Poem: Once in a while

I talk to you in the kitchen, no? Wouldn’t you laugh if you knew?

Except of course that you wouldn’t because you didn’t; not ever,

no matter how sunny and bright I tried to be.

These long nights I turn off the TV to read and listen;

various cats come slouching along the wall,

sinking deep into the clefts between the cushions, sleeping instantly.

Peace breaking out between us as it rarely ever did

when both of us were real, and really here.

 

You never did read, did you? Your eyes would glaze over

at any page lacking diagrams or photos, or a bunch of formulae.

Nonetheless, your hypothetical self sits next to me on this fourth-or-fifth-hand sofa

and when I get to a track you might have relished I pass you the other earphone;

we listen in together, I and the shade of the man-you-might-now-be.

Once in a while you appear to forget that I’m here – I being a ghost to you –

and mumble along to the music, absently. And your singing voice is as soft and

loud, and as slightly-off-key as it always used to be. I loved your voice.

 

Every so often I go to your funeral, as in reality it is not very likely

that I will be asked to do. Over there – that’s me in fusty black under grey, imagined

sky, trying not to make it too obvious that I’m freezing –

at the brutalist crematorium that swallowed up my Dad.

I rarely cry except a tear or two, hypothetically. Because all said and done

this isn’t really real. And I wonder how the Real Thing would have gone

if you’d happened to go before me, and if we had still been We,

not You and I.

 

Featured Image: Funeral Procession: Clementine Hunter (1886-1998)

A Lilith of what you fancy (does you good)

Succumb‘ is not a fruitful prompt for someone my age. I mean, it’s not likely to be ‘the insistent advances of handsome millionaire actor George Clooney’, is it? More like viral pneumonia, or rheumatoid arthritis. All I could think of was Succubus.

When I was at school we ‘did’ Chaucer and his Canterbury Tales. I wanted to like Chaucer, really I did, but it was difficult with the textbook we were given. There was Chaucer and his Olde English (well, technically Middle English) on one side of the page and a translation on the opposite side. All well and good, but we were ‘doing’ the Wife of Bath’s Tale and the Wife of Bath was – as I guessed but could not discover how, from the translation – a somewhat saucy baggage. I remember learning that she had a gap between her two front teeth and that in the middle ages a gap-toothed lady was regarded as very saucy. I am not a medieval man, so I have no idea why this should be. Maybe it was the symbolism.

It doesn’t seem to work the other way round…

thomas

The trouble was, every time Nanny Translator got to a saucy bit she substituted an ellipsis (…). I would have entirely forgotten the word swynke by nowand probably Chaucer and the Wife of Bath too – as in

As help me God, I laughe when I thynke / How piteously a-night I made him swynke

had it not been for the fact that swynke was represented on the translation page by those tantalising three dots and the teacher flatly refused to even hint what it might mean. Our teenage imaginations went into overdrive. What could swynke-ing be, for goodness sake? And how was she making him do it?

Actually it just means work very hard, though by a-night we know she isn’t referring to heaving heavy sacks of coal or peeling potatoes.

However… (ellipsis) why was I going on about Chaucer? Oh yes, it was via Chaucer that I learned of the existence, in medieval legend, of a demon known as the succubus. There are incubi and succubi. Incubi are male demons that prey on women, and succubi are female demons that prey on men. Particularly monks. They appear in dreams and tempt their victims to do all sorts of sinful and salacious stuff.

Succcubus and succumb are related, loosely. From the Latin and then the French succomber – sub (under) + cumbere (to lie down). To succumb is to yield to a superior force or strength, or to be overpowered by a desire. It is also to be brought to an end (as in death) by destructive or disruptive forces. Since the evil succubus would exhaust or even kill her dreaming victim by feeding on his dream ‘energy’ you can see the connection, and if you google ‘succubus’ and click on Images you will get all sorts of lurid artistic re-imaginings of what she might have looked like.

You know how you suddenly realise an author has been cleverer than you realised – that pleasant little moment when the penny drops? J K Rowling is particularly good a this. For example, Sirius Black in Harry Potter, who tends to turn into a large black dog at intervals, has the name of the dog star, Sirius. And Diagon Alley is diagonally.

Well, I thought I had one of those with the character Lilith from Cheers and Frasier. Lilith is Frasier’s ex-wife, who simultaneously haunts, fascinates and drains him:

Six months ago I was living in Boston. My wife had left me, which was very painful. Then she came back to me, which was excruciating… So I ended the marriage once and for all, packed up my things, and moved back here to my home town of Seattle.

(1993 pilot episode of Frasier, “The Good Son”)

Ah, I thought. Lilith from Jewish mythology was in fact a succubus – a night-hag or night-monster. How clever they have been, those screenwriters, in choosing exactly the right name for Frasier’s scary, vampiric (but nonetheless amusing) ex-wife.

But then they went and let me down, those screenwriters. Researching further I discovered that Rob Sternin and Prudence Frasier had simply wanted a name that embodied sternness, like a Dickensian… headmistress in a high-necked blouse and tight bun. The Biblical badass didn’t factor in.

Well…well… bah! Why didn’t it? It jolly well should have.

I’m quite put out about it.

Humbug!

“A Room Full of Plesbians!”

Ex and I and a friend of his walked into a pub one night. It was not our usual pub but one of those twee, twinkling, village high street pubs – lots of brass, lots of shiny beer glasses on shiny glass shelves with wrought-iron edges – and an impressive array of spirits bottles hanging upside down in what I think they used to call “optics”. Nowadays optics seems to mean something else – the way a political move or action will look to the public – usually bad.

