Friday, 30 May 2008


Just to prove it's not all dark and serious on this blog, here's a frivolous little poem for the weekend...

The other day, behind a tree,
A friend of note, he said to me
That Princess Di was alive and well
In a Nicaraguan prison cell;
Guarded almost day and night
By burly men, some black – most white.
They captured her, in quite a coup,
In a factory where she’d made a shoe.
‘Twas a publicity stunt of sorts
‘Til they gagged the press and shot her escorts.
The workers were paid for their silence and fears,
Largest amount that they’d seen in years!
And when the palace got word they employed a double,
To run the press around and avoid any trouble.
But when the palace got worried that the papers would twig,
Their efforts were doubled – the endeavour was big -
Until sooner, or later, from upstairs it was said
That somewhere, and sometime, someone be made dead.
So they wheeled out these actors for some accident deal,
Then actually killed them so the pictures looked real.
They paid off the assassins with cigars and French beers,
And then paid off the media with the country’s own tears.
So everyone was happy at the end of the tale -
Except maybe 'whatshername' locked up in jail -
And no more of interest was said to unfold,
Plus it’s all gospel truth, so my friend has been told,
But a bigger liar than him you could not hope to meet,
You see, Diana’s okay, she lives on our street.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

The scream

You’ve been straining for too long. The wind is lashing rain into your face now, coming down in leather straps across you. You can’t hold it in. You unleash the scream.
Drenched shoppers, already bewildered and straining to see under their hats and hoods spin round deliriously to locate the source of the sound.
Their dread faces pale when they see you, all tousled hair and see-through clothes. A child weeps, but he was crying before the tumult.
The scream, a success. Not so powerful, because you were already out of breath from your struggle with the elements, but impressive all the same. It got you what you crave more than anything else. Attention.
You flop down now, at the corner of a department store, where the rain falls in bitter torrents. The noise it made as it hit the pavement in one continual tubular splosh was heavy handed, powerful, so the excitement builds as you put your head under it. The water knocks at your skull, trepanning a hole into your soul.
You sit down for a moment, wondering how long you can take it. Your vision fades momentarily. Maybe this is the end? Ah, but someone is shouting something at you. Come on, wake up, get up, clear off.
You’re scaring people. You. You’re the scary one. And as you are kicked to your feet and moved along, your wretched vision returns and you catch your reflection in the store window, standing aghast, between two perfectly tailored shop dummies.
You really are a wretched thing, making yourself so sick. You realise now the error you made. You were inside, you were sheltered and safe, before the rains came. But you couldn’t stay in. You’re sick of in. In is the old out.
So you took the only clothes you have in the world and you paraded them across the half-empty streets where you live. Sassing through soggy gutters and tangoing down gushing alleys, you sang a song to the blind twins who threw flowers at you from their open window. It all seemed so magical back then.
You’re shivering now and you can’t feel your feet. You’re shunting disgusted people, heading for underground trains and early evening assignations. They probably hate you more than you hate yourself.
You figure you’ve got a window of opportunity of maybe twenty minutes. Twenty minutes to somehow sneak onto the underground and then get back to the room and get naked. Get undressed before you pass out somewhere, an action which will bring with it the unfortunate consequence of almost certain death.
At the barrier you hesitate for a moment. Your mind wanders. Do you really want to jump the gate and run for a train? Do you really want to go back to that room and save yourself for another night? Do you really want to see what the sky looks like in the morning?
Only you know the answers to those questions. But, whatever they were, however you tossed them around in your mind, you’ve hopped the barrier, you’re running and you’re feeling warmer already. The train has stopped and its doors are slowly sliding open for you.
This instinct, this will to survive. It’s still so strong.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Something changed

