Canaries

Don’t cure too many madmen,

You may need us yet.

How would you know where Hell was

If you didn’t hear us scream?

And where your Heaven was once,

Did we not wander wild and dream?

We are canaries singing in your soul,

Singing the nightmare so you can forget,

Singing until the darkness chokes us all.

Under Black Light

There are downsides to sharing your house with an inordinate number of cats. The first is that while cats give a pretty good impression of thinking like us, that’s all part and parcel of their Domestic Infiltration Strategy. I use a variant on that technique myself – it’s called the Human Race Infiltration Strategy.

The thing that really gets my goat is when they choose to pee on my diary. Yes, choose. This morning one or other of them peed on my fourth 2016 diary, and of course I didn’t spot it straight away. By the time I did spot it my diary, having acted like blotting paper, was soggy with it. Soggy!

I just can’t be bothered with yet again transferring a year’s worth of appointments and birthdays from one to another. Every time I do that somebody gets lost, and it’s awkward to admit to a friend or relative that their birthday isn’t in fact engraved on your memory in giant gothic letters – or maybe it was once but it isn’t now – and please could they remind you?

No doubt it’s grubby and old-ladyish, but today I am just going to dry out my diary in the sunniest place, which happens to be on top of the tumble dryer. Temporarily displacing the tumble-dryer’s cat-bed ‘hat’ shall be my ineffectual revenge. Afterwards I’ll insert the crinkly, dried-out remains of my fourth 2016 diary into a clear plastic sleeve, like they do recipe books.

‘Fluorescent’ seems to be haunting me at the moment. Yesterday I found myself writing about fluorescent sheep, cats and monkeys when I set out to write about my dreams. As it transpired, people seemed less interested in my dreams than in the fluorescent sheep.

Can’t imagine why.

And this morning, in one of my little in medias res compositional dives into the internet, I have discovered that cat pee glows in the dark. Apparently it doesn’t glow enough to be visible to the human eye – though perhaps to the cat eye – but it can be seen under black light. Black light is another name for invisible (ultraviolet/infrared) light – also known as Wood’s Light, after somebody not all that interesting called Wood.

Now I come to think about it, black light is what those super-slim, trouser-suited, wonderfully-coiffured and immaculately lip-glossed forensic ladies must be using in American detective dramas. They go all round the apartment where somebody may have been killed, shining this special light at things. All sorts of things show up: mysterious stains on mattresses; bloodstains on kitchen knives… Probably they’re not looking for cat pee. Not in all that lip-gloss.

Now it makes sense. If I really wanted to get miserable I could buy a Wood’s Light from Amazon and go all round my house looking for five years’ worth of undiscovered cat-whoopsies; except that I can’t justify the expense of a Wood’s Light any more than I can justify the expense of a fifth 2016 diary. Besides, I don’t want one. I really don’t want one. And there’s a certain pleasure in martyrdom.

A second downside of cats – they tend to act out their dreams. We humans can more or less totally disconnect our dreaming minds from our bodies – which is just as well, when you think about it. Cats can’t, or at least not to the same extent. George – poor little George – a disaster even when awake – has just awoken in the middle of a boggart-chasing nightmare of some kind and hurled himself semi-conscious out of his basket, on a teetering pile of boxes next to my computer, narrowly missing my right ear, to land in a confused, head-shaking heap on the floor.

How is a person supposed to compose? I ask myself. Whither goeth the Muse when a black and white cat hurls himself, claws fully extended, past a creative’s right ear in compositional medias res…?

 

103

George, himself

Do Androids Dream of Fluorescent Sheep?

I just thought I was being clever, messing about with the title of the Philip K Dick novel featuring a post-apocalyptic San Francisco human who aspires to possess a real animal since most of them are dead from radiation poisoning. I never thought there were real fluorescent sheep. Real life edges ever closer to the horror story. What are we doing? And cats as well? Sacred, wonderful cats injected with jellyfish DNA. So wrong.

If you don’t believe me, here is a cat, and a baby monkey and… so, so wrong.

flourescent

Why don’t they do that to humans, huh? There’s a prison near me. Why not inject the prisoners with this glow-in-the dark stuff in case they escape? No problem picking them out from the helicopter then. Why not infants? Just imagine, if baby happened to crawl out into the garden through a back door carelessly left ajar. No problem. The thing’s fluorescent. Here, baby baby…

Anyway… I was going to write about my dreams. I expect you always wanted to hear about my dreams. No? Ah well, I’ll keep it brief. Maybe.