Anyway, it was a middle class pub full of middle class people making a lot of noise – that kind of hearty, communal chortling noise middle class people make in pubs – and as we looked around we realised from the brightly-coloured and slightly outré form of dress that we had in fact walked in on a group of amateur actors from the Little Theatre over the road, who were enjoying a post-performance snifter. They were all pretty full of themselves, and suddenly they were all turning round to look at us.

Now, Ex had many admirable qualities, including a deeply resonant, “dark brown” sort of voice. A very loud and carrying sort of voice. One of the qualities he didn’t have, unfortunately, was the kind of cringing self-consciousness that stops you from saying exactly what comes into your head.

The other unfortunate thing was that, being an almost entirely visual person, he might occasionally misinterpret something he read. I remember him requesting an Orange Gasping in a shop at the very top of a steep, cobbled hill in Clovelly when what he meant was an orange ice lolly. The tin advertising board outside had said something like: “Gasping? Come inside and buy one of our luscious orange ice lollies!”

clovelly

Clovelly, Devon, West of England

Or occasionally he might misremember a word.

“Oh look!” he boomed, as the three of us walked into that crowded bar that night: “Look at that man in the hat with the feather, and that woman in the long purple cloak! It’s a room full of PLESBIANS!”

Ham, Egg, Chips and Bingo

I haven’t eaten ham since 1981 or thereabouts, but I ate a bit today. After all, I am a vegetarian.

Only a small bit but… And I must say it was worth it for the chips. The chips were super. And there was no vegetarian option. I decided to continue being a vegetarian whenever possible but, on such outings, for the sake of getting on with people and not-being-a-pain-in-the-arse (which I have been, all my life) not to make a fuss.

Who should I apologise to?

I am still a bit weird, having been ill for a week. Double, simultaneous ill, in fact. Only yesterday did I begin to feel that I was moving at maybe ninety-five percent normal speed, which gave me the confidence to venture out of the house and wobble down the road to the bus stop, there to meet a lady called Jenny and someone else who was giving us a lift. My first meeting of the Over Fifties Club.

Apparently there is also an Over Sixties Club. This confused me as I couldn’t see anyone at the Over Fifties Club under seventy. Are they bitter rivals, I wondered? Like those two gangs in West Side Story? Does the Over Sixties poach members from the Over Fifties, or do the Over Fifties all also belong to the Over Sixties?

As you can tell, I’m still not quite back to normal. One of my illnesses was a kind of super-cough/bronchitis or possibly asthma thing. This has meant being unable to breathe and lie down at the same time, which in turn has meant a week of nights alternating between a moggie-infested bed upstairs and a very uncomfortable sofa downstairs, propping myself up with various arrangements of pillow and cushions and trying to sleep sitting up. I have not had much sleep and last night I don’t remember getting any sleep.

So I was not in the best mental shape to be sitting in a vast, chilly seafront pub, looking out through the frosted glass patterns at distorted images of passing cars and learning to play Bingo.

My fellow Over Fifties did not at first believe that I had never played Bingo. They played Bingo regularly, all over the place, and had their own plastic bags full of special fat pens, which are not called pens but dabbers. I said I would pass on the Bingo-book-buying this time, but watch what someone else did.

So I sat next to Jenny as she explained Bingo to me, whilst I was wishing I had worn a tee shirt under my posh top. But I couldn’t hear her over the noise of the Bingo man experimenting with his sound system. However, there was to be no escape. She did one game then I found the dabber thing plonked next to me. I was going to have to “dab” alternate sheets in her books. Rats! Again she tried to explain to me the difference between a Line and a House, and what a Bit On The Side is (apart from the obvious) and what that last sheet is for.

After a few minutes of me hunting wildly around the sheet for the numbers as the man with the mike rattled them off, someone said “Does the lady realise the numbers are arranged in columns of ten?” I hadn’t, though it was in the process of dawning on me. Knowing that made things much easier.

Then they believed I had never played Bingo before.

And then I came home and discovered Amazon had delivered two 300l bags of cat litter to the Lady with the Illegal Scotsman in my absence, so I had to go and get the wheelbarrow. She took one look at me wheezing and coughing palely over the laden wheelbarrow and offered to push it for me, but I couldn’t let her because she is older than me.

Then, too stuffed with illicit ham, egg and chips (and cheesecake) to need to eat anything more, I made myself some coffee and sat through the entire, extremely long speech of the Catalan Prime Minister, hoping to discover that he had been brave and declared independence from those brutal Spaniards. He had. Yay! Or had he? No one afterwards seemed to know. Damp squib or what?

Then I sat and hand-sewed a patch on the leg of my jeans. You know those jeans with the arty kind of fraying? I always wanted some and eventually, at an unsuitable age, I got a pair. Unfortunately, after they had been through the washing-machine numerous times the elegant fraying began to turn into falling-apartness. And then my big toe started getting caught in the falling-apartness every time I put the jeans on, which tore it even worse. I am wondering whether those ripped-right-across the knee jeans are not so much ultra-cool as the result of endless big-toe-catching.

I was going to do it on the sewing machine. I had to remove the white thread bobbin and wind specially a denim blue bobbin. Bobbin-winding is not easy on my sewing machine. Bobbins have a tendency to go ape for no reason. Either the cotton frantically winds itself around the metal stem that holds the bobbin in place, or the bobbin sourly turns itself into a nasty thick bobbin at the top and nasty measly bobbin at the bottom. I have been know to throw bobbins across the room.

Shows you how little sleep I have had, then. I completed this rigmarole, went to put the jean leg under the sewing machine needle and realised I couldn’t – not without unpicking whole jean leg – because a jean leg is a tube.