Philip watched the raindrops clinging hard to the telephone wires. They spread a thick web out from a pole near his bedroom window, some sections shooting into the wall beneath his feet and then surely burrowing in and infesting it.
Slight gusts of wind tugged aimlessly at the black lace web. It was almost as if he could see the wind moving around it, being sheared in two by the thin wire.
The rain clung only to the higher wires, the ones that connected to the tops of the three-storey town houses on his street. Here the slope from pole to wall was so gradual that the rain didn’t run along the wires to escape into porous brickwork.
It seemed trapped. Looking down at a concrete street that it would seemingly never reach. Somehow it was locked, hooked, to its cabled web. Its only hope for respite or transcendence lay in a sudden, sharp gust of wind to rattle the line into throbbing life and send water droplets sailing haphazardly through the air. Or, else, for the clouds to part and the sun to suck its crystalline tears back up into the skies.
They probably shouldn’t have had sex last night. That was Philip’s take on the situation, now he’d had time to reflect.
He’d been waiting a long time, and the night was warm and the kissing as passionate as ever it had been, but now, as he gazed out of his bedroom window, he didn’t see any problem with waiting some more.
Tina felt the same way. It was the first thing he read this morning when he turned on his mobile phone, her thoughts on the sex.
He’d gone to sleep with mingling feelings of elation and maturity sending his mind giddy, and he’d woken up with a boot pushing into his guts.
He went to the bathroom and spent a good five minutes looking at his body, his face in the mirror. Maybe there might be something different he’d notice. A mark on his waist, perhaps, a certain look in his eyes or a smirk he couldn’t shift. But all seemed the same.
Down to breakfast and another quick glance in the hall mirror. He sat as casually as he could manage. His parents were finishing their cereal and swilling coffee around their mouths, the final wake-up call before the journey to work.
He waited a moment for them to say something, for them to smell something different about him; his new found reek of manliness, or her, unwashed from his body. But they strove on with their very busy lives, stuffing toast into their mouths and wishing him a good day. Feed the cat, do some homework; the things they always said.
Philip drank some pure orange juice and munched half-heartedly at a round of toast. He looked at the phone on the counter-top and thought about calling Tina. Instead, he slouched back upstairs, lay down upon his bed and inspected his penis.
It looked the same as always. Nothing seemed different about it, and it grew in his hands as he pulled and prodded at it. Soon enough his thoughts turned to some beautiful woman, naked and purring beside him. He made very sure that his thoughts did not turn towards Tina.
Outside his bedroom window a blackbird landed clumsily on a slowly throbbing wire sending raindrops scattering. One by one they plopped sadly down onto the hard grey ground below.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

The routine

The old man gazed up from his garden at the tenderly bruising sky.
It seemed, to him, such an imprecise cosmos. A network of constant enjambment, flowing across and into itself. There was nothing constant enough about the stars, they never came out at the same time. Tonight, the little twinkling greenish one had come out long before the large yellow point of light that usually dominated the scene above his home.
Shaking his head and looking at his wristwatch he laughed the laugh of disbelief, as men do when their morning train is delayed. Must everything in this ridiculous universe be so random and uncooperative?
He would spend five more minutes watching the stars and having a smoke before he’d go in and check on Samantha. She usually liked to have a cup of tea around now.
Samantha was propped up in bed, like always. He could rely on his Samantha. She would be sitting there with a smile for him and a hand to hold.
What was she watching? A quiz show, there’s always a quiz show on at this time. She loved to watch them and once had a very good general knowledge. Maybe she still knows some of the answers, but she never says them.
She won’t say her husband’s name anymore, either. Each time he looks at her, his heart winces a little at the thought she can’t remember his name. He puts that thought away, soon enough. Maybe she just doesn’t want to say it anymore. Perhaps that’s it. Her smile is worth so much more than a name and it heals his heart a little, for each bite that is taken from it.
They are enjoying the quiz show, tonight, until a stupid answer from one of the contestants causes the man to start shouting at the screen. Samantha grabs his arm and links hers with it, stroking at him, calming him. He looks at her for as long as he can, bites at the inside of his cheek and tells her he is going to make another cup of tea.
It takes him three minutes longer to make than usual, and he forgets to add sugar. He sits back down on the bed and sips at the tea. It is hot and bitter, but he forces himself to drink it.
Has she noticed things failing around the house? He wonders about this, often. The roof is leaking, the front door has a cracked pane of glass, the old wireless radio’s reception is so poor, and there may be mice in the loft space. Has anything in this old house changed for her?
The old man has taken to testing his arms. He holds each up in the air for closer inspection. The muscle tone seems lesser each day and he counts the seconds in his head before each starts to shake uselessly, just about staving off atrophy.
He’s smoking again. An hour later and Samantha will start falling asleep. She’s always woken back up again, in the morning. It sounds silly to think about it, but he always does.
He tells her, how much he relies on her. He holds her hand and tells her this, as she slowly drifts off to sleep. How reliable she is, the only thing he can count on in this entire world.
When he’s sure she’s asleep, he goes and showers. He feels fresh again, after the impact of the day. He puts on clean clothes and combs his white hair back.
He turns off all the lights and checks on Samantha once more. She is sleeping and she will sleep through until morning, now, just as she does every day.
Lovely Samantha. He kisses her on the forehead and then walks out the front door.
He won’t look back now. He’ll cross the road and pass three houses to his left, before knocking on the door of the first bungalow. A lady called Margaret greets him with a kiss. She calls him Frank and she takes his coat.
He fixes himself a drink and she tells him she’ll be home late tomorrow - she’s out with the girls. He shakes his head and then takes her to bed.
He reminds her to set the alarm. He has to remind her about this, every single day.
He has to be ready in the morning. He has to be there, first thing. Be the first thing Samantha sees when she opens her lovely eyes.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Summits and streams