Do you dream the same thing over and over? Perhaps I’m the only one. I have always dreamt about cats. Not so often now, since they had to do with the emotional segment of my life and that’s more or less over. It started just before I got married. I dreamt a black cat sat on my mother’s fridge. I had poisoned the black cat. The black cat didn’t know it yet. Any minute now it would start to die. I was filled with shame, and horror. I wished I could undo what I had done.

At intervals after that, more and more cats. And I was always terribly upset about them; they were never just curled up asleep wearing top hats and false moustaches or whatever.

Once I was in America. (I have never been to America.) Dream America was a big, empty place. There seemed to be no people in it, only mile after mile of prairie. It was so big, I could sense it stretching away for more millions of miles than I, as a tiny-island Brit, could ever contemplate. I was alone in this windswept place, in an empty room, with a cat, and the window was open. I saw the window but somehow I couldn’t get round to closing it. The cat jumped through, into that endless void, and was gone. Needle in a haystack.

Once I was sitting in an armchair close to a blazing fire. In the arm of the armchair, for some reason, was a cage, and in the cage, concealed, a cat. The cat was burning, frying, because my chair was too close to the fire. But I couldn’t seem to warn myself. Myself was oblivious.

At one point a cat was following me across a zebra crossing in single file – like the Beatles outside Abbey Road. The cat had followed me for miles, surviving city traffic. From home, wherever that was.

For a long time I didn’t know what the cats were. What did they symbolise? Being an over-complicated person I got books out of the library. Cats in a dream might mean… intuition. The health of the dream cat indicates whether you are heeding or ignoring your intuition. Rely less on intellect. That would certainly have applied. For twenty-two years I went on and on, stalwartly ignoring my intuition. But the book-explanation didn’t seem enough.

And then I had another dream. I dreamed that cats wearing parachutes were descending into a ploughed field. I ran to pick up one of the cats and found it had turned into a teddy bear. And in this way Mr Subconscious showed me absolutely directly, in his own picture-making way, what library books had failed to make clear. Cats, like teddy bears (and of course the children I had not been able to conceive) were something to cuddle. They were affection received and given. Something to love.

Mr Subconscious practices that Show, don’t tell thing they’re always going on about in How To Write books and writers’ groups. He sends a picture along with an emotion and then you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt. One of these days, I hope to speak subconscious with ease.

Last night, for a change, I dreamed of fluorescent sheep. I do not think sheep are Something to Cuddle. They are certainly woolly, but I have never been too fond of sheep, having helped to catch a runaway one in a country lane. Sheep are much larger than you think, and greasy. However… these sheep were invisible. They were being herded up an abandoned railway line and the only way the shepherd could tell where they were was because he had painted a fluorescent spot on each sheep. This morning I learned from my TV that British astronaut Tim Peake is going to be conducting an experiment up there in the space station. He is going to be remotely controlling a Mars explorer robot. He has to go into a dark ‘cave’ where round (sheep-shaped) boulders are littered around, and he will have to pick up the boulders and take photos of them. No easy task, so to help him they have daubed some of the boulders with fluorescent paint. Now, am I becoming a prescient in my old age? I mean, is this the first step? Not so much train-wrecks and plane crashes as Mars explorer vessels?  Not so much far into the future as… more or less straight away?

flourescent3

 

The Patience of Gryphons: part the fourth and final

The auctioneer’s assistant carried the missing gryphon out to Henry’s car. On Sybil’s instruction he placed it, very gingerly, on the driver’s seat. (She suspected that this was the same poor blighter who had been responsible for despatching a single gryphon to Surrey after the auction rather than a pair. He had probably had the Riot Act well and truly read to him by the auctioneer when his mistake had been discovered since Sybil and Henry were regular, and therefore much valued, customers.) The second little gryphon stood tall in a cardboard box, wrapped in an old army blanket; a stone ornament being treated with as much care as one of the young Princesses.

Gryphons are known for their patience but even they were becoming impatient now, Greyclaw on the back seat of this… conveyance… and Rainfeathers on the front beside their new mistress: a temporary mistress, as both of them sensed. Woman, yes, this Sybil, but not witch. They required witch.

