two or three times a week.’

‘But you aren’t as young as you used to be,’ I joked. She was 46.

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

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

The biography progressed even more slowly documenting the years after 1921. I had some recollection as to when I had met celebrity figures, and I had dates for some of my recordings, but with regards to my personal life, there were no records. All of my contemporaries were dead, and even my children had difficulty remembering with any precision. Either that or they had not wanted to cooperate. None of them had taken well to Sakura. I was able to tie up 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, as it were, 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, and every year technological gadgets were becoming, smaller, faster, cheaper, and more convenient, but hadn’t we lost our sense of wonder? We seem 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 Doctor Who or Star Trek.

Sakura and I had gone for a walk in the Wolds around this time from Claxby to Wolds Top. It was a clear day and you could see for miles. We had panoramic views of Lincoln Cathedral, the Humber Bridge and the River Trent. We came across a family having a picnic. While they ate their Subway baguettes, the two youngsters played games on hand-held Nintendos, while the parents looked at domestic appliances in an Argos catalogue. I gathered from their conversation, that they were planning on stopping off at the Lincoln branch on their way home. Nowadays they wouldn’t even need to do this. They could buy the Dyson online from their smartphone or tablet.

‘Do you ever regret parts of your life?’ Sakura asked. She was still working on the biography.

‘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. Sakura was not by nature a jealous woman, but I think she may have wanted me to say that my marriages to Ruth, Natalie and Marielle had been a mistake. I didn’t take the bait. If there was one thing I had learned about women, it was that each wanted to be the only one you had ever thought of. Apart from which, Ruth and Marielle were both dead, and Natalie, who I hadn’t seen for thirty years, would be in her seventies.

‘I would get up earlier and I would take more time to smell the roses,’ I told her enigmatically. The biography stalled a little.

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 at all 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 that there were so many of them and I had no idea where to look. After a crash course in constellation spotting on the Internet and the acquisition of a circular star chart called a planisphere, I was able to identify the ever present 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.

For my hundredth birthday, I hired the planetarium. Astronomers like Patrick Moore and George Smoot might not be everyone’s ideal party guests, but the after dinner conversation is not dull. 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. The Universe I was told is at least 150 billion light-years in diameter. We are talking really big numbers when it comes to space. The scale of it forced me to reconsider my definitions for large; the word that came to mind was astronomical. There were other fascinating disclosures. A bright star which appeared over Bethlehem two thousand years ago suggested the date of Jesus’s birth as June 17th, not December 25th. The star was a magnificent conjunction of the planets Venus and Jupiter, which were so close together they would have shone unusually brightly as a single sudden beacon of light.

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 always associated with this momentous event is Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, which was also used in Stanley Kubrick’s equally important 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 40,000 years if things go to plan some unsuspecting alien will be playing air guitar to Johnny B. Goode or singing along to the chorus of My Ding a Ling. More recently, in 2008, NASA beamed The Beatles, Across the Universe at the speed of 186,000 miles per second towards The North Star, just 431 light years away. Time is not on my side, so I am going to have my entire back catalogue beamed to Enceladus, a moon of Saturn, which Stephen Hawking (who incidentally was hopeless on the accordion) informs me, is the most likely place we might find life in the Solar system. This I am told will take a mere 76 minutes.

It is often said you can tell you are getting old when policemen start to look younger. To me, even Chief Superintendents have had the appearance of callow youths since around the time of the Notting Hill riots. I have now had eighteen telegrams from the Queen, and still I can’t help but think of her as the little girl stroking the corgi dog on the Newsreels that accompanied the double features in the 1930s. Saga Holiday adverts seem to me like they are advertising 18 to 30 romps. But there are benefits to being old. As Mark Twain 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.

Lately, there are signs that our 400,000 year tenure of Planet Earth could be coming to an end. Earth may not be able to support the prodigal 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. The oil well fires that burned in the Middle Eastern conflict clouded the sky for months so that no crops would grow in seven countries in the area. 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 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 119 next birthday.

©: Chris Green, 2014 : All rights reserved