We picked our way along the gravel banks of the river, a trickle in its summer wane.
Me, barefoot in the light of the rising sun, looking around for a sturdy branch to assist my travails. Others streamed about me, reflecting the river and spilling forth along the well-trodden path leading to the summit of Mount Urnath. So many sinners, creating a fluid backbone - the black spine of God’s mountain.
In the car park below, I had taken off my socks and shoes and held the stones and dirt between my feet, as if for the first time. My two boys, Donald and Reece, were joining me today. They looked so excited by the spectacle, all these people, gathered together to climb a mountain.
The boys kept their trainers on and said they’d scout ahead for a sturdy stick. From bitter experience, I knew I’d need one.
Thousands would make the journey from the hospitable car park - where kind ladies served tea and orange juice - to the rugged peak above. Most would do it barefoot.
I chatted to some of my fellow travellers as we followed the burbling River Streath to the base of the mountain.
Donald came back with a long brown stick. It was perfect, and I told him so. A smart height to help my hobbling, and its gnarls would provide a good grip for my hands. Reece followed on behind, annoyed and bitter that he didn’t find the stick, didn’t receive the praise.
I ruffled his hair and asked if he’d tell the story of the mountain and why we were climbing it today.
He gave a beautifully flowery account of when the monk, St Neil of Urnath, first heard the voice of God asking him to go barefoot up the grey mountain, on the 16th of August, 1622.
When he reached the summit he got down on his hands and knees, begging forgiveness for his sins and promising to atone for his wrongdoings, in the eyes of God.
At this, he was dazzled by a wondrous light and a great warmth, which he said was paradise revealed to him; the peaceful heart of Christ. From that moment, the barren mountain-top around was said to have sprung to life, with all manner of mosses, lichens, grasses and trees beginning to grow.
St Neil stayed, weeping with joy for three hours, before climbing down to tell his fellow monks in the nearby abbey about the miracle that had occurred.
I smiled as he told the story, my youngest, blessed with a gift for speech and storytelling. I could tell other travellers, other pilgrims were listening too, impressed with the zeal of Reece, like a young John the Baptist or, perhaps, St Paul himself.
Halfway up the mountain, small streams burst out of the heather and criss-cross the mountain path. Donald and Reece had to carefully step past them, but I was only too happy to let the cooling waters wash and sploosh over my blistered and bloodied feet.
I’m not sure if it is best to concentrate on the pain or rather meditate about God and think only of the summit. Should I be glorifying every crippling step, remembering Christ’s path to Golgotha? Or should I attempt to transcend this purely physical process of pain and struggle?
The war in my head, created by these two concepts, usually causes my annual journey to the peak of Urnath to be one of real anguish. But then, that’s no bad thing, I think.
Donald tells me he’ll accompany me bare-foot, next year. He wants to show me he’s a man. I nod at him, though I know I won’t let him. But, one year…
We reach the summit after just over an hour’s climb. Thankfully Urnath is not the highest of peaks. The summit is packed, people are everywhere - kneeling down and begging forgiveness for their sins.
It is organised chaos, though. There are two lines, two fast moving queues. One moves towards a small covered area where a Catholic priest is taking Confession.
People need to be kept moving, you see. They need to start their journey back down the mountain before the summit becomes dangerously crowded. It seems almost like a drive-through confessional though, God forgive me!
The boys join the Confessional queue, whereas I join the line for Penance. I drag my dusty feet along towards the two robed monks, remnants of the same order of St Neil of Urnath’s.
This queue moves a little slower, though a little more certainly. Each man, in turn, removes his shirt, and kneels beside the monks. One monk washes your back with holy water. You make the Sign of the Cross, and say the Act of Contrition. Then the two monks take turns striking your back with birch twigs.
Sometimes, as the blows rain down, I look to the sky to see if paradise will be revealed to me. But today I find myself looking towards the ground.
I notice that the well-trampled summit is almost devoid of the green life God once ignited here. I notice the red streams trickling out across the brown dirt floor.
And I notice my own tears, falling to the ground, mingling easily with the dirt and the blood. Such beautiful anguish, and my mind is clear once more.

100 Tales reached...

Hi guys,

I've just noticed that my post 'The end of summer' marked the 100th Daily Tale posted!

It's nice to reach a milestone. Thanks to everyone for reading them and all the great comments. Really appreciated.