And still they were not at the right angle and cannot lock eyes – but soon, surely. Even the auction-house man seemed to sense it. The atmosphere inside the motor-car seemed to sizzle, the moment the siblings were together. It was a bit like the Blitz, when the power cables started falling, explosions in a dark sky.

He withdrew his head rather quickly, and doffed his cap. ‘Safe journey, madam.’

The reverse seems to be happening to Sybil. As the man closed the door on the three of them; as she pressed the button on the dashboard and the yellow indicator arm bounced up, and even as she was drawing out from the kerb into the unfamiliar density of rush-hour traffic, she was starting to wonder what on earth had possessed her. Had she truly woken at the crack of dawn, crept out whilst mist still carpeted the lawn, driven for mile after mile down country lanes, scarcely knowing where she was going;  fingers crossed that no mischievous child had turned the signposts to send her off in the wrong direction. Had she really driven all the way to London without informing her husband either of where she was going or that she had learned how to drive during his absence on military duties?

What terrible complications and recriminations her actions were likely to cause – and all for the sake of two garden ornaments!

And on what mad impulse had she brought the other gryphon with her? Surely she wasn’t expecting them to have some sort of conversation on the way home?

The trip home was not even as much fun as the trip in. By the time Sybil regained Sussex and its narrow country lanes, it was getting late – much later than she had planned for. And now the car seemed to be mysteriously coughing and spluttering and slowing down. She pressed her foot down on the accelerator knowing, really, that that wasn’t going to make any difference. The car coasted into a layby beside a wood – not actually blocking the road, there was that much to be thankful for – and died.

Silence: but not before Sybil had caught sight of one of the many dials on Henry’s car’s elaborate dashboard. There was a petrol machine and a kind of gauge… even and as she watched the dial on this gauge was sliding from red to nothing at all. Why on earth had she assumed Henry’s motor-car would contain sufficient petrol for a journey of this length? For all she knew it might have been half-empty when she set off. It now dawned on her that even if she had thought to stop at a garage and ask for the tank to be refilled, she hadn’t brought enough money with her to pay for that. Henry had always been so good at dealing with that sort of…

‘Well, nothing for it, Sybil Old Girl,’ she murmured, unconsciously adopting Henry’s comforting voice. ‘You can’t stay here all night. You’ll just have to get out and start walking. There’s bound to be a farmhouse close by – or similar. Somewhere big enough to have a telephone. ‘Worse things happened in the Blitz, Old Girl, remember that. You’re still alive; it’s just that you’ve been very, very foolish.’ She could hear the ‘stiff upper lip’ voice trembling.

She glanced back into the car before locking it. ‘My poor little gryphons,’ she sighed, ‘reunited only to be abandoned in a nameless country lane! Here, let me turn you to face one another. At least you can have a chat while I’m away.’ The audible quiver was becoming more apparent. ‘But remember, my dears – Careless Talk Costs Lives.’

The siblings had locked eyes, entirely focussed on one another but waiting still; waiting for woman-not-witch to be far enough down the lane to be out of sight of the motor car.

‘Joy, sister!’

‘Joy, my brother!’

‘Three hundred years, and now…’

And then, the light.

Henry is not angry so much as puzzled. One minute he was pretending to read The Financial Times in the drawing room and trying not to worry about Sybil, whilst trying to decide whether to telephone to the police. The next minute he was overtaken – overwhelmed by a kind of longing, an irresistible compulsion to not call the police but instead scrunch down the gravel driveway and hammer on the front door of the gardener’s cottage. He didn’t even know what he was about to say when the door was opened, but it turned out to be:

‘Bert, could you give me a lift on your motorcycle? It’s Sybil – she’s in some kind of trouble.’

‘Yassir,’ said Bert, reaching for his goggles and leather coat. ‘Luckily the sidecar’s already attached so we can bring Missus back in style. But where to?’

Henry didn’t know, and felt extremely foolish. He only knew they had to go, this minute, and that somehow or other they would find her. He scanned the horizon. It seemed to him that he could see, with some alternative ‘eye’ that he had been totally unaware of until just now, a greenish glow spreading out along the horizon.

‘Do you see that, Bert?’ he said, pointing.

‘Nossir,’ said Bert. ‘But you just point the way.’

Sybil had come to hobbling a halt only a few miles down the lane. Her feet, in their town shoes, had developed blisters remarkably quickly. She bent down, wondering whether she might tear her pocket handkerchief in half and use the two pieces to pad out the back of the shoes, or take off the shoes altogether and head back to the car.

‘Chin up, Old Girl,’ she told herself, dabbing at her eyes with the handkerchief.

‘The Blitz, remember? Worse things happening?’

She turned to look back down the lane and caught sight of a greenish glow rising above the trees and blending with phantom clouds in the night sky. It seemed to be coming from where she had left the car. And now, to cap it all, she was hearing things…

The distant but unmistakeably familiar sound of a motorbike with sidecar attached.

The laughter and song of sibling gryffons as they performed an elegant pas-de-deux in the night air.

Beaks entwined, and tails. Paw seeking paw.

Three hundred years!

NaPoWriMo 29/4/16: Moths

All day they lie like corpses on sills, in corners

And masquerade as dust.

 

Night falls. I find them fluttering

Under my cats’ paws, describing perfect circles,

Their dance enticing

The very thing they fear,

Those longed-for claws.

 

Death cannot come too soon for them, it seems.

Rescued, they return. Consigned to darkness,

Cling to the window-glass,

Pink eyes afire with lust, the Undead, craving

That final, fatal light.

moth3

 

Blogging While Rome Burns

I’m not good at plans. I make any number of them. My computer’s littered with them. Mostly they are called Plan. Sometimes they are called Plan 2 or Plan 3. I found one the other day called Yet Another Plan. But not a single one of these Plans have I ever managed to put into action. Making them used to make me feel like I was doing something. Like I was in control. It doesn’t nowadays but I can’t seem to stop making them.

I don’t know whether my life is currently going to hell in a handcart, and my survival so far has just been a lucky accident. I don’t know the state of my life because another thing I’m not good at is assessing and coming to logical conclusions. I am very logical; drearily, pedantically logical in fact at times. I just can’t apply the dreary logic to my own circumstances. My mind goes off at tangents, and then tangents from the tangents. It slithers away from most things. Slithers back to the single thing it was designed for – scribbling stories; finessing poems few people will ever read – and of course to blogging, this endless tap-tap-tapping away and one damned machine or another. I am all input and no output. Consumed by what I am, and the way my brain is wired, I need another planet to be on.

Sorry, this sounds like some ancient Roman death-rattle and it didn’t start off like that. There’s nothing new in the situation – I’m just noticing it more at the moment, what with the pending house move and all the alien focussing-on-dull-stuff that that process entails. And Mum going into a home.

When Mum was around it was my role to be her child. I knew where I was with that. However old I got, having no children of my own, I remained her child. Now she’s left me, mentally – physically too, since she was carted off in an ambulance with an exhausted lady social worker. I was one of the principals in our family play. I played the eldest daughter, that gifted disappointment, the damp squib. I was the Sunday visitor staring into space; the one who did the tortoise shuffle up to the café with her; who manoeuvred her arms, with all those woolly layers, into the sleeves of her winter coat; who fumbled about for her walking-stick under the table. I was the one with the endless capacity for boredom (which was really a capacity to be thinking of many other things whilst appearing to listen). I was the incompetent, the unlucky one, an endless source of concern for a mother who ran on worry. ‘Oh Linda!’ her constant refrain. That was what I was for.

And suddenly here I am – one of a faceless crowd mumbling rhubarb-rhubarb to sound like I’m really talking; third from the left in the chorus; the soldier who walks on with a spear in the Second Act.

So, at the moment my own particular Rome may be burning. Or I may just be worrying too much. Usually it’s the worrying, but as usual I have no way of telling. But I can tell you this one thing, best beloveds: writing makes the world all right. Writing about disintegration pulls everything back together. Writing about chaos makes some temporary sense of it. Writing is threading a giant bowlful of beads into a necklace. Why or how that should be… I don’t know.

I did some cursory research about the Emperor Nero. He couldn’t actually have fiddled while Rome burned since violins – that whole class of instruments – hadn’t been invented yet. He might have played the cithara, which may or may not be the wooden instrument he is shown with, in the above illustration. Or his fiddle/cithara playing may be purely metaphorical. Sadistic, decadent, unpopular – he wasn’t nice at all, old Nero. He was an ineffectual leader, not bothered about the sufferings of his people, and that’s probably what the legends of his fiddle-playing were all about.

Therefore blog on, best beloveds. Like the orchestra on the Titanic, we shall keep on playing Nearer my God to Thee as sea-water dampens our trouser-bottoms. If Rome is indeed burning, such music shall